Human Rights

Human Rights is a very broad, multidisciplinary subject that touches upon many different aspects of life. Sometimes it can be hard to focus in on a certain rights-based issue. For example, you would likely find it difficult to write a paper on "human rights in Canada": there are just too many people, groups, and issues you would have to talk about.

A couple of suggestions to help you get started:

  1. Figure out who, what, where, when.
    • Instead of researching discrimination faced by Canadians overall, look at Canadian teenagers specifically, or even a specific sub-group of teenagers (e.g., second-generation teenagers from a certain ethnic background).
    • Instead of all circumstances of discrimination, look at discrimination faced by these teenagers in high school.
    • Instead of studying all of Canada, look at Ontario.
    • Instead of studying the 20th century, look at the 1980s specifically.
  2. Choose two perspectives or variables and compare them.
    • Compare the situation today to the situation 50 years ago.
    • Compare the experiences of males to females.
    • Compare the situation in Toronto to the situation in Ottawa.

Do some background research on your general topic to help you narrow the scope and pick a more specific research question. A narrow topic will make it easier to search for sources later on, and to know what keywords, dates, locations, or disciplines of study are important for your research.


Some books to help you with background research:

Another good list of books to help you with ideas for your human rights research can be found here.

Amnesty International does a number of very interesting reports on various human rights issues which we receive on a yearly basis, as does Human Rights Watch.

Because so many issues in human rights are related to actual events involving actual people, you may find it useful to further pinpoint your topic by searching through news media coverage. It can also make your final paper more interesting if, rather than just having an academic or theoretical discussion of the issue, you are able to show how the theory you are discussing actually works in real life, by giving real examples. For comprehensive newspaper coverage, try searching in Canadian Newsstream or Canadian Business & Current Affairs. More resources can be found on our Finding News page, and there are also a few videos on Searching News Databases.


For more guidance, please see the MacOdrum Library's page on Choosing an Essay Topic or watch our video on Writing the Research Paper.

The easiest way to find books and articles, both in print and online, is by searching in Summon on the Library's main page. Note that, as much as you may want to use just e-resources, many of the best books are still only available in print, so you will still have to spend some time looking in the Library. The vast majority of our journal articles are available online.

Once you have a list of initial results, click on "Book/eBook" on the left-hand side of the screen in order to view just the books, or click on "Journal Article" as well as  "Scholarly & Peer-Review" to see just academic journal articles. If you still have a very large results list, you can also use some of the following to further limit your results:

  • Content Type = This is where you choose "Book/eBook" or "Journal Article", but also use this if you want to see other types of documents; e.g., videos or government documents.
  • Publication Date = Only choose this if your prof has given specific instructions about how recent your resources should be, or if you know the area you are researching drastically changed at a certain point in time. For example, the laws around how to claim refugee status in Canada changed substantially in about 2002, so you would only want pre-2002 resources if you were trying to compare the new system to the old.
  • Discipline = Remember that Human Rights is very interdisciplinary. You won't find a separate listing for "Human Rights" here, but a good way to approach finding resources written by human rights scholars would be by starting by choosing the discipline of "Law", and then think where other scholars writing about your topic might be situated. For example, say you were researching violence against women in Africa. You'd probably want to add disciplines that will help you find resources written by scholars in "Sociology", "Women's Studies", and possibly even "African Studies".
  • Subject Terms = Looking at the list of suggested subject terms may help you pinpoint more specifically the aspects of your topic that truly interest you.

For more tips on searching in Summon, please watch the following videos:


Summon is the best place to start looking for journal articles about human rights, as it covers a wide cross-section of interdisciplinary journals. More advanced researchers, however, may wish to also search in some of the databases that more specifically target social sciences and human rights journals, particularly:

Some broader databases worth checking out:

Also try these multidisciplinary databases:

If your topic is has a definite legal angle to it, or if you need to find court cases or laws, please consult the Law subject guide. You may also find the resources listed on the Government Information subject guide useful.

There are a large number of organizations working in the field of human rights, many of which produce high-quality publications and reports. While these are not usually peer-reviewed, many are quite authoritative, and can be very useful in terms of helping you to focus your research, as well as point you toward other resources of value.

Human Rights Web Sites & Free Databases

Associations, Education and Research Institutions

Harvard Law School library guides

Other Non-Governmental Organizations


Some very helpful government and intergovernmental websites include:

Almost every Canadian province and territory also has a Human Rights Commission and Tribunal which should be accessible online via a quick Google search.

You can also use Google or any other Internet search engine to locate resources, but you should take extra time and care to think about whether the resources you have found are authoritative and trustworthy. Some questions that will help you decide:

  • Is the author or organization affiliated with an academic or other official institution (e.g., a government department)?
  • What is the reputation of the author? Is he or she generally well-known as an expert in the area?
  • Has the document been cited or used by other research?
  • Is the web site associated with an educational or other official institution?
  • Is contact information for the website and/or author made available?

Take the CRAP test!

Content last updated: September 19, 2019