In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Human Rights Law

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Reference Works
  • Introductory Works
  • Textbooks
  • History and Prehistory
  • Theory and Method
  • Critiques
  • Politics and Foreign Affairs
  • The United Nations Human Rights Regime
  • Civil, Cultural, Economic, Social, and Political Rights
  • Collective Rights
  • Women’s Rights
  • Vulnerable Groups
  • Nonstate Actors
  • The Future

International Relations Human Rights Law
Rory O’Connell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0054


Human rights law is that branch of international law that covers the rights persons have against the state. This highlights perhaps the most striking feature of human rights law—that, unlike classic international law, human rights law recognizes human beings as having rights that can be invoked even against their own states. Thus, this is a challenge to the principle of state sovereignty. This bibliography focuses on the ever-expanding literature dealing with the development of the normative standards of international human rights law, the procedures to promote and protect these standards, and the challenges to them. This bibliography focuses on international human rights law. Many countries will have analogous domestic legal rules, and it is outside the scope of this article to provide an introduction to those sources. It will be necessary, however, to refer to national developments from time to time, particularly where these have influenced the development of international human rights law or where these national measures represent influential examples of the domestic implementation of international standards. Myriad controversies bedevil international human rights law. First, debates are ongoing about the nature, identity, and interpretation of the rights people have, as well as the basis for recognizing these rights. Second, while we start with the rights of persons, other entities might also be the subject of a right: families, associations, minorities, peoples, legal persons (corporations), or animals. Some individuals may worry about the proliferation or even “inflation” of human rights claims. Third, increasingly there are debates about who has the duty to respect human rights. While human rights law may serve to control the actions of the state, many other actors pose a threat to the protection of human rights: family members, the media, corporations, nonstate armed groups, and so forth. Whether human rights law provides the resources to deal with such potential violators is a matter of controversy. Finally, debates are waged over the response of human rights law and institutions to rapidly changing contexts, such as economic globalization, environmental challenges, the emergence of new technologies, and the war on terrorism.

General Overviews and Reference Works

Brownlie and Goodwin-Gill 2010 provides a compilation of the main UN and regional human rights sources. The other texts in this section offer reliable guidance to the basic concepts and institutions associated with human rights law. They may be suitable for inclusion in law courses (especially Moeckli, et al. 2010), or they may also serve as useful introductions to the concepts and institutions both for lawyers and others, such as Baderin and Ssenyonjo 2010, Gómez Isa and de Feyter 2009, Joseph and McBeth 2010, Symonides 2000, and Symonides 2003. These edited collections contain chapters contributed by leading practitioners, covering the major concepts and institutions of human rights law. Marks and Clapham 2005 provides short encyclopedic introductions to nearly thirty topics in human rights law.

  • Baderin, Mashood A., and Manisuli Ssenyonjo. International Human Rights Law: Six Decades after the UDHR and Beyond. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.

    This volume contains nearly thirty contributions covering the basic concepts of human rights law, some pertinent issues (development, peace, minority rights, right to health, and globalization), the implementation of rights (regional human rights institutions, nongovernmental organizations, national human rights institutions, and a possible world court), and questions about responsibilities and remedies.

  • Brownlie, Ian, and Guy S. Goodwin-Gill. Brownlie’s Documents on Human Rights. 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    This compilation, now in its sixth edition, includes sources from the United Nations and the specialized bodies of the United Nations, such as the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), as well as the regional organizations. The text is complemented by an open-access online resource.

  • Gómez Isa, Felipe, and Koen de Feyter, eds. International Human Rights Law in a Global Context. Bilbao, Spain: University of Deusto Press, 2009.

    This book contains more than a score of contributions, most of which give an introduction to a specific UN or regional treaty system. Several contributions are included on specific issues, such as globalization, genocide, and a critique of rights.

  • Joseph, Sarah, and Adam McBeth, eds. Research Handbook on International Human Rights Law. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2010.

    More than twenty contributors provide chapters covering selected topics in international human rights law. Topics covered include the UN human rights system, socioeconomic rights, human rights obligations, nonstate actors, globalization, refugees, gender, transitional issues, international criminal law, regional human rights systems, religion, and counterterrorism.

  • Marks, Susan, and Andrew Clapham. International Human Rights Lexicon. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

    A short encyclopedia rather than a dictionary, this contains alphabetically ordered entries ranging from “Arms” to “Work.” Topics include specific groups (children, women), distinctions associated with discrimination (disability, religion, sexuality), a range of specific rights (fair trial, food, housing), and issues (death penalty, development, racism, terrorism).

  • Moeckli, Daniel, Sangeeta Shah, and Sandesh Sivakumaran, eds. International Human Rights Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    This volume contains contributions from more than thirty experts. The chapters cover foundational questions, the international-law framework, selected substantive rights, the mechanisms for protecting rights, linkages with other legal regimes, and future challenges. Suitable for an advanced undergraduate or postgraduate course textbook as an introduction to the international human rights system.

  • Symonides, Janusz, ed. Human Rights: Concept and Standards. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000.

    This edited volume includes contributions on the history, theory, and basic concepts of international human rights law. These include the different categories of rights (civil and political, economic and social, cultural) as well as the rights of particular groups (women, children, minorities, indigenous peoples, migrant workers).

  • Symonides, Janusz, ed. Human Rights: International Protection, Monitoring, Enforcement. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2003.

    This edited volume includes contributions covering different protection mechanisms at the UN level in regional systems as well as newer mechanisms. As well as the mainstream international human rights provisions, the volume introduces the ILO and the UNESCO systems and the role of national institutions, international criminal law, sanctions, indicators, and nongovernmental organizations. This book predates the creation of the UN Human Rights Council.

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