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South African Law

Finding South African Treaties

South Africa has no official treaty series, and full text treaties are not kept in one place online, so can be difficult to find.

A full list of the bilateral treaties concluded by South Africa in a particular year appears in the South African Yearbook of International Law - available on:

  • HeinOnline  (UniMelb staff & student access)

  • JUTA  (UniMelb staff & student access)

The Treaty section on the official website of Office of the Chief State Law Advisor provides access to the official South African Treaty Register, a database enabling users to retrieve information on South African agreements dating back as far as 1654. It does not have comprehensive coverage, nor provide the full text of the agreements, but does provide relevant dates and reservations. 

Most South African bilateral and multilateral treaties are deposited with the United Nations and become part of the official United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS), or its predecessor, the League of Nations Treaty Series (1920-1944). Searching by 'Participant' will find South African treaties, provide the UNTS citation (if there is one), and link to the full text of the treaty, including in force, signature, reservations etc information. 

For more information about finding treaties, see the Treaties page on our Public International Law Research Guide.

International Law and South African Domestic Law

The South African Chief State Law Advisor (IL) is the custodian of all international agreements to which South Africa is a party.  The website of the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor includes information on the Constitution and international law, including treaties (called 'international agreements' in South Africa) and international customary law. The Constitution provides for international law in Chapter 14, ss 231 – 233. Customary international law is generally considered to be automatically part of South African law as long as it does not conflict with the Constitution or existing South African legislation (s 232) - this is a monist approach to the implementation of international law. In addition, s 233 obliges every court to prefer any reasonable interpretation of legislation which is consistent with international law over any interpretation which is not. With regard to treaties, South Africa follows a dualist approach with respect to the domestic effect of international treaties. While ratification of a treaty creates international obligations for South Africa, the dualist system means that in order for the treaty obligations to be given the force of law domestically, South Africa cannot simply become a party to the treaty - the treaty must be incorporated into domestic legislation. It is important to note, however, that with regard to human rights, s 39(1)(b) of the Constitution obliges courts in South Africa to consider international law when interpreting the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. In S v Makwanyane [1995] (3) SA 391 (CC) at [35], the Constitutional Court held that reference to international law in this provision includes both binding as well as non-binding international law (this would include treaties that have not been incorporated into domestic legislation)

The website of the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor also includes information on the Procedure for Concluding International Agreements, the Ratification/Accession procedure, and Depositing and Registration. All South African treaties must be registered with the Secretariat of the United Nations after the entry into force.

For a detailed critique of South Africa's treaty-making and the provisions of the Constitution governing international law, see NJ Botha, 'National Treaty Law and Practice: South Africa', Chapter 16 in the following book: 

Citing Treaty Series - AGLC4 Style

If a treaty is included in a treaty series, the treaty series should be cited rather than eg: the UN document number. Treaties are often included in several treaty series. According to Chapter 8.4 (pp 137-138) of the Australian Guide to Legal Citation (view-only PDF available on open access), treaties should be cited in the following preferential order:

1. Consolidated Treaty Series (ConTS) 1648-1919; League of Nations Treaty Series (LNTS) 1920-1944; or United Nations Treaty Series (UNTS) 1946+

  • The Law Library has the Consolidated Treaty Series (also known as Parry's Treaty Series) in print on level 4 and online, entitled Oxford Historical Treaties.
  • Note that All South African treaties must be registered with the Secretariat of the United Nations after the entry into force - therefore all will be included in the UNTS and can be cited as such.

2. An official treaty series of a state party. South Africa has no official treaty series.

3. Another international or regional treaty series - for example the Organization of African Unity (OAU) / African Union (AU) Treaties.

4. International Legal Materials (ILM) (University of Melb staff & students only). This series is on HeinOnline (vol 1, 1962+) in the Law Journal Library collection and in JSTOR (vol 1, 1962+) . This is not a treaty series - but it includes treaty texts and useful introductory information about the treaties, and it is an accepted method of citation.   Note that JSTOR's holdings are more up to date than Hein's.

5. If the treaty is not included in any of the above, use the official document number (such as a UN document number) to identify it, using the accepted style as described in Chapter 8 of the AGLC4.

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