Foreign & International Law

Foreign law is the law of other countries, while international law includes the rules of how countries act toward one another, whether by treaty or otherwise. Use this guide to begin your research, and contact Julie Lavigne, the Legal Studies Librarian, for more help.

Foreign law is the law of other countries; eg, the laws of Australia. International law includes the rules accepted as binding between nation states or countries (rather than individuals), and helps define how international intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations operate, as well as how treaties are applied and enforced.

The Library has created a couple of videos on sources of international law and the most commonly-used international court websites. A third video discussing other tips and tricks for researching international law is slightly out of date (eg, replace all references to "Summon" with "Omni", the Library's new search tool), but may still be useful for getting started.

Research Guides

The series Essentials of Canadian Law has a number of titles that may be a useful starting point, including International & Transnational Criminal Law and Refugee Law. See also:

In order to find articles and other secondary sources on international or foreign law topics, you can use a more generalized search, like the Library's Omni search, or a more specialized legal database. Remember, however, that many international law topics tend to be interdisciplinary in nature, and you may want to look at some of the broader databases that are not focused specifically on law; for example, in political science or international affairs. Look at the groupings of databases by subject for more ideas. 

  • Columbia International Affairs Online: Full-text access to working papers, policy briefs, economic indicators, conference proceedings, books and journal abstracts in the area of international affairs theory and research 
  • HeinOnline: In addition to a large collection of academic law journals, a decent selection of international materials can be found (laws, treaties, cases, reports), along with annotated constitutions from around the world
  • International Political Science Abstracts: Abstracts from almost 900 political science journals, with a focus on including countries traditionally harder to research 
  • Nexis Uni: Search legal, business, political science, and news sources from Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, the US, and the US
  • WestlawNext Canada: The international section of this database includes a wide range of primary and secondary legal sources, mostly from the US, the UK, Australia, Korea, and Hong Kong


Another important source of secondary materials can be grey literature, information published outside the usual ambit of scholarly or academic publishing. A lot of the research and reports produced by governments and international organizations such as the ICRC and the UN is actually grey literature. For more on how to research this type of information, see the Library's How-To guide on Grey Literature.

  • ASIL's International Organizations guide includes information on searching for both intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations online
  • ASIL's United Nations guide reviews UN documents and resolutions, international courts and tribunals, related associations and organizations, and the UN document numbering and classification system
  • EUROPA is the official website of the European Union with a wide range of available documentation, including research, governing legislation, and case law from its associated courts
  • OECD iLibrary is the gateway to analysis and research done by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and a few related agencies, with papers, books and articles published in the following areas: agriculture and food, development, economics, education, employment, energy, environment, finance and investment, governance, industry and services, nuclear energy, science and technology, social issues such as migration and health, taxation, trade, transport, and urban / rural / regional development
  • Official Documents of the UN database provides access to the full-text of all types of official UN documentation, including the resolutions of the General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council and the Trusteeship Council
  • UN Data is a database of UN and UN agency statistics on economic, social, financial and development topics, including agriculture, crime, education, employment, energy, environment, health, HIV/AIDS, human development, industry, information and communication technology, national accounts, population, refugees, tourism, trade, and the Millennium Development Goals indicators
  • UN Digital Library provides free access to official UN documents, selected UN maps, speeches, and voting records, organized into collections according to UN body, agency, or type of document
  • UN Treaty Collection contains the text of international agreements registered with the United Nations and information on the status of the registered treaties

International Criminal Law, National Security and Terrorism

See also the Library's Subject Guide on National Security, Intelligence and Terrorism

  • ASIL's International Criminal Law guide includes resources on international treaties, conventions and agreements, relevant international, regional and national criminal tribunals, criminal prevention and prosecution, specific types of crimes (human rights and war crimes, organized crime and narcotics, cyber crime, environmental crime, and terrorism), and statistical sources
  • Human Rights Library (University of Minnesota) includes documents on related subjects such as documents on arbitrary detention and reports on medical services in overseas US prisons set up during the "War on Terror"


International Economic, Employment, and Trade Law, including Intellectual Property

  • ASIL's International Commercial Arbitration guide includes resources on international agreements, conventions, and treaties, international and regional arbitral institutions, Internet domain name disputes, and national arbitration statutes
  • ASIL's International Economic Law guide includes resources on international trade and international finance, regional economic integration, international and regional development, private international law, international business regulation, competition law including e-commerce, and intellectual property (IP) law
  • ASIL's International Intellectual Property Law guide includes resources on IP generally, patents, copyright law, trademarks, trade and IP, arbitration/mediation and IP, traditional knowledge, and geographical indications, as well as links to national databases and selected non-governmental organizations 
  • World LII: International Trade list a number of useful online resources
  • EPLex is a searchable database of resources on employment protection legislation compiled by the International Labour Organization (ILO)
  • LEGOSH is an ILO database on occupational safety and health legislation
  • NORMLEX is an ILO database on national labour and social security laws, as well as international labour standards
  • WIPOLEX, from the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), is a database on intellectual property, including WIPO and other IP treaties, and the laws/regulations of WIPO member states, the UN, and the WTO


International Environmental Law, including Law of the Sea

  • ASIL's International Environmental Law guide includes resources on environmental law issues, including climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity, transfrontier pollution, marine pollution, endangered species, hazardous materials and activities, cultural preservation, desertification, and uses of the seas
  • ASIL's Law of the Sea guide includes resources on global treaties such as the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, other treaties, agreements, and organizations, case law and information on settlement of disputes, conservation and management of the seas, and other relevant national laws
  • The Center for International Environmental Law produces research and publications on a number of issues related to environmental law, including climate, corporate accountability, extractives, finance and development, forests, human rights, plastic, toxics, and trade
  • ECOLEX is a gateway to decisions, legislation, treaties, and secondary sources about international environmental law
  • FAOLEX includes a collection of laws, regulations and policies on food, agriculture and natural resources management
  • NASA has a number of data centres related to environmental studies, including its Environmental Treaties and Resource Indicatiors (ENTRI), which has treaty texts, 1940-2000, and data on country participation, 1940-2012
  • Access information on multilateral environmental agreements using the UN's inforMEA


International Human Rights Law, including Indigenous Law

See also the Library's Subject Guides on Human Rights and Indigenous Studies


Law of War and International Humanitarian Law, including Refugee Law

See also the Library's Subject Guide on Humanitarian Relief and Refugees

  • e-Resource Guide on International Humanitarian Law is an extensive listing of primary and secondary sources on topics including protected persons, the conduct of war, related international institutions such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), children in armed conflict, mercenaries, and technology in war (eg, drones, robots and cyber-warfare)
  • The ICRC maintains a Customary International Humanitarian Law Database which covers the rules of humanitarian law and provides access to case law and other related legal information; see also their information pages on customary law
  • The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UN Refugee Agency) produces much high-quality research on refugees and displaced persons, and its RefWorld database gives quick access to laws, case law, and country-specific information
  • WorldLII: Refugees & Asylum
Content last reviewed: April 21, 2020