Guidelines for International Legal Research

International legal research is sometimes difficult. You may not find the documents you need at a local library, and international legal databases are incomplete. That having been said, here is a suggested route for researching international law (it goes without saying that you should also search U.S. cases for relevant precedent):

The University of Minnesota's Human Rights Library contains a collection of more than 10,400 international human rights treaties, instruments, and other documents. They can be accessed by subject matter, or by using one of the search mechanisms. It is an excellent resource, and should be one of the first places you start any research: http:///www1.umn.edu/humanrts/.

Check decisions by various human rights tribunals, including the following:

  1. The European Court of Human Rights adjudicates violations of the European Convention on Human Rights. The European Convention contains many of the same rights set forth in the International Bill of Rights, so a decision by the court may be useful in interpreting a provision of the ICCPR or the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. You can search the court's opinions on LEXIS, or you can find them on the Internet at http://www.echr.coe.int/Pages/home.aspx?p=caselaw&c=.
  2. The Human Rights Committee of the United Nations hears individual complaints and complaints by state parties regarding violations of the ICCPR. All of the Committee's decisions are available chronologically at http://www.worldlii.org/int/cases/UNHRC/ and can be searched by keyword at http://www.worldlii.org/form/search1.html?mask=int/cases/UNHRC.
  3. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights adjudicates disputes between states, between individuals and states, and issues advisory opinions. For example, the court recently issued an advisory opinion regarding the interpretation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The court's website is http://www.corteidh.or.cr/ (click on 'English version'). Its jurisprudence is also accessible through the University of Minnesota at http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/iachr/iachr.html. The Court's 1998 opinion regarding the Vienna Convention may be found at http://www.corteidh.or.cr/opiniones.cfm.
  4. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights hears complaints from individuals regarding violations of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man, as well as the American Convention on Human Rights. Both of these documents contain provisions analogous to those under the International Bill of Rights. The Commission's site contains its decisions on individual petitions, some country reports, annual reports from 1970-2009, and other basic documents, such as how to present a petition and the texts of the applicable Inter-American human rights standards. For more on the Commission, check out the University of Minnesota website for an excellent introduction to the Inter-American system by Richard Wilson, http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/iachr/first.html, and the Inter-American Human Rights Database, which is maintained by the Washington College of Law at the American University, http://www.wcl.american.edu/pub/humright/digest/index.html.
  5. The Committee Against Torture monitors compliance with the Torture Convention. Its decisions, as well as country reports, are available through the University of Minnesota website, or through the "treaty bodies" database at the website of the U.N. High Commissioner (both cited above).

 

Use the following excellent guides to international legal research for additional ideas:

 

Jeanne Rehberg & Radu D. Popa, Accidental Tourist on the New Frontier: An Introductory Guide to Global Legal Research (1998).

American Society of International Law Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law: International Criminal Law. Extensive material on all aspects of international law, regularly updated: http://www.asil.org/resource/home.htm.

Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School, Getting Started in Human Rights Research: On-Line and Off-Line Resources, http://www.law.harvard.edu/library/research/guides/int_foreign/human-rights-research-get-started-online.html.

Last updated on October 31, 2011

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