Human rights in Europe

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Human rights in Europe are generally upheld. However, several human rights infringements exist, ranging from the treatment of asylum seekers[1] to police brutality. The 2012 Amnesty International Annual Report points to problems in several European countries.[2] One of the most accused is Belarus,[3] the only country in Europe that, according to The Economist, has an authoritarian government. All other European countries are considered to have "some form of democratic government", having either the "full democracy", "flawed democracy", or a "hybrid regime".[4]

Unlike its member states, the European Union itself has not yet joined the Convention on Human Rights as of 2011.[5]


The history of human rights in Europe is marked by a contradictory combination of legislative and intellectual progress and violations of fundamental human rights in both Europe and its colonies.



  • 1954–1956: Britain tortures and kills at least 50,000 Kenyans in the Mau Mau Rebellion
  • 1954–62: Both France and the FLN use torture in the Algerian War of Independence
  • 1961: French police massacre pro-FLN Algerians in a peaceful demonstration later known as the Paris massacre
  • 1972: British Army shoots unarmed protesters in Northern Ireland, later known as Bloody Sunday
  • 1974: Turkey invades and ethnically cleanses 80–87% of the population of Kyrenia, Ammochostos, Rizokarpaso and parts of Nicosia Cyprus. Turkey's use of Napalm on civilians is condemned. Systematic Rape requires the passing of emergency legislation by the British Parliament to allow Medical Officers to perform emergency abortions of raped women. Missing people number about 1,652. Footage of civilians taken to Turkey reveal some people were taken alive but still remain unaccounted for.
  • 1978: European Court of Human Rights rules that torture by the British government of suspect IRA members constitutes "cruel and inhuman treatment"


The states of the EU, as well as Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, and the European microstates, generally have clean human rights records. The prospect of EU membership (which also entails subscription to the European Convention on Human Rights)[citation needed] has encouraged several European states, most notably Croatia and Turkey, to improve their human rights, especially on freedom of speech and banning the death penalty. However, certain laws passed in the wake of the War on Terrorism have been condemned for encroaching on human rights. There has been criticism of the French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools and the French legislation for protecting the public against certain cults. In the UK, a new British Bill of Rights has been advocated to: protect wider range of economic, political, judicial, communication, and personal rights and freedoms; extend normal rights and freedoms to presently unprivileged business-economic minority classes; strengthen and extend the liberal social order; and establish a new independent Supreme Court with the power to strike down government laws and policies that violate basic rights and freedoms.


In Latvia, citizenship, usage of mother tongue, and ethnic-based discrimination are the most acute problems for its Russian minority. Currently, half of the Russian-speaking community of Latvia are Latvian citizens, while the other half do not have citizenship of any country in the world. They form the unique legal category of "Latvian non-citizens". In some spheres their status is similar to that of citizens of Latvia (for example, in receive consular support abroad), while in some spheres they have fewer rights then foreigners (recent immigrants from EU countries can vote at municipal and EP elections but Latvian non-citizens cannot).

The Russian minority in Latvia is on the decline due to emigration and the negative birth rate. The death rate among Russians in Latvia is higher than that of Latvians in Latvia and Russians in Russia, in part due to the unfavourable social conditions that have come about in Latvian cities following the enforced destruction of the industrial economy in the beginning of the 1990s.

Former USSR states[edit]

Following the collapse and break-up of the Soviet Union, its history of severe human right abuses were laid in the open. The situation has since improved in the majority of formerly communist states of Europe, especially of those in Central Europe. These Central European states have aligned themselves with the EU (most of them becoming members in 2004) and have undergone a rigorous reform of human rights laws, most notably regarding freedom of speech and religion and the protection of minorities, particularly of the Romani. However, the former USSR states have made slower progress. Despite all but Belarus becoming members of the Council of Europe, constant conflict between minority group separatists in the Caucasus has led these states to pass strict laws with the aim of limiting rebellions.


A series of mass protests were held in Armenia in the wake of the Armenian presidential election of 19 February 2008. Mass protests against alleged electoral fraud were held in the capital city of Yerevan and organised by supporters of the unsuccessful presidential candidate and first President of the Republic of Armenia, Levon Ter-Petrosyan. After nine days of peaceful protests at the Opera Square, the national police and military forces tried to disperse the protesters on 1 March.[6] The protests began on February 20, lasted for 10 days in Yerevan's Freedom Square, and involved tens of thousands of demonstrators during the day and hundreds camping out overnight. As a result, 10 people were killed. Despite the urges of the government to stop the demonstrations, the protests continued until March 1. On the morning of March 1, police and army units dispersed the 700–1,000 persons who remained overnight, beating them with truncheons and electric-shock devices.[7][8][9] As of March 4, many protesters are still missing.[10] Since March 1, Ter-Petrosyan was placed under de facto house arrest.[6][9][11]


Belarus is often described as "Europe's last dictatorship".[12] The press is strictly censored by the government, and freedom of speech and protest have been removed. Although Belarus' post-independence elections match the outward forms of a democracy, election monitors have described them as unsound.


Russia has partaken in some questionable acts, such as replacing elected governors with appointed ones and censoring the press, claiming many of these measures are needed to maintain control over its volatile Caucasus border, where several rebel groups are based. The Economist`s Democracy Index classified Russia as a "hybrid regime" in 2007,.[4] Since then Russia was downgraded to an authoritarian regime, which the report attributes to concerns over the December 4 legislative election and Vladimir Putin's decision to run again in the 2012 presidential election.[13] 2015 Democracy Index showed the same result.[14]

Former Yugoslavian states[edit]

Following the collapse of communism in Yugoslavia, the state held together by the strong rule of Josip Broz Tito, several of the nations which made it up declared independence. What followed was several years of bloody conflict as the dominant nation, Serbia, attempted at first to hold the state together, and then instead to hold onto Serb-populated areas of neighbouring nations in order to create a "Greater Serbia".[citation needed] Within Serbia itself there was conflict in Kosovo, where Serbs are a minority.

The now six states of the former Yugoslavia, (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia) are in various stages of human rights development. Slovenia, which suffered least in the Yugoslav wars, is a member of EU and is widely considered to have a good human rights record and policy, Croatia joined the EU and is considered to have a good human rights, Republic of Macedonia and Montenegro have formed stable governments and have fair human rights records. However, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia retain questionable rights records, the former entirely governed under UN Mandate, as is a part of the latter (Kosovo).[citation needed][needs update] Bosnia-Herzegovina is the most ethnically diverse of the former Yugoslavian states, with large groups of Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs, making peace difficult to attain. Both Bosnia and Serbia are classified as democracies by The Economist, with the former being a "hybrid regime and the latter a "flawed democracy".[4]

Universal suffrage[edit]

Universal suffrage was introduced in European countries during the following years:

Known issues[edit]

Human trafficking[edit]

The end of communism, the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and easier global travel have contributed to an increase in human trafficking, with many victims being forced into prostitution, hard labour, agriculture, and domestic service.[15] The conflicts in the former Yugoslavia have also been a key factor in the increase of human trafficking in Europe.[16][17] The problem is particularly severe in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and Turkey; these countries, along with Thailand, Japan, Israel and the United States are listed by the UNODC as top destinations for victims of human trafficking.[18]

The Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings was adopted by the Council of Europe on 16 May 2005. The aim of the convention is to prevent and combat the trafficking in human beings. The convention entered into force on 1/2/2008. As of June 2017 it has been ratified by 47 states (including Belarus, a non Council of Europe state), with Russia being the only state not to have ratified (nor signed). [19]

Amnesty International has called on European states to sign and ratify the convention as part of the fight against human trafficking.[20]

Council of Europe / European Union[edit]

The Council of Europe is responsible for both the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. These institutions bind the Council's members to a code of human rights which, though strict, are more lenient than those of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Council also promotes the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and the European Social Charter.

The Council of Europe is separate from the European Union, but the latter is expected to join the European Convention and potentially the Council itself. The EU also has a separate human rights document: the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.[21] Since March 2007 the EU has had a Fundamental Rights Agency[22] based in Vienna, Austria.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is responsible for promoting and protecting the human rights defined in international human rights treaties in Europe. In late 2009, the High Commissioner opened a Regional Office for Europe[23] which is mandated to promote and protect human rights in 40 European countries, including member states, candidate states, and potential candidate (the Balkans, Iceland, Norway and Turkey).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Finland was the first country in the world to give full parliamentary rights to women. New Zealand had granted women suffrage before Finland, but not the right to stand as candidates in elections.
  2. ^ Women lost the right to vote under Salazar; it was reintroduced again in 1975.
  3. ^ Women lost the vote under Franco in 1936 and did not regain it until 1976.


  1. ^ "Asylum-seekers aren't criminals" (Press release). Brussels: Amnesty International. 7 May 2012. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
  2. ^ "Amnesty International Annual Report 2012" (PDF) (Press release). Amnesty International.
  3. ^ "Belarus". Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
  4. ^ a b c Kekic, Laza. "The Economist Intelligence Unit's index of democracy" (PDF). The Economist; Democracy Index.
  5. ^ Beck, Sebastian (6 October 2011). "Guido Strack – the downfall of a whistleblower". Press Europe. Munich.
  6. ^ a b "Report by the Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr Thomas Hammarberg, on his special mission to Armenia, 12 – 15 march 2008", Council of Europe, March 20, 2008.
  7. ^ "Protestor on scene tells of melee",, March 1, 2008
  8. ^ "Armenia: Police Beat Peaceful Protesters in Yerevan", Human Rights Watch (NY), March 2, 2008.
  9. ^ a b Ter-Petrosyan ‘Under House Arrest,’ Rally Broken Up, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, March 1, 2008. Archived November 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Human Rights Watch Demands Probe Into Armenian Crackdown", Armenia Liberty (RFE/RL), March 4, 2008. Archived April 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "Armenia: At Least 2 Dead in Yerevan Violence, as Kocharian Declares State of Emergency", Armenia: Vote 2008 (, March 1, 2008.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Democracy index 2011: Democracy under stress". Economist Intelligence Unit. 14 December 2011. Retrieved 20 December 2011.
  14. ^
  15. ^ "A modern slave's brutal odyssey". BBC News. 3 November 2004. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  16. ^ "Trafficking of Women and Girls". Amnesty International. 19 September 2007.
  17. ^ Traynor, Ian (7 May 2004). "Nato force 'feeds Kosovo sex trade'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  18. ^ "UN highlights human trafficking". BBC News. 26 March 2007. Retrieved 4 May 2010.
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Council of Europe: Recommendations to Strengthen the December 2004 Draft European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings". Amnesty International. 1 January 2005.
  21. ^ Junker, Jean-Claude (2006). "Council of Europe – European Union: "A sole ambition for the European continent"" (PDF). Council of Europe. Retrieved 28 August 2007.
  22. ^ "About the FRA". European Agency for Fundamental Rights.
  23. ^ "Regional Office for Europe". United Nations Human Rights: Officer of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.