A treaty is an international agreement concluded between two or more sovereign states in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments. Treaties go by many names: conventions, agreements, covenants, pacts, charters, and statutes, among others. The choice of name has no legal significance. Treaties generally fall into one of two broad categories: bilateral (between two countries) and multilateral (between three or more countries).
The four steps of the treaty research process are outlined below. The sources you consult will vary, depending on whether the treaty is bilateral or multilateral and on whether or not the the U.S. is a party to the treaty.
As print resources have migrated online, it is now possible to perform the first two or three steps of the treaty research process by using an online treaty database, such as HeinOnline's U.S. Treaties and Agreements Library, HeinOnline's World Treaty Library or the U.N. Treaty Series Online.
In addition, there are many free online treaty collections that focus on a particular jurisdiction, region or subject matter. Depending on the type of treaty you are researching, it may be faster to use one of these online treaty collections as your starting point rather than following the conventional four-step treaty research process. This is particularly true for major multilateral treaties and for certain types of bilateral treaties, notably bilateral investment treaties.
If you need assistance with treaty research, visit the Research Help page of the Georgetown University Law Library's website. Or contact the Law Library's International and Foreign Law Department by phone (202-662-4195) or by email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Georgetown Law Center students may schedule a one-on-one research consultation with a librarian.
Revised March 2007 (aeb)
Links revised Oct 2012 (AJS)