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

UN Human Rights Charter Bodies

The entities described below, established under the UN Charter, have a broad mandate to promote human rights and to monitor the compliance of all UN member states with their human rights obligations under the Charter.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

Part of the Secretariat, the UN's executive arm, the OHCHR is responsible for coordinating efforts to promote and protect human rights.  It provides research, technical expertise, and logistical support to facilitate the work of the Human Rights Council and other charter bodies.  It also supports the work of the treaty bodies that monitor compliance with the UN's core human rights treaties.

OHCHR Website
The OHCHR's website is one of the best gateways for accessing UN documentation on human rights issues and includes links to the following resources:

  • Human Rights Issues - provides background information, summaries of recent developments, and links to relevant documents.
  • Human Rights by Country - access treaty ratification information, as well as reports and findings issued by UN charter bodies and treaty bodies.
  • Human Rights Databases maintained by the OHCHR.
  • OHCHR Publications -- including fact sheets, in-depth studies, and policy papers.  Most are available for download in PDF format.
  • A searchable News Database, including press releases and official statements on human rights topics issued by multiple UN entities.

The Human Rights Council (HRC)

The UN General Assembly established the Human Rights Council in 2006 to replace the former Commission on Human Rights, which was widely perceived to have been ineffective.  It is comprised of 47 UN member states elected by the General Assembly on a rotating basis. 

The HRC functions as an inter-governmental organization, and its decisions are based on majority voting.  Like its predecessor, the HRC has been criticized for allowing member states with poor human rights records to serve on the Council, potentially shielding themselves from heightened scrutiny, and for devoting a disproportionate share of its resources to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is the process by which the HRC evaluates the human rights practices of each UN member state.  As part of this process, each member state is expected to submit a self-assessment ("national report") to the HRC.  The Council solicits input from other UN bodies, and from NGOs and civil society organizations, before issuing its own report and recommendations.  Visit he HRC's website to access UPR Documentation by Country.

The HRC also is authorized to conduct on-site investigations and fact-finding missions, and to consider individual complaints ("communications") alleging gross and systematic violations of human rights by any member state.

Special Procedures of the HRC

The term "Special Procedures" refers to individual experts (often called "rapporteurs") or groups of experts ("working groups") appointed by the HRC (or by its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights) to independently investigate and report on gross and systematic human rights violations.

The investigative mandate of each Special Procedure is limited to a particular theme (arbitrary detention, for example) or to a particular country (human rights in Belarus, for example).  Each of the Special Procedures submits an annual report to the HRC.  Some also submit reports to the General Assembly