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Georgetown Law Library

Human Rights Law Research Guide

This guide will lead researchers through primary materials and introduce important secondary sources. While general human rights sources are covered in the guide, special attention is paid to resources that specifically address international women's human

International Human Rights Systems: Treaties and Treaty Bodies

This section will give you an overview of the international human rights systems, both the United Nations and the regional systems, but the focus is on major human rights treaties. There are many other additional human rights treaties in force. For more detailed information on how to locate the text and check the status of individual treaties, see our research guide on Treaty Research.

United Nations Human Rights Treaties and Their Corresponding Treaty Bodies

There are eight main U.N. human rights treaties. Each treaty has a corresponding "treaty body" which administers the treaty, keeps track of state parties and their reservations and declarations, receives and responds to reports compiled by state parties, and often hears complaints lodged pursuant to the treaty. See the Human Rights Case Law section below for information on how to find decisions of the U.N. treaty bodies, courts and commissions.

Text of Treaty Corresponding Treaty Body
   
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Committee against Torture (CAT)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Convention on the Rights of the Child Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Human Rights Committee (HCR)
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)

International Convention on the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families

Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW)

FINDING TREATIES, REPORTS, CONCLUDING OBSERVATIONS, COMMENTS AND OTHER DOCUMENTS RELATING TO TREATY BODIES

Theoretically, there is a dialogue between the treaty body and the individual state parties to the U.N. treaties. Pursuant to the terms of the treaties, state parties are required to report on their progress towards attaining the goals of the treaties. In response, the treaty bodies provide the state parties with observation and comments on their reports. These documents are an important part of human rights research and are available in many places. Below are some sources for locating these types of documents.

  • Bayefsky.com
    This well organized site provides links to reports, concluding observations, ratifications, reservations and declarations, jurisprudence and other types of documents on the major U.N. human rights treaties. It is searchable by type of document, country or subject matter.
     
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
    This is an official web site that provides access to treaties, state reports, comments, and most other documentation. Try selecting Human Rights Bodies from the top menu and then a specific treaty. The OHCHR offers the U.N. Treaty Body Database which is searchable by country, U.N. document symbol, treaty, and type of document. This can be handy when you want to locate reports or documents from many different treaties, but all related to one country.
     
  • United Nations Document System (ODS)
    ODS is a source for pdf copies of U.N. documents of all sorts, including treaty body materials. It is best used when you have a U.N. document number (e.g. CERD/C/225/Add.1) and want the full-text of the document.
     
  • United Nations Documents and Publications Microform INTL Media
    Older UN documents can be difficult to locate in electronic format. The Wolff library has a complete (1946 - current) U.N. microform collection. Microform documents are arranged chronologically and then alphabetically by document symbol. There is an electronic index available called AccessUN to help you locate document symbols. Come by the Wolff reference desk or the Wolff circulation desk for assistance.
     
  • United Nations Treaty Collection
    To search for a treaty by title or to retrieve a treaty by citation to the UN Treaty Series, click on "UN Treaty Series" under the heading "Registration and Publication" in the blue menu bar near the top of the homepage.  For status information about multilateral treaties deposited with the UN secretary-general, click on "Status of Treaties" under the heading "Depositary" in the blue menu bar.
     

Regional Human Rights Systems

There are regional human rights systems in Europe, the Americas and Africa. These have their own treaties, reporting structures, and complaint systems. Below are listed the major human rights treaties for each region. Sources of decisions are covered below in the Human Rights Case Law Section.

Additional Sources for Human Rights Treaties

Texts of international human rights instruments are usually easy to find on the internet. Here are some frequently-used online sources, as well as a selection of print resources.