Human Rights Studies: Primary Source Documents and Archives

Research guide for Human Rights Studies MA

Locating Archives and Archival sources

This page links to selected online archives, and highlights some major collections available in U.S. libraries and archives.

Locating Archives at Columbia Libraries:

Search the Archives Portal in CLIO.  Browse these Human Rights collections.
For help with accessing archives in the Rare Book & Manuscript Library, see their website.

Locating Archives beyond Columbia Libraries:

Search ArchiveGrid
See the "United Nations - IGOs - NGOs" tab on this guide

Human Rights Archives in Libraries

  • Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research, Columbia University Libraries
    CHRDR is the official designated repository for the archival collections and internal records of major Human Rights organizations such as Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, the Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First.
  • Human Rights Archive, Duke University,
    "The Human Rights Archive partners with the human rights community to preserve the history and legacy of human rights around the world."
  • Human Rights Documentation Initiative, University of Texas at Austin
    "The UT Libraries' Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) is committed to the long-term preservation of fragile and vulnerable records of human rights struggles worldwide, the promotion and secure usage of human rights archival materials, and the advancement of human rights research and advocacy around the world."
  • Human Rights Collections, University of Connecticut
    "The Human Rights Collections include the Thomas J. Dodd Papers, which document his work as Chief Trial Counsel at the Nuremberg Trials, oral histories and documentation gathered in partnership with the African National Congress in South Africa, the records and library of Human Rights Internet, the records of the Coalition for International Justice, and the Refugee Case Files of the International Rescue Committee."  UConn also holds photographs and oral histories.

Government Document Collections

El Salvador : the making of U.S. policy, 1977-1984.

This set of documents "contains more than 27,000 pages of documents covering one of the most hotly debated subjects of the last decade: the U.S. role in the civil war in El Salvador, including intelligence-gathering, policy-making, and extensive reporting on human rights abuses.."

El Salvador : war, peace and human rights, 1980-1994.

"The second set of declassified U.S. records concerning El Salvador, this collection incorporates several thousand U.S. government documents relevant to the human rights cases that were studied by the United Nations Truth Commission."

Peru: Human Rights, Drugs and Democracy, 1980-2000.

This is "a uniquely detailed collection of records documenting U.S. foreign policy at work in Latin America, as well as a fascinating story of domestic politics in Peru."  Covers Peru's civil war, repression, human rights abuses and authoritarian governance.

South Africa: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1962-1989

This collection provides more than 2,500 primary source documents describing U.S. relationships to apartheid including implementation, enforcement, and violations of the U.N.-sponsored sanctions against South Africa. The collection spans the period from the arrest of Nelson Mandela to his release.



Freedom of Information Archive (FOIA)

Collaborative project of the History Lab and Columbia Libraries to present over 4.6 million declassified documents.  Search also through CLIO's U.S. Government Information section.

Web Archives

Web archives are collections of websites that have been captured and saved and remain available for use, even when original websites are not longer online.

Human Rights Web Archive
 Archived collection of 800+ human rights related websites, collected from 2008-present.  HRWA is a collecting initiative of the Center for Human Rights Documentation & Research at Columbia University Libraries.

International Tribunals Web Archive

Developed by the U.S. Library of Congress, the International Tribunals Web Archive contains selected websites on the most important international courts and tribunals created since World War II to adjudicate legal issues of a transnational nature.

IvyPlus Consortium Web Archives

Explore this collection of web archives developed collaboratively by libraries; includes Women's rights in China, Queer Japan, Extreme Right Movements in Europe, and several country and regional focused archives.

Library of Congress Human Rights Related Web Archives

Explore a range of web collections, including LGBTQ+,  civil rights, women's and gender studies, and collections on Egypt, Afghanistan, Burma/Myanmar, and other countries.

Online archives - CUL Library subscriptions

Open Access Online Archives

A People's Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland

"A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland collects, preserves, and shares the stories, memories, and accounts of police violence as experienced or observed by Cleveland citizens."

Centro de Documentación y Archivo para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos
The archive at the  Centro de Documentación y Archivo para la Defensa de los Derechos Humanos (CdyA) contains Paraguayan security force records from the period of the Stroessner regime, 1954-1989. A portion of the mostly frequently requested documents used in legal cases are available online.

Digital Archive of Latin American and Caribbean Ephemera
Archive of ephemera collected throughout Latin America. Browse "Subjects" to see human rights materials. "The formats or genre most commonly included are pamphlets, flyers, leaflets, brochures, posters, stickers, and postcards. These items were originally created by a wide array of social activists, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, political parties, public policy think tanks, and other types of organizations in order to publicize their views, positions, agendas, policies, events, and activities. The vast majority are rare, hard-to-find primary sources unavailable elsewhere."  Visit Princeton to access the earlier archive, collected from the 1970s to the present and currently only available in print.

Digital Archive of the Guatemalan National Police Historical Archive

A collaboratively developed project to digitize and make available over 10 million images of documents recovered from Guatemala's National Police Archive, spanning over 100 years.  Coverage includes the period of Guatemala's armed conflict,1960-1996.  Review introductory page for help with searching and exploring the archive.

Documenting Ferguson

"Documenting Ferguson is a freely available resource that seeks to preserve and make accessible the digital media captured and created by community members following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. Our project has the ultimate goal of providing diverse perspectives on the events in Ferguson and the resulting social dialogue."

Genocide Archive of Rwanda
The archive consists of a"digital collection of items related to the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, pre-genocide history and post-genocide reconstruction processes."

Guatemalan News and Information Bureau Archive, 1963-2000
Hosted at Princeton University Library,  the GNIB is "an unparalleled archive of gray literature (published and unpublished documents, pronouncements, action alerts, press releases, flyers, newsclippings, correspondence, and other types of ephemeral material), serials, and policy reports representing the actions and views of activist groups, government officers and politicians, journalists, international solidarity groups, as well as revolutionary organizations."

South African History Archive
"The South African History Archive (SAHA) is an independent human rights archive dedicated to documenting, supporting and promoting greater awareness of past and contemporary struggles for justice through archival practices and outreach, and the utilisation of access to information laws."

Syrian Archive
"Syrian Archive is a Syrian led project that aims to preserve, enhance and memorialise documentation of human rights violations and other crimes committed by all parties to conflict in Syria for use in advocacy, justice and accountability."

Testimonies and Oral History - Selected collections

Bosnian and Herzegovina Memories

In this project,100 citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) from various social layers and regions have been interviewed with a video camera about their personal experiences during the Second World War and the recent war between 1991 and 1995.

Oral History Archives at Columbia Libraries

Explore the extensive collections;  see the Research Guide for more information.

Palestinian Oral History Archive

"The Palestinian Oral History Archive is an archival collection that contains more than 1,000 hours of testimonies with first generation Palestinians and other Palestinian communities in Lebanon. "

Voices of Rwanda
"Voices of Rwanda is dedicated to recording and preserving testimonies of Rwandans, and to ensuring that their stories inform the world about genocide and inspire a global sense of responsibility to prevent human rights atrocities."

Unfinished Sentences

An initiative of the University of Washington Center for Human Rights, seeks "to document and share the stories of survivors of crimes against humanity committed in the context of El Salvador’s armed conflict, and to support Salvadoran efforts for truth and accountability."

Video and media collections

Basic Documents in Human Rights History

Basic Documents Pertaining to Human Rights in the Inter-American System from the Organization of American States.

Human Rights Documents: Compilation of Documents Pertaining to Human Rights: U.S. Laws on Human Rights; Basic U.N. Human Rights Instruments.

The International Bill of Human Rights

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Treaty Bodies Database  This database was established to meet the growing interest in the bodies established to monitor the principal international human rights treaties, also known as "conventional mechanisms": the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Committee against Torture, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Project, Columbia University
This web-based project considers the influence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on international and domestic law, politics and affairs over the last half century. It asks how and why international human rights have emerged, survived and even flourished as a shared ideology in the latter half of the twentieth century.

Universal Human Rights Instruments, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Contains the full texts of over 90 international human rights treaties, declarations and principles, as well as their status of ratification.