Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

Treaty Research

This guide describes resources and methods for locating and updating treaties of the United States and other countries.

Drafting Histories (Travaux Préparatoires) for Multilateral Treaties

Drafting histories, also known as travaux préparatoires or preparatory works, include the preliminary drafts of a treaty text and other official records generated during the course of the treaty negotiations.  Article 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states that preparatory works may be consulted to discern the meaning of a treaty clause when the text is ambiguous.  Consequently, drafting histories are most often used to resolve questions of treaty interpretation.

  • Compiled Drafting Histories.
    For some of the most significant multilateral treaties, researchers have compiled and published comprehensive drafting histories.  If you can find them, they will save you lots of time and effort.  Use the following tools to identify and locate compiled drafting histories:
     
    • Directory of Collected Travaux Préparatoires (Yale Law Library)
      • This directory offers the most comprehensive listing of compiled drafting histories.  Print materials are listed alphabetically by title.  Links are provided to drafting histories that are accessible online. 
      • To determine whether the Georgetown Law Library owns a print copy of a compiled drafting history, search for it by title in the library's online catalog.  If not, you may be able to request a copy via inter-library loan.
         
    • Library Catalogs
      Library catalogs also can be used to identify and locate compiled drafting histories.  A good strategy is to search the catalog by subject for the full name of the treaty in combination with one or more of the following keywords:  travaux, history or commentary.
       
  • Sponsoring Organization & Conference Websites.
    Many multinational treaties are drafted at international conferences, usually under the sponsorship of an international or inter-governmental organization.  Such organizations often make official documents generated during the course of the treaty negotiations available for download on their websites.  Here are some examples:
     
    • International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT)
      Provides access to drafting materials for more than a dozen treaties covering various aspects of private international law.  Click on the "Instruments" tab on the left side of the homepage to browse for treaties by subject.  Once you have selected a treaty, click on the link labeled "Preparatory Work" on the right side of the screen.
       
    • United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL)
      Treaties drafted under the auspices of UNCITRAL are grouped by subject matter.  Once you have selected a treaty, scroll down below the summary and click on the link labeled "Travaux Préparatoires" to access drafts, commentary, and other documents from the treaty negotiations.
       
    • United Nations Diplomatic Conferences
      This website serves as a gateway for official documents generated by a dozen U.N.-sponsored conferences at which multilateral treaties were drafted.  Use the menu on the left to browse for documents by conference or use this template to search within the the full texts of documents by keyword. 
       
  • Treaty Websites
    Some multilateral treaties have their own official websites from which you may be able to access and download documents generated during the treaty negotiations.  For example, the website of the Convention on Biological Diversity includes a History of the Convention page.  If you scroll down to the bottom of this page, you will find links to official documents form each of the treaty's negotiating sessions.
     
  • U.N. Audiovisual Library of International Law
    The Historical Archives section of this website includes bibliographies of preparatory works for more than a dozen U.N.-sponsored treaties.  Use the subject menu on the left side of the page to select a treaty.  Once you have done so, click on the Documents tab to display the bibliography.  Documents listed in the bibliographies may be retrieved from the U.N.'s Official Documents System.