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Treaty Research Guide: Treaty Commentary & Drafting History

Focus: Bluebook-compliant treaty sources.

Research Tips

Note: Many sources below are available as e-treatises in one of two BLS subscription databases: Oxford Scholarly Authorities on International Law (OSAIL) or Oxford Scholarship Online: Law.  In BLS Library's SARA catalog record for an e-treatise, click link: ACCESS ONLINE VERSION.  If BLS students, faculty and administrators wish to access these ebooks off campus: implement the BLS proxy instructions.  Based on patron feedback, BLS librarians recommend the proxy instructions for Firefox browser.

There are four boxes below highlighting treaty commentaries:

Within a box, books are listed "newest to oldest." 

Article 32 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states that one can consult “supplementary means of interpretation,” including “the preparatory work of the treaty” when the ordinary meaning of a treaty term is “ambiguous” or leads to an “unreasonable” result.   Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties art. 32, May 23, 1969, 1155 U.N.T.S. 331. The Medellin Court characterized treaty negotiating and drafting history and the "postratification understanding of signatory nations" as “aids" to treaty interpretation. Medellin v. Texas, 128 S.Ct. 1346, 1357 (2008), quoting Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines Co., 516 U.S. 217, 226 (1996). Thus, the drafting history of a treaty, which people sometimes refer to by the French term “travaux préparatoires,” can be an important source. 

To find 1) treaty drafting history and 2) legal articles about treaties, consult:

BLS Library's SARA catalog

WorldCat (= "catalog of catalogs")

Free, searchable SSRN might yield pre-prints of legal articles & book chapters

Free Digital Commons Network, searchable International Law Commons > faceted search for legal articles classified by keyword: Treaties

Subscription Westlaw: Legal Resource Index (LRI)

When searching the sources above, combine words from the title of the treaty with the words:

history or travaux préparatoires or commentary

The United Nations provides a searchable database of official records from selected UN-sponsored treaty conferences in: Codification Division Publications: Diplomatic Conferences.  Jonathan Pratter links to many websites that provide treaty drafting history in: UPDATE: À la Recherche des Travaux Préparatoires: An Approach to Researching the Drafting History of International Agreements @ GlobaLex

Commentary: Treaties

Click here to obtain a complete list of BLS Library's sources categorized by subject: Treaties and listed "newest to oldest."

Below are selected commentaries on treaties listed "newest to oldest." 

Link to v. 1 of The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary in OSAIL.

Link to v. 2 of The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary in OSAIL.

In the SARA catalog records above, click: ACCESS ONLINE VERSION - OXFORD.

Note: Oxford Scholarly Authorities on International Law (OSAIL) includes many more books on specific treaties.  For example, OSAIL added these titles in 2022-2024:

Commentary: Geneva Conventions

Online: International Committee of the Red Cross, Treaties, States parties, and Commentaries database - Includes ICRC's commentaries on the 1949 Geneva Conventions + Additional Protocols).

Available through BLS Library:

Commentary: Internally Displaced Persons, Refugees & Stateless Persons

Commentary: International Trade & International Investment

International Trade:

International Investment: