EXPLANATIONS OF SOME EXPRESSIONS OFTEN USED IN INTERNATIONAL POLITICAL
WORK – December 1991.
NOTE: This paper was prepared in follow-up of an OE Skillshare in
It is meant to be a list of brief “at-a-glance” definitions, so the
explanations have been made simple. The most common use of a word is
explained in a non-technical language. The list should not be seen as
providing official definitions in any way.
The official names of conventions (eg the official name of the Berne
Convention is “convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and
Natural Habitats”) are not used.
This is meant to be a first draft, which will be modified on the basis
of comments received, and which might later become a more
The paper was prepared by Joy Hyv rinen and Leonie Payens.
International agreement between stated.
Examples: – CITES (trade in endangered species)
– Berne Convention (European wildlife and habitat)
Country that has joined a convention.
Examples: – 39 states are parties to the Bonn Convention
– The US is not a party to the Law of the Sea Convention
Not very clearly defined words, but usually they mean rule in a
convention or national law.
The text of conventions and laws has numbered paragraphs which are
called articles (articles are divided up in to sections). Article is
the “technical” word.
Examples: the first article of CTTES contains definitions of
expressions used in the text of the convention. Art. III of the Bonn
Convention says which species are to be listed in Appendix I of the
convention and what the parties have to do to protect them.
Change in the text of an international convention. Usually a certain
majority (eg three-quarters) vote by parties to the convention is
required for an amendment.
Example: Art. X. of the Bonn Convention says that the text of the
convention can be amended by a two-thirds majority of parties present
An appendix (several appendices) is a separate part of the text of a
convention, added to the end of the test. It is usually a list of some
sort. Sometimes these are also called annexes.
Examples: – CTTES Appendix I lists strictly protected species.
– Berne Convention Appendix I lists protected plants.
Usually a resolution is a recommendation by a meeting (eg of the
parties to a convention). resolutions are usually non-binding, but
they create pressure on countries to do as the resolution says.
Examples: – United Nations General Assembly resolution 44/225,
which set up a
process for ending the use of large-scale pelagic
– Parties to CTTES have adopted many resolutions that
interpret the text of the convention.
Every country has national laws (legislation) on wide variety of
PUBLIC INTERNATIONAL LAW
In international political work, public international law (often
referred to just as international law) is most important. Public
international law deals with relationships between states, while
private international law deals with relations between individuals
from different states.
How is it created?
Public international law is created mainly through international
agreements, the way states act over long periods of time (“state
practice”, which creates “customary law”) and what international
organizations like the UN do. It’s difficult to punish a state that
breaks a rule of international law, but luckily people and states
don’t obey laws just because they think might be punished – there are
other reasons. Perhaps the main reason is that most governments
realize that is’s in their own best interest to try to behave in
accordance with agreed rules.
How can a state be punished for obeying international law?
There are ways of punishing states, some of them very effective: for
example the state can be sued in an international court, other states
can impose non-military sanctions (eg a trade embargo) or the UN can
even order military action against a country. Sometimes citizens can
sue their own government in a national or international court for a
breach of international law.
Why is public international law important for political work?
Most big environmental issues can only be solved through international
co-operation, and more and more environmental issues are dealt with
through international conventions. Even small changes in international
agrements can have a huge effect, as they affect many countries.
You can tell if a rule is binding by this test: If a state breaks
international law when it doesn’t obey the rule, then the rule is
A protocol is an addition to a convention (it’s almost like a baby of
the convention), with rules for a particular issue. Protocols are
usually added to a convention, after the “body” of the convention has
Examples: The Cartagena Convention, which protects the Caribbean, has
recently agreed a Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and
Many conventions allow countries to take reservations to some of the
articles of the convention. This means that the article does not apply
to the country which has taken the reservation.
Reservations make a convention less strong, but sometimes it’s only
possible to have a convention if certain countries know they can take
Examples: Japan the taken reservations on several whale species listed
in Appendix I of CTTES. This means that Japan can continue trade that
would otherwise be forbidden.
An Action Plan usually describes, in some detail, what should be done
for example to protect a species of animal in a region, like sea
turtles in the Mediterranean.
If a state has agreed to an Action Plan, it’s easier to create public
pressure on the government, but the government is not breaking
international law if it doesn’t follow the Action Plan.
Sometimes an Action Plan can be part of a convention, in which case it
is binding, but that’s not very usual. Sometimes there is both a
convention and a separate Action Plan, in which case the Action Plan
is not binding. In both these cases the Action Plan is usually more
detailed than the convention.
A moratorium is a decision to “stop for the time being”. A decision to
start again might to taken later.
In practice a moratorium usually works as a BAN (to stop completely
for ever), but it’s often easier to get states to agree on a
moratorium instead of a ban.
Lobbying (some people feel it’s a very negative world, so it’s better
not to use it) means trying to influence decision makers to support
your objectives. Promoting Greenpeace objectives by writing to
governments, attending meeting and raising our issues are all lobbying
WHAT IS THE PROCESS FOR CREATING A CONVENTION?
The process is usually very long (many years), and conventions are
negotiated and developed in many different ways. Below is a very rough
outline of how it might be done:
– Somebody has a start the process (a state, an international
organization, or even a non-governmental organization like Greenpeace)
– Somebody produces a first draft text for the convention
– The negotiating process then starts: usually the draft will be
discussed at several international meetings and the text will be
changed many times.
– When a final text has been agreed, a meeting is usually held at which
the text is SIGNED.
– After the signing, conventions usually have to be RATIFIED to become
binding. RATIFIED means approved by the country’s parliament.
– The text of the convention usually says that the convention will COME
INTO FORCE (“start”), when a certain number of countries have ratified
it. Usually this takes several years.