The 1948 Hague Congress that inspired the founding of the Council of Europe also called for a charter of human rights and for a court to enforce it.
Discussions on how the charter would look began at the first meeting in Strasbourg in August 1949. Leading the debates were former Nuremberg trial prosecutor Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, a British MP and lawyer, and former French resistance fighter Pierre-Henri Teitgen, who together drew up a list of rights inspired by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted two years before. For a continent coming out of the horrors of war, having lived through times of persecution and genocide, some of the elements – such as the right to life and protection against torture – were self-evident. At the same time, countries that were feeling the threat of the communist states to the East were keen to put democracy at the forefront of any new treaty. But not everyone agreed on which rights should be included: for instance, the concept of social rights was shelved until 1961, when it was incorporated in the Council of Europe’s Social Charter. Read the text on the European Convention. Learn more about the European Convention on Human Rights.