Limited acceptance of international treaties

Delays in ratification of international treaties
Non-ratification of international treaties
Prompt acceptance of a treaty by some States may have a positive impact, and delay by some could have a negative impact, on other States. If a treaty does not receive a sizeable number of acceptances within a reasonable period, states might lose interest in it. Although almost all multilateral United Nations treaties have been adopted by very large majorities, and a number of them unanimously or at least without any negative votes, some of them have been accepted by only a minority of States. Non-acceptance or undue delay in acceptance of treaties has deep consequences on the efficacy of codification and the development of international law. These attitudes can retard the entry into force of a treaty, and may even result in the failure of a treaty to come into effect at all. It is noteworthy that even States that have ratified or acceded to a treaty not yet in force are freed from the obligation to refrain from acts which would defeat its object and purposes, if the treaty's entry into force is unduly delayed. Even after a treaty has entered into force, its true effectiveness may be impaired if it applies only between a small number of countries. For all these and other reasons, prompt acceptance by the widest possible number of States, with least possible delay, is of crucial significance.
In the period up to June, 1968, of the 179 multilateral treaties for which the Secretary-General exercises depositary functions, only 138 had entered into force. The general multilateral treaties adopted under UN auspices are open for acceptance by States Members of the UN, and by States not Members of the UN but which are Members of any specialized agency; acceptance is not limited in time (so that the date at which a State becomes a Member does not affect its capacity to adhere to earlier UN treaties).

As another example, considering the General Secretariat of Organization of American States in its aspect as depositary of inter-American treaties and agreements and of the instruments of ratification: with respect to the 53 treaties and their instruments of ratification, only 43 had entered into force as of July 1984.

1. The assertion that the making of a multilateral UN treaty which obtains few acceptances, or for a long time fails to come into effect, has been an exercise in futility, need not be correct. Depending on its subject matter, such a treaty may influence attitudes and policies of governments; give impetus to national legislation or the adoption of bilateral treaties; and have an impact on public opinion. Reference could also be made to the right of certain ILO bodies to examine whether Members endeavour to foster standards set by ILO Conventions not ratified by them and to the tendency of some General Assembly resolutions to demand that Members abide by the principles of Conventions not ratified by them.

2. Ratifying the [Convention on Biological Diversity] and the [Convention on Climate Change] can be particularly difficult for developing countries. This is partly because they have problems more pressing than global warming, such as debt, poverty, social strife and natural disaster. But another reason is the ratification process itself. Due to financial constraints, exacerbated by the cumbersome, complex and slow process, most developing countries are represented by a single delegate during the entire convention process. The persistence and dynamism of this sole representative is critical to getting the ratification process underway, and unless he or she takes the initiative in spurring the government to act, nothing will happen. Furthermore, these lone representatives are from specialized ministries or foreign affairs permanent missions, who then have to persuade other ministries, including the powerful economic and financial department, of the important of a coordinated national response to environmental matters. They, single-handedly, must take the matter through their own minister, explain the treaty obligations to other ministries, perhaps support the process through cabinet and legal scrutiny, and finally through parliament and Head of State approvals. The whole process can take months, or even years, depending on the diligence of government officials, the efficiency of the governmental machinery, and the nature of the legislative agenda.

(F) Fuzzy exceptional problems