Features - Guide to Researching the Council of Europe

Anne Burnett is the Reference/Foreign & International Law Librarian at the University of Georgia School of Law Library. She also teaches a seminar in International Legal Research to J.D. and LL.M. students at the UGA School of Law. Anne earned a J.D. from the University of Georgia and a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Texas. Her publications include a chapter on International Environmental Law in the ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law and an upcoming article on librarian exchanges in Legal Reference Services Quarterly. She maintains the Web Site for the Foreign, Comparative and International Law Special Interest Section of the American Association of Law Libraries and also serves as editor of the FCIL Newsletter.

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Contents

Purpose of this Guide
Introduction
Major Institutions and Their Main Documents
Committee of Ministers
Parliamentary Assembly
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe
European Court of Human Rights
Selected Council of Europe Entities, Conventions & Web Sites by Major Subject Categories
Animals
Bioethics
Cultural Affairs
Economic Affairs & Development
Environment
Human Rights
Social & Public Health

Purpose of this Guide

This guide is designed to assist the researcher seeking information and documentation about and from the Council of Europe (CoE). We begin with a brief history of the CoE and a table listing its major institutions in comparison with those of the European Union. The bulk of this guide discusses the major institutions of the CoE and their main forms of documentation. The final section lists CoE entities and conventions by broad subject categories.

Note about the CoE's official Web site

As of March 18, 2000, this researcher found two official sites: http://www.coe.fr/ and http://www.coe.int/. It appears that the site at the .fr domain is migrating to the new site at the .int domain. While the new site is currently under construction, the index page merely provides a search function for locating other CoE sites. A note on the existing site's conventions page (http://www.coe.fr/eng/legaltxt/treaties.htm) indicates that the site will co-exist with the new conventions site (http://conventions.coe.int/) through March 31, 2000. Researchers are advised to check both sites.

The official languages of the CoE are French and English. References in this guide are primarily to English sources with a focus on electronic sources, although numerous print sources are also included.

Introduction

The CoE formed on May 5, 1949, when ten countries signed the treaty constituting the Statute of the Council of Europe. That number has now increased to 41 Member States, from Albania and Andorra to the Ukraine and United Kingdom. The CoE plays an important role in strengthening democracy, human rights, the rule of law and Europe's cultural heritage in its Member States. In its first three decades, the CoE was primarily an international organization comprised of western European members and concerned with western European issues, but the 1980s and 1990s saw the CoE assume a new role in the democratization of central and eastern Europe. With the accession of the Russian Federation in 1996, the CoE's important role in an enlarged Europe became even more evident.

Despite its importance in the social and cultural dimensions of Europe, the CoE is often overshadowed by the myriad of other regional European organizations, most notably the European Union and its predecessor communities. Researchers often confuse the institutions and documentation of  these organizations. With the hope of providing some clarification, we offer the following table:

Major Council of Europe Institutions Major European Union Institutions
Committee of Ministers
(ministers of foreign affairs from
each member state)
Council of the European Union or Council
of Ministers (member state representatives, usually foreign affairs ministers)
  European Commission
(elected members)
  European Council
(member state heads of state)
Parliamentary Assembly
(appointed or elected members)
European Parliament
(elected members)
European Court of Human Rights European Court of Justice
European Commission of Human Rights  
  Economic & Social Committee
Congress of Local & Regional Authorities Committee of the Regions

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Institutions

Committee of Ministers

The Committee of Ministers, composed of the Minister for foreign affairs of each member state, serves as the decision-making body of the CoE.

Major Documents and Publications of the Committee of Ministers

All texts adopted by the Committee of Ministers from 1999 on are published in the Official Gazette of the Council of Europe, available as a subscription in either hard copy, CD-ROM or via the Internet from Council of Europe Publishing. The Committee of Ministers adopts the following categories of texts:

  • Treaties
  • Declarations & Conclusions
  • Recommendations
  • Resolutions
  • Decisions

Conventions, Treaties, Agreements & Partial Agreements (hereinafter referred to collectively as "treaties")

The Committee of Ministers concludes treaties to further the aim of the Council of Europe. Treaties are binding only on the member states that ratify them.

In addition to publication in the Gazette since 1999, CoE treaties are published in the European Treaty Series (ETS), which is available as a collection or as individual treaties from Council of Europe Publishing (e-mail at publishing@coe.int).

The new CoE conventions site provides free access to the full text of CoE treaties through a search engine, which allows for searching by ETS number, abridged treaty title, member state, key words in full text, or by scanning through a complete list of conventions (arranged chronologically). In addition to the full text of the treaty in either HTML or Word formats, the site provides the following for each convention:

chart of signatures and ratifications list of declarations, reservations and other communications from member states summary of the treaty explanatory report of the treaty (only available for selected treaties)

The conventions site also provides a list of Recent Changes for Treaties indicating ratifications, signings and acceptances occurring in the most recent months.

Note on partial agreements: where a number of States wish to engage in some action in which not all their European partners desire to join, they can conclude a "partial agreement" which is binding on themselves alone. The Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field, with only 18 members, is an example of a partial agreement. The new conventions site also includes partial agreements.

Declarations and Conclusions

Issued infrequently until the 1980s, Declarations and Conclusions are usually adopted only at the biannual ministerial sessions of the Committee of Ministers. Recent examples include the Declaration on East Timor and the Declaration on a European Policy for New Information Technologies.

In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999, Declarations and Conclusions are available from 1981 at the CoE site.

Recommendations

The Committee of Ministers issues Recommendations to Member States on matters for which the Committee has agreed on a common policy. As their name suggests, Recommendations are not binding on Member States.

In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999, Recommendations are available from 1979 at the CoE site. From 1996 to 1998, Recommendations were published in Texts Adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. From 1979 to 1987, they could be found in Recommendations and Resolutions and in annual bound volumes containing only Recommendations until 1995.

Resolutions

The Committee of Ministers addresses Resolutions to Member States in order to fulfill its functions under the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Code of Social Security, the European Social Charter, and the Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field. General Resolutions concern administrative matters of the Council of Europe, such as budgets or the status of information offices.

In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999, Resolutions are available from 1949 at the CoE site. From 1996 to 1998, selected Resolutions were published in Texts Adopted by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. Previously, resolutions could be found in annual bound volumes, ranging in title from Resolutions to Recommendations and Resolutions to Collection of Resolutions Adopted by the Committee of Ministers in Application of Articles 32 and 54 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Decisions

Decisions are binding on all persons and bodies subject to the authority of the Committee of Ministers. The adoption of treaties, recommendations, resolutions, the CoE budget, the Intergovernmental Programme of Activities and terms of reference of committees all take the form of decisions.

In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999, Decisions are available from 1996 on at the CoE site. Before November 1994, the volumes of decisions were confidential and not made public.

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Parliamentary Assembly

The Parliamentary Assembly, composed of 291 representatives selected from the parliament of each Member State, serves as the deliberative body of the CoE. The number of representatives from each member state ranges from two to eighteen, based on the size of the Member State. The Parliamentary Assembly holds four plenary sessions per year, meeting for approximately one week in January/February, April/May, June/July, and September/October. Note: prior to 1975, the Parliamentary Assembly was referred to as the "Consultative Assembly."

A list of Parliamentary Assembly Committees also provides descriptions of each committee's activities.

Major Documents and Publications of the Parliamentary Assembly

All texts adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly from 1999 on are published in the Official Gazette of the Council of Europe, available as a subscription in either hard copy, CD-ROM or via the Internet from Council of Europe Publishing.

The Parliamentary Assembly adopts the following categories of texts:

  • Recommendations
  • Resolutions
  • Opinions
  • Orders

Recommendations

The Parliamentary Assembly addresses proposals to the Committee of Ministers as Recommendations; the implementation of Recommendations is within the competence of the Member States.

In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999 on, Parliamentary Assembly Recommendations are published in a provisional edition as soon as possible after their adoption. They are also available at the Parliamentary Assembly's Web site in full text from the mid-1980s and as a list of  from 1949 to present. Also published in Texts Adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly until 1998.

Resolutions

The Parliamentary Assembly issues Resolutions  on questions which it is empowered to put into effect or expressions of view for which it alone is responsible.

In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999 on, Parliamentary Assembly Resolutions are published in a provisional edition as soon as possible after their adoption. They are also available at the Parliamentary Assembly's Web site in full text from the mid-1980s and as a list of  from 1949 to present. Also published in Texts Adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly until 1998.

Opinions

The Parliamentary Assembly renders opinions as answers to questions put to it by the Committee of Ministers, such as the admission of new member states to the Council of Europe, draft conventions, the budget, and implementation of the Social Charter.

In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999 on, Parliamentary Assembly Opinions are published in a provisional edition as soon as possible after their adoption. They are also available at the Parliamentary Assembly's Web site in full text from the mid-1980s and as a list of  from 1949 to present. Also published in Texts Adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly until 1998.

Orders

The Parliamentary Assembly issues Orders to instruct one or more of its committees.

In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999 on, Parliamentary Assembly documents are published in a provisional edition as soon as possible after their adoption. They are also available at the Parliamentary Assembly's Web site in full text from the mid-1980s and as a list of  from 1949 to present. Also published in Texts Adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly until 1998.

In addition to texts adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly, their Records include

  • Orders of the Day
  • Minutes of Proceedings
  • Reports of Debates

Orders of the Day and Minutes of Proceedings are published in Orders of the Day, Minutes of Proceedings. The debates can be found in Official Report of Debates. Verbatim Reports of Debates are partially available from 1998 on at http://stars.coe.fr/verbatim/index.htm. Documents, Working Papers publishes Parliamentary Assembly agendas, requests for opinions, motions, reports, statutory reports from the Committee of Ministers, and other reports and communications addressed to the Parliamentary Assembly by international organizations. The Parliamentary Assembly's Web site provides a search engine for Parliamentary Assembly documents, allowing for searching by date, document type, title words, or author. In addition, http://stars.coe.fr/search/synopsis_search.htm allows for full-text searching with boolean queries.

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Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe

The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRAE), composed of 291 representatives from regional and local governments within each Member State, provides a voice for local democracy within the CoE. Formerly functioning as the Standing Conference of Local & Regional Authorities (Standing Conference), the CLRAE's representatives are divided into two chambers: Chamber of Local Authorities and Chamber of Regions.

Major Documents and Publications of the CLRAE

All texts adopted by the CLRAE  from 1999 on are published in the Official Gazette of the Council of Europe, available as a subscription in either hard copy, CD-ROM or via the Internet from Council of Europe Publishing. The CLRAE adopts the following categories of texts:

  • Recommendations
  • Opinions
  • Resolutions

Recommendations

The CLRAE addresses Recommendations to the Committee of Ministers or to the Parliamentary Assembly (or both). In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999 on, CLRAE Recommendations can be found from 1994-1998 in Congress of Local and Regional Authorities - Adopted Texts and from 1990-1994 in Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe - Adopted Texts. As of March 2000, the CLRAE Web site contained a blank page for CLRAE Texts Adopted.

Opinions

The CLRAE addresses Opinions to the Committee of Ministers or to the Parliamentary Assembly (or both). In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999 on, CLRAE Opinions can be found from 1994-1998 in Congress of Local and Regional Authorities - Adopted Texts and from 1990-1994 in Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe - Adopted Texts. A list of Standing Council Opinions from 1957-1994 is available on the CLRAE site. As of March 2000, the CLRAE Web site contained a blank page for CLRAE Texts Adopted.

Resolutions

The CLRAE addresses Resolutions to local and regional authorities. In addition to publication in the Gazette from 1999 on, CLRAE Resolutions can be found from 1994-1998 in Congress of Local and Regional Authorities - Adopted Texts and from 1990-1994 in Standing Conference of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe - Adopted Texts. A list of Standing Council Resolutions from 1957-1994 is available on the CLRAE site. As of March 2000, the CLRAE Web site contained a blank page for CLRAE Texts Adopted.

Various other types of CLRAE documents, such as charters, drafts and reports, are available at the CLRAE Texts site.

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European Court of Human Rights

History

Pursuant to the European Convention on Human Rights (also available at the CoE conventions site), the first European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) was established in 1959. Under the Convention, individual applicants could lodge complaints against Contracting States for violations of the Convention. The complaints first underwent a preliminary review by the European Commission on Human Rights (Commission). The Commission thereafter submitted a report to the Committee of Ministers. If the matter remained unresolved, either the Commission or the Contracting State could bring the matter before the ECHR for adjudication. Individual applicants were not eligible to bring an application before the ECHR. Matters not brought before the Court were resolved by the Committee of Ministers.

The heavy case load before the Commission and ECHR caused the Member States to consider streamlining the system of enforcing the provisions of the Convention. On May 11, 1994, Protocol No. 11 to the Convention ("restructuring the control machinery") was opened for signature. On October 31, 1998, the old ECHR ceased to function and the new ECHR came into operation on  November 1, 1998. However, Protocol No. 11 (also available at the CoE conventions site) provided that the Commission should continue for one year (until October 31, 1999) to deal with cases which had been declared admissible before the date of entry into force.

For a more detailed history about the ECHR, see the Information Document Issued by the Registrar of the ECHR.

Current Composition

The European Court of Human Rights set up under the Convention as amended is composed of a number of judges equal to that of the Contracting States. The Parliamentary Assembly elects the judges, who serve six year terms. There is no limit on the number of judges from each country, and each judge serves in his or her individual capacity, not as a representative of a particular country.

Major Documents and Publications of the ECHR

The case law of the ECHR (previous and existing), the Commission, and the Committee of Ministers is available in HUDOC (Human Rights Documents). Document categories rendered defunct by the advent of the new ECHR are still searchable within HUDOC.  As of March 2000, HUDOC contained all judgments and admissibility decisions of the new ECHR and all judgments and screening panel decisions of the former ECHR. Available Commission documents include all admissibility decisions from 1987-1998 and selected admissibility decisions from 1995-1986. HUDOC contains only public Commission reports from 1986. For the Committee of Ministers, HUDOC includes Resolutions (execution) from 1972-October 1997 and Resolutions (merits) from 1959-March 1997. An excellent HUDOC Internet Manual is available in PDF.

In print, the ECHR decisions from 1996 are published in Reports of Judgments and Decisions. Until 1995, the ECHR decisions were published in Publications of the European Court of Human Rights, Series A. Series B of the same publication included pleadings, oral arguments and documents until it ceased publication with volume 104, 1995-1998. The Commission's decisions and admissibility reports were published in Decisions and Reports. Many of these volumes can be purchased individually from Council of Europe Publishing. A commercial set, European Human Rights Reports (published by Sweet & Maxwell) includes judgments from the ECHR, selected reports and decisions of the Commission, and settlements and resolutions of the Committee of Ministers relating to Human Rights. The Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights (published by Kluwer Law International) provides extracts from a selection  judgments of the ECHR and decisions and reports of the Commission. the Yearbook is arranged by Convention article.

ECHR Rules

The Rules of Court address the ECHR's composition, procedures, application requirements and more.

Miscellaneous ECHR Documents and Publications

The 1999 Survey of the ECHR's activities is available in PDF format. Statistics and summaries of cases are provided in Case Law Information Notes. The Notice for the Attention of Persons Wishing to Apply to the European Court of Human Rights provides instructions for filing a complaint with the ECHR plus a chart indicating the dates different countries ratified the Convention and various protocols. The ECHR Press Releases are available from January 21, 1998.

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Selected CoE Entities, Conventions & Web Sites by Broad Subject Category

Animals

Several Conventions regarding the Protection of Animals address a variety of issues, including the  protection of farm animals, the protection of pet animals, protection of animals in international transport, and the protection of animals used for scientific purposes.

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Bioethics

The ECHR may give advisory opinions on legal questions concerning the interpretation of the Biomedicine Convention.

The Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine (also found at the new CoE conventions site) strives to protect the dignity and identity of all human beings and guarantee everyone, without discrimination, respect for their integrity and other rights and fundamental freedoms with regard to the application of biology and medicine.

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Cultural Affairs

The Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Culture and Education is active in the major areas of archaeology, the art trade, conservation, freedom of expression, the arts and craftsmanship. The committee monitors CoE cooperation with Intergovernmental Organizations (particularly UNESCO) and Nongovernmental Organizations.

The European Cultural Convention, originally signed in 1954, now boasts 47 Contracting States. It serves as the framework for the CoE's activities in education, culture, cultural heritage, higher education, research, sport and youth.

The Europe of Cultural Co-operation site provides links to a number of resources, including the following reference guide:

Forty Years of Cultural Cooperation under the Supervision of Etienne Grosjean, which provides an excellent overview of the history and process of cultural cooperation within the CoE.

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Economic Affairs & Development

The Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Economic Affairs & Development deals with a wide range of economic issues, focusing on economic cooperation and development in Europe and worldwide, North-South development, transport policies.

The CoE Development Bank, created in 1956, is the financial instrument of the social policy of the Council of Europe. It grants loans to its member countries, to local communities, and to approved financial institutions for the financing of social projects.

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Environment

The Parliamentary Assembly Committee on the Environment, Regional Planning and Local Authorities addresses issues related to two main areas: sustainable development (the environment and regional planning) and local and regional authorities.

The Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats (also found at the new CoE conventions site) aims to to conserve wild flora and fauna and their natural habitats, especially those species and habitats whose conservation requires the cooperation of several States, with particular emphasis given to endangered and vulnerable species, including endangered and vulnerable migratory species.

The Convention on Civil Liability for Damage resulting from Activities Dangerous to the Environment  (also found at the new CoE conventions site) aims to ensure adequate compensation for damage resulting from activities dangerous to the environment and also provides for means of prevention and reinstatement.

The European Agreement on the Restriction of the Use of certain Detergents in Washing and Cleaning Products (also found at the new CoE conventions site) aims to ensure that detergents are at least eighty percent biodegradable.

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Human Rights

Human Rights Web  is maintained by the Directorate of Human Rights of the Council of Europe to facilitate public access to information about the Human Rights activities of the CoE. The site provides links to materials on the ECHR, the European Human Rights Convention, human rights activities, and more.

The European Commission for Democracy through Law (the "Venice Commission"), established in 1990, serves as a consultative body which cooperates with the member States of the Council of Europe and with non-member States, in particular those of Central and Eastern Europe. Pursuant to its statute, the Venice Commission shall give priority to work concerning: the constitutional, legislative and administrative principles and technique which serve democratic institutions as well as the principle of the rule of law; public rights and freedoms, notably those that involve the participation of citizens in the life of the institutions; and the contribution of local and regional self-government to the development of democracy. The Venice Commission publishes the Bulletin on Constitutional Case-Law, which contains summaries of the most important decisions handed down by constitutional courts and equivalent courts in some 40 countries, as well as by the ECHR and the Court of Justice of the European Communities. The Bulletin is available in print from Council of Europe Publishing. The Venice Commission also maintains the CODICES database, which contains over 1000 full texts of constitutional decisions, some dating back to 1985, and the text of some constitutions. CODICES is available by subscription, either in CD-ROM or via the Internet.

The Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Human Rights and Legal Affairs covers a broad range of areas, including national minorities and the protection of their rights; the protection of human rights; equality between women and men and the problems of discrimination in general; combating racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and intolerance; criminology and criminal law (combating drug abuse and drug trafficking, trafficking in women and forced prostitution, the sexual exploitation of children, combating corruption and money-laundering, the fight against terrorism, etc.); protecting personal data; the return of embassies belonging formerly to the Baltic States, the situation of the French-speaking population in the Brussels periphery; and measures to dismantle the communist totalitarian systems.

The Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Migration, Refugees, and Demography upholds the human rights of migrants, refugees and displaced persons and works to bring about an improvement in their living conditions. In addition, the committee seeks to respond to Member State concerns about significant movements of migrants and refugees, integration of migrants and demographic trends.

The Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men reports to the Parliamentary Assembly on questions regarding equal opportunities and on policies and legislation designed to promote equality. The committee also supervises implementation of commitments undertaken by CoE Member States in the Platform for Action adopted by the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.

The European Convention on Human Rights (also found at the new CoE conventions site) is remarkable in that it represents agreement by sovereign states to allow a supra-national court to review judgments of domestic judiciary, and be bound by its findings. New members are required to sign the Convention upon joining the CoE and to ratify it within one year after joining.

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Social & Public Health

The Parliamentary Assembly Committee on Social, Health and Family Affairs concentrates on labor issues, social cohesion, health, ethical questions raised by biomedicine, and the fight against drug abuse. It is also concerned with the protection of vulnerable population groups such as the elderly and children.

The European Committee for Social Cohesion, formed in 1999, seeks to strengthen human dignity and social rights in a spirit of solidarity.

Numerous CoE Conventions address a variety of social and public health issues, ranging from social security to migrant workers to military and civilian war-disabled (all of these conventions are also found at the new CoE conventions site).

With eighteen members, the Partial Agreement in the Social and Public Health Field (search at the new conventions site) focuses on the integration of persons with disabilities and on consumer protection.

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