Regional human rights systems strengthen the protection and enjoyment of human rights by taking into account regional considerations, such as shared regional customs, values, culture, and practices.
When domestic institutions fail to uphold the law, or when they themselves are the violators of the law, it may be possible or necessary to seek redress beyond national boundaries. Regional legal frameworks give violated rights-holders the possibility of bringing their case in front of a regional body, providing that the country in question is part of this framework, and providing that all national remedies have either been exhausted or deemed inefficient.
In addition, regional human rights institutions are often competent to monitor the implementation and enjoyment of the right to education, usually through report submission.
The European Court of Human Rights has the competence to accept individual complaints against all states that have ratified the European Convention on Human Rights (1950). As the right to education is provided for in Additional Protocol 1 (1952), a state must ratify the Protocol in order for the Court to accept complaints relating to the right to education.
The European Court of Human Rights is composed of a 47 independent judges (one judge per State party). The Court may receive applications from any person, non-governmental organisation or group of individuals claiming to be the victim of a violation by one of the States parties of the rights set forth in the Convention or the Protocols thereto (Article 34 of Protocol 11).
Civil society may also submit amicus curiae briefs. Article 36 on third party intervention states:
2. The President of the Court may, in the interest of the proper administration of justice, invite any High Contracting Party which is not a party to the proceedings or any person concerned who is not the applicant to submit written comments or take part in hearings.
Although the European Court of Human Rights does not have a monitoring procedure as such, the execution of judgements and decisions is supervised by the Committee of Experts. During the supervision process, applicants, NGOs and National Human Rights Institutions can submit communications in writing.
For more detailed information about rules for making a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, see Litigating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Legal Practitioners Dossier (2006) by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, p.176-178.
The European Committee of Social Rights consists of a panel of 15 independent experts. It is competent to receive collective complaints and monitor compliance with the European Social Charter (1996) through reviewing national reports.
The Committee can only receive collective complaints against the 15 states that have ratified the Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter Providing for a System of Collective Complaints adopted in 1995. On reviewing a collective complaint the Committee issues decisions. The Committee only allows collective complaints from the following:
a) international organisations of employers and trade unions referred to in paragraph 2 of Article 27 of the Charter;
b) other international non-governmental organisations which have consultative status with the Council of Europe and have been put on a list established for this purpose by the Governmental Committee;
c) representative national organisations of employers and trade unions within the jurisdiction of the Contracting Party against which they have lodged a complaint.
Please note, only Finland recognises the right of national NGOs to lodge collective complaints against it.
For a comprehensive list of the organisations allowed to make collective complaints, please see the Council of Europe website.
For more detailed information about rules for making a complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights, see Litigating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Legal Practitioners Dossier (2006) by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, p.167-175.
Every year States parties submit a report indicating how they implement the Charter in law and in practice (following this guide). The Committee examines the reports and decides whether or not the situations in the countries concerned are in conformity with the Charter. Its conclusions are published every year. If a state takes no action on a Committee decision to the effect that it does not comply with the Charter, the Committee of Ministers addresses a recommendation to that state, asking it to change the situation in law and/or in practice.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is composed of 11 members. One advantage of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (1981) is that, under Articles 60 and 61, the Commission is mandated to go beyond the Charter rights, and to look at international standards. There is consequently hardly a single right at the international level that cannot be subject to protection in the African system.
According to Article 45 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Commission’s mandate includes the protection and promotion of human and peoples’ rights. This includes:
- A communication procedure. Article 55 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights permits individuals and organisations to submit communications. NGOs may also participate as amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’).
- Special mechanisms such as the Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which regularly consults with NGOs in order to better protect and promote economic and social rights, including the right to education.
In addition, the ACHPR is also mandated to interpret the provisions of the Charter upon a request by a State party, organs of the African Union or individuals. Some NGOs have approached the Commission for the interpretation of various articles of the Charter.
States are required to submit an initial report within two years of ratifying the Charter and periodic reports every two years thereafter. The Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has produced guidelines, known as the ‘Tunis Reporting Guidelines' (2012), on what information states should provide with regard to economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to education.
NGOs are permitted to submit shadow reports.
For more detailed information about rules for making a complaint to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the procedure for the determination of the complaint, other resources and a model complaint form, see Litigating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Legal Practitioners Dossier (2006) by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, p.145-153 and ACHPR’s page on 'Communications Procedure'.
The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, consisting of 11 Judges, was established through the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights (1998). Twenty-four states have ratified the Protocol.
The Court has a broader mandate than the Commission: under Article 3 its jurisdiction extends to all cases and disputes submitted to it concerning the interpretation and application of the Charter and the Protocol establishing the Court, and any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the states concerned. This includes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and UN human rights treaties.
The Court considers applications from relevant non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with Observer Status before the Commission, and individuals can institute cases directly before the Court, if the State party from which they come from has made a declaration allowing such direct applications. As of March 2013, only 7 countries had made such a Declaration (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Rwanda, Tanzania and Republic of Cote d'Ivoire).
Unlike the decisions of the ACHPR and the Committee on the Rights and the Welfare of the Child, the rulings of the Court are binding.
See African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights page on ‘How to file a case?’
The African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child consists of 11 experts and is empowered to hear individual communications alleging violations of the Charter, go on fact-finding missions, interpret the provisions of the Charter, as well receive and review State Reports. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (1990) has been ratified by 41 states.
The communications procedure of the Committee, together with the Committee on the Rights of Child complaint procedure, are unique in that they deal exclusively with communications regarding children’s rights; giving voice to one of the world’s most vulnerable groups. They are also both relatively new human rights mechanisms with the potential to make a real impact in the protection of the rights of the child. The communication procedure is established by Article 44 of the Charter:
1. The Committee may receive communication, from any person, group or non-governmental organization recognised by the Organization of African Unity, by a Member State, or the United Nations relating to any matter covered by this Charter.
The Committee is also competent to receive and review State reports. Article 43 requires that State parties shall report on the measures they have adopted which give effect to the provisions of the Charter and on the progress made in the enjoyment of these rights. State parties must submit an initial report within two years of entry into force, and every three years thereafter.
Civil society is also permitted to submit shadow reports.
For more information, see Save the Children’s Advancing Children’s Rights: A Guide for Civil Society Organisations on how to engage with the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (2009).
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights consists of seven independent members. Its mandate is to protect and promote human rights in the 35 Member States of the Organization of American States (‘OAS’).
The Commission can receive individual petitions regarding violations by OAS Member States of rights enumerated in the American Convention on Human Rights (1969) and other OAS instruments (if ratified by the state in question), and the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man (1948). Petitions against individuals and other non-state actors cannot be brought.
Article 44 of the American Convention on Human Rights states: ‘Any person or group of persons, or any nongovernmental entity legally recognised in one or more member states of the Organization, may lodge petitions with the Commission containing denunciations or complaints of violation of this Convention by a State Party’.
A petition may result in a friendly settlement or the Commission may make recommendations. If the state refuses to comply with the Commission’s recommendations then the Commission may refer the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
The Court was established by the American Convention on Human Rights and is composed of seven judges elected in an individual capacity. It has both adjudicatory and advisory jurisdiction. The Court’s advisory function involves issuing advisory opinions on interpretation and conformity of national laws and policies with Convention rights. In relation to its adjudicatory jurisdiction, it is entitled to consider cases submitted to it by the Commission or by State parties, that have accepted the jurisdiction of the Court. Decisions can be found here.
Although there are no specific provisions regulating their submission, NGOs and other organisations are able to submit amicus curiae briefs.
For information on petitioning the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, see relevant Information Brochure.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights often conducts research on thematic areas and undertakes country visits, at its own discretion. It then produces reports on its findings. The Commission has also established rapporteurships which cover specific countries and thematic areas. Rapporteurs also produce reports and other publications. Lastly, the Commission publishes Annual Reports which include a broad range of information, including information on individual cases, on-site visits, ‘mini-country reports’, and reports on the activities of the rapporteurships.
The Commission also participates, along with civil society, in hearings on specific issues. Hearings and public events on economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to education can be heard here.
For further information on the OAS and its relationship with civil society, click here.
For more detailed information about the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, see Litigating Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: Legal Practitioners Dossier (2006) by the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, p.154-166.
According to Article 45 of the Arab Charter on Human Rights (2004), State parties are required to submit reports to the Arab Human Rights Committee (in Arabic).The initial report should be submitted one year after entry into force of the Charter, and every three years thereafter. Reports should contain replies of states to the Committee's questions. The Committee then submits a report, together with the views and comments of the states, to the Standing Committee on Human Rights at the Arab League.