Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms to which all people are entitled regardless of age, sex, nationality, ethnicity, religion, language, or other status. Human rights can be enforced at the state, regional, or international level. Modern international human rights law dates from World War II and its consequences. It rests on the principles set forth in the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Though the Declaration is not legally binding on its own, it memorialized the principle of universality of human rights and became an inspiration for various international treaties.
Human rights law is a vast topic that includes war crimes, genocide, slavery, women's rights, refugees, international criminal law, other crimes against humanity, and justice sought for such atrocities in international courts and tribunals. Due to its breadth, human rights law overlaps with many fields. One such field is international humanitarian law, which is the law of armed conflict. Although international humanitarian law is not a focus of this collection, it is mentioned briefly due to the crossover with human rights law.
Given the international axis and the wide range of topics in the field, websites are often the most useful research tools. The following websites provide information about human rights, including reports, documents, judicial decisions, and links to related web sites.
The following web sites may prove useful as a starting point for human rights legal research. If you are seeking more specific information, see the selected Topic Areas below.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the touchstone document in the history of human rights. Born from the atrocities of World War II, the UDHR was the first document to announce fundamental human rights that are to be universally protected. It was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948, and has served as a model for the codification of human rights laws around the world.
United Nations: Human Rights
This site includes general information about the United Nations and human rights, United Nations briefing papers on human rights, news reports, and access to treaties and other documents.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCFHR)
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights monitors and investigates human rights violations all over the world. The organization is funded by the United Nations and "provides a forum for identifying, highlighting and developing responses to today's human rights challenges, and acts as the principal focal point of human rights research, education, public information, and human rights advocacy activities in the United Nations system." The site provides a chronology of news events, official documents, treaties, publications, descriptions of programs and activities, and related links.
American Society of International Law (ASIL) - Guide to Electronic Resources for International Human Rights Law
This is a very comprehensive research guide that offers information about research methodology, and primary and secondary sources.
University of Minnesota Human Rights Library
The Libary at the University of Minnesota's Human Rights Center has more than 65,000 human rights documents and links to over 4,000 other human rights web sites. It is an expansive site that can be useful for grasping the breadth of the field or searching specific interest areas.
EISIL: International Human Rights
This Electronic Information System for International Law site is most helpful for its links to hundreds of primary source documents (mainly treaties) related to human rights.
Topic Areas in Human Rights
The following web sites are focused and may be useful for more narrow human rights topics.
Amnesty International is a global organization with over 3 million supporters, members and activists who hope for every person to enjoy the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international rights standards. In addition to reports and news about Amnesty's activities, information on human rights in 150 countries can be searched by topic or by country.
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch is the other largest global human rights organization in addition to Amnesty International. Human rights Watch investigates, researches, and exposes human rights violations. Using a policy-based approach to systemic human rights abuse, it seeks to hold oppressors accountable to their population, the international community, and to their obligations under international law. The site includes reports, publications, news, and multimedia clips.
International Committee of the Red Cross
The International Committee of the Red Cross works worldwide to provide humanitarian help for people affected by conflict and armed violence and to promote the laws that protect victims of war. In addition to describing what and where the ICRC works, the web site has information on the legal basis for its actions, as well as a full Resource Center.
Human Rights First
Human Rights First is a nonprofit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington, D.C. It was founded in 1978 as the Lawyers Committee for International Human Rights and was created to promote the laws and policies that advance universal rights and freedoms. Its charter memorializes its goal to protect and defend the dignity of each individual through respect for human rights and the rule of law.
Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
The Lawyers Committee was formed at the request of President Kennedy to involve the private bar in the legal protection of human rights. The attorneys at the Lawyers Committee seek to use the skills of the bar to obtain equal opportunity for minorities, with a particular interest in African Americans, where use of law can help to secure justice for all racial and ethnic minorities. The site includes reports on the Committee's campaigns and programs, a lawyer-to-lawyer network, information about the Committee's publications, and feature articles on current issues.
Physicians for Human Rights
Physicians for Human Rights was founded on the notion that health professionals and scientists can use their specialized skills and credible voices to stop human rights violations. It uses the integrity of medicine and science to prevent and stop mass atrocities and human rights violations against individuals. This site provides access to publications and reports on specific projects, educational/training materials and a bibliography of human rights resources.
Human Rights Internet
"Human Rights Internet (HRI) is committed to social justice, good governance and conflict prevention. It seeks to accomplish these goals through human rights informed policy formation, knowledge transfer and development, promotion of dialogue, training, and information distribution." In addition to information on its experts, programs, and publications, the site also has an Organizations Database that has information on 11,474 organizations involved in human rights.
International Humanitarian Law is the law that regulates armed conflict. It is distinct from the study of human rights law but there is substantial overlap between the fields, as evidenced by several of the sources below.
International Court of Justice
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations. It was established in June 1945 by the Charter of the United Nations and began work in April 1946. The ICJ's role is to settle, in accordance with international law, legal disputes submitted to it by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by authorized United Nations organs and specialized agencies.
International Criminal Court
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is based on a treaty that is joined by 117 countries. The ICC is the first permanent, treaty-based, international criminal court established to try persons accused of the most series crimes of concern to the international community, such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity when national courts are unable or unwilling to do so. It is an independent international organization and sits at The Hague in the Netherlands. It is not part of the United Nations.
International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which sits in The Hague in the Netherlands, was established in 1993 by the United Nations Security Council in response to mass atrocities in the Balkans between 1991 and 2001. The ICTY was the first war crimes court ever created by the United Nations, and it was the first international war crimes tribunal since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals. The ICTY has irreversibly changed the landscape of international humanitarian law in its prosecution of mid- and high-level political, military, and police leaders, showing that an individual's senior status cannot protect them from prosecution.
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which sits in Tanzania, was established for the prosecution of persons responsible for the genocide and other violations of international humanitarian law that occurred in the Rwandan territory between January and December of 1994. The court was created by the United Nations Security Council under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was created in 2001 by the United Nations and the government to try the serious crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime that claimed over 3 million lives between 1975 and 1979.
Project on International Courts and Tribunal
The Project on International Courts and Tribunal (PICT) is a network of researchers, practitioners, and academics that share a common interest in the study of international courts and tribunals. Its research focuses mainly on the systemic issues associated with the rise in the number of international courts and tribunals since the early 1990s and the parallel increase in their powers.
European Court of Human Rights
“The European Court of Human Rights is an international court set up in 1959. It rules on individual or State applications alleging violations of the civil and political rights set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Since 1998 it has sat as a full-time court and individuals can apply to it directly. In almost fifty years the Court has delivered more than 10,000 judgments.” (The Court in Brief)
Organization of American States
The Organization of American States (OAS) is the world's oldest regional organization and part of the oldest international institutional system. It unites all 35 members of the independent states of America and constitutes the main political, judicial, and social governmental forum in the Hemisphere. One of its important and independent organs is the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR; see below).
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
Along with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the IACHR is one of two bodies in the inter-American system for the promotion and protection of Human Rights. It is an independent organ of the Organization of American States.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights, located in San José, Costa Rica, is an autonomous judicial institution of the Organization of American States. Its objective is the application and interpretation of the American Convention on Human Rights and other treaties concerning this same matter.
This is an online archive of human rights cases.
U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights
These Human Rights Reports are released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. The goal of the Bureau is to promote democracy, protect human rights and international religious freedom, and advance labor rights globally. The reports date from 1993 to the present and are sorted by year and then further by country.
American Society of International Law (ASIL) – Electronic Resource Guide: International Criminal Law
This is a comprehensive guide that is a good starting point for research in international criminal law
War Crimes Research Guide - New England School of Law Library
This guide provides information on resources for war crimes and human rights research, including specific information on war crimes in Germany, Kosovo, Japan, Iraq, Cambodia, amongst others.
Frederick K. Cox International Law Center War Crimes Research Portal
The portal has links to sites related to human rights law, "research memoranda" on issues before international courts and tribunals, a research guide, and "instant analysis" articles "on the hottest topics in international criminal law."
Crimes of War Project
This site is intended both as a journal that reports on developments related to the laws of war, and as a resource for those seeking further information on the subject.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) helps states draft laws and national anti-trafficking strategies as well as aids with implementation, driven by the UN General Assembly's adoption of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Available at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/treaties/CTOC/index.html).
International Labor Organization
The ILO is a specialized agent of the United Nations and believes that 12.6 million people around the world are trapped into forced labor, including debt bondage, trafficking, and other forms of modern slavery. The ILO and its Special Action Programme on Forced Labour aim to tackle forced labor and the conditions that give rise to it.
U.S. Department of State - Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
This department leads the United States' global engagement against human trafficking. Among the many resources and tools available on the website is the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report released in June 2011 by the State Department (available here: http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2011/index.htm).
Although focused on human trafficking in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, this site is a good resource for issues in countries therein. The site shows how NGOs and government information collaborate in the fight against human trafficking.
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
One of the many goals of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), a nonprofit organization, is commitment to serving victims of human trafficking. This site is for lawyers looking for resources on human trafficking and may be useful for research.
UNICEF - Child Trafficking
The United Nations International Childrens Emergency Fund works with development partners, governments and non-governmental organizations on all aspects of anti-trafficking responses, from prevention to protection and prosecution, as well as supporting research.
U.S. Department of Justice - Human Trafficking Prosecution Unit
This website is useful for a closer look at criminal prosecution for human trafficking in the US, including rights of the victims of human trafficking.
Abolish: The American Anti-Slavery Group
American Anti-Slavery Group is a non-profit organization dedicated to eradicating modern-day human bondage and to promoting a non-politicized, bias-free human rights community.
Human Rights Education Associates: Slavery and Forced Labor
This study guide on slavery and forced labor provides a general look at rights at stake, regional and international instruments of protection and promotion, protection agencies, and advocacy materials.
Women's Human Rights Resources
This site includes documents related to the reproductive and sexual rights of women, annotated links to research material, governmental and non-governmental documents, and a bibliography of women's international human rights sources.
International Women's Rights Action Watch
The IWRAW was organized in 1985 to promote recognition of the United Nation's Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an international human rights treaty. IWRAW is based at the University of Minnesota Law School in connection with its Human Rights Center (See above; http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/iwraw/index.html).
Vital Voices Global Partnership
As part of its goal to identify, train, and empower women leaders and social entrepreneurs, Vital Voices seeks to end violence against women and restriction of human rights through human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual violence, and harmful traditional practices. “By advancing the full implementation of laws, increasing public awareness and supporting the sustainability of victims’ support services, we contribute to the creation of a world where women are free from violence.”
Refugee law is a related branch of international law but is actually distinct from international human rights law.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCFR)
The mission of the UNHCFR is to protect refugees and resolve problems of refugees. The site provides news and timely information about refugee situations throughout the world, country specific reports, official UN documents, documentaries, and full-text of The State of the World's Refugees: A Humanitarian Agenda.
Disability Rights International
Established in 1993, Disability Rights International is dedicated to promoting the human rights and full participation in society of people with disabilities worldwide. The organization utilizes attorneys, mental health specialists, human rights advocates, people with mental disabilities and their families to support advocates seeking reform and to assist development of laws promoting human rights enforcement for those with disabilities.