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Human Rights: Finding Key Documents

Finding Human Rights Documents

When doing research on human rights you will likely need to consult national and international accords, constitutions, court judgments and other legal documents. These resources will not all be available in any central location so keep these questions in mind to guide your search:

  1. What type of document is it? International treaties, national constitutions, and court proceedings are unlikely to be collected in a single place even if they are all related to one specific country topic. See the "Vocabulary" section below if you're not sure what type of document you are looking for. 

  2. Who created it? Did anyone else aid in its creation? This might be a government, an intergovernmental organization (ex. United Nations), or a non-governmental organization.

  3. Who is responsible for enforcement? If a document is binding, there will be an enforcing party. This might be a government or an intergovernmental organization.

  4. What language is it in? National or sub-national constitutions and legal documents might only be available in the country's native language.

  5. Is it digitized? Not everything is online; if your source body is very localized (ex. a city government) or the document is not widely studied you may not be able to find the complete text of the document online.

Reference Books

25+ Human Rights Documents

by The Center for the Study of Human Rights

This pocket-reference book contains the full text of some of the most influential international legal documents related to human rights. Includes: Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; American Convention on Human Rights; African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; and many more. 

Databases for Landmark Human Rights Documents

Vocabulary

All definitions are based on their use in naming United Nations documents. There may be other ways of defining and distinguishing the terms below according to the legal system under which they were created.

 

Treaty - A legally binding agreement under international law between sovereign actors, i.e. nation-states and international organizations. 

Also known as: convention, accord, (international) agreement, protocol, covenant, pact, or exchange of letters. 

Constitution - The system of beliefs and laws by which a country, state, or organization is governed and the document that describes this system. (Merriam-Webster)

Charter - Often, the treaty between constituent bodies founding a new international organization or subordinate body within the UN or Intergovernmental organization. 

Protocol - Less formal than a treaty, may be used in a number of circumstances, such as: an addendum to a treaty; an "opt-in" addition to a treaty; or to amend one or more treaties.

For more International Law vocabulary terms visit the UN Treaty Collection: Treaty Reference Guide