NGO Standing and Influence in Regional Human Rights Courts and Commissions

37 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2012 Last revised: 18 Oct 2014

Date Written: April 11, 2012


This article explores the extent to which nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have standing to bring claims in the European, Inter-American, and African human rights enforcement systems, examines the degree to which NGOs in fact bring such cases, and analyzes the ramifications of NGO involvement in these systems. Part I of this article considers how NGOs can be involved in the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights. As detailed in this part, while there are important differences between these different regional human rights systems in each of them NGOs are able to serve in a variety of roles, including as applicants, as representatives of the alleged victims, and as third parties serving in an amicus curiae or intervener role.

Part II considers how NGOs are actually involved in these systems by looking at all decisions on the merits rendered during the ten-year period from 2000 through 2009. Consideration of these decisions reveals both striking similarities and differences. The most significant similarity is that NGO involvement is primarily in the form of serving as representatives of alleged victims of human rights violations. The most significant differences are that NGO involvement in the European system is concentrated both with respect to the member states and the specific NGOs involved and occurs only in a relatively small proportion of the decisions. In contrast, in the Inter-American system NGOs are involved in a much higher proportion of the decisions, and while there are concentrations with respect to the specific NGOs, there are less apparent concentrations with respect to member states. Finally, in the African system there is also a high proportion of NGO involvement but no obvious concentrations either with respect to the specific NGOs or member states involved.

Part III then considers the ramifications of the permitted and actual degree of NGO involvement in these systems. One ramification is the importance of NGOs as representatives of alleged victims of human rights violations, although that importance varies as between the different systems. Variations may arise from a number of factors, including the availability of legal aid and the size and relative strength of the legal bar in member states. Another ramification is that in Europe the role of NGOs appears primarily to draw attention to human rights violations in a relatively narrow set of member states where conditions for private representation of alleged victims may not exist, while in the Americas and Africa it appears that there is a broader need for NGOs to represent alleged victims from a broad swath of the member states. These ramifications suggest that the development and support of human rights NGOs should perhaps be targeted in different ways in these different systems. Finally, both the relatively close ties between the most active NGOs and the larger international human rights community and the relative open access of not only NGOs but private parties of all types to these systems suggests that there is no need to carefully screen NGOs before they can become involved, as has been done at least to some extent for the African court. This approach contrasts with that taken with respect to many other international bodies, where NGOs often have privileged access to deliberations and discussions as compared to other private parties.

Keywords: human rights, human rights commissions, human rights courts, nongovernmental organizations, nonprofit

JEL Classification: K33, K39

Suggested Citation

Mayer, Lloyd Hitoshi, NGO Standing and Influence in Regional Human Rights Courts and Commissions (April 11, 2012). Brooklyn Journal of International Law, Vol. 36, p. 911, 2011, Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 12-61, Available at SSRN:

Lloyd Hitoshi Mayer (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States
574-631-8057 (Phone)
574-631-4197 (Fax)

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