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International Law: General Sources: Treaty research FAQs & strategy

This guide lists essential sources for researching general aspects of international law. For specialized topics, such as human rights and international arbitration, see the guide International Law: Specialized Sources.

Treaty research materials

There are several general categories of treaty research materials:

  • full-text sources in print and/or online that provide the full text of treaties
  • "finding tools," including print or online indexes, lists, and status tables, and also online websites and databases, that provide citations and vital information about a treaty and its status
  • travaux préparatoires, the preparatory materials from the drafting, negotiation and adoption of a treaty
  • commentaries, which print the treaty article-by-article with expert commentary on each article, possibly with citations to the travaux préparatoires and/or subsequent IGO documents, reports, domestic implementing laws, cases, or dispute settlements that show the implementation and application of a treaty. 

The FAQs below are typical treaty research questions. Each question points to the treaty research materials that should help you answer that FAQ. This guide uses the term "treaty" as a shortcut for the various terms used for treaties, conventions, agreements, etc. 

Treaty research FAQs and strategy

Treaty research FAQs and strategy, continued

  • FAQ 2:  What treaties are relevant to my research?
    Use the same finding tools listed in the second bullet of FAQ 1. In addition, read books and articles on your topic to determine what the experts say are the treaties relevant to your area of law. 
     
  • FAQ 3:  What are the "vital statistics" of the treaty: signatories, parties, dates of signing & entry into force, status, is it still in force, has it terminated, has it been amended, etc.? 
    Use the same finding tools listed in the second bullet of FAQ 1.
     
  • FAQ 4:  Are there background materials ("travaux préparatoires," e.g., drafts, letters, documents, reports, etc.) or States Party materials from the drafting, negotiation and adoption of the treaty that might indicate how it was intended to operate? 
    See Commentaries & travaux préparatoires
     
  • FAQ 5:  Is there an article-by-article expert/scholarly commentary on the treaty which might set forth the history, implementation or application of the treaty with citations to "travaux préparatoires," IGO documents, domestic laws, cases, etc.?
    See Commentaries & travaux préparatoires.

  • FAQ 6:  Are there subsequent IGO documents, reports, domestic implementing laws, cases, or dispute settlements that show the implementation and application of the treaty?