Human Rights Law Research Guide

This guide will lead researchers through primary materials and introduce important secondary sources. While general human rights sources are covered in the guide, special attention is paid to resources that specifically address international women's human

The European Human Rights System

Table of Contents

The Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is one of several regional inter-governmental organizations established in the aftermath of World War II.  It is a separate and distinct entity from the European Union, and its membership is larger, encompassing almost every country located wholly or partly within the European continent, including Russia and Turkey.  The Council's core mission is the promotion and protection of human rights

Other council initiatives include promoting the rule of law by combating corruption and organized crime, facilitating the transition to democracy of post-communist and post-conflict states, promoting uniform standards at the regional level, and the preservation of cultural heritage.  Much of the Council's work in the field of human rights is accomplished through the drafting of multilateral treaties.

European Human Rights Treaties

  • European Convention on Human Rights
    This treaty, formally known as the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, guarantees core civil and political rights.  All 47 member states of the Council of Europe are state parties to the Convention, but not all state parties have ratified each of its 16 protocols.
    • Treaty Information:  This gateway page provides links to the official texts of the Convention in English and French, signature and ratification information, declarations and reservations by state parties, preparatory texts, protocols (amendments), and more.
    • Citation:  Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Nov. 4, 1950, E.T.S. No. 5., 213 U.N.T.S. 222.
  • Directory of European Human Rights Treaties & Protocols
    The Council of Europe's Treaty Office maintains this comprehensive list of all human rights treaties drafted by the Council.  In addition to the European Convention on Human Rights and its 16 protocols, the list includes eight more narrowly-focused treaties and their protocols.  Click on the name of a treaty or protocol to access its official text and related documentation.

Monitoring & Compliance - Country Reports

Commissioner for Human Rights
The Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights is an independent and impartial non-judicial institution established by the Council of Europe to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in the Council's 47 member states.  The Commissioner for Human Rights is elected by Council's Parliamentary Assembly to serve a non-renewable six-year term.

The Office of the Commissioner fulfills its mandate by monitoring each member state's compliance with applicable human rights standards and issuing country reports; by conducting thematic research on human rights topics; and by raising awareness of human rights issues in cooperation with other inter-governmental organizations and non-governmental civil society organizations.

Visit the Office of the Commissioner's website to access country monitoring reports and related documentation, and to learn more about the Office of the Commissioner's thematic work.  It is also possible to browse for publications by document type (country reports, issue papers, opinions, etc.)

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR)

The European Court of Human Rights was established by Article 19 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  The Court is responsible for ensuring that member states comply with their obligations under the Convention.  The Court hears the following types of cases:

  • Private Petitions - brought by an individual against a state party alleging a violation of one or more rights guaranteed by the Convention.
  • Interstate Complaints - brought by one state party against another.
  • Requests for Advisory Opinions -  issued by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.

Prior to 1999, private petitions initially were reviewed by a Commission on Human Rights, which determined whether or not a petition would be referred to the Court for adjudication on the merits.  Since the Commission was abolished in 1999, individuals may petition the Court directly.  However, a petitioner must obtain a preliminary finding of admissibility from the Court in order for the petition to be considered on the merits.

Most adjudications on the merits are heard by a chamber of seven judges.  Under certain circumstances, a judgment may be reviewed by grand chamber of 17 judges.  The Court issues substantive judgments in both English and French (initially in one language before being translated into the other).

Visit the Court's website to access additional background information, the Rules of the Court, press releases, and more.

ECHR Case Law

HUDOC Database
The ECHR's free database offers the most comprehensive and up-to-date coverage of the Court's judgments and decisions.  The search interface can be intimidating for first-time users.  Consult the following before searching:

Alternative Online Sources for ECHR Case Law

  • European Court of Human Rights Cases
    Academic subscribers to Lexis may access a searchable database of full-text judgments issued by the ECHR from 1960-present.  Bear in mind that this database is updated less frequently than the HUDOC database.
  • European Human Rights Reports
    This.Westlaw database includes full-text judgments issued by the European Court of Human Rights from 1979-present, with limited coverage of cases decided between 1960 and 1978.  Also includes selected reports and decisions from the European Commission of Human Rights from 1979 until it was abolished in 1999.
  • Oxford Reports on International Law
    Selectively publishes the most significant judgments of the ECHR, along with explanatory headnotes.  Use the Jurisdiction menu to select European Organizations/Institutions.  After the page refreshes, use the filters on the left to select Council of Europe.  Then search  by keyword.
  • World Legal Information Institute (WorldLII)
    This free resource offers comprehensive coverage of ECHR judgments from 1960-present.  To limit searches to ECHR judgments, scroll down and check the appropriate box.  It is also possible to browse alphabetically by party name or chronologically by year.

ECHR Case Law & Pleadings in Print

The ECHR used to publish its judgments and decisions, as well as party pleadings and transcripts of oral arguments, in two official series of print reporters.   The publication of these print reporters ceased in 1995.  Since 1997, the Court has selectively published its most significant judgments and decisions in an annual print series entitled Reports of Judgments and Decisions

  • Publications of the European Court of Human Rights. Series A, Judgments and Decisions.  Published in English and French, 1962-1995 [Ceased].  Call No. KJC 5132.A52 E88.
  • Publications of the European Court of Human Rights. Series B, Pleadings, Oral Arguments, and Documents.  Published in English and French, 1962-1995 [Ceased].  Call No. KJC5132.A52 E882.
  • Recueil des Arrêts et Décisions = Reports of Judgments and Decisions.  Published in English and French, 1997-present.  Call No. KJC 5132.A52 E88.  Annual volumes also are available for download in PDF format from the Court's website.


The Council of Europe

Logo of the Council of Europe via Wikimedia Commons.

Find More Resources on the European Human Rights System

To locate additional materials on the European Human Rights system from the Georgetown Law Library's collection, use the Advanced Search and select Law Library Catalog.  Then select Subject as the search field and search for one of the following subject headings as an exact phrase:

For greater precision, use the first line to search for one of the subject headings listed above, and use the remaining lines to search for additional words or exact phrases using the default Any Field setting.

The European Court of Human Rights

Courtroom of the ECHR in Strasbourg

Image by Adrian Grycuk via Wikimedia Commons
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