Binding the EU to International Human Rights Law

Yearbook of European Law, vol. n°27, p. 277-320 (2008)

37 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2014

See all articles by Israel de Jesus Butler

Israel de Jesus Butler

Law School, Lancaster University

Olivier De Schutter

University of Louvain (Belgium)

Date Written: June 6, 2014


This paper discusses the relationship of the EU to international human rights standards. It argues that the EU should either accede to existing international human rights treaties, concluded under the framework of the United Nations or the Council of Europe, or should be monitored by the expert bodies established under these instruments. First, we highlight the need for external international supervision of the Union by explaining the current shortcomings of human rights protection at the internal level. We argue that the failure of the European Union to recognize its obligations under the international law of human rights leads to an interpretation of human rights which is narrower than that already accepted by its Member States and third states; that it creates difficulties for the uniform application of EU law; and that it may result, finally, in a lowering of the level of protection for individuals. Second, we explore the different techniques by which the Union could strengthen its links to the human rights standards developed within the Union Nations or the Council of Europe. We examine the possibility of accession by the European Union to international or European human rights instruments. We also review alternatives to accession, namely supervision of the European Union by the relevant monitoring bodies established under those instruments even in the absence of formal membership of those treaties. Before concluding we suggest how the Union could comply with international human rights law despite lacking a general competence to protect and promote human rights.

Keywords: European Union Human Rights Policy, International Organisations, Council of Europe, Human Rights Treaties.

Suggested Citation

Butler, Israel de Jesus and De Schutter, Olivier, Binding the EU to International Human Rights Law (June 6, 2014). Yearbook of European Law, vol. n°27, p. 277-320 (2008) . Available at SSRN:

Israel de Jesus Butler

Law School, Lancaster University ( email )

Law School
Lancaster University
Lancaster, LA1 4YN
United Kingdom


Olivier De Schutter (Contact Author)

University of Louvain (Belgium) ( email )

Place Montesquieu, 3
B-1348 Louvain-la-Neuve, 1348

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