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Pritzker Legal Research Center

International Human Rights Law Research


The United Nations is the largest intergovernmental organization with 193 member states. The UN human rights system develops, monitors, and protects human rights around the world.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) was a foundational document that set out fundamental human rights to be universally protected for the first time. The UDHR has significantly influenced the development of international human rights law. 

Universal Periodic Review and Special Procedures

The Human Rights Council is a body within the UN system with the mission of promoting and protecting human rights around the world. Its predecessor was the UN Commission on Human Rights

The Universal Periodic Review was established when the Human Rights Council was created and is a mechanism that assesses the human rights situations in UN Member States. The Human Rights Council works with the UN Special Procedures, which consist of special rapporteurs and independent experts that monitor and report on thematic or country-specific human rights situations. 

Core UN Human Rights Treaties

There are nine core international human rights instruments, some of which are supplemented by optional protocols. These treaties are "universal," meaning that countries from around the world are parties rather than limited to specific regions. 

Core UN Human Rights Treaties Treaty Monitoring Bodies
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) Committee Against Torture (CAT)
Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW) Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (CMW)
International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CPED) Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

Links to the optional protocols to ICESCR, ICCPR, CEDAW, CRC, CAT, and CRPD are available here

Treaty Bodies

The websites for the treaty bodies provides access to general comments and recommendations, state party reports and concluding observations, cases, and other materials. 

  • General Comments and General RecommendationsTreaty bodies publish their interpretations of human rights treaties in general comments or general recommendations. 
  • ​State Party Reports: State party reports are submitted by state parties to the treaty bodies to describe the efforts they have made or problems they have encountered when implementing a treaty's provisions. 
  • Concluding Observations: Concluding observations consist of observations and recommendations issued by a treaty body after consideration of a state party's report. These include recommendations for how a State should take further action to implement the treaty. 

Commentaries on UN Human Rights Treaties

Commentaries provide article-by-article analysis of treaties and include citations to relevant jurisprudence, preparatory works, and other documents. The following commentaries are all available electronically through Oxford Scholarly Authorities on International Law. The complete list of titles included in this collection is available here

You can find additional commentaries by searching on NUsearch, our library catalog, for keywords such as [name of treaty] + commentary (example: Convention on the Rights of the Child commentary). 

Preparatory Works for UN Human Rights Treaties


Some of the treaty bodies (CCPR, CAT, CEDAW, CERD, CRPD, CED, CESCR, and CRC) have procedures where individuals can lodge complaints of violations of the provisions of human rights treaties. The following resources provide access to jurisprudence from these treaty bodies.