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The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

Other Treaties:


The International Covenants

Racial Discrimination




UN Human Rights Commission

International Criminal Court

Vienna Declaration



African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights

European Court of Human Rights

American Convention on Human Rights

Council of Europe

Organisation of African Unity

Centre for Global Ethics: An African Contribution

List of countries that have signed and ratified the African Charter

Africa: Human Development Report

Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions

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Human Rights Agreements in Africa, Europe
and the Americas, and Regional Courts


The Organisation of African Unity, the Council of Europe and the Organisation of American States have all adopted charters or conventions to further human rights in their regions. They add additional binding obligations on signatory countries.

There is presently no such Charter or Convention for Asia although some NGOs in the region are pressing for one.


The Organisation of African Unity adopted the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights at a meeting in Nairobi on June 27, 1981. As well as rights, the Charter lists duties, which extend from the harmonious development of the family to the promotion and achievement of African unity.

The Charter has been criticised for its extensive deployment of claw back clauses - phrases which could effectively remove (or at a minimum severely curtail) the rights ostensibly guaranteed. Phrases such as: "... except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law..." (Article 6), "...subject to law and order..." (Article 8) and "... provided he abides by the law..." (Article 10) abound.

Human rights groups argue this is a particular problem in Africa as many states still have laws and regulations that directly violate human rights. For example, some states prohibit the formation of certain types of associations merely at the whim of the registering officer.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, was set up under the Charter to ensure the protection of people's rights throughout the African Continent. It has been criticised for being relatively toothless. Some countries, such as South Africa (which acceded to the Charter in 1996) have called for tougher enforcement mechanisms, which could include turning the present Commission into a working court.

Whether the African Commission on Human & Peoples' Rights will be perceived as an effective institution for the protection of human rights in Africa will largely depend on how far and how much the state parties to the African Charter take seriously, and respect, the Commission's views and recommendations. So far, they have not. "
Human Development Report 2000 Background Paper
(produced by the UN Development Programme)

The human rights regime in Europe developed since 1953 under the aegis of the Council of Europe, whose 43 members have adopted the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, is regarded as one of the most effective.

The European Convention on Human Rights provides for the European Court of Human Rights located in Strasbourg, which hears individual petitions and interstate cases.

Once domestic remedies have been exhausted, an individual may seek redress in Strasbourg for an alleged breach of the Convention by a member state.

The Strasbourg court is not a substitute for national courts, but it is in a sense an extension of them.

The judgements of the European Court of Human Rights are an integral part of the Council of Europe’s work.

Rulings of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg have acquired the force of law in most European countries.

For example, the British Government was ordered to pay damages to former army officers who had been discharged for their homosexuality in breach of Article 8, which allows all citizens to a free and private life. Service personnel can no longer be sacked for being gay.

The court has also banned corporal punishment in schools and secured compensation for people who have been denied a fair trail or suffered police brutality.

The Americas
A human rights system was established by the Organisation of American States after the American Convention on Human Rights was adopted in 1969 in San Jose, Costa Rica.

It created the Inter American Court of Human Rights and the Inter American Commission of Human Rights.

The court is an autonomous judicial institution whose purpose is the application and interpretation of the Convention. The commission is a permanent body which meets several times a year and is in charge of monitoring the observance of the rights outlined in the American Convention on Human Rights.

Most of Latin America, including the two largest nations Brazil and Mexico, are party to the court which has been successful in ordering Latin American governments to pay financial compensation to those families that have lost members through human rights violations, as well as persuading government leaders to release the victims of unjust trials and prison sentences.

But other countries have ignored the court's rulings. Trinidad ignored the Court's demands that it block any unwarranted executions. And in 1999, the Peruvian Congress passed a bill to withdraw the country from the jurisdiction of the Court at a time when the Court was considering taking serious action against Peruvian human rights violations.

Since 1994 the United States of America has twice considered membership of the Court and twice refrained. This has been partly attributed to opposition from the former Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Jesse Helms who opposes Human Rights treaties if they have the potential to be enforced against the US.



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