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THE TEAM

Conventions and treaties where do they come from?

 

The following is an outline of the main characteristics of Council of Europe conventions. For a rich and detailed description of treaty-making, including the variations and nuances of this process, see Treaty-making in the Council of Europe (Polakiewicz, 1999: Council of Europe Publishing

How do treaties originate?

Treaties, officially known as conventions, are legally-binding texts which form the European legal space. The initiative to draft may come from the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, a conference of specialised ministers or a steering committee. A steering committee is composed of government-designated representatives, but members of NGOs, other intergovernmental organisations and non-member states participate as active observers.

Once the initiative to draft is approved by the Committee of Ministers, it is inscribed in the organisation's activities. A steering or expert committee is entrusted with the drafting. When this is finished, the Committee of Ministers consults the Parliamentary Assembly for an opinion - a step which tests the political reaction of the Assembly's MPs. For it is in their  national parliaments that the treaty will ultimately be debated and ratified.

Adoption, signing, ratification and reservations

A two-thirds majority, with a majority of eligible voters present, is required to adopt a treaty. It is then open for signature to the member states and enters into the Council of Europe European Treaty Series (CETS; prior to 2004, ETS) . Conditions for inviting other states, within and outside of Europe, are laid out in the text of each treaty. There are no deadlines for signing; those open for signature in the 1950s are still open, and neither is there a deadline for ratification once a state has signed.

Unless stipulated otherwise, signing does not legally bind a member state to implement a treaty. It is only a statement of intention to become a party to it.

Once a treaty is ratified and a state becomes  party to it, it is obligated by international law to implement it and comply with all of its provisions. However, most treaties allow state parties to express reservations to certain provisions of the treaty at the time of ratification.

Although optional, most treaties are accompanied by a published explanatory report. The report explains the reasoning and intentions of the drafting group behind each article, and contributes to a deeper understanding of the spirit in which the treaty was conceived.

Monitoring

The Council of Europe's statutory bodies (the Parliamentary Assembly and the Committee of Ministers) have established various monitoring systems (country-based, thematic or treaty-based) to ensure the application of standards.

"Treaty monitoring" monitors the application of treaties at national level and a number of Council of Europe conventions have such mechanisms as part of their provisions. For example, Article 36 of the Council of Europe Convention against Trafficking in Human Beings lays out detailed rules for setting up its own expert monitoring group, GRETA. The European Committee of Social Rights, established by the European Social Charter, examines country complaints lodged by NGOs or trade unions.

Certain steering committees have the role of monitoring the implementation of treaties that have been drafted under their auspices. For some treaties, a special monitoring committee is set up. For others, state parties to the treaty in question enter  feedback on how they are fulfilling treaty obligations into an electronic database. This is done on a voluntary basis.

See: Council of Europe conventions on children's rights