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The Effect of Subsequent Practice on the European Convention on Human Rights: Considerations from a General International Law Perspective

in: Anne van Aaken/Iulia Motoc (eds), The ECHR and General International Law, Oxford University Press, Forthcoming

19 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2017  

Anja Seibert-Fohr

University of Heidelberg

Date Written: September 14, 2017

Abstract

Under which conditions and to what extent can subsequent State practice legitimately influence the interpretation or even modify international treaties? This issue of general international law has been on the European Court of Human Rights’ agenda for quite some time and is ongoing as evidenced in Hassan v. the United Kingdom. While State practice has traditionally played a role in the interpretation of the Convention, the Court’s methodology to determine under what circumstance and to what extent State practice is able to affect the scope and meaning of the Convention remains uncertain.

This article develops a general theoretical framework, which rationalizes the normative value of subsequent practice in the context of human rights treaty interpretation and sets out its relevant standards. Drawing from the ILC’s recent work on ‘Subsequent agreements and subsequent practice in relation to interpretation of treaties’, the author argues that the Vienna Rules provide a matrix. This perimeter allows sufficient flexibility to accommodate the specific nature of human rights law. The author proposes a normative scale, which can guide the Court in enhancing its methodological consistency. Pursuant to this scale, exigencies for the density of subsequent practice and the degree of acceptance pursuant to Article 38 (1)(b) VCLT vary depending on the nature of the rule and the claimed normative value of State practice. Once State practice meets the required standard, it can sustain the legitimacy of treaty interpretation. On this basis, subsequent practice can serve as a catalyst for the advancement of human rights.

Keywords: treaty interpretation, Art. 38 VCLT, international human rights

JEL Classification: K

Suggested Citation

Seibert-Fohr, Anja, The Effect of Subsequent Practice on the European Convention on Human Rights: Considerations from a General International Law Perspective (September 14, 2017). in: Anne van Aaken/Iulia Motoc (eds), The ECHR and General International Law, Oxford University Press, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3036820

Anja Seibert-Fohr (Contact Author)

University of Heidelberg ( email )

Friedrich-Ebert-Anlage 6-10
Heidelberg, 69117
Germany

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