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Human Rights Law Research Guide

Human Rights Treaties and Instruments

This guide highlights the central human rights treaties and instruments for the international (UN) human rights system and each of the regional human rights systems. To find additional treaties and instruments relevant to your particular topic or region of interest, you may find it helpful to consult:

  • Secondary sources such as commentaries, books, reports by human rights advocacy organizations, journal articles; and
  • The website of a human rights body tasked with monitoring human rights in your topical area and/or geographical region. Usually, the website has a page listing relevant sources of law.

International Human Rights Treaties and Instruments

To facilitate cite-checking, links to some of the treaty sources mentioned in the Bluebook are provided below.

Core Human Rights Treaties:

Other Key International Human Rights Instruments:

Regional Human Rights Treaties and Instruments

Interpretation and Application of Human Rights Treaties and Instruments

A variety of institutions interpret and apply international human rights law through monitoring activities, court proceedings, and other adjudicative procedures. Most of these institutions post their recent decisions, reports, and other publications on their websites. Some older materials may be available only in print or microfiche.

UN Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms

Documents related to UN human rights monitoring mechanisms are available on their websites linked below. You can also do an aggregated search using the Universal Human Rights Index, the charter-based bodies document search, the UN Treaty Body Database, or the Jurisprudence Database.

Treaty Monitoring Bodies

Each of the core international human rights treaties has a corresponding treaty monitoring body (also called a treaty body), a committee of independent experts that monitors implementation of that treaty.

Important documents to look for include:

  • General Comments interpreting treaty provisions
  • Documentation related to the committee’s review of individual states parties’ compliance with the treaty, including state reports, NGO reports, and the committee’s Concluding Observations
  • Documentation related to complaints against states parties

The treaty bodies are:

Special Rapporteurs & Other Special Procedures

The Special Rapporteurs, Working Groups, and other Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent experts that monitor human rights related to a particular country or thematic issue.

Universal Periodic Review

All member states of the United Nations undergo a Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in the state, conducted under the auspices of the Human Rights Council. Documentation related to the UPR includes reports from the state, UN bodies, NGOs, and the Human Rights Council.

International Court of Justice

International Criminal Court

European Court of Human Rights & Other Council of Europe Bodies

Major bodies that interpret and apply international human rights law (in particular the European Convention on Human Rights and other regional instruments) include:

Inter-American System

Major bodies that interpret and apply international human rights law (in particular the American Convention on Human Rights and other regional instruments) include:

Truth Commissions and Ad Hoc Tribunals

Ad hoc tribunals and truth and reconciliation commissions have been established in many countries following massive human rights abuses. The United States Institute of Peace has a list of truth commissions, though it's not necessarily comprehensive, as new tribunals and commissions continue to be established.

Collections

The following collections aggregate records from multiple tribunals and commissions:

Individual Tribunals and Commissions

Many tribunals and commissions, especially those that were established recently, have websites where they post records including founding documents, court/commission decisions, and reports. When viewing websites available in multiple languages, it may be helpful to switch to the vernacular, as some websites have not translated all of their content into English.

Records of some tribunals and commissions are also available in print and microfiche in Diamond Law Library. You can find them by searching by subject or keyword on Pegasus.

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