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The ILC Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties: Some General Remarks

Published on March 24, 2014        Author: 

On 16 December 2013, by adopting resolution 68/111, the General Assembly completed a 21-year study on the codification and progressive development of the law on reservations to treaties. In its resolution, the GA takes note of the Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties, the text of which had been adopted by the International Law Commission (ILC) on 11 August 2011. The full text is an addendum to the 2011 Report of the ILC (available at http://legal.un.org/ilc/reports/2011/english/addendum.pdf).

A Special Kind of Instrument

I was appointed the Special Rapporteur of the ILC on the topic of “Reservations to Treaties” in 1994. With excessive confidence – or recklessness – I then declared that ‘[i]t does not seem unrealistic to think that the Commission would be in a position to adopt an initial set of draft articles, or a first draft to serve as a “guide” …, within three or four years of the subject being included on its agenda and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur” (Yrbk ILC (1993), ii(1), at 335, para. 55). I rapidly became disillusioned and realized that, as my illustrious predecessors had noted, ‘the subject of reservations to multilateral treaties is one of unusual – in fact baffling – complexity and it would serve no useful purpose to simplify artificially an inherently complex problem’ (Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, Report on the Law of Treaties, doc. A/CN.4/63, Yrbk ILC (1953), ii, at 124) moreover, the topic brings with it an emotional charge at the political level which I had underestimated and which made things even more complicated. The ‘sharia reservations’ are but the most striking example of the political sensitivity of the subject. More generally, reservations to human rights conventions, although they are by no means special legally speaking, are the object of harsh doctrinal and ideological debates. Read the rest of this entry…