Update: 19.08.2011

Commissioner for Human Rights 

The creation of the post of Commissioner for Human Rights dates back to a plan for action of the Council of Europe in 1997. The realization of this initiative took place with Resolution (99) 50 that the Committee of Ministers adopted on 7 May 1999. The Spanish expert in constitutional and administrative law – Álvaro Gil-Robles – was elected to be the first Commissioner for Human Rights. He assumed office on 1 January 2000. From 2006 onwards, the Swede Thomas Hammarberg held the office before, on 1 April 2012, the Latvian Nils Muižnieks took over. The Commissioner for Human Rights is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for a period of six years. He is affiliated to the Secretariat of the Council of Europe. The Council of Europe decides over financial matters as the Commissioner does not dispose of a separate budget.

Mandate

The Commissioner for Human Rights is a non-judicial institution that should preserve and advance human rights and fundamental freedoms in member states of the Council of Europe. The Commissioner cannot accept individual complaints and is, unlike the Committee of Ministers, without quasi-executive powers.

The Commissioner has the following main tasks (Article 3 of Resolution (99) 50):

  • Facilitation of human rights education and actual compliance with human rights; 
  • Give advice and information on human rights protection;
  • Support national ombudsmen or comparable offices; 
  • Locate normative and actual inadequacies in national human rights protection systems and help in eradicating these faults. 

The Commissioner organizes seminars, conferences and meetings. He also undertakes official visits of member states to inform himself and encourage the preservation of human rights. Furthermore, the Commissioner can author recommendations and reports, for example relating to deficiencies in national human rights protection. As opposed to the European Court for Human Rights, the Commissioner cannot directly address member states in question with written statements but must address them via the Committee of Ministers or the Parliamentary Assembly.

The Commissioner has no authority to sanction states that have committed human rights violations. He must count on the moral impact of his statements and the resulting public pressure. Moreover, the Committee of Ministers may take measures based on the Commissioners statements. 

In Practice

Since the beginning of his tenure, Álvaro Giles-Robles has visited numerous member states of the Council of Europe to gather information on the national human rights situations. The results of these visits are documented in reports that can be viewed on the website of the Commissioner:

Furthermore, the Commissioner for Human Rights has made some recommendations. They are in connection to the so-called «Cleansing Operations» of the Russian military in Chechnya, the rights of foreigners in member states of the Council of Europe and the sterilization of women in Slovakia.

Finally, the Commissioner has formed opinions to individual cases, among others about the repeal of Article 5, para. 1 ECHR through Great Britain.

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