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International Human Rights
Introductory Background Material

The Library has several titles that provide detailed background information about various aspects of human rights law. These include the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, 2nd edition (Reference Collection JC571 .E67 1996), which contains lengthy articles on international human rights institutions, treaties, and historical developments. It is an excellent source for all aspects of human rights law relating to the United Nations. The Guide to International Human Rights Practice, 4th ed (K3240.4 .G94 2004), by Hurst Hannum, contains a collection of useful, introductory essays by various experts on such topics as the sources of human rights law, the various regional systems for the protection of human rights, procedures used by various human rights bodies, and the role of NGOs. The Encyclopedia of Public International Law (Ref. KZ1160 .E52) is also an excellent source of authoritative background information. Articles are shorter, but include helpful bibliographies to other basic sources. The United Nations Yearbook is the best source for detailed information about the activities of human rights agencies within the ambit of the UN. Each annual edition summarizes the activities of the United Nations for a given year, so it is necessary to know something about the relevant time-frame of the particular agency activities under investigation in order to use the Yearbook effectively. The Yearbook provides both detailed summaries of activities, and exhaustive bibliographies of official UN documents produced in the course of the activities summarized. Therefore it is also an outstanding index of UN documentation. The current year is shelved in the 1st floor Reference Collection (KZ4947 .Y4). Unfortunately, it is not available electronically. Finally, the researcher should not forget that general treatises on public international law include chapters on human rights law. These include such titles as Oppenheim’s International Law, Vol. 1, 9th edition (KZ3264 .A35 1992), Principles of Public International Law, 4th edition, by Brownlie (KZ3225 .B76 P75 2003), and Starke’s International Law, 12th edition, by Shearer (KZ3295 .S73 I58 2003). Oppenheim’s, in particular, includes lengthy bibliographies, though this source is now over fifteen years old.

Additional Secondary Source: Books

The Library has an extensive collection of books related to international human rights law, which can be located through searches of IUCAT. Books on public international law in general are shelved on the 2nd floor of the Library, in the KZ3000s. Books on human rights in particular are shelved on the 3rd floor in the K3200s. In consulting secondary literature, the researcher should be particularly aware of the existence of treaty commentaries, which provide detailed section-by-section analysis of major treaties. One such example is U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: CCPR Commentary, by Nowak (K3228.31966 .A3 N6913 2005). The best way to locate commentaries (and other monographic studies) on particular treaties in IUCAT is to do a subject keyword search for the name of the treaty.

The search for books can be extended through WorldCat to include titles that are not in the IU collections. WorldCat is a union catalog of titles held by research libraries throughout the world, including the Library of Congress, and therefore contains bibliographic records of virtually all that is available on any given topic, especially in English. There is a link to WorldCat on the Library’s Online Resources page, and the search interface permits keyword searches of author, title, and subject. (Avoid phrase-searching these fields!). In general, it is useful to search IUCAT first, in order to determine the most useful subject headings, then to do keyword searches of the subject heading field in WorldCat to extend one’s research. You will find that searching for “human rights” as a subject heading is too general, and that it is preferable to combine that phrase with some more specific term, such as “refugees” or “torture,” depending on the specific subject desired.

Once you have found information about relevant books that are not in the IU collections, you can then fill out an inter-library loan request form, either on the Library’s web site or at the Circulation Desk. The Circulation Department will then borrow the item for you from another library. But remember to fill out any inter-library loan requests early in the research process, as it can take up to several weeks to obtain a book through inter-library loan.

Additional Secondary Source: Articles

Journal articles can be located through several indexes. The standard indexes to American law reviews are LegalTrac, WilsonWeb, and HeinOnline. The latter provides PDF versions in full text of the articles indexed, going back to volume one for each of the titles included in the collection. Please keep in mind that it includes both a file of subject non-specific journals and a separate file of law reviews dedicated to aspects of international law. HeinOnline incudes an interface for both full-text as well as author/title keyword searching; however, it is most effective as a source for PDF versions of articles located in other indexes.

WilsonWeb is an index only, but recently was extended to include references to articles back to 1918. It also includes limited links to full-text versions of the articles indexed. LegalTrac also is primarily an index. It includes some full-text articles, but they are not in PDF format and therefore of no use for citation purposes. Also important from the standpoint of public international law research is Public International Law, a semi-annual, paper index shelved on the Idexes Table at the back of the Reserves section (KZ3092 .P82). This index scans the contents of new books, yearbooks, commemorative volumes (e.g. festschrifts) and articles from approximately 1400 European and North American sources each year, and organizes index entries according to an outline classification. (Human Rights is no.14 within this classification, with various sub-headings, classified as 14.1-14.10.) It is unquestionably the most comprehensive index of scholarly literature in public international law currently published. Unfortunately, it is not available electronically, and runs approximately one year behind.

You should keep in mind that the Library recently moved all pre-1971 bound journals to the Auxiliary Library Facility (or ALF). Items can be easily and quickly recalled from the ALF, if necessary. However, retrieval of these bound journals will not be necessary in most cases, since many journals are available back to volume one in PDF format through HeinOnline.

Treaty Research: Unofficial Sources

International human rights law rests ultimately upon a body of treaties. Therefore, human rights research will usually require locating the text of one or more treaties, and analyzing its (or their) application. Numerous compilations of human rights treaties have been published for the convenience of researchers. The Library owns a number of these compilations, shelved in the 1st floor Reference Collection. Most can be located in IUCAT by searching for “human rights sources” as a keyword search of the subject field. A few collections are specific to particular areas of human rights law, and can be located through a variant keyword subject search, such as e.g. “autonomy sources,” or “self-determination sources.” The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Web site also maintains a page with links to the text of important human rights instruments in electronic format, at, as does the Electronic Information System for International Law (EISIL), at The latter is produced by the American Society of International Law, and also includes links to other useful web pages, bibliographies, and research guides. The researcher should keep in mind that the Bluebook requires citation of treaties to one of the official sources, discussed below. However, most print and electronic compilations provide citations to these sources.

The best source to check for recent treaties is International Legal Materials (ILM), which is available in electronic format in a variety of databases, including Lexis, Westlaw, and HeinOnline (in PDF format). The Library also has a printed copy of ILM, shelved in 1st floor Reference. ILM is often the only citable source for a recently concluded treaty.

Treaty Research: Official Sources

Many treaties concluded since 1947 are collected in the United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS). It does not include all treaties concluded by all nations, but the U.N. Charter theoretically requires registration of all treaties by member states, and as a result the UNTS is by far the largest collection of treaties ever compiled. The Library collects the UNTS in print, but recently transferred the print collection to storage. The Library also provides electronic access to PDF files through a link on the Online Resources page of the Library’s web site. Each entry in the electronic database helpfully lists all subsequent actions (e.g., ratifications) affecting a treaty. However, having retrieved the treaty and located the treaty registration number, the researcher must then separately search by that criterion, using the advanced search form, to retrieve the text of reservations and understandings that accompany subsequent actions. (But, see also discussion below of the Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary General.) Finally, the researcher can update this information (several years out of date) by consulting the electronic version of the Statement of Treaties and International Agreements. This monthly, non-cumulative publication contains references to the most recent subsequent treaty actions. Despite these additional steps, the electronic form of the database makes both the text of reservations, declarations, etc., as well as subsequent treaty actions far easier to locate than the printed version of UNTS, which ties the information together through only the printed version of the Statement of Treaties and International Agreements.

The advent of searchable electronic access to most treaties has reduced the importance of printed treaty indexes, except for pre-1919 treaties. (The UNTS database also provides electronic access to League of Nations treaties.) Nevertheless, one printed index of continuing significance is the annual, two-volume U.N. index, entitled Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary General. This index reports on the status of all multilateral treaties deposited with the Secretary General as of the end of the year preceding publication. Most human rights treaties are included in this index, compiled in Chapter IV. For each treaty, information is provided concerning the current status of ratifications, accessions, successions, and terminations. In addition, this index reprints the full text of all reservations, declarations, understandings, etc. The Library’s copy of this index is shelved in 1st floor Reference (KZ171 .U33 2003). The index is also available in electronic form at the UNTS web site. The most convenient method of updating treaty information is to use this index in conjunction with the electronic Statement of Treaties and International Agreements, for the months of the current year.

Treaties to which the United States is a party have been published officially in United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (UST) since 1950. Before inclusion in UST, treaties are published in pamphlet form, in the Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS). Therefore, the most recent officially published treaties are found in TIAS. Prior to 1950, treaties were published officially in the Statutes At Large, which is shelved in the first floor Reference collection. These older treaties were also published unofficially in several compilations, including U.S. Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America (Bevans), which reprinted all treaties concluded from 1776-1950. UST, TIAS, and Bevans are all available electronically through HeinOnline. The researcher should keep in mind that the Bluebook requires citation of published U.S. treaties to UST or TIAS; however, HeinOnline is especially useful in this regard, since all treaties are displayed in PDF format.

Many ratified U.S. treaties have not yet been published. These are also now available through HeinOnline in electronic, PDF format, in the KAV Agreements database, at This database also includes the text of treaties that have been signed and submitted to the Senate, but not yet ratified. Lexis also provides access to slip treaties not yet printed in TIAS, and to Senate Treaty Documents. Finally, the U.S. State Department has begun to publish TIAS on the internet, at, and to all agreements concluded since March, 1998, at

UST is also available on Westlaw. Westlaw contains Senate Treaty Documents from the 103rd Congress (1993) and State Department Documents from 1990 forward. Therefore, Westlaw also includes the text of many recent treaties that have not yet been published in TIAS.

It is also the case that many non-U.S. treaties have not yet been officially published in UNTS. The electronic version of UNTS does include some treaties not yet printed in bound volumes, but this database of unpublished treaties comprises only a fraction of those actually concluded. In addition to ILM, the Internet is a good source for the text of unpublished treaties.

Human Rights Cases

Court decisions applying and affecting the development of international human rights law are available in a variety of sources. Recent decisions of both international bodies and national courts are available in several periodical publications, including International Human Rights Reports (1994 -), Butterworth’s Human Rights Reports (1996 -), Human Rights Law Journal and Europäische Grundrechte (in German only). The latter two titles have some overlap, but the former focuses more on western hemisphere developments, including decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (see below), while the latter focuses exclusively on European developments.

Decisions of the International Court of Justice (1947 -) are available both electronically at the Court’s web site (, and in print. The printed volumes are published as Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions, and Orders (KZ213 .R42). IUCAT contains both a series record, and separate bibliographic records for each decision, permitting the researcher to search for judgments by title keyword. Pleadings are listed at the Court’s web site, but are available in print only. Print versions are shelved in the Library with the decisions. Decisions of the I.C.J. are also available on Lexis and Westlaw. Lexis also now provides access to applications for review and written pleadings, as well as selected interim court orders (2004 -).

Decisions of the predecessor Permanent Court of International Justice (1922-1945), created as part of the League of Nations, are available in print, both in their official form and in an unofficial reprint. The former are divided into Series A (judgments) (KZ246 .A46) and B (advisory opinions) (KZ208 .46). There are two versions of the reprinted judgments and opinions (KZ208 .B65, and KZ208 .W67). A few selected decisions of the PCIJ are available on the Internet, at

There are a number of repertories, or digests, that reprint extracts of the decisions of both international courts, organized by subject. They include the following:

  • Repertory of Decisions of the International Court of Justice (1947-1992). (Reference, KZ6289 .Z52 1994) is a two-volume set that reprints very brief extracts.

  • Case Law of the International Court, by Hambro. (Reference, KZ6250 .P47) This is an eight volume set covering the case law of both courts in somewhat greater detail up to 1974.

  • Répertoire des Documents de la Cour de la Haye, by Marek. (Reference, KZ6260 .P425) This is a five volume series covering the PCIJ only . This source is in French, but includes lengthy excerpts not only from the decisions, but from the oral and written statements submitted to the Court.

  • World Court Digest. Max Planck Institüt für Öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, 1990 -. (KZ213 .W57 1993) This title continues Fontes Juris Gentium and Digest of the Decisions of the International Court of Justice, 1976-1985. (KZ213 .D44) Includes digests of the decisions of the I.C.J.

  • Summaries of Judgments, Advisory Opinions, and Orders of the International Court of Justice, 1948-2002. United Nations, 1992, 2003 On order.

  • World Court Reference Guide, ed. by Patel. On order. Covers decisions of the P.C.I.J. and I.C.J., 1922-2000.

The repertories are useful not only for finding case law by topic, but also for obtaining a quick sense of what a particular decision actually held, presented in the words of the decision itself. For online access to more recent case digests, the researcher should use Human Rights Case Digest, and electronic-only periodical available through EBSCO, at

Decisions of national courts applying international human rights norms are collected in International Law Reports (KZ6289 .Z52). Periodic cumulative indexes provide access by subject and by treaty article. The latter form of access is especially useful.

United Nations Documentation on Human Rights

The U.N. engages in various activities related to human rights through the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), one its principal bodies. ECOSOC is itself divided into commissions, listed at Of these commissions, the most important from the point of view of human rights research is Commission 4, the Human Rights Commission, whose web site is at The Human Rights Commission meets each year in regular session for six weeks to consider issues relevant to human rights concerns throughout the world. Session documents, including reports, decisions, and resolutions, can be retrieved electronically in PDF format, going back to the 54th session (1998). Occasionally the Human Rights Commission meets in special session to consider a particular issue, and documents from these sessions are available back to 1992.

Selected older Human Rights Commission documents are available in the Library’s microfiche collection of U.N. documents. Subject access to these documents, which are organized by document number, is provided by secondary sources (i.e., footnotes in books and journal articles), the U.N. Yearbook, and through Access UN, an electronic index to UN documents accessible through the Library’s Online Resources page.

Relevant documentation is also generated by the Human Rights Committee, a body set up under the U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to ensure compliance with its provisions by states that have ratified them. It does so primarily by requesting and responding to periodic state reports on measures adopted to give effect to the rights recognized in the Covenant. The Committee can also hear inter-state complaints, and individual complaints in some cases.

Selected hard copy documentation of the work of the HRC is also available in the Library, including Selected Decisions (K3239 .H66) and the Official Records (K3239.4 .Y42). A more complete collection is available in the Library’s U.N. microfiche.

Books in the Library’s collection concerning the work of the HRC can be located under the subject heading, “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966.”

In addition to the Human Rights Committee, there are a number of other treaty-based bodies that monitor human rights and report on their findings. Access to the documentation of all treaty-based and charter-based human rights bodies is available through the web site of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, at In particular, the treaty bodies database, at provides access to a large quantity of documentation, including country reports to the HRC.

The Dag Hammarskjöld Library maintains an electronic research guide to UN documentation related to human rights at

Regional Human Rights Treaty Regimes: Europe

The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms was adopted by the Council of Europe in 1950, and has served as a model for later regional human rights treaties. It has also generated a tremendous body of case law under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, which was established by the treaty to guarantee enforcement of its provisions. Human Rights in Europe (4th ed., 2001), by Merrills and Robertson, is a good introduction to the law of the European Convention (KJC5132 .R63).

The European Convention is available in electronic format at the Council of Europe web portal, at This version includes all protocols, an up-to-date chart of ratifications and signatures, as well as the full text of reservations, declarations, and other communications, supplied by the Council of Europe Treaty Office. The Convention has also been published officially in various sources. It appears as part of the European Treaty Series (no. 005), most recently consolidated with subsequent protocols as of 1998. (The Library has the 1992 edition, KJC39 .C682 1992). It also appears in European Conventions and Agreements, vol. 1 (2nd ed., 1993) (KJC39 .C68). Finally, it appears in European Convention on Human Rights: Collected Texts, most recently published in 2004 (KJC5132 .A33 C69). In addition to the treaty itself, the researcher may need to consult the travaux préparatoires, which record the activities of the assembly and various sub-bodies that met from 1949-52 to adopt the treaty. These are published in an official edition, entitled Collected Edition of the Travaux Préparatoires of the European Convention on Human Rights (KJC5132 .A33 C68 1975).

All case law of the European Court of Human Rights (1960 -) is available at the Court’s web site, at Decisions are officially reported in Reports of Judgments and Decisions (KJC 5214 .A5 P84); however, this series has included only a selection of decisions since 1998, and runs about a year behind in reporting the Court’s decisions. Series B: Pleadings, Oral Arguments and Documents, which includes documents presented to the Court, runs considerably further behind (KJC5214 .A5 P82). The most recent volume was published in 1995. This information is not available electronically.

In addition to official publication, both printed and electronic, the Court’s decisions are also published in a commercial series, entitled European Human Rights Reports (KJC5132 .A52 .E93) (1979 -). This is a monthly publication that contains the full text of decisions handed down by the Court. It also includes a section of summaries and extracts of very recent decisions. The utility of this section is limited, since the decisions summarized are now available in full text electronically at the Court’s web site. The set does include a very useful index of vols. 1-32, which comprises all of the Court’s case law through 2001. European Human Rights Reports is also available on Westlaw, together with Human Rights Reports UK Cases. The latter includes human rights decisions handed down by UK courts, as well as by courts of the European Union and by national courts of other E.U. members, pertaining to human rights. Lexis provides access to summaries and transcripts of the European Court of Human Rights, 1960-1995, as well as selected decisions, 1996 -, as published in Butterworth’s Human Rights Cases, mentioned above.

There are several printed digests of the Court’s case law, as well. A Systematic Guide to the Case-Law of the European Court of Human Rights (1st floor Ref. KJC5132 .A52 S97) is series of bound volumes periodically issued. Currently in four volumes, each one organizes extracts from the Court’s opinions over a period of years according to treaty article. Each volume also includes a subject index. Vol. 1 covers the period 1960-1994, and contains fairly short extracts. Subsequent volumes cover much shorter periods of time, reflecting in part the Court’s increased case load and in part the increasing length of the extracts included. This digest is current through 1998. The Digest of Strasbourg Case-Law, issued by the Council of Europe, was originally published in 1984, covering case law for the years 1955-1982 (1st floor Ref. KJE5132 .A38 D53). It was issued as a single set of volumes, each covering a certain number of treaty articles. (For example, vol. 1 covers articles 1-5.) The original volumes are updated by loose-leaf supplements, current through 1997. The Digest includes excerpts from unpublished Court decisions, as well as Commission decisions on admissibility (see below).

Case law was also generated by the European Commission of Human Rights, which undertook the initial investigation of all complaints under the Convention until the Court was reorganized by the adoption of Protocl 11 in 1998. The European Commission was required to express an opinion on the admissibility of complaints, and in some instances rendered judgments on the merits. It also possessed the power to reject applications for relief if the decision of a three-judge review panel was unanimous. This function is now performed by a three-judge panel of the single Court. From 1974 onward, Commission decisions on admissibility were reported officially, in Decisions and Reports, which appears in two parts. Part A contains the original text of their decisions in either French or English, while Part B contains translations into whichever of the two languages is not the official language of the report. The series includes a periodic volume of summaries arranged by treaty article, together with a subject index. The case law of the Commission (except three-judge decisions on admissibility) is available electronically through the Court’s web site, as are all admissibility decisions of the Court from 1998 onwards.

A great deal of secondary literature exists on the European Convention. Books can be located in IUCAT under the subject heading,”Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950.” For journal articles, the researcher is referred to the discussion of periodical indexes above, under the topic “Additional Secondary Sources.” The Yearbook of the European Convention on Human Rights (KJC5132 .A52 D63) summarizes the activities of the Court and the other bodies within the Council of Europe (Council of Ministers, Parliamentary Assembly, and Directorate General of Human Rights) relating to the Convention. Part Four contains information on national legislation and extracts from national judicial decisions concerning rights protected by the Convention. The Yearbook also contains a bibliography of books and articles published on the European Convention during the year. Unfortunately, the bibliography is organized by author, and appears to focus on certain publishers. However, it is still a useful resource.

Regional Human Rights Treaty Regimes: The Americas

The American Convention on Human Rights is administered by the Organization of American States, at The treaty itself is available through the “treaties and conventions” link. The treaty has also been published in both UST and UNTS, and is therefore available through the electronic versions of these treaty series as well.

Case-law under the treaty is handed down by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and is published officially in Series C: Decisions and Judgments (KDZ574 .A52 1584) and Series E: Provisional Measures (KDZ574 .A52 1586) Case law is also available at the Court’s web site, at

Activities undertaken in connection with the treaty are summarized annually in the Inter-American Yearbook on Human Rights (KDZ574 .A58 I68).

Westlaw contains two sources related to the Inter-American Convention, the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, 1994 -, and Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System (current through 1996). Documents contained in these sources are also available at the OAS web site.

Other Regional Activities

The University of Minnesota Human Rights Library maintains a meta-site, organizing links to electronic documentation related to other regional organizations, such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. This meta-site is at

Other Research Guides

The Web site of the American Society of International Law maintains a variety of electronic guides, including one on electronic human rights research, at This guide contains references to a number of web sites that are quite specific, with respect to topic or organization represented.

The Guide to International Human Rights Practice, mentioned above, includes an older, but useful bibliography of the various print sources used in human rights research.