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The next phase of the life of the life of a treaty involves three steps: observance, application and interpretation. Article 26 declares the concept of pacta sunt servanda, meaning a treaty must be performed by parties in good faith, and is the very foundation on which a treaty is agreed. Article 27 points out that a party cannot use their internal laws as a justification for their failure to comply with the treaty. In terms of application, article 28 dictates the rule of non-retroactivity of treaties.
The interpretation of treaties can be presented in any of the five main UN languages. Sometimes, two laws may conflict with one another which can cause much confusion to lawyers and judges when dealing with international cases. If a misunderstanding of a certain article occurs there are three main techniques for resolving the issue:
Lex specialis: the special law prevails over the general law, referred to as lex generalis. This means that between two laws, the one which is most specific to the case.
Lex posterior: the latter treaty will prevail over the earlier law. This signifies that the most recent law prevails over the older legislation.
Lex superior: the superior law prevails over all others. In international law, there is a hierarchical order in which laws are perceived. Jus cogens and article 103 of the UN Charter prevail over other laws.
Relevant articles on the interpretation of a treaty are as follows:
Article 31: General rule of interpretation including guidance on defining the context and main provision of such document. In IL, unlike Anglo nations, parties must refer to the preamble and the preamble cannot be overlooked. The treaty also includes annexes or supplementary agreements one may have. The preamble gives a brief context of why nations/parties are agreeing to the subsequent provisions and as such it should be taken into account alongside context, subsequent agreements and annex.
Article 32: Supplementary means of interpretation. These are secondary means of interpretation and can be resorted to after primary means. If the text of a treaty is ambiguous or the interpretation leads to absurd results you can use supplementary means by going to the preparatory work. This will be the work concerning parties oral statements and debates prior to a treaty. If there is no ambiguity a party may not go to this text as a point of reference. When a treaty is written in two or more languages the treaty is binding. In the UN treaties are typically in English or French as this is also standard practice in international Courts. Sometimes there is a difference but the baseline rule is that both texts are equally valid unless it is specified that one version is more valid (e.g. if there is a clause stating the English case should be referred to in case of ambiguity). If neither primary nor supplementary means are sufficient to expel ambiguity it can be left for a judge to decide, potentially by taking recourse to the different languages the treaty is in.