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Human Rights vs. Civil Liberties in Europe

One of the most decisive legal movements of the last hundred years on a world scale is the European Convention on Human Rights, which for the first time imposed codified behavioral standards that must be fulfilled by all signatories. Although the document is referred to in a special European context, this document is truly important throughout the world as a clear guideline for reference on matters concerning human rights. But what about before the Convention - what is the protection of citizens against encroachment from the authorities, and what ways are there for complaints? In this article we will look at the position of many European countries before the Convention and thereafter, to highlight changes in the legal position of the average citizen.

The European Convention on Human Rights codifies a number of key human rights principles that must be met by those who ratify them legally. To monitor the behavior of signatories, a European Court was established to hear complaints against member countries, with the ability to raise problems and effectively embarrass countries in compliance. From the beginning, the court has been very successful in enforcing the provisions of the convention. No member country wants to be humiliated with a trial in public, and therefore they bend over backwards to accommodate the needs of the Convention. Did this work? Well it must have completely overhauled personal, criminal and public traits in almost every way and this has caused widespread disruption. However, it seems almost beyond doubt that the European Convention on Human Rights has a positive effect on the rights of citizens throughout Europe, including in rich countries.

Take Britain as an example. Before the European Convention on Human Rights, it was very possible to detain a criminal suspect without court involvement - that is, people could be deprived of their freedom almost indefinitely without any possible legal intervention. This means that people do not need to be told why they are detained, and do not have the right to submit cases to impartial courts, are reserved until the prosecutor decides to intervene, and has enough evidence to do so. For a country that has one of the strongest economies in the world, and with very high GDP, this is a surprising proposition, and that has been overcome since the introduction of the European Convention law. The Convention has been loved and reviled in equal steps, and despite having some serious challenges throughout its lifetime, this Convention has slowly but surely changed its position for citizens. For prospective EU member countries, this is an essential minimum, meaning those who are on the periphery of European recognition are struggling with good results to meet targets. Larger and more advanced countries continue to try and learn that they cannot do whatever they want, and the European Court ensures that.

Before the Convention, it was up to people to rely on the provisions of their constitution to protect their rights, and this was a scenario of 'lucky draw'. Some countries have very good provisions, such as Germany, where others like the UK have a bad record, mainly because of a lack of fundamental freedoms for citizens. Since the introduction and ratification of the Convention, all of these countries have stepped up to create an ideal environment for citizens, and aim to protect their rights while also protecting the interests of the state and the wider community. The European Convention on Human Rights has certainly come, and has brought the whole of Europe, even those on the periphery, together in an effort to improve living conditions and basic human rights for ordinary citizens on the streets. When decades come and go, only time will say how effective it will be, even though the initial projections have a positive impact on European society.


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