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Legal Research Basics


What is a treaty?

"An international agreement concluded between states in written form and governed by international law ... Treaties, whether general or particular, establish rules recognised by states and as such are a primary source of international law ... Also known as 'agreement', 'arrangement', 'covenant', 'convention', 'declaration', 'exchange of letters', exchange of notes', 'Final Act', 'General Act', 'modus vivendi', 'protocol' or 'statute'."

Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary (online 19 February 2019) 'treaty'.

What is treaty law?

"A body of rules in international law that deals with procedural and substantive aspects of treaties as a source of international law. Treaty law regulates the creation, operation, interpretation, suspension and termination of treaties between international persons."

Encyclopaedic Australian Legal Dictionary (online at 19 February 2019) 'treaty law'.

An introduction to treaties:

View the Non-U.S. Treaties Tutorial from the Georgetown Law Library for an excellent introduction to what treaties are, how they work, and where to find them (7 mins 36 sec, last updated May 2018).

Australia's treaty making process

"Under the Australian Constitution, treaty making is the responsibility of the Executive; the Parliament has no formal role in treaty making ... As a result, all treaty actions are now tabled in Parliament, with a National Interest Analysis, for Parliamentary consideration. There is a Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in the Commonwealth Parliament, and a Commonwealth-State Treaties Council."

'Chapter 4b: Treaty Making Process in Australia', Hot Topics 85: Human Rights (Web Page, 19 February 2019) <>. 

The process for Australia to become a party to a treaty is:

1. Signature: agreement in principle (not legally binding).

2. Ratification: a binding agreement that the treaty will be implemented.

3. Accession/Implementation: Parliament implements the agreement through an Act. For example, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) implements the Convention on All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The text of the Convention is located in the Schedule to the Act.  Where existing Australian law already covers the subject matter of the treaty, it does not have to be implemented through a separate Act.

For further information see:
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Treaty Making Process (Web Page, 19 February 2019) <>.

'Explainer: The Treaty Process in Australia', Rule of Law Institute of Australia (Web Page, 19 February 2019) <>.

Important treaties to which Australia is a party

These treaties have been cited according to AGLC4 chapter 8.

CATConvention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, opened for signature 10 December 1984, 1465 UNTS 85 (entered into force 26 June 1987).

CEDAWConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, opened for signature 18 December 1979, 1249 UNTS 13 (entered into force 3 September 1981).

CERDInternational Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, opened for signature 21 December 1965, 660 UNTS 195 (entered into force 4 January 1969).

CISGUnited Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods, opened for signature 11 April 1980, 1489 UNTS 3 (entered into force 1 January 1988).

CRCConvention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature 20 November 1989, 1577 UNTS 3 (entered into force 2 September 1980).

CRPDConvention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, opened for signature 30 March 2007, A/RES/61/106 (entered into force 3 May 2008).

ICCPRInternational Convention on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 171 (entered into force 23 March 1976).

ICESRInternational Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 3 (entered into force 3 January 1976).

Vienna Convention: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, opened for signature 23 May 1969, 1153 UNTS 331 (entered into force 27 January 1980).

Finding treaties

The ATS (Australian Treaty Series) can be found on AustLII.

It also contains Australian treaties not yet in force, reports of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, Australian Treaty National Interest Analyses and status lists for multilateral treaties.

Australian treaties can also be found on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Treaties Database.

International treaty databases:

A useful collection of treaties in print is Malcolm D Evans (ed), Blackstone's International Law Documents (Oxford University Press, 13th ed, 2017).

Research guides:

Citing treaties

Treaties are cited according to chapter 8 of the AGLC4Citing treaties describes the components of treaty citation.

Rule 8.3 Date Opened for Signature or Signed and Date of Entry into Force:
Note: Where a treaty is adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, the date of adoption is generally the date of conclusion.
The date a current treaty was opened for signature can be found on the United Nations Treaty Collection. Select Depositary and locate the treaty using a Title Search. 

Rule 8.4 Treaty Series lists the order of preference for citation of treaty series:

  • the United Nations Treaty Series ('UNTS') or the League of Nations Treaty Series ('LNTS')
  • an official treaty series of a state party; or
  • another international or regional treaty series

Chapter 9 is not used for treaties, but for documents of the United Nations, such as the Charter of the United Nations and official UN documents. Rule 9.6 provides a table of Commonly Cited Documents to serve as a citation guide. 

[AGLC4 rule 9.2.4 example] Universal Declaration of Human Rights, GA Res 217A (III), UN GAOR, UN Doc A/810 (10 December 1948). 

Useful texts

International law blog sites