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Glossary of Select Depositary Terms

Signature Subject to Ratification, Acceptance or Approval

Upon their adoption, treaties are opened for signature, usually for a specific period, and at a venue specified in the treaty itself. Where the treaty provides that it is subject to ratification, acceptance or approval, signature does not establish consent to be bound. In these cases, signature is a means of authentication and expresses the willingness of the signatory State to continue the treaty-making process. Signature qualifies the signatory State to proceed to ratification, acceptance or approval. It also creates an obligation to refrain, in good faith, from acts that would defeat the object and the purpose of the treaty.

[Reference: Articles.10 and 18, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969]

Ratification

Ratification defines the act whereby a State indicates its consent to be bound by a treaty. In the case of bilateral treaties, ratification is usually accomplished by exchanging the requisite instruments, while in the case of multilateral treaties the usual procedure is for all States to deposit their respective instruments with the depositary. The period between signature and ratification provides States with the opportunity to seek the required approval for the treaty at the domestic level and to enact the necessary legislation to give domestic effect to that treaty.

[Reference: Articles 2 (1) (b), 14 (1) and 16, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969]

Acceptance or Approval

Acts of acceptance or approval of a treaty have the same legal effect as acts of ratification and consequently express the consent of a State to be bound by a treaty. In the practice of certain States, the terms acceptance or approval are used instead of ratification when, at a national level, constitutional law does not require the treaty to be ratified by the Head of State.

[Reference: Articles 2 (1) (b) and 14 (2), Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969]

Accession

Accession is the act whereby a State that has not signed a treaty may express its consent to be bound by that treaty. However, accession to a treaty is only possible when the treaty so provides, or when all parties subsequently agree that consent to be bound by that treaty can be expressed by a State by means of accession. In these cases, accession has the same legal effect as ratification.

[Reference: Articles 2 (1) (b) and 15, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969]

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[1] The definitions herein are based on the Treaty Reference Guide of the United Nations Treaty Collection.

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