Multilateral Conventions: An Overview and Those Currently Enforced
Signed copy of the Geneva Convention, a multilateral convention establishing the laws of humane war.
A multilateral convention, also sometimes called a multilateral treaty, is a convention entered into by at least three, but often more, sovereign nations. Each member of the convention makes the same promises to the others, and each has the same duties and obligations under the terms of the convention. Below are some of the multilateral conventions currently honored by the international community.
Treaties and Conventions Regarding Outer Space and Celestial Bodies
These treaties and conventions govern the way that nations around the world behave in outer space and on celestial bodies, and govern the use of celestial resources.
- The Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies, also known simply as the Outer Space Treaty. It regulates international activities in space and on celestial bodies. It has been in force since October 10, 1967, and has received 101 ratifications and 26 signatures.
- The Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water, also known as the Partial Test Ban Treaty, or PTBT. It prohibits nuclear weapons testing under the water, in the atmosphere, in space, or in any location where the fallout might extend beyond the borders of the testing nation.
- The Treaty on the Rescue of Astronauts, the Return of Astronauts and the Return of Objects Launched into Outer Space, also known as the Rescue Agreement. Parties agree to do everything possible to aid and rescue astronauts in danger, and return them to the nation that launched them. In force since December 1968.
- The Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects, which holds a launching nation responsible for any damage caused on the surface, to aircraft, or to other nations’ spacecraft due to any malfunction or mishandling of its own spacecraft. It expands on the provisions of the Outer Space Treaty. It entered into force in September 1972.
- The Convention on Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space, entered into force in 1976, provides for an international registry of space objects and spacecraft launched by nations around the world.
Conventions for the Protection of Biodiversity
International conventions on biodiversity commit the parties to the protection of Earth’s diversity of species.
- The Convention Relative to the Preservation of Flora and Fauna in Their Natural State, entered into force in January 1936, was put in place to protect the native plants and animals of some regions, especially Africa, through nature preserves and national parks.
- The Convention on Nature Protection and Wildlife Preservation in the Western Hemisphere, entered into force in 1942, seeks to protect from extinction the native wildlife and plants of the Americas, and to safeguard areas of extreme natural beauty, historic significance, or scientific importance.
- The International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling of 1946 seeks to regulate the whaling industry in order to protect global whale populations.
- The International Convention for the Protection of Birds was signed in Paris in 1950 and entered into force in 1963. It aims to protect all global species of wild birds.
- The International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants was originally entered into in 1961; the convention was revised in 1978. It seeks not only to protect existing plant varieties, but to develop new ones that might benefit humanity.
Human Rights Conventions
International human rights conventions seek to defend the human rights of people around the world, by setting standards for humane treatment in peace and wartime.
- The Convention to Suppress the Slave Trade and Slavery was entered into force in 1927, and its protocol was established in 1953. The convention bans slavery in any form.
- The Convention Concerning Forced or Compulsory Labor was entered into in 1932 and modified in 1936. It forbids the extraction of service under duress, or from involuntary workers.
- The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 defines the inalienable rights of all people.
- The Convention Concerning Freedom of Association and the Right to Organize, effective since 1950, is another convention meant to protect the rights of laborers.
- The four Geneva Conventions of 1949 provide regulations for humane and compassionate warfare. They are the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea, the Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War, and the Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.
Conventions Regarding International Diplomatic Relations
Diplomatic relations refer to the way countries interact with one another in matters of peace, war, culture, economics and trade, human rights, environmental protection and more. Conventions on diplomatic relations set standards for interactions between national governments.
- The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961 establishes the structure by which international diplomatic relations are conducted.
- The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 establishes guidelines for consular duties and interactions, a necessary part of the economic links between countries.
- The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties establishes the body of law that governs the implementation of treaties between states.
- The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties Between States and International Organizations or Between International Organizations, entered into force in 1986, builds on the guidelines set forth by the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
Arms Control Treaties and Conventions
Conventions regarding arms control prevent the proliferation of dangerous biochemical or nuclear weapons, and can help stop weapons from reaching the hands of rogue governments and terrorist groups.
- The Convention (1) for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes, also known as the Hague Convention of 1899, was one of the first treaties establishing a body of international law, defining war crimes, and outlining laws to govern civilized warfare. It was followed by several other conventions in 1907.
- The Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare was signed in 1925 and entered into force in 1928, in the wake of the first World War. It prohibits the use of biological warfare and poisonous gases in war.
- The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was entered into force in 1948, as a direct reaction to the atrocities of the second World War.
- The Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict was entered into force in 1956, in response to the profound and widespread damage done to Europe’s cultural treasures during the second World War.
- The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, also called the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, was entered into force in 1970. It promotes the peaceful use of nuclear technology and ultimately seeks complete nuclear disarmament.
Economics and Trade Conventions
Economics and trade conventions protect the global economy by regulating international trade.
- The Treaty of Rome established the European Community and laid the basis for the modern EU.
- The Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883 was one of the world’s first treaties establishing and protecting intellectual property rights. Though it has been revised multiple times over the decades, it is still in force today.
- The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works lays the foundation for international copyright law.
- The International Convention on Travel Contracts of 1970 pertains to the international rights of tourists and pleasure travelers.
- The Patent Cooperation Treaty establishes rules for international patent filing and patent recognition across national borders.
Global Warming and Environmental Conservation Treaties and Conventions
The international community recognizes the importance of environmental conservation, and makes an effort to protect the environment and slow climate change with these agreements.
- The Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution, entered into force in March 1983, seeks to control air pollution, after it was proven in the 1970s that air pollution can cause damage to the environment thousands of miles away. Several protocols were added, including a Protocol on Financing in 1984, a Protocol on Sulphur in 1985, a Protocol on Nitrogen Oxides in 1988, and a Volatile Organic Compounds Protocol in 1991. A Draft Protocol on Persistent Organic Compounds was proposed in 1998.
- The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, entered into force in September 1988, obliges members to agree to take “appropriate measures” to protect the ozone layer, in accordance with the findings of researchers. The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was added in 1987 and amended in 1990 and 1992.
- The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, along with the Kyoto Protocol, seek to stabilize levels of greenhouse gases in the environment.
- The Antarctic Treaty, entered into in June 1961, establishes Antarctica as an area to be used for peaceful and scientific purposes only. It forbids any nation to claim the continent and prohibits nuclear testing or waste disposal, as well as military activity of any kind except for scientific research. A Protocol was added in 1991.