Georgetown Law
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

Human Rights Case Law: International Courts, National Courts, Commissions & Treaty Bodies

International human rights courts, such as the European Court of Human Rights, frequently post their decisions online. Case law from these courts can also be found in the print reporters, published in the language of the court.

With respect to national court decisions involving human rights claims, usually only important cases from the court of final appeal and/or the constitutional court for the relevant jurisdiction are selected for publication in commercial reporters.  A good source for these types of decisions is the Oxford Reports on International Law database (Georgetown Only), which includes national court decisions from more than 60 countries.  You can search the database by keyword for human rights topics.  Occasionally, human rights decisions from national courts can be located free on the Web.  Consult the World Legal Information Institute for links to courts and other court decisions databases. Another option for finding national caw law is to consult an official reporter from that jurisdiction. The Foreign Law Guide (Georgetown Only) will help in identifying the reporters for a given jurisdiction. The official reporter will always be published in the language of the country.

Commercial print reporters, such as Butterworths Human Rights Cases INTL K3239.23 .B88, often publish a combination of cases from international courts and national courts. See our War Crimes research guide for information on locating the case law from the international criminal tribunals.

Finally, many treaty bodies (e.g. the U.N. Human Rights Committee) also hear complaints and publish decisions. Although not the same as a decision from a national or international court, these treaty body decisions are easily grouped together with other case law materials for the purposes of human rights research.

Multi-Institutional Sources

Sources for Specific Courts, Commissions and Other Bodies

  • African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. Complaints may be brought by individuals or by states and non binding decisions are available from the University of Minnesota Human Rights Library. The Commission requires periodic state reporting about the advancement of human rights within each state party. Some of these reports may be found on the ACHPR web site.
  • African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights. The establishment of this court and the progression to hearing cases has been a very long process that is still ongoing. No judgments have been issued. Further delays are expected as the African Union decided to merge the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights with the African Court of Justice. For a useful discussion of the court, see African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights: Ten years On and Still No Justice from Minority Rights Group International.
  • European Commission of Human Rights. Prior to 1998, the European Commission of Human Rights assisted the Court with decisions on the admissibility of an application and and examination of the merits. This commission was discontinued in 1998. Some of the decisions have been published in sources listed below.
  • European Court of Human Rights. The European Court of Human Rights is part of the Council of Europe and functions as the judicial organ for the European Convention on Human Rights. Complaints to the court can be filed from individuals, groups of individuals, company, NGOs, or even between states. These complaints are brought against states that are parties to the convention. Decisions of the Court may be found in the sources listed below.
    • Collection of Decisions / European Commission of Human Rights (1960-1974)INTL KJC5135.A5 E97
    • Decisions and Reports / European Commission of Human Rights (1975-1998) INTL KJC5135.A5 D43
    • HUDOC
      This is a searchable database provided by the Court. Some of the decisions may only be available in French.
    • Reports of Judgments and Decisions INTL KJC5132.A52 E88 (Court & Commission)
    • Report of the Commission -- European Commission of Human RightsKJC5135.A5 E9
    • Westlaw EHR-RPTS
      This database has ECHR decisions and selected European Commission of Human Rights since 1979. Selected judgments from the court are available from 1960.
  • Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). The Commission examines complaints and refers cases to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. These functions apply only to those states that have ratified the American Convention on Human Rights. Decisions of the Commission may be found in the sources listed below. Note that most of the materials will be in Spanish.
  • Inter-American Court of Human Rights. This autonomous court considers cases from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights or by a state that is party to the Convention. In addition, these states must recognize the courts jurisdiction either overall or for a specific case or time period. Decisions are available in the publications listed below. Note that most of the materials will be in Spanish.
    • Decisions, Judgments, Advisory Opinions and other documents (court)
      These are available on the Court's web site from 1987 to present in English and Spanish. You can browse the documents or search the database. Court publications are also available in print at the Wolff library. Current documents include:
      • Series A: Judgments and Opinions (advisory) INTL KDZ574.A52 I582. These are cataloged separately which means that you should search Gulliver using a name from the case to locate a specific judgment.
      • Series C: Decisions and Judgments INTL KDZ574.A52 I59 These are also cataloged separately which means that you should search Gulliver using a name from the case to locate a specific judgment.
    • Decisions and Special Reports of the IACHR (commission)
      These decisions are available on the web. Print decisions and reports are also included in theirAnnual Reports. These are available in print from the Wolff Library at INTL KDZ578.I5 A85. You may be able to find some Commission documents on Westlaw in the IACHR-OAS database.
  • U.N. Committee Against Torture (CAT). There are two usual methods for complaints; individual communications or inquiries initiated by the committee. This jurisprudence is located at the sources listed below. There is also a periodical reporting requirement where parties describe their progress in implementing rights. These reports are available on the CAT web site and
  • U.N. Human Rights Committee (HRC). This body was created by the CCPR treaty and is granted the authority in the Optional Protocol to consider complaints from individuals. These are called "communications" and may result in an outcome of admissible, inadmissible, violation, or no violation. Sources for these documents are below. This treaty also requires state parties to submit periodic reports providing details on how the rights are being implemented within the state. These state reports are also available from the HRC or
  • U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The committee may consider petitions from individual or groups as detailed in the optional protocol. Parties to the treaty are to submit periodic reports detailing their progress in fulfilling their treaty obligations of eliminating discrimination. These reports are on the CEDAW web site or at
  • U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). This widely ratified treaty provides for periodic state reports on the implementation of the treaty provisions. The committee has jurisdiction to consider inter-state complaints, but the individual complaint mechanism is optional. These documents are available at the links below. CERD has a reporting provision where each state submits reports on their progress in eliminating discrimination. These reports are on the CERD web site or on