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Public International Law Research

A guide that highlights resources and recommended strategies for conducting research on international law topics.

Overview of the Council of Europe

General Overview of the Council of Europe

The Council of Europe is comprised of 47 Member States, 23 of which include the members of the European Union.  The purpose of the Council of Europe is to "uphold human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in Europe."  It is important to be aware of the fact that the Council of Europe is not the same thing as the European Union or the European Council.

The Council has several administrative bodies and/or positions, and the following chart outlines their general characteristics of each major organ. 

Secretary General & Deputy Secretary General Elected for five year terms; serve as the head of the Council of Europe and is responsible for the strategic planning and direction of the Council's work program and budget.
Committee of Ministers Comprised of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs from each of the 47 member states. A full list of their responsibilities can be viewed in Chapter IV of the Statute of the Council of Europe.
Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) Consists of 324 members of parliament from the member states. The Assembly serves as the floor for debate and elections. The Assembly elects the Secretary General, the Human Rights Commissioner, and the judges to the European Court of Human Rights.
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

Composed of two chambers and three committees:

  • Chamber of Local Authorities: Monitors local elections; works to address societal issues and initiatives in European cities by encouraging citizen participation.
  • Chamber of Regional Authorities: Represents regional authorities, as so many member states have thriving regional governments in their countries.
  • Monitoring Committee: Responsible for monitoring the application of the European Charter of Local Self-Government.
  • Governance Committee: Prepares reports dealing with legal and political issues relating to good governance and democracy.
  • Current Affairs Committee: Examines major challenges for European societies, such as social cohesion, education, and intercultural and interreligious dialogue.
European Court of Human Rights This judicial body was created by the Council of Europe and serves to guarantee all Europeans the rights safeguarded by the European Convention on Human Rights. All 47 member states are under the jurisdictional purview of this court.
Commissioner for Human Rights Established in 1999, the Commissioner for Human Rights serves as an "independent and impartial non-judicial institution" to encourage human rights promotion and reform. The outline of this position is outlined in Resolution (99)50.
Conference of INGOs The Conference of INGOs consists of 400 international non-governmental organizations that work to facilitate links between politicians and the public. The primary role of the Conference is to provide the Council of Europe with assistance in outreach to the peoples of member states.

Locating Council of Europe Primary Materials

Locating Council of Europe Primary Materials

As large as the Council of Europe is, it is not surprising that they have produced several materials over the years.  Below are links to some of the most important resources.


Since its beginnings in 1949, the Council of Europe has created 225 treaties.  Learn more about the Council of Europe treaty making and storage process here.  One of the fundamental treaties is that Statute of the Council of Europe, which summarizes the purpose of the Council of Europe and its origins.

Each of these treaties is freely available on the Council of Europe website here.  From this list, you can tell when the treaty was entered into force, and whether the treaty is one that is open to European non-member states, open to non-European non-member states, and/or open to the European Union.  At the bottom of the text of each treaty are links to related texts that might be helpful for gathering more information about a certain topic area.

Partial Agreements

Partial agreements allow Member States to abstain from participating in a certain activity advocated by other Member States.  Statutorily, a partial agreement is considered an activity of the Council, except it has its own budget and methods determined by members of that partial agreement.

A full list of all the partial agreements is freely available for download here.

Bi- or Multilateral Agreements

Bi- or multilateral agreements are when either two (bi-) or more (multi-) countries enter an agreement that serves as binding law for their country.   

The Council of Europe website has their full list of bi- and/or multilateral agreements with other international Intergovernmental Organizations or Public International Institutions freely available for download here.

European Convention on Human Rights

Formed after World War II to help protect human rights, this is one of the most fundamental documents that the Council of Europe has created.  This convention protects the human rights of people within the 47 Member States by guaranteeing specific rights and barring unfair or harmful practices. The European Court of Human Rights applies the right and guarantees laid out in the Convention.

Full text of the Convention is freely available from the European Court of Human Rights website.  Some additional helpful resources include:

  • Protocols to the Convention: Protocol is the term for an amendment to the Convention.  The full list of protocols is available at that link.
  • Protocol No. 15: will enter into force as soon as all the State Parties to the Convention have signed and ratified it.
  • Protocol No. 16: recently came into force on August 1, 2018.

European Court of Human Rights Cases and Rules

The European Court of Human Rights offers many of its materials freely available from its website online.  The highlights of what is available include:

  • HUDOC: This database holds all the European Courts of Human Rights' judgments and decisions.  To help narrow your search, a selection of key cases is also available.  This website also provides helpful guidance on how to cite these cases.
  • Calendar of Cases: The calendar of hearings for cases is available online.  If you are interested, you can also listen to these hearing via webcast.
  • Rules of Court: These are the court rules for the European Court of Human Rights.

Recommended Secondary Sources

Secondary Sources for Council of Europe Research

Below are some additional resources to aid in gathering more information about the Council of Europe.

Online Resources

The Council of Europe has many of their publications on topics including human rights, democracy, law, society, the internet, and many more freely available for download here. Pne resource available electronically through the UNC Law Library is highlighted below.


The Europeans: Electronic Newsletter of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly:  As the name suggests, this is an excellent resource for staying up to date on the latest happenings in the Parliamentary Assembly.  Freely available as an electronic resource through the UNC Law Library. 

European Treaty Series: Promulgated since 1949, the library has volumes up to the present for this resource that are available through Davis Library's International collection.

Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights: [KJC5135.A16 .Y43 v.2 ].  This yearbook records the developments and impacts of the European Convention on Human rights.  Includes full text of new protocols, listings of Court judgments, selected human rights, and other bibliographic information.