Celebrating 70 Years of the European Convention on Human Rights: Its Indirect Impact on Antigua and Barbuda


By J’Moul Francis

Sunday, 3 September 2023, marked the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), a landmark international treaty that has played a pivotal role in shaping the global landscape of human rights and basic freedoms.

Spanning 47 countries, from Azerbaijan in the east to Iceland in the west, the ECHR has, over the past seven decades, acted as a beacon of hope, ensuring the protection of fundamental rights for millions, especially during such uncertain times.


A Historical Foundation and Inspirations from Across the Globe

The ECHR was established by the Council of Europe, a separate and independent international organisation from the European Union. It is worth recalling that the International Committee of Movements for European Unity held a Congress at The Hague in May 1948, laying the foundation for the establishment of the Council of Europe on 5 May 1949.

The ECHR, born from the ashes of World War II, stood as a direct response to the horrors of the Holocaust and other atrocities that still shock the collective consciousness of humanity.

Many of the principles incorporated into the ECHR found their roots in various historical documents, including the United Nations Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the American Declaration of Independence, Déclaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen (the French Declaration of the Rights of Man), and even the Magna Carta.

These sources collectively informed the framework of rights and freedoms that the ECHR sought to protect.


The Role of the European Court of Human Rights

The enforcement of the ECHR is entrusted to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), an international tribunal headquartered in Strasbourg, France. Individuals who believe their rights enshrined in the ECHR have been violated by a state can bring their case to the ECtHR after exhausting all other remedies.

If the ECtHR judges find a violation, they can rule against the offending state and order compensation.

However, it is essential to acknowledge that in recent times, the ECtHR has faced attacks from British politicians and far-right groups across Europe, who view it as a threat to national sovereignty and their skewed view of what society ought to be. Despite these criticisms, only Greece, under a military dictatorship (which later re-joined when democracy was restored), and Russia, during its invasion of Ukraine in 2014, have withdrawn from the Court.


Evolving Definitions of Human Rights and the Core Protections of the Convention

The definition of human rights has evolved through four distinct phases: civil and political rights, followed by the addition of social and cultural rights, then the inclusion of collective rights, and the right to development, peace, and a clean environment.

We are currently witnessing a fifth phase, where rights are expanding to encompass issues related to climate change and broader environmental sustainability obligations as peremptory norms.

Against this backdrop, the ECHR protects a wide range of rights, including the right to life, freedom from torture, freedom from slavery, the right to a fair trial, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the right to marry and start a family, and the right to education, among others. 


As such, the evolving definitions of human rights and the core protections under the Convention became influential in a thrust toward a new type of socio-economic development. It was so influential that it was exported to other parts of the world as a developmental tool.


The Indirect Impact on Antigua and Barbuda

The ECHR has indirectly influenced Antigua and Barbuda in several crucial ways. First and foremost, its principles have been incorporated into the country’s Constitution in Chapter II titled “Protection of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms of the Individual”, providing a strong foundation for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms.

Similar adaptations have taken place in other Commonwealth Caribbean countries. Antigua and Barbuda’s judicial system has also benefited from the ECHR, with its courts interpreting constitutional rights and freedoms in line with international standards and even engaging with ECtHR cases in their judgments.

Many landmark cases of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, which pushed the boundaries of constitutional law, especially the recent Mehul Choksi v The Attorney-General of Antigua and Barbuda, Orden David et al. v The Attorney-General of Antigua and Barbuda, and Jamal Jeffers v The Attorney-General of St Kitts and Nevis illustrate the influence of the ECHR and the ECtHR in this part of the world.

I must note that while the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) does not have jurisdiction over human rights matters, as stated in Myrie v Barbados, the court acknowledged the importance of international human rights law, particularly in cases involving discrimination by member states. Thus, the CCJ could potentially draw on ECtHR case law to shape and develop relevant CARICOM law and further regional integration.


Everyday Life Impact

The ECHR’s indirect influence on Antigua and Barbuda’s society has been subtly profound. It has brought to the forefront that access to essentials like medicine, food, water, clothing, and shelter flows from human rights.

Progress, through our national psyche, has been made towards equal rights and opportunities for children, women, and marginalised groups, including Rastafarians and other religious minorities, LGBTQ+ individuals, persons who are differently-abled, and persons affected with mental health challenges.

Further, environmental protections have also gained prominence in the wake of global concerns about climate change. As such, human rights protections have had a significant impact on ordinary citizens of Antigua and Barbuda. Discrimination and marginalisation are gradually diminishing, creating more equal opportunities in various aspects of life.

Civil society groups, religious organisations, and advocacy groups enjoy greater protection and freedom to exercise their rights and freedoms responsibly.


Current Human Rights Challenges

Despite the progress, Antigua and Barbuda still face several human rights challenges.

Many citizens are unaware of their rights and freedoms, and systematic discrimination persists.

The redress system can be costly and complex, and there is no national consensus on human rights standards and treatments.

Civil society and support groups remain limited. Other pressing issues include the marginalisation of minorities, outdated law enforcement procedures, undesirable incarceration standards, abuse and victimisation, non-existent whistle-blower protections, and lacklustre enforcement of data privacy.

However, we can collectively draw inspiration from the ECHR and other human rights regimes and bilateral partnerships to resolve many of these chronic issues. There must be national dialogue, and the conversation must continue. 


In conclusion, as we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights, we recognise its invaluable contribution to our small jurisdiction and its global influence, which has provided hope and inspiration to countless persons, lifting them out of poverty and oppression.

However, we must also acknowledge that there is much work to be done to ensure high standards of human rights protection in our own country.

As the late Nelson Mandela wisely said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity“. It is our shared responsibility to uphold and protect these rights for all.




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