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Public International Law: Treaties

This guide highlights key resources for international law research.

Finding a Treaty Citation

Use these indexes to locate a citation for your treaty research.  Some indexes link to full free text resources when available.  See also the subtabs for US and non-US treaty research for compilations of treaties if these indexes do not work for you.

Treaties in Force (TIF provides information including citations on treaties and agreements to which the United States has become a party)

Flare Index to Treties (covering many multilateral and European treaties)

Multilateral Treaty Calendar (Organized by date, 1648-1995; with subject index)

EISIL (From ASIL, provides bibliographic information on treaties and international agreements; also links to electronic sources)

World Treaty Index

In print at Hamilton library, JX 171 .R63 1983  (Volume 2 includes a full statement of coverage and is helpful to use the online version)

Online at World Treaty Index (beta version, more comprehensive than the print version and purports to includes all 20th century treaties)


U.S. Treaty Basics

For a detailed understanding of the multilateral treaty process, you should review the U.N. Treaty Handbook.

In the United States, Treaties are negotiated and signed by the President or designee from the Executive Branch of government.  In order to ratify a treaty, the senate must first be consulted for its advice and consent, and vote to approve the treaty by a two-thirds majority before sending it to the President for his or her signature and to complete the ratification process.

During this process, the Senate may make a reservation to certain treaty provisions, provide a clarification (known as an understanding) or a declaration regarding the effect of the treaty.  These are known as RUDs.  RUDs change the scope of the treaty provisions only as to the country making the RUD.  In the United States, the text of a RUD can be found in the Senate Executive Report for the treaty (see When the U.S. is a Party tab). It may also appear as an annex in the treaty when it is published.

For a more thorough explanation of the Senate treaty making process, consult the CRA Report on the Senate Consideration of Treaties (2017).

Treaties can also be referred to as international agreements, protocols, and conventions.  Treaties should not be confused with Executive Agreements (which are negotiated and signed by the President or the President’s designee) or Congressional-Executive Agreements.  The power of the president to conclude Executive Agreements is granted under the constitutional authority given to him do not require the advice and consent of the Senate.  Congressional-Executive Agreements are concluded with the cooperation of both the House of Representatives and Senate.  For a more thorough review, consult Why Certain Trade Agreements Are Approved as Congressional-Executive Agreements Rather Than as Treaties (2013).  

The type of the international agreement will determine what research you may undertake.  For a true treaty, you may review a Senate Treaty Document and Senate Executive Report.  For a Congressional-Executive Agreement, you would look toward the enabling legislation that allows such agreements to become part of the domestic fabric of the federal law.  Executive Agreements can be found in the KAV series on HeinOnline, and at Reporting International Agreements to Congress Under the Case Act.

Types of Treaties

1.   Bi-lateral.  These are international agreements between two nation states.  You can find the text of the treaty in the official publication of the countries involved.  In the United States, you can check that status of the treaty using the Treaties In Force Database.  See the subtab on When U.S. is a Party and the Citing Treatises subtabs for publication information.

2.   Multilateral.  These are international agreements between three of more nation states.  Multilateral treaties will be found in the signatories’ treaty publications, but will also be “deposited” with the United Nations, a regional organization (such as the Organization of American States), or with a Non-Governmental Organization such as the International Red Cross.  You can check the status of treaties to which the U.S. is a party using the Treaties in Force Database, or the check the status of the treaty on a global basis, with the regional organization which is the institution of record for the treaty depository.  For example, the U.N. Treaty Collection (the U.N. is the largest depository).