a) What Is a Treaty?
A treaty is an agreement between two or more states which creates binding rights and obligations in international law. The principal international human rights treaties are multilateral, and are open to as many states as want to join. A treaty may go by many different names, such as "convention", "covenant" and "protocol." The obligations contained in a treaty are based on consent. States are bound because they agree to be bound. States who have agreed to be bound by a treaty are known as "states parties" to the treaty.
b) What Is the Effect of a Treaty?
By becoming a party to a treaty, states undertake binding obligations in international law. In the case of international human rights treaties, this means that states parties undertake to ensure that their own national legislation, policies or practices meet the requirements of the treaty and are consistent with its human rights standards.
c) How Does a State Become Bound by a Treaty?
In general, states parties to the international human rights treaties express their consent to be bound by a particular treaty by a two-step process, first, signature and then ratification or accession. A state that signs a treaty signals its intention to become bound by its provisions and must refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. The state does not actually become bound by the treaty until it ratifies it.
For a treaty to enter into force for a particular state, the ratification or accession must be deposited. The depository is an entity which undertakes to receive ratifications, accessions and other related statements, and keeps other states parties informed. For the UN human rights treaties, the depository is the UN Secretary General, specifically the UN Office of Legal Affairs.
d) When Does a State Become Bound by a Treaty?
A state party will become bound by obligations under the treaty on the later date of:
i) The date the treaty comes into force. The six major international human rights treaties have entered into force.
ii) The date the treaty enters into force for the particular state. A state may still ratify or accede to a treaty many years after that treaty has entered into force for other states.
e) What Obligations Has a State Undertaken?
In order to determine what obligations a particular state has undertaken by ratifying a treaty, it is necessary to consider the following:
f) Optional Undertakings
Sometimes, treaties may contain, or have associated with them, optional obligations. States parties can choose separately to be bound by these additional obligations.
In the human rights treaties there are two optional mechanisms by which states can participate in the individual complaints procedures: