Hester Swift, May 2013
We also recommend the following online research guides for international law.
Public international law governs the conduct of states and international organisations, and the relations between them. Areas of public international law include air law, diplomatic relations and the law of armed conflict.
The Statute of the International Court of Justice, article 38(1), is often used to define the sources of public international law. It lists the following sources: treaties; international custom (hence 'customary international law'); generally recognised principles of law; judicial decisions; and the teachings of publicists, that is, leading scholars. Judicial decisions and the teachings of publicists are classed as secondary sources (art. 31(1) (d)).
IALS Library has a large public international law collection, comprising several treaty series; numerous international law reports; hundreds of yearbooks and journals, print and electronic; and thousands of monographs. A large area of the second floor reading room is devoted to international law, and additional holdings are kept in the basement Reserve and Offsite Store. IALS also subscribes to many online databases with substantial international law content.
A treaty is a written agreement between two or more states or international organisations. It does not necessarily have the word 'treaty' in its title: it could call itself a 'convention', 'agreement', or something else.
Some common terms are listed below; for others, see the UN Treaty Reference Guide.
General treaty sources
The entire UNTS is available free on the UN Treaty Collection website, with details of signatures, ratifications and so on. It is also in Hein Online's UN Law Collection. IALS has the bound set up to vol. 2174 (2002), including cumulative indexes; they are kept in the Offsite Store.
The international law section of the Oxford Standard for the Citation of Legal Authorities says the UNTS should be cited in preference to other treaty sources (OSCOLA 2006, Citing International Law Sources, p.25).
Regional treaty sources
Both treaties and international agreements appear in the Official Journal of the European Union (formerly ...of the European Communities), which is held at IALS. The Official Journal is available on the free EUR-Lex website; since July 2013, the online version has been the official edition (the print edition ceased publication in December 2013). EU treaties and international agreements are also to be found on the subscription databases Lexis, Westlaw and Justis (see IALS Electronic Law Library).
Status information for EU treaties and international agreements is available from the Council of the EU’s website; this database also provides the full text of each instrument. The European Commission provides a database of international agreements concluded by the EU, including summaries, citations and other information, together with links to the full text.
For more information about EU treaties and international agreements, please see our EU research guide.
Many states publish the treaties to which they are a party in their own official series; some states also make them available on the internet. This research guide covers five jurisdictions only (see below); sources for other jurisdictions may be available via WorldLII, or the Eagle-I web portal.
The FCO website provides all UK treaties from 1892 onwards, whether in force or not. They are divided into two collections on this site: for treaties up to 1998, click on 'UK Treaties Online' and for treaties from 1999 onwards, click on Treaty Command Papers.
Status information for UK treaties is published biannually, in the FCO’s Supplementary List: Treaty Ratifications, Accessions, Withdrawals, Etc and Second Supplementary List…, which are types of command paper. The FCO website has ten years' worth of these Lists. Status information for treaties deposited with the UK Government is available from the Depositary page of the FCO site (as well as in the Supplementary Lists). Status information can also be obtained by calling the FCO Treaty Section.
UK treaties before 1892: treaties dating from the period 1812 to 1968 appear in British and Foreign State Papers (BFSP), together with treaties concluded before 1812 which were still in force at the time BFSP was published. BFSP was compiled by the Foreign Office and published from about 1815 up to 1970s, with indexes. IALS's printed set is incomplete, but the whole series is in HeinOnline’s World Constitutions Illustrated module. For treaties that are not in BFSP, see Parry and Hopkins, An Index of British Treaties.
IALS has UST and Statutes at Large, but does not hold the TIAS pamphlets. Publication of UST is many years in arrears: the last issue to come out was vol. 35(6), covering treaties from 1983-84.
Online sources of US treaties and agreements:-
Lexis Library: the file US Treaties on Lexis has treaties and agreements from 1776 onwards
Westlaw International (via Westlaw UK, under 'Services'): USTREATIES has treaties and agreements from 1778 onwards
HeinOnline: Treaties and Agreements Library, 1776 onwards (includes TIAS).
State Department: Treaties and Other International Acts Series (TIAS) 1996 onwards; international agreements also available separately on this site, 1982 onwards, under 'Reporting International Agreements...'.
Federal Digital System (FDsys) : treaties from 1995 onwards, under 'Congressional Documents'.
Status information and indexes: treaties and agreements in force for the US are listed in the annual title Treaties in Force, with details of signatories, parties, the date in force, amendments and so on. The current edition is on the State Department website; both current and previous editions are on Lexis, Westlaw International and Hein Online; IALS has the print editions from 1964 onwards. See also Kavass’s Guide to the United States Treaties in Force and the United States Treaty Index, both held at IALS.
Treaties by subject
Selected subject-based collections are listed below (for other subjects, see EISIL):-
Historical treaty collections
Clive Parry's Consolidated treaty series (CTS / Consol.T.S.) is the main source of treaties from 1648 to 1920. IALS has the whole series, more than two hundred volumes. Other historical collections held at IALS, or available on the internet, include: -
Treaty indexes and bibliographies have the classmark BS40 at IALS Library. Key titles are kept behind the Enquiry Desk for ready reference (see Catalogue), while other BS40 titles are kept in the L2 reading room.
The following are some of the most important indexes available at IALS, or on the internet:-
Working documents produced during the drafting of treaties are known as 'travaux préparatoires'. They are not usually published, but for some of the more important treaties they may be available either in print publications or online. For example, the travaux for the European Convention on Human Rights have been published in eight volumes under the title Collected edition of the "travaux préparatoires" of the European Convention on Human Rights (held at IALS). The same preparatory documents have also been made available on the internet by the Library of the European Court of Human Rights.
Yale University's list of Collected Travaux Préparatoires is a good place to start your research. Provided by the Lillian Goldman Law Library at Yale, it give details of available travaux préparatoires, in print and/or on the internet. Many of the print publications listed are held at IALS.
For further information about researching travaux préparatoires, see 'À la Recherche des Travaux Préparatoires: An Approach to Researching the Drafting History of International Agreements', a useful guide on New York University’s Globalex website.
Customary international law develops when the general practice of states comes to be accepted as a legal obligation. For a useful introduction to the concept of state practice, see M. Wood, 'State Practice', in R. Wolfrum (ed.), The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (print and online versions available at IALS).
Researchers may find evidence of state practice in diplomatic correspondence, legislation, legal opinions, national and international court decisions, treaties, parliamentary debates and elsewhere. Some of these materials are not published, but others are found in yearbooks, journals and digests, in International Legal Materials, or in national collections of international law cases.
State practice in yearbooks and digests
Yearbooks and digests outline state practice in international law under systematic subject headings. They reproduce extracts from state practice materials, summarise national court decisions on international points and give details of treaty actions. Most yearbooks are national in scope, but some are regional, for example the African Yearbook of International Law and the Asian Yearbook of International Law. Selected yearbooks and digests are detailed below (Australia, France, Germany, UK and US). For other parts of the world, see bibliographies, or search the Catalogue. IALS has a large collection of yearbooks, including the following titles, among others:-
There are also older US digests: see Columbia Law School's public international law research guide.
State practice in international law journals
Many international law journals cover state practice, for example: the American Journal of International Law, the Chinese Journal of International Law and the Heidelberg Journal of International Law (the practice section of the latter is on the internet, 1993-2005). For details of other journals with state practice materials, see bibliographies.
State practice by subject
A few surveys have been produced covering state practice in particular areas of law. They include the following:
State practice on websites
Information about a state's current foreign policy practice may be found on the website of its foreign ministry: see WorldLII for links. Websites for state practice are also listed in Gaebler and Smolka-Day (ed.s), Sources of State Practice in International Law.
Judicial decisions are a secondary source of international law, according to article 31(1) (d) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice. Decisions on issues of international law are made by international courts and tribunals, but they are also made by the courts of individual states, which are referred to in this context as 'municipal' courts.
General sources of international cases
The broadest collections of international law decisions are found in the International Law Reports, Oxford Reports on International Law, WorldLII and International Legal Materials, as detailed below.
IALS Library has the whole printed ILR series - more than 140 volumes - and Justis Publishing's online version (see IALS Electronic Law Library).
See also: ILR and ORIL's International Law in Domestic Courts module, both described above.
Decisions of individual courts
Almost every international court and tribunal has its own website, on which its decisions are available. Many also produce law reports in printed format. Selected courts are covered below; further information is available in Mackenzie et al, Manual on international courts and tribunals (2nd ed., OUP, 2010) and from the website of the Project on International Courts and Tribunals (PICT).
The International Court of Justice (ICJ, 1946 - ): the ICJ publishes its decisions and related documents in two series: Reports of Judgments, Advisory Opinions and Orders and Pleadings, Oral Arguments and Documents. IALS has both series; they are also available on the ICJ website, HeinOnline, Lexis Library and Westlaw International. ICJ decisions may also be found in general sources such as ILR and ORIL. There is a detailed guide to ICJ-related research on Cornell University's website.
The Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ, operated1922 to 1940, dissolved 1946): the forerunner of the ICJ. PCIJ decisions and related documents were published by the Court in the following series:
Publications of the Permanent Court of International Justice. Series A, Collection of Judgements
Publications of the Permanent Court of International Justice. Series B, Collection of Advisory Opinions
Publications of the Permanent Court of International Justice. Series A./B., Judgments
Permanent Court of International Justice. Series C, Pleadings, Oral Statements and Documents
The International Criminal Court (ICC): established in 2002 and delivered its first judgment in March 2012. The ICC website provides transcripts and other court documents, for both ongoing and concluded cases. WorldLII has ICC procedural decisions and transcripts up to 2010. Summaries of selected ICC decisions appear in The Annotated Digest of the International Criminal Court, edited by Cyril Laucci (Martinus Nijhoff, 2007- ); IALS subscribes to this series.
Outlines of ongoing proceedings are included in the ICC's annual reports to the UN, entitled Report of the International Criminal Court: Note by the Secretary-General. These reports are available on the ICC website and in the UN Official Document System. See also the general sources such as ILR, ORIL and ILM (outlined above).
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (also has a printed series, Judicial Reports, held at IALS.)
Special Court for Sierra Leone
Special Tribunal for Lebanon
See also: Annotated leading cases of international criminal tribunals, ILR, ORIL and ILM.
European Court of Human Rights and European Commission of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights was set up by the Council of Europe to hear cases involving alleged breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. It delivered its first judgment in 1960. It is not to be confused with the European Court of Justice, which is an EU institution - see below. There used to be a European Commission of Human Rights as well, but the Commission was merged into the Court in 1998.
The official website, HUDOC, provides all the Commission's reports and decisions and almost all the Court's decisions.
The Court's decisions and other documents appear in these official series, all held at IALS:-
The Commission's decisions were officially published in the following series, both held at IALS:-
See also the general sources outlined above.
The Court of Justice of the European Union
Decisions of the Court of Justice and General Court (formerly the Court of First Instance) are published in Reports of Cases before the Court of Justice and the General Court, commonly know as the 'European Court Reports', and cited as ECR. New decisions are slow to appear. Online sources are more current: the official Curia and EUR-Lex websites and the subscription databases Lexis, Westlaw UK and Justis CELEX. (A new version of EUR-Lex has recently been launched, but as at May 2013 it is still under development.)
See also: Common Market Law Reports and All England Law Reports (European Cases). For further information about EU research, see IALS Library's European Union research guide.
Inter-American Court of Human Rights and Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
The Inter-American Court of Human Rights was set up by the Organization of American States in 1979, under the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights was established in 1959. IALS does not hold their official publications, but extracts from leading cases may be found in Burgorgue-Larsen and Úbeda de Torres, The Inter-American Court of Human Rights: case law and commentary; see also Human Rights: the Inter-American System, Thomas Buergenthal and Robert E. Norris, ed.s (Oceana, 1982-1993; has a useful case index). Cases are also available online - see below.
The Court publishes its decisions and related documents in the following series:
The Commission's decisions are published in the Annual Report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Indexes to these decisions have been published in 10 Am.U.J.Int'l L.& Pol. 19 and 16 Am. U. Int'l L. Rev. 353 (available on HeinOnline), and in the Repertorio de Jurisprudencia, mentioned below.
Online sources of OAS cases:
Arbitration falls into the category of public international law when it involves the resolution of disputes between states. Commercial arbitration is not covered by this guide, but ASIL's Electronic Resource Guide has a chapter on researching international commercial arbitration.
The following sources cover arbitral awards in disputes between states:
ICSID Reports: Reports of cases decided under the Convention on the Settlement of Investment Disputes...and related decisions... (Grotius, 1993 - ). Has cases dating from 1975 onwards; held at IALS. ICSID cases are also on its website.
Iran-United States Claims Tribunal Reports (Grotius, 1983 - ): all the decisions of the Tribunal since it was established in 1981. Printed series held at IALS; also on Westlaw International (via Westlaw UK).
Reports of International Arbitral Awards (RIAA; United Nations, c.1948 - ): arbitrations between states from the 1920s onwards. IALS has the printed series and it is also available on the UN website and HeinOnline.
See ICC and criminal tribunals, above.
The International Human Rights Law module of Oxford Reports on International Law has decisions from all the major human rights bodies, including UN committees. See also European Court of Human Rights, Inter-American Court of Human Rights and General Sources, above.
The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) provides all its cases on its website and and also publishes them in Reports of judgments, advisory opinions, and orders (IALS Library's holdings are incomplete). See also ORIL and ILR.
World Trade Organization decisions are available on the WTO website and in the printed series Dispute Settlement Reports (held at IALS). They are also on the subscription databases Lexis Library, Westlaw International and WorldTradeLaw.net. Commentary on WTO decisions is available on WordTradeLaw.net.
The teachings of leading scholars in the field of public international law ('publicists') can be cited as evidence of international law. These teachings may be found in treatises, journals, the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law and the publications of the International Law Commission.They are even available in video format, in the UN Lecture Series.
The selection of particular authorities is a subjective process. In the UK, established treatises include Jennings, R., Oppenheim's International Law (9th ed., OUP, 1992); Brownlie, I., Principles of Public International Law (7th ed., OUP, 2008); and McNair, A., Law of treaties (Clarendon Press,1961). Further information about books, journals and the Max Planck Encyclopedia is given below.
IALS has a very large collection of books on public international law: see Library Catalogue. Their main location is the second floor reading room, but some key texts are kept in the Short Loan Collection on the fourth floor and older works are in the basement Reserve.
General titles include the following - very small - selection:
Scholarly articles on international law topics are published in both journals and yearbooks. IALS subscribes to a very large number of these series; to find them on the Library Catalogue, search by Subject Heading "international law--periodicals".
The following are a selection of leading international law journals, all held at IALS:
The library's substantial collection of international law yearbooks includes the British Year Book of International Law and numerous other national titles. We also have regional yearbooks, such as African Yearbook of International Law and the Asian Yearbook of International Law
The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law (MPEPIL) is the leading source. It is edited by Rüdiger Wolfrum, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law. IALS has both the online version, and the print edition (OUP, 2012).
The Encyclopedia consists of more than 1,600 articles by experts, embracing all aspects of public international law. It includes thirty-five 'overview articles', providing an introduction to a broad area or fundamental concept of international law. Each article has a detailed bibliography.
Listed below are a few key websites; links to other sites are provided in each section of this guide, above.