International human rights law is a very important area of law. Treaties & directives are passed to protect the rights of citizens of ratifying states. Most human rights institutions are based on mutual trust between state parties and cooperation with the various treaty bodies.
The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 following WW2. The hope was that international cooperation between states would prevent a recurrence of the horrors experienced during the second world war.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is probably the most prolific proclamation by the UN. The UDHR was signed in 1948, following a lengthy drafting procedure by leading legal academics and human rights advocates (including Eleanor Roosevelt). Although not legally binding the UDHR and its signatory states is a commitment to bettering human rights in state territories and to international law in the future.
Since the UDHR the UN has gone on to create many international treaties, which once ratified, are given legal effect. The most prominent treaties are:
1. The International Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, or Punishment 1987
2. The Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 1981
3. The Convention on the Rights of the Child 1990
4. The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights 1966
5. The International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966
COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The Council of Europe (CoE) was established in 1949 with the same goal as the UN, to promote peace in Europe and prevent another outbreak of war. The CoE is most famous for its European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) which was given legal effect in all member states. The ECHR was major legislation, and continues to be, in the area of human rights law.
Not to be confused with the European Union, the CoE has 47 member states, all of whom have given legal effect to the ECHR. Although not present originally, the CoE now has a permanent court based in Strasbourg where violations of the ECHR are heard. The finding of the ECHR is legally binding on member states and their decision is final.
The European Union (EU) was founded in 1993 in the Maastricht Treaty, a rebranding of the European Economic Community (EEC) set up in 1957. The EEC was founded to improve trade relations between the countries of Europe, however as international co-operation grew between states, the EEC branched out into other areas of law before becoming the EU.
The EU is involved in many areas of law, not just human rights. However, in 2000 the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union entered into force. The Charter listed human rights to be protected by EU law, an answer in some ways to the ECHR. Violations are heard in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.