FCIL Newsletter/February 1998
Researching International Law Electronically
Jill McC. Watson, Director of Library and Information
Services, The American Society of International Law
International law on the web is exploding. Of course, this is true of
almost any subject area, but it is a particularly welcome development in
this one. While research in U.S. law is distinguished by a huge body of
highly organized and accessible materials, international law has long posed
a challenge to scholars, practitioners, diplomats and others.
The library I work in -- at the American Society of International Law
in Washington, D.C. -- has always been a great place to research this diffuse
and scattered subject, largely because a wide variety of highly specialized
materials are available in one small place. This has now changed dramatically.
Thanks to the activities of international organizations and major universities
around the world, the researcher now is offered an astronomically wider
variety of those highly specialized materials, available in an even smaller
place (the screen of the computer). All you have to do is understand what
it is and where to find it!
In the vast, as yet unorganized world of the World Wide Web this can
be harder than the innocent librarian or researcher might imagine.
The ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International
With the help of a grant from the Ford Foundation, the American Society
of International Law conceived of the idea of building an electronic guide
to these resources that were popping up in all formats - on commercial
services such as Lexis and Westlaw, on CD-ROMs, and increasingly (this
was in 1995) on something called the Web.
The plan was that in organized chapters on selected subjects, authors
would not only explain the nature of researching their particular area,
but also offer descriptions and critiques of available electronic formats.
Finally, the Guide would offer live links to sites on the Internet that
were particularly useful. These would be updated on a regular basis, both
to insure the viability of the links and to review the content and currency
of the chapters.
The Guide is being built gradually (it has four chapters so far), but
it already serves as a useful tool in demonstrating in an organized fashion
the quantity of international law information becoming available on the
The four initial chapters of the Guide are:
- Human Rights (Marci Hoffman, University of Minnesota Law School)
- Treaties (Jill McC. Watson, ASIL)
- The United Nations (Paul Zarins, Stanford University Libraries)
- Lists, Newsgroups and Other Networks (Lyonette Louis-Jacques, University
of Chicago Law School)
Two new chapters are in preparation - on International Criminal Law
(Gail Partin, Dickinson School of Law) and on International Environmental
Law (Anne Burnett, University of Georgia School of Law) - and will be ready
in early 1998. I will very briefly describe the United Nations and Human
Rights sections as examples of how the ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources
for International Law can help identify and locate these materials
in the emerging electronic resources world.
The United Nations
The United Nations has done a splendid job of bringing its materials
online. It started early and has pushed hard to keep up the pace. One of
the most welcome accomplishments is that of the Office of Legal Affairs
in putting on the Internet the 30,000 treaties already published in the
1400+ volumes of the United Nations Treaty Series. So far, these are free
to all, but the UN has warned its users that soon there will be a fee for
In the United Nations Chapter of the ASIL Guide, Paul Zarins
provides information on what you can expect to find at the UN site and
guidance on how to navigate it. There are links not only to the main UN
Home Page, but also to UNCITRAL and UNHCR, to related organizations such
as ACUNS and UNA-USA, to other research guides on the UN, and to Model
UN web sites, as well as hints on how to research UN Resolutions and more.
Marci Hoffman begins her chapter by briefly outlining the history of
human rights law and its foundations in the UN Charter, linking the user
to the relevant articles of the Charter as well as to the text of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
Under "Where to Start," she lists (and links to) bibliographic
databases and online research guides to print material, as well as periodical
Under "Primary Sources," links are provided to compilations
of human rights documents from a variety of sources - from the UN to the
University of Minnesota. Other international organizations such as the
Council of Europe, the OAS, the OAU and the OSCE are covered in detail.
A section is devoted to "Humanitarian Law," linking the researcher
to the ICRC and other humanitarian sites. The ICRC section is illustrative
of the fact that these sites will not only give you the full text of international
law instruments, such as the Geneva Conventions, but also much, much more
such as addresses and telephone numbers of tracing offices and Red Cross
operations by region around the world, not to mention photographs and a
research guide to international humanitarian law.
The Human Rights Chapter of the Guide goes on for a total of
23 pages with links and tips on useful sites created by NGOs such as Amnesty
International and Human Rights Internet, as well as the more well-regarded
university-sponsored sites such as the UN Scholar's Workstation at Yale
and DIANA, a network of online human rights resources.
Where the Guide Is
The Guide is located on ASIL's web site at http://www.asil.org/resource/Home.htm.
It is updated about every six months, both to correct changes in links
and URLs and to add new developments in the subject covered. Knowing that
many international law researchers do not have ready access to the Internet
but are nonetheless eager to learn of and understand developments in the
electronic information world, ASIL has published a paper version of the
Guide. Entitled ASIL Guide to Electronic Resources for International
Law, it is No. 13 (January, 1998) of the series ASIL Bulletin
and can be purchased from ASIL.
to the next article: "AALL/BIALL/CALL Joint Study Institute"
to the Table of Contents