Council of Europe
The Council of Europe is the oldest international organization working towards European integration, having been founded in 1949. It has a particular emphasis on legal standards, human rights, democratic development, the rule of law and cultural co-operation. It has 47 member states with some 800 million citizens.
Its statutory institutions are the Committee of Ministers comprising the foreign ministers of each member state, the Parliamentary Assembly composed of MPs from the Parliament of each member state, and the Secretary General heading the secretariat of the Council of Europe.
The most famous conventional bodies of the Council of Europe are the European Court of Human Rights which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the European Pharmacopoeia Commission which sets the quality standards for pharmaceutical products in Europe. The Council of Europe's work has resulted in standards, charters and conventions to facilitate cooperation between European countries and further integration.
The seat of the Council of Europe is in Strasbourg, France with English and French as its two official languages. The Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly also work in German, Italian and Russian.
The Council of Europe's most famous achievement is the European Convention on Human Rights, which was adopted in 1950 following a report by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly. The Convention created the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Court supervises compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights and thus functions as the highest European court for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is to this court that Europeans can bring cases if they believe that a member country has violated their fundamental rights.
The European Court of Human Rights, created under the European Convention on Human Rights of 1950, is composed of a judge from each member state elected for a renewable term of six years by the Parliamentary Assembly and is headed by the elected President of the Court. Since 2007, Jean-Paul Costa from France is the President of the Court. Under the new Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights, the terms of office of judges shall be nine years but non-renewable. All member states except Russia have signed and ratified Protocol No. 14.
The Commissioner for Human Rights, who is elected by the Parliamentary Assembly for a non-renewable term of six years since the creation of this position in 1999. This position is held since 2006 by Thomas Hammarberg from Sweden.
On July 29, 2009, Thomas Hammarberg, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights issued a paper entitled "Human Rights and Gender Identity". The paper included encompassing recommendations to the member states to address issues of gender identity.
Member states of the Council of Europe should:
1. Implement international human rights standards without discrimination, and prohibit explicitly discrimination on the ground of gender identity in national non-discrimination legislation. The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity should be used to provide guidance for national implementation in this field;
2. Enact hate crime legislation which affords specific protection for transgender persons against transphobic crimes and incidents;
3. Develop expeditious and transparent procedures for changing the name and sex of a transgender person on birth certificates, identity cards, passports, educational certificates and other similar documents;
4. Abolish sterilisation and other compulsory medical treatment as a necessary legal requirement to recognise a person's gender identity in laws regulating the process for name and sex change;
5. Make gender reassignment procedures, such as hormone treatment, surgery and psychological support, accessible for transgender persons, and ensure that they are reimbursed by public health insurance schemes;
6. Remove any restrictions on the right of transgender persons to remain in an existing marriage following a recognised change of gender;
7. Prepare and implement policies to combat discrimination and exclusion faced by transgender persons on the labour market, in education and health care;
8. Involve and consult transgender persons and their organisations when developing and implementing policy and legal measures which concern them;
9. Address the human rights of transgender persons and discrimination based on gender identity through human rights education and training programmes, as well as awareness-raising campaigns;
10. Provide training to health service professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists and general practitioners, with regard to the needs and rights of transgender persons and the requirement to respect their dignity;
11. Include the human rights concerns of transgender persons in the scope of activities of equality bodies and national human rights structures;
12. Develop research projects to collect and analyse data on the human rights situation of transgender persons including the discrimination and intolerance they encounter with due regard to the right to privacy of the persons concerned.
As mentioned in the introduction, it is important to realise that the Council of Europe is not to be mistaken with the Council of the European Union or the European Council. These belong to the European Union, which is separate from the Council of Europe, although they have shared the same European flag and anthem since the 1980s because they also work for European integration.
Cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe has recently been reinforced, notably on culture and education as well as on the international enforcement of justice and Human Rights.
The European Union is expected to accede to the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention). At their Warsaw Summit in 2005, the Heads of State and Government of all Council of Europe member states reiterated their desire for the EU to accede without delay to ensure consistent human rights protection across Europe. There are also concerns about consistency in case law - the European Court of Justice (the EU's court in Luxembourg) is treating the Convention as part of the legal system of all EU member states in order to prevent conflict between its judgements and those of the European Court of Human Rights (the court in Strasbourg interpreting the Convention). Protocol No.14 of the Convention is designed to allow the EU to accede to it and the EU Reform Treaty contains a protocol binding the EU to join. The EU would thus be subject to its human rights law and external monitoring as its member states currently are. It is further proposed that the EU join as a member of the Council of Europe once it has attained its legal personality in the Reform Treaty, possibly in 2010.
- The Council of Europe and the European Union sign an agreement to foster mutual cooperation. Council of Europe (23 May 2007). Retrieved on 5 August 2008.
- Juncker, Jean-Claude (2006). Council of Europe - European Union: "A sole ambition for the European continent" (PDF). Council of Europe. Retrieved on 5 August 2008.
- Draft treaty modifying the treaty on the European Union and the treaty establishing the European community (PDF). Open Europe (24 July 2007). Retrieved on 5 August 2008.
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