nl en

Human rights protection in Europe


Admission requirements

Enrollment in the Minor or Pre-Master European Union Studies is mandatory. This course gives an overview of the protection of human rights in Europe to students with background other than law.


In our days, human rights protection is guaranteed at several levels: at the national level human rights are enshrined in the national constitution; in Europe the most traditional organization in charge of human rights protection is the Council of Europe and human rights are guaranteed against unlawful actions of states in the European convention of Human Rights (ECHR). Last, but not least, the European Union, with the entrance into force of the Lisbon Treaty (December 2009) has got a legally binding document, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms. It would not be inaccurate to say that human rights protection in Europe, nowadays, resembles an onion, made up of several layers which in the end are attached to the same core that is guaranteeing human rights protection.

This course intends to discuss current issues of human rights protection in Europe. It will give an overview of the ‘concurring’ systems of human rights protection in Europe, namely the Council of Europe, the European Union and national constitutional orders. Students will be then introduced to interesting discussions on the controversies in cases of conflicts between human rights and other legitimate interests, the substantive scope of human rights protection in these different layers, as well as their interaction in the context of the expected accession of the EU to the European Convention of Human Rights. Discussions may center also around the role of the EU as ‘exporter’ of human rights standards in the world, especially against the background of the latest developments in the neighboring countries. Among others, the following subjects will be discussed:

  • What was the contxet of the birth of the Council of Europe and the ECHR?

  • Why did states agree to establish such institutions?

  • What has been the role of the Council of Europe and especially the ECtHR (European Court of Human Rights) in Europe?

  • What are the instruments of human rights protection in the EU?

  • Does the Convention have any influence on the EU?

  • In what sense can one argue that the EU “exports” standards of fundamental rights protection in the world?

  • What would be the impact of the accession of the EU to the ECHR?

Course objectives

  • To give students a general overview of the current framework of human rights protection in Europe, focusing on the institutional setting (the Council of Europe, especially the European Court of Human Rights, and the European Union) and its constitutional foundations (the European Convention on Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union). By the end of the course students will know what rights are protected under the ECHR, how a legal case reaches Strasbourg,

  • Students are expected to develop a thorough understanding of this framework and to research and discuss on controversial areas of human rights protection in Europe (e.g. what is torture?; when does freedom of expression turn into hate speech?; is the prohibition of haedscarves justified? etc)

  • Students will learn to read, understand and analyze judgments from the European court of Human Rights, study some of its most important judgments and learn to appreciate the important role the Court has played and plays in the protection of human rights in Europe.

  • Students will work on building a legal argument and argue a legal case before the ECtHR


See website

Mode of instruction

  • interactive lectures, in which the assigned materials will be discussed

  • presentations during moot court sessions, in which groups of students play the roles of the Court, applicant and defendant. Each team will be assigned a case study on a particular human right under the Convention.

  • debates

Preparation and active participation is required. Every student should carefully read all meterials assigned to enable an in-depth discussion in class. Attendance of classes is mandatory.

Each team will present written memorials (legal arguments) on the case. These memorials should be submitted via Blackboard on the day before the moot court session, in which the arguments are presented in the oral round (oral pleadings).The written memorials should be read by all students and the team of judges before the Moot Court session, in order to be able to prepare the jugdment on the case.

Assessment method

The final mark will be a combination of

  • written memorials for moot courts (25%; this grade will assess the work as a team),

  • individual presentations during moot courts (25%) and

  • a policy paper (50%).

Students who fail the course are entitled to sit one re-examination.


Blackboard will be used during this course for course materials, readings, additional information of an organisational nature as well as references to new judgements and other developments. Blackboard will also offer the opportunity to ask questions.

Reading list

Mandatory reading:

  • Donna Gomien, Short Guide to the European Convention on Human Rights (3rd ed, 2005 Council of Europe Publishing)

  • The European Convention of Human Rights (available on the webpage of the Council of Europe)

  • Judgments of the ECtHR (to be found using the search engine Hudoc) on these topics:

    • the right to life and the prohibition of torture
    • the right to a fair trial
    • the right to respect for private life
    • the right to freedom of religion
    • the right to freedom of expression

Suggested reading:

  • Jacobs, White & Ovey, The European Convention on Human Rights (5th ed, 2010 Oxford University Press). This is a complete guide to the Convention and provides an up-to-date and thorough analysis of the Convention

  • Webpage of the Council of Europe (general overview of the establishment and funcioning of the Council of Europe and the ECtHR)

  • Detailed information on the ECtHR


Via uSis

Contact information

Dr. D. Piqani tel: 8503, room KOG/B125


Topics per class:
1. General introduction
2. An overview of the ECHR: scope of application, structure, interpretation
3. The European Court of Human Rights: composition and procedures
4. The right to life and the prohibition of torture
5. Moot Court 1
6. The right to a fair trial
7. The right to respect for private life: an example of limitations in Arts. 8-11
8. The right to freedom of religion
9. Moot court 2
10 The right to freedom of expression
11 The human rights agenda of the European Union
12 Moot Court 3