NGOs: Draft Copenhagen Declaration risks undermining the independence and authority of the European Court, and the universality of human rights

14 February 2018

EHRAC and a consortium of 7 other NGOs have issued a statement expressing serious concerns about the current wording of the draft Copenhagen Declaration on the future of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) system. The NGOs argue that the draft Declaration, presented by the Danish Chairmanship of the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers on 5 February 2018, is at risk of undermining the authority of the European Court of Human Rights, and at worst could lead to the fragmentation of the European human rights protection system.


The declaration will be finalised at an inter-state conference to be held in Copenhagen in April.

Professor Philip Leach, EHRAC Director also said:

“Whilst apparently professing respect for the Court, the basic tenor of the draft Declaration is actually to undermine its independence and authority in a fundamental way.

“One of the most retrogressive and alarming proposals is to suggest that the Court should no longer deal with cases arising from international conflict. This would mean, for example, no possibility of redress for victims of human rights violations in eastern Ukraine or Crimea, or those displaced by the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, nor would it allow the Court to continue to scrutinise the actions of states like the UK and the Netherlands in theatres of war such as the Iraq conflict.

“The draft Declaration should be scrapped  – instead of trying to ‘warn off’ the Court, it needs to be re-written so as to focus on concrete ways in which the European Convention on Human Rights can be better implemented in practice in each of the 47 Council of Europe states.”

Professor Philip Leach, EHRAC Director

All eight NGOs have been heavily involved with the process of reforming the Court, including at the recent high-level conference in Kokkedal, where we expressed our concern over the proposed approach of the Danish Chairmanship.

These are some of the main points which the NGOs believe should be reflected in the Declaration:

  • The Declaration should affirm the need to respect and preserve the independence of the European Court;
  • Effective human rights protection at the national level must be subject to the supervision of the Court;
  • Greater emphasis should be given to the role of civil society in implementing the ECHR at the national level, and this should be taken into account in developing proposals for more effective implementation;
  • The universality of human rights protection should be respected, and the text should be worded to highlight the importance of all human rights in all situations across all of the Council of Europe states;
  • The Declaration must not call into question the Court’s authority to review human rights cases concerning asylum and immigration, or those arising from international conflicts;
  • Governments should not be given further opportunities to influence the Court, nor should the Declaration provide a pretext for states to exert political pressure on the Court;
  • Council of Europe States should not only implement the ECHR, but also act promptly to execute judgments of the European Court;
  • National processes for the selection and election of European Court judges should be further strengthened.

Our response is supported by the following organisations:

  • Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ), United Kingdom
  • DIGNITY, Danish Institute against Torture, Denmark
  • FIACAT – International Federation of Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture
  • Foundation Against the Violation of Law NGO, Armenia
  • Georgian Institute of European Values (GIEV), Georgia
  • Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, Georgia
  • Greek Helsinki Monitor, Greece
  • Human Rights Centre “Memorial”, Russian Federation
  • ILGA-Europe, Belgium
  • Institute for Peace and Democracy, Azerbaijan/Netherlands
  • International Partnership for Human Rights
  • Justice and Peace Netherlands, The Netherlands
  • Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, Serbia
  • Legal Resources Centres, Moldova
  • LGBT Denmark, the Danish National Organisation for Gay Men, Lesbians, Bisexuals and Transgender Persons, Denmark
  • Macedonian Young Lawyers Association (MYLA) , “The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”
  • Mass Media Defence Centre, Russian Federation
  • PINK Armenia, Armenia
  • Promo-LEX Moldova, Moldova
  • Redress, United Kingdom
  • The Danish Refugee Council, Denmark
  • The European Centre of Albania, Albania
  • The Europe in Law Association, Armenia
  • The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Poland
  • The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Hungary
  • The Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, Ukraine
  • Women’s Initiatives Supporting Group (WISG), Georgia

The draft Copenhagen Declaration follows the Brussels Declaration issued in March 2015, on which a group of NGOs also published a joint statement.