International Human Rights Research Guide

By Grace M. Mills

Grace M. Mills is the Director of the Law Library at Florida A&M University.  She has previously been affiliated with the law schools of City University of New York, North Carolina Central University and University of California at Berkeley

Published March 2007
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Table of Contents


United Nations documentation

Charter bodies

Major Treaty bodies


Basic Documents in International Human Rights

Guide to United Nations Symbols

United Nations Web Sites

United Nations Depository Library

Human Rights Documents listed by Subject Matter

International Organizations

International News Organizations

Educational Institutions Web Information

International Law Journals


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.

United Nations Documentation

This guide begins with the United Nations 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.

Charter Bodies

The charter bodies created under the United Nation charter are:

      • Human Rights Council
      • Commission on Human Rights
  • Special Procedures established by the Commission on Human Rights
  • Sub-Commission for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Treaty Bodies

There are seven UN treaty bodies governing international human rights:

      • Human Rights Committee (HRC)
      • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
      • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
      • Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
      • Committee Against Torture (CAT)
      • Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRCD)
      • Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW)

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 is composed or 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

Basic Documents in International Human Rights

Guide to United Nations Symbols

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 (IP access) contains all treaties deposited with the Secretary General of the United Nations. There are currently over 40,000 treaties in this collection, each reproduced both in the authentic language or languages of the treaty, as well as in English and French.

United Nations Web Sites


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.

      • Charter-based bodies database, which contains all the human rights reports, resolutions, decisions and materials created by all the organizations created within the United Nations since 1994.
      • Treaty body database, which included those treaties that implement the principles of international human rights.

United Nations Depository Library

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].

Human Rights Documents listed by Subject Matter

The OHCHR provides an updated grouping of the relevant human rights documents on its web site [last viewed on February 3, 2007].











·         Employment Policy Convention, 1964 (No. 122)











International Organizations

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:

      • Amnesty International is an independent, i.e., not sponsored or funded by any nation, world-wide organization of people dedicated to campaign for those human rights as written in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
      • Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) was founded in 1971.  It is an international humanitarian organization committed to providing medical care to patients and their governments. The organization’s decision to intervene in situations is based upon the critical care and needs of people, regardless of the political, economic or social interests of hostile or friendly governments.
      • International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was organized in 1863.  It is an international impartial organization whose goal is to protect the lives and dignity of those persons who find themselves in regions of strife and war-torn areas.  The organization works to strengthen humanitarian law. This organization is the outgrowth of two previous organizations:  International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.
      • Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) was founded in 1985.  It is an international organization founded to ensure that people always have freedom of the press.  In January 2002, RSF organized the Damocles Network, which is the organization’s judicial arm. The Network ensures that murderers and torturers of journalists are brought to trial, and it provides victims with legal services and represents them before the competent national and international courts so that proper judicial procedures can be implemented.

International News 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.

      • AllAfrica is a news organization providing electronic information of African news and global news worldwide.  This organization is the successor of AllAfricaNews, which provided news to National Public Radio, BBC and the Washington Post for two decades.
      • Al Jazeera English is the first global news and current affairs channel broadcasting information 24 hours a day from its Middle East headquarters in Doha.  Its counterpart, Al Jazeera Arabic, sends 24 hour global news and current affairs in Arabic to its Arabic speaking audience in the Muslim countries within the Middle East.
      • BBC is an English news organization sending out news from bureaus located throughout the world.
      • Channel NewsAsia provides global news and information from an Asian prospective.  Started in 1999 as a news organization Chanel NewsAsia provided reports to major Asian and Western cities.  It expanded in 2000 to two electronic news organizations, one in English and one in Chinese.
      • CNN is a US based news organization sending out news from bureaus located throughout the world.
      • The European Union is the gateway for all information concerning the European Union, currently 25 countries governing 450 million people.  The European Union does not replace any of the member countries existing governments.  It does provide the mechanisms for common interests, one of which is human rights.

Informative, Yet Not a News Site

      • You Tube is a web site created in 2005.  Although it was arguably not created as a news site, but rather as an entertainment site for the average individual to place video clips for viewing by other individuals, the January/February issue of Foreign Policy noted on page 104 of its article “The You Tube Effect” that more and more videos and images about international human rights developments and violations are caught on individual hand-held videos and cameras and being shown throughout the world thanks to video-sharing sites such as the one above.  Although human rights information can be quickly disseminated though out the world in this manner there is the possibility that the information can be provocative disinformation but the possibility of alerting millions to the possible abuses is a reward that should be considered.

Educational Institutions Web Information

Several universities maintain web sites that contain important information on finding United Nations organizations and international human rights materials.

International Law Journals

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