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Print this pageGlossary: The European Human Rights System




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Additional Protocol: An additional protocol to a treaty - referred to as an Optional Protocol in some human rights systems - is a multilateral agreement that States Parties can ratify or accede to, which expands upon a specific area of the treaty or assists in the implementation of its provisions.

Advisory opinions: The Committee of Ministers may request the European Court of Human Rights to adopt advisory opinions to help interpret the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocols. Advisory opinions are adopted by a majority of the Grand Chamber of the Court.


Building a Europe for and with Children: The Council of Europe’s programme for the promotion of children's rights and the protection of children from violence.


Chambers: Chambers of seven judges are the usual courts of judgement of the European Court of Human Rights which has bodies. They decide whether individual and inter-State applications meet the criteria necessary for the Court to examine the case. The judgement of the chamber, however, is not always final and the Grand Chamber may intervene.

Commissioner for Human Rights: The role of the Commissioner is to promote education and awareness of human rights in Member States of the Council of Europe, as well as to identify gaps in the laws and practices of Member States; and promote effective observance and full enjoyment of human rights. The Commissioner cannot take up individual complaints, but can make written comments and take part in hearings as a third party before the European Court of Human Rights. The current Commissioner is Thomas Hammarberg.

Committee of Ministers: This is the decision-making body of the Council of Europe. It is made up of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Member States. It supervises the execution of judgements of the European Court of Human Rights.

Committees of three judges: Committees, which are made up of three judges, are one of three bodies of the European Court of Human Rights which review cases. They are set up for a fixed period of time. Committees screen individual applications. They can declare cases inadmissible on the basis of reasons listed in Article 35 of the Convention. They cannot deal with inter-State cases. Committee decisions cannot be appealed, but they must be unanimous. If members of the Committee cannot reach a unanimous decision, the case is referred to a Chamber.

Conclusions: Conclusions about whether a State Party is complying with its obligations under the European Social Charter are issued by the European Social Committee following its examination of a State Party’s report.

Conference of INGOs: The collective name for Independent Non-Governmental Organisations that have been granted participatory status at the Council of Europe.

Contracting Party: A State that has ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Council of Europe: The Council of Europe, which was founded in 1949, is an inter-governmental body that aims to develop common democratic principles throughout Europe based on the European Convention on Human Rights and other human rights standards.


Decision: Decisions are binding on all persons and bodies subject to the authority of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. The adoption of treaties, recommendations, Resolutions, the CoE budget, the Intergovernmental Programme of Activities and terms of reference of committees all take the form of decisions.

Declaration: Document issued by the Council of Europe stating agreed upon standards. Declarations are not legally binding.


European Commission of Human Rights: In the past, the Commission determined whether individual complaints were “admissible” i.e. whether they met certain criteria which meant they could be accepted for examination by the Court. After the entry into force of Protocol No. 11 (see below), the Commission was abolished. The Court is now solely responsible for determining whether applications are admissible.

European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms: Sets out the fundamental rights and freedoms which Member States of the Council of Europe must ensure for all citizens within their jurisdiction. It was opened for signature in Rome on 4 November 1950 and entered into force on 3 September 1953. The Convention is supplemented by five additional protocols.

European Court of Human Rights: Delivers judgements on alleged violations of the European Convention. Failure to abide by judgements can lead to expulsion from the Council of Europe. The Court, which is based in Strasbourg, is divided into five Sections.

European Social Charter:
The Charter guarantees social and economic human rights. It was adopted in 1961 and revised in 1996. The European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) is the body responsible for monitoring States Parties’ compliance to the Charter.


Friendly settlement: If an application to the European Court of Human Rights is accepted, the parties may reach a friendly settlement. They may not bargain about the rights set out in the Convention, but they may negotiate the compensation. In such cases, the Court may strike this case out by issuing a brief declaration on the solution.


General measures: If the applicant has been granted reparation for a violation of the European Convention by the Court, the Committee of Ministers may request a State to take ‘general measures’ to prevent similar violations from taking place in the future.

Governmental Committee: These are set up to follow up conclusions issued by the European Social Committee about whether States are implementing the European Social Charter. It is formed of representatives of Member States. If a State is not taking appropriate measures to rectify violations, the Governmental Committee can ask the Committee of Ministers to make a recommendation requesting the State to do so.

Grand Chamber:
Applications to the Court are dealt with by three bodies, one of which is the Grand Chamber. The Grand Chamber deals with cases in which the Court is considering reversing earlier case law and where pending cases raise questions about the interpretation of the Convention or its Protocols. The Chamber is made up of 17 judges, five of whom are elected for each case. Nationals of a State involved in a case may not be elected.


Hard-core provisions: States Parties to the European Social Charter may select which Articles they choose to be bound by, provided they accept at least 16 of the Charter’s Articles. However, they must accept at least six ‘hard core’ provisions of the Charter; these are: Articles 1, 5, 6, 7, 12, 13, 16, 19 and 20.

Hearings: Can be held by the European Court of Human Rights and the European Social Committee. Hearings are normally public, unless there are exceptional circumstances, including the interests of young people.


Individual complaints: Prior to reforms to the Council of Europe in Protocol No. 11, individuals could not submit individual cases of alleged human rights violations to the European Court of Human Rights, but had first to submit them to the Commission. Protocol No. 9 which entered into force in October 1994 gave limited possibilities for individuals to bring cases directly to the Court. The Commission would examine the admissibility of the case and either refer it to the Court, or the Committee of Ministers, who would decide whether there had been a violation of the Convention.

Individual measures: If a violation continues to have adverse effects after the applicant has received reparation (or ‘just satisfaction’) for that violation, the Committee of Ministers can request national authorities to take individual measures which aim to end and, as far as possible, redress these effects.


Just satisfaction: The European Court affords ‘just satisfaction’ in cases where the State has violated the Convention or its Protocols, and if the domestic law of that State does not allow full reparation to be made. Just satisfaction usually means financial compensation.


Member State: A State that is a Member of the Council of Europe

Memorial: Another word for an applicant’s ‘observations’ which are made in reply to a State’s observations on the admissibility and merits of a case.

Merits: A decision as to whether a State is or is not in breach of its obligations.


Observer status: Countries which are willing to accept the principles of democracy, the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms, can send observers to cooperate with the Council of Europe. They can participate in many ways, but they cannot be represented on the Council. There are currently five observer countries to the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers: the Holy See, the United States, Canada, Japan and Mexico.


Parliamentary Assembly (PACE): The Parliamentary Assembly, which has 46 members, is one of the Council of Europe’s two main organs; the other is the Committee of Ministers. The Parliamentary Assembly aims to achieve greater unity among its members through common action, agreements and debates. Its primary aim is the protection of human rights.

Participatory status: Participatory status can be given to Independent Non-Governmental Organisations which can cooperate with the Council of Europe in its work. Participatory status can be granted to organisations that directly represent the general public, provide information, or advice and can take action.

Plenary Court: All the judges of the European Court meet at least once a year: these sessions are called the Plenary Court. The judges meet to discuss administrative matters, including the adoption of the Rules of Court, election of the President and Vice-President for a period of three years, as well as presidents of the chambers of the Court and the Court’s registrars.

Practice directions: The European Court of Human Rights issues guidelines on particular aspects of submitting information; these are called Practice Directions. Current Practice Directions clarify information about submitting: Requests for Interim Measures (Rule 39 of the Rules of Court) Institution of proceedings (individual applications under Article 34 of the Convention), Written Pleadings and Just Satisfaction Claims (Article 41 of the Convention).

Protocol No. 11: This Protocol, which entered into force in 1998, aimed to simplify the structure of the Convention organs (i.e. the European Court of Human Rights and the European Commission on Human Rights) to shorten the length of proceedings and strengthen their judicial character, because of an increase in cases brought before the Court. The number of cases has risen because of an increase in States acceding to the Council of Europe, as well as a general increase in applications.

Protocol No. 14: Aims to increase the effectiveness of the Council of Europe’s human rights protection system. In spite of the changes that had already been made under Protocol No. 11 to deal with the increase in cases brought before the Court, the caseload again became unmanageable. This led the Committee of Ministers to appoint a Steering Committee for Human Rights to draft a new Protocol. The Protocol does not make radical changes, but instead increases the flexibility of the Court to process applications. The main changes concern adding an admissibility criterion, measures for dealing with repetitive cases, and reinforcing the Court’s capacity to filter unmeritorious applications.


Recommendation: The Committee of Ministers issues Recommendations to Member States on matters for which the Committee has agreed on a common policy. Recommendations are not binding.

Registry: Provides legal and administrative support to the Court. It is staffed by lawyers, administrative and technical staff, and translators.

Resolution: The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe issues Resolutions to Member States to fulfil their obligations committed to under various treaties, which include the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Social Charter.

Rules of Court: These rules set out the Court’s practices and are revised regularly to reflect the Court’s evolving procedures. They are to be used by applicants and lawyers when making applications to the Court.


Secretary General: Head of the Parliamentary Assembly who is elected by the Committee of Ministers for a term of five years.

Six-month rule: For an individual communication to be accepted, it must be sent to the European Court within six months of the complainant being informed of a final decision which exhausts domestic remedies.

Special guest status: National legislative assemblies of European non-Member States which have signed the Helsinki Final Act and the Charter of Paris for a New Europe can be granted special guest status to facilitate the process of accession to the Council of Europe. This status gives them many rights in the Council’s various committees, but they do not have the right to vote or to stand for election. Belarus' special guest status has been suspended because of its lack of respect for human rights and democratic principles.


Third Party Interventions (Amicus Curiae): Third party individuals or organisations who are not presenting a case can submit additional arguments in support of one of the parties in the case. Such interventions, which are called amicus briefs, can be made subject at the discretion of the Court’s President.


Written pleadings: This is the main way for applicants to present their arguments to the Court, as hearings are rarely held. Written pleadings include the application, observations made in response to a government’s observations on the admissibility and merits of a case i.e. the validity of the case.

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Last updated 12/12/2007 10:54:16

Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.

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