Human Rights are basic rights and freedoms that every human being is entitled to, irrespective of his or her nationality, sex, religion, national or ethnic origin, language, sexual orientation, place of residence or any other status. Each person is equally entitled to these rights without discrimination. Human Rights are therefore considered to be universal rights. These include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, the right to education, the right to food as well as economic, social and cultural rights. Human Rights are often expressed and ensured by law in the form of national legislation, international treaties, customary international law, general principles and other sources of international law. Human Rights entail both rights and obligations. States assume obligations and duties under international law to respect, to protect and to fulfill human rights. The obligation to protect requires States to protect individuals and groups against fundamental rights abuses. At the individual level, each person should also respect the individual rights of others.

This Research Guide is intended as a starting point for research in the field of Human Rights. It provides the basic legal materials available in the Peace Palace Library, both in print and electronic format. Handbooks, leading articles, bibliographies, periodicals, serial publications and documents of interest are presented in the Selective Bibliography section. Links to the PPL Catalogue are inserted. The Library's subject headings (keywords) Human Rights, Group Rights, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Civil and Political Rights, Women's Rights, Children's Rights, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, Economic Rights, Constitutional Rights, Cultural Rights, and Social Rights are instrumental for searching through the Catalogue. Special attention is given to our subscriptions on databases, e-journals, e-books and other electronic resources. Finally, this Research Guide features links to relevant websites and other online resources of particular interest.


Sources of international law


International Human Rights Instruments

There are nine core international human rights instruments, often supplemented by optional protocols dealing with specific concerns. Each of these  instruments has established a committee of experts to monitor implementation of the treaty provisions by its State parties. These instruments and committees are:

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (New York, 7 March 1966)

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (New York, 16 December 1966)

International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (New York, 16 December 1966)

United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (New York, 18 December 1979)                             

United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (New York, 10 December 1984)

United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (New York, 20 November 1989)

United Nations Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (New York, 18 December 1990)

International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (New York, 20 December 2006)

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (New York, 13 December 2006).

Regional Human Rights Instruments




A selection of books containing a compilation of human rights instruments:

Online: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Universal Human Rights Instruments.


Relevant links

Books about human rights and case-law

UN Declarations and Resolutions

The resolutions and decisions of the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council may provide valuable information on human rights. Although they cannot themselves constitute international law or serve as conclusive evidence of a rule of customary law, such resolutions do have value in providing evidence of existing or emerging law. This point of view has been acknowledged by the International Law Commission.

As every Member State has been recognized and has a vote in the UN General Assembly, finding General Assembly resolutions that passed unanimously or near-unanimously may serve as an excellent starting point in the legal research process. Pay attention to the language of the resolution. Those with firm obligations versus those that are merely aspirational or advisory in nature are more likely to be considered valuable as evidence of customary international law.

 Official Document System Search. ODS is the UN's Official Document System. You can search for UN declarations, resolutions and other documents by keywords, then narrow your search.

 Start Your Research: (7) Resolutions and Decisions of International Organizations.

Soft law

Reference works

Selected books and articles

For all peer-reviewed articles in the PPL Catalogue, click here.

Periodicals and series