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Treaties are one of the key sources necessary to understand international law. Throughout our lives we have been confronted with treaties many times, albeit in a slightly different form to those we see in international law (henceforth referred to as IL). Whether we have made a bet with friends or played a contact sport, rules regulate our actions on a daily basis.
In international law, treaties are of fundamental importance to state to state interaction. The law concerning how treaties should be written and acted upon can be found in the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties.
Each treaty which has been formulated since has based its foundations on this model. Treaties have a lifespan comparable to that of the human life: they have a birth, a peak, an end and even an afterlife. In this article we will discuss how a treaty is formed and enters into action by referring to key articles set out in the Convention on Treaties, which was adopted in 1968 and entered into force in 1980. The Convention has been ratified by 116 nations and some States which have not ratified, such as the United States of America, still recognise many of the articles as binding in customary law (customary law is a law which claims to be widely universally accepted as a practise of law).
Firstly, the purpose of a treaty is to codify existing norms so that they become binding to those who ratify the treaty. To this end, finishing the text of a treaty is essential and is perceived as a right for each state under article 6. The next phase calls upon the consent to be bound, which is explained in articles 11 – 18, with articles 12 – 15 focusing specifically on mechanism to express the will to be bound. Article 18 discusses the importance not to defeat the objective of a treaty prior to its entry into force.
According to article 19, a State can make its own reservation of a treaty when through a unilateral statement whereby it excludes its own State from one article or provision of the treaty in discussion. Reservation cannot be made, however, if the treaty states in its preamble or throughout the document that no reservation is permitted (a prime example of this would be the Convention on Genocide). Another exception to article 19 is when the treaty states that a reservation can only be made for one article in particular, in which States can only make reservations on the point specified in the treaty.
As per article 24, after all possible reservations have been made, a treaty can enter into force upon the date specified (and will only be binding for those States who sign it on that date). For those States who ratify a treaty years after it first was approved, they will only be bound to the treaty from the date they ratified it and any actions they may have taken prior to this date cannot be accused of acting against the treaty, as they were not yet part of it.