Appendix A: Glossary

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This Appendix A contains a glossary of important terms used within international and regional agreements. 

Glossary of Terms

With every international agreement, States take on certain international obligations based on how and when they sign onto a treaty. The following glossary explains the obligations of a State if it signs an international agreement under these terms. These definitions derive from the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties (1969). While not exhaustive, this glossary contains the most common ways of creating an international obligation. For more information on understanding your State’s obligations, visit the United Nations Treaty Collection (UNTC) Glossary.

Acceptance or Approval
Under Article 2(1)(b) and 14(2) of the Vienna Convention, a State accepts or approves a treaty if it expresses its consent to be bound by a treaty. Acceptance and approval have the same legal effect as treaty ratification: it creates a duty to be bound to an international agreement.

Under Article 2(1)(b) and 15 of the Vienna Convention, a State may accede to a treaty by accepting an offer to become party to an already negotiated or signed treaty. The procedures for accession depend on each treaty’s provisions; where a treaty is silent on accession provisions, accession may only occur if the negotiating states agree. Accession has the same legal effect as ratification: consent to be bound by a treaty.

Under Article 9 of the Vienna Convention, adoption is the formal act where the form and content for a proposed treaty’s text is developed and established. Adoption occurs when States negotiate and participate in the treaty-making process; in this process, States express their consent to the proposed treaty’s text. Adoption occurs either through 1) a resolution by a representative organ of the organization or 2) a specially convened international conference set up for making the treaty.

States can declare their interpretation of particular treaty provisions. Typically made at the time of signature, declarations only clarify a State’s position and don’t have the legal effect of excluding or modifying a treaty.

Definitive Signatures
Under Article 12 of the Vienna Convention, a State may establish its consent to be bound by a treaty not subject to ratification, acceptance, or approval through a “definitive signature.”

Under Article 2(1)(b), 14(1), and 16 of the Vienna Convention, a State may indicate its consent to be bound to a treaty, should it intend to do so, by ratifying an international agreement.

Under Article 2(1)(d) and 19-23 of the Vienna Convention, a state can alter the legal effect of a treaty’s provisions by accepting the whole of a multilateral treaty and determining provisions for which it will not comply. Reservations are made when the State signs, ratifies, accepts, approves, or accedes to the treaty. Valid reservations must not be incompatible with the object and the purpose of the treaty.  A treaty can prohibit reservations or only allow for certain types of reservations.

In some international agreements, a party’s treaty status may be listed as succession. For example, many of the international agreements have listed “succession” under the current international obligations of countries like Montenegro and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Here, succession occurs when one state ceases to exist or loses control over part of its territory and another state comes into existence or assumes control over the territory lost by the first state. In instances where the previous state has obligations of local significance—ie: the boundaries of the country, etc.—the international obligations of the former state will be taken over by the succeeding state. Changes in a government’s structure—for example, democracy to monarchy—do not modify or terminate the obligations incurred by the previous government. But, if the state ceases to exist, the treaties concluded are generally terminated and the treaties of the successor state apply to the territory.