Treaties and Agreements

What are Treaties and International Agreements?

U.S. Treaties and Agreements - The Process

Researching U.S. Treaties and Agreements

Locating the Text of the Treaty or Agreement

Status and Ratification Information

Background Information

Researching Multilateral Treaties

Treaty Collections for Other Countries

Review Questions

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:

Treaty Indexes

Consult a treaty index to locate a citation to the text of a treaty. While there are many indexes, the ones listed below are particularly useful.

Full-text Sources

These treaty collections are some of the basic sources for locating multilateral treaties and are available in most academic libraries.

Research Tip
These are just a few of the many treaty series available. Others major collections include the OAS Treaty Series and the 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 agencies, post multilateral treaties on their websites. These collections provide access to the agreements as well as the most up-to-date status and ratification information.

Some specialized collections of agreements include:

Research Tip
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.

Research Tip
Journal 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 (Hague conventions).

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.

Background Information

Researching background information may entail looking for negotiation history ( “travaux préparatoires”) and treaty interpretation.

Some ways to find these materials:

Research Tip
If you need assistance with finding U.N. documents, see the Researching the United Nations research guide.


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