Conor Gearty


It seems at times as though the entire world has become ad- dicted to human rights. The United States has, of course, had its famed Bill of Rights for generations. The United Kingdom's Human Rights Act has recently come into force. That measure also applies to Northern Ireland, with human rights issues appearing in the Good Friday Agreement. Both Britain and Ireland have adopted the model of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, a charter agreed to on November 4, 1950, by western European nations emerging from a dark age of fascist totalitarianism. The body which gave birth to that charter, the Council of Europe, used to be comprised of a small group of nations broadly allied to the west in the great Cold War argument. Now, having re-energized itself after 1989, the organization boasts no fewer than forty-one member states, drawn from as far afield as Turkey, Macedonia, Moldova, and Iceland. Each of these countries has also incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into their domestic law in some shape or form. Most of them also have their own constitutional rights system, sometimes based upon the United States model. The European Union has recently joined the "rights party," with its own Charter of Rights, agreed to at the end of 2000, albeit in the teeth of strong opposition from some parts of the business sector. There is of course already in place a plethora of other rights instruments and a plan for an international criminal court. Clear evidence can be found that western judges are taking more seriously than ever their enforcement responsibilities with respect to these various legal mandates.