Frequently Asked Questions
 
 

What is?

Agreement

An international agreement is concluded between states in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation.

Credentials

A delegate attending an international conference at which a multilateral treaty is to be negotiated needs to submit to the government or the organization hosting it, a document known as ‘credentials’ issued by his state authorizing him to represent it.

Instrument of Full Power

The document emanating from the competent authority of a State designating a person to represent the State in negotiating, adopting or authenticating the text of agreement.

Signature

Can be used either to become Party to a treaty (normally bilateral treaties) or to express an intention to become a party to the treaty at a future date - subject to ratification or accession (normally multilateral treaties).

Who can conclude international agreements?

International agreements are made between subjects of international law, in particular between states, between states and international organizations and between international organizations. An international agreement made between states may be expressed to be made by heads of state, or on behalf of the states and their governments. South Africa does not conclude agreements between ministries. There is no difference in international law between an international agreement concluded on behalf of states and one concluded on behalf of governments, since an agreement entered into by a government binds the state, and changes of government will not affect its binding force. However, under some constitutions it may be necessary or desirable to use the inter-state form when the provisions of the agreement need to be given full effect in domestic law.

Can provinces conclude international agreements:

In terms of the Constitution of South African 1996, provinces and local governments do not have the competency to conclude international agreements. They may however, conclude agreements with their counter parts in other countries What is not an international agreement?

It is sometimes necessary or desirable for states to conclude a non legally binding arrangement between themselves. In this instance a “Declaration of intent” is the instrument most frequently used. Such a declaration does not have to comply with any of the requirements of an international agreement or with the constitutional procedures necessary for conclusion thereof.

As the name indicates, a Declaration of Intent merely serves to record the intention of the parties on some specific matter and to do more in future. Note that simply because a document is termed a “Declaration of Intent” it does not necessarily mean that it is non-binding. The determining factor here is always the content of the document and not its name. It is thus imperative to understand whether the parties want to conclude a binding agreement or to conclude a non binding arrangement and to use the most appropriate designation. The title or designation is not an indication in its own right of the legal nature of the document concluded by the parties.

The results of an international meeting can also be reflected in minutes, joint communiqués, a final statement and even press briefings where both parties have to agree with the contents thereof but that would not be legally binding.

Initialing

Initialing the text of an international agreement is commonly used as the means by which a text is adopted or authenticated. In order to avoid misunderstandings, consent to be bound should therefore not be expressed by initialing but as an indication that the text that is initialed is indeed the last version of the text discussed between the parties.

Ratification

The way in which a State becomes Party to a treaty which it has signed/ or which has not already entered into force. Most often used for multilateral treaties. The treaty will indicate when ratification is required. In most constitutional democracies ratification will involve parliamentary approval.

Accession

The way in which a State becomes Party to a treaty which it has not previously signed/ or to a treaty which has already entered into force. Most often used for multilateral treaties. The treaty will indicate when accession is required. In most constitutional democracies ratification will involve parliamentary approval. The difference between ratification and accession is timing, but the procedure is the same.

Acceptance

Used interchangeably with accession/ ratification - applicable for some States’ constitutional processes.

More Information
General Information
   
Terminology
   
Binding of agreements
   
Depositing and Registration
   
Tabling of agreements
   
Ratification/Accession procedure
 
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