Codification Division Publications: Diplomatic Conferences Codification Division Publications: Diplomatic Conferences

United Nations Conference on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties

(Vienna, 4 April — 6 May 1977 and 31 July — 23 August 1978)

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The succession of States and its relation to treaty obligations was considered by the Commission its twenty-second, twenty-fourth and twenty-sixth sessions, in 1968, 1970 and 1972 respectively. In 1967 Sir Humphrey Waldock (United Kingdom) was appointed Special Rapporteur for the sub-topic, and was in 1973 succeeded by Sir Francis Vallat (United Kingdom). A first reading of the draft articles was held at the twenty-fourth session, and the provisional draft articles were subsequently transmitted to Member States for their observation. The General Assembly in Resolution 2926 (XXVII) of 28 November 1972 recommended that the Commission continue its work in the light of comments received by Member States. The final text of the draft articles was adopted by the Commission at its twenty-sixth session and referred to the General Assembly with the recommendation, inter alia, that the Assembly convene an international conference of plenipotentiaries to conclude a convention on the subject. The General Assembly invited Member States to submit further comments and observations in resolution 3315 (XXIX). The following year, it was decided in Resolution 3496 (XXX) to convene an international conference with the purpose of concluding a convention based on the draft articles.  

The Conference, attended by eighty-nine States, was held in Vienna 4 April to 6 May. The Conference was however unable to conclude its work in the time available, and a second session, approved by the General Assembly in Resolution 32/47 (8 December 1977), was subsequently held from 31 July to 34 August 1978. The second session of the Conference, attended by ninety-four States, adopted, on 22 August 1978, the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties (status). Several resolutions were also adopted by the Conference. One related to how the Convention was to be interpreted in conformity with United Nations resolutions concerning Namibia, affirming that South Africa was not the predecessor State of the future independent State of Namibia. Another resolution was adopted with regard to incompatible treaty obligations arising from the unification of States. The Convention was opened for signature at the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs if the Republic of Austria from 23 August 1978 until 28 February 1979, and subsequently at the United Nations Headquarters until 31 August 1979.

According to its Article 73, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, of 1969, is not applicable to questions relating to the succession of States. The Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties regulates the effects of such a succession of States in respect to treaty obligations of the successor State. It was adopted considering the profound transformation of the international community brought about by the decolonization process, but is applicable also to other cases of succession of States.  The preamble emphasizes the importance of a consistent observance of multilateral treaties which are of interest to the whole international community, in order to strengthen peace and international cooperation. The Convention further aims to ensure greater judicial security in international relations.

The Convention is applicable to cases of replacement of one State by another in the responsibility for the international relations of territory. It is however only applicable when the succession has taken place in conformity with international law and, in particular, the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. When a part of the territory of one State becomes part of the territory of another, treaties of the successor State become applicable also in the territory concerned. With regard to newly independent State, the successor State is not bound by treaties concluded by the predecessor State. A newly independent State may however by notification of succession establish its status as a party to a multilateral treaty to which the predecessor State was a party. The Convention furthermore establishes a procedure for the settlement of disputes.