Update: 08.07.2019

European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR)

Official Text


The European Convention on Human Rights has been the leading international legal instrument protecting human rights since the 1950s. It was opened for signature in Rome on 4 November 1950 and entered into force on 3 September 1953. The Convention gave effect to certain rights and established the European Court of Human Rights, an international judicial organ, and granted it jurisdiction to find against States that breach their undertakings. 

The Convention secures the right to life, the right to a family life, to a fair trial, freedom of expression, religion and conscience. It also prohibits primarily torture and cruel and degrading treatment and punishment, forced labour and arbitrary detention. 

The Convention is known as a living instrument and is constantly evolving through interpretation by the Court and through the addition of protocols. The protocols either add further rights or amend existing rights. Protocols which add rights can only be binding on the states that have signed and ratified them. To date, 16 additional protocols have been adopted.

A case can be brought to the European Court of Human Rights in two circumstances distinguished by within the Convention. The first is by individual applications lodged by any person, group of individuals, company or NGO with a complaint about a violation of their rights. The second is an application brought by one state against another. However the individual petition is by far the most common mechanism used.


One year after its founding, the Council of Europe opened the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) for signature in Rome on 4 November 1950. It entered into force after being ratified by ten states on 3 September 1953.

The ECHR developed a strong integrative effect in Europe, as seen when Spain joined both the Council of Europe and the ECHR after the Franco dictatorship ended. At the same time, Spain added an extensive list of human rights to its new constitution, to be interpreted in the light of international human rights conventions. The ECHR also provided good measures in the fight against the Greek military dictatorship between 1967 and 1974 and to help heal the wounds. The human rights violations of the military junta were revealed and examined through an inter-state application, which led to the Greek military dictatorship cancelling the ECHR. As in Spain, one of the first acts of the new Greek government was to rejoin the Council of Europe and to ratify the ECHR once the dictatorship was overthrown.

Member states

Only member states of the Council of Europe can join the ECHR. Until 1989, only 21 states had ratified the ECHR. But since its eastward expansion, it is only possible politically to join the Council of Europe if the state joins the ECHR at the same time. Today, all 47 member states of the Council of Europe have ratified the ECHR (as at 8 July 2019; current count).


Following the ideas of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in Art. 2 to 14, the ECHR draws up a catalogue of the most important civil liberties (right to life, prohibition of torture, right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, no punishment without law, right to a private/family life, freedom of expression, religion and conscience, freedom of assembly and political association, right to marry, right to an efficient appeal, principle of non-discrimination).


The ECHR is unique among the international human rights agreements, because all rights guaranteed by it are immediately enforceable before the European Court of Human Rights (an international court), provided that certain conditions are met. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a binding court, meaning its verdicts must be accepted and implemented by member states.

Additional protocols

During the drafting of the ECHR, the member states at times were unable to reach an agreement about its content design with respect to the civil and political human rights. The ECHR is a compromise, and for this reason an additional protocol on the rights to property, education, and the vote were added right at the beginning. Since then, five more additional protocols have been passed, codifying further rights.

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