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Researching International Human Rights

human rights research, researching human rights law, legal research human rights

About This Guide

This guide provides starting points for international human rights research on the web and at the U of M Law Library.  Other Law Library guides that may help are:


The Law Library has a large collection of works on human rights, including monographs (books), periodicals, country reports, and government documents.  Other useful works on human rights are located at the Wilson Library and the Bio-Med Library.  Use MNCAT, the library catalog, to find relevant books and documents.  To find periodicals and UN documents, however, you will need to use specialized indexes such as the Index to Legal Periodicals, LegalTrac, and AccessUN.


Many human rights works are shelved on the third floor of the Law Library around the call numbers K3240.  You will also find other human rights materials in the Human Rights Library, which is located in the back of the third floor, in the corner farthest from the Library entrance.


In researching human rights law, one of the first steps is to identify relevant inter-governmental organizations and instruments.  The United Nations has two types of human rights bodies--Charter-based and treaty-based. The form, scope and powers of Charter-based organizations arise from provisions in the U.N. Charter of the United Nations.  These organizations, such as the Human Rights Commission, hold broad human rights mandates, address an unlimited audience, and take action based on majority voting. Treaty-based organizations are created by other specific legal instruments, such as the Convention against Torture.  They address fewer issues, and deal only with countries that have ratified the treaties or covenants that created them.  They base their decision-making on consensus.  See the specialized United Nations Research Guide on Human Rights.


Regional organizations, such as the Council of Europe, the Organization of American States,and the African Union, work with their member states on human rights issues defined by their founding instruments.  Their structure, decision-making practices and authority varies.


One way to learn the key sources of international human rights law, using carefully-selected internet sources, is through the American Society of International Law's EISIL project.  Select the Human Rights topic.



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