Council of Europe
last updated 17 December 2007

Treaty Obligations
Two treaties are the legal sources for the Council of Europe's human rights obligations: the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention) (ETS No. 5) and the European Social Charter (ETS No. 35). Both treaties contain provisions that are relevant to sexual harassment. The European Convention sets forth the principle of nondiscrimination and guarantees the right to an effective legal remedy for the violation of human rights.

The European Social Charter includes the right to work, the right to just conditions of work, and the right to safe and healthy working conditions. Freedom from discrimination is discussed only in the preamble. The Revised Charter, which entered into force in 1999, introduces provisions for the "right to equal opportunities and equal treatment in matters of employment and occupation without discrimination on the grounds of sex", and the right to dignity at work. The right to dignity at work specifically includes protection from sexual harassment: "With a view to ensuring the effective exercise of the right of all workers to protection of their dignity at work, the Parties undertake, in consultation with employers' and workers' organizations: to promote the awareness, information and prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace or in relation to work and to take all appropriate measures to protect workers from such conduct." The Revised Charter also includes a non-discrimination clause in the body of the document.

Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly Recommendations
In addition to the Council of Europe treaties, recommendations by the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly also have the force of law for member States. Both the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers have issued recommendations that are relevant to COE policy on sexual harassment.

In 1995, the COE Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1260 "on the International Conference on Population and Development (Cairo, 5-13 September 1994): follow up by the Council of Europe and its member states." This recommendation suggests that the Council of Ministers invite the member states to "eliminate all discrimination against women, particularly in the fields of education and employment . . . and eliminate all forms of violence against them, including sexual harassment." That same year, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1281 "on gender equality in education," expressing concern that "women and girls are still subject to sexual harassment and violence in society and education."

In 1999, the Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1415, suggesting that the Council of Ministers "Draft an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights . . . with a view to guaranteeing as a first stage some of the following rights: . . . the right to protection from sexual harassment."

In 2002, the Committee of Ministers adopted Recommendation Rec(2002)5 "to member States on the protection of women against violence," defines violence against women as "any act of gender-based violence, which results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts . . . whether occurring in public or private life. This includes . . . violence occurring within the general community, including, inter alia, . . . sexual harassment and intimidation at work, in institutions, or elsewhere." The recommendation asks member states to review their legislation, "with a view to guaranteeing women the recognition, enjoyment, exercise and protection of their human rights and fundamental freedoms." It also recognizes states' "obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence, whether those acts are perpetrated by the state or private persons, and provide protection to the victims," and recommends that states promote research and collect data on violence against women. The Appendix to this document recommends additional measures to address sexual harassment:

Member states should: 60. take steps to prohibit all conducts of a sexual nature, or other conduct based on sex affecting the dignity of women at work, including the behaviour of superiors and colleagues: all conduct of a sexual nature for which the perpetrator makes use of a position of authority, wherever it occurs (including situations such as neighbourhood relations, relations between students and teachers, telephone harassment, etc.), is concerned. These situations constitute a violation of the dignity of persons; 61. promote awareness, information and prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace or in relation to work or wherever it may occur and take the appropriate measures to protect women and men from such conduct.