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Public International Law Research - A Brief Guide

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.

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 (Third) on Foreign Relations. [This version, from HeinOnline, is available to the USF community.]

Great Places to Start


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.

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