Researching Multilateral Treaties
Multilateral treaties are agreements between more than two
parties. They are often the result of an international conference or a gathering
of nations done under the auspices of an international organization.
As when researching U.S. treaties and agreements, the researcher is usually interested:
- Locating the text of the treaty or agreement.
- Obtaining status and ratification information for specific countries.
- Finding any reservations or declarations that may amend the terms
of the treaty.
- Researching the intent through background documents (negotiation,
Consult a treaty index to locate a citation to the text of a treaty. While there are many indexes, the ones listed below are
- Multilateral Treaty Calendar is an excellent index and
covers 1649-1995. Arranged chronologically with a subject index.
Treaties Deposited with the Secretary General provides citation
and status information, but is limited to treaties deposited
with the U.N. Secretary-General.
- United Nations Cumulative Treaty Index is a very comprehensive
index to U.N. treaties. This multi-volume set contains a numerical,
chronological, country and subject list. It is far superior
to the index that accompanies United Nations Treaty Series (U.N.T.S.).
Updated by CD-ROM.
These treaty collections are some of the basic sources for locating multilateral
treaties and are available in most academic libraries.
- Consolidated Treaty Series (often cited to as C.T.S. or
Consol. T.S.) is a comprehensive set covering 1648 to 1918.
- United Nations Treaty Series (cited to as U.N.T.S.) is
the most important and complete source of treaties, both bilateral
and multilateral. Portions of this collection are available the
web on the
United Nations Treaty
The League of Nations Treaty Series (cited to as L.N.T.S.) preceded
U.N.T.S. and is available in print and on the same website.
- International Legal Materials (cited to as I.L.M.) publishes
selected treaties and agreements. Also available on LexisNexis,
Westlaw, and HeinOnline. ILM is a standard tool for the international
- Avalon Project is
collection of older treaties and agreements.
Project is a solid
website containing various multilateral treaties.
- Both LexisNexis and Westlaw provide access to a variety of multilateral
treaties on selected topics, such as international trade, environment
and taxation. However, neither database is comprehensive.
- Frequently-Cited Treaties and Other International Instruments is
a compilation that can provide quick and easy access to many multilateral
treaties as well as to citation information.
- EISIL (Electronic Information System for International Law) provides
links to the best websites for multilateral treaties and other
international instruments. In most cases, citation and other
value-added information is available.
These are just a few of the many treaty series available. Others major collections
the OAS Treaty Series
European Treaty Series
. When using the web
for treaty research, focus on the IGO that sponsored the treaty or try a subject-oriented
website. Many international organizations, especially U.N. bodies and specialized
, post multilateral treaties on their websites. These collections
provide access to the agreements as well as the most up-to-date status and
Some specialized collections of agreements include:
Human Rights Instruments is a good
collection of the basic international human rights treaties, provided
by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR).
- ILOLEX contains international labor standards from the International Labour Organization
(ILO). These agreements focus on subjects concerning labor, employment, and social
- Intellectual Property
Treaties created by the World
Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is responsible for administering
intellectual property treaties.
Conference on Private International Law provides information
about and access to the private international law treaties administered
by the Hague Conference.
It is worth your time to check if the country or the body named as the depository
(the custodian of the treaty) has a website. If so, the site might provide
access to the documents as well as up-to-date status and ratification information.
Ratification & Status Information
Determining whether a treaty or agreement has gone into force or if a country has ratified an agreement can be a difficult
task. The web has made this an easier job for some treaties, but certainly not for all. Often the only sources for this
information are the indexes mentioned above, but these are not always updated.
Treaties Deposited with the Secretary General provides current
status and ratification information, but is limited to treaties
deposited with the U.N. Secretary-General.
- Many web collections and IGOs mentioned above provide this information on their websites.
- Contact the U.N. Office of Legal Affairs Treaty Section (212) 963-2523 (phone) or (212) 963-3693 (fax) or email them at
articles are a good source for updated ratification and status information. Some journals
update this information for specific treaties every year, such as Human Rights Law
Journal (human rights treaties), Netherlands Yearbook of International Law
Reservations & Declarations
Reservations and declarations provide very important
pieces of information. If a country does not want to be bound to particular provision of an agreement, the country may issue
a reservation or declaration to limit its application. Locating this information can be more difficult than status information.
Researching background information may entail looking for negotiation history ( “travaux préparatoires”) and treaty
Some ways to find these materials:
- Identify the organization responsible for the treaty negotiations,
often this is the U.N. or one of its specialized agencies. Many multilateral treaties are negotiated at international conferences. If it
is a recent conference, see if there is a website for the conference
or the sponsoring body.
- Locate U.N. conference documents.
- Search for articles and books on the topic. Look for titles with
the phrase “travaux préparatoires".
- A la Recherche des Travaux Préparatoires: An Approach to Researching the Drafting History of International Agreement provides detailed advice for finding the negotiating histories of multilateral treaties.