Europe has a range of European human rights systems, covering virtually all of the European continent, and even reaching beyond Europe.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) grew out of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). The Helsinki Final Act from 1975 defines “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief” as one of the principles guiding the relations between participating States. Consequently, the OSCE monitors the human rights situation in its 56 participating States. The most relevant forum is the annual Human Dimension Implementation Meeting, organised by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). In addition, the OSCE has a presence in some of its participating States.
The reach of the OSCE goes well beyond Europe, and includes the USA and Canada, and most states of the former Soviet Union, well into central Asia.

The Council of Europe was established in 1949. According to article 3 of its Statutes, every member State must accept the principle “of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms”. The main human rights treaty of the Council of Europe is the European Convention on Human Rights.
Within the Council of Europe, there are several institutions of interest to conscientious objectors to military service:

  • The Commissioner for Human Rights ( is an independent institution within the Council of Europe, mandated to promote awareness of and respect for human rights in Council of Europe member states. However, the Commissioner for Human Rights does not have a mandate to act on individual complaints, but the Commissioner can draw conclusions and take wider initiatives on the basis of reliable information regarding human rights violations suffered by individuals;
  • The European Court of Human Rights ( is the Council of Europe's highest human rights court, judging on complaints based on the European Convention on Human Rights;
  • The European Committee of Social Rights oversees the European Social Charter (, both via a reporting procedure and via a complaint procedure;
  • The Committee of Ministers ( is the main decision-making organ of the Council of Europe, and is also tasked with overseeing the implementation of judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. The Committee of Ministers also decides on recommendations on human rights issues, including conscientious objection to military service;
  • The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe ( consists of delegates from the Parliaments of member States. The Parliamentary Assembly passes resolutions relevant to human rights, and also has a Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

The third relevant institution is the European Union (, which incorporated the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into primary European law when it adopted the Lisbon Treaty on 1 December 2009.
The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights ( – FRA) assists EU institutions and EU Member States in understanding and tackling challenges to safeguarding fundamental rights within the Member States of the European Union by collecting and analysing information from EU Member States.
The European Parliament ( can be an important body for lobbying, as it passes resolutions on human rights issues, including the right to conscientious objection to military service. The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs ( is in charge of human rights within the European Union, while the Subcommittee on Human Rights ( deals with human rights world-wide.
On the level of EU government – the European Commission – the European Union established a EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights.
However, the European Union does not really have a mechanism to protect human rights within its member states. Lobbying of the European Parliament or the European Commission is outside the scope of this guide.