Conventions and Protocols

Conventions and Protocols
Conventions and protocols

Conventions and protocols are agreements made between nations. Often, they are adopted by an international organization such as the United Nations. They include rules, sanctions, and mechanisms to ensure compliance. Many are also open to participation by the international community as a whole. For example, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is an example of a convention.

A treaty is a binding international agreement between two or more states. It can be formal or informal, depending on the circumstances. The term was initially used for bilateral agreements, but the use has shifted to multilateral agreements. Some examples of multilateral treaties are the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the SOLAS Convention, and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

International humanitarian law is based on a body of treaties and other protocols. In particular, the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which are ratified by more than two-thirds of the world’s countries, codify the rights and rules for treating civilians during war. These include the treatment of prisoners of war, refugees, shipwrecked people, and civilians affected by natural disasters. While these are the mainstays of international humanitarian law, it does not replace national laws.

Another term often associated with treaties is modus vivendi. Modus vivendi is a temporary arrangement, usually recorded in a written instrument. The intention is to eventually be replaced by a more permanent arrangement. However, it is possible to make an informal agreement with the same binding force as a treaty.

An Optional Protocol to a Treaty is an independent document that adds further obligations to the general treaty. Generally, a party to an Optional Protocol must ratify it before it enters into force. Since the treaty may not be ratified by all parties, the Optional Protocol is a way to enforce its obligations before the general treaty enters into force.

In addition to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, there are three other treaties and one additional protocol, all dealing with the treatment of non-combatants. Additional Protocol I reinforces the Fourth Geneva Convention, while Protocol II completes the fundamental guarantees found in Article 3 of all four Geneva Conventions.

Another type of convention is a supplementary treaty, or a protocol, which contains provisions that amend former treaties. Two such protocols were adopted in 1977. One of them, the SADC Protocol on Extradition, is essential in the fight against crime. Others include the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Depletes the Ozone Layer, which was adopted in the wake of the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

When the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties was enacted in 1986, it expanded the definition of “treaty” to include international agreements involving international organizations. This convention also confirmed the generic use of the term “treaty” for all instruments binding under international law. As a result, the term has also gained customary meaning.

Another example of a convention is the STCW Convention, which governs maritime transport. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 is another example of a treaty.

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