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75 Nordic J. Int'l L. 63 (2006)
A Lifeline in Time - Non-Retroactivity and Continuing Violations under the ECHR

handle is hein.journals/nordic75 and id is 73 raw text is: Nordic Journal of International Law, 75: 63-88, 2006.                        63
© 2006 Koninklijke Brill NV Printed in the Netherlands.
A Lifeline in Time - Non-retroactivity and Continuing
Violations under the ECHR
Abstract. The protective shield of a human rights treaty in principle only works once
it has entered into force. But what about the frequent problem of human rights vio-
lations that occurred or started before that time; can one complain about those on the
international level? In other words, what are the limitations of the ratione temporis
jurisdiction of supervisory human rights mechanisms? This article explores this
question in the context of general public international law through a case study of
the European Convention on Human Rights. It argues that the European case law's
variations on principles of international law can be explained by the special nature
of human rights treaties.
1. Introduction
The interplay in timing between conflicts and adherence to human rights
treaties is a diverse and important one. Its importance resides in its relevance
to admissibility questions before international supervisory institutions. Its
diversity appears from the different situations that are conceivable. In the first
one, a state involved in an armed conflict is a party to such a treaty and con-
tinues to be so throughout and after the conflict without derogating at any
time. The treaty then applies during the whole period and can be invoked
when complaining about human rights violations that occurred during the
conflict. This situation poses no particular problems ratione temporis.' In the
second situation a state is party to a human rights treaty, but the state itself dis-
solves into several new states during the conflict. The question then is whether
* Antoine Buyse is a researcher and assistant lecturer at the department of Public Law of Leiden
University, the Netherlands. He is currently writing a Ph.D. thesis on housing restitution after conflict
from the perspective of the European Convention of Human Rights. He would like to thank professor Rick
Lawson for his comments on earlier drafts of this article. E-mail: A.C.Buyse@law.leidenuniv.nl
Apart, of course, from possible time limits as an admissibility criterion. See e.g., Article 35 ECHR:
The Court may only deal with the matter ... within a period of six months from the date on which the
final decision was taken. This issue is in some ways closely related to the topic of continuing violations
(see para. 8.5).

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