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Public International Law Research - A Brief Guide   Tags: customary international law, international courts, international law, treaties, united nations  

Basic tools for research in public international law for USF law school students writing papers for classes or participating in international law moot court competitions.
Last Updated: Jun 30, 2016 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Getting Started Print Page

About This Guide

This guide is for students writing papers for classes or participating in moot court competitions, and it covers the basic research tools.

There are sections dealing with: books; articles; treaties; customary law; courts & decisions; and the United Nations and other IGOs. The final section has more advice on international law research. (For human rights issues, see also the Zief Law Library's guide on Human Rights Research.)


The Sources of International Law

What are the sources of international law? The following statements give some guidance. For more on the sources of international law, see any introduction to international law, or any of the longer guides to international law research listed in the final section ("Learning More") of this guide.

The Classic List: Statute of International Court of Justice, Article 38, § 1

  • International conventions [i.e., treaties and agreements].
  • International custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law.
  • The general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.
  • Judicial decisions and the teachings of the most highly qualified publicists of the various nations, as subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law. (emphasis added.)

The complete Statute of the International Court of Justice is available on the Court's site.

Restatement of the Law, the Foreign Relations Law of the United States, § 102

  • Customary law, which "results from a general and consistent practice of states followed by them from a sense of legal obligation.'
  • International agreements.
  • General principles common to the major legal systems.

Section 102 is part of Chapter One ("International Law: Character and Sources") of the Restatement on Foreign Relations. [This version, from HeinOnline, is available to the USF community.]

Great Places to Start

  • Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law
    Thorough, scholarly introductions to major concepts, cases, and agreements, with citations for further research. A work in progress; currently about 1600 of the projected 1700+ articles are available. [For current USF students, faculty, and staff.]
  • Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, 3d ed. - in print
    The print version of the online Encyclopedia of Public International Law. Zief Library: KZ 1161 .E5 2012 Law Reference.
  • Parry & Grant Encyclopaedic Dictionary of International Law, 3d ed. - via Oxford Reference online
    Brief essays as well as shorter definitions. Includes citations to major authorities for further research. [Also available in print at the Zief Law Library at KZ 1161 .P37 2009 Law Reference.]
  • EISIL - Electronic Information System for International Law
    A good way to find links to trustworthy web sites, treaties, and other documents. From the American Society of International Law.
  • Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law - ASIL
    Narrative guides covering a variety of topics in public and private internationals law. This guide is "designed to be used by students, teachers, practitioners and researchers as a self-guided tour of relevant, quality, up-to-date online resources covering important areas of international law." From the American Society of International Law.
  • United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law
    A treasure-trove of information with a deceptively quaint name, this site includes: an online international law Research Library with access to "treaties, jurisprudence, publications and documents, scholarly writings and research guides"; an Historic Archives ("documents and audiovisual materials relating to the negotiation and adoption of significant legal instruments under the auspices of the United Nations and related agencies since 1945"); and a Lecture Series ("a permanent collection of lectures on virtually every subject of international law given by leading international law scholars and practitioners from different countries and legal systems").
  • Jessup Library - HeinOnline
    Competition materials, including memorials, from Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court competitions. Covers 1960 to the present. [For current USF students, faculty, and staff.] (Jessup materials are also available in print at JX 1293 .U6 P48 Law Stacks.


Use these sources to understand key terms and concepts, and to find leads for further research.

ICJ Memorials as Research Tools

The Jessup Competition research guides suggest using as research tools the memorials states have submitted to the International Court of Justice. There are a couple of ways to find memorials.

International Legal Materials (ILM)

International Legal Materials (ILM) reprints selected important treaties, decisions, and other primary documents. In certain circumstances the Bluebook allows citations to ILM.

ILM is particularly useful for finding older, more obscure documents.

  • International Legal Materials (ILM) - HeinOnline
    Covers volume 1 (1962) to the present. [For current USF students, faculty, and staff.] International Legal Materials is also available in print at the Zief Law Library at: K 9 .N57 Law Stacks (lower level).
  • International Legal Materials (ILM) database - Westlaw
    Selected coverage from volume 19 (1980) to the present. [For authorized Westlaw subscribers.] International Legal Materials is also available in print at the Zief Law Library at: K 9 .N57 Law Stacks (lower level).

Research Librarian

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