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Implementing International Human Rights Law at Home: Domestic Politics and the European Court of Human Rights

Abstract

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) boasts one of the strongest oversight systems in international human rights law, but implementing the ECtHR’s rulings is an inherently domestic and political process. This article begins to bridge the gap between the Court in Strasbourg and the domestic process of implementing the Court’s rulings by looking at the domestic institutions and politics that surround the execution of the ECtHR’s judgments. Using case studies from the UK and Russia, this article identifies two factors that are critical for the domestic implementation of the Court’s rulings: strong domestic, democratic institutions dedicated to implementing the ECtHR’s judgments and an overarching sense of responsibility to set a good example at home and abroad for respecting human rights and the rule of law. This article concludes with a discussion of the steps necessary to facilitate better implementation of the ECtHR’s rulings.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The Committee of Ministers maintains a website on the state of execution for the outstanding cases for each state. This website is updated periodically and contains highly detailed information about the measures states have taken—as well as those that they must still take—on open cases (Council of Europe 2009a). As of 2008, the state of execution database contains 519 cases and 2,604 discrete obligations. The data presented in Table 1 are hand-coded from this database. For more information about this classificatory schema, please see (Hillebrecht 2009).

  2. 2.

    The breakdown is as follows: Lexis-Nexis (428); The Moscow Times (923); The Times (1,030).

  3. 3.

    Also known as the Human Rights Center “Memorial.”

  4. 4.

    Emphasis mine.

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Acknowledgments

The first version of this paper was presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the International Studies Association in New Orleans, Louisiana, and I thank the participants of that panel for their comments and suggestions. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the ECtHR for opening their doors to me. I also am grateful to the Division of International Studies, the Department of Political Science and the Graduate Student Collaborative, all of the University of Wisconsin-Madison; the School of Human Rights Research at Utrecht University; the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; and the Department of Political Science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for their financial and academic assistance in researching this article. I am very grateful for Margo Berend’s excellent research assistance. Any errors are mine alone.

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Correspondence to Courtney Hillebrecht.

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Hillebrecht, C. Implementing International Human Rights Law at Home: Domestic Politics and the European Court of Human Rights. Hum Rights Rev 13, 279–301 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12142-012-0227-1

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Keywords

  • European Court of Human Rights
  • Domestic politics
  • Implementation/execution
  • UK
  • Russia