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Last updated at 11:30 (UK time) 3 Nov 2009

Glossary of Treaty terms

Acceptance / Approval
Have the same legal effect as ratification (see below).


Accession
A single act whereby a State expresses its consent to be bound, instead of signature followed by ratification.


Agreed Minute
May record decisions reached between two delegations, or, may be annexed to an agreement to deal with administrative details or interpretations. In some cases may be used as the title for a treaty or an MoU (see below).


Agreement
The most usual title for a treaty.


Amendment
A means of modifying the text of an existing agreement.


Concluded
Indicates the date of adoption of an agreement, whether by an international conference, by a standing body such as the UN General Assembly, or otherwise.


Constitution or Statute
Title often used for a treaty establishing an International Organization.


Contracting State
A State which has consented to be bound by a treaty whether or not the treaty has entered into force.


Convention
A term frequently employed for agreements to which a large number of countries are parties. In bilateral relations it is often applied to treaties of a technical or social character, e.g. Conventions on Social Security or Double Taxation.


Depositary
Usually one State, an international organization, or its chief administrative office so designated in a multilateral treaty. The depositary performs in an impartial manner various functions with regard to the treaty. Responsibilities include receiving signatures and instruments of ratification and communicating comprehensive and up-to-date information on the status of of the treaty (e.g. list of parties). Articles 77 to 79 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (Treaty Series No. 58 (1980): Cmnd.7964) (1980) sets out different depositary functions.


Exchange of Notes
(constituting an constitute a treaty if this Agreement)
The act of exchange will constitute a treaty if this is the intention of the States concerned. Such intention is usually evidenced by an express statement in the notes that together they constitute an agreement. (Exchanges of Notes may also be used to record a non-binding arrangement: see MoU below).


Extension
The process of applying a treaty to an overseas territory.


Final Act
A formal document recording the results of an international conference. Treaties adopted by the conference will be attached to it. Signing the Final Act, however, does not constitute consent to be bound by such treaties.


Framework Treaty
A multilateral treaty establishing a structure that is built upon by future treaties of greater intricacy, such as protocols or national legislation. An example is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was elaborated by the Kyoto Protocol.


Full Powers
A formal document signed by the Head of State or Government or the Foreign Minister empowering the person (or persons) named to sign a treaty on behalf of that State.


Initialling
Unless otherwise indicated, signifies only provisional assent to the text of a treaty by delegates following negotiation.


International Agreement An agreement between two or more States which creates rights and obligations binding in international law. Such agreements are known by a variety of terms, such as 'treaty', 'convention', 'protocol', 'covenant' or 'pact' and may take different forms.


MOU
A form frequently used to record informal non-legally binding arrangements between States on matters which are inappropriate for inclusion in treaties (e.g. for confidentiality) or where the form is more convenient than a treaty. They may be drawn up as a single document using non-treaty terms, signed on behalf of two or more Governments, or consist of an exchange of notes or letters recording an understanding reached between the two Governments. It is usually called a 'Memorandum of Understanding', (although some treaties are also called so) or an 'Arrangement'.


Notification of completion of procedures
Has the same effect as ratification. Used, usually in bilateral treaties, instead of ratification. The treaty provides for each
State to notify the other when the internal procedures required to be undertaken (legal or administrative) have been completed. Such treaties usually come into force on the Note containing the later of the two notifications.


Party
A State which has consented to be bound by the treaty
and for which a treaty is in force. Note that it is the UK which is the Party on behalf of any overseas territories.


Proces-verbal
This is used to set out agreed corrections to a treaty already signed.


Protocol
This usually denotes a treaty amending or supplementing an existing treaty, but can stand alone.


Ratification
Follows signature and signifies the consent of a State to be bound by the treaty. It consists of the deposit of an instrument of Ratification with the other other State (bilateral), or the Depositary (multilateral). Any process of obtaining parliamentary approval for ratification is not ratification, though often mistakenly referred to as such.


Reservation
A unilateral statement, however phrased or named, made by a State, when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty whereby it purports to exclude or modify the legal effect of certain provisions of the treaty in their application to that State.


Signatory
Can be a misleading term since it is often used in respect of a State which has ratified a treaty. It should not therefore be used when referring to the State which has ratified, etc. a treaty.


Signature
The act whereby a State expresses its consent to the text of treaty, but not its consent to be bound by it, unless the treaty
provides that it will come into force on signature. A State which has signed a treaty which is subject to ratification is not obliged to ratify.


Territorial Provision
A clause in an agreement which defines territorial scope, or conditions, where the agreement may or may not be applicable.


Treaty
A generic term for an agreement concluded between States (or other entities such as international organisations having international personality) in written form and intended by them to be binding in international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation. It does not have to be signed, although it usually is.


United Kingdom's position
The position the United Kingdom has reached in the process of accepting, or declining to accept, an agreement.

The above is intended as guidance only - it should not be considered authoritative. Further guidance may be found in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969 (UK Treaty Series No. 58 (1980) : Cmnd. 7964) and A. Aust: 'Modern Treaty Law and Practice' (Cambridge University Press, 2000).

See also


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