European Court of Human Rights


last updated July 29, 2013


Type of Mechanism


Complaint-recourse, under Articles 33 and 34 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention), as amended by Protocol 11. 


Scope of the Procedure

The rights enumerated in the European Convention and Protocols. 



Who can Submit a Complaint?


Individuals or groups of individuals or non-governmental organization claiming to be the direct victims of a human rights abuse, from countries that have ratified the European Convention.  NGOs cannot submit complaints on behalf of individuals. A High Contracting Party may bring a complaint against another High Contracting Party.[1]


NGOs can provide advice or legal representation to individuals or groups who bring a complaint.  Protocol 11 authorizes other parties, including NGOs, to provide information to the Court, at the invitation of the President.


The latest amendment to the European Convention on Human Rights, Protocol 14, brought into force on June 1, 2010, added the requirement that applicants must suffer a “significant disadvantage.”[2] The Convention, however, does not define what constitutes a “significant disadvantage” and leaves this decision for a case-by-case analysis.[3] 


Available Remedies

Interim measures; friendly settlement; legally binding judgments. Under Protocol 14, if a State has failed to fulfill its obligation under a previous final judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, the case shall refer back to the Committee of Ministers for measures to be taken.[4] 

How to Submit a Complaint

Applicants to the European Court of Human Rights are required to follow a formal complaint procedure.  Before drafting a complaint, it is useful  consult the Application Packet, which includes:

(1) The European Convention on Human Rights;

(2) The Application Form;

(3) Notes for Guidance, explaining what kinds of cases the court takes and how to apply;

(4) Dates of Entry into Force; and

(5) The Authority Form.


Other useful documents include: Questions and Answers for Applicants, the Case Processing Flow Chart, the ECHR in 50 Questions, an explanation of Rule 47, the Institution of Proceedings, and the Admissibility Checklist.


All of these documents can be found here on the General Information for Applicants section of the ECHR website.


Where to Send Communications

The Registrar

European Court of Human Rights

Council of Europe

F - 67075 Strasbourg-Cedex

Tel:  33 (0)3 88 41 20 18

Fax:  33 (0)3 88 41 27 30



How the Complaint Procedure Works

The complaining party must first exhaust all domestic remedies.  The complainant must also apply to the Court within six months of the final decision by the highest competent national tribunal.

The Court first determines admissibility of the complaint, by reviewing whether the complaint meets the requirements set forth in the European Convention and the Court's materials for applicants. This includes whether the applicant has suffered a significant disadvantage.

Second, the Court examines the merits of the case.  At this stage, the Court may request additional evidence from either party and may invite the parties to attend a public hearing.  At this stage, the Court may also request written comments from NGOs or another State party.  At this time, the Court may also engage in negotiations for friendly settlement.  If the Court had received reliable information that a violation is about to occur, the Court can issue interim measures, requiring the State to take temporary actions before the merits of the case are decided.

Finally, if a friendly settlement cannot be reached, the Court passes judgment on the case by a majority vote.  Final judgments are binding on the State.  The Committee of Ministers oversees compliance with the judgment.



The Court issues binding judgments, and the Court has effectively become a European constitutional court.  The Court has rendered favorable decisions on women's rights issues.

The procedure of addressing complaints to the Court is complicated, and it is advisable for individuals to seek legal assistance.  Legal aid through the Court may be available, however.  There are limitations of the kinds of cases that the Court can examine, and the Court is backlogged, meaning that it can take several years for the Court to process a case.


Additional Resources


The website of the European Court of Human Rights includes general information as well as information about pending cases and judgments. 


Frontline, an Irish NGO, has created a Human Rights Defenders Manual, which includes detailed information on submitting complaints to the European Court of Human Rights in cases of specific human rights violations.


[1] Council of Europe, European Convention on Human Rights, 1950,
[2] Council of Europe, Protocol No. 14 to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, amending the control system of the Convention, 2004,
[3] House of Lords & House of Commons, Protocol No. 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights:
First Report of Session 2004–05, December, 2004,
[4] Id.