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We Are All Born Free & Equal

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Published on May 21, 2008

We Are All Born Free & Equal
The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, also known as the European convention on human rights (ECHR), was adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe[1] in 1950 to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. All Council of Europe member states are party to the Convention and new members are expected to ratify the convention at the earliest opportunity.

The Convention established the European Court of Human Rights. Any person who feels their rights have been violated under the Convention by a state party can take a case to the Court; the decisions of the Court are legally binding, and the Court has the power to award damages. The establishment of a Court to protect individuals from human rights violations is an innovative feature for an international convention on human rights, as it gives the individual an active role on the international arena (traditionally, only states are considered actors in international law). The European Convention is still the only international human rights agreement providing such a high degree of individual protection. State parties can also take cases against other state parties to the Court, although this power is rarely used.

The Convention has several protocols. For example, Protocol 6 prohibits the death penalty except in time of war. The protocols accepted vary from State Party to State Party, though it is understood that state parties should be party to as many protocols as possible.

Prior to the entry into force of Protocol 11, individuals did not have direct access to the Court; they had to apply to the European Commission of Human Rights, which if it found the case to be well-founded would launch a case in the Court on the individual's behalf. Furthermore, when ratifying the Convention, States could opt not to accept the specific clause providing individual access to the Commission, thus limiting the possibility of jurisdictional protection for individuals. Protocol 11 abolished the Commission, enlarged the Court (assigning to it functions and powers which were previously held by the Commission), and allowed individuals to take cases directly to it. By ratifying Protocol 11, all state parties accepted the jurisdiction of the Court to rule over cases brought against them by individuals.

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