This section contains background information on general human rights, international documents and mechanisms of legal protection of human rights.

Promoting human rights and equality among young people is essential if we want to create an open, tolerant and equal society. The idea of human rights has its roots in many cultures and ancient traditions. Thus, there are two key values that lie at the core of the idea of human rights. The first is human dignity and the second is equality. Human rights can be understood as defining those basic standards which are necessary for a life of dignity; and their universality is derived from the fact that in this respect, at least, all humans are equal. We should not, and cannot, discriminate between them.

Human rights work can only be efficient if it is based on permanent dialogue with all stakeholders – governments, international organisations, civil society institutions, human rights defenders and educational establishments.

Young people all over the world and particularly across Europe have always given themselves generously to the cause of human rights and human rights education. Non-governmental youth organizations have played a crucial role in the protection of human rights throughout the world, building solidarity among young people.


General characteristics of human rights

“Human rights are universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions which interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity. : More

Legal protection of human rights

Several regions of the world have established their own systems for protecting human rights. There are regional institutions in Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Arab states, but not yet in the Asia-Pacific region. However, most countries in this part of the world have also ratified the major UN treaties and conventions - thereby signifying their agreement with the general principles, and expressing themselves subject to international human rights law.

The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950) was drawn up within the Council of Europe. The Convention was to represent the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration. It sets up a mechanism for the enforcement of the obligations entered into by the Contracting States. Three institutions were entrusted with this responsibility: the European Commission of Human Rights (set up in 1954), the European Court of Human Rights (set up in 1959) and the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Main institutions

The European Court of Human Rights is an international court based in Strasbourg. It consists of a number of judges equal to the number of the member States of the Council of Europe that have ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – currently forty-five2 . The Court’s judges sit in their individual capacity and do not represent any State. In dealing with applications, the Court is assisted by a Registry consisting mainly of lawyers from all the member States (who are also known as legal secretaries). They are entirely independent of their country of origin and do not represent either applicants or States.

The office of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights was first approved at the Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Strasbourg in October 1997. The purpose of this independent institution is both to promote the concept of human rights and to ensure effective respect for and full enjoyment of these rights in Council of Europe member States. The Commissioner is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly for a non-renewable term of office of six years.

The Commissioner is a non-judicial institution whose action is to be seen as complementary to the other institutions of the Council of Europe which are active in the promotion of human rights.

:: United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), a department of the United Nations Secretariat, is mandated to promote and protect the enjoyment and full realization, by all people, of all rights established in the Charter of the United Nations and in international human rights laws and treaties. The mandate includes preventing human rights violations, securing respect for all human rights, promoting international cooperation to protect human rights, coordinating related activities throughout the United Nations, and strengthening and streamlining the United Nations system in the field of human rights.

Even where complaints do not fall under the jurisdiction of the European Court, there are other mechanisms of holding states accountable for their actions and forcing them to comply with their obligations under human rights law - lobbying, campaigning and activism.

Key international documents


On international level, states have come together to draw up certain agreements on the subject of human rights. These agreements establish objective standards of behaviour for states, imposing on them certain duties towards individuals. : More



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