Advocating through the European Human Rights System: Helvetas Experience in Albania

03. November 2023

Understanding European Human Rights Mechanisms

The European Court of Human Rights, distinguished for addressing civil and political rights, stands as one of the most respected human rights mechanisms globally. What many Civil Society Organizations may not realize is that numerous avenues for human rights advocacy exist within various European institutions, even for non-European countries. These mechanisms possess significant power and effectiveness due to their solid legal basis (bilateral treaties). In cases where United Nations mechanisms fall short to protect against human rights violations, European counterparts can offer alternative solutions.

Within Europe, human rights mechanisms are primarily represented by three major institutions: The Council of Europe, the European Union, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

The Council of Europe, with its various bodies such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Commissioner for Human Rights, focuses on upholding human rights standards and facilitating dialogue among member states. The European Union integrates human rights into its internal and external policies, enforceable through the Court of Justice, while also utilizing thematic guidelines and dialogues. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe operates with a broader security perspective but also addresses human rights, employing instruments like the Human Dimension Mechanism.

To effectively engage in regional advocacy, it is essential to comprehend the structures and operations of these institutions fully. This comprehensive understanding enables CSOs and advocates to navigate the intricate landscape of human rights advocacy within Europe, collaborating effectively with these institutions to advance human rights and democratic principles.

Helvetas' Advocacy Journey

Helvetas advocates for sustainable development and particularly focuses on addressing economic, social, and cultural rights through policy-level advocacy. Their experience in Albania demonstrates their commitment to effecting positive change.

Helvetas Albania provided technical support to the Association of Albanian Municipalities. The aim was to enhance advocacy and capacity-building efforts among the association's members. However, internal political divisions posed significant challenges. Helvetas endeavored to support technical solutions, such as amending the association's statutes to rebalance power structures, but obstacles persisted.

In this framework, Helvetas Albania used the intervention through the Council of Europe (CoE)'s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities as a strategic tool to demonstrate the benefits of constructive dialogue among members from different political backgrounds. This intervention provided a platform for engaging diverse parties in productive discourse.

The Role of Helvetas

Helvetas Albania played a dual role, acting as both facilitator and technical support provider. By introducing the CoE mechanism, Helvetas effectively facilitated the dialogue, reinforcing the technical assistance provided.

The outcome was a solution that postponed the association's internal division. Donors subsequently supported this effort under a local governance project, contingent on members working together on a non-partisan basis.

This experience underscores the effectiveness of advocacy when coupled with technical solutions reinforced by international frameworks and mechanisms. It highlights the importance of initiating dialogues under international frameworks to address politically sensitive issues effectively.


This article expands on the “Advocating through the European Human Rights Systems” webinar hosted by Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation. The Regional Advocacy Network would like to thank Valbona Karakaci, Senior Governance and Policy/Advocacy Advisor at Helvetas Albania, who shared her valuable experience.

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