Council of Europe
last updated July 29, 2013

Within the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights has the broadest mandate and, together with the Committee of Ministers, is the most authoritative human rights enforcement mechanism. The European Court is an independent body that reviews complaints from both individuals and groups alleging that a State is not in compliance with obligations under European treaties, such as the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.[1] Cases can only be brought against States who have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights once domestic remedies have been exhausted.[2] The Court issues binding judgments and has been instrumental in defining the principles that are inherent in democratic society.

The European Court of Human Rights has been said to function as a constitutional court, defining the limits of human rights principles for European nations. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment serves a very different function from the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee is not a judicial body, and therefore does not accept individual complaints. The Court, on the other hand, could hear a case alleging torture or ill-treatment, arising under the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment carries out regular country visits and drafts reports, generally confidential, that include recommendations to State parties. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can play a limited role in this process, by submitting communications to the Committee about a country to be visited or proposing an ad hoc visit. Explanatory notes on the European Convention on Human Rights state that although "the Committee should not be concerned with the investigation of individual complaints . . . it should be free to assess communications from individuals or groups of individuals and to decide whether to exercise its functions upon such communications."[3]

The European Committee of Social Rights similarly requires regular submission of periodic reports on State compliance with the European Social Charter. In addition, the European Committee of Social Rights reviews complaints in a very limited capacity. A limited number of NGOs, with consultative status and included on a list drawn up by the Governmental Committee, international organizations of employers and trade unions, may submit collective complaints of violations of the European Social Charter.

The complaint and reporting mechanisms available within the Council of Europe are summarized in this section.

 

[1] Council of Europe, The Court in Brief, accessed June 13, 2012, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Court_in_brief_ENG.pdf.

[2] Council of Europe, The ECHR in 50 Questions, July, 2012, http://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/50Questions_ENG.pdf

[3] Council of Europe, Explanatory Report to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 2002, http://www.cpt.coe.int/en/documents/eng-convention-scr.pdf.