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What is the Meaning of “Consensus” in International Decision Making?

On 28 March, the negotiators at the Final UN Diplomatic Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty failed to adopt the Arms Trade Treaty (see BBC report here) by consensus.  A few days later the Arms Trade Treaty was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (by a vote of 154 in favour, three against and 23 abstentions - for a really useful account of the negotiations see the Arms Trade Treaty Legal Blog). At the Diplomatic Conference, the rules of procedure required that the treaty be adopted by "consensus". However, at the end of that conference, Syria, Iran and North Korea objected to the text. According to the bloggers at the ATT Legal Blog there then ensued a discussion of whether the objection by these three States could stand in the way of the adoption of the treaty by consensus, with some States taking the view that acceptance of the text by the overwhelming majority of States was sufficient to establish consensus despite the expressed opposition of three States. However, the President of the…

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Isaiah’s Echo: Progress, Prophecy, and the UN Charter

John Louth is Editor-in-Chief of Academic Law at Oxford University Press The phrase “swords into plowshares” has been adopted by countless organizations campaigning for peace and is also frequently associated with the UN’s mission and international law more broadly. The full quote comes from the book of the Prophet Isaiah: “He…

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