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International Law: Sources of Law

Create from Seton Hall Law Guide located at:

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Thank you to the Rodino Law Library at Seton Hall Law School for sharing their content from their International Law Guide.

Sources to Consult For International Law Research

International Law is drawn from a variety of areas. It has no well-defined hierarchchy of legal authorities.  Examples of sources which may be involved in International Law research are listed below. 

  • According to Article 38 of the ICJ statute (click "ICJ" for the statute), these are the sources of international law:
  • Judicial decisions (from international tribunals and national courts)
  • Scholarly Commentary can be used as persuasive evidence of the law, but they are not "the law".
  • In addition to treaties, custom, general principles, judicial decisions, and scholarly commentary, your topic will likely require research in a variety of such as: 
    • Travaux Préparatoires: the "legislative history" of treaties
      • The Yale Law Library has a Directory of Collected Travaux Préparatories. This directory offers the most comprehensive listing of compiled drafting histories.  Print materials are listed alphabetically by title.  Links are provided to drafting histories that are accessible online. 
      • Search the Rodino Catalog with the keyword (kw:) "Travaux Préparatoires"
      • UNHCR Legislative History: The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, through its RefWorld database, provides the legislative histories of refugee conventions.
    • Documents of treaty bodies (aka agency that administers the treaty)
    • National (domestic) legislation
      • Many countries provide for human rights in their national laws.  Good Starting points include:
        • The Foreign Law Research Guides compiled by the Law Library of Congress. 
        • Globalex: Research Guides on Foreign Law prepared by the fabulous librarians at NYU. 
        • UNHCR Legal Information: the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, through its Refworld database, provides legal information such as national legislation, organized by country.
        • N-Lex: Allows you to search national laws of EU Member States. 
    • Inter-governmental Organizations (IGO) documents 
    • Non-Govermental (NGO) documents 
      • NGOs monitor human rights violations.  They produce reports and other publications.  
      • Use the Worldwide NGO Directory to find an NGO related to your topic. 
    • Country Reports
      • Use reports from a specific nation that document human rights violations
    • News stories/blog posts


Please note, that while this guide can be instructive for general International Law Research, it was updated in August 2018 to be specifically geared towards students enrolled in INTL9604EM Selected Problems in International Human Rights.