Courts and Tribunals of Regional Economic Communities

In addition to the various regional and universal human rights mechanisms established exclusively and specifically for the promotion and protection of human rights, a number of other dispute settlement bodies – often related to economic integration initiatives – may decide cases involving individuals’ and communities’ fundamental rights. Generally, these tribunals’ core mandate is the adjudication of disputes arising from the economic community’s agreements or actions, but many have had occasion to address fundamental rights in this context.

Three regional integration initiatives have created courts with jurisdiction to hear individual complaints of alleged human rights violations, whether related or not to the activity or policies of the regional community. These courts – the Court of Justice of the European Union, Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice, and the Southern African Development Community Tribunal – each interpret international human rights law in resolving such cases.

Other regional courts may adjudicate individual complaints, but only insofar as they allege violations of community or domestic law. These tribunals do not have jurisdiction to interpret or apply international human rights law, but they are authorized to determine State compliance with the regional integration agreement and related legal instruments, which often include some protections of individual or communal rights.

Competence to Decide Individual Complaints of International Human Rights Law Violations

Competence to Decide Individual Complaints Arising under Domestic or Community Law, Which May Involve Fundamental Rights

 Arbitration Panels in Other Trade Agreements

A number of trade agreements also create arbitration mechanisms that permit a review of labor rights, and in some case, other human rights issues in complaints by member states. For example, in connection the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among Mexico, Canada and the United States, the parties also entered into a side agreement on labor: the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC). The NAALC is designed to ensure the effective enforcement of the Parties’ domestic labor laws; there is no adoption of or reliance on international standards and it does not create a mechanism for individuals to pursue private rights and seek individual remedies, which must be brought under domestic law. Nonetheless, States can make submissions involving violations of labor rights under NAALC, some of which could result in sanctions.

Many other multilateral trade agreements include clauses requiring respect for fundamental rights and provide for the settlement of disputes related to violations of domestic laws addressing those rights, and may establish mechanisms to sanction abuses. These include United States Fair Trade Agreements (FTAs) that contain labor or social clauses; Canada’s FTAs with similar components, and other miscellaneous FTAs with similar provisions. Further information about agreements referring to labor rights can be found at the ILO website.

The WTO also has a dispute resolution mechanism to handle disputes between WTO member states that arise under the WTO agreements. The WTO mechanism does not directly address human rights issues. The World Trade Organization (WTO) maintains a comprehensive list of regional trade agreements (RTAs) currently in force.