Researching International Criminal Law


Researching International Criminal Law


Judy Gire, Library Director

Sources of International Law

International criminal law is part of public international law and focuses on issues relating to extradition, cybercrime, terrorism, organized crime and narcotics, and human rights and war crimes under international law.  It is related to humanitarian law which addresses human rights in wartime as well as international human rights law which focuses on the protection of individuals and groups against violations of their rights under international law.

When researching international law issues, Article 38 of the International Court of Justice Statute the sources of international law in order of their weight as authority:

1.      International conventions and treaties

2.      International custom as evidence of a general practice accepted as law

3.      General principles of law recognized by civilized nations (doctrines of fairness and justice applied universally in legal systems throughout the world)

4.      Judicial decisions and teachings of the most highly qualified publicists

The first three sources are primary sources while judicial decisions and teachings of the most highly qualified publicists are treated as secondary sources. Only the first three sources apply to international criminal law since “teachings of the most highly qualified publicists, i.e. judges or jurists of international courts or tribunals, cannot create supra-national binding laws as local legislative and adjudicatory bodies do.” See M. Cherif Bassiouni, International Criminal Law 4-5(2d ed. 1998).

Getting Started

            Introductory Guides

ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law


Excellent discussion on how to do international legal research on the Internet, highlighting important primary and secondary sources. The section on International Criminal Law provides a textual pathfinder to major electronic sources for researching international and transitional crime as well as current issues common to both categories.


Produced by Hauser Global Law School Program of New York University, Globalex offers high quality legal research guides on various international subjects as well as timely articles on international law topics and venues including international criminal law. Offers search function.


                        ASIL Electronic Information System for International Law (EISIL)


American Society of International Law’s comprehensive site with links to law instruments, web sites and online research guides. Includes subsection on international criminal law.

                        Guide to Law Online (GLIN)


Law Library of Congress portal to Internet links for reference sources for nations and regions. Includes international sources.           

                        United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Library


                        Good place to access U.N. information and documents.

Justice Information Center. National Criminal Justice Reference Service.

Database of abstracts of books, articles and reports published by the U.S. Department of Justice, other state and federal agencies, international organizations and private sector. Areas of focus include: corrections, courts, crime prevention, criminal justice statistics, drugs, international information, juvenile justice, law enforcement, and victims.

Extensive global source of information on criminal justice.

National Institute of Justice (NIJ)  

U.S. Department of Justice’s research agency site with links to international criminal justice community. Includes full-text of articles in NIJ publications.


Check for treatises on international criminal law and justice topics by leading authorities. Search by author and title if known or by subject heading or keyword in an online library catalog.

            Useful subject headings include:

                        Criminal law -- International

                        Criminal jurisdiction  

                        International offenses

You can also add a geographical limitation to subject headings to locate information in a particular country or region:

                        International offenses -- Angola

            Additionally, you can search by more specific topics:


                        Narcotics and crime


                        War crimes

            Most international criminal law treatises in the library are classed under KZ.

·         MelCat

                        Online catalog of all library treatise holdings.

·         Check Online Catalogs from Other Academic Law Libraries

Some large academic law libraries have special international law collections. Go to the library web pages for the law school you want to search and run a search in their online catalog to identify relevant treatise material and then use our library’s interlibrary loan service to obtain the material. The link above is to the online catalog for Harvard which has a large international collection.

·         Interlibrary Loan

See Reference Librarian Kathy Fletcher if you need to interlibrary loan treatises not available in the library.

            Periodical Articles

Many law reviews and journals include articles on international criminal law topics which are sources for current information and citations to relevant material.

·         LegalTrac

Index of Anglo-American legal periodicals and law reviews. Search by author or title if known or by subject heading or keyword.  Coverage from 1980-

·         Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals

Index to articles on foreign, comparative and international law published in legal periodicals and law reviews from around the world. Search by author, title, subject, keyword.  Coverage from 1985-

·         Ebscohost                 

                        Interdisciplinary databases providing full-text access to many journal articles.

·         Columbia International Affairs Online (CIAO)


Full-text collection of working papers, journal articles, books, policy briefs, research projects and conference proceedings discussing theory, policy and research of international affairs.

·         Interlibrary Loan

                        See Reference Librarian Kathy Fletcher if you need to interlibrary loan periodical articles.  


·         Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law

Authoritative encyclopedia on public international law topics written by scholars and practitioners from around the world.

Statistical Sources

·         UN Crime and Justice Information Network (UNCJIN): Statistics and Research Sources                      

Links to collections of global crime statistics and includes the UN Surveys of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems.

·         Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). International Justice Statistics

Complete resource for international criminal justice statistics with explanations and references to U.N. statistical sources, international web sites, and National Archive of Criminal Justice Data. Includes crime surveys and studies from individual countries and regions and Global Report on Crime and Justice as well as World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems.

Treaty Sources

            Treaty Collections

You can usually retrieve individual treaties by name through an Internet search.  Lacking the treaty name, there are several collections of treaties to check to locate the text of a treaty.

·         ASIL EISIL Database

American Society of International Law’s EISIL database links to selected treaties in the section devoted to international criminal law.

·         United Nations Treaty Collection

Collection includes the Leagues of Nations Treaty Series (L.N.T.S.), 1920-1944, and the United Nations Treaty Series (U.N.T.S.), 1944-. The latter collection includes full-text of all bilateral and multilateral treaties registered with the Secretariat. Most comprehensive treaty series, but there can be a time lag.

·         HeinOnline Treaties & Agreements Library

Largest and most complete collection of all U.S. treaties and agreements, whether currently in force, expired or not yet officially published. Includes United States Treaties and Other International Agreements set.

·         Check Web Sites of Regional Organizations

Web sites for regional organizations like the Council of Europe, European Union or Organization of American States often provide text of treaties between member countries. 

Treaty Status

Checking for signatories, status, ratification and reservation information on treaties is important. Options include:

·         United Nations Treaty Collection.  “Status of Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General”

·         Web Sites of Regional Organizations

Web sites for regional organizations often provide status information for treaties of member countries.

·          ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International Law. Treaty Page.

ASIL Treaty Page, Section 5, links to status and ratification information for treaties. Also includes information on declarations and reservations.

·         Department of State Web Page for U.S. Treaty Status         

The Department of State Web page has links to Treaties in Force to Treaty Actions  to check status of U.S. treaties.

Case Law

Decisions of international and national tribunals can be used as persuasive authority. 

·         Courts, Tribunals and Other Adjudicatory Bodies

Check the ASIL International Criminal Law Resource Guide, Sec. IV for links to the major courts addressing international criminal law issues including: (1) the International Court of Justice; (2) the International Criminal Court; (3) various criminal tribunals; and (4) regional courts. Sites for these bodies often include their decisions.

·         Oxford Reports on International Law

Includes four modules of case law from international courts and dispute settlement bodies: (1) International Courts of General Jurisdiction; (2) International Criminal Law; (3) International Human Rights; and (4) International Law in Domestic Court.  You can search all four modules simultaneously or filter results to a particular module. Within a module, results may be limited to decisions from a particular jurisdiction or adjudicatory body.


Last revised: February 2012