The resources below provide information about the various human rights treaties created through the United Nations. An overview of the UN's Human Rights Treaty System is provided in Fact Sheet No. 30 titled "The United Nations Human Rights Treaty System." For information related to general research on treaties, please see our guide to Treaties & Other International Agreements.
Treaty commentaries are a useful resource for finding analysis of each article of a human rights treaty. One way to find treaty commentaries is to search the library catalog for the name of the treaty (or associated keywords) plus the word "commentary." A number of relevant UN treaty commentaries are listed below:
The United Nations Charter Bodies are those bodies whose authority is derived from the UN Charter. These bodies include the Human Rights Council (and the former Commission on Human Rights) and its subsidiary bodies.
|Charter body/Mechanism||Description||Where to find decisions/documents|
|Human Rights Council (HRC)||The HRC is made up of 47 member States and is "responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them"||
Documents related to the HRC (including reports and resolutions) are available through the charter bodies document search.
Resolutions from the HRC are also available through the Human Rights Resolution Portal
Note: All HRC documents begin with the symbol A/HRC/
|Commission on Human Rights||The Commission on Human Rights was replaced by the Human Rights Council in 2006.||Documents issued by the Commission can still be access through the charter bodies document search page.|
|Universal Periodic Review (UPR)||
The Universal Periodic Review (administered by the Universal Periodic Review Working Group) is process intended to review the human rights record of all UN Member States. These reviews are conducted every four years. Each review ultimately results in an “outcome report,” which includes comments and recommendations made to the State.
Information about the status of a current or upcoming review or about the various UPR sessions is available on the UPR Info website.
Consists of independent parties (rather than State representatives) who report and advise States on human rights issues under either a thematic or country-specific mandate. Can be a special rapporteur, independent expert or working group. Special procedures regularly submit reports to the Human Rights Council. These reports include recommendations to countries. The special procedures may also intervene with a State Government in the form of urgent appeal or other communications based on allegations of human rights violations.
Documents from the special procedures are available using the special procedures document search. Recommendations from 2006 can be found using the “advanced search” feature of the Universal Human Rights Index (UHRI). Compilations of recommendations from 2004—2009 are found here.
Communications between the special procedures and State resulting from an allegation of human rights violation (both in the form of urgent appeals or other communications) are found in the Communications Reports or through the Communications Search.
|HRC Complaint Procedure||
The Human Rights Council also has a complaint procedure to address communications to it from individuals or groups. The process is confidential.
|The few decisions that were made public are available here.|
There are currently ten human rights treaty bodies of the United Nations (listed below). Each of the treaty bodies is tasked with monitoring implementation of the core international human rights treaties.
A list of the core international human rights treaties and associated treaty body tasked with monitoring implementation is available here.
The treaty bodies periodically issue General Comments/Recommendations, which are interpretations of the human rights treaties by the respective treaty body. General comments/recommendations can be found on the individual treaty body’s website. A compilation of all general comments/recommendations adopted by the treaty bodies through 2008 is available in two volumes (volume 1 and volume 2). They can also be found through the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Library.
The monitoring mechanisms used by the treaty bodies are listed and explained below
|Mechanism||Description||Where to find decisions/documents|
Many of the treaty bodies are able to consider individual complaints and issue recommendations and findings in connection with those cases.
Jurisprudence from the treaty bodies that receive individual complaints can be found using the Jurisprudence search database or by selecting “jurisprudence” as the document type in the Treaty bodies search.
Can also search for cases through the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Library.
|State Periodic Reporting||
Each treaty body (except the OPCAT) require periodic reporting from the State parties. The documentation process differs slightly from body to body, but culminates with “concluding observations” from the relevant treaty body. The concluding observations identify areas of concern, and make recommendations to help the State give full effect to the treaty’s provisions
Concluding observations (and other documents involved in the reporting cycle) can be found by filtering by the appropriate the document type in the Treaty bodies search.
Concluding observations can also be found using the “advanced search” feature of the Universal Human Rights Index (UHRI).
Can also search for concluding observations through the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Library.
|Database||What it covers|
|Charter Bodies Document Search||
"Documents and information pertaining to UN Charter-based human rights bodies, including the Human Rights Council and its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights."
|Treaty Bodies Database||"Documents and information pertaining to the core international human rights treaties."|
|Universal Periodic Review Database||"Information and documents about states that were part of the periodic review of the human rights. Includes documents submitted by countries themselves, UN agencies and external parties."|
|Special Procedures Database||"Documents and information pertaining to the mandates and country visits of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council."|
|Universal Human Rights Index||
"Country-specific human rights recommendations and information emanating from international human rights mechanisms in the UN system: the Treaty Bodies, the Special Procedures and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)."
"Jurisprudence emanating from the United Nations Treaty Bodies that receive and consider complaints from individuals: the Human Rights Committee (CCPR), the Committee against Torture (CAT), the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED), the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), and the Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
The jurisprudence database is intended to be a single sdource of the human rights recommendations and findings issued by all above committees in their work on individual cases."
|Other OHCHR Databases||Other databases include the Anti-discrimination Database, the National Human Rights Institutions Website, and others.|
The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights' human rights by country page provides a one-stop-shop for locating documents from charter bodies and treaty bodies related to a particular Member State.
The website also includes a page with links to resources related to particular human rights issues.
|International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia||Information about cases from this tribunal is available here. Documents are also available through Westlaw|
|International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda||Information about cases from this tribunal is available here. Documents are also available through Westlaw|
|Special Court for Sierra Leone||Court documents and records are available here and through WorldCourts and WorldLII.|
|Special Tribunal for Lebanon||Information about the cases is available here and the court records can be searched here. Documents also available through WorldCourts.|
|Refworld from the UN Refugee Agency||Can search for laws, case law, country-specific information (and more) as related to refugees.|
|Human Trafficking Knowledge Portal from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime||This site relates to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons. The site includes both a case law database and a database of legislation.|
All UN documents are assigned a unique symbol when they are created. An overview of the symbol system is available through the UN Documentation: Overview guide. If you know the symbol for a document, you can find it easily by typing in the url "undocs.org/" + symbol. For example, if you were reading a publication that included a citation to a document you were interested in reviewing (see circled section in excerpt below), you could just type "undocs.org/CAT/C/AFG/2" into your browser and read it online.