08-09 April, New York – The UNITAR New York Office, in collaboration with the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) Treaty Law and Practice Office, organized a two-day seminar on international treaty law and practice.  The continued growth of global issues addressed by the international community has resulted in the expansion of challenges faced by countries in participating in the creation of these international treaties.  However, as the former Secretary-General stated in his Millennium Report (A/54/2000), many countries “lack the necessary expertise and resources, especially when national legislation is needed to give force to international instruments”.  Therefore, the purpose of this seminar series is to bridge this gap between the need for global cooperation and the lack of expertise in providing legal effect to said cooperation.  This seminar also featured an expert panel on the Minamata Convention on Mercury, highlighting the process taken in bringing this Convention into law.

Mr. Stephen Mathias – Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs – expounded upon the work done at the Office of Legal Affairs and the Treaty Section in particular.  Mr. Mathias also stressed the necessity of transparency in the creation of treaties between states.  This transparency results in enhancement of multilateral treaty affairs and is crucial to sustaining the rule of law.

Mr. Santiago Villalpando – Chief of OLA Treaty Section– facilitated in the participants understanding of the Geneva Conventions and Article 102 of the UN Charter, among other similar laws.  Mr. Villalpando also discussed the functions of the OLA Treaty Section, which include the registration and publication of treaties as per Article 102 as well as discharging of the depositary functions of the Secretary-General.  Finally, Mr. Villalpando helped the participants better understand treaty reservations, how best to distinguish unilateral act of modification or exclusion from a declaration.

Ms. Dina Hamdy – OLA Treaty Section – discussed several key points in creating treaties that meet UN protocol.  This was done using examples of previously submitted treaties, in an effort to show common mistakes made by Member States in regard to signatures or full powers as well as what can be done to correct these mistakes.  Mr. Carlos Ivan Fuentes – OLA Treaty Section – discussed the obligations of submitting treaties, the prerequisites of submitting both bilateral and multilateral treaties under Article 102 and subsequent actions after submission.  These actions, which include the ratification, accession, denunciation, amendment, and termination of treaties, are as equally important as a treaty’s initial creation and registration. Ms. Arancha Hinojal-Oyarbide – OLA Treaty Section – discussed final clauses.  A plethora of treaty points fall under the final clauses, but generally these are considered to be treaty provisions which regulate the procedural aspects of the treaty operation.

Ms. Fanny Shaus and Mr. Andrei Kolomoets – OLA Treaty Section – gave the participants a personal tour of the online services offered by OLA and the Treaty Section.  Such services include a searchable database of international treaties deposited to the Secretary-General, model instruments to use in the creation of treaties, and a guide to the registration of treaties with OLA.

This year’s treaty law course provided an interesting focus on the recently adopted Minamata Convention on Mercury. The three panelists came from different backgrounds, and helped to shape the discussion from different angles; Mr. Michael Bender represented the NGO Mercury Policy Project; Prof. Edward Lloyd from Columbia Law School provided his academic perspective and lastly Mr. Masaharu Nagai represented United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP).  All presentations focused on the importance of the Minamata Convention, but delineating its structure and mandate. It was interesting to note how NGOs were working locally and in very specific areas to ensure limit Mercury pollution and what the UN itself is doing to enforce this treaty. Unanimously, it was agreed that, despite being in the works since the 1970’s, the Convention is by no means a perfect treaty, owing to the fact that negotiations on its ratification are still taking place.  The loopholes and exemptions presented was a testament to the complexity and flaws of the convention. Overall, participants found his session very informative, as it shed light on the dangers of mercury poisoning, and illuminated the importance of treaties in creating international norms and commitments.