UPDATE: International Human Rights Research Guide
By Grace M. Mills
Grace M. Mills is the Director of the Law Library at Hamline University. She has previously been affiliated with the law schools of City University of New York, North Carolina Central University, University of California at Berkeley and Florida A&M University.
Published June 2012
(Previously updated on March 2008)
Table of Contents
International human rights documents and decisions are primarily governed by the bodies of the United Nations. The United Nations was established on October 24, 1945, by the governments of 51 countries, including the victors of WWII -- the United States, England, France, Russia. The United Nations is a body committed to securing the world’s peace through international cooperation. Human rights issues affect all countries, whether they are active participants in the United Nations or not.
Although this document primarily discusses the documentation created by the United Nations, mention should be made of the European Union. This regional organization was founded after World War II by six nations (Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands) in the hopes of eliminating war between neighboring countries. By 1951, the six nations had signed a treaty establishing common management for two of their mutual industries: coal and steel. From this initial economic parity between six countries on two mutual industries, the European Union has grown to 27 nations (and as of this writing, three more nations have applied for membership).
The European Union (EU) is a complex and unique organization. Although it is a regional organization of membership nations, the EU does not have any jurisdiction within the member state. The European Union does not interfere with the internal sovereignty of a member nation. The Union can only create policy that regulates issues of mutual concern between member nations. The disparate cultures and economies of the respective countries have led to the creation of important documents for the region. The ease of the border restrictions and controls concerning the passage of goods, resources and people countries and cultures has convinced separate nations that there is a greater need for uniform documents controlling these multinational concerns. The Union, as the regional body, has needed to create several relevant documents on child labor, human trafficking and immigration that directly impact upon international human rights.
The decision-making policies of the European Union policies are determined by the three bodies: the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The European Commission proposes new laws and it is the Parliament and Council that passes the new law. Each new law fits into one of the existing European Union treaty documents.
The eight main treaties are:
An understanding of the United Nations documentation begins with the abbreviations employed for discussing and classifying United Nations documents. United Nations abbreviations are used for documentation of materials found in either bodies chartered by the UN (the Human Rights Council or Commission on Human Rights) or those bodies created by United Nations treaties. Human rights documents and organizations frequently are discussed using abbreviations found below.
The charter bodies created under the United Nation charter are:
There are seven UN treaty bodies governing international human rights:
There are several bodies within the United Nations whose primary goal is not to promote or protect human rights; however, these entities frequently endorse activities that protect human rights. The scope of this Guide is not to examine these entities at length but they must be mentioned as these entities often effectuate and promote the aims of international human rights: the UN General Assembly (GA), the Third Committee of the General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council, the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (HABITAT) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The United Nations Commission on Human Rights was founded in 1946. It was dissolved by the United Nations in 2006 and replaced by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This Commission is composed of 53 States that meet in Geneva, Switzerland in a regular session lasting six weeks in March/April of each year. At an annual regular session the Commission adopts resolutions and make decisions that affect the entire globe when monitoring human rights situations whether in specific countries or in territories. A member state can call the UN to protect the human rights of its people within its own state or a member state can call the UN to adopt a resolution, make a determination of a violation of human rights against another state and/or request that the UN provide protection of human rights for people of a certain state, region or territory.
The Commission can also meet in special sessions upon the agreement of member States. A special session deals with any urgent human rights matters brought before the Commission by a member State.
The Human Rights Committee (HRC), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Committee Against Torture (CAT) and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) can receive petitions from individuals who claim that their human rights have been violated.
CAT – Committee Against Torture
CEDAW – Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
CERD – Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
CESCR – Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
CHR – Commission on Human Rights
CMW – Committee on Migrant Workers
CRC – Committee on the Rights of the Child
CSW – Commission on the Status of Women
DAW – Division for the Advancement of Women
DESA – Department on Economic and Social Affairs
ESC – Economic and Social Council of the United Nations
FAO – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
HABITAT – United Nations Human Settlements Programme
HRC – Human Rights Committee
IASC – Inter-Agency Standing Committee
ICJ – International Court of Justice
OCHA – Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
OHCHR – Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
OSAGI – Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women
UNAIDS – Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS
UNDP – United Nations Development Programme
UNESCO – United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
UNGA – General Assembly of the United Nations
UNHCR – United Nationals High Commissioner for Refugees
UNICEF – United Nations Children’s Fun
UNIFEM – United Nations Development Fund for Women
UNIFPA – United Nations Population Fund
UNMA – United Nations Mine Action
UNTS – United Nations Treaty Series
WHO – World Health Organization
The United Nations uses a classification system unique to this international body. Once the reader understands the system it is very easy to find a category of documents, related and any subsequent documents related to human rights.
There are two useful United Nations web sites concerning UN document symbols. A guide is published by the United Nations for deciphering the symbols of official United Nations documents, and is available from the United Nations web site. There is also a guide from the Office of the Commission on Human Rights.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights lists the following United Nations documents as core to the development and understanding of international law:
· Charter of the United Nations
· The International Bill of Human Rights
· Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
· International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 1966
· International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966
· Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
· Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty
All of these documents can be found in paper or via electronic databases using the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) as published by the United Nations. The United Nations Treaty Series contains all treaties deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations. There are currently over 40,000 treaties in this collection, each reproduced in both the authentic language or languages of the treaty, as well as in English and French.
The United Nations also has several databases that provide electronic means for accessing human rights documents and materials. These databases are available in three languages: English, French and Spanish.
The United Nations has a Depository Library System whereby libraries throughout the world can participate in providing information on human rights and have the right to deposit UN documents. The UN has a Depository Library locator.
Publications (including background information, fact sheets, issue papers, promotional and reference materials) concerning international human rights are available from the OHCHR.
In addition to the United Nations documents listed above the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has designated several treaty documents as ‘core international human rights instruments’ that are critical in determining the implementations of human rights on its State members. The documents, with their abbreviations and dates of enactment and bodies that monitor the progress of these documents, are listed below as provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights [as last viewed on February 1, 2007].
The OHCHR provides an updated grouping of the relevant human rights documents on its web site [last viewed on February 3, 2007].
FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION
HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE: PROTECTION OF PERSONS SUBJECTED TO DETENTION OR IMPRISONMENT
NATIONALITY, STATELESSNESS, ASYLUM AND REFUGEES
PREVENTION OF DISCRIMINATION
PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS
RIGHT TO HEALTH
THE RIGHT OF SELF-DETERMINATION
RIGHT TO WORK AND TO FAIR CONDITIONS OF EMPLOYMENT
RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
RIGHTS OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AND MINORITIES
RIGHTS OF MIGRANTS
RIGHTS OF OLDER PERSONS
RIGHTS OF PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES
RIGHTS OF WOMEN
SLAVERY, SLAVERY-LIKE PRACTICES AND FORCED LABOUR
SOCIAL WELFARE, PROGRESS AND DEVELOPMENT
WAR CRIMES AND CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY, INCLUDING GENOCIDE
WORLD CONFERENCE ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND MILLENNIUM ASSEMBLY
There are many organizations that promote international human rights but are not affiliated with, or organized by, the United Nations. These organizations often called NGOs (non-governmental organizations), are important to note as they often go into areas of conflict without the imprint of political organizations or country affiliation. Below are four such organizations:
The following all started as news reporting services with bureaus and reporters located in major cities throughout the world. These agencies have expanded their coverage to provide electronic media. This has sped the delivery of human disasters, such as typhoons and earthquakes that strike remote areas, human rights disasters, such as the refugee camps of Darfur and Thailand, and human rights violations throughout the world.
Informative, Yet Not a News Site
Several universities maintain web sites that contain important information on finding United Nations organizations and international human rights materials.
Many university law schools publish student-edited journals having an emphasis upon human rights. The list below, as of December 2006, is representative but by no means comprehensive.
Across Borders International Law Journal
American University International Law Review
Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law
Berkeley Journal of International Law
Boston College International and Comparative Law Review
Boston University International Law Journal
Brooklyn Journal of International Law
California Western International Law Journal
Cardozo Journal of International and Comparative Law
Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law
Chicago Journal of International Law
Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy
Columbia Human Rights Law Review
Columbia Journal of Asian Law
Columbia Journal of European Law
Columbia Journal of Transnational Law
Connecticut Journal of International Law
Cornell International Law Journal
Denver Journal of International Law & Policy
Duke Journal of Comparative & International Law
Emory International Law Review
Eyes on the ICC [International Criminal Court]
Florida Journal of International Law
Fordham International Law Journal
George Washington International Law Review
Georgetown Journal of International Law
Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law
Harvard International Law Journal
Hastings International and Comparative Law Review
Houston Journal of International Law
ILSA Journal of International and Comparative Law
Indiana International & Comparative Law Review
International and Comparative Law Review
International Law & Management Review
Journal of Transnational Law and Policy
Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review
Loyola University Chicago International Law Review
Michigan Journal of International Law
Michigan State Journal of International Law
Minnesota Journal of Global Trade
New England Journal of International and Comparative Law
New York Law School Journal of International and Comparative Law
New York University Journal of International Law and Politics
North Carolina Journal of International Law and Commercial Regulation
Northwestern Journal of International Law & Business
Oregon Review of International Law
Pace International Law Review
Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal
Penn State International Law Review
Regent Journal of International Law
San Diego International Law Journal
Santa Clara Journal of International Law
South Carolina Journal of International Law and Business
Southwestern Journal of Law and Trade in the Americas
Stanford Journal of International Law
Suffolk Transnational Law Review
Syracuse Journal of International Law and Commerce
Temple International and Comparative Law Journal
Texas International Law Journal
Touro International Law Review
Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems
The Transnational Lawyer
Tulane Journal of International and Comparative Law
Tulsa Journal of Comparative & International Law
UCLA Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs
UCLA Journal of Islamic and Near Eastern Law
UCLA Pacific Basin Law Journal
United States-Mexico Law Journal
University of Miami Inter-American Law Review
University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Economic Law
Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law
Virginia Journal of International Law
Washington University Global Studies Law Review
Willamette Journal of International Law and Dispute Resolution
Wisconsin International Law Journal
Yale Journal of International Law