The European Union and Human Rights: An International Law Perspective


The European Union has maintained that the obligations incumbent upon it in the area of human rights stem from its own internal legal order. Under this limited approach, the EU is merely under an obligation not to violate human rights when it acts (i.e. a negative obligation to respect human rights) and effectively only to respect those rights enumerated in the European Convention on Human Rights. This article explores how the EU may be subject to more extensive human rights obligations, incumbent on it by virtue of international law. As an intergovernmental organization and subject to international law, the EU can be said to be bound by customary international law, treaties to which it is a party, and human rights treaties entered into individually by Member States through the principle of succession or substitution. This would extend the range of applicable rights far beyond those in the ECHR to other obligations in, for instance, UN human rights treaties. It also implies that the EU must not merely refrain from violating human rights, but also that, within its spheres of competence, it should take positive measures to protect and fulfill human rights.

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