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Research Guides

UN Documentation: International Law

Introduction

Treaties, conventions and international agreements are an important part of international law.

The UN is involved in many aspects of treaty law, at every stage of development.

The UN's involvement may include:

  • consideration of topics to be codified, in the International Law Commission or other subsidiary bodies
  • negotiation of text of multilateral agreements, in the Sixth Committee of the General Assembly, or other subsidiary bodies
  • adoption of the text of multilateral agreements, in the General Assembly, for example
  • maintaining the information about the status of multilateral treaties deposited with the Secretary-General
  • interpretation of international agreements in the International Court of Justice

In some cases, UN Specialized Agencies or UN related organizations may perform similar activities with regard to conventions within their domain. For example:

The UN Treaty Series is one of the largest collections of treaties, but there are many others. The Audiovisual Library of International Law Research Library has a helpful list of treaty collections.

UN Treaty Collection

The UN Treaty Collection website provides access to a wealth of information about international agreements, treaties, and conventions.

In the past, the UN published two important series:

  • Status of Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General (list of symbols), and
  • UN Treaty Series.

The website provides access to the information in both of these publications, as well as additional materials about UN practice in treaty matters, including:

Status of Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General (MTDSG)

The MTDSG section of the website follows the chapter structure of the original publication. 

  • Chapters are organized by broad topic, within each chapter the treaties are listed in chronological order.
  • Annexes or amendments immediately follow the original agreement.
  • Declarations, reservations, and other notes are linked to the country name.
  • Superscript numbers indicate a note in the Historical Information section.
  • Search the INDEX by keywords in the title of the convention.
  • Full text search is also available.
  • Icons at the top of the treaty status page link to a PDF of the status, as well as to versions of the text of the treaty, including digital copies of the Certified True Copy (CTC).

For each treaty, information is available on:

  • Ratification
  • Accession
  • Signature
  • Texts of any declarations, reservations or objections

United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS)

The UN Treaty Series is a collection of treaties and international agreements, published since 1946, in accordance with Article 102 of the UN Charter.

  • To be included, the treaties must be:
    • registered or filed and recorded with the Secretariat
    • in force
  • The UNTS includes the texts of treaties in their authentic languages, with translations into English and French, as appropriate
  • Both bilateral and multilateral agreements are found in the UNTS

The UNTS database contains the texts of all published volumes of the UNTS, plus the texts of treaties in volumes not yet published.

  • Search by Title, Participant, or Full-text
    • Full-text is especially useful if the text searched is not English or French
  • Advanced Search enables quite complex searching, including using Subject terms
  • It is possible to export search results to Excel

League of Nations Treaty Series (LNTS)

The League of Nations Treaty Series is also available through the UN Treaty Collection website.  

Treaty Monitoring Bodies

Many multilateral conventions establish a body to monitor the implementation of the agreement.  

Often the body is composed of states that are party to the agreement (i.e. have signed, ratified or otherwise agreed to adhere to the agreement). These may be called Conference of the States Parties, Meeting of States Parties, or a similar name. A UN Member State may also be a state party to a convention. However, not all UN Member States participate in every multilateral convention.

Other treaty-monitoring bodies may be composed of experts in the subject of the convention, or be appointed by the States Parties, or by another authority named by the treaty.

The monitoring body may be supported by a secretariat.  

Not all treaty-monitoring bodies are UN bodies. In some cases, the treaty-monitoring is carried out by UN bodies.  In other cases, the treaty-monitoring body is independent from the UN.

See the Human Rights: Treaties guide for more information about the UN's monitoring of human rights conventions.

Research the Drafting of Treaties

UN documents can be a rich resource to research the drafting of an agreement. 

As with other historic research, it is often easiest to start with the most recent documents and work back in time.  The UN Yearbook and the Index to Proceedings are useful for historic research. Commentaries and "travaux préparatoires" on individual treaties, generally published by academic presses,  may also be useful.

In addition, there are some specialized UN resources that may provide additional guidance.