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Research Guides in Focus – Public International Law: A Beginner’s Guide

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The following is a guest post by Louis Myers, the current Librarian-in-Residence at the Law Library of Congress. Louis has authored several blog posts for In Custodia Legis, including New Acquisition: The Trial of Governor Picton, A Case of Torture in Trinidad, Research Guides in Focus – Municipal Codes: A Beginner’s Guide, and Research Guides in Focus – Neighbor Law: A Beginner’s Guide.

The Law Library of Congress is happy to announce one of our most recently published research guides, Public International Law: A Beginner’s Guide. This research guide focuses on the law surrounding the interactions among nations, or public international law. Conceptually, public international law derives from various “sources of law,” defined mainly by the Statute of the International Court of Justice and, in the United States, the Restatement of the Law, Third: Foreign Relations Law of the United States. Generally, the sources are treaties, international custom, general principles of law, and judicial decisions and scholarly teachings. Our latest research guide expands upon the main sources of international law and provides strategies and resources to help researchers find their way through complex subject areas.

Screen capture of the homepage from the public international law guide with image of globe and book
Introduction page of Public International Law: A Beginner’s Guide, //

The guide begins with an explanation of what public international law is, and how it has evolved into current legal practice today. The guide then breaks down the four sources of international law in their own specific sections. Researchers will find a comprehensive list of print and electronic resources, including subscription databases and free online resources. Among the specific sections, researchers will also find commentaries and examples explaining how each source of international law is defined.

Among the pages, researchers will find information about three trickier subject areas: international governmental organizations (IGOs), highly qualified publicists, and judicial decisions. IGOs cover a broad array of international unions created through treaties. Perhaps the most well-known, the United Nations, is heavily involved in the practice of public international law, but many other regional and subject-specific organizations play an important role in this area too. The term “highly qualified publicists” refers to the somewhat amorphous body of scholarly research surrounding concepts of international law. There is no specific guideline defining “who” a qualified publicist is, but certain journals and publications are considered especially authoritative. Finally, the page on judicial decisions covers not only decisions made by international courts, but also decisions made by domestic courts that involve aspects of international law. Research in this particular area can be difficult to perform, especially when researching a jurisdiction that reports in a foreign language.

We hope that researchers find this guide helpful in their quest to learn more about the laws that govern interactions between nations at a global level. Although we have styled the guide as a beginner’s guide, the many resources we have highlighted throughout the guide were chosen to open a window to both novice and experienced researchers to broaden their understanding of this complex and dynamic area of law. As always, we encourage researchers who have further questions, comments, or feedback about this guide to reach out to us through Ask a Librarian.

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