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Human Rights Research-Frequently Asked Questions Law

Written by Silke Sahl Last Updated October 2012

Even the most experienced legal researchers can find human rights research challenging. With so many resources available, it is often hard to know where to start. Following is a short list of resources, useful in answering some common human rights research questions. This is only a selective list of available resources. For more information, see the library's Human Rights Research Guide and the reference librarians at the Law Library Reference Desk.

Some of these resources are only available from the law school campus. While many of these resources are free, others are fee-based. Some are available from the Diamond Law Library's catalog, Pegasus or from the Electronic Resources Page. Others are available from Columbia University's Library Web Page.

Where can I find information on Human Rights in a country?

1. Amnesty International.

2. Human Rights Watch.

3. U.S. State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.

4. Newspaper databases and country databases via Westlaw, Lexis or the Internet.  

Where can I find information on the laws of a country?

1. Reynolds' and Flores', Foreign Law: Current Sources of Codes and Basic Legislation in Jurisdictions of the World (Available online from the Law Library homepage, accessed via Pegasus or under Electronic Resources, or in paper at the Reference Desk at K38 .R49 1989).

2. A Selective List of Foreign Legal Research Guides.

3. Megasites like the World Legal Information Institute.

4. For more information see the Diamond Law Library Research Guide: Finding Foreign Law Resources on the Internet.

How do I find United Nations documents?

1. Official Document System of the United Nations (ODS).

2. The United Nations Home Page and their Documentation Center . Also see the UN Library's UN Documentation Research Guide and their Special Topic: Human Rights.

3. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Go to the Human Rights Bodies page, then look for the 'Charter based bodies document search' link or the 'Treaty body document search' link to find documents.

4. UN indexes aren't full-text, but they cover a greater number of documents. See the commercial document index, Access UN via the Law Library's Electronic Resources Page under Indexes and Databases, International Law Databases. Also, see these indexes published by the UN: the catalog, UNBISNET and UNIQUE.

5. For more information, see the Diamond Law Library Research Guide: The United Nations.

How do I find human rights treaties?

1. Free websites such as the treaty section on the library's Human Rights Research Guide and the website of the University of Minnesota.

2. Commercial databases such as:

3. For the status of treaties in the US, use US Treaties in Force (Ref Drawer, JX 236 1955 or at the State Department's Website and on Lexis, INTLAW;USTIF).

4. For UN treaties, use Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General (Ref Drawer, JX1976.A49 V M911 or online in the UN Treaty Collection).

5. For more information, see the Diamond Law Library Research Guide: Treaties.

How can I search for books and articles dealing with human rights issues'?

1. Find books at the law school using Pegasus (the law school library catalog). Find books at other Columbia libraries by using CLIO (the Columbia University Libraries' Online Catalog). To look beyond Columbia, search for books at other major research libraries using WorldCat.

2. Find many resources via full-text research via Westlaw and Lexis. 

3. More extensive coverage of law journals is available in legal resource indexes, such as WilsonWeb (via Pegasus or the Law Library's Electronic Resources, Indexes and Databases, Periodical and Treatise Indexes page) or LRI via Westlaw and Lexis.

4. Don't forget about foreign law journals. Use the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals via Pegasus or the Law Library's Electronic Resources, Indexes and Databases, Periodical and Treatise Indexes Page.

5. Human rights articles can be published in non-law indexes. See Public Affairs Information Services (PAIS) and other non-law indexes via the Columbia University Libraries' Databases Page.

6. For more information, see the Diamond Law Library Research Guide: Finding Books and Articles on International and Foreign Law

How do I find human rights groups dealing with particular subjects or countries?

1. Official Web Site Locator for the UN.

2. Human Rights Internet's Human Rights Organizations Database.

3. Internet search engines such as Google.

Please send comments regarding this guide to Silke Sahl, International, Foreign and Comparative Law Librarian, Columbia University, Diamond Law Library at