International Law Treaties

International Law Treaties

International Law System: Treaties

Introduction to International Law Treaties

Treaties are written agreements between two or more sovereign states. International organizations may also be given the capacity to make treaties, either with sovereign states or other international organizations. Treaties may be known by many other names-for example, agreement, convention, protocol, pact, and covenant-but the name chosen generally does not affect the legal status of the agreement. As long as the parties intend the text to be binding, it is a treaty. Treaties may incorporate rules of custom or develop new law.

The present system of international law remains largely consensual and centered on the sovereign state. It is within the discretion of each state to participate in the negotiation of, or to sign or ratify, any international treaty. Likewise, each member state of an international organization such as the UN is free to ratify any convention adopted by that organization. Treaty law thus is created by the express will of states.

Treaties and conventions were, until the 20th century, usually bilateral (between two nations), but some multilateral treaties resulted from international conferences held in the 19th century, before permanent international organizations were created. Such conferences played an important part in the development of the international legal system. Noteworthy examples include the Congress of Vienna, which through its Final Act of 1815 reorganized Europe after the defeat of Napoleon and also contributed to the body of international law. It established rules for diplomatic procedure and the treatment of diplomatic envoys. On the urging of Britain, it also included a general condemnation of the slave trade. The Conference of Paris (1856) was convened to terminate the Crimean War. It also adopted the Declaration of Maritime Law that abolished privateering (the use of private ships during war) and letters of marque (licenses given to private citizens to arm ships and attack enemy merchants), modernized the rights of neutrals during maritime war, and required blockades to be effective. The Declaration of Paris also initiated the practice of allowing nations other than the original signatories to accede (become a party to) to an agreement.

In 1864 a conference convened in Geneva, Switzerland, at the invitation of the Swiss government. The conference approved a convention for the proper treatment of wounded soldiers on the battlefield and the protection of medical personnel; many nations subsequently acceded to this convention, the first Geneva Convention. The peace conferences held in 1899 and 1907 in The Hague, the Netherlands, resulted in a number of conventions designed to avoid or mitigate the rigors of war. The 1899 conference adopted a Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, which created the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to settle disputes between nations (see Hague Conferences).” (1)


Notes and References

Guide to International Law Treaties