Ratification and Enforcement of Treaties

The ratification status of treaties determines whether States have obligations under a variety of international legal instruments, and how these obligations can be enforced. Ratification is the act through which States indicate their consent to be bound by a treaty.1 In the case of multilateral treaties, consent is established as soon as States’ instruments of ratification have been deposited with the depositary,2 which is usually a State or an international organisation entrusted with custody of a treaty.3

Note to reader
Where appropriate, the Guidebook highlights obligations that are grounded in customary international law. Unlike treaties, customary international law does not require a State’s ratification to be enforceable: customary international law is a ‘general practice accepted as law’ and thus, is binding on all States.

Each section in this chapter provides readers with:

  • A link to the relevant databases, where they may check whether specific States have ratified the international instruments of interest, and whether such States have done so conditionally; and
  • A broad, non-exhaustive overview of the main tools that may be available under those instruments to pursue enforcement of State obligations at the international level.

Readers should keep in mind that States, when ratifying a treaty, may have limited the application of some of its articles. For example, States may have issued:

  • Declarations: declarations, also known as understandings, are used by States to specify or clarify the meaning or scope of a treaty’s provisions in their application to that State;4
  • Reservations: reservations are used by States to exclude or modify the legal effects of some treaties’ provisions in their application to that State.5 In other words, reservations allow a State to accept a multilateral treaty without applying provisions it does not wish to comply with.6 However, reservations must not be incompatible with the object and purpose of that treaty.7

In times of emergency, including conflict, some treaties also allow States to derogate from some of their provisions.8 Generally, ‘derogation’ is used to refer ‘to the suspension or suppression of a law under particular circumstances’.9 States cannot derogate from rights that are considered absolute, such as freedom from torture.10

I. International Humanitarian Law🔗

The ratification status of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977 may be found at the following links:

International humanitarian law (IHL) may be enforced in a variety of ways. In the following subsections, various enforcement mechanisms are explained. However, before doing so, the unique role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in international armed conflicts (IACs) and non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) is presented.

The ICRC has a right to undertake humanitarian initiatives in both IACs and NIACs,11 ‘and in any other situation that warrants humanitarian action’.12 Subject to the consent of the parties to the conflict concerned, the ICRC has the right to offer humanitarian services aimed at the protection and relief of persons affected by armed conflict and taking no active part in the hostilities.13

In that context, “protection” encompasses all activities that the ICRC may propose to undertake to ensure that the authorities and other relevant actors fulfil their obligations to uphold the rights of individuals under IHL and other legal frameworks, including international human rights law (IHRL) and refugee law. Activities may include visits to persons deprived of their liberty and engaging in an informed, confidential and educational dialogue with the authorities on their international obligations.14

Read together with the term ‘assistance’ used in Additional Protocol I,15 “relief” covers all activities addressing humanitarian needs, including longer-term as well as recurrent and chronic needs, arising as a result of emergency situations. Activities may include all activities, services and the delivery of goods in the field of health, water, habitat and economic security aimed at ensuring that persons affected by armed conflict ‘can survive and live in dignity’.16

I.1 Protecting Powers🔗

A Protecting Power is a neutral State (i.e., a State that has chosen to be neutral permanently or in a particular IAC, and which cannot openly participate in the hostilities at issue)17 or other State not a party to the IAC which, with the consent of both parties to the conflict, cooperates with the parties and monitors their implementation of IHL.18

Under IHL, States parties to IACs must designate Protecting Powers.19 In reality, States have appointed Protecting Powers ‘in only five of the numerous armed conflicts that have broken out since World War II’.20

In the absence of an agreement on a Protecting Power, States should designate an impartial organisation as a substitute.21 In practice, as the functions of Protecting Powers largely coincide with those of the ICRC,22 the ICRC can fulfil most of the former’s functions in its own right. For the rare functions which IHL confers only upon the Protecting Powers and not also upon the ICRC,23 the ICRC has been recognised ‘as a de facto substitute when there is no Protecting Power’.24

Among other functions,25 Protecting Powers:

  • Act as an intermediary between parties to a conflict and may lend their good offices in the event of disputes over the interpretation or implementation of IHL;26
  • Have a right to know the condition of prisoners of war, and civilians in the power of a Party whose nationality they do not possess. In all places of internment, detention and work, Protecting Powers must have access to all such individuals to assess whether they are being treated in accordance with IHL;27
  • May receive requests and complaints addressed to them by prisoners of war and civilians in the power of a Party whose nationality they do not possess;28
  • Must be informed of any legal action taken against a prisoner of war,29 or a civilian in the power of a Party whose nationality they do not possess.30 The Protecting Powers’ representatives have the right to attend these proceedings;31
  • Supervise the distribution of relief shipments;32
  • Help with the identification of wounded, sick and shipwrecked members of the armed forces;33
  • Facilitate the setting up and recognition of hospital zones and localities;34
  • Transmit the official translations of the Geneva Conventions, as well as the laws and regulations adopted to ensure their application.35

I.2 Enquiry Procedure🔗

The parties to a conflict may agree to establish an enquiry concerning any alleged violations of the Geneva Conventions. If the parties fail to agree on the enquiry’s procedure, they should designate a third party to decide in their stead.36

This procedure has never been used:

In practice, it appears that it is not realistic to expect that Parties between whom relationships have already broken down, and who are involved in an armed conflict with each other, are able to reach agreement on setting up an enquiry, particularly one aimed at addressing an issue as sensitive as violations of international humanitarian law.37

I.3 International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission🔗

Established under Additional Protocol I,38 the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) is a permanent body ‘whose primary purpose is to investigate allegations of grave breaches and other serious violations of international humanitarian law’.39 The IHFFC is composed of 15 individuals who act in their personal capacity and who are elected by States that have recognized the Commission’s competence. 76 States recognise the IHFFC’s authority to conduct enquiries.40

The IHFFC may:

  • Enquire into alleged grave breaches or other serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I at the request of and concerning States that have previously submitted a declaration recognising the IHFFC’s authority to do so;41
  • Facilitate respect for the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I, including through ‘the communication of conclusions on the points of fact, comments on the possibilities of a friendly settlement, written and oral observations by States concerned’;42
  • Enquire into alleged grave breaches or other serious violations of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I at the request of and concerning States that have not previously submitted a declaration recognising the IHFFC’s authority to do so, but have consented to the enquiry.43

After the enquiry, the IHFFC submits to the States concerned a report on its findings of fact, including recommendations, in a confidential manner, unless such States have requested the IHFFC to do so publicly.44

While the Geneva Conventions (with the exception of common article 3) and Additional Protocol I apply only to IACs, the IHFFC has expressed its willingness to enquire into alleged violations of IHL arising from NIACs, ‘provided that the parties involved consent to this’.45

In 2017, the IHFFC conducted its first and only investigation since its creation in 1991.46

I.4 International Court of Justice🔗

The Statute of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) confers two kinds of jurisdictions upon the ICJ:

  • Advisory. The ICJ may give an advisory (i.e., non-binding) opinion on any legal question at the request of any body authorised under the UN Charter to make such a request.47 The ICJ’s advisory opinions have helped clarify the interpretation of international law, or spell out States’ international legal obligations;48
  • Contentious. The ICJ may consider all cases that States refer to it by special agreement, and matters specially provided in the Charter of the United Nations (UN) or treaties and conventions in force.49 States may also declare at any time that they recognise as compulsory the jurisdiction of the ICJ in all legal disputes concerning the interpretation of a treaty, any question of international law, alleged breaches of an international obligation, and the reparation to be made for breaches whose existence has been established.50 Judgments are binding on the parties to a contentious case.51

All Members of the UN are Parties to the ICJ Statute;52 however, the ICJ’s contentious jurisdiction by special agreement requires the consent of both parties to a case. Further, States that have recognised the ICJ’s jurisdiction as compulsory (i.e., their consent is not required to bring a case before the ICJ) may have done so conditionally, meaning that some cases may still be beyond the ICJ’s remit. To avoid lack of jurisdiction in these circumstances, some bilateral or multilateral treaties provide that the ICJ will have jurisdiction over disputes concerning their interpretation or application.53

Note to reader
For a list of States that have recognised the ICJ’s jurisdiction as compulsory, see Chapter I.4 of the depositary section of the UN Treaty Collection website. The website is regularly maintained and provides readers with up-to-date information in respect of over 560 multilateral treaties.

The ICJ has seldom had the opportunity to adjudicate upon IHL cases on the basis of special agreements or declarations recognising its jurisdiction as compulsory.54 Further, the Geneva Conventions do not provide for a dispute to be referred to the ICJ. Other multilateral treaties that include provisions related to IHL have given the ICJ the opportunity to address and expand on some of the Conventions’ obligations; however, as the ICJ’s jurisdiction was not grounded in the Conventions, the ICJ could not rule on whether they had been violated.55

Nevertheless, with its judgments and opinions, the ICJ has played a significant role in fleshing out and clarifying IHL, and has shown ‘how it can be applied in a modern context’.56

I.5 Human Rights Mechanisms🔗

Several of the mechanisms discussed in section II of this chapter have considered IHL when examining human rights violations committed in the context of armed conflict. Many, however, have refrained from directly applying IHL to the human rights violation at issue;57 generally, human rights mechanisms may apply IHL only when that is within their legal mandate.

Note to reader
For more details on the use of IHL by human rights mechanisms, see Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, ‘Implementing International Humanitarian Law through Human Rights Mechanisms: Opportunity or Utopia?’.

Case study: Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine.58 Following acts of aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation, the UN Human Rights Council established the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine on 4 March 2022.59 In line with its goal to promote universal respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, the Human Rights Council mandated the Commission to, among other things:

  • Investigate all alleged violations and abuses of human rights and violations of IHL, and related crimes in the context of the aggression against Ukraine by the Russian Federation;
  • Establish the facts, circumstances and root causes of such violations and abuses;
  • Identify the perpetrators to ensure that they are held accountable;
  • Make recommendations to end impunity and ensure accountability, including individual criminal responsibility, and access to justice for victims/survivors.60

II. International Human Rights Law🔗

The ratification status of all UN human rights treaties is found in Chapter IV of the depositary section of the UN Treaty Collection website, which is the UN’s official repository. Readers may also consult the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website to find which treaties have been ratified by each State.

IHRL may be enforced in a variety of ways. Below, readers will find an overview of the four main enforcement mechanisms, namely the human rights treaty bodies, the Human Rights Council, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the regional human rights systems, and their procedures.

II.1 Human Rights Treaty Bodies🔗

II.1.1 State Reports and General Comments/Recommendations🔗

The treaty bodies periodically review the reports that States have submitted on their implementation of human rights treaties they are Parties to. This is a process with several steps, following which the treaty bodies issue Concluding Observations to the relevant States on the measures they should adopt to best fulfil their international legal obligations.61

The treaty bodies may also issue General Comments/Recommendations, which are authoritative interpretations of binding international law.62

II.1.2 Individual Complaints🔗

Under the individual complaint procedure, individuals may complain to a treaty body that a State has allegedly violated their rights under the relevant treaty, if domestic remedies have failed or are unavailable. The treaty bodies may consider individual complaints only if the State concerned has separately recognised that they have the authority to do so.63

To be admissible, complaints must comply with required admissibility criteria, which vary slightly for each treaty body.64 The process concludes with ‘Views’, where the treaty body reaches its finding on whether or not the State Party has violated its international obligations. If so, the treaty body recommends the State to provide applicants with an effective remedy and to enforce measures that act as guarantees of non-recurrence. A follow-up process then begins, where treaty bodies assess the level of its recommendations’ implementation.

Note to reader
To direct complaints to the treaty bodies, see this page. To consult the jurisprudence of the treaty bodies, refer to this page.

II.1.3 Confidential Inquiries🔗

When a treaty body receives reliable information that grave or systematic violations of the relevant treaty are being committed in the territory of,65 or by a State Party,66 that treaty body may invite that State Party to co-operate in the examination of the information. If necessary, the treaty body may designate one or more of its members to make a confidential inquiry. With the consent of the State Party, inquiries may include in-country visits. At the end of an inquiry, treaty bodies prepare detailed findings and recommendations on key issues of concern that they have identified. Such findings and recommendations remain confidential, unless the State concerned agrees for them to be made public. To be investigated, States Parties must consent to the inquiry.67

II.1.4 Inter-State Dispute Procedures🔗

Some IHRL treaties include inter-State dispute resolution procedures. Under these procedures, the treaty bodies may consider communications by one State Party claiming that another State Party is not giving effect to the relevant treaty. With the exception of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, under which the procedure is compulsory and ‘requires no separate ratification by the respondent State party’,68 States must affirmatively recognise the competence (i.e., authority) of the treaty body to address inter-State disputes. Many States Parties have not done so.69

II.1.5 Referral to the International Court of Justice🔗

States parties to a dispute with respect to the interpretation or application of a treaty, which is not settled by negotiation or by the procedures expressly provided for in that treaty, must refer the dispute to the ICJ for decision, unless the States concerned agree on another mode of settlement. Many States do not consider themselves bound by the provisions concerning referral to the ICJ, and/or may have submitted reservations in this regard.70

Under article IX of the Genocide Convention, referral to the ICJ is required whenever States Parties have a dispute relating to the interpretation, application or fulfilment of the Convention. However, as States Parties may submit reservations in respect of article IX, and there is no treaty body monitoring compliance with the Convention, this may result in unenforceability.

II.2 Human Rights Council🔗

The UN General Assembly (UNGA), the UN’s principal deliberative organ made up of all UN Member States,71 initiates studies and makes recommendations to assist in the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.72 In 2006, it established the Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to replace the Commission on Human Rights.73 The UNHRC consists of 47 Member States, periodically elected by secret ballot by the UNGA.74 The UNHRC is empowered to, among other things:75

  • Promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all;
  • Promote and provide human rights education and learning, advisory services, technical assistance and capacity-building to and in consultation with UN Member States, with their consent;
  • Serve as a forum for dialogue on thematic issues on all human rights;
  • Cooperate with Governments, regional organisations, national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and civil society in the field of human rights;
  • Make recommendations for the promotion and protection of human rights;
  • Promote the full implementation of human rights obligations undertaken by States;
  • Contribute, through dialogue and cooperation, towards the prevention of human rights violations and respond promptly to human rights emergencies;
  • Undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of each State’s implementation of its human rights obligations and commitments;
  • Maintain a system of special procedures, expert advice, investigations and a complaint procedure.

II.2.1 Universal Periodic Review🔗

The Universal Periodic Review monitors States’ implementation of their human rights obligations under the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights treaties that States have ratified, voluntary commitments made by States, and applicable IHL. The review helps identify areas in which help may be needed. The review is a cooperative and interactive mechanism, fully involves the State concerned and is sensitive to its capacity-building needs. It complements and does not duplicate the work of the treaty bodies.76

Each UN Member State is reviewed every four-and-a-half years.77 Reviews are based on three documents: the national report, the compilation of UN information, and the summary of stakeholders’ information.78

The review results in ‘a report consisting of a summary of the proceedings of the review process; conclusions and/or recommendations, and the voluntary commitments of the State concerned’.79 The State may comment on the report, and ‘support’ or ‘note’ the recommendations given.80 In implementing the report, the State may request the international community to provide support in the form of capacity-building and technical assistance.81

The UNHRC can also address, as appropriate, cases of persistent non-cooperation with the review’s outcome.82

II.2.2 International Commissions of Inquiry, Commissions on Human Rights, Fact-Finding Missions and Other Investigations🔗

UN-mandated investigative bodies are increasingly being used to respond to situations of serious violations of IHL and IHRL, ‘whether protracted or resulting from sudden events’, and to promote accountability and counter impunity. These investigative mechanisms have been established by the UN Security Council, the UNGA, the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UNHRC.83

Investigative bodies mandated by the UNHRC have taken numerous forms since its creation in 2006, including fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry. Most have been established to investigate alleged human rights violations and/or crimes under international law in specific countries,84 to collect information and evidence, and to preserve that evidence to support any future additional accountability processes,85 whether at the international (for example, in a criminal case based on universal jurisdiction in a foreign territory) or national (for example, in a national reparations programme following a change of political regime) levels.

These investigative bodies play a crucial role in promoting accountability for CRSV. Some, such as the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan, have also published extensive reports containing recommendations on how to prevent and respond to CRSV.86

Note to reader
For more information on commission of inquiry and fact-finding missions and how they work, consult this page.

II.2.3 Special Procedures🔗

The special procedures are ‘independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective’.87 Special procedures fulfil several tasks.

Firstly, they conduct country visits, to be agreed with the State concerned.88 During visits, States should give procedures the following guarantees:

  • Freedom of movement in any part of the country, including facilitation of transport;
  • Freedom of inquiry, including access to all places of detention, contact with the authorities, contact with NGOs and other relevant stakeholders, confidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and other private persons, and full access to all documentary material relevant to the mandate;
  • Assurance by the Government that no persons who have cooperated or seek to cooperate with the procedures will suffer reprisals before, during or after the visits;
  • Appropriate security arrangements;
  • Extension of the same guarantees to all UN staff working with the special procedures.89

Secondly, procedures examine complaints from persons claiming to be victim of violations falling within the procedures’ mandate, or persons, including NGOs, claiming to have direct or reliable knowledge of these violations.90 If appropriate, the procedures may send communications to Governments and others, including intergovernmental organisations, businesses, and military or security companies, to request clarification on alleged:

  • Past human rights violations;
  • On-going or potential human rights violations which, in light of their time-sensitive nature, may be made the object of an urgent appeal;
  • Concerns ‘relating to bills, legislation, policies or practices that do not comply with international human rights law and standards’.91

To send a communication, an alleged victim need not have exhausted all domestic remedies, and the State concerned need not have ratified a human rights treaty. When necessary, the procedures may ask the authorities to prevent, stop or respond to the violations, investigate them, punish the perpetrators and provide the victims or their families with remedies. However, ‘the Special Procedures do not have power or authority to enforce their views or recommendations’.92

Note to reader
To submit information on alleged human rights violations to the special procedures, consult this page.

Thirdly, procedures contribute to the development of IHRL by developing authoritative opinions and standards.93

Lastly, procedures engage in advocacy, ‘raise public awareness, and provide advice for technical cooperation’.94

II.2.4 Advisory Committee🔗

The Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, composed of 18 experts, functions as a think-tank for the UNHRC.95 While the Committee cannot adopt its own resolutions or decisions,96 it provides the UNHRC with advice, grounded in studies and research. Such advice is limited to thematic issues relevant to the UNHRC’s mandate: the Committee cannot examine country-specific situations.97

In the performance of its mandate, the Committee engages with States, NHRIs, NGOs and other civil society entities. UNHRC Member States and observers, the UN specialised agencies, other intergovernmental organisation, NHRIs and NGOs are entitled to participate in the work of the Committee.98

Note to reader
To find out which stakeholders are already empowered to work with the Committee, see UNHRC, ‘Information Note for NGOs on the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee’ and UNHRC, ‘Academic Friends of the Advisory Committee’.

II.2.5 Complaint Procedure🔗

In Resolution 5/1, the UNHRC established a complaint procedure to address consistent patterns, rather than individual cases, ‘of gross and reliably attested violations of all human rights and all fundamental freedoms occurring in any part of the world and under any circumstances’. This means that complaints can concern any State, irrespective of whether they have given their consent or ratified a particular human rights instrument.99

The Working Group on Communications and the Working Group on Situations pre-screen complaints to determine whether they are admissible.100 To be admissible, complaints must fulfil several criteria.101

If a complaint is admissible, it is transmitted to the State concerned so that it may reply and provide observations in a timely manner.102 Proceedings are confidential, and conducted in the absence of the State concerned or the complainant.103 At the proceedings’ conclusion, the UNHRC may:

  • Request the State concerned to provide further information in a timely manner;
  • Appoint an independent expert to monitor the situation and report back to the UNHRC;
  • Consider the complaint publicly;
  • Recommend to the OHCHR to provide ‘technical cooperation, capacity-building assistance or advisory services to the State concerned’.104
Note to reader
To submit a complaint to the UNHRC, find contact information here.

II.3 Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights🔗

In resolution 48/141, the UNGA established the High Commissioner for Human Rights and mandated them to, among other things:

  • Promote and protect the effective enjoyment by all of all human rights;
  • Work with and give recommendations to the UN in the field of human rights;
  • Provide advisory services and technical and financial assistance to States and regional human rights organisations that have requested them, with a view to further human rights;
  • Play an active role in removing obstacles to the full realisation of all human rights and preventing human rights violations in the world, as reflected in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action;
  • Communicate with States to secure respect for all human rights;
  • Enhance international cooperation for the promotion and protection of all human rights.105

The High Commissioner’s extensive mandate is fulfilled through the OHCHR, which:

  • Provides operational support to Governments to help them implement the international human rights standards they have committed to;
  • Helps ensure the implementation of international human rights standards through its field work. The OHCHR conducts technical trainings and provides supports ‘in the areas of administration of justice, legislative reform, human rights treaty ratification, and human rights education, designed in cooperation with Member States’;
  • Supports the establishment and strengthening of and collaborates with NHRIs, and closely works with civil society actors to promote their participation in UN decision-making processes;
  • Offers expertise and support to different UN human rights bodies ‘as they discharge their standard-setting and monitoring duties’;
  • Mainstreams a human rights perspective into all UN programmes.106

II.4 Regional Human Rights Systems🔗

Below, readers may find links to webpages containing information on the ratification status of the regional treaties examined in the Guidebook.

II.4.1 African Union System🔗

55 States are currently Members of the African Union (AU). Readers can find individual countries here. To check the relevant treaties’ ratification status, click on the following links:

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights monitors States’ implementation of their human rights obligations under the AU system. Established under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights,107 the Commission is tasked with:

  • Promoting human and peoples’ rights and ensuring their protection in Africa;
  • Collecting documents, undertaking studies and research on African problems in the field of human rights, and disseminating the results;108
  • Formulating principles and rules aimed at solving legal problems relating to human rights and fundamental freedoms ‘upon which African Governments may base their legislations’;109
  • Interpreting the Charter’s provisions at the request of a State Party, an institution of the AU or an African organisation recognised by it;110
  • Examining communications by a State Party claiming that another State Party has violated the Charter’s provisions. The Commission may prepare ‘a report stating the facts and its findings’ and make recommendations;111
  • Examining communications not submitted by a State Party alleging violations of the Charter by a State Party. When one or more communications reveal the existence of a series of serious or massive violations of human rights, the Commission may, at the request of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government (‘the AU’s supreme policy and decision-making organ’),112 undertake an in-depth study of these violations and make a report, stating its finding and recommendations;113
  • Examining reports submitted by States Parties ‘on the legislative or other measures taken’ to give effect to the Charter.114
Note to reader
For information on how to submit non-State communications to the Commission, see the Commission’s Guidelines for Submitting Complaints.

Created by the African Court Protocol, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ mandate is complementary to that of the Commission. It is tasked with:

  • Adjudicating cases and disputes concerning the interpretation and application of the Charter, the African Court Protocol ‘and any other relevant Human Rights instrument ratified by the States concerned’, including the Maputo Protocol.115 The Court may hear cases submitted by NGOs and individuals against a State Party only if that State has accepted the Court’s jurisdiction.116 Otherwise, only the following are entitled to submit cases to the Court:
    1. The Commission;
    2. The State Party which has lodged a complaint to the Commission;
    3. The State Party ‘against which the complaint has been lodged’;
    4. The State Party ‘whose citizen is a victim of human rights violation’;
    5. African Intergovernmental Organisations;117
  • Providing an advisory (i.e., non-binding) opinion on legal matters concerning ‘the Charter or any other relevant human rights instruments’ at the request of a Member State of the AU, the AU, any of its organs, or any African organisation recognised by the AU;118
  • Ordering States to remedy human right violations, ‘including the payment of fair compensation or reparation’. In cases of extreme gravity and urgency, and to avoid irreparable harm to persons, the Court may adopt provisional measures.119 The Courts’ findings are, unlike the Commission’s, binding on the Parties to a case.120

II.4.2 Council of Europe System🔗

46 States are currently Members of the Council of Europe. Readers can find individual countries here. To check the relevant treaties’ ratification status, click on the following links:

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as the body in charge of monitoring States’ implementation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and its Protocols,121 is tasked with:

  • Adjudicating cases submitted by States Parties concerning alleged breaches of the ECHR and its Protocols by another State.122 Judgments are binding on States ‘in any case to which they are parties’;123
  • Receiving applications submitted by ‘any person, nongovernmental organisation or group of individuals’ claiming to be the victim of a violation of the ECHR and its Protocols by a State Party.124 Judgments are binding on States ‘in any case to which they are parties’;125
  • At the request of the Committee of Ministers (the Council of Europe’s decision-making body, tasked with supervising the execution of the ECtHR’s judgments),126 giving advisory opinions on legal questions concerning the interpretation of the ECHR and its Protocols.127
Note to reader
For information on how to submit non-State applications to the ECtHR, see here. Applications must comply with Rule 47 of the Rules of Court, which sets out the information and documents that must be provided.

Established by the Istanbul Convention, the Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) monitors States’ implementation of the Istanbul Convention.128 GREVIO is tasked with:

  • Considering and commenting on reports submitted by States Parties on their implementation of the Istanbul Convention;129
  • In cases of serious violations of the Istanbul Convention, requesting States to submit a report concerning the measures taken to prevent ‘a serious, massive or persistent pattern of violence against women’. GREVIO may conduct an inquiry, including a visit to a State’s territory with its consent, and produce a report containing its findings and recommendations;130
  • Adopting general recommendations on how to implement the Istanbul Convention.131

States may settle inter-State disputes concerning the application or interpretation of the Istanbul Convention through procedures established by the Committee of Ministers.132

II.4.3 Inter-American Human Rights System🔗

35 States are currently Members of the Organization of American States. Readers can find individual countries here. To check the relevant treaties’ ratification status, click on the following links:

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)133 monitors States’ implementation of the American Convention. Its main function is ‘to promote respect for and defense of human rights’.134 It is tasked with:

  • Making recommendations to Member States on how to best implement their human rights obligations;135
  • Preparing studies or reports;136
  • Requesting Member States to submit reports on the measures they have adopted to advance human rights;137
  • Providing States with advisory opinions on human rights matters;138
  • Considering complaints that a State Party has violated the American Convention or the Convention of Belém do Pará submitted by any person or group of persons, or any nongovernmental entity legally recognised in one or more of the OAS’ Member States.139 The Commission may carry out an investigation, if necessary,140 and must draw up a report containing proposals and recommendations;141
  • Considering communications from a State Party alleging that another State Party has violated the American Convention.142 For the Commission to consider such communications, the States involved must have accepted its authority to do so. The Commission may carry out an investigation, if necessary.143 If a friendly settlement is not reached,144 the Commission must draw up a report containing proposals and recommendations.145
Note to reader
For information on how to submit complaints to the Commission, see here.

The Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACtHR)146 similarly monitors States’ implementation of the American Convention in a binding manner. It is tasked with:

  • Hearing cases that have been submitted by the Commission, or States Parties that have recognised the Court’s jurisdiction.147 The Court may only hear cases that concern the interpretation and application of the American Convention;148
  • Ordering States to provide victims with remedies if the Court finds that there has been a violation of the American Convention. In cases of extreme gravity or urgency, and to avoid irreparable damage to persons, the Court may adopt provisional measures.149 States must comply with the judgment of the Court ‘in any case to which they are parties’;150
  • Providing advisory opinions on the interpretation of the American Convention or of ‘other treaties concerning the protection of human rights in the American states’.151


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