Regional human rights systems in other parts of the world: Europe, the Americas and Africa

Credible regional human rights systems have been established in Europe, the Americas and Africa.

The regional arrangements for protecting human rights in Europe are extensive, involving the Council of Europe, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Each of these intergovernmental organisations have their own regional human rights mechanisms and instruments. Some of the most longstanding and developed of these exist in the Council of Europe, with instruments including the 1950 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the European Social Charter, and mechanisms such as the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In the Americas, the regional human rights arrangements exist within the intergovernmental organisation known as the Organisation of American States. The main human rights instruments in the inter-American system are the 1948 American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man and the legally binding American Convention on Human Rights, and the main mechanisms include the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The more recent African regional human rights system has been established within the intergovernmental organisation known as the African Union. The main regional human rights instrument in Africa is the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and the main mechanisms are the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the recently established African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which will soon be merged with the African Court of Justice.

The common features of the regional human rights mechanisms in Europe, the Americas and Africa include the following:

  • Subsidiary to national human rights protection systems.
  • Normative Framework (political consensus, convention, declaration etc):
    • Not lower than international standards.
  • Independent, impartial experts in human rights and persons of integrity:
    • Process of nomination by states and election of members at regional level;
    • Serve in individual capacity;
    • Plurality of membership;
    • Privileges and immunities for members;
    • Procedure of removal in cases of incompatibility.
  • Do both promotion and protection work:
    • Receive and decide on both individual and interstate complaints;
    • Can declare violations of human rights and provide access to a regional court that can order legally binding decisions and reparations;
    • Make country visits and engage in country level activity;
    • Hold meetings in different member states;
    • Hearings which are widely publicised;
    • Develop other mechanisms (e.g. special rapporteurs) that engage in both promotion and protection work;
    • Preventative mechanisms (e.g. emergency procedures);
    • Transparency of documentation regarding decisions and recommendations which is widely disseminated.
  • Competent and full-time secretariat support with sufficient resources (including budgetary and human resources).
  • Established procedures for interaction with civil society and NHRIs.
  • Cooperation with international human rights mechanisms.

To find out more about these regional human rights systems:

Click here for the Regional Office's report of the May 2009 workshop on regional human rights mechanisms in Africa, the Americas and Europe.

External website resources: