Summary of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969

I decided to write the whole treaty from scratch in my own words, which has taken me well over 10 hours in the period of a week (usual sessions Mon-Fri last 30 minutes/1 hour in the morning, 45 minutes on lunchtime, one hour/one hour and a half in the evening. Weekends vary, for example Sunday 16th April I spent six hours on this article, 3pm to 9pm). My plan was to shorten the treaty and make it easier to understand in my own writing. The main reason why this article took so long to write is that I wanted it to be as accurate as possible in my meaning. Please note that as this article is in my own words, my writing may create unintended variances of meaning. The full text of the treaty can be found here.

An example of a variance is the use of my word "participating states". What I mean by this is states already consented to be bound by the treaty, states which took part in the drawing up and adoption of the text, and states that have consent to be bound by the treaty but the treaty itself has not entered into force. In the treaty itself, it differentiates these between negotiating states, contracting states and parties.

Part I: Introduction

Article 1: This treaty applies to treaties made between states.

Article 2: Outlines definitions of what words in the treaty mean.

Article 3: Outlines what this treaty does not apply to. This treaty does not affect the legal force of any agreement already concluded between states. The application of rules and procedure of treaties outlined in this treaty does not affect agreements already concluded between states, which are themselves subjected to international law.

Article 4: This treaty only applies to treaties which are made after this treaty enters into force. Anything made prior to the entry of force of this treaty would be subject to international law independently of this treaty.

Article 5: This treaty applies to any treaty adopted within an intergovernmental organisation.

Part II: Conclusion and entry into force of treaties

Article 6: All states possess the capacity to conclude a treaty.

Article 7: A person can represent the state for the purpose of adopting and authenticating a treaty if that person has appropriate full powers. If a person appears from the practice and intentions of the state, to be representing the state, this person has full powers.

Without having to produce full powers by virtue of their function, the following persons are considered to be able to represent the state:

  • Heads of State, Heads of Government and Ministers of Foreign Affairs for concluding a treaty.
  • Heads of diplomatic missions for adopting the text of a treaty between two states.
  • Representatives of states to an intergovernmental conference or organisation can adopt a text in a treaty in that conference or organisation.

Article 8: Concluding a treaty is not under legal effect if performed by a person who is not considered as having full powers under Article 7, unless it is afterwards confirmed by the state.

Article 9: A treaty is adopted if it has the consent of all states responsible for drawing it up. If it is not consented by all, and it is a treaty held at an intergovernmental conference, the treaty is adopted if it has a two-thirds majority.

Article 10: The text of the treaty established is authentic, agreed by the states participating in its drawing up.

Article 11: The consent of a state bound by a treaty is expressed by form of signature, exchange of instruments, acceptance, approval or accession, ratification, or by any other means agreed.

Article 12: A state is bound by consent to the treaty by signature if:

  • The treaty states the signature shall have that effect.
  • The participating states negotiated that the signature shall have that effect.
  • The state intended it to have that effect through the full powers of the signatory or it was made explicit during negotiation.

Article 13: A state is bound by consent to the treaty by exchange of instruments if:

  • The instruments provide that it will have that effect.
  • States involved agreed that such instruments will have that effect.

Article 14: A state is bound by consent to the treaty by ratification, acceptance or approval if:

  • The treaty states that such consent will have that effect.
  • Negotiating states agreed that such consent will have that effect.
  • A representative of state has signed the treaty subject to ratification/acceptance/approval.
  • The state intended to sign the treaty subject to ratification/acceptance/approval appearing from the full powers of the signatory or it was made explicit during negotiation.

Article 15: A state is bound by consent to the treaty by accession if:

  • The treaty states that such consent will have that effect.
  • Negotiating states agreed that such consent will have that effect.
  • All parties agreed that such consent by will have that effect.

Article 16: A state is bound by consent to the treaty by exchange or deposit of instruments of ratification, approval or accession when:

  • They have been exchanged by the states involved.
  • They have been deposited by the depositary.
  • A state’s notification to the states involved or the depositary.

Article 17: A state is bound by the treaty only if the treaty permits or the other states involved agree. The consent of a state to be bound by the treaty which allows choice in differing provisions is effective only if it is clear what provisions the consent relate to.

Article 18: A state should refrain from acts which defeat the object and purpose of the treaty when:

  • It is bound by the treaty by consent of any acts under Article 11, unless the state has made clear its intention not to be a party to the treaty.
  • It has consented to be bound by the treaty awaiting its entry into force.

Article 19: A state may form a reservation when signing, ratifying, accepting, approving or acceding to a treaty unless:

  • The treaty prohibits reservations.
  • The treaty states only specific reservations are permissible, which does not include the reservation in question.
  • The reservation is not compatible with the object and purpose of the treaty.

Article 20: Acceptance of and objection to reservations, inter alia:

  • A reservation authorised by a treaty does not require acceptance by other states unless the treaty mentions so.
  • From the object and purpose of the treaty it appears the treaty in its entirety between all parties is an essential condition of consent, a reservation requires acceptance by all parties. 
  • If a treaty is an instrument of an intergovernmental organisation, a reservation requires acceptance from an organ of that organisation.

Article 21: The legal effects of reservations and objections to reservations:

  • The reserving state modifies its relations to with those a party to the treaty with the reservation it relates to.
  • Those a party to the treaty consequently modifies its relations with the reserving state that the provisions of the treaty that the reservation relates to.
  • The particular reservation from the reserving state does not apply to all states a party to the treaty (unless a state also submits the same reservation).
  • If a state objects the reservation of the reserving state, but does not oppose the entry of force of the treaty between itself and the reserving state, the reservation does not apply between the two states. Putting it another way, if a state disagrees with a reserving state’s reservation, and the treaty enters into force, the reservation in question does not apply between the two states.

Article 22: Withdrawing reservations and objections to reservations:

  • Unless made explicit in a treaty, the reserving state may withdraw their reservation at any time. The consent of a state to the reserving state’s reservation is not required.
  • An objection to a reservation may be withdrawn at any time.
  • The withdrawal of a reservation becomes valid only when the states party to the treaty have been notified of it.
  • The withdrawal of an objection by a state to a reservation of a reserving state becomes valid when notice has been received by the reserving state.

Article 23: Procedure of reservations:

  • A reservation, objection to a reservation or acceptance of a reservation must be in writing and informed by all parties to and entitled to the treaty.
  • A reservation must be confirmed by the reserving state if formulated when signing the treaty awaiting its ratification/approval/acceptance.
  • An objection to a reservation or acceptance of a reservation made prior to signing the treaty does not require confirmation.
  • Withdrawing a reservation or objection to a reservation must be made in writing.

Article 24: Entry into force

  • A treaty enters into force on the date mentioned on the treaty or at a date that participating states agree.
  • Failing the above, the entry into force of a treaty begins when all participating states give consent to be bound by the treaty.
  • If a state consents to be bound by the treaty after it has already come into force, the entry into force of that states starts from the date it gives that consent, or at a date mentioned on the treaty.
  • Other provisions of a treaty, such as its authentication, reservations, and function of depositary apply from the date the treaty is adopted.

Article 25: Part of a treaty is applied pending its entry of force if the treaty so provides or participating states agree.      

Part III: Observance, application and interpretation of treaties

Article 26: “pacta sunt servanda” (Latin: agreements must be kept) All treaties are binding upon states parties to it, and must be performed in good faith.

Article 27: A state may not invoke a provision of their domestic law as justification for not performing a treaty.

Article 28: Unless mentioned explicitly on a treaty, acts performed by a state prior to the entry of force of a treaty are not held accountable to the treaty. (Non-retroactivity)

Article 29: Unless mentioned explicitly on a treaty, the scope of a treaty covers a party’s entire territory.

Article 30: Application on successive treaties relating to the same subject matter.

  • If a treaty specifies that the content of it is compatible with, or subject to, an earlier or later treaty, the provisions of that earlier or later treaty is still applicable.
  • If the same states are party to an earlier and later treaty, but the earlier treaty is not terminated (under Article 59), the provisions of the earlier treaty still apply only to the extent that they are compatible with the later treaty.
  • If parties to the later treaty do not include all parties to the earlier treaty, the states that are parties to both earlier and later apply to the above point (second bullet point). If there is one state that is a party to both earlier and later treaties, and another which is just party to one of them, then the treaty that both states are party to governs their rights and obligations.

Article 31: General rule of interpretation of treaties

  • A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with its ordinary meaning, in light of its context and the object and purpose of the treaty.
  • The context for the interpretation of a treaty is comprised in its text and by any agreements made by states in relation to the treaty.
  • The context for the interpretation of a treaty is also made in light of any instrument made by one or more parties in relation to the treaty.
  • Apart from the aforementioned context, subsequent agreements between parties, practice of the application of the treaty and applicable rules of international law should also be taken into account when interpreting the treaty.

Article 32: Preparation notes of the treaty and the circumstance of its conclusion should be taken into account in order to determine the meaning of the treaty if the interpretation is ambiguous, obscure, absurd or unreasonable.

Article 33: Interpretation of the treaty authenticated in two or more languages

  • The treaty is equally authoritative in each language, unless the treaty makes explicit otherwise or if parties agree.
  • A language of the treaty which is not authenticated is not valid unless the treaty makes explicit or if parties agree.
  • In each authenticated language it is assumed that the treaty has the same meaning.
  • If both/all languages of the treaty are authenticated, and it is discovered that there is a difference in meaning of the treaty between the languages involved, the meaning which best fits the object and purpose of the treaty shall be adopted.

Article 34: A treaty does not create a right or obligation to a third state without the third state’s consent.

Article 35: If the parties intend for there to be an obligation for a third state, and that third state agrees in writing to that obligation, that that is an acceptable provision in a treaty.

Article 36: A third state have rights from the provisions of a treaty if the parties of the treaty intend for the third state to have rights, or rights are to be for a group of states, or for all states. A third state’s assent is presumed unless that state mentions otherwise. In exercising a right, a state must comply with conditions for its exercise as mentioned in the treaty.

Article 37: Revocation or modification of obligations or rights of third states

  • When an obligation has arisen for a third state (Article 35), the obligation may be revoked or modified with the consent of all states party to the treaty and the third state.
  • When a right has arisen for a third state (Article 36), the right may not be revoked or modified by states party to the treaty if the right specified, or was intended, that it is irrevocable and not subject to modification.

Article 38: Anything in Articles 34 to 37 cannot be used as being binding on a third state for reason of being part of customary international law.

Part IV: Amendment and modification of treaties

Article 39: In the case of a treaty involving two states, a treaty may be amended upon agreement by both parties. Rules followed would entail as mentioned in Part II of this treaty.

Article 40: Amendment of multilateral treaties

  • Any state that proposes to amend a treaty must notify all participating states to the treaty. The participating states have a right to take part in a decision as to the action of such proposal, and the conclusion of the agreement to amend the treaty.
  • All participating states to a treaty are entitled to become a party of the amended treaty.
  • A state currently party to a treaty is not bound by the amendment to the treaty, if they do not become party to the amended treaty.
  • After the entry into force of the amended agreement, any new party to the treaty is considered as a party to the amended treaty. The new party is considered a party to the unamended treaty to those current parties to the unamended treaty (as these states decided not to be parties to the amended treaty).

Article 41: Agreement to modify multilateral treaties between certain parties only

  • Two or more parties may agree to modify the treaty between themselves if the possibility of modification is permitted by the treaty.
  • If the modification is not prohibited by the treaty, modification is possible if it does not affect the enjoyment and performance of other parties under the treaty. Modification is also possible if it does not derogate from the object and purpose of the treaty as a whole.
  • The two or more parties that agree to a modification between themselves shall notify the other states party to the treaty of this modification.

Part V: Invalidity, termination and suspension of the operation of treaties

Article 42: Validity and continuance in force of treaties

  • The validity of a treaty or consent to be bound by a treaty can only be called into question through the articles in this Convention.
  • The termination, withdrawal, denunciation, suspension of operation of a treaty can only be as a result of the articles in this Convention.

Article 43: Termination, withdrawal, denunciation, suspension of operation of a treaty does not affect a state’s obligations to the rules of international law independent of the treaty.

Article 44: Separability of treaty provisions

  • A state that invokes it right to denounce, withdraw or suspend operation of a treaty does so for the whole content of the treaty, unless the treaty allows otherwise or if all states party to the treaty agrees.
  • A reason for invalidating, terminating, withdrawing from or suspending operation of a treaty must be given in respect to the treaty as a whole. If this reason is due to a particular part of the treaty, it is not acceptable unless:
    • The part of the treaty in question can be separated from the treaty as a whole.
    • The part of the treaty in question is not an essential part of the treaty.
    • Being obligated to only the remainder of the treaty is just.

Article 45: A state will lose the right to invalidate, terminate, withdraw or suspend the operation of a treaty if after becoming aware of facts under Articles 46-50 and 60 and 62, still expressly agree that the treaty remains valid, or by its conduct accepts the validity of the treaty.

Article 46: A state cannot use the reason that they do not consent to the treaty as it violates their domestic law, unless that domestic law is of fundamental importance.

Article 47: If a representative of state expresses consent of the treaty with a specific exception, that exception is not grounds for invalidating consent of the treaty, unless that exception was notified to participating states.

Article 48: A state may give error as a reason to invalidate its consent to a treaty, if it relates to a fact or situation that was assumed by the state and this fact or situation is the essential basis of their consent to the treaty. Error to invalidate consent to a treaty does not apply if by the states own conduct caused the error, or if they had advanced notice of the error. An error to the wording of the treaty does not invalidate the treaty, see Article 79.

Article 49: If a state concludes a treaty by the fraudulent conduct of another participating state, it is reason to invalidate the state’s consent to a treaty.

Article 50: If a state concludes a treaty by a corrupt representative, directly or indirectly by another participating state, it is grounds to invalidate the state’s consent to a treaty.

Article 51: If a state concludes a treaty by a representative who has been coerced, the state’s consent to a treaty has no legal effect.

Article 52: If a state concludes a treaty by being threatened by the possibility of or use of force (that violates the UN Charter), the consent of a treaty is void.

Article 53: If a norm of general international law, that is accepted and recognised by the international community, conflicts with the treaty, then the treaty is void.

Article 54: A treaty can be terminated or a party can withdraw from a treaty as followed in the text of the treaty, or at any time from the consent of all other parties to the treaty.

Article 55: Unless specifically mentioned in the treaty, a treaty does not terminate solely for the reason that it does not meet a required number of parties for its entry into force.

Article 56: A treaty that has no mention of its termination is not possible to denounce or withdraw from, unless all parties express the possibility of this termination being possible, or if the treaty by its nature implies the possibility of its termination. If termination is possible, a party must give at least twelve months notice of its intention to withdraw or denounce a treaty.

Article 57: The operation of the treaty may be suspended as expressed by the treaty, or at anytime from the consent of all other parties to the treaty.

Article 58: Suspension of a multilateral treaty by certain parties only

  • Two parties may agree to suspend a multilateral treaty by themselves alone if this possibility is made clear in the treaty, and if the suspension in question is not prohibited by the treaty. This suspension must not affect the rights and performance of other parties to the treaty, and the suspension is only possible if is not an essential provision of the treaty (in accordance with the object and purpose of the treaty). 
  • Anything other than the above conditions must be notified by all other parties to the treaty of their intention to suspend provisions of the treaty.

Article 59: Termination or suspension of a treaty due to the application of a later treaty

  • A treaty will be terminated if all the parties conclude that there is a later treaty on the same subject matter that should be governed by the later treaty, and the current treaty cannot be governed at the same time as the later treaty.
  • A treaty will be suspended in operation if mentioned in the later treaty or all parties intend the treaty to be suspended.

Article 60: Termination or suspension of a treaty as a consequence of its breach

  • If a state party to a bilateral treaty breaches it, the other party have grounds to terminate or suspend the operation of the treaty in whole or in part.
  • A breach of a multilateral treaty allows the other parties (by unanimous agreement) to terminate or suspend the entire (or part of the) treaty between all parties, or to terminate the relations between all parties and the state that breached it.
  • A party specifically affected by the breached state may use this as grounds to terminate or suspend the treaty between it and the breached state.
  • If the material breach of a treaty by a state radically affects the position of every party to the treaty in its performance and obligations, this then allows a state to use this as grounds to terminate or suspend the operation of the treaty for itself.
  • A material breach means a rejection of its duty to the treaty, or a violation of the essential object and purpose of the treaty.

Article 61: Supervening impossibility of performance  

  • If a party to a treaty cannot perform its obligations due to the permanent disappearance or destruction of an object vital to performing the treaty, it can be a ground for that state to terminate or withdraw from the treaty.
  • If the impossibility to perform its obligation is temporary, it can only be a ground for suspending the operation of the treaty.
  • If a party to a treaty cannot perform its obligations as it has breached any obligation of the treaty or breached any other international obligation to a party to the treaty, this cannot be ground to terminate, withdraw or suspend the operation of a treaty.

Article 62: Fundamental change of circumstances

  • A fundamental change of circumstance from when the treaty was concluded cannot be grounds for terminating or withdrawing from the treaty, unless the circumstance formed an essential basis of a party’s consent to a treaty, or if the change of circumstance radically changes the obligations to be performed by the party. 
  • A fundamental change of circumstance also cannot be grounds for terminating or withdrawing from a treaty if:
    • The treaty establishes a boundary.
    • The change is the result of a party’s breach of obligation of the treaty or the party breached any other treaty.

Article 63: The severance of diplomatic or consular relations does not affect the legal relations between the parties to the treaty, unless diplomatic relations between these parties are a inseparable factor in the functioning of the treaty.

Article 64: If a new peremptory norm of international law (jus cogens) emerges, any current treaty which does not correlate with the norm will be void.

Article 65: Procedure for withdrawal, termination, suspension, invalidity of a treaty

  • With respect to the above, the party that intends to do so must notify all the parties.
  • If the other parties raised no objection after three months, the party that requested that action can carry it out.
  • If parties or one party objected to that state’s intention, it must be settled through Article 33 of the UN Charter (negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional arrangements, or other peaceful means).

Article 66: If the dispute is to be settled by Article 33 of the UN Charter, a solution is to be reached within twelve months from the date the objection was made. If it is not, the objecting state may submit an application to the International Court of Justice for a decision.

Article 67: The notification of Article 65 must be made in writing. To declare the treaty to be withdrawn, terminated, suspended or rendered invalid shall be carried out through an instrument communicated to the other parties. The instrument should be signed by the Head of State, Head of Government, Minister for Foreign Affairs or a representative demonstrating full powers.

Article 68: A notification or instrument provided in Articles 65 to 67 can be revoked at any time before it takes effect.

Article 69: Consequences of the invalidity of a treaty

  • Procedure followed successfully in this Convention to cause a treaty to be invalid will cause that treaty to be deemed void and without legal force.
  • If after it being rendered invalid, acts were performed based on that treaty:
    • Each party may need to establish in their relations the position they would be in if the act did not occur.
    • Acts performed in good faith before the treaty was invalid are considered lawful based on the treaty.

Article 70: Consequences of the termination of a treaty

  • Unless mentioned on the treaty or all parties agree, the termination of the treaty under the procedure of this Convention releases all parties from the obligations of the treaty. The termination of a treaty does not affect any rights, obligations or legal situations created by the parties involved during the performance of the treaty prior to its termination.
  • If a state party withdraws from a multilateral treaty before a treaty is terminated, the termination of obligations of that state to the other parties take effect from the date that the withdrawal took effect.

Article 71: Consequences of the invalidity of a treaty conflicting with a peremptory norm of international law

  • If a treaty is void under Article 53, the parties shall avoid performing any act which conflicts with the peremptory norm of international law, and bring their acts in conformity with this norm.
  • If a treaty is void under Article 64, the treaty is terminated and releases all parties from the obligations of the treaty. The termination of the treaty does not affect any rights, obligations or legal situations created by the parties involved prior to its termination. The rights, obligations or legal situations by the parties cannot be continued after the treaty’s termination if it conflicts with the new peremptory norm of international law.

Article 72: Consequences of the suspension of the operation of a treaty

  • Unless mentioned on the treaty or all parties agree, the suspension of the treaty under the procedure of this Convention releases all parties from the obligations of the treaty during the period of suspension.
  • The suspension of a treaty does not affect other legal relations between the parties.
  • During the suspension period, all parties will refrain from acts that seemingly obstruct the treaty to resume.

Part VI: Miscellaneous provisions

Article 73: The Convention shall not prejudge any question that may appear in regard of a treaty through state succession, state responsibility or an outbreak of hostilities.

Article 74: Severing diplomatic or consular relations between states does not affect the situation of the treaty, or the conclusion of a treaty between these states.

Article 75: The Convention shall not prejudice any obligation to a treaty against any aggressor state that took measures in conformity with the United Nations Charter.

Part VII: Depositaries, notifications, corrections and registration

Article 76: The location of depositary of the treaty will be according to where it states on the treaty, or at a location that all participating states agree. The depositary is under obligation to act in accordance with its functions, as it is of an international character.

Article 77: Functions of depositaries

  • The functions of a depositary are (unless otherwise mentioned in a treaty or otherwise agreed by all states):
    • Keep the original full text of the treaty.
    • Prepare certified copies of the original full text or additional languages as required.
    • Receiving signatures to the treaty and keep any documents in relation to it.
    • Ensuring the signatures and related documents are in the right format, and if not, notify the concerned state.
    • Inform parties and participating states of any notices or communications relating to the treaty.
    • When the number of signatures, ratifications, acceptances, approval or accession have reached the required number, inform all states involved of its entry into force
    • Register the treaty with the Secretariat of the United Nations.
    • Perform any other functions as mentioned in this Convention.
  • If a state party feels the depositary is not doing its function, the depositary shall bring this to the attention of all parties and participating states, or if not appropriate, a relevant intergovernmental organisation

Article 78: Unless otherwise mentioned in a treaty, any notification by any state shall:

  • Be submitted to the states intended. If there is a depositary, it shall be submitted to the depositary instead.
  • The notification shall only be valid if it has been received by the depositary. If there is no depositary, it will be valid once received by the states intended.
  • If received by the depositary, the notification is only valid once the depositary has communicated it to the states intended.

Article 79: After the authentication of a treaty, if the participating states agree it contains an error, unless decided by agreed means, it will be corrected:

  • By having the appropriate correction made to the text of the treaty.
  • Executing a change of instruments setting out the correction.
  • Executing a corrected version of the whole treaty.

If there is a depositary, the depositary will notify all participating states of the error and propose to correct it with a designated time limit to which objections can be made. If on the expiry of the time limit:

  • No objections are raised, the depositary will correct the error and communicate a notification (procès-verbal) to all participating states.
  • An objection is raised, the depositary will communicate this objection to all participating states.

The correction of the treaty will be notified to the Secretariat of the United Nations.

Article 80: Once a treaty has entered into force, it will be transmitted to the Secretariat of the United Nations for publication.

Part VIII: Final Provisions

Article 81: This Convention is open to all member states of the United Nations or any specialised agencies or the International Atomic Energy Agency or parties to the Statute of the International Court of Justice. It is also open to any state invited by the General Assembly of the United Nations until 30th November 1969 at the Ministry of Foreign affairs in Austria, or 30th April 1970 at the United Nations in New York.

Article 82: This Convention is subject to ratification. Instruments of ratification are at the United Nations in New York.

Article 83: This Convention is open to accession by any state in Article 81.

Article 84: This Convention will enter into force on the thirtieth day after thirty five states have acceded or ratified it.

Article 85: This Convention is equally authentic in English, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish. It shall be deposited at the United Nations.

Done on the 23rd May, 1969.