Human Rights Courts - Overview & Procedures

Working Paper
Karplus M. Substantive Rights Protected By International Human Rights Instruments (ICCPR, ACHR, ECHR, ACHPR*).; Working Paper.Abstract

List of substantive rights protected by international human rights instruments (ICCPR, ACHR, ECHR, ACHPR*)

Human Rights Committee -- General Procedures. Icelandic Human Rights Centre. 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The Human Rights Committee is a quasi-judicial body, established by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its First Optional Protocol. It convenes in New York and Geneva.

Inter-American Commission On Human Rights And The Inter-American Court Of Human Rights. Icelandic Human Rights Centre. 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The Inter-American Commission is a quasi-judicial, quasi-political body established by the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights . It is based in Washington DC, USA.

African Commission & Court on Human Rights -- General Procedures. Icelandic Human Rights Centre. 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a quasi-judicial body,established by the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The Commission is based in Banjul, The Gambia.

European Court -- Admissibility Checklist . Council of Europe - European Court of Human Rights. 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The European Court of Human Rights is an international court based in Strasbourg. It consists of a number of judges equal to the number of member States of the Council of Europe that have ratified the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms – currently forty-five. 
The Court’s judges sit in their individual capacity and do not represent any State. In dealing with applications, the Court is assisted by a Registry consisting mainly of lawyers from all the member States (who are also known as legal secretaries). They are entirely independent of their country of origin and do not represent either applicants or States. 

European Court – General Procedures. Icelandic Human Rights Centre. 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The European Court is a judicial body, established by the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Court is based in Strasbourg, France and is a full time permanent body.


The Court is composed of forty-five judges, one judge for each state party to the ECHR. Article 20 ECHR establishes that ‘The Court shall consist of a number of judges equal to that of the High Contracting Parties.’

  • ‘The judges shall be of high moral character and must either possess the qualifications required for appointment to high judicial office or be jurisconsults of recognised competence’ (Article 21(1) ECHR).
  • The judges shall sit on the Court in their individual capacity (Article 21(2) ECHR).
  • Ad hoc judges: Rule 29(1) Rules of Court. ‘1.(a) If the judge elected in respect of a Contracting Party concerned is unable to sit in the Chamber, withdraws, or is exempted, the President of the Chamber shall invite that Party to indicate whether it wishes to appoint to sit as judge either another elected judge or an ad hoc judge and, if so, to state at the same time the name of the person appointed.’
European Court – Rules of Court. European Court of Human Rights. 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The Rules of Court outline the policies and procedures of the European Court of Human Rights. The document explains the organization, proceedings, judgments, and overall working of the Court. 

Advocacy before the Inter-American System: Manual for Attorneys and Advocates. International Justice Resource Center; 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

International Justice Resource Center's publication, Advocacy before the Inter-American System: Manual for Attorneys and Advocates (2014) provides detailed information on the System, its components, complaints procedure, and decisions (also available in SpanishPortuguese and Haitian Creole).

European Court – Practical Guide on Admissibility. European Court of Human Rights. 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract

 This practical guide to the conditions of admissibility of individual applications is to be seen in the same context. It is designed to present a clearer and more detailed picture of the conditions of admissibility with a view, firstly, to reducing as far as possible the number of applications which have no prospect of resulting in a ruling on the merits and, secondly, to ensuring that those applications which warrant examination on the merits pass the admissibility test. At present, in most cases which pass that test, the admissibility and merits are examined at the same time, which simplifies and speeds up the procedure.

This document is aimed principally at legal practitioners and in particular at lawyers who may be called upon to represent applicants before the Court. All the admissibility criteria set forth in Articles 34 (individual applications) and 35 (admissibility criteria) of the Convention have been examined in the light of the Court’s case- law. Naturally, some concepts, such as the six-month time-limit and, to a lesser extent, the exhaustion of domestic remedies, are more easily defined than others such as the concept of “manifestly ill-founded”, which can be broken down almost ad infinitum, or the Court’s jurisdiction ratione materiae or ratione personae. Furthermore, some Articles are relied on much more frequently than others by applicants, and some States have not ratified all the additional Protocols to the Convention, while others have issued reservations with regard to the scope of certain provisions. The rare instances of inter-State applications have not been taken into account as they call for a very different kind of approach. This guide does not therefore claim to be exhaustive and will concentrate on the most commonly occurring scenarios. 

Edwards A. Violence against Women under International Human Rights Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2013. Publisher's VersionAbstract

*The full article is available through this link. This article may be available free of charge to those with university credentials.

Since the mid-1990s, increasing international attention has been paid to the issue of violence against women; however, there is still no explicit international human rights treaty prohibition on violence against women and the issue remains poorly defined and understood under international human rights law. Drawing on feminist theories of international law and human rights, this critical examination of the United Nations' legal approaches to violence against women analyses the merits of strategies which incorporate women's concerns of violence within existing human rights norms such as equality norms, the right to life, and the prohibition against torture. Although feminist strategies of inclusion have been necessary as well as symbolically powerful for women, the book argues that they also carry their own problems and limitations, prevent a more radical transformation of the human rights system and ultimately reinforce the unequal position of women under international law.

European Court – New Admissibility Criterion. European Court of Human Rights. 2012. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The purpose of the current overview is to set out the case-law principles for the new admissibility criterion under Article 35 § 3 (b), as developed by the Court during the first two years of its operation. It is to be recalled that application of the criterion was reserved exclusively to Chambers and the Grand Chamber1 from 1 June 2010 until 31 May 2012. In accordance with Article 20 of Protocol No. 14, the new provision began to apply to all applications pending before the Court, except those declared admissible.


European Court – References to Inter-American Court Case Law. European Court of Human Rights. 2012. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Yerima TF. Comparative Evaluation of the Challenges of African Regional Human Rights Courts. Journal of Politics and Law . 2011;4 (2) :120-127. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Recent developments in Africa have witnessed the establishment of African Court of Human Rights and African Court of Justice; and the eventual merger of the two Courts as the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. The Courts were established to compliment the protective mandate of African Commission on Human Rights. The establishment of African Human Rights Courts has catapulted scholars into considering whether the option is better for African human rights system or whether it was taken impetuously.  The question is imperative in view of the problems that besiege the African Commission. This article considers the foreseeable hurdles that the African Court of Human Rights and the merged Court are likely to face.  It points out that the African human rights system was built on a shaky foundation and suggests ways for revamping the system.

A Guide to Using the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa for Legal Action. Equality Now; 2011. Publisher's VersionAbstract

This Guide provides step-by-step guidance for using the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa at local, national, and regional levels. It explains how to bring women’s rights abuses that violate the Protocol before domestic courts and regional justice mechanisms like the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights; analyzes key cases related to women’s rights decided by the African Commission; and provides general strategies for activists.


A practical guide to the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Urban Justice Center; 2010. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Eleventh document

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) provides a new and exciting opportunity for advocates to hold the United States government accountable to all its human rights obligations and commitments. Similar to other human rights mechanisms, the UPR encourages advocates to engage in dialogue and challenge their governments to respect, protect and fulfill the broad range of human rights under the umbrella of international law and agreements.

The UPR is also a unique instrument available to United States advocates to advance economic and social rights such as the right to work, to housing, to health, etc; rights that are recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)one of the documents used in the UPRas well as several other human rights treaties.

Participation by advocates in the UPR is a key part of the process and can be effective at different levels. The Human Rights Project (HRP) at the Urban Justice Center employed its extensive experience and knowledge from engaging advocates in other human rights mechanisms to develop this UPR toolkit. 

Viljoen F. An Introduction to the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa. Washington & Lee Journal of Civil Rights & Social Justice. 2009;16 (11) :11-46. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (African Women's Protocol or Protocol) is a legally binding multilateral supplement to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Charter), adopted in July 2003 by the African Union Assembly of Heads of State and Government. Also referred to as the "Maputo Protocol," alluding to the place of its adoption, the Protocol entered into force on November 25, 2005. By June 30, 2009, it had been ratified by 27 of the 53 members of the African Union (AU), all of whom are also States Parties to the African Charter.  

Nowak M. The Need for a World Court of Human Rights. Human Rights Law Review. 2007;7 (1) :251-259. Publisher's VersionAbstract

*The full article is available through this link. This article may be available free of charge to those with university credentials.

The very notion of human rights implies that rights-holders must have some possibility to hold duty bearers accountable for not living up to their legally binding human rights obligations. This basic insight has found legal expression in the right to an effective remedy against violations of human rights, as laid down in Article 2(3) of the CCPR. This right to an effective remedy and reparation has been further developed by the so-called van Boven/Bassiouni Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation, which were adopted by the General Assembly on 16 December 2005. By far the most effective method to implement the right to an effective remedy on the international level is to allow direct access of the rights holders to a fully independent international human rights court with the power to render binding judgments and to grant adequate reparation to the victims of human rights violations.

The establishment of the Human Rights Council seems to be the right moment to start seriously thinking about the creation of a World Court of Human Rights as its independent counter-part!

Merry SE. Constructing a Global Law - Violence against Women and the Human Rights System. Law & Social Inquiry. 2003;28 (4) :941-977. Publisher's VersionAbstract

*The full article is available through this link. This article may be available free of charge to those with university credentials.

This ethnographic analysis of one of the core human rights conventions suggests that despite the lack of enforceability of this convention and its operation within the framework of state sovereignty, it is similar to state law. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, or CEDAW, the major UN convention on the status of women, articulates a vision of women's equal protection from discrimination and addresses gender-based violence as a form of discrimination. It had been ratified by 171 nation states as of mid-2003. Its implementation relies on a complex process of periodic reporting to a global body meeting in New York and a symbiotic if sometimes contentious relationship between government representatives and international and domestic NGOs. Like state law, it serves to articulate and name problems and delineate solutions. It provides a resource for activists endeavoring to address problems of women's status and turns the international gaze on resisting nations. Its regulatory strength depends on the cultural legitimacy of the international process of consensus building and related social movements to define social justice in these terms. Thus, like state law, its impact depends on its cultural legitimacy and its embodiment in local cultures and legal consciousness. This examination of CEDAW as quasi law extends our understanding of law as a plural and a symbolic system rooted in a particular historical moment of globalization.


American Declaration of the Rights & Duties of Man. Organization of American States. 1948. Publisher's VersionAbstract

The American Declaration is the first general international human rights instrument. Approximately eight months following its adoption, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The American Declaration establishes that "the essential rights of man are not derived from the fact that he is a national of a certain state, but are based upon attributes of his human personality."  Accordingly, the States of the Americas recognize that when the state legislates in this area, it does not create or grant rights, but rather recognizes rights that exist independent of the formation of the State. Both the Commission and the Court have established that despite having been adopted as a declaration and not as a treaty, today the American Declaration constitutes a source of international obligations for the Member States of the OAS.