Within the Framework of the Council of Europe, a regional international institution entitled to monitor the respect of basic Human Rights, the European Social Charter sets out social rights and freedoms and establishes a supervisory mechanism guaranteeing their respect by the States Parties. This mechanism, intended to ensure respect of social rights, has two basic elements: the European Committee of Social Rights (a quasi international Court) and the collective complaints procedure. Selected International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) are entitled to lodge such a complaint against Member States violating Social Rights.
What are meant by human rights?
Human rights are rights that are recognised and guaranteed by a number of international legal instruments. Enjoying rights also means having duties. You cannot exercise your rights without due regard to other people’s rights.
Most human rights, as guaranteed by treaties, require strict legal interpretations as to what they do and do not cover. Hence Committees and Courts have provided general comments and rulings on a number of different rights, setting out what they actually mean.
The enforcement and limits of human rights
Human rights are granted on paper but none of us can enjoy them if individuals are unaware of their own rights and similarly, if they are not implemented, monitored and protected. The various human rights instruments set out that state parties undertake to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of the treaty in question.
Council of Europe - flagship institution of Europe’s regional human rights framework
One of the most important regional international institutions and a fundamental instrument in ensuring human rights is the Council of Europe, which is a political organisation, founded in 1949, to defend the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Membership is open to all European states which undertake to abide by the organisation’s principles. At present the Council of Europe has 47 member states. All EU Member States are members of the Council of Europe. Over the last 60 years, the Council of Europe has played a significant role in expanding and improving the protection of fundamental rights in Europe.
Two-bladed sword: general civil and political rights (1.) and specific social rights protection (2.)
As pointed out above, enforcement is key in respect of protecting human rights. The European human rights legal instruments are therefore provided with watchdog instruments;
The European Court on Human Rights) is an international court set up in 1959. It rules on individual or state applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the Convention.
The Court’s case law makes the Convention a powerful living instrument for meeting new challenges and consolidating the rule of law and democracy in Europe. Its judgments are legally binding and therefore often seen as more effective than the opinions of UN style committees. The Case law of the European Court of Human Rights is available in the European Court of Human Rights Search Portal (HUDOC database).
The Charter guarantees several rights relevant to the public health community:
Article 11 on the right to protection of health says that with a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right to protection of health, the contracting parties undertake, either directly or in co operation with public or private organisations, to take appropriate measures designed inter alia:
Enforcement of the European Social Charter (ESC): The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) and the collective complaints procedure
ECSR is an independent quasi judicial body which interprets the rights enshrined in the European Social Charter.
Potential for certain International Non-Governmental Organisations (INGOs) to lodge collective complaints
The following organisations are allowed to lodge a complaint
Two steps to registering as an INGO entitled to lodge a collective complaint alleging violation of the European Social Charter
To this end, the INGO may refer to the following documents:
Related EPHA articles
 Council of Europe, Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter Providing for a System of Collective Complaints CETS No. 158, 1995