Arthur W. Diamond Law Library Research Guides

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Human Rights Research Guide

Written by Aslihan Bulut Last Updated December 19, 2014

This guide provides an overview of useful sources for research on international human rights law, with an emphasis on free online sources and sources available through Diamond Law Library and other Columbia University libraries.

This is a selective list of sources. For additional research advice, please contact the librarians at the Reference Desk. For directions and reference hours, see the Diamond Law Library homepage.


Contents

Background & Reference Sources

This list of background and reference sources focuses on dictionaries, encyclopedias and directories that were published or updated since 2000. To see more of these types of sources available at Diamond Law Library, including older editions, please search on Pegasus for the following Subjects:

  • Human rights -- Dictionaries
  • Human rights-- Encyclopedias
  • International law -- Encyclopedias
  • Human rights -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.

Most of the background and reference sources in this list are in print format. Databases and other electronic resources are marked [electronic resource].

Quick Introductions

International Human Rights in a Nutshell, 4th edition by Thomas Buergenthal, Dinah Shelton & David P. Stewart (West, 2009)
An excellent compact introduction to the international law of human rights. Includes a table of cases with full citations.

Dictionaries

A Dictionary of Human Rights, 2nd edition by David Robertson (Europa Publications, 2004)
Professor Robertson describes his book as “a series of small essays,” each one covering a major concept, legal instrument, or organization related to human rights. The book includes a handy appendix that reprints some fundamental human rights texts, including international treaties and national laws from France, Germany, Canada, Hungary, the former Czechoslovakia, Israel, and South Africa.
Dictionary of International Human Rights Law by Connie de la Vega (Edward Elgar, 2013)
This book provides one-paragraph definitions of concepts, legal instruments, and organizations related to human rights. The appendix is a list of 259 human rights treaties and other international and national legal instruments; each one has a short description, citation, and URL.
A Handbook of International Human Rights Terminology, 2nd edition by H. Victor Condé (University of Nebraska Press, 2004)
This book is primarily intended for students who are new to the study of human rights. The dictionary section contains brief explanations of human rights-related concepts, legal instruments, and organizations. Comprehensive appendixes include an appendix on "Official Citations for Human Rights and Related Instruments."
Historical Dictionary of Human Rights and Humanitarian Organizations, 2nd edition by Robert F. Gorman & Edward S. Mihalkanin (Scarecrow Press, 2007)
Provides brief descriptions of major organizations (private, governmental, national, and international), people, concepts, treaties, and other legal instruments related to human rights and humanitarian law. Includes a chronology of events and an extensive subject bibliography.
Lexicon of Human Rights = Les Définitions des Droits de l’Homme by Cédric Viale (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2008)
In most human rights dictionaries, each entry is a definition written by the author(s). However, in this book, each entry is a compilation of direct quotations from treaties and other human rights instruments. Another unique feature of this book is that it provides the same text twice: the first half in English, the second half in French.

Encyclopedias

Encyclopedia of Human Rights David P. Forsythe, editor in chief (Oxford University Press, 2009)
This 5-volume encyclopedia focuses on 1945 to the present (2009), with some coverage of prior developments. It covers concepts, organizations (governmental and non-governmental, global, regional, and national), people (including those who have had a negative effect), and situations related to human rights. It includes entries on the human rights situation in contemporary as well as historical countries and regions; for example, there are entries on both the Democratic Republic of Congo and on the Belgian Congo. The entries are written by scholars and practitioners from various countries. The last volume includes an extensive index.
Encyclopedia of Human Rights, 2nd ed. by Edward Lawson (Taylor & Francis, 1996)
This 1,715-page single-volume compendium covers the years between 1945 and 1996. Published with the cooperation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights / Centre for Human Rights, this encyclopedia relies primarily on the reports of UN institutions such as Special Rapporteurs and human rights treaty-monitoring bodies. It includes entries on people (in particular, Nobel Peace Prize winners), concepts, international organizations (governmental and non-governmental), treaties, and other human rights instruments (with citations to the official sources). Unlike most other dictionaries and encyclopedias, this book also includes entries on the state of human rights in 186 countries and territories. The appendixes contain a chronological list of documents included in this work. A glossary and a subject index are also available.
An Encyclopedia of Human Rights in the United States, 2nd ed. by H. Victor Condé (Grey House Publishing, 2011)
Two-volume set of books focused on international human rights as they relate to the United States, from the founding to the present. The table of contents is available on Pegasus. The first part, Terms (270 pages), is an alphabetical dictionary of human rights concepts and organizations. The second part, Primary Documents, reprints 106 treaties, speeches, UN documents, and other materials. The third part, Appendixes, includes various charts, chronologies, and lists of US legislation and cases related to human rights law, among other reference materials. This encyclopedia is intended for the general public, not just lawyers or law students.
International Encyclopedia of Human Rights: Freedoms, Abuses, and Remedies by Robert L. Maddex (CQ Press, 2000)
A useful source for beginner researchers looking for brief explanations of key concepts, organizations, international agreements, and other documents significant to the historical development of human rights. Short biographies of major figures are also included.
Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (Oxford University Press, updated periodically) [electronic resource]
This is the online edition of the Encyclopedia of Public International Law previously published in print. This comprehensive reference work contains articles written by scholars and practitioners dealing with all aspects of public international law, including basic principles, rules, and summaries of important decisions. A useful source for a description and an evaluation of public international law subjects with the relevant legal situations, including many human rights-related topics. Each article is marked with the date it was last updated.

Directories

United Nations – Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA) civil society organization database [electronic resource]
An extensive NGO database that can be searched by various fields, including country and type of organization. Information is available in multiple languages.
World Directory of Human Rights Research and Training Institutions, 6th edition (UNESCO, 2003), also available as an [electronic resource] through the UNESCO website
Prepared by the Social and Human Sciences Documentation Centre and the Division of Human Rights of UNESCO this directory provides much more than contact information. The entries are annotated and there are several finding aids including subject and specialist indexes.
Human Rights Organizations & Periodicals Directory, 13th edition (Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, 2013)
This directory focuses on organizations and publications in the United States that work on human rights problems in the U.S., although some also work on such issues in other countries. Alphabetical guide with full contact information, geographical index by state, list of internships, periodical index, and subject index are some of the useful features included.
Dictionary of Human Rights Advocacy Organizations in Africa by Santosh Saha (Greenwood Press, 1999)
This directory includes governmental and non-governmental organizations. For each organization, there is a brief description of its work and at least one reference. Many entries also mention the organization’s history and reputation. The organizations are listed alphabetically by name, and there is also a country index useful for researchers seeking organizations in a specific nation in Africa.
National Human Rights Institutions in the Asia Pacific Region by Brian Burdekin & Jason Naum (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2007)
This source is much more than a directory. It is a collection of select international materials and comparative tables to enable the researcher to compare the established national (i.e. governmental) human rights institutions in the Asia Pacific region. The bulk of the text is dedicated to the relevant legislation of the countries in the region, making this a valuable reference source. One of the authors, Brian Burdekin, previously served as Special Advisor on National Institutions for the United Nations High Commissioners for Human Rights.

Handbooks & Other Sources for Practitioners

There are many handbooks, manuals, and other sources of practical advice for lawyers, judges, prosecutors, police, journalists, teachers, and others whose work involves the application of human rights law.
Many are available for free online, mainly from inter-governmental organizations (IGOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). You can find them using a search engine like Google.
To find these types of sources available in print at Diamond Law Library, please try these searches on Pegasus:
  • Subject: Human rights -- Handbooks, manuals, etc.
  • Subject: human rights AND Keyword: handbook
  • Subject: human rights AND Keyword: manual

Human Rights Organizations

Below is a selected list of major organizations that monitor human rights situations around the world and/or contribute to the development of human rights law. To find more, see the directories suggested in this research guide.

Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)

United Nations (UN)
See Diamond Law Library's Research Guide: The United Nations. Relevant UN bodies include:
Council of Europe (CoE)
See Diamond Law Library's Research Guide : The European Human Rights System and the European Court of Human Rights. Relevant CoE bodies include:
Inter-American system
Relevant bodies include:
African Union
Relevant bodies include:
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)

Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)

Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch
Maastricht Centre for Human Rights
Human Rights Internet
African Center for Democracy and Human Rights Studies
Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA)
Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL)
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)
Asian Human Rights Commission
Derechos Human Rights

Human Rights Treaties

Collections of Treaties

There are several general collections of treaties available to Columbia Law School students and faculty, including HeinOnline, Westlaw, Lexis, and the free online United Nations Treaty Collection. More details can be found in Diamond Law Library’s Guide to Treaty Research.

Below is a list of specialized collections of treaties and other instruments related to human rights. Some of these collections are in print, and some are online databases, which are marked [electronic resource].

Human Rights: A Compilation of International Instruments (United Nations, 2002)
This compilation, prepared by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), includes instruments adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This compilation includes only the text of the instruments, no annotations.
International Human Rights Instruments: A Compilation of Treaties, Agreements, and Declarations of Especial Interest to the United States by Richard B. Lillich, ed. (Hein, 1990)
Although this compilation of treaties is no longer up to date, it is still useful for its annotations. This compilation includes: human rights treaties that the U.S. was a party to; treaties that the U.S. had signed but not ratified; treaties that the U.S. had not signed; and other international human rights instruments (e.g. Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Useful annotations include U.S. government action taken in regard to the instrument, a selected bibliography of books and articles related to the instrument, and a list of U.S. federal and state judicial decisions in which the instrument is cited or discussed.
University of Minnesota Human Rights Library - Human Rights Treaties and Other Instruments [electronic resource]
This is a great online collection of treaties, organized by subject and by country. Also look at the entire University of Minnesota Human Rights Library, which has over 65,000 documents and counting.

Individual Treaties

Treaties and other human rights instruments are published in various sources (see The Bluebook, 19th edition, Rule 21.4.5 and Table T4), including:

  • UNTS = United Nations Treaty Series, available in print and online through the United Nations Treaty Collection
  • ILM = International Legal Materials, available in print and online through HeinOnline
  • UST = United States Treaties and Other International Agreements, available in print and online through HeinOnline
  • S. Treaty Doc. = Senate Treaty Documents, available online through HeinOnline
  • OASTS = Organization of American States Treaty Series, available in print
  • ETS = European Treaty Series, available in print

Below is a list of major treaties and other human rights instruments. This list is not exhaustive.

For each treaty or other human rights instrument listed below, we have provided citations to one or more of the sources where it has been published. Wherever possible, we have provided a direct link to text of the document.

Universal (Global) Treaties & Instruments

Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT)
1465 UNTS 85
S. Treaty Doc. No. 100-20 (scroll to page ii after the page loads)
23 ILM 1027
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
1249 UNTS 13
19 ILM 33
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide
78 UNTS 277
102 Stat 3045 (Genocide Convention Implementation Act of 1987)
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
2515 UNTS 3
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
1577 UNTS 3
28 ILM 1456
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention)
189 UNTS 150
19 UST 6223
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
660 UNTS 195
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance
2716 UNTS 3
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families
2220 UNTS 3
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
999 UNTS 171
6 ILM 368
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
993 UNTS 3
6 ILM 360
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
GA Res. 217A (III), UN Doc A/810 at 71 (1948) (available on microficheand online through the Official Document System of the United Nations
Geneva Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field
75 UNTS 31
6 UST 3114
Geneva Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea
75 UNTS 85
6 UST 3217
Geneva Convention (III) Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War
75 UNTS 135
6 UST 3316
Geneva Convention (IV) Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War
75 UNTS 287
6 UST 3516

Regional Treaties & Instruments

African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
1520 UNTS 217
21 ILM 58
American Convention on Human Rights
1144 UNTS 143
OASTS No. 36
9 ILM 99)
Arab Charter on Human Rights (2004)
English translations available in the University of Minnesota Human Rights Library and 24 B.U. Int'l L.J. 147
ASEAN Human Rights Declaration
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, also known as the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)
213 UNTS 222
ETS No. 5

Interpretation & Application of International Human Rights Law

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.

You can also find such materials on the websites of human rights organizations (see this research guide’s section on human rights organizations).

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, or the treaty bodies document search. For general advice on searching for UN documents, see Diamond Law Library’s Research Guide: The United Nations.

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.
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965)
Human Rights Committee
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966)
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966)
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979)
Committee against Torture
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment (1984)
Committee on the Rights of the Child
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
Committee on Migrant Workers
Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (1990)
Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006)
Committee on Enforced Disappearances
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (2006)
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

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

See Diamond Law Library's International Court of Justice Research Guide.

International Criminal Court

See Diamond Law Library's International Criminal Law Research Guide

European Court of Human Rights & Other Council of Europe Bodies

See Diamond Law Library's European Human Rights System and the European Court of Human Rights Research Guide.

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. Amnesty International and the United States Institute of Peace have lists of truth commissions, though they are not 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.
For information about the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), see Diamond Law Library's Research Guide: International Criminal Law.

How Can I Find Laws Related to Human Rights in a Specific Country?

To find the domestic laws of a foreign country, two of the best places to start are research guides about that country and secondary sources like books, journals and human rights reports. Once you have established a basic background, continue your research using foreign law databases.

Foreign Law Research Guides

A good foreign law research guide will briefly describe the legal system in that country, and explain where you can find statutes, cases, regulations, and other sources of law in the vernacular and in English. Research guides are available in print and online, for free and by subscription. Free online research guides vary significantly in quality and currency. You can find research guides in several ways:

  • Use a search engine (like Google) to search for [insert country name] law research guide
  • Search on Pegasus for: Subject: legal research AND Keyword: [country name]
  • Globalex
Published by the Hauser Global Law School Program at NYU School of Law, Globalex is an excellent collection of research guides on most countries. It also has comparative law research guides on specific themes. Many of the research guides are authored by local attorneys and law librarians.
Foreign Law Guide is a set of extensive research guides on almost every country. Although it is commonly referred to as “Reynolds and Flores,” the names of the two original authors, today it is updated by many other authors. Originally, Foreign Law Guide was published in print, but today it is updated only online.
Diamond Law Library’s list of foreign law research guides, organized by country. This list includes research guides from Globalex and Foreign Law Guide.

Diamond Law Library’s research guides page has several foreign law research guides, including:

Secondary Sources

Researchers in the United States may find it challenging to access the laws of some foreign countries for various reasons. For example, the official publication containing the text of the laws may not be available online or in U.S. libraries, or the laws may not be translated into English. Books, journals, law reviews, human rights organization reports, and other secondary sources may help you by providing a description or translation of the laws. See this research guide’s sections on Books and Journals.

Foreign Law Databases

Foreign law databases available to Columbia Law School students include:

How Can I Find Information About the Human Rights Situation in a Specific Country?

You can find reporting on human rights violations (or human rights protections) in a particular country through various government, non-governmental organization (NGO), and news sources. If possible, try searching for information in the local language as well as in English.

The resources listed below are good places to start your research:

Annual reports by the State Department on the human rights situation in every country. The reports are available online for all years, and in print up to 2010 in Diamond Law Library.
Human Rights Watch regularly publishes reports and other advocacy material on specific human rights issues in specific countries. It also produces an annual review of human rights in most countries, called "World Report." You can search by country and issue on Human Rights Watch's website.
Amnesty International publishes an annual human rights report ("State of the World") every spring, as well as reports, open letters, and other advocacy material throughout the year. You can search by country and issue on its website.
Database managed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), containing a vast repository of documents related to human rights in all countries. It includes not only UN documents, but also documents by a variety of other organizations, governments, and individuals. You can search by country or keyword.
  • UN human rights monitoring mechanisms
You can do an aggregated search of UN human rights monitoring mechanisms' findings on a particular country using the Universal Human Rights Index, the charter-based bodies document search, or the treaty bodies document search.

Books

To find books in the Columbia University library system, use the online library catalogs. As human rights is an interdisciplinary topic, it is a good idea to search in multiple libraries at Columbia. In each library catalog, you can search by various fields including subject, title, author, and keyword. You can do a combined search of multiple fields by using advanced search.

Pegasus
  • Law school library (Diamond Law Library) catalog
  • Suggested subject searches on Pegasus:
CLIO
  • CLIO includes several Columbia libraries, including the law school library, the main university library (Butler Library), and the libraries of the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), business school, journalism school, and social work school.
  • Columbia University Libraries Human Rights Research Guide
  • Special collections in the Columbia University Libraries include:
  • Suggested subject searches on CLIO:
EDUCAT
  • Teacher’s College library catalog
  • Suggested subject searches on EDUCAT:

To find books in libraries outside of Columbia, use WorldCat. Columbia Law School students who wish to borrow books from outside of Columbia through inter-library loan (ILL) must consult the librarians at the reference desk.

If you need advice on searching for books, contact the librarians at the reference desk. For reference desk hours, see the Diamond Law Library homepage.

Journals

Indexes

Indexes can help you broaden the scope of your search beyond what is covered in the major full-text databases like Westlaw, Lexis, and HeinOnline Law Journal Library. Indexes may cover more journals, over a more extended period of time. Indexes also provide more sophisticated search functions, such as searching by subject, country of publication, and language. For international human rights law research, the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals may be especially helpful because it covers hundreds of journals published worldwide in multiple languages. See a list of indexes available through Diamond Law Library.

Selective List of Human Rights Journals

Note that some of these journals, especially those published outside of the U.S., are not available on Westlaw, Lexis, and/or HeinOnline.

  • African Human Rights Law Journal (Lansdowne, South Africa: Juta Law (2001-2012); Pretoria, South Africa: Pretoria University Law Press (2013- ))
Available in print and on HeinOnline.
  • Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law (The Hague; Boston: Kluwer Law International)
Available in print and on HeinOnline.
  • Columbia Human Rights Law Review
Available in print and on HeinOnline, Westlaw and Lexis. Articles from recent years are available on the Columbia Human Rights Law Review website.
  • European Human Rights Law Review (London : Sweet & Maxwell)
Available in print
  • Harvard Human Rights Journal
Available in print and on HeinOnline, Westlaw and Lexis. Articles from recent years are available on the Harvard Human Rights Journal website.
  • Human Rights: a Quarterly Review of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Available in print.
  • Human Rights Law Journal: HRLJ
Available in print.
  • Human Rights Quarterly (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press)
Available in print and on HeinOnline.
  • Journal of Human Rights (London: Carfax Publishing)
Available in print
  • The International Journal of Human Rights (London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd)
Available in print.
  • International Journal on Minority and Group Rights (The Hague; Boston: Kluwer Law International)
Available in print and on HeinOnline
  • Muslim World Journal of Human Rights (De Gruyter)
Available through De Gruyter website.
  • Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal
Available in print and on HeinOnline, Westlaw and Lexis. Older articles are available on the Yale Human Rights & Development Law Journal website.

Bibliographies and Research Guides

  • Guide to Human Rights Research. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Law School, Human Rights Program, 1994. 2nd Fl, JX4263.P3 T554 1994.
    A bit dated but still a useful guide to human rights research with a section dedicated to United States foreign policy.
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