Treaties and International Agreements
Treaties can be referred to by a number of different names: international conventions, international agreements, covenants, final acts, charters, protocols, pacts, accords, and constitutions for international organizations. Usually these different names have no legal significance in international law. Treaties may be bilateral (two parties) or multilateral (between several parties) and a treaty is usually only binding on the parties to the agreement. An agreement "enters into force" when the terms for entry into force as specified in the agreement are met. Bilateral treaties usually enter into force when both parties agree to be bound as of a certain date.
For more information on treaties, see Thomas Buergenthal & Sean Murphy, Public International Law in a Nutshell (4th ed. 2007) or the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (UCB only).
U.S. Treaties and Agreements
'Domestically, treaties to which the United States is a party are equivalent in status to Federal legislation, forming part of what the Constitution calls 'the supreme Law of the Land.' Yet, the word treaty does not have the same meaning in the United States and in international law. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties defines a treaty "as an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation." 
Under United States law, however, there is a distinction made between the terms treaty and executive agreement. "In the United States, the word treaty is reserved for an agreement that is made 'by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate' (Article II, section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution). International agreements not submitted to the Senate are known as 'executive agreements' in the United States."  Generally, a treaty is a binding international agreement and an executive agreement applies in domestic law only. Under international law, however, both types of agreements are considered binding. Regardless of whether an international agreement is called a convention, agreement, protocol, accord, etc.; if it is submitted to the Senate for advice and consent, it is considered a treaty under United States law.
For more details on this topic, see International Legal Research in a Nutshell (2008).
International Treaties and Agreements
These guides are good places to begin when researching treaties and agreements. Most contain information on both print and electronic sources.
Cohen, Morris L., et. al., How to Find the Law (9th ed., St. Paul: MN: West, 1989) [Reference Desk & Loan Desk KF240 .C651 1989]. See chapter 15 "International Law" for a detailed discussion of treaty research including treaty interpretation.
Jacobstein, Myron J. and Roy M. Mersky, Fundamentals of Legal Research (7th ed., Westbury, NY: Foundation Press, 1998) [KF240 .J32 1998]. See chapter 20 "International Law" for a good discussion of treaty research sources.
Guide to International Legal Research (4th ed., Salem, NH: Butterworths, 2002) [Reference Desk KZ1234 .G852].
Germain, Claire M., Germain 's Transnational Law Research (Ardsely-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Transnational Juris Publications, 1991-) [Loan Desk K29 .G47].
Rehberg, Jeanne, "Finding Treaties and Other International Agreements," in Accidental Tourist on the New Frontier: An Introductory Guide to Global Legal Research (Rehberg & Popa eds., Littleton, CO: Rothman, 1998) [Reference Desk K85 .A27 1997].
Thorpe, Suzanne, "A Guide to International Legal Bibliography," (chapter 2) in Contemporary Practice of Public International Law (Schaffer and Synder, eds., New York: Oceana, 1997) [KZ3092 .I685 1997].
General Sources for Treaties
There are many sources for locating treaties and agreements. Listed below are some general sources where treaties are published (for both bilateral and multilateral treaties).
Official country treaty series (e.g., Canada Treaty Series). These series can be identified by using the List of Treaty Collections by the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs (New York: United Nations, 1956) [UN Room]. Also check a country legal research guide or search under the subject [country]--foreign relations--treaties. Official treaty series are usually slower in publication than other treaty sources and not all countries have treaty series. These series are especially important for locating bilateral treaties.
IGO treaty series, such as League of Nations Treaty Series (Geneva: League of Nations, 1919-1945) [KJ178 .L434] or United Nations Treaty Series (New York: United Nations, 1946-) [North Reading Room KJ179.U58 TS]. Locate these sets by using the subject treaties--collections or by checking a bibliography or publications catalog for the IGO. These sets are usually slow in publication -- the U.N. is about 10 or more years behind. An important source for locating multilateral treaties.
Official gazettes -- often the first official source (e.g., Bundesgesetzblatt, Part II for Germany). See Roberts, A Guide to Official Gazettes and Their Contents (Washington, DC: Law Library, Library of Congress, 1985) [K20.A1 R62 1985] or do a subject search using gazettes--[country]. See also Government Gazettes Online.
Statutory compilations (chronological) such as Statutes at Large of the United States. Search under the country's name or check a legal research guide.
Looseleaf services. Find a service on the subject matter of the treaty using Legal Looseleafs in Print (New York: InfoSources Pub., 1981-) [Reference Desk KF1 .L45] or a legal research guide. The frequency of updating for looseleafs vary from every week to every year to every 2-3 years. A good source for recent treaties and agreements.
Electronic sources (web databases or CD-ROMs). To identify relevant electronic sources use database directories, catalogs, and legal research guides. Electronic sources are good for locating very recent treaties.
Periodical literature (e.g., Beijing Review and ILM). Some periodicals regularly reprint major treaties and others contain articles in which the text of a treaty being discussed might be appended.
Other sources of treaty texts include proceedings of international conferences (sometimes, the treaty is the "final act" of the conference); documents of international organizations and national government bodies such as U.S. Congress (Senate Treaty Documents); monographic subject compilations; newspapers (e.g., New York Times); governmental bodies (e.g., U.S. State Dept. or foreign consulates); and press releases.
Some treaties are separately published (not part of a set)--these can be found by doing a title search under the name of the treaty or the subject matter, to find compilations, add the word "treaties" to a subject search as in taxation, double--united states--treaties. You may also try other subject searches such as commercial treaties or european economic community countries--commercial treaties.
Definitions of Treaty Terms
For assistance in locating the definitions of key terms used in treaties and agreements, see the UN Treaty Reference Guide.
U.S. Treaties and Agreements
Usually, the researcher is faced with the following research problems:
- Locating the text of the treaty or agreement.
- Obtaining status and ratification information.
- Looking at the intent through background documents (negotiation, legislative history).
Ratification and Implementation of U.S. Treaties and Agreements
When conducting U.S. treaty research, it is important to understand the ratification and implementation process. Negotiation of treaties and international agreements is the responsibility of the Executive Branch. The U.S. Department of State provides the Foreign Service with detailed instructions for the negotiation and conclusion of treaties and international agreements. These instructions are part of the Foreign Affairs Manual, Circular 175. Circular 175 summarizes the constitutional requirements for determining whether an international agreement should be considered a treaty or an agreement. It outlines the general procedures for negotiation, signature, publication, and registration of treaties and international agreements.
Outline of the treaty making process:
- Secretary of State authorizes negotiation
- U.S. representatives negotiate
- Agree on terms, and upon authorization of Secretary of State, sign treaty
- President submits treaty to Senate
- Senate Foreign Relations Committee considers treaty and reports to Senate
- Senate considers and approves by 2/3 majority
- President proclaims entry into force
Outline of the agreement making process:
- Secretary of State authorizes negotiation
- U.S. Representatives negotiate
- Agree on terms, and upon authorization of Secretary of State, sign agreement
- Three types of agreements 
- Agreement enters into force
- President transmits agreement to Congress (pursuant to Case-Zablocki Act)
For more information on the ratification and implementation process, see the following:
Treaties and Other International Agreements: The Role of the United States Senate: A Study (S.Prt. 106-71 Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O, 2001) [Note: this is avery long document.].
Loch K. Johnson, The Making of International Agreements: Congress Confronts the Executive (New York: New York University Press, 1984) [on order].
Robert E. Dalton, National Treaty Law and Practice: United States, in Leigh, et. Al., National Treaty Law and Practice: Austria, Chile, Colombia, Japan, The Netherlands, United States (Washington, DC: American Society of International Law, 1999) [K3342 .N38 1999].
Forms of Publication
Until 1950, U.S. treaties appeared regularly after proclamation in Statutes at Large (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1789-). Pre-1950 treaties can also be found in Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949 (Bevans, ed., Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1968-1976). This 13 volume set is commonly cited by the compilers' name, Bevans. In 1950, United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (UST) (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of State, 1950-) became the official source for all U.S. Treaties and agreements. Several volumes are published annually, each with a non-cumulative subject and country index. Note that there is currently an 8-10 year lag time between ratification and official publication in UST.
U.S. Treaties first appear in slip form in Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of State, 1946-), a set of individually paginated pamphlets, consecutively numbered. This series has a lag time of 5-6 years. Before ratification, you can check on the status of a treaty in CCH Congressional Index (Chicago: Commerce Clearing House, 1938-).
After ratification, but still well before treaties appear in slip form, selected treaties (after they are cleared for publication by the Senate) are published in the Senate Treaty Document Series (Congressional Information Service) (formerly the Senate Executive Document Series).
Indexes & Finding Tools
These tools are useful for locating citations for United States bilateral and multilateral treaties and agreements. Relevant subject headings: treaties--indexes or United States--foreign relations--treaties--indexes.
Treaties in Force (TIF) (Washington, DC: Office of the Legal Advisor, U.S. Dept. of State, 1950-) [Reference Desk KF4651 .A64]. This annual publication lists and very briefly summarizes all U.S. treaties and agreements still in force, arranged by country and subject. Includes both bilateral and multilateral treaties and gives references to UST cites and TIAS numbers (if one exists). The primary use of TIF is verification of the existence of a treaty. TIF is also available on the Web, but the electronic version is no more current than the print. Since TIF is only published once a year, use Treaty Actions to update TIF. Archived issues back to 1997 are also available. TIF is also available on LEXIS (INTLAW/Treaties and International Agreements). Where possible, TIF on LEXIS links to the text of the treaty.
A Guide to the United States Treaties in Force (I. Kavass and A. Sprudzs, eds., Buffalo, NY: W.S. Hein Co., 1982-) [Reference Desk KF4651 .A642]. This annual publication should be used in conjunction with TIF. Access is by a combined subject index for both bilateral and multilateral treaties, as well as by numerical and country index. Supplemented by Guide to the United States Treaties in Force: Current Treaty Action Supplement.
United States Treaty Index (15 vols.) (I.Kavass, ed., Buffalo, NY: W.S. Hein Co., 1991-) [Reference Desk KZ235 .U58]. This is one of the most comprehensive sources for U.S. treaty information. There are subject, chronological, and country indexes. This set is supplemented by Current Treaty Index, see next. The treaties are available on microfiche in Hein's United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (see below).
Current Treaty Index (I. Kavass and A. Sprudzs, eds., Buffalo, NY: W.S. Hein Co., 1982-) [Reference Desk KZ235 .U58]. This looseleaf index lists current treaties and agreements published in slip form in TIAS as well as those treaties without TIAS numbers. It supplements the United States Treaty Index, see above.
Treaties and International Agreements Online, Oceana Online Web site, [1999 -]. Available on the Web from Oceana Publications (Boalt only). Select "Treaties and International Agreements" from the "Product" menu. Access to treaties and agreements from 1783 to present. A free treaty index is also available with limited information.
CCH Congressional Index (Chicago, IL: Commerce Clearing House, Inc., 1937 -) [Reference Desk KF49 .C6]. Two volume looseleaf set issued for each Congressional session. The Senate volume of this set contains a section on treaties pending before the Senate. It provides information on the status of treaties. Look under the tab "Treaties and Nominations."
Thomas: Treaties. This web site provides some information for locating treaty documents from 90th Congress to the present. Search by Congress, treaty document number, or word/phrase. Some full-text treaties are available.
Congressional Record Index (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1873-) [KF35]. Provides a listing of treaty actions and discussion appearing in the Congressional Record under the heading "Treaties" and occasionally under the name of a particular treaty or its subject matter. May provide the text of a treaty or reservation to a treaty and it is often a good source for legislative history of a treaty. Available on the web through Congressional Information (UCB only), Thomas and GPO Access.
Journal articles can be a very good source for citations to and information about treaties. Search the full-text files on either LEXIS or WESTLAW.
Relevant subject headings: united states--foreign relations--treaties. If you have a treaty citation, go directly to the source, such as U.S.T. or TIAS.
Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America (H. Miller ed., Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O.,1931) [KJ186.U58t M648 1931]. Contains text of treaties from 1776-1863.
Treaties, Conventions, International Acts, Protocols, and Agreements Between the U.S.A. and Other Powers (Malloy ed., v.1-2; Redmond & Trenwith eds., v.3-4, Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1910 -) [KJ186.U58t SD357 1910]. Contains text of treaties from 1776-1937; v.4 has cumulative index and chronological list of treaties.
Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States, 1776- 1949 (Bevans, ed., Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1968-1976) [KJ186.U58t B571]. Supersedes Miller and Malloy; v.1-4 have the text of multilateral treaties and agreements in chronological order by date of signature; v.5-12 includes bilateral treaties and agreements in alphabetical order by country; v.13 has a cumulative country and subject index. Covers 1908-September 1929. Commonly referred to as Bevans.
Treaty Series (cited to as TS) (October 1929-1945) (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O, 1908-1946) [Main Library JX235.9 .A3]. Provides the text of treaties only. Merged with Executive Agreement Series to form Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS).
Executive Agreement Series (cited to as EAS) (October 1929-1945) (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O, 1929-1946) [Main Library JX235.9 .A2]. Contains international executive agreements only. Merged with Treaty Series.
Statutes at Large (cited to as Stat.) (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O, 1789-) [Reading Room KF50]. From 1776-1950, treaties and international agreements were published in Statutes at Large. Volume 8 contains all treaties between the U.S. and other countries from 1778-1845. Volume 64, part 3 contains a cumulative list of all treaties and agreements included in volumes 1-64. The first 18 volumes of Statutes at Large are available on the web on the Library of Congress, A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.
United States Treaties and Other International Agreements (cited to as U.S.T.) (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O , 1950-) [North Reading Room KJ186 .U58t UST]. This is the cumulative collection of TIAS (slip copies of treaties) and is the current official collection of U.S. treaties and agreements. There is a considerable lag time with this publication, about 12 years.
Treaties and Other International Acts Series (cited to as TIAS) (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1946-) [North Reading Room KJ186 .U585]. This series is the first official publication of new treaties and agreements -- slip treaty -- and is later bound in U.S.T. There is a lag time of about 7 years.
Hein's United States Treaties and Other International Agreements Current Service [microfiche] (Buffalo, NY: W.S. Hein, 1990-) [Micro Room KJ186 .U588]. Use the United States Treaty Index and the Current Treaty Index to locate the correct microfiche. This set is a good source for recent treaties.
Consolidated Treaties and International Agreements (cited to as CTIA) (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1990-) [KJ186 .U573]. This set is a continuation of the 231 volume set Consolidated Treaty Series (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1969-1986) [KJ173 .P264 CTS] which covers 1648-1918. The continuation set covers from January 1990 to present (about a 6 month lag). Available in electronic format as part of Treaties and International Agreements Online (see next).
Treaties and International Agreements Online (Oceana Publications, [1999-]). Subscription database service from Oceana Publications (Boalt only). This database contains U.S. treaties and international agreements in force since 1783. It contains specific fielded data and the full text of over 10,000 bi-lateral and multilateral treaties signed by the United States.
CIS Index to Publications of the United States Congress [and microfiche] (Bethesda, MD: Congressional Information Service, 1970-) [Indexes available in Reading Room KF49.C62; publications available in Micro Room Case G, Drawer 1-]. Treaties appearing in the Senate Treaty Document Series are indexed by CIS. Access is through subject matter of the treaty, title of the treaty, as well as through the heading "Treaties and agreements," and the treaty document number (assigned by the Senate). The index gives a cite to the CIS microfiche set where the full text of the treaty is located. See also CIS Senate Executive Documents and Reports [and microfiche] (Bethesda, MD: Congressional Information Service, 1987) [Main Library, GovSocSci J62 .C57 1987], a microfiche collection of treaty documents and reports from 1817-1969. There is a two-volume index for accessing the relevant microfiche numbers. See also Congressional Information (CIS), available from LEXIS-Nexis Academic Service (UCB only).
International Legal Materials (cited to as I.L.M.) (Washington, DC: American Society of International Law, 1962-) [KJ5 .I574]. Selected treaties appear in full-text, often the first and only place they are published until the treaties come out officially. ILM is also available on LEXIS (INTLAW; ILM) from 1975 on and WESTLAW (ILM) from 1980 to present.
Senate Treaty Documents (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1981-) [Current issues in BSR]. Senate, House & Treaty Documents are available on the Web from 104th Congress on. These documents include the text of treaties submitted by the executive branch to the Senate for its advice and consent, together with supporting documentation. Senate Treaty Documents are also available through the Serial Set, Congressional Information (UCB only), CIS publications, LEXIS (US Treaties), and WESTLAW (USTREATIES). Prior to 1979, these documents were called Senate Executive Documents.
Senate Executive Reports (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., n.d.) [Current issues in the BSR]. Senate Executive Reports are available on the Web from 104th Congress on. These reports are issued by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and include the Committee's analysis and recommendations concerning proposed treaties. They also include the text of proposed treaties, together with any conditions (i.e., amendments or reservations) recommended by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. These documents are also available in the Serial Set, CIS Senate to US Senate Documents and Reports and other CIS publications, such as Congressional Information (UCB only).
Both LEXIS and WESTLAW contain U.S. treaties and agreements. Treaties can be located in the USTREATIES file on WESTLAW and in US Treaties on LEXIS. Both of these systems have many topical agreements and treaties: major trade agreements (GATT and NAFTA), International Economic Law Documents, and International Environmental Law Documents, and tax treaties.
Unperfected Treaties of the United States of America, 1776-1976 (Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.: Oceana Publications, 1976-1994) [KF4651 .U56 1976]. Six volume set includes treaties and agreements concluded by the U.S. which, for whatever reason, never entered into force between 1776 and 1976.
There are many collections of treaties and agreements, such as Tax Treaties and Extradition Laws and Treaties. Some of these sets are regularly updated in looseleaf format or available by subscription on the Web.
There are many treaties available on the Web. See below for some of the major collections.
Status, Updating & Ratification
Once a researcher has located the text of the agreement, the status of the document must be determined. This includes determining the parties of a multilateral agreement, entry into force date, and locating any amendments to the original agreement. Since status information is ever changing, locating current status of treaties and agreements has always been a challenging task for the researcher. Keep in mind that unratified treaties do not die at the end of the Congressional session, therefore, it is often important to determine where a treaty is in the ratification process.
Treaties in Force (see previous section).
A Guide to the United States Treaties in Force (see previous section).
CCH Congressional Index (see previous section).
Current Treaty Index (see previous section).
U.S. Senate Web site, Treaties , provides the following information: a list of treaties received from the President, treaties reported on the Executive Calendar, treaties approved by the Senate, and listings of other recent treaty status actions, including treaties that were rejected by the Senate or withdrawn by the President, during the current Congress. There is also a link to Thomas and to information about the Senate's treaty making power.
Shepard's United States Citations (Colorado Springs: Shepard's/McGraw Hill, 1996-) [East Reading Room KF101.2 .S54]. Pre-1950 treaties are listed by Statutes at Large number and after 1950 they are listed by UST or TIAS number. Provides to treaties that amend earlier treaties. While U.S. Citations is available on LEXIS, you cannot shepardize treaties online.
The State Dept. used to issue a weekly newsletter called Dispatch. It contained a section called "Treaty Actions" which included current information on bilateral and multilateral treaties. This publication ceased in print in 1999 and the monthly Current Treaty Actions information is now available only on the Web (although this information is not always issued monthly). Older editions of the Dispatch are available on the State Dept.'s Web site or on LEXIS (INTLAW; DSTATE) and WESTLAW (USDPTSTDIS).
If looking for status and ratification information for multilateral treaties, many treaty secretariats and collections are available on the Web. See the sections on multilateral treaties for more information.
If all else fails, call the Department of State's Office of Treaty Affairs at (202) 647-1345 for up-to-date treaty information.
There are many U.S. government documents that are useful for doing background research. Most of the U.S. government documents mentioned below can be located with the same tools used for researching federal legislative histories, such as the CIS/Index to Publications and Congressional Information (UCB only). For more assistance with researching legislative histories, see Sources for Federal Legislative Histories.
Senate Treaty Documents (see previous section).
Senate Executive Reports (see previous section).
Congressional Committee hearings, especially the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. See the U.S. Senate Web site, Treaties for current information about treaties received from the President, treaties on the calendar, approved treaties, and other recent treaty status actions. See also CIS/Index to Publications and Congressional Information (UCB only).
State Department documents, including Dispatch (Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1990-1999) [K25 .S4] or international law digests, Foreign Relations of the United States (Washington DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1861-) [KF4651 .A6 1861]. Some volumes of FRUS are available on the web.
Presidential documents, including Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States. Some of this information is available on the web, WCPD and Public Papers. Also available on LEXIS.
Some legislative history research can be done on LEXIS and WESTLAW. See LEXIS (LEGIS library, CISLH file) and WESTLAW (LH database).
Look for "travaux preparatoires" or other commentaries in library catalogs or by searching periodical indexes.
Shepard's United States Citations (Colorado Springs: Shepard's/McGraw Hill, 1996-) [East Reading Room KF101.2 .S54]. Pre-1950 treaties are listed by Statutes at Large number and after 1950 they are listed by UST or TIAS number. Provides citations to cases and statutes that cite or affect treaties. While U.S. Citations is available on LEXIS, you cannot shepardize treaties online.
United States Code Service (Rochester, NY: Lawyers Co-operative Pub. Co., 1972-) [Reading Room KF62 .L3]. See unnumbered volume "Notes to Uncodified Laws and Treaties." This volume contains interpretive notes and decisions involving multilateral and bilateral treaties. Available on LEXIS
U.S. Treaties & Agreements on the Web
Listed below are selected treaty collections available on the Internet. These sites focus on U.S. treaties and agreements.
- Agreements Negotiated by the United States Trade Representative
- Avalon Project (Yale Law School) Good collection of older treaties.
- Bilateral Agreements On Extradition, Judicial/Legal Assistance, Control Of Narcotic Drugs, And Prisoner Transfer By Country (United Nations Crime And Justice Information Network)
PDF Document containing a list of agreements between the U.S. and other countries.
- DOSFAN Electronic Research Collection (U.S. Dept. of State, Foreign Affairs Network) This is the electronic archive for the State Department.
- Index of International Environmental Law Treaties in Force in the United States (Pace Virtual Environmental Law Library)
- Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties
Electronic version of the treatise compiled and edited by Charles J. Kappler.
- International Judicial Assistance (U.S. Dept. of State)
- Income Tax Treaties (IntlTaxLaw.Com)
- Income Tax Treaties (IRS)
- Investment Agreements in the Western Hemisphere: A Compendium
(OAS, Foreign Trade Information System)
- Trade and Investment Treaties, United States (OAS, Foreign Trade Information System)
- Private International Law Database (U.S. Dept. of State)
- Treaties and International Agreements Online (Boalt only)
- Trade and Related Agreements Database (U.S. Dept. of Commerce, International Trade Administration)
- U.S. Bureau of Arms Control, Treaties and Agreements (U.S. Dept. of State)
- U.S. Bureau of NonProliferation, Treaties and Agreements (U.S. Dept. of State)
- U.S. Bureau of Verification and Compliance, Treaties and Agreements (U.S. Dept. of State)
Treaties Where the U.S. is Not a Party, and Multilateral Treaties
Like researching U.S. treaties and agreements, the researcher is usually interested in:
- Locating the text of the treaty.
- Obtaining status and ratification information for specific countries.
- Finding reservations and declarations.
- researching the intent through background documents.
For a thorough review of researching treaties and agreements where the U.S. is not a party, see Researching Non-U.S. Treaties.
Background Information (Commentary, Treaty Interpretation and "Travaux Preparatoires")
Researching the background or history of non-U.S. treaties is challenging, especially bilateral treaties. For the most part, you will not have access to materials for a legislative history for other countries. If you are researching the background of a multilateral treaty, there are many more resources available.
Look for "travaux preparatoires" or history and commentaries in library catalogs or use journal indexes.
If the treaty or agreement was concluded pursuant to an international conference, look for conference documents using the name of the conference as an author or subject in a library catalog. If it is a recent conference, try searching for the conference on the Web.
If the treaty or conference was done under the auspices of an international organization, such as the U.N., look for documents using tools for locating such documents. See United Nations Documentation: Research Guide. See also the ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law: International Organizations for tips on researching IGOs and NGOs on the web. For more information on tracking down this information, see Researching Non-U.S. Treaties.
If you want to research how treaties are implemented or interpreted in domestic legal systems, the most useful tools include international law yearbooks and International Law Reports (London, Butterworth 1919-) [KJ313 .I61 ILR] (a compilation of selected international and domestic court decisions).
A useful tool for locating some information on treaties as well as worldwide events is Keesing's Record of World Events (UCB only). Keesing's is a monthly digest of political, economic and social events with coverage from 1960 to present.
Subject heading: [country]--foreign relations--treaties.
The treaty series, statutory compilation, or official gazette of one of the country parties. Some examples include United Kingdom Treaty Series or Australian Treaty Series. Some governments are starting to make their treaties available on the web, such as the Australian Treaties Library.
International Legal Materials (Washington, DC: American Society of International Law, 1962-) [KJ5 .I574]. Usually only reprints important treaties. Also available on LEXIS and WESTLAW.
Use World Treaty Index (P. Rohn ed., Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1983) [Reference Desk KJ173 .R6 1983] or the United Nations Treaty Series Index (New York: United Nations, 1946-) [North Reading Room KJ179.U58 TS] (about 10 years behind) for a citation to bilateral treaties. The full text might be available in UNTS.
Compilations of documents from an international organization may provide information.
International yearbooks (e.g. African Yearbook of International Law) or other international law periodicals. For more yearbooks and related periodicals, use subject searches international law--periodicals or international law- -[geographic area or country]--periodicals.
Phone calls to interested parties (organizations), embassies, Dept. of State, Office of Treaty Affairs or the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, Treaty Section.
Indexes and Finding Tools
Subject heading: Treaties--Indexes.
Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary General (New York: United Nations, 1982- ) [UN Room KZ4992.7 .M85]. This is a good source for citations and a list of the parties to an agreement. Limited to those treaties deposited with the UN. This source is also available on the UN Treaty Collection on the web (Boalt only). For information about treaties registered with the UN Secretariat, see Statement of Treaties and International Agreements Registered or Filed and Recorded with the Secretariat during ... (New York: [Legal Dept. of the Secretariat) [UN Room U.N.Doc ST/ LEG/ SER. A]. This is also available on the UN Treaty Collection web site.
World Treaty Index (P. Rohn ed., Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 1983) [Reference Desk KJ173 .R6 1983]. Covers bilateral and multilateral treaties from 1900-1980.
Multilateral Treaties: Index and Current Status (Bowman and Harris, eds., London: Butterworths, 1984) [Reference Desk KJ211 .M84] is a good source for citations and status information for multilateral treaties. It has a vague subject and keyword index and all of the entries are arranged in chronological order. This is a good source for all multilateral treaties, even if the U.S. is not a party. There is a cumulative supplement, but it is quite dated.
Wiktor, Christian L., Multilateral Treaty Calendar = Repertoire des Traites Multilateraux, 1648-1995 (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1998) [Reference Desk KZ118 .M85 1998]. Very complete for the time period it covers, but it lacks ratification information.
Index to the United Nations Treaty Series (New York: United Nations, 1946-) [North Reading Room KJ179.U58 TS]. This index accompanies U.N.T.S. Some of the index volumes are available on the UN Treaty Collection on the web (Boalt only).
United Nations Cumulative Treaty Index (Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein, 1999-) [North Reading Room KJ179.U58 TS Index]. A 15-volume in the same format as United States Treaty Index and is also supplemented periodically. This is much more useful than the UNTS Index, mentioned above, however it also suffers from a serious lag time.
Subject headings: [name of individual treaty] or treaties--collections.
Consolidated Treaty Series (cited to as C.T.S.) (Dobbs Ferry, NY: Oceana Publications, 1969-1986) covers 1648-1918 [KJ173 .P264 CTS].
League of Nations Treaty Series (cited to as L.N.T.S.) ([Geneva, etc.: League of Nations], 1920-1946) covers 1920-1944 [KJ178 .L434].
United Nations Treaty Series (cited to as U.N.T.S.) (New York: United Nations) covers 1944-date [North Reading Room KJ179.U58 TS]. Many of the treaties contained in this source are also available on the Internet at (Boalt only).
International Legal Materials (cited to as I.L.M.) (Washington, D.C.: American Society of International Law, 1962-) covers 1962-date. [KJ5 .I574]. Publishes selective treaties and agreements. Available on LEXIS and WESTLAW.
Since not all treaties are deposited with the UN, there are many regional organizations that publish the treaties done under the auspices of the organization. For example, the Council of Europe publishes the European Treaty Series (Strasbourg: Council of Europe) and European Conventions and Agreements (Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 1971-). Other European IGO treaties can be found in European Yearbook (The Hague: Nijhoff). The Organization of American States publishes a Treaty Series (Washington, D.C.: General Secretariat, Organization of American States) as well. Many IGOs have web sites that contain the text of these regional treaties, see the Treaty Collections on the Internet below.
Periodicals or looseleaf services or subject compilations, such as International Law & World Order: Basic Documents (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y. : Transnational Publishers, 1994-) or International Documents on Children (2nd ed., The Hague; Boston: M. Nijhoff; Cambridge, MA: Sold and distributed in North, Central and South America by Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1998).
Country treaty series or official gazettes. See A Guide to Official Gazettes and their Contents (ed. John E. Roberts, Library of Congress, 1985) for more information.
LEXIS and WESTLAW have selected treaties on various topics (trade, taxation, environment, etc.).
The Internet is a great resource for multilateral treaties, see "Treaty Collections on the Internet" below and the research guides mentioned above.
Signatories, Status, Ratification, Reservations
The best place to start is with the treaty indexes such as Treaties in Force (Washington, DC: Office of the Legal Advisor, U.S. Dept. of State, 1950-) [Reference Desk KF4651 .A64], Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary General (New York: United Nations, 1982-) [UN Room KZ4992.7 .M85], or Multilateral Treaties: Index and Current Status (Bowman and Harris, eds., London: Butterworths, 1984) [Reference Desk KJ211 .M84].
Depending on the topic of the treaty or agreement, consult relevant looseleafs, periodicals, or series on the topic. For example, for human rights treaties, see the Human Rights Law Journal (Kehl am Rhein; Arlington [Va.]: N.P. Engel, 1980-) [KJ602.A2 H88]; for Hague conventions, see the Netherlands International Law Review (Dordrecht: M. Nijhoff, 1975- ) [KJ5 .N371]. Other more general sources include UN Chronicle (New York: United Nations) and newspapers. These are just a few of the many sources available.
Sometimes a call the U.S. State Department's Treaty Affairs Office can be helpful (202) 647-1345 and the United Nations treaty information office (212) 963-2523 .
The Web has become one of the most important sources for status and ratification information from treaty secretariats and depositories. Some of the useful sites are listed below. Again, this is only a sampling of what is out there on the Web.
Collections on the Web
Listed below are some (not all) of the treaty collections available on the Internet.
- Avalon Project (Yale Law School, good historical collection)
- Australian Treaties Library
- Council of Europe, European Treaties
- Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicators (ENTRI)
- European Union Treaties
- Hague Conventions on Private International Law
- International Humanitarian Law Database
- International Labor Treaties
- International Treaties (NYU)
- Juris International
- Latin American Tax Treaties
- Lex Mercatoria (International Trade/Commercial Monitor)
- Multilaterals Project (see also the Treaty and Convention Sources page)
- Organization of American States Treaties
- United Nations Treaty Collection (Boalt only)
- University of Minnesota Human Rights Library
- Washlaw Web - Treaties
- WIPO Treaties
Treaties by Popular Name
Often treaties and agreements are referred to by popular names which can cause some frustration for the researcher trying to locate them in indexes and finding tools. Some of these sources may be helpful in deciphering the official name of the document.
Shepard's Acts and Cases by Popular Name (Colorado Springs: Shepard's/McGraw Hill, 1968-) [KF90 .S54].
Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949 (Bevans, ed., Washington, DC: U.S.G.P.O., 1968-1976) [KJ186.U58t B571].
Periodicals (full-text and indexes), such as International Legal Materials (Washington, DC: American Society of International Law, 1962-).
Osmanczyk, Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements (3rd ed., New York : Routledge, 2003) [On order]. The index in volume 4 includes many popular names and acronyms.
Using a search engine on the Web, such as google, can often provide clues to the complete names of treaties.
A treaty citation should include the name of the agreement; date of signing; parties; the subdivision referred to, if applicable; and the source(s) for the text of the treaty (see The Bluebook- rule 21.4). The treaty sources will vary depending upon the parties. See The Bluebook for guidance on appropriate sources. Keep in mind that many "official sources" can take a long time for publication, so you may not be able to cite to the sources listed in The Bluebook.
Treaties and Other International Agreements: The Role of the United States Senate: A Study, prepared for the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, S. Print 106-71, (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office, 2001).
Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1155 UNTS 311 (May 23, 1969), art. 2, s 1(a).
Treaties and Other International Agreements: the Role of the United States Senate: a Study, supra note 1.
 Treaties and Other International Agreements, Chapter 700, Foreign Affairs Manual, Volume 11, (Washington, DC: US Department of State, revised February 25, 1985).
 Agreements based on the President’s Constitutional authority (executive agreements), agreements pursuant to legislation or Congressional-Executive agreement, and agreements pursuant to treaty (authorization is based on a treaty previously ratified by U.S.).
1 U.S.C. §112b