February 28, 2007
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FROM VOLUME 12, NUMBER 3, MARCH 1999
SPECIAL REPORT ON INTERNATIONAL CONVENTIONS...
at the Costa RicaCanada Initiative Experts Meeting, Barbara
Ruis of the Free University in, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, described the
general concepts and terms associated with international legal
instruments. Such instruments may be derived from international law,
treaties, custom, general legal principles, judicial decisions, learned
writers, acts of international organizations, and equity. However,
mechanisms or institutions for the creation or reform of public
international law do not exist as they do at the national level. As a
result, the relationship between older treaties and new ones (like the
U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change or the Convention on
Biological Diversity) is often unclear. The Vienna Convention on the Law
of Treaties defines a treaty as "an international agreement concluded
between States in written form and governed by international law, whether
embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and
whatever its particular designation." Such designations include
treaties, agreements, conventions, charters, protocols, and declarations,
which can vary in political significance but carry the same legal weight.
Treaties enter into force in four stages: securing domestic authority to
negotiate a treaty; negotiating; consenting to be bound by the treaty; and
completing an agreed-upon period of time before actual entry into force.
Much of this process occurs at the national level. A treaty can enter into
force by virtue of
- ratification by all drafting states,
- specification of an activation date, or
- specification of conditions that activate the treaty.
A country normally demonstrates its intent to be bound by a treaty by
attaching its signature to it; a signatory then ratifies the treaty in an
expression of its consent to be bound. A party can have a reservation
incorporated into a treaty, and the agreed-upon text of a treaty can be
subsequently changed by the process of amendment. Under international law,
customary international law has equal status with treaties but applies to
all states equally, whereas treaties apply only to signatories.
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