Last modified 12 July 1999Prepared by Steven C. Perkins for the Institute on Public International Law of the American Association of Law Libraries.
Presented on 19 July 1996 at Bloomington, Indiana. Original paper published in Schaffer and Snyder, eds., Contemporary Practice of Public International Law, Dobbs Ferry: Oceana Publications, 1997.
Copyright (c) 1996 Steven C. Perkins. All Rights Reserved.
The Statute of the International Court of Justice, part of the Charter of the United Nations, defines the sources of international law in the following language:
Article 38. (1) The Court, whose function is to decide in accordance with international law such disputes as are submitted to it, shall apply:
(a) international conventions, whether general or particular, establishing rules expressly recognized by the contesting states;
(b) international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law;
(c) the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations;
(d) subject to the provisions of Article 59, judicial decisions and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law,
(2) This provision shall not prejudice the power of the Court to decide a case ex aequo et bono, if the parties agree thereto.
. . . .
Article 59. The decision of the Court has no binding force except between the parties and in respect of that particular case.
This category will consist of treaties, conventions and other documents of a bilateral or multilateral nature which have been negotiated by states. It will include the Travaux Preparatroire and other papers developed during the negotiations.
While the exact status of some of the documents listed below may be in question, they are considered to be the main human rights instruments:
1. Charter of the United Nations, U.S.T.S. No. 993 (1945), URL:"http://www.law.cornell.edu/icj/unchart.htm".
2. Convention on the Prevention and the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 78 U.N.T.S. 277 (1948), URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/x1cppcg.htm".
3. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. Res 2200A, 21 U.N. GAOR, Supp. No. 16, at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (1976), URL:"http://www.hrica/uninfo/treaties/3.shtml".
4. International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI) 21 U.N. GAOR, Supp., No. 16 at 49, 993 U.N.T.S. 3 (1966), URL:"http://www.hri.ca/uninfo/treaties/2.shtml".
5. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 660 U.N.T.S. 195 (1969), URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/d1cerd.htm".
6. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, G.A. Res. 34/180, 34 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 46) at 193, U.N. Doc. A/RES/34/180 (1981), URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/e1cedaw.htm".
7. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, G.A. Res. 39/46/Annex of Dec. 10, 1984, U.N. GAOR, 39 Sess., Supp. No. 51, U.N. Doc A/39/51 (1984), URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/h2catochtm".
8. American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, International Conference of American States, 9th Sess., U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/122 (1948), URL:"http://www.oas.org/EN/PROG/pg17-25.htm".
9. American Convention on Human Rights, O.A.S.T.S. No. 36 (1969). URL:"http://www.oas.org/EN/PROG/pg25-52.htm".
10. European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 213 U.N.T.S. 221 (1955), amended by Protocols Nos. 3, 5, and 8. URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/z17euroco.htm".
11. African Charter on Human and People's Rights, O.A.U. Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3/Rev.5 (1981), 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982), URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/z1afchar.htm".
12. Human Rights: A Compilation of International Instruments, ST/HR/1/Rev.#, is issued every few years by the United Nations and is a very comprehensive source of international human rights treaties and conventions. Over 90 instruments are covered in the latest version.
13. The status of international human rights instruments is given in Human Rights: Status of International Instruments, U.N. ST/HR/5.
14. The Yearbook on Human Rights, U.N. Sales #E.81/XIV.1, is published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
15. A detailed listing of U.N documents on human rights from 1945 through 1981 can be found in Diana Vincent-Daviss, "Human Rights Law: A Research Guide to the Literature-Part I: International Law and the United Nations," 14 NYU Journal of International Law & Politics, pp. 209-319 (1981) and Part 2, pp. 486-573 (1982) and Part 3, 15 NYU J Int'l L & Politics pp. 211-287 (1982).
16. Researchers will need to become familiar with the United Nations Documents Index, UNDOC, to do research in UN Documents. The UNDOC ceased publishing in September 1996. An interim list will be published covering the time from cessation of publication until it is replaced by a new publication. The Dag Hammarskjold Library, URL:"http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/" produces several databases available on the INTERNET and in CD-ROM format. These include UN-I-QUE (URL:"http://www.un.org/Depts/dhl/unique/", UNBIS and UNBIS-Plus. Research is also facilitated by the Readex UN Index and the use of the RLIN bibliographic system which catalogs all publically available UN Documents.
17. The United Nations Treaty Series also publishes international treaties and conventions.
18. The United Nations maintains a World Wide Web site, which has updated the paper publication Multilateral Treaties in Respect of Which the Secretary General Performs Depository Function, last published in 1983. The web site is current to within the past month. URL:"http://www.un.org/Depts/Treaty/".
19. Tufts University has a World Wide Web site, the Multilaterals Project, which also has multilateral treaties which are not deposited with the Secretary General. In addition, it maintains links to many other treaty and international document sites. URL:"http://www.tufts.edu/fletcher/multilaterals.html".
20. The Law Library of the United States House of Representatives also maintains extensive treaty links. URL:"http://law.house.gov/89.htm".
21. The Collected Texts: Convention Europenne des droits de l'homme: recueil des textes, Strasbourg: Council of Europe Press (1994),contains the texts of human rights instruments under the Council of Europe.
22. Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System, OEA/ser.L/V/11.82, doc.6, rev. #, is published periodically by the OAS.
23. Collected Edition of the Travaux Preparatoires of the European Convention on Human Rights, The Hague; Boston: M.Nijhoff (1975-85).
24. M. Bossuyt, Guide to the Travaux Preparatoires of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Dordrecht: Boston: M.Nijhoff (1987).
Several of the first eleven items, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and the American Convention on Human Rights, have extensive optional or additional protocols. In general, treaties and conventions are binding only upon states parties.
In the recent case on the legality of nuclear weapons, Australia's argument is a very good example of the interconnected nature of Article 38 (1) and clauses A, B and C. Except in instances like this, where there is a congruence of popular support and scholarly consensus, most international lawyers will prefer to rely on one or more of the other sources of international law in arguing cases or negotiating. URL:"http://www.dfat.gov.au/pmb/speeches_old/minfor/geicj.html".
Because the subject matter of clauses B and C are so closely interconnected, their sources are considered together after the discussion of clause C.
There are a number of ways to determine the general principles of law referred to in this clause. Acts and declarations of a non-binding nature promulgated by international governmental organizations are a good source. They may also be discovered by the use of comparative law techniques to determine the rules which many states observe in their domestic activities. The following materials are indicative of the documentation which must be searched to make this determination as well as to identify customary international human rights law.
The first two instruments below are often treated as if they represent general principles of law applicable to non-consenting states. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is often cited as stating customary international law.
1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, G.A Res. 217A, U.N. GAOR 3rd Comm., at 71, U.N. Doc. A/810 (1948). URL:"http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html".
2. Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe: Final Act, 73 Dep't of State Bull. 323 (1975). URL:"http://www.osceprag.cz/docs/finaldoc/english/helfa75e.zip".
3. Draft Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, E/CN/Sub.2/1994/2/Add.1 I (1994). URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/declra.htm".
4. Draft Inter-American Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, AG/RES 1022 (XIX-0/89) (1995). URL:"http://www.oas.org/EN/PROG/indigene.htm".
5. Resolutions and Declarations of the United Nations General Assembly. URL:"gopher://gopher.un.org/11/ga/recs/" covers 1981 to present.
6. Resolutions of the United Nations Security Council. URL:"gopher://gopher.un.org/11/undocs/scd/" covers 1974 to present.
7. Resolutions, declarations and recommendations of the United Nations Economic and Social Council. URL:"gopher://gopher.un.org:70/11/esc/cn4/" covers 1982 to present.
8. Resolutions, Declarations, and decisions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and its subsidiary organs. URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/commission/commission.htm" covers 1994 to present.
9. World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna, 1993, Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action for Human Rights, U.N. Doc. A/CONF.157/23, 12 July 1993. URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/l1/viedec.htm".
10. Reports of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The first Report appeared as A/49/36 (1995).
11. Decisions of the United Nations Human Rights Committee published in the GAOR Supp. (No. 40) series.
12. Reports of the International Labor Organization's Conferences contain materials dealing with the conditions of work from a human rights standpoint. In particular see the Reports of the Committee on Indigenous Populations and the Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (ILO No. 169) 72 I.L.O. Off. Bul. 59 (1991). The ILO web site is at this URL: "http://www.ilo.org/".
13. Legislative Series of the United Nations, New York: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 1951-.
1. Decisions of the International Court of Justice and its predecessor the Permanent Court of International Justice.
Recueil des Arrets. Collection of Judgements, Series A, Leyden: Sijthoff, 1922-1930.
Recueil des Avis Consultatifs. Collection of Advisory Opinions, Series B, Leyden: Sijthoff, 1922-1930.
Actes et Documents Relatifs aux Arrets et aux Avis Consultatifs de la Cour. Acts and Documents Relating to Judgments and Advisory Opinions Given by the Court, Series C, Leyden: Sijthoff, 1922-1030.
Arrets, Ordonnances, et Avis Consultatifs. Judgments, Orders and Advisory Opinions. Series A/B, Leyden: Sijthoff, 1931-1940.
Plaidores, Exposes Oraux et Documents. Pleadings, Oral Arguments and Documents, Series C, Leyden: Sijthoff, 1931-1940.
Pleadings, Oral Arguments, Documents. Memoires, Plaidores et Documents, The Hague: International Court of Justice, 1947 to present.
Recueil de Arrets, Avis Consultatifs et Ordannances. Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders, The Hague: International Court of Justice, 1947 to present.
Beginning with 1996 decisions, ICJ Decisions are available on the World Wide Web at this URL:"http://www.law.cornell.edu/icj/home.htm".
2. Decisions of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Serie A: Fallos y Opinions. Series A: Judgments and Opinions, San Jose, Costa Rica: Secretaria de la Courte, 1982 to present.
Serie B: Memorias, Argumentos Orales y Documentos. Series B: Pleadings, Oral Arguments and Documents, San Jose, Costa Rica: Secretaria de la Courte, 1983 to present.
Serie C: Resoluciones y Sentencias. Series C: Decisions and Judgments, San Jose, Costa Rica: Secretaria de la Courte, 1987 to present. See also, Buergenthal, Human Rights: The Inter-American System, Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana, 1982 to present.
The Decisions and Advisory Opinions are also available on the World Wide Web at this URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/iachr/iachr.html".
3. Decisions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are issued in the Report of the Work Accomplished in its (#) Session, OEA Ser.L/V/III/#, doc. #, and in the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights for the Year (19XX), OEA Ser/P/AG/doc #.
The Annual Reports for 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995 are available on the World Wide Web at this URL:"http://www.umn.edu/humanrts/cases/commissn.htm".
4. Decisions of the European Court of Justice are published in the Reports of Cases Before the Court. Recueil de la Jurisprudence de la Cour, Luxembourg: Court of Justice of the European Communities, 1954 to present.
Beginning with June 1997, the Decisions are available on the World Wide Web at this URL:"http://www.europa.eu.int/jurisp/cgi-bin/form.pl?lang=en". The Proceedings are available beginning with #23/96 at this URL:"http://www.europa.eu.int/cj/en/act/index.html".
5. Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights are published in the Publications of the European Court of Human Rights, Series A. Judgments and Decisions. Publications de la Cour Europeenne des Droits de l'Homme, Serie A. Arrets and Decisions. Strasbourg: Greffe de la Cour, 1974 to present.
Other materials are published in Publications of the European Court of Human Rights, Series B, Pleadings, Oral Arguments and Documents. Publications de la Cour Europeenne des Droits de l'Homme, Serie B, Memoires, Plaidores et Documents, Strasbourg: Greffe de la Cour, 1975 to present.
The Decisions are also available on the World Wide Web at this URL:"http://www.dhcour.coe.fr/".
6. Decisions of the European Commission of Human Rights.
Decisions and Reports. Decisions et rapports, Strasbourg: European Commission of Human Rights, 1975 to present.
Stock Taking on the European Covention on Human Rights, Strasbourg: European Commission of Human Rights, annual since 1971.
The Decisions of the European Commission of Human Rights are also available on the World Wide Web at this URL:"http://www.dhcommhr.coe.fr/".
7. Decisions of the African Commission on Human Rights. See URL:University of Minnesota Human Rights Library and URL:The DIANA Project for materials dealing with the African Commission on Human Rights.
8. Various of the treaties and conventions have established report mechanisms for collecting information on the degree of implementation of the obligations required under the treaties or covenants. When these exist, and despite the puffery, they are excellent sources for an overview of the rules followed by the states parties. See, in particular, the Reports required under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the reports of Fact-Finding missions of the Organization of American States.
Verstappen, Berth. Human Rights Reports: An annotated Bibliography of Fact-Finding Missions, London: New York: Netherlands Institute of Human Rights; Zell Pub. (1987).
Considering the voluminous literature on human rights that has been published in the past 30 years, it is sometimes difficult to select the the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations". Some guidance is afforded by the practice of the United Nations, the Organization of American States and the European Union of selecting and appointing Committees of Experts to deal with various human rights issues. The reader may safely use such committee membership as a first guide in evaluating writers. The reader can also look to textbooks on human rights used for the training of lawyers for some guidance here. The periodical literature is also a rich source of titles and authors whose works may be of interest.
Buergenthal, International Human Rights Law in a Nutshell, 2nd. Ed., St. Paul: West (1995). Is an introductory text to international human rights law written by a respected former Judge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
Buergenthal and Shelton, Protecting Human Rights in the Americas, 4th ed., Kehl: Arlington: N.P. Engel; International Institute of Human Rights, Strasbourg, 1995.
Claude & Weston, Human Rights in the World Community: Issues and Actions, Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.
Donnelly, Jack, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989.
Lillich and Newman, International Human Rights: Problems of Law, Policy and Practice, 2nd Ed., Boston: Little, Brown, 1991.
Meron, Human Rights in International Law: Legal and Policy Issues, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.
Newman and Weissbrodt, International Human Rights: Law, Policy and Process, 2nd Ed., Cincinnati: Anderson Pub. 1996.
Robertson and Merrills, Human Rights in the World: An Introduction to the Study of the International Protection of Human Rights, 3rd Ed., Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989.
Szladits, A Bibliography of Foreign and Comparative law: Books and Articles in English since 1970, New York: Parker School; Oceana, 1975 -.
Dag Hammarskjold Library, Current Bibliographical Information, New York: United Nations, 1971 to present, ST/LIB/Ser. K. Available in electronic format as UNBIS and UNBIS Plus.
Public International Law: A Current Bibliography of Articles, Berlin: New York: Springer-Verlag, 1975 to present. Semi-annual index to legal periodicals and books.
UNDOC, Current Index, 1984 to September 1996. Continues the UNDEX. Will be replaced in late 1998 or early 1999. An interim index will be published. This is the primary index to UN documents.
Index to United Nations Documents and Publications is a CD-ROM product from READEX. It covers 1975 to present.
Research Libraries Information Network, RLIN, contains cataloging information on publically available UN documents. Depending on the subscription, RLIN may also provide access the Index to Legal Periodicals and Books.
Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals, 1960 to present. Non-American legal periodicals and collected work, such as symposia, proceedings and Festscriften. Also avialable on CD-ROM and on WESTLAW.
Index to Legal Periodicals & Books continues the Index to Legal Periodicals, covering 1929 to present. Also available on CD-ROM, or through RLIN and on WESTLAW and LEXIS.
LEGALTRAC/Current Law Index, 1980 to present. Available on CD-ROM and on WESTLAW and LEXIS.
LEXIS, URL: http://www.lexis.com is an on-line library of legal materials which provides access to many of the primary and secondary materials needed for research in international human rights research.
WESTLAW, URL: http://www.westlaw.com is another computer assisted legal research service with complementary materials to the LEXIS databases.
CELEX, URL: http://eurpoa.eu.int/celex/ is an on-line database of European Union materials.
In addition to the general legal periodicals there are several of primary interest to human rights research:
Human Rights InterNet Reporter, Ottawa: Human Rights Internet, 1976 to present, is a periodical which contains massive amounts of materials from both the International Governmental Organizations and their counterparts, the Non-Governmental Organizations. It is essential reading for human rights research. URL:"http://www.hri.ca/" is the World Wide Web address for HRI.
Human Rights Law Journal, Arlington, Va.: N.P. Engel, 1980 to present. Reprints decisions and reports from international human rights law bodies. Has a yearly list of accessions to the principal human rights instruments.
Human Rights Quarterly, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1981 to present.
International Journal on Group Rights, Dordrecht : Boston, M. Nijhoff, 1993 to present, contains articles dealing with indigenous and minority rights.
Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, SIM, Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, Utrecht, 1989 to present.
Revista de IIDH/Review of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, 1980 to present. URL:"http://www.iidh.ed.cr/index.html" is the Web address for the Institute.
Review of the International Commission of Jurists, Geneva: The International Commission of Jurists, 1969 to present.
The following items should be in any human rights collection.
Marie, Jean-Bernard, Glossary of Human Rights: Basic Terms in Universal and Regional Instruments. Paris: Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l'homme, 1981.
Stormoken and Zwaak, Human Rights Terminology in International law: A Thesaurus, Dordrecht : Boston; M. Nijhoff: Strasbourg; Human Rights Documentation Centre, 1988.
Weisberg, Laurie, A Guide to Establishing a Human Rights Documentation Centre, Ottawa: Human Rights Internet, 1990.
This document is intended as a first guide to International Human Rights Law research for the beginning researcher. There are many other more detailed publications which the reader should consult after becoming familiar with the resources given herein. In addition to print materials, there is a wealth of materials available on the INTERNET and the reader is referred particularly to the DIANA Project sites at the law schools of the University of Cincinnati, the University of Minnesota and Yale University.
FN2 B.A., J.D. University of Cincinnati; M.L.L., University of Denver. User Services Coordinator, The Justice Henry E. Ackerson Law Library, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, School of Law at Newark. Email=SPerkins@andromeda.rutgers.edu