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International Agreements

By: Lorna Elliott LLB (hons), Barrister - Updated: 1 Sep 2012 |
 
Treaties Charter Convention Agreements

International agreements are made between entities in public international law such as between two or more states (countries), or between multi-national organisations.

Treaties

Public international law governs the framework of nations, states and conduct of inter-governmental organisations. Broadly public international law is made up of a mixture of general principles of law, customs and treaties, which are agreements between nations. These agreements and the way in which countries and states deal with one another is increasingly important due to issues such as globalisation , an increase in awareness in human rights and concern over environmental matters. Formal international agreements or treaties, can also be known as protocols, covenants, conventions or exchange of letters.

When these international agreements are made between states and international arrangements they are similar to contracts, in that they can be breached, amended and terminated. In order for treaties to become effective, they have to be registered with the United Nations.

Some of the most significant treaties are; the Geneva Conventions, a collection of four treaties concerning humanitarian treatment, primarily of civilians during war and prisoners of war; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Maastricht Treaty, which built on the existing framework of the European Economic Community to create the European Union, or EU in 1993.

The UN Charter

Of particular significance is the UN Charter of 1945, which created the United Nations. The purpose of the United Nations is to promote international peace, friendly relations, co-operation and reduce aggressive acts between countries. Most countries are signatories to this agreement, although the Holy See (Vatican) is merely an observing state rather than a full member.

Article 2 of the UN Charter provides that member states are equal to one another. This essentially means that states are left to interpret laws themselves. If there is a dispute, there is no distinct court that is able to provide guidance or an interpretation of the law – so conflicts relating to interpretation of laws are rarely settled. It is not surprising, therefore, there are also difficulties with making states enforce these laws and a lot of violations (as with domestic laws) go unnoticed.

Breach Of UN Charter

However, if a member of the United Nations violates the UN Charter there are methods of recourse. The issue may be raised in the General Assembly. The General Assembly, however, cannot make legally binding decisions but merely provide recommendations in response.

States can take complaints about violations of the UN Charter to the Security Council (the arm of the United Nations that deals with international security and peace) which can pass resolutions which again are not generally regarded as being legally binding. However, the UN Security Council can pass resolutions that authorise the use of force against states.

There is, in essence, a reliance on states to comply naturally with international law. This is assisted by the fact that other states put pressure on non-compliant countries to ensure that they meet their obligations.

The International Court Of Justice

As the judicial part of the United Nations, one of the roles of the International Court of Justice or ICJ is to hear disputes between member states. Its rulings are binding only on states who have agreed to be bound to the court’s ruling. In addition, the parties have to consent to the ICJ hearing the case, otherwise it has no jurisdiction to hear the case.

Private Matters

Private international law is entirely separate from public international law. It is in essence the process of settling private disputes when there is a conflict of laws. It is a particularly complex legal area because the legal framework in different countries can differ immensely from one another.

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