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Treaties and Conventions: Treaty Interpretation

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Travaux Preparatoires

Travaux Preparatoires, or “legislative history” of treaties, are preparatory documents concerning the negotiation and terms of the treaty. They may be difficult to find and are not published for every treaty. Major treaties may have volumes of records published. Use terms "travaux preparatoires" , "working papers," or "legislative history" with the name of the treaty to search for published volumes in discoverE, WorldCat, or UNBISNET.

Titles of published travaux may also be found on international library websitesPeace Palace LibraryEuropean Court of Human RightsEuropean Commission.

Travaux may be available on treaty websites as documents: see the Convention on the European Convention on Human Rights. Treaty secretariats and treaty websites may include meetings, reports, drafting documents, implementing legislation for member states. Find these with links from  Treaties in Force and in the treaty collections listed in the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law. Find history and drafts of major treaties in treatises on the treaty or on the subject matter of the treaty.

Globalex guide to finding travaux preparatoires

UN Audiovisual Library of International Law: Includes procedural history with some document links for major treaties under Historic Archives.

Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1155 UNTS 331, 8 ILM 679): Available online via the UN AV Library Page with history and background documents

U.S. Caselaw & Foreign Policy Documents

Federal Reporters in print and Federal caselaw databases (on Westlaw or Lexis) include U.S. cases on international law and U.S. foreign policy.

United States Code Service: Uncodified volumes of International Agreements and Treaties with Foreign Countries (Range 303 and on Lexis):  Major treaties and conventions are included. Annotations include history, congressional reports and ratifications, related statutes, regulations in the CFR, secondary sources (ALR, treatises, practice books, law review articles), and cases in the interpretative notes. The print set also has a volume of Notes to Uncodified Laws and Treaties which includes Interpretive Notes and Decisions for some treaties.

International Legal Materials includes significant US cases on international law.

Digest of U.S. Practice in International Law: Excerpts of Solicitor General briefs, State Dept. speeches, letters, and statements concerning international law cases and issues.  Subjects of each chapter are the same in each annual Digest.  State Department website (1989-2012, with links to full-text documents). Also available via Hein Online's Foreign & International Law Resources (1973-2012).

Foreign Relations of the United States is the official documentary history of U.S. foreign policy. On Hein Online with predecessor publications.  It includes historical documents from 1861 to 1976, including presidential, State Department, and other documents on foreign policy.  Find it in USDOCS-REF at GP 3.22/2, or online at the State Department's website (1945-1980), LLMC-Digital (1863-1980), the University of Wisconsin Digital Collections (1861-1960), or Hein Online (1861-1980 in pdf).

Restatement of Foreign Relations: In print at the MacMillan Law Library and on WestlawLexis, and Hein Online. Case citations, plus treaties and secondary sources, on U.S. foreign relations and international law.

ALR Fed Some cases on treaties and interpretation of international law. See the Index under "treaties," or search by treaty name.

Secondary Sources & Periodicals

Treaty history, background, and interpretation can be found in secondary sources, including treatises (some on specific treaties), law review articles, and journals on foreign relations and political science.

Subject Guide