The European Convention is 70 today. We should celebrate, not undermine, what is one of the most successful international instruments of modern timesby Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos / November 4, 2020 / Leave a comment
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in Rome. On 2nd October, we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Human Rights Act (HRA) coming into effect.
These important milestones offer an opportunity to look back, to the substantial impact that 70 years of ECHR jurisprudence has had on our domestic law, transforming for the better the everyday lives of individuals and communities in the UK.
They also require us to examine the present, where we are faced with the situation of the UK standing in near-complete isolation, as far as democratic countries go, in attempting to unravel its basic human rights infrastructure, putting at grave risk the international system for the protection of such rights in the process.
And they serve as a useful wake-up call. We must give thought to the looming threat of a future without the ability to rely on the human rights we may be taking for granted, those that we have acquired through the process of incorporating the ECHR into UK law and generating a human rights-centred culture that was previously foreign to our legal system. This threat is acute in the light of challenges that one anticipates human rights law will be confronted with in the near future: the rise of nationalist populism, infecting liberal democracies across Europe and beyond; modern technologies intruding upon individual autonomy; persistent racial, sexual and economic inequality; global threats to the protection of public health; and the menace of environmental disaster.
From this vantage point, committing to human rights protection—in other words the protection of what, according to Hannah Arendt (in The Origins of Totalitarianism), must be thought of as “a general characteristic of the human condition which no tyrant [no government] could take away”—should be a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, when it comes to human rights protections that originate in Europe, this is simply not the case in the UK.
In his important book The Evolution of the European Convention on Human Rights, Ed Bates meticulously sketches out how the ECHR “emerged at a critical moment in European, indeed world, history.” Europe was “a war-shattered continent and there were real fears in the western democracies over the spread of communism.” “A major motivating force—and very arguably…