Skip to Main Content
site header image

Jessup Competition Resources: 2024: Treaties: Multilateral, Bilateral and Subject Collections

What are Treaties & International Agreements?

The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (.pdf) 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."

Treaties can be referred to by a number of different names: international conventions, international agreements, covenants, final acts, charters, memorandums of understandings (MOUs), 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 definitions of key terms, see the U.N. Treaty Reference Guide.

Locating the Text of a Treaty

A. If you aren't sure if a treaty exists, or you don't have a citation or an exact title, gather information:

  • Parties or participants (countries)
  • Subject or topic of treaty
  • Popular name of a treaty
  • Date of signing, ratification, or entry into force
  • Place of signature
  • Bilateral or multilateral
  • Sponsoring organization
  • Note: If the U.S. is a party, begin with Treaties in Force

Then, start your search with a secondary source:

  • Run a search in the Polar catalog for a book or article on your subject.
  • Search the catalog of the Peace Palace Library.
  • Max Planck Encyclopedias of International Law (link opens in a new window)
    • This major work has over 2500 in-depth articles, containing extensive references and primary source links, on every substantive and procedural aspect of public international law.

B. Other strategies include the following:

  • Try a Google search, but update your research in a traditional database
  • Search the UN Treaty Collection

Multilateral Treaty Collections

There are several reliable databases containing treaties from the United Nations Treaty Series (1946-present).

Multilateral Treaties by Subject or Organization

Many international organizations and non-governmental organizations maintain treaty collections by region and by topic. Fortunately, several of the legal research guides listed below, have organized these collections.

Also look for Research Guides on specific international law subjects, such as Environmental. Law, Human Rights Law, and Private International Law for treaty collections by subject.

Note: Many of these guides will suggest beginning your research in the EISIL treaty database. Unfortunately, EISIL is getting a long-overdue revision and is currently not available.

Bilateral Treaties (U.S. is not a Party)

Bilateral treaties where the United States is not one of the parties can be located using the following strategies:

  1. If you have enough detailed information about a treaty dated 1995 to present, try a general web search.
  2. Try one of the full-text treaty indexes, such as the UN Treaty Series 
  3. The best resources for full-text bilateral treaties are national treaty collections and official gazettes. Find a Research Guide to an individual nation via Globalex or the Foreign Law Guide to locate their treaty collection or gazette. The sources below may also be of help.

Research Guides

Print Resources

LibraryH3lp Bottom Chat Tab

chat loading...

Reference Appointments

The Taggart Law Library is here to help! Schedule an appointment with a librarian or chat with us using our online chat feature. Open to ONU Law students, faculty, staff, and alumni.