Youth policy topics Youth policy topics

Human Rights as a Priority Topic of European Youth Policy

Human rights are rights and freedoms that belong to all human beings, regardless of their nationality, language, religion, belief, sex , gender, sexual orientation, race, colour, ethnic origin, descent, age, disability, family, or any other status.

Human rights are expressed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, legally guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and are elaborated and explained by other non-binding documents, such as general comments, resolutions and directives. In addition to the Declaration and the two Covenants there are a number of international and regional treaties that lists human rights and set out obligations of Governments to act in certain way in order to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and fundamental freedoms of individuals or groups.

European Human Rights Protection System

The European Convention on Human Rights (formerly known as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) is the first Council of Europe's convention aiming at protection of human rights. The European Convention on Human Rights contains civil and political rights and established the European Court of Human Rights with jurisdiction to find against State Parties that do not fulfil their obligations under the Convention.

The European Social Charter is the Council of Europe's treaty that sets out social and economic human rights and established the European Committee of Social Rights, a body that ascertains whether member States have honoured the undertakings set out in the Charter. 
The Council of Europe also has other human rights treaties that deal with specific human rights issues or vulnerable groups, such as European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

In addition to treaty based mechanisms, the Council of Europe's work in promotion and protection of human rights is supported by two independent institutions within the Council of Europe, namely: the independent monitoring mechanism of the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance and the non-judicial institution of the Commissioner for Human Rights.

According to the Treaty on European Union, human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights are core values of the European Union. The commitment to human rights protection was reinforced by the adoption of the Charter of Fundamental Rights which contains civil, political, economic and social rights of European citizens and all persons resident in the European Union. Since 1 December 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the Charter has become legally binding on the Union. 

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights is an expert body of the European Union which was established in 2007 with an aim to provide the European Union's institutions and member States with "assistance and expertise relating to fundamental rights in order to support them when they take measures or formulate courses of action within their respective spheres of competence to fully respect fundamental rights"1.  It does this by collecting and analysing data on fundamental rights and providing independent advice to policy-makers.

European Youth Policy and Human Rights

International human rights norms and values implicitly and explicitly shape European Institutions and European youth policies. Human rights offer a normative framework for the formulation of regional and national youth policies, as well as strengthen policies by legal obligations.

Effective youth policy is not possible without empowerment of young people. By introducing a concept of rights into youth policies, policy makers acknowledge not only needs and special situation of young people, but also reaffirm their entitlements and rights. Youth policy becomes more than a good will from Governments – it becomes a legal obligation of States to respect, protect and fulfil all human rights for young people2

The new EU Youth Strategy underlines that "European Youth Policy cooperation should be firmly anchored in the international system of human rights". While Agenda 2020: The future of the Council of Europe Youth Policy identifies "young people's full enjoyment of human rights and human dignity" as a priority for the Council of Europe's youth policy and action. 

The principles of equality and non-discrimination are among the most fundamental elements of international human rights law. This principle can be found in most of the Council of Europe's and European Union's youth related policies. In addition to this, European youth policies have particular focus on young people who are vulnerable, disadvantaged or socially excluded. In the Resolution of the Council of the European Union on the participation of young people with fewer opportunities it is encouraged to prioritise young people in the most vulnerable situations when implementing regional and national youth related strategies. 

International human rights framework requires active and informed participation of young people in the formulation, implementation and monitoring of policies that affect young people's life.
The Revised European Charter on the Participation of Young People in Local and Regional Life is one of the key policy documents for youth active participation in Europe. The Charter recognizes that all local and regional sectoral policies should have a youth dimension and identifies consultation and co-operation with young people and their representatives as an essential principle in youth policy implementation.

Another important element of the human rights framework is accountability. Human rights require European States to be accountable for their actions: to show, explain and justify how they have fulfilled obligations regarding international human rights. In Europe there are different types of accountability mechanisms available, including: the European Court of Human Rights, the European Committee of Social Rights, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.

With regard to young people below the age of 18 who are alleged to have or who have committed an offence, the Council of Europe adopted the European Rules for Juvenile Offenders subject to Sanctions or Measures. Among the basic principles that have to be followed by States in their treatment of young offenders the European Rules list respect for their human rights. In addition to this, Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights has published an issue paper Children and Juvenile Justice: Proposals for Improvement. In this paper the Commissioner has emphasised that States should create juvenile justice systems that are effective and human rights-based, and secure the well-being of children and young people in conflict with the law. 

Education and training play a central role in promotion of international human rights values and principles. In 2000 the Directorate of Youth and Sport of the Council of Europe started the Human Rights Education Youth Programme with aim to "mainstream human rights education in youth policy and youth work practice". In order to support human rights education in formal and non-formal sector, a manual on human rights education – Compass – has been produced.

In 2006 the Council of Europe in partnership with the European Commission and the European Youth Forum initiated a one year European Youth Campaign for Diversity, Human Rights and Participation, entitled "All Different – All Equal".

In 2010 the Committee of Ministers adopted the Charter on Education for Democratic Citizenship and Human Rights Education. The Charter explains that "one of the fundamental goals of all education for democratic citizenship and human rights education is not just equipping learners with knowledge, understanding and skills, but also empowering them with the readiness to take action in society in the defence and promotion of human rights, democracy and the rule of law."

Similarly, the Youth in Action Programme of the European Union identifies the promotion of the respect for human rights and human dignity as one of the objectives for the period 2007 to 2013.

1 COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 168/2007 of 15 February 2007 on establishing a European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.
2 Draft Guidelines: A Human Rights Approach to Poverty Reduction Strategies, 10 September 2002

Text drafted by Justina Pinkeviciute for the Partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth.