The status of reservations in the judgments of international courts

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Author: Aleksei Ispolinov

DOI: 10.21128/1812-7126-2020-2-72-87

Keywords: Committee of Human Rights; European Convention on Human Rights; Inter-American Court of Human Rights; International Court of Justice; international treaty; reservations; severability


The present article assessed the regime of reservations to the multilateral treaties established by the Vienna Convention of 1969 on the law of treaties based on the Advisory Opinion of 1951 of the International Court of Justice in Reservation case. This regime introduced the horizontal individual control of the states-parties to the international treaty over the compatibility of reservations to the object and purposes of the treaty in question. Nevertheless, current practice reveals that states’ failure to be involved in this mission especially in the human rights agreements might threaten the effectiveness and the very integrity of these treaties. Such a situation of laissez-faire appeared to no longer be acceptable to the regional courts of human rights (European Court of Human Rights and Inter-American Court of Human Rights) and to the controlling bodies created under the auspice of the United Nations in the framework of the universal human rights conventions. This paper reveals that the regional human rights courts and the UN quasi-judicial bodies took a position that the states lost the right to assess the validity of the reservations to the treaty in case of creation of a special controlling authority under this treaty. Moreover, the courts and quasi-judicial bodies expressed the opinion that an invalid reservation shall be severed from the act of ratification in a sense that the state making a reservation shall be bound by the entire agreement without benefiting from the reservation in question. In such a scheme the obvious problem of the status of states’ consent to be bound by the treaty under a specific condition in the form of a reservation shall be solved by the presumption that a state making a reservation implies primarily a necessity of its participation in the treaty instead of safeguarding this specific reservation. Such a robust stance of the regional human rights courts and of the universal quasi-judicial bodies on the validity of reservations in combination with the uncertainty of state practice were among the key factors prompting the International Law Commission to investigate this issue and to publish in 2011 a special non-binding documents entitled “A Guide to practice on Reservations to Treaties”. The Guidelines followed the approach of the human right courts and quasi-judicial bodies on the non-permissibility of reservations stating that such reservations shall be null and void ab initio and shall be severed from the act of ratification.

About the author: Alexey Ispolinov – Doctor of Sciences in Law, Senior Partner at “Lex-Invest” Law Firm, Moscow, Russia.

Citation: Ispolinov A. (2020) Status ogovorok v resheniyakh mezhdunarodnykh sudov [The status of reservations in the judgments of international courts]. Mezhdunarodnoe pravosudie, vol.10, no.2, pp.72–87.


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