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The Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights: a question of “borrowed” legitimacy?

Kundai Sithole
University of Cambridge
Kundai Sithole
University of Cambridge
Open Panel

Abstract

The European Convention on Human Rights (Convention) forms the bedrock of the most advanced regional system of international human rights protection. Yet, very little is known of the organisation from which the Convention is derived. The Council of Europe (Council) is the oldest regional organisation in Europe. As Europe’s rights arbiter, it facilitates the development and convergence of regional human rights norms. However, the emphasis in the literature is on the Council’s role as an agent for Member State socialisation, and little attempt has been made to examine its rights-based contribution to European integration. Furthermore, the literature on human rights protection in Europe places emphasis on the Convention and the European Court of Human Rights. Here, the literature is legalistic, leaving a yawning gap in the Social Sciences on the Council’s regional human rights role. This paper updates the literature on the Council and, clearly illustrates why the Convention and its Court contribute to the regional organisation’s role as Europe’s rights arbiter. It offers an introduction to the Council, and its importance as a regional organisation (Section 1). Section 2 examines the legitimacy and legitimation of international organisations, and contextualises this discussion to the specific political environment within which the Council is legitimated. Drawing on Article 3 of the organisation’s Statute, Section 3 examines how the Council’s main human rights pillar contributes to its political legitimacy as Europe’s rights arbiter. Section 4 offers a concluding analysis on the extent to which the Council’s political legitimacy is “borrowed” from that of the Convention.