Treaty bodies case law database saved and resurrected by UN

February 17, 2015

For someone who 25 years ago (!!) started the development of legal databases on human rights (specifically the legal protection of refugees) and wrote articles about it (e.g Int J Refugee Law (1989) (1):89-100.doi: 10.1093/ijrl/1.1.89Pp. 89-100, see ABSTRACT below), the news that the UN has now published, on-line, a database of case law on human rights is exciting and it should be for all practitioners.

The new site http://juris.ohchr.org/ contains all case law issued by the UN human rights expert committees, the Treaty Bodies.

The database was developed using data from the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) of Utrecht University School of Law (of which I had the honor to be the first Director). Since the mid-1990s, SIM had developed a comprehensive record on the jurisprudence stemming from the decisions by four Treaty Bodies on complaints brought by individuals.  Over 20 years, academics compiled and indexed Treaty Bodies’ case law, making the SIM database the most authoritative online resource on this. Due to budget restrictions, SIM stopped updating the database  from 1 January 2014 and took it offline on 1 January 2015. However, SIM offered its data free of charge to the UN Human Rights Office.

This allowed us to build our own database, with an expanded remit and search capability, and we aim to continue developing it. It is an important part of our efforts to make the work of the Treaty Bodies more visible and accessible, and we hope it will benefit a range of users all over the world,” said Mr. Ibrahim Salama Director of the UN Human Rights Treaties Division. .

There are 10 Treaty Bodies that review and monitor how States that have ratified a particular treaty are implementing the rights contained in it. Eight (listed below) can also consider complaints by individuals who believe their rights have been violated and who have exhausted all the legal steps in their own country.

The site http://juris.ohchr.org contains case law indexed by various categories, including State, date, subject and keywords, which can all be used as search criteria. Users can submit their comments on the functioning of the database as part of ongoing efforts to improve it.

The Committees that can receive and consider individual complaints are:

  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
  • Committee against Torture (CAT)
  • Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
  • Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
  • Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
  • Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Abstract of 1989 article on the development of legal databases: “Today’s information technology can be used to improve the legal protection of refugees, by providing information relevant to the asylum procedure, and laying the foundation for progressive development at the international level. The positive potential of legal databases is only now beginning to be realised, thanks to pioneering efforts within human rights and related documentation centre networks. UNHCR is helping to set up a case law database, in co-operation with non-governmental organizations. A database on national legislation is also planned, as is a full text database of international legal instruments database. Legal literature continues to be covered by the database REFLIT (REFugee LITerature) of UNHCR’s Centre for Documentation on Refugees (CDR/UNHCR). This article examines two basic kinds of information-retrieval systems, ‘free text’, and ‘indexed’, and considers their different structures, uses and search procedures, with reference to work on a forthcoming refugee thesaurus. The author calls attention to the need for standard formats, such as those of HURIDOCS, and to problems of scope and coverage. He suggests that information and documentation are areas in which practical co-operation between the UN, governments and non-governmental organizations could be implemented to advantage.”

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One Response to “Treaty bodies case law database saved and resurrected by UN”


  1. […] (my earlier posts on TBs include: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2014/05/06/the-outcome-of-the-treaty-body-strengthening-process-workshop-on-9-may-2014-in-geneva/ and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2016/10/18/on-24-october-there-is-a-side-event-in-ny-on-the-implementation-of-human-rights-treaty-body-recommendations/ as well as https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/02/17/treaty-bodies-case-law-database-saved-and-resurrected-b&#8230😉 […]


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