Researching the Law of Latin America


By Teresa Miguel

Teresa Miguel holds an M.A. from the University of Arizona School of Information Resources and Library Science, a J.D. from the University of Richmond, T.C. Williams School of Law, a B.A. from the University of Wisconsin, and a DELE (Diploma Extranjera de Lengua Española) from the Instituto Cervantes. Publications include Comparative Law: Academic Perspectives in the forthcoming International Handbook of Legal Information Management (IALL publication); A Closer Look: Uncovering the Spanish Roots of Louisiana Civil Law , forthcoming in the International Journal of Legal Information; Exchanging Books in Western Europe: A Brief History of International Interlibrary Loan , 35 IJLI 499 (2007); Title IX and Gender Equity in Intercollegiate Athletics: Case Analyses, Legal Implications, and the Movement towards Compliance. 1 Sports Law. J. 279 (1994).   She was a public defender from 1994-2002.

Published October 2010

Table of Contents


     Finding the law of Latin American countries

Legal Research Guides

Legal Research Tools

Legal Databases

Secondary Sources

Primary Sources

     Finding international law of Latin America

Research Guides

Treaties, Conventions, Agreements

Human Rights

International Courts and Tribunals

International Environmental Law

International Business, Investment, Trade

Other Commercial Databases



When beginning research in a foreign country, it is imperative to know and understand the type of legal system or systems that operate in the country.  Most but not all Latin American jurisdictions have a legal system based in civil law, but each country within Latin America has a wholly unique legal system. The civil law countries of Latin America simply share a “family resemblance” in that many evolved from the Spanish and the Portuguese yet “they do not have a common essence, but rather interrelate with each other in a complex manner.” [ [1] ] Therefore, you should always consult a research guide to understand each country’s legal system.

Researching the law in a civil law system often requires digging into the codes and related commentary and doctrine. It is often helpful to examine a relevant and authoritative secondary source such as a legal encyclopedia, law journal article, or book, which will often cite the primary law (constitution, legislation/laws/codes (with commentary), judicial opinions (caution!).  Remember, judicial decisions in civil law jurisdictions are generally not precedent as they are in common law jurisdictions.

This research guide focuses on online resources.  It will help you find research guides and tools to help you begin your research and familiarize yourself with a country’s legal system.  It will also assist you in locating secondary resources and primary law. This research guide does not list websites for individual countries – please see the Country-by-Country Guide to Foreign Law Research and individual country research guides in GlobaLex for this specific information.

An * asterisk * indicates a subscription database.

Finding the Law of Latin American Countries

Legal Research Guides
Some of these research guides are not specific to Latin America but cover the topic generally.

  • Country-by-Country Guide to Foreign Law Research
    This is a great place to begin your research into the law of other countries. Research guides for primary, secondary, and internet resources are listed for each country in the world.
  • Foreign Law Guide *
    FLG is a comprehensive list of primary and secondary sources in print and on the Internet and includes great background information into every country's history and legal system (also in the Country-by-Country Guide above). This is the electronic version of  Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World ,
    Z675.L2 A23 no. 33 .

Legal research guides for many countries.

This is a great resource for locating foreign law available in English.

  • International and Foreign Legal Research: A Course book – K85 .H64 2008

An excellent print resource for learning how to conduct (and teach) foreign and international legal research.

  • International Legal Research in a Nutshell – KZ1234 .H64 2008  

A print guide to finding foreign and international material.


*Subscription databases 


Legal Research Tools

Determine the legal system of the country you are researching: Civil law, Common law, Customary law, Muslim law, Talmudic law, and Mixed law systems.

Search by abbreviation or keyword to find legal titles worldwide.

Database of legal terms translated into many languages.


Legal Databases


Secondary Sources

This study on access to judicial information in ten Latin American countries, carried out by the Due Process of Law Foundation, assesses the principal laws and regulations on access to judicial information in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, Peru, Panama, and Uruguay.

Created by the Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), this virtual library contains over 35 online full-text foreign and international journals including several indexed in IFLP.

  • Dialnet
    Search social science journals, collected works, theses, and books from Spain and Latin America.

English-language translations of broadcast transcripts, news agency transmissions, newspaper and periodical articles, and government statements from countries around the world.*

  • Handbook of Latin American Studies *
    An annotated bibliography of works on Latin America covering various fields in both the humanities and social sciences. Volumes have been published annually since 1936, by Harvard University Press, the University of Florida Press, and the University of Texas Press. HLAS is edited by the Hispanic Division of the Library of Congress. The printed version and the online database cover from 1936 to the present.
  • Hispanic American Periodicals Index (HAPI) *
    Citations to articles on Latin America, Brazil, the Caribbean, the US-Mexico border region, and Latinos in the U.S.; excellent resource for human rights research.

Index of foreign and international law review articles (if you don't find the journal in Morris via Ovid's links, do a  Title search  in Morris for the journal just to be sure).

A virtual library providing legal information on mutual assistance and extradition for the 34 OAS member states.

A multidisciplinary portal to websites and resources all over Latin America, including a category for legal resources with regional and country-specific links.

  • Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) *
    has surveyed and analyzed citizen views on system support, political tolerance, citizen participation, local government, corruption, and views on for:  Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Salvador, Uruguay,  Venezuela; also Albania, Israel, Madagascar, Canada and the United States;  datasets  available for subscribers.

This is a work-in-progress website of legal titles and holdings of law libraries with Latin American collections; this is not a searchable database but rather a list of titles linked to the catalog.

Full-text information in Spanish and Portuguese from 41 newspapers from Puerto Rico and Latin America.

An annual public opinion survey that involves some 19,000 interviews in 18 Latin American countries, representing more than 400 million inhabitants, focusing on the development of democracy, economies, and societies.

Scientific Electronic Library Online - mostly scientific journals with a few but growing number of legal titles; consolidates Iberian and Latin American journals in an open-access, full-text database; searchable in English, Spanish and Portuguese, by subject, author, keyword, or browse each journal.

  • vLex Global *
    World-wide legal database containing legislation, jurisprudence, commentary, forms, legal news, and more from many countries (extensiveness of each collection varies); search in English or the vernacular; materials in the vernacular with some translation capabilities.


Other Suggested News Sources


Primary Sources

Current and historical Latin American constitutions.

Law Library of Congress' public database of laws, regulations, judicial decisions, and other complementary legal sources contributed by governmental agencies and international organizations; official documents in original language with some English translations.

A virtual library providing legal information on mutual assistance and extradition for the 34 OAS member states.

Created by the National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade, find laws, regulations, case law, and secondary source materials for twenty-five Latin American countries in Spanish; many English translations.

An invaluable portal to finding recent laws, decrees, and codes from all over Latin America, in the vernacular; also includes a regional section, which contains treaties, conventions, reports and useful information for the Latin American region as a whole.  

·        Natural Resources

University of Denver's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program's portal to finding country-specific legislation, international treaties, journals, and websites for foreign and international environmental law research

Official site - contains official documents, treaties, legal opinions, resolutions, declarations, news, etc. English, Spanish, Portuguese, French.

Georgetown Center for Latin America Studies' database of Constitutions, Governments, and much more; excellent resource for comparative study of Latin American legal systems and governments. 

  • vLexGlobal *
    World-wide legal database containing legislation, jurisprudence, commentary, forms, legal news, and more from many countries (extensiveness of each collection varies); search in English or the vernacular; materials in the vernacular with some translation capabilities.


Finding International Law of Latin America


Research Guides

These research guides are not specific to Latin America but cover the topic generally.

Includes guides for many international law topics. 

Internet directory of international affairs, foreign relations, studies, news, etc.

Many research guides on different aspects of international law research.

Many research guides on different aspects of international law research.


Treaties, Conventions, and Agreements

American Society of International Law's (ASIL) Electronic Information System for International Law is a comprehensive database for primary documents, websites, and research guides.  It is a great first stop for finding international agreements; search by title, subject, or keyword.

The  Legal Services Department   has compiled and made accessible bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements, laws, and judgments made within the Inter-American system and outside of the system as well.

  • United Nations Treaties Collection
    Includes databases for United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS), Multilateral Treaties (MTDSG), Certified True Copies (CTCs) of treaties, Depositary Notifications (CNs), and more.

Human Rights

  • Comisión Andina de Juristas
    CAJ promotes human rights and democracy in the Andean region; find relevant legislation and jurisprudence from Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.
  • Derechos Human Rights
    Working for the respect and promotion of human rights all over the world, with special projects in Latin America.
  • Human Rights Watch
    An NGO whose publications include an annual world report and other reports by theme and region.
  • Human Rights Treaties
    Chronological list of human rights treaties from The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Cases and reports of the Commission, headquartered in Washington DC, created in 1959 as an autonomous body of the  OAS   that provides recourse to individuals who have suffered human rights violations.

  • Minnesota Human Rights Library
    Find human rights treaties, UN, US, and many other human rights documents. 
    Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights; find 
    news and events publications international law and human rights instruments , and a searchable database for human rights documents of the OHCHR's  Charter or treaty-based bodies
    Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, established by UN General Assembly, is mandated to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide; hosts the powerful
      RefWorld  database, a collection of reports relating to situations in countries of origin, policy documents and positions, and documents relating to international and national legal frameworks.
  • United Nations Human Rights Treaties
    Access to human rights documents and parties to treaties; search by state, category, or theme/subject matter.
  • United States Institute of Peace
    An independent, nonpartisan, national institution established and funded by the US Congress whose goals are to help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and development, and increase conflict management capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide; includes a 
    library  with  digital collections  including peace agreements, terrorism/counter-terrorism resources, and afghan oral histories, as well as   library catalog  with full-text USIP Special Reports and Peaceworks.


International Courts & Tribunals

  • Oxford Reports on International Law: ORIL *
    Oxford Reports on International Law is intended to be a single point of reference for all international law jurisprudence, providing serious researchers access to the widest possible range of international law jurisprudence. All reported decisions have a head note, the full text of the decision, and are linked to the
      Oxford Law Citator . There are five modules: International Courts of General Jurisdiction, International Criminal Law, International Human Rights Law, International Investment Claims, and International Law in Domestic Courts.    
  • International Law Reports *
    Justis * database, find important cases and documents in international law from 1919 to the present.

Search ASIL's compilation of international laws, decisions and declaration on  Westlaw * (database: ILM) and  Lexis * (file-name: ILM) and HeinOnline *.

  • World Court Digest
    Max Plank Institute's reproduction of judgments, advisory opinions, and orders of the ICJ and individual judges.

A forum for applied research, reflection and forward thinking on matters of international human rights policy; find research reports and briefing papers with policy recommendations.

Search for decisions on human rights from a variety of global and regional courts including: the European Commission of Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) from 1961; decisions from the four UN Committees (Committee Against Torture, Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and Human Rights Committee, which monitors the Convention for Civil and Political Rights) which are able to deliver views in individual cases; comprehensive decisions from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.) and selected decisions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); cases decided under the African Charter on Human and People's Rights, in both the Court and the Commission*  (see the above section on Courts and Tribunals for more websites and databases for searching human rights cases).


International Environmental Law

  • International Energy Treaties
    A comprehensive database of full-text bilateral and multilateral energy treaties; browse by subject or party, search by keyword, subject, title; free registration
  • International Environmental Agreements
    A comprehensive database of full-text, bilateral and multilateral environmental agreements, secretariats, and data sets
  • Natural Resources
    University of Denver's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program's portal to finding country-specific legislation, international treaties, journals, and websites for foreign and international environmental law research


International Business, Investment, and Trade

An organization that promotes development and cooperation between Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

An organization that aims for economic and social development of the Commonwealth   


The World Bank's open-access law library to business laws and regulations around the   


An organization of 34 democracies in the region that aim for political and cultural   


  • International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)
    This World Bank website offers resources for conciliation and arbitration of international investment disputes, including copies of awards and decisions.
  • Inter-American Specialized Conferences
    Maintained by the legal department of the OAS; provides access to the international private law instruments adopted at the Inter-American Specialized Conferences on Private International Law and OAS recent activities.

Over 300 awards; search jurisprudence alongside other areas of international law.

  • International Labour Organization (ILO)
    Find labor  conventions , recommendations  and  standards , including  ILOLOEX  (searchable database on labor standards) and  NATLEX  (searchable database of national labor, social security and related human rights legislation).

Oxford University Press’ resource for materials and analysis in the field of international investment law and arbitration; contains awards you may not find in ICSID Reports and database.

Worldwide coverage of commercial and investment arbitration; case law, commentary, conventions, legislation, rules.

A variety of business, arbitration, environmental, tax, and trade law titles.

A Latin American organization dedicated to integration between its 12 Latin American member states.

Mercosur is a regional trade agreement between Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and   


National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade.  Find laws, regulations, case law, and secondary source materials for twenty-five Latin American countries in Spanish; many English translations.

  • Summit of the Americas Information Network  
    The Summits of the Americas bring together the democratically elected Heads of State and Government of the Western Hemisphere to discuss common concerns, develop a shared vision for the future development of the region, and seek solutions to problems and challenges confronting their countries, be they economic, social or political in nature.


Other Commercial Databases

Some recent material (e.g. decisions of the Corte Suprema, a few códigos, legislation) is also available on the LexisNexis subscriptions available at U.S. law schools.

[ [1] ] Angel R. Oquendo, Latin American Law 2-3 (2006).