Council of Europe

The Council of Europe (CoE) has also become an important actor regarding the human dimension of security. Established in 1949, the Council of Europe drafted the European Convention on Human Rights in 1950, and created the European Court of Human Rights in 1959 at Strasbourg. Its statutes require that its members “must accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

CoE flag

CoE flag

It has also taken a leading role in promoting European cooperation in culture, education, environment, parliamentary democracy, and social policy. It has thus focused almost entirely on the human dimension as an essential component of security.


The Council of Europe consists of 47 states, including 22 former communist countries from Central and Eastern Europe, all of which are also OSCE participating states. Membership in the Council of Europe is effectively, though not formally, a prerequisite for candidacy for entry into the European Union. Neither the U.S. nor Canada is eligible for membership, largely because the Council has defined its geographic scope more narrowly than the OSCE, although both hold observer status. One other OSCE participating state, Belarus, has also applied for membership.

The Council operates primarily by setting up strict criteria for membership prior to the admission of new member states. In contrast, the OSCE requires states to affirm their intent to live up to a series of commitments contained in the cumulative set of OSCE documents and monitors their performance in fulfilling those commitments after they have become participants.

The Council of Europe requires its current members to certify that candidates meet the following criteria before they can be qualified for participation:

  • Their institutions and legal system must provide for the basic principles of democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights
  • Their government must include a parliament chosen by free and fair elections with universal suffrage
  • They must guarantee free expression including a free press
  • They must have provisions for the protection of the rights of persons belonging to minorities
  • They must demonstrate a track record of observance of international law

A Summit meeting of Council of Europe leaders in Vienna in 1993 added a new set of responsibilities, calling for its members to combat racism, intolerance, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism, while also promoting the adoption of confidence-building measures to avert ethnic conflict, mostly in the new member states to the East.


States that fail to fulfill the membership obligations may be suspended. For example, Russia’s membership was suspended in 1995 due to the behavior of its armed forces in Chechnya. Other countries that continue to maintain a death penalty as part of their penal code have also been denied membership, since the Council of Europe considers the death penalty to represent a violation of fundamental human rights. However, as a general matter of practice, once accepted into membership there are no sanctions for violations of these CoE principles other than suspension.

Furthermore, unlike the OSCE, once a state is admitted into membership, there are no permanent missions stationed on its territory. Therefore, CoE monitoring of its members is quite minimal.


The Council of Europe fulfills its role in conflict prevention and the promotion of democracy using techniques similar to those of the OSCE, but always by sending in experts from outside the country. As requested, staff from a relevant Council section in Strasbourg may be sent in to set up seminars, to offer expert advice, and to run training courses. It is these staff members who interact most frequently with OSCE mission members who are already in country.

Cooperation with OSCE

The OSCE and the Council of Europe co-operate in the four priority areas of fighting terrorism, combating human trafficking, promoting tolerance and non-discrimination as well as respect for the rights of national minorities. Other fields of co-operation include election observation, legislation reform, Roma and Sinti issues, human rights, democratization and local government.

By defining its primary mission as encouraging good governance as a long-term mechanism for conflict prevention, the Council of Europe has carved out for itself a role that overlaps with that of the OSCE in many important areas. Close coordination between OSCE and CoE missions is essential in those countries where the two operate side-by-side.

The OSCE differs from the CoE in having:

  • a broader mandate in conflict prevention and resolution
  • a broader base defined by geography, not political system
  • continuous, long-term presence through its missions
  • decisions that are politically rather than legally binding
Central Asia

The OSCE also has a special role to play in the five countries of Central Asia that fall outside the geographical territory covered by CoE, while also falling short of the entry criteria in any case.