Published : 2018-01-27

Treaty-Making Capacity of  Components of Federal States from the Perspective of the Works of the UN International Law Commission

Karol Karski

Tomasz Kamiński

Section: Studies


The submitted paper concerns the treaty-making capacity of components of federal (non-unitary) states. As the division of powers in respect to the conclusion of international treaties between a federal state and its components is based on the provisions of internal federal law, the authors decided to start the consideration of the topic with the presentation of selected appropriate internal law regulations of federal states. Although the study concentrates on an analysis of Swiss and German constitutional rules on the subject, the provisions of i.a. Belgian, US and Canadian law are also commented upon. Therefore it apparently seems to be an important legal question.

The treaty-making capacity of components of federal (non-unitary) states was comprehensively discussed during the International Law Commission preparatory works on the regulation on the law of treaties. The provisions dedicated to that issue formed part of the reports prepared by each of the ILC Special Rapporteurs on the subject. The paper presents the draft propositions submitted by them, the views of ILC members, and responses received from states.

The final draft of ILC articles on the law of treaties contained a paragraph concerning the issue at stake (than art. 5 § 2 of the draft) stipulating that member states of a federal union may possess such capacity only if such capacity is admitted by the federal constitution and within the scope defined therein. Nevertheless, this issue was omitted in the 1969 Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties (VCLT). Art. 6 of the VCLT on the capacity of States to conclude treaties does not mention the rights of components of federal states. It consists of one paragraph simply stating that every State possesses the capacity to conclude treaties. And the term ‘state’ for the purposes of that regulation possesses the same meaning as i.a. in the Charter of the United Nations, that is a State for the purposes of international law, or a state in the international meaning of that term.

This does not mean however that territorial units forming a part of a federal state cannot conclude international agreements. But, this issue depends both on the provisions of internal law of the given state and on the practice of the states recognising the potential rights of the components of the federal (non-unitary) states in respect to conclusion of the treaties.


federal states ; law of the treaties ; International Law Commission


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