Council of Europe Treaties

International Treaties – Conventions

International treaties – also called conventions – are contracts between States. Bilateral treaties are negotiated between two-, multilateral treaties between several States. They are negotiated on behalf of the governments of these states – most often by diplomats.

Many international treaties are nowadays negotiated within the framework of an intergovernmental organisation, where the governments of the potential negotiating parties, represented by their ambassadors, are present at all times.

Signature of a treaty

Once the negotiators have agreed upon the exact wording of a multilateral international treaty created within the framework of an Intergovernmental Organisation, it is formally adopted and opened for signature to the member states of the organisation. Every member state is free to decide whether to sign a certain treaty or not. States, who do sign it, become signatory States to that treaty.

Ratification of a treaty

An international treaty only enters into force for a signatory State, after it has been ratified by that State: An authorised person – usually the head of state – signs a written statement, and a ratification document is deposited either with the Parties involved or at the Intergovernmental Organisation responsible for the treaty in question. Once a treaty is ratified by a State, that State becomes a Party to the treaty in question.

Some treaties become legally binding for a signatory State immediately after that State has ratified it. Others only enter into force when they have been ratified by a certain number of member States, or by all of them. Hence, the difference between the date of signature and the date of entry into force of a treaty can vary substantially.

Accession to a treaty

Accession is an act, whereby a State, which has not signed a treaty, expresses its consent to become a Party to the treaty by depositing a correspondent legal document. Accession, therefore, has the same legal effect as ratification, but leaves out the step of signing a treaty. Usually, accession is employed when the deadline for signing a treaty has already passed. Some treaties, however, provide for accession even during the period that the treaty is open for signature, thus allowing States to become Party to a treaty faster.

Treaties and monitoring mechanisms

International treaties are created in order to improve people’s lives. It is, therefore, vital that signatory states comply with the stipulations set out in a treaty. To ensure, that this is the case, developments have to be monitored.

Ideally, a suitable monitoring process is already described in the treaty itself, and, therefore, part of its stipulations, because monitoring is an important tool: Skilfully applied, it shows, how far a state has already come as well as what remains to be done.

Since not every kind of monitoring is suitable for every topic, different mechanisms are being employed. The Council of Europe uses i.a. the following:

  • Regular country visits by – depending on the treaty – elected or appointed experts from the various signatory states
  • Ad-hoc inspections on-site by experts from the various signatory states
  • Evaluations based on questionnaires developed by experts
  • Written reporting, done by the member states (self-assessment)

Impact of Council of Europe monitoring mechanisms

Monitoring has political as well as practical impact:

  • Political impact is achieved by the fact, that the findings of the monitoring are put down in country reports, which are brought to the attention of the Council of Europe’s decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers. They are then published, and, thereby, made known to the public, which is increasing the pressure put on the government of the state in question, to eliminate the deficiencies pointed out in the report.
  • Practical impact is achieved by the fact, that the monitoring-process typically includes recommendations, which have to be implemented by the government of the state in question. Ideally, this leads to the elimination of the deficiencies pointed out in the report.

Monitoring the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is the foundation of Europe’s human rights protection. Therefore, the Council of Europe member states decided right from the start, not to use any of the common monitoring-mechanisms with regard to the ECHR, but to take things one step further:

They founded the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), before which violations of the convention can be brought.

The Council of Europe Treaty Office

Since the foundation of the Council of Europe in 1949, its member states have agreed upon more than 200 treaties, additional protocols, partial agreements and charters, covering a variety of issues from all areas of life.

All Council of Europe treaties have titles as well as CETS-numbers (CETS = Council of Europe Treaty Series), by which they can be found on the site of the Council of Europe Treaty Office. Once a treaty is identified, the full text, the chart of signatures and ratifications, the list of declarations, reservations and all other communications can be obtained.


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