by William B.T. Mock and Gianmario Demuro (eds). Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2010. 435pp. Paper $45.00 ISBN: 9781594606489.

Reviewed by Nicole Dyszlewski, Esq., MLIS Student, University of Rhode Island. Email: nicole4469 [at]


HUMAN RIGHTS IN EUROPE is a series of commentaries on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Liberties (the “Charter”) which was ratified by all 27 member states of the European Union in late 2009. The essays, which cover one or a number of related sections of the Charter, are written by Italian law professors, and the book itself is a revised version of a scholarly volume that appeared in Italy, which contained additional materials relating the Charter to Italian law. According to the editorial notes, HUMAN RIGHTS IN EUROPE is a revised English language text for an American audience. The book starts with a foreword on the Charter’s history and legal status and editorial notes, continues with the commentaries organized in chapters as the Charter itself does (Dignity, Freedoms, Equality, Solidarity, Citizen’s Rights, Justice, General Provisions), and then closes with a Table of Authority and Index.

The commentaries are structured to be reactions and explications of sections of the Charter. They vary in length and depth. The commentaries discuss how the Charter sections came into being, and how they are similar to and different from other sources of European law, be they national constitutions, conventions, treaties, declarations or judicial orders. The commentaries also focus on how the Charter is innovative or how it could be interpreted in the future. In some cases, the commentaries discuss how the Charter may be lacking in some way, or what some possible conflicts may be within the socio-political structure of the European Union.

The commentaries are insightful and thorough. Overall, they do an excellent job of placing the text of the Charter into the context of a rights/duties analysis, be it the rights/duties of member states, their citizens, residents, children, workers or exiles. The commentaries are evenly written in that they both praise and critique the Charter as the author sees fit, with arguments to back up any positive or negative treatment. The breadth of the sources on which the commentaries rely is impressive, although there does seem to be a disproportionate number of references to Italian law, perhaps because the authors are all Italian law professors, or because it was part of the basis of the original work as described in the editorial notes.

Despite the fact that this book has twelve contributing authors and two editors, there are two defining themes throughout the work, human dignity and the interplay of federalism. Although there is an entire chapter of the Charter devoted to dignity, the concept of human dignity runs throughout the Charter, and thus throughout the commentaries. [*349] Human dignity is central to the understanding of human rights, and thus becomes central to the idea of how to understand each individual section of the Charter, even if the section does not specifically touch on human dignity. One gets the feeling that the European notion of human dignity is somehow related to the American version of it, but not the same thing. Closely related cousins, rather than identical twins. American human dignity is intertwined with individuality, while European human dignity is somehow intertwined with being a member of a community.

The second overarching theme of HUMAN RIGHTS IN EUROPE is the concept of federalism. The commentaries speak to the relationship between the documents of the European Union, international treaties, and foundational documents of the member states themselves. To some extent, each uses each other as guiding sources, and the Charter attempts to be innovative, while still trying to build consensus among member states and being respectful of the variety of social, political, ideological and ethnic traditions of the European Union. This creates a vast network of sources of law and federalism concerns. It also creates a voluminous number of footnotes, a comprehensive table of authorities, and a complex background of knowledge for which the reader must at least be aware.

HUMAN RIGHTS IN EUROPE is at its best when used as a reference tool for a student or scholar specifically interested in studying the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Liberties. Although this book has been published for an American audience, it is for an American audience with a strong basis in modern European history or European human rights law . It is not a beginner’s text. It makes an excellent secondary source or reference guide, especially if one is trying to parse legislative history or document construction.

In order to fully understand the text, one should not skip the foreword. It is excellent. It puts the entire Charter in historical and political context. Without a firm basis in the history of the Charter, and at least an introduction to the history of the European Union, much of the text of the commentaries would be puzzling, especially the frequent references to the pre-Charter human rights documents important to its conceptual framework. The foreword is readable, interesting, and is more targeted to an American audience with a comparative analysis of the formation of the European Union versus a formation of the United States. In addition, the editorial notes provide a list of acronyms for documents and institutions and web addresses for frequently cited materials to be used throughout the book. Both of these lists are useful for the reader and/or scholar.

Although the book is clearly arranged to follow the organization of the Charter, it does seem lacking in two respects. First, the Preamble of the Charter is missing altogether. Not only is there no commentary about the Preamble, but the Preamble is neither printed nor even mentioned in the text. In addition, the index to the book is not reader-friendly. It is missing information (for example: dignity is mentioned more often than the index allows the reader to search for it).

Human rights is not an easy subject to cover. The Charter itself is a comprehensive document that is at times [*350] innovative, and at times merely a recodification of prior European documents. The commentaries capture the complexities of the subject matter while still being readable and giving insight into the multi-national human rights landscape. The text would make an ideal supplement in a law school classroom or a perfect addition to a legal library.

© Copyright 2010 by the author, Nicole Dyszlewski.