Body constituted 1949 to achieve greater unity between European countries, to facilitate their economic and social progress, and to uphold the principles of parliamentary democracy and respect for human rights. It has a Committee of foreign ministers, a Consultative Assembly, a Parliamentary Assembly (with members from national parliaments), and, to fulfill one of its main functions, a European Commission on Human Rights, which examines complaints about human-rights abuses. If the commission is unable to achieve a friendly settlement after examining alleged violations, the case may be taken to the European Court of Human Rights for adjudication. Headquarters in Strasbourg, France.
The founder members were the UK, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, the Republic of Ireland, Luxembourg, Greece, and Turkey; Iceland, Germany, Austria, Cyprus, Switzerland, Malta, Portugal, Spain, Liechtenstein, Finland, and San Marino joined subsequently. With the collapse of communism in E Europe, the council acquired a new role in assisting the establishment of Western-style democratic and accountable political systems in the region, and several former communist countries entered into membership. Hungary joined 1990, Czechoslovakia and Poland 1991 (the Czech and Slovak republics were given separate status 1993), Bulgaria 1992, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia 1993, and Austria 1994. This brought the total membership to 33. Albania, Belarus, Latvia, and the Ukraine enjoy “special guest” status and other E European states have applied to join. Yugoslavia was also accorded guest status but this was withdrawn after the outbreak of the civil war.
In addition to its concern for human rights, the council is active in the fields of the mass media, social welfare, health, population trends, migration, social equality, crime, education and culture, youth affairs, sport, and the environment. It cooperates with the United Nations and other international organizations and has particularly close relations with the European Union.