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THE LEGAL CHARACTER OF ARTICLE 18 OF THE VIENNA CONVENTION ON THE LAW OF TREATIES

  • Paul Gragl (a1) and Malgosia Fitzmaurice (a2)

Abstract

The main reason for Article 18 being one of the most opaque provisions of the Vienna Convention is that it establishes a relatively vague ‘interim obligation’ for States to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty between its signature and ratification. Although the existence of such an interim obligation has been recognized by States and in various international legal regimes, it remains problematic since Article 18 neither defines nor determines its own contours and when and under which conditions it is being breached. It goes without saying that the legal consequences of a possible breach of this provision are left equally unclear. It remains uncertain how the interim obligation of Article 18 fits into the general international law of treaties; what its legal nature and temporal scope is; which role the principle of good faith plays as a possibly underlying principle of this provision; and how we should understand the object and purpose of a treaty and how it can be defeated. Furthermore, its apparent focus seems to be on bilateral rather than multilateral treaties, but this exclusive application of this interim obligation to bilateral treaties would contravene both the expressed and implied intent of the drafters. Therefore, this article also discusses how Article 18 fits within the normative system of international law and law-making treaties, such as human rights treaties.

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References

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1 See eg Charme, JS, ‘The Interim Obligation of Article 18 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: Making Sense of an Enigma’ (1991) 25 George Washington Journal of International Law and Economics 71.

2 Klabbers, J, ‘How to Defeat a Treaty's Object and Purpose Pending Entry into Force: Toward Manifest Intent’ (2001) 34 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 283, 283; Palchetti, P, ‘Article 18 of the 1969 Vienna Convention: A Vague and Ineffective Obligation or a Useful Means for Strengthening Legal Cooperation?’ in Cannizzaro, E (ed), The Law of Treaties: Beyond the Vienna Convention (Oxford University Press 2011) 26.

3 Klabbers (n 2) 294.

4 Crandall, SB, Treaties: Their Making and Enforcement (2nd edn, John Byrne & Company 1916) 343–4.

5 See Sinclair, I, The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (2nd edn, Manchester University Press 1984) 29 and 3941.

6 See Brierly, JL, The Law of Nations: An Introduction to the International Law of Peace (6th edn, Oxford University Press 1963) 319–21; Jonas, DS and Saunders, TN, ‘The Object and Purpose of a Treaty: Three Interpretative Methods’ (2010) 43 Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law 565, 596.

7 Draft Convention on the Law of Treaties (1935) AJIL Supplement 657, 781–2.

8 International Law Commission, Summary Records of the 788th Meeting (1965) 1 Yearbook of the International Law Commission, UN Doc A/CN.4/SER.A/1965, 92.

9 Kolb, R, Good Faith in International Law (Hart Publishing 2017) 43.

10 Charme (n 1) 99.

11 Klabbers (n 2) 318.

12 Rogoff, MA, ‘The International Legal Obligations of Signatories to an Unratified Treaty’ (1980) 32 MeLRev 263, 284ff.

13 Draft Convention on the Law of Treaties (n 7) 781 (emphasis added).

14 ibid.

15 JL Brierly, Second Report: Revised Articles of the Draft Convention [1951] 2 Yearbook of the International Law Commission 70, 73 and 111, UN Doc A/CN.4/SER.A/1951/Add.1; Summary Records of the 86th Meeting [1951] 1 Yearbook of the International Law Commission 27, 34, UN Doc AICN.4/SER.A/1951.

16 Dehousse, F, La ratification des traités (Sirey 1935) 67.

17 Rogoff (n 12) 284.

18 Villiger, ME, Commentary on the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Martinus Nijhoff 2009) art 24, para 15.

19 Schabas, WA, ‘Retroactive Application of the Genocide Convention’ (2010) 4 University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy 36, 38.

20 See eg art 1 of the Resolution of the Institut de droit international, ‘The Intertemporal Problem in Public International Law’ (1975) 56 Annuaire de l'Institut de droit international 536, 536.

21 Rogoff (n 12) 284.

22 H Lauterpacht, First Report on the Law of Treaties [1953] 2 Yearbook of the International Law Commission 90, 110, UN Doc A/CN.4/SER.A/1953/Add.1.

23 ibid.

24 de Chazournes, L Boisson, La Rosa, AM, and Mbengue, MM, ‘Article 18 Convention of 1969’ in Corten, O and Klein, P (eds), The Vienna Conventions on the Law of Treaties: A Commentary – Volume I (Oxford University Press 2011) para 15.

25 Fitzmaurice, G, First Report on the Law of Treaties [1956] 2 Yearbook of the International Law Commission 104, 122, UN Doc A/CN.4/1SER.A/1956/Add.1.

26 ibid.

27 Boisson de Chazournes, La Rosa and Mbengue (n 24) para 16.

28 Waldock, H, First Report on the Law of Treaties [1962] 2 earbook of the International Law Commission 27, 46, UN Doc A/CN.4/SER.A/1962/Add.1.

29 Rogoff (n 12) 287.

30 Palchetti (n 2) 36.

31 Dörr, O, ‘Article 18’ in Dörr, O and Schmalenbach, K (eds), Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: A Commentary (2nd edn, Oxford University Press 2018) para 13.

32 See Reservations to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Advisory Opinion) [1951] ICJ Rep 15, 28.

33 Boisson de Chazournes, La Rosa and Mbengue (n 24) para 40; Bradley, CA, ‘Treaty Signature’ in Hollis, DB (ed), The Oxford Guide to Treaties (Oxford University Press 2012) 208.

34 Dörr (n 31) para 16.

35 McDade, PV, ‘The Interim Obligation between Signature and Ratification of a Treaty’ (1985) 32 NILR 5, 10 fn 20.

36 Draft Convention on the Law of Treaties (n 7) 769.

37 Law of Treaties: Report by JL Brierly [1951] 1 Yearbook of the International Law Commission 1, 37–9 and 156–7.

38 Boisson de Chazournes, La Rosa, and Mbengue (n 24) para 52.

39 Aust, A, Modern Treaty Law and Practice (3rd edn, Cambridge University Press 2013) 107; Dörr (n 31) para 19.

40 North Sea Continental Shelf Cases (Germany v Denmark/Germany v Netherlands) [1969] ICJ Rep 219, 233–235, Dissenting Opinion of Judge Lachs.

41 Dörr (n 31) para 20.

42 JR Bolton, US Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, ‘International Criminal Court: Letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’ (6 May 2002) US Department of State Archive, available at <https://2001-2009.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2002/9968.htm>.

43 McLaurin, LA, ‘Can the President “Unsign” a Treaty? A Constitutional Inquiry’ (2006) 84 Washington University Law Review 1941, 1948.

44 James Crawford, Philippe Sands, and Ralph Wilde, ‘In the Matter of the Statute of the International Criminal Court and in the Matter of Bilateral Agreements Sought by the United States under Article 98(2) of the Statute’, Joint Opinion of 5 June 2003, para 55.

45 McLaurin (n 43) 1948.

46 Kritsiotis, D, ‘The Object and Purpose of a Treaty's Object and Purpose’ in Bowman, MJ and Kritsiotis, D (eds), Conceptual and Contextual Perspectives on the Modern Law of Treaties (Cambridge University Press 2018) 271.

47 See the example of the Russian Decree of 30 July 2009 stipulating that notice shall be made in accordance with art 18(a) VCLT that Russia does not intend to become a party to the Energy Charter Treaty (which it had signed on 17 December 1994).

48 ET Swaine, ‘Unsigning’ (2003) 55 StanLRev 2061, 2083.

49 Kritsiotis (n 46) 271–2. See also Blix, H, ‘Developing International Law and Inducing Compliance’ (2002) 41 ColumJTransnatlL 1, 5.

50 McLaurin (n 43) 1948–9.

51 Bradley (n 33) 217.

52 Dörr (n 31) para 22.

53 ILC, ‘Commentary to Article 23 of the Draft Articles on the Law of Treaties’, United Nations Conference on the Law of Treaties, Documents of the Conference 31–3 (First and Second Sessions; Vienna, 26 March–24 May 1968 and 9 April–22 May 1969), UN Doc A/CONF. 39/11/Add. 2, 131.

54 H Waldock, Fourth Report on the Law of Treaties [1965] 1 Yearbook of the International Law Commission 1, 88–92, UN Doc A/CN.4/SER.A/1965/Add.1.

55 Dörr (n 31) paras 24 and 26; Villiger (n 18) art 18, para 17.

56 Klabbers, J, ‘Strange Bedfellows: The “Interim Obligation” and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention’ in Myjer, EPJ (ed), Issues of Arms Control Law and the Chemical Weapons Convention (Martinus Nijhoff 2001) 17.

57 Such a conference has been requested on a biennial basis since 1999.

58 For the most recent resolution, see UN General Assembly Resolution of 4 December 2017, UN Doc A/RES/72/70 (180 in favour; one vote against by North Korea; abstentions by India, Mauritius, Syria, and the United States).

59 Tabassi, L and Elias, O, ‘Disarmament’ in Bowman, MJ and Kritsiotis, D (eds), Conceptual and Contextual Perspectives on the Modern Law of Treaties (Cambridge University Press 2018) 593.

60 Aust (n 39) 110.

61 Dörr (n 31) para 28.

62 See ibid; 1999 Summary of Practice of the Secretary-General as Depositary of Multilateral Treaties, UN Doc ST/LEG/7/Rev.1, para 158, and Multilateral Treaties Deposited with the Secretary-General, Chapter XXI No 7, available at <https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetails.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XXI-7&chapter=21&clang=_en>. For a very recent example, see the withdrawal of Malaysia's ratification of the Rome Statute in early May 2019; the Rome Statute would have entered into force for Malaysia on 1 June 2019.

63 Dörr (n 31) para 28; Summary of Practice of the Secretary-General as Depositary of Multilateral Treaties (n 62) para 157.

64 Kolb (n 9) 42–4.

65 Border and Transborder Armed Actions case (Nicaragua v Honduras) (Jurisdiction and Admissibility) [1988] ICJ Rep 69, 105.

66 Megalidis v Turkey, 8 Recueil des Décisions des Tribunaux Mixtes 386, 395 (1928) (emphasis added).

67 ILC, Reports of the Commission to the General Assembly [1966] 2 Yearbook of the International Law Commission 1, 202, UN Doc A/6309/Rev. I. See also Case T-231/04 Greece v Commission [2007] ECR II-63, paras 85–86.

68 Kolb (n 9) 43.

69 O'Connell, DP, International Law, Vol. 1 (Stevens and Sons 1970) 222.

70 Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v United States) (Merits) [1986] ICJ Rep 14, para 272.

71 ibid, para 276.

72 ibid, para 268.

73 ILC, Reports of the Commission to the General Assembly (n 67) 202.

74 Lauterpacht, First Report on the Law of Treaties (n 22) 110.

75 See Judge Lauterpacht's Dissenting Opinions in both Interhandel (Switzerland v United States of America) (Preliminary Objections) [1959] ICJ Rep 95, 109, and Certain Norwegian Loans (France v Norway) (Preliminary Objections) [1957] ICJ Rep 34, 52–54.

76 Certain German Interests in Polish Upper Silesia (Germany v Poland) (Merits) [1926] PCIJ Series A No. 7, 30.

77 McDade (n 35) 22.

78 See art 18, 19(c), 20(2), 31(1), 33(4), 41(1)(b)(ii), 58(1)(b)(ii), and 60(3)(b) VCLT.

79 ILC Report, Fifty-ninth session (7 May–5 June and 9 July–10 August 2007), UN Doc A/62/10, 68; cf J Klabbers, ‘Some Problems Regarding the Object and Purpose of Treaties’ (1997) 8 FYBIL 138, 148ff.

80 See International Law Commission, 63rd session, [2011] 2 Yearbook of the International Law Commission 26. The ILC Draft Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties was adopted in 2011 to provide support in elucidating the sometimes obscure character of the VCLT rules on reservations. See also Pellet, A, ‘The ILC Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties: A General Presentation by the Special Rapporteur’ (2013) 24 EJIL 1061–97.

81 ILC Report, Fifty-ninth session (n 79) 77.

82 Buffard, I and Zemanek, K, ‘The “Object and Purpose” of a Treaty: An Enigma?’ (1998) 3 ARIEL 311, 311 and 343; Gardiner, R, Treaty Interpretation (2nd edn, Oxford University Press 2015) 211.

83 Bowman, M, ‘“Normalizing” the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling’ (2008) 29 MichJIntlL 293, 300.

84 Reservations to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Advisory Opinion) [1951] ICJ Rep 15, 27.

85 Buffard and Zemanek (n 82) 326; Fitzmaurice, M, ‘The Whaling Convention and Thorny Issues of Interpretation’ in Fitzmaurice, M and Tamada, D (eds), Whaling in the Antarctic: Significance and Implications of the ICJ Judgment (Brill 2014) 58–9.

86 Reservations to the Genocide Convention (n 84) 23.

87 ibid.

88 Jonas and Saunders (n 6) 580; Fitzmaurice (n 85) 59.

89 Nor are the ILC comments of any help in this respect; see Fitzmaurice, First Report on the Law of Treaties (n 25) 104; Waldock, First Report on the Law of Treaties (n 28) 46–61.

90 Boisson de Chazournes, La Rosa, and Mbengue (n 24) paras 32–33.

91 Buffard and Zemanek (n 82) 331–2.

92 Jonas and Saunders (n 6) 597.

93 See the eight examples depicted in the Draft Convention on the Law of Treaties (n 7) 781–2 as well as ILC, Summary Records of the 788th Meeting (n 8) 92.

94 Jonas and Saunders (n 6) 600–1.

95 Klabbers (n 2) 330–1. See also section III below for a more detailed discussion of that test.

96 Jonas and Saunders (n 6) 603.

97 ibid, 603–8.

98 See eg Klabbers (n 79) 158.

99 See eg Reservations to the Genocide Convention (n 84) 23. See also Rights of Nationals of the United States of America in Morocco (France v United States of America) [1952] ICJ Rep 176, 197; Territorial Dispute (Libya v Chad) [1994] ICJ Rep 6, para 52.

100 See eg arts 1, 2, and 55 of the United Nations Charter.

101 See eg Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (n 70) para 272.

102 Buffard and Zemanek (n 82) 333 and 336–7.

103 Boisson de Chazournes, La Rosa, and Mbengue (n 24) para 35. See also art 16 of the 1985 Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer.

104 Palchetti (n 2) 29.

105 See Aust (n 39) 108.

106 Klabbers (n 56) 18.

107 Dörr (n 31) para 35. Art 19(c) VCLT states that ‘[a] State may, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty, formulate a reservation unless […] the reservation is incompatible with the object and purpose of the treaty’.

108 United Nations Conference on the Law of Treaties, First Session (Vienna, 26 March–24 May 1968), UN Doc A/CONF.39/11, 104, para 26.

109 Villiger (n 18) art 18, para 11.

110 H Waldock, Fourth Report on the Law of Treaties (n 54) 92, para 61.

111 ibid, 97, para 39.

112 Palchetti (n 2) 30.

113 See Case 148/78 Ratti [1979] ECR I-1629.

114 Case C-129/96 Inter-Environnement Wallonie [1996] ECR I-74011, para 45.

115 ibid para 44.

116 Klamert, M, The Principle of Loyalty in EU Law (Oxford University Press 2014) 179.

117 Case C-129/96 Inter-Environnement Wallonie (n 114) para 49.

118 See eg Rogoff (n 12) 297; Boisson de Chazournes, La Rosa, and Mbengue (n 24) para 62; Kolb (n 9) 44.

119 Villiger (n 18) art 18, para 13.

120 Dörr (n 31) para 39.

121 Reservations to the Genocide Convention (n 84) 23.

122 ibid.

123 ibid.

124 See section II.D.1.

125 Reservations to the Genocide Convention (n 84) 23.

126 See the Dissenting Joint Opinion of Judges José Guerrero, Arnold McNair, John Read and Hsu Mo Reservations to the Genocide Convention (n 84) 31–48.

127 See, in particular, regarding the typology of obligations in international law: Brölmann, C, ‘Law-Making Treaties: Form and Function in International Law’ (2005) 74 NordJIntlL 383; Brölmann, C, ‘Typologies and “Essential Juridical Character” of Treaties’ in Bowman, MJ and Kritsiotis, D (eds), Conceptual and Contextual Perspectives on the Modern Law of Treaties (Cambridge University Press 2018) 79; Shelton, D, ‘Normative Hierarchy in International Law’ (2006) 100 AJIL 291; Pauwelyn, J, ‘A Typology of Multilateral Treaty Obligations: Are WTO Obligations Bilateral or Collective in Nature?’ (2003) 14 EJIL 907.

128 The Effect of Reservations on the Entry into Force of American Convention on Human Rights (Arts 74 and 75) Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Advisory Opinion (24 September 1982) para 29.

129 Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 24: General Issues Relating to Reservations made upon Ratification or Accession to the Covenant or the Optional Protocol thereto, or in Relation to Declarations under Article 41 of the Covenant, UN Doc CCPR/C?32/Rev.1/Add6 (11 April 1991) para 17.

130 Brölmann, ‘Typologies’ (n 127) 94.

131 Chinkin, CM, ‘Human Rights’ in Bowman, MJ and Kritsiotis, D (eds), Conceptual and Contextual Perspectives on the Modern Law of Treaties (Cambridge University Press 2018) 511.

132 International Law Commission, Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties, UN Doc /A66/10.

133 G Fitzmaurice, Second Report on the Law of Treaties [1957] 2 Yearbook of the International Law Commission 18, 54, UN Doc A/CN.4/107.

134 Brölmann, ‘Law-Making Treaties’ (n 127) 390.

135 According to art 41, the conclusion of agreements to modify multilateral treaties between certain of the parties is only possible, if [the modification] (para 1.b.i) ‘does not affect the enjoyment by the other parties of their rights under the treaty or the performance of their obligations’; Art 58 allows for the suspension of the operation of a multilateral treaty by agreement between certain of the parties only if [the suspension] (para 1.b.i) ‘does not affect the enjoyment by the other parties of their rights under the treaty or the performance of their obligations’. For art 60(2), see Pauwelyn (n 127) 913–15.

136 Pauwelyn (n 127) 914.

137 Klabbers (n 2) 283.

138 ibid 286.

139 ibid 287.

140 ibid 330.

141 International Law Commission, Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties (n 132) 385.

142 Simma, B and Hernández, G, ‘Legal Consequences of Impermissible Reservations to a Human Right Treaty: Where Do We Stand?’ in Cannizzaro, E (ed), The Law of Treaties: Beyond the Vienna Convention (Oxford University Press 2011) 84.

143 See eg Loizidou v Turkey, Preliminary Objections, ECHR (1995) Series A. 310.

144 See A Hernández, Guide to Practice on Reservation to Treaties, adopted by the International Law Commission at its Sixty-third Session [2011] 2 Yearbook of the International Law Commission.

145 Loizidou v Turkey, Preliminary Objections (n 143).

146 Chinkin (n 131) 513.

147 ibid.

148 ibid 516.

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