Concise Guide to Human Rights on the Internet
Since this guide was first published two years ago, there has been an explosion of human rights information on the World Wide Web (web). Not only have many non-government organizations (NGOs) gotten online and began publishing their materials, but international organizations have begun to make large portions of their materials available online, making research much easier than in the past. Academic and legal journals, moreover, have begun to offer at least some of their articles in the web as well. The growth of the web, however, has also meant that finding the desired materials is likely to be more difficult for those not already acquainted with the major human rights sites. Fortunately, most of the major sites have done a very good job of compiling lists of links to other sites with human rights materials, so that using them as starting points is likely to lead you to the material you seek. Those sites and the other tools described here should help you find you what you need.
This updated guide is an attempt to show you how to begin using the Internet to find human rights information. This guide assumes that you already know how to use the basic Internet tools: e-mail and the web. We will also discuss briefly the issue of privacy online. Please note that the sites and methods discussed here are by no means exhaustive; in addition, given the nature of the Internet, this guide was out-of-date even before we finished writing it.
It is important to understand that while there is a lot of human rights information on the Internet, it only constitutes a small fraction of the information available in the "real world." This means that you will not necessarily find what you are looking for; it may just not be there. Use the Internet as a way to supplement your library or field research, but don't expect to be able to use it as your sole source of information.
Note: This is a "live" document, and minor changes are made when necessary.
Where on the Internet?
The Internet has multiple "spaces" where information is stored and exchanged. In addition to the web, there are mailing lists, where people can exchange information and ideas via e-mail, newsgroups, bulletin-boards accessible to everyone with full-Internet access where useful information and people are sometimes available, chat rooms, where you can meet with friends to discuss issues or drop in to ask questions, and telnet, which provides access to library catalogs and other databases. In addition, much information is still available at ftp (file transfer protocol) and gopher sites; because you can access these sites with most web browsers (software such as Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer, and Opera, which is used to access the web), we will not discuss these sites independently.
As a general guide, we would recommend that you first look at what's available on the web, or what has been discussed on newsgroups or mailing lists (you can get the archives of many of these on the web as well), before posing questions to either newsgroups or mailing lists - especially about very common subjects.
HR Info on the Web
I. What is out there?
Among the most common human rights documents online are treaties and conventions, reports on human rights violations on specific countries, death penalty information, human rights news and actions on behalf of victims of human rights violations. You can also find decisions and reports by international bodies and tribunals, national legislation and jurisprudence, articles on human rights issues, and issue-specific information (e.g. women's rights, indigenous people's rights). Perhaps surprisingly, there is very little information or discussions as to what human rights are, or other introductory materials to human rights and human rights law. Academic and legal articles on human rights issues have become more common, but are still comparatively rare.
Most of the human rights material available on line is a few years old at most. Reports and information prior to the mid-90s are often hard to find. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights' (UNHCHR) website, for example, has few reports earlier than 1993; Amnesty International's materials mostly date from 1996. On the other hand, the latest human rights information is often not available on the web either (though it may have been distributed through mailing lists), as few organizations have the resources necessary to immediately place all new information on their sites.
II. How to find it.
This guide will lead you to many of the most useful human rights sites online, but, as said before, they are not the only ones available, and possibly not the ones you need either. If the information you're looking for does not appear here, here are a few things you can do:
-Go to a site that contains information similar to what you are looking for, and look for a section labeled links. Links are graphics or highlighted text that will connect you to another document or website when you click on it. Most sites will link to others containing similar material.
-Look at a general index of human rights information. There are many of these available; some are discussed below.
-Use a search engine to find it (also discussed below). Depending on your familiarity with these, this may be the most effective option.
-Ask if the information exists by posting a a message in a newsgroup related to that subject. If this is not successful, you can try a mailing list.
III. The Websites
A. General Websites
These are sites that offer a variety of human rights information and can serve as starting points in your search.
-Derechos Human Rights
Our own website offers a variety of human rights information including reports on human rights violations, actions, links and documents. Information is organized by country and by issue; an index and a search engine allow for easy finding of materials. Derechos includes an online-journal of human rights, a periodic newsletter, opportunities for joining human rights mailing lists and a very extensive list of links to other human rights sites. There is a focus on Latin America, and many of these documents are only available in Spanish. Derechos also hosts a number of human rights organizations at its site. Information and reports are added to the site daily.
-Minnesota Human Rights Library
Another premier human rights site, the Human Rights Library has been a pioneer in human rights on the Internet. Its focus is on international materials and contains treaties, declarations, resolutions, opinions and decisions from international tribunals and treaty bodies. The Human Rights Library contain decisions from UN human rights bodies in individual cases that are not available at the UNHCHR site, and the decisions from the Inter-American Court of human rights that are not yet available elsewhere. The site is also a great resource for reference materials on human rights in Africa, human rights in the US, asylum issues, humanitarian law, peace issues, and human rights education. There is an excellent list of links to other sites. For more info see our review of the site in the July '98 issue of Without Impunity. (http://www.derechos.org/wi/2/min.html)
-Human Rights Internet
An "international NGO, documentation center and publishing house", Human Rights Internet is an established powerhouse in international human rights but a relatively newcomer to the Internet. It has made up by having one of the most useful websites which is constantly being expanded and updated. The website is most useful for human rights NGOs and professionals. It contains articles and documents of use to human rights professionals (e.g. a Journalist Handbook on Reporting Human Rights and Humanitarian Stories), a useful section on human rights education including lists of human rights programs and syllabi, a job board and a calendar of human rights conferences and events. The site also contains copious information on children's rights and UN human rights information, including the 1997 For the Record, a searchable summary of the activities of all the UN human rights bodies. Human Rights Internet also offers current urgent actions, online discussion fora, fee-based databases and an extensive list of links to other human rights sites (searchable by keyword, these include short summaries of what the sites are about).
B. International Materials
The web can be at its most useful for finding human rights material issued by different human rights bodies of the UN, the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Council. Bear in mind that most of the material available only dates back a few years.
In addition to the sites below, check out the info available at the Human Rights Library and Human Rights Internet discussed above.
-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Since its inauguration on Human Rights Day 1996, this site has been the crown jewel of human rights on the Internet. The UNHCHR website contains a large part of the material produced by the different UN human rights bodies. Here you can find resolutions and reports by the UN Commission and Subcommission, the special rapporteurs and working groups and the treaty monitoring bodies (few documents earlier than 1993 are available however). You can also find the state party reports to the treaty bodies, which allows a glance at how countries see their own human rights situation. The website also contains the latest press releases by the UNHCHR and other human rights bodies and information on the structure of the UN system of human rights protection. You can also find the most important UN declarations and covenants on human rights and copies of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights in many languages. A major failing of the site - which is unlikely to be resolved soon given the nature of the UN - is its lack of links to other human rights sites. However, its links to other UN or international bodies are very useful. The site is currently available in English, French and Spanish (though most materials are still only available in English), and is constantly improving. For some hints on how to use it see our review of the site in the June '98 issue of Without Impunity (http://www.derechos.org/wi/1/a.html )
While most of the relevant UN human rights information is available at the UNHCHR site above, the UN site has some useful features. It contains all treaties in the UN Treaty Series, including those that are not per se on human rights but that might be relevant to your work, as well as information on the ratification of all treaties deposited with the UN. Access to the information requires registration, which was free at the time this document was published. There is a useful guide to UN documents, information on the Rwanda and Bosnia War Crimes Tribunals (including documents related to them), the International Criminal Court, and the UN monitoring missions in Guatemala and Haiti.
-United Nations High Commission for Refugees
Information pertaining to refugee and asylum matters, including treaties, national legislation and case law, background papers, country reports and news. The website includes copies of the UNHCR magazine "Refugee", materials and lesson plans for use in the classroom, and even an online documentary. Much of the documentation is under the "Refworld" section of the website.
-International Criminal Court
Information on the conference and the treaty of Rome. See also http://www.derechos.org/human-rights/links/war.html for links to other sites with information on the ICC
- NGO Guide to the UN Human Rights Committee
By the Lawyers Committee on Human Rights
Organization of American States
The OAS website has very scant human rights material, but with some effort you can find the Inter-American human rights covenants and resolutions. These are also available at the IACHR site so there is not much reason to come here.
-Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
mirror at http://126.96.36.199/ichr/
This year-old site contains the full text of the Commission reports since 1991 and some of its country reports. The site also includes the basic documents of the Inter-American system of human rights, including the statutes and regulations of the Commission and the Court. Some press releases are also available.
American University has recently inaugurated its Inter-American Human Rights Database at http://www.wcl.american.edu/pub/humright/digest/Inter-American/index.html which includes both annual and special reports since 1970.
-Inter-American Court of Human Rights
The IACTHR has just opened its website and still contains only limited information: some rulings of the Court and some of the documents and oral arguments presented to the Court. However, the site promises that more information will be added. Meanwhile check the Minnesota Human Rights Library site below for decisions of the court until 1996.
-Council of Europe Human Rights Web
Information on the European system of human rights and links to relevant materials and websites.
-European Court of Human Rights
This website contains the basic documents of the European system, full text of judgements of the Court since 1996 (organized by date), and a list of pending cases and scheduled hearings. The website lacks a search engine which makes searching through the cases painful.
-European Commission of Human Rights
Information on the Commission and reports of cases mostly since 1997; many available only in French.
-Selected Resolutions on Human Rights by the European Parliament
African Human Rights System
-African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights
Documents of the Commission provided by the Minnesota Human Rights library
International Human Rights NGOs
-International Red Cross
Information and documents on humanitarian law
-Derechos Human Rights
-Human Rights Watch
-World Organization Against Torture
-International Federation of Human Rights
-Other human rights organizations
-University of Minnesota Human Rights Library Collection
Includes international and regional material.
-The UN Treaty Collection
-Derechos Human Rights Links: Law
-Asil Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law: Human Rights
-Magagni Research Guide to International Law on the Internet
-Legal Research on International Law Issues Using the Internet
-Research of articles and decisions in Public International Law and European Law
C. National Materials
News and reports on human rights violations on many countries are widely available online. News can often be found in the form of press releases or newspaper/wire articles, and will be discussed below. Reports tend to be longer, either look at the human rights situation in a country comprehensively, or cover one aspect of violations very thoroughly. Most reports that you can find online are written by international or national human rights groups. The US State Department also offers comprehensive human rights reports on all nations, save the US. Other information relevant to your search - such as national laws, government authorities and economic conditions are increasingly available online as well, often from government sources.
General Country-specific Human Rights Information
-Derechos - Human Rights Around the World
We have created "country pages" for most countries in the Americas, the Middle East and Asia, as well as some countries in Europe and Africa. Each page contains links to reports, urgent action and news on human rights issues by both international and national bodies. Links are also available to legal material, national newspapers and other sites with human rights information for each country. This should be the first place for you to start if you are looking for human rights information for a specific country.
-INCORE Regional Internet Guides
These Guides provide information about Internet resources on conflict and ethnicity specific to particular countries and regions. Guides are available for selected countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Colombia.
Human Rights Reports
The sites below have reports on many different countries. Please be aware that the quality, accuracy and political slant of the reports may vary. For other reports on specific countries check the country pages mentioned above or look for websites of NGOs working on that country. For reports on an specific issue (e.g. freedom of expression, women's rights) within a country, please check the Human Rights Issues category below.
-US State Department Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
Note that the web address for the reports has changed often; if not available at this address, go to http://www.state.gov/ and follow the appropriate links. The US State Department reports have become a very good source of human rights information in recent years. In general, they are objective and report accurately on the human rights violations denounced by local human rights NGOs. In addition to civil and political rights, the reports include information about economic and cultural rights, which make them more thorough than most human rights reports.
-Amnesty International Publications
Press releases and reports organized by country available from 1996 on. Reports focus on violations of the right to life, physical integrity and a fair trial.
-Human Rights in Latin America
This joint site by Equipo Nizkor and Derechos has links to numerous reports on human rights in Latin America organized by country. Most of the reports are in Spanish.
-UN High Commission for Refugees
Background Papers on a limited number of countries
Writenet Country Papers
On selected topics/countries
-Human Rights Watch 1998 human rights report
Human Rights Watch has only published a few of its report online; you can try to find those by going to their site at http://www.hrw.org/ - the annual report contains summaries of the human rights situation in many countries around the world.
- Peace Brigades International
Reports and human rights information on Guatemala, Sri Lanka, North America, Colombia, Haiti, Chiapas and the Balkans
With some diligence, you can find the codes of many countries and even judicial decisions and doctrine in some cases. The availability of legal materials, however, varies considerably by country. Be advised that these documents are often fleeting - the web addresses for these sites change frequently or are taken offline - and often in the language of the country. We cannot begin to list here all the websites where you can find legal materials, so instead we highlight some of the main sites and tools that you can use to find them.
-Foreign and International Law Web
At Washburn University. The first site to check out. It has links, organized by country, to constitutions, codes and legal and government sites.
-The US House of Representatives, Internet Law Library, Law of Other Nations
Links to web sites with legal information on most countries. Not necessarily legislation.
-FindLaw Country Pages
A useful commercial search engine
For Latin American Countries:
-Georgetown University: Political Database on the Americas
Constitutions, comparative legislation and other government information.
There are many national NGOs online, and many more are setting up websites every day. You can find many of these at http://www.derechos.org/human-rights/links/org.html or under the country pages at http://www.derechos.org/human-rights/world.html
D. Human Rights Issues
Information on human rights subjects and issues is generally more difficult to find online. NGOs that work for specific issues such as children's or women's rights often have websites online. However other issues (e.g. impunity, social and economic rights, etc.) are less well covered and you may have to search within the websites of general human rights NGOs for relevant material. In additions to these, please remember that many international bodies have issued thematic reports and opinions, which you can find at the UNHCHR site. You can also find information about these subjects within country or region specific sites and reports. Look for links to other sites in general human rights indexes as well. Here are some sites that can help you get started. For others, check the links they offer or look at the Issues and Topics page below.
-Derechos Human Rights Links: Issues and Topics
Children's Rights Information Network
Children Rights at Human Rights Internet
Death Penalty Links
All the sites we've found.
Information and links on the disappeared.
Freedom of Expression
Derechos: Freedom of Expression Page
Information and links to Freedom of expression NGO's and websites.
The International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX)
Gay and Lesbian Rights
-International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
Includes news from around the world.
-International Lesbian and Gay Association
Human Rights Education
-Human Rights Education Associates
Includes curriculum, lesson materials, reports and articles on human rights education.
-Partners in Human Rights Education
Includes copies of the 4th R - periodic newsletter on human rights education
-Derechos: Impunity Information
Documents, articles and links to information about impunity.
-The Fourth World Documentation Project
Treaties, documents and reports from all over the world
Includes articles from its journal
-Aboriginal Law and Legislation
International and national for Canada, US, New Zealand and Australia. Legislation, treaties and case law.
-Global Internet Liberty Campaign
Network of organizations working for freedom of speech and encryption online. You can find a plethora of information by checking out the websites of its member organizations.
Women's Human Rights Resources
Documents, bibliographies and links to Internet resources on women's human rights
E. Human Rights News and Actions
There are literally hundreds of news sources on line. These include newspapers, magazines, wire services, radio programs, bulletins, newsletters and more. In addition, NGOs issue press releases that are often posted at their websites. You are likely to be able to find some news source from whatever country you are researching. Human rights actions can also provide you with news information about what's happening in the country in question.
-NeWo News Resource
Links to most important news sources all over the world
Full text database of a myriad of newspaper, magazines, journals and other information sources. Fee-based ($10/month), but they give you a 30-day free trial
-Human Rights related News
News from the organizations hosted at One World Online, including Inter-Press Service.
-World Organization Against Torture: Human Rights Actions
F. Human Rights Journals
-Links to Human Rights Journals and Newsletters
Online journal with in depth articles about human rights issues and law. Focus on Latin America
-Without Impunity - by Derechos Human Rights
Derechos Human Rights' periodic bulletin, with short articles on human rights issues.
G. Directories of Human Rights Sites
-Derechos Human Rights Links
-University of Minnesota Human Rights and Related Sources Available Through the Internet
-AAAS Directory of Human Rights Resources
-Yahoo Human Rights page
H - Search Engines
Properly used search engines may be your quickest way towards human rights information. They are best used for searches for specific information; for best results limit your search through the use of search operators. For hints on how search engines work and how to make the best use of them, check out Find It! - Search Engine Tips (Without Impunity, June 1998 - http://www.derechos.org/wi/1/c.html)
Mailing lists come in two main types: distribution lists, which are used to distribute information, such as news or press releases, and discussion lists, which are used to exchange information and ideas among participants. Mailing lists deliver information to you via e-mail. In order for you to receive information from a mailing list, you will need to subscribe (or join) the list. Subscribing to a list is almost always free and consists of sending an e-mail message to a specific address. It is important to realize that whichever type of list you subscribe to probably will send more information than you care for. Other subscribers may be interested in other types of information than you are. You usually cannot ask the person who administers the list to send only the kind of information that you want. For discussion lists, you must also understand what kind of messages are proper to post, and which are not. The original message that you received at the beginning of your subscription to the list will probably tell you about the purpose of the list and the kinds of discussions you can anticipate. If it doesn't, try to get an idea of the rhythm of the list by reading the messages sent to it for several days before posting. Do not send messages that are off topic or add little to the discussion (e.g. me too). Also, make sure you keep the original message(s) you received when you subscribed to the list, so that you know how to unsubscribe when the moment comes. Improperly sending unsubscribe requests is annoying for all the members of the list.
Mailing lists can be a particularly useful means to get answers to simple (or even complicated) questions. Most people on mailing lists are very nice, and want to help you. However, please understand that often times your questions or comments will be met with silence.
Listing all the mailing lists available online would take a long time, and is beyond the scope of this guide. However, you can find lists of human right mailing lists in:
-Derechos Human Rights Mailing Lists
Information and discussion mailing lists run by Derechos
-Human Rights Lists
Other human rights lists we've come across
-Publicly Accessible Mailing Lists
A searchable list of hundreds of mailing lists on all topics
-Liszt, the mailing list directory
Searchable archive of a number of mailing lists, including some human rights ones.
Newsgroups are bulletin-board-like fora, where people from all over the world meet to discuss issues, have fun, etc. There are newsgroups for almost any topic, and several for human rights issues. Be aware, though, that not everyone has access to newsgroups (this is specially true in third world countries), and that for some reason newsgroup discussions tend to degenerate into flame wars much faster than mailing list discussions. In order to access newsgroups you need a newsreader. Most browsers, such as Netscape Navigator, Internet Explorer, and Opera, are now equipped with one.
DejaNews offers a vey useful website which allows you to search a huge archive of messages posted to newsgroups at http://www.dejanews.com/
Unmoderated, and the main human rights newsgroup.
Moderated, it's mostly used to post news releases, actions and other human rights information
-alt.activism and alt.activism.death-penalty
Even more flame-war oriented, but covering more issues than just human rights.
-soc.culture.xxx where xxx is the name of a country or geographical region
There are newsgroups for many countries, where people either from those countries or interested on those cultures congregate. They can be very useful for obtaining news and information about the country in question.
Spanish language newsgroups where Derechos posts many of its news releases
Chat rooms, virtual spaces where you can converse in real time with people from any part of the world, are a universe to themselves and beyond the scope of this guide. In general, chat rooms are mostly social in nature, though there may be used to schedule talks or conferences in human rights issues. They are useful, however, as a place to get instant information of a general nature. If you've heard a rumor that there has been a coup in Uruguay, for example, a quick visit to an Uruguayan chat room can put you in touch with someone in that country that may be able to tell you right away what's going on. Contact your Internet provider to determine whether you have access to chat rooms.
When using the Internet to do human rights work, you should keep in mind that all online un-encrypted communications can be easily intercepted. This includes mischievous teenagers with time and know-how and members of the intelligence services of any country of your choice. If you want to communicate privately you must use encryption. The most common type of encryption software available is Pretty Good Privacy or PGP - a program freely available online from http://www.pgpi.com/ While it is illegal in the United States and other countries to export strong encryption technology (i.e. give a copy of PGP to a foreign colleague and you are risking several years in jail), it is usually legal to use it (at least outside of France and Russia) - and we very much urge you to do so. You can find more information about PGP and why you should use it in the July '98 issue of Without Impunity (http://www.derechos.org/wi/2/online.html).
This manual was written by Margarita Lacabe, Executive Director of Derechos Human Rights. Comments and suggestions are welcome. Please write to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can access this manual online at http://www.derechos.org/human-rights/manual.htm
The copyright of this manual resides with Margarita Lacabe. You are authorized to make copies for personal, academic or other non-profit use as long as you credit Derechos Human Rights as the source.