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UN INTERNATIONAL TREATIES
This section provides a guide to terms commonly used in relation to treaties and employed in the practice of the Secretary-General as depositary of multilateral treaties, as well as in the Secretariat's registration function. Where applicable, a reference to relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention 1969 is included.
Accession is the act whereby a State that has not signed a treaty expresses its consent to become a party to that treaty by depositing an "instrument of accession" (see annex 5). Accession has the same legal effect as ratification, acceptance or approval. The conditions under which accession may occur and the procedure involved depend on the provisions of the relevant treaty. Accession is generally employed by States wishing to express their consent to be bound by a treaty where the deadline for signature has passed. However, many modern multilateral treaties provide for accession even during the period that the treaty is open for signature. See articles 2(b) and 15 of the Vienna Convention 1969.
RATIFICATION, ACCEPTANCE, APPROVAL
Ratification, acceptance and approval all refer to the act undertaken on the international plane, whereby a State establishes its consent to be bound by a treaty. Ratification, acceptance and approval all require two steps:
a. The execution of an instrument of ratification, acceptance or approval by the Head of State, Head of Government or Minister for Foreign Affairs, expressing the intent of the State to be bound by the relevant treaty; and
b. For multilateral treaties, the deposit of the instrument with the depositary; and for bilateral treaties, the exchange of the instruments between parties.
Ratification, acceptance or approval at the international level indicates to the international community a State's commitment to undertake the obligations under a treaty. This should not be confused with the act of ratification at the national level, which a State may be required to undertake in accordance with its own constitutional provisions, before it consents to be bound internationally. Ratification at the national level is inadequate to establish the State's consent to be bound at the international level.
See articles 2(1)(b), 11, 14 and 16 of the Vienna Convention 1969.
Simple Signature (signature subject to ratification)
Simple signature applies to most multilateral treaties. This means that when a State signs the treaty, the signature is subject to ratification, acceptance or approval. The State has not expressed its consent to be bound by the treaty until it ratifies, accepts or approves it. In that case, a State that signs a treaty is obliged to refrain, in good faith, from acts that would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. Signature alone does not impose on the State obligations under the treaty. See articles 14 and 18 of the Vienna Convention 1969.
Definitive Signature (signature not subject to ratification)
Definitive signature occurs where a State expresses its consent to be bound by a treaty by signing the treaty without the need for ratification, acceptance or approval. A State may definitively sign a treaty only when the treaty so permits. A number of treaties deposited with the Secretary-General permit definitive signature. See article 12 of the Vienna Convention 1969.
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