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Finding a Treaty When You Have a Citation

Introduction to Treaty Research

This guide is designed to aid you in your treaty research when you have a citation, including citations that may not be referenced within the Bluebook.  You should note that no complete collection of treaties exists in print or online, and many treaties may not be available in English. In fact, many treaties will have authentic texts printed only in the official languages of the parties involved.

It is important to note, too, that treaties may be referred to by a variety of names (agreements, conventions, protocols, memorandums of understanding, exchanges of letters, et cetera).  You may also want to review the words of guidance on non-binding documents involving the US, provided on the United States' State Department website. It may also be helpful to researchers looking into international agreements, .

If you do not have a citation for your treaty, please see the Harvard Law Library's Research Guide on Finding a Treaty Without a Citation.

Treaty Terminology

When beginning to do treaty research, you may hear a lot of terms for the first time. The following glossary should get you started.  A more detailed glossary can be found at the UN Treaty's website.
Useful Terminology Related to Treaties


Accession - formal adoption of the provisions of a treaty already agreed upon by other parties

Bilateral - a treaty between just two parties

Effective date - the date on which the provisions of the treaty take effect

Entry into force - the date on which the treaty formally becomes a legal obligation binding parties, usually a certain number of days after the last notification

Initialed - the stage when a treaty has been agreed by the negotiating representatives of all parties after which the treaty is submitted for approval at a political level

Multilateral - a treaty between more than two parties

Negotiation - this is the first step in the process of concluding a treaty and is usually carried out by representatives of the parties concerned

Parties - countries that have ratified a treaty and are bound by the terms of the treaty

Ratification - the completion of the formal process of approval of a treaty when one parties notifies the other parties of the ratification, after which that party is bound by the treaty

Reservation - a term or terms of a treaty objected to by a party

Signature - the stage at which a treaty has been approved by the government, making the government bound to uphold the treaty, although the treaty is not yet effective

Termination - the formal act of one or more parties to terminate the application of the treaty

Termination date - the date from which a treaty ceases to have effect