International Treaties


One of the ABA's primary goals is to advance the rule of law in the world. In support of that goal, the ABA supports the ratification and implementation of numerous treaties that would provide for universal legal standards and structures to deal with a myriad of issues from human rights to free trade.

What's New

In September 2008, the U.S. Senate approved resolutions of ratification for several ABA-supported international treaties. Resolutions were approved for the Hague Convention on the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, as well as for an Amendment and several Protocols to the United Nations Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed To Be Excessively Injurious or To Have Indiscriminate Effects (Protocols on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Incendiary Weapons; Blinding Laser Weapons; and Explosive Remnants of War).

UN Convention on the Law of the Sea

The 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOS) provides an essential universal legal framework within which issues respecting the stewardship of our common oceans may be equitably resolved and which preserves customary freedom of navigation vital to ocean powers such as the U.S. for both strategic and commercial reasons. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously to approve a resolution of advice and consent on February 25, 2004. Unfortunately, the full Senate did not vote on the treaty before the 108th Congress adjourned.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee acted on the LOS Convention once again in the 110th Congress. Hearings were held during September 2007 and on October 31, 2007 the Committee voted, 17-4, to approve the treaty. On December 19, 2007 the resolution of ratification for the Convention was reported and placed on the Executive Calendar of the Senate. Unfortuantely, with little time remaining before the 110th Congress adjourns, it is unlikely that the LOS Convention will be brought to the Senate floor for a vote.

As with all treaties that are reported but not acted upon by the full Senate during a particular Congress, the treaty reverts to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee upon adjournment and remains pending until such time as the Committee takes subsequent action.

Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

The first comprehensive treaty addressing women’s rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discimination Against Wormen (CEDAW) provides a universal definition of discrimination against women. The primary goal of CEDAW is to eliminate discrimination against women and to promote the rule of law and respect for human rights around the world. It obligates state parties to condemn discrimination in all forms and to ensure a legal framework that provides protection against discrimination and embodies the principle of equality. The treaty addresses such issues as education, employment, health care, property ownership, and human trafficking.

In spite of the fact that the U.S. made ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women by the year 2000 one of its public commitments at the U.N. Conference on Women in 1995, the Senate has not yet taken a vote on ratification of the treaty. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on the CEDAW on June 13, 2002, and approved a resolution of advice and consent to ratification of the treaty by a vote of 12-7 on July 30, 2002. The ABA submitted a statement to the Committee supporting U.S. ratification of CEDAW. The treaty did not come up for a vote by the full Senate before the adjournment of the 107th Congress. CEDAW has received no further action in the Senate since 2002.

Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court

On July 1, 2002, the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court came into force. The treaty establishes the first permanent, internationally constituted court to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that would otherwise escape prosecution.

President Bill Clinton had signed the Rome Statute on behalf of the United States on December 31, 2000. However, citing concerns with the jurisdiction of the court, the Bush Administration announced May 6, 2002, that the U.S. would "unsign" or withdraw its signature from the statute, and that the U.S. had no intention of proceeding toward ratification of the treaty. In addition, the Administration has undertaken an effort to negotiate bilateral agreements with countries (Article 98 agreements) that would prevent the surrender of U.S. nationals and current and former employees of the U.S. government and military to the ICC. Certain countries that refuse to negotiate such agreements face a cut in foreign aid from the United States. The American Servicemember's Protection Act (ASPA), enacted on August 2, 2002, contains provisions prohibiting any U.S. agency from cooperating with the court; prohibiting the extradition of persons in the U.S. to the court; prohibiting U.S. military assistance to certain countries ratifying the Rome Statute; and authorizing the President to use all means necessary to free U.S. military personnel held by the court. The FY2007 Defense Authorization Act contained a provision that exempts IMET (International Military Education and Training) funds from the aid restrictions.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1990 . It is the first international treaty to provide a comprehensive set of standards the promotion of the rights of and protections for children. As of 2008, 193 countries are party to the treaty. Of all UN member countries, only the United States and Somalia have not yet ratified the CRC.

The United States signed the Convention in 1995, but it has never been submitted to the Senate for consideration. In 2002, the U.S. did ratify two ABA-supported optional protocols to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child -- the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

Key Points

  • Convention on the Law of the Sea
    It is in the economic, national security and foreign policy interests of the United States to become a party to the treaty. This is demonstrated by the broad, bipartisan support for the treaty by both non-governmental and U.S. governmental entities, including: the President; the Departments of State, Defense, and Homeland Security; the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and the Chairmen of the Senate Appropriations, Commerce and Foreign Relations Committees. 145 nations are party to the Convention, including all members of the European Union. The U.S. should join our allies in ensuring the preservation of critical navigational rights in the oceans for our military and commercial vessels, and in protecting our right to all resources within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

    Until the U.S. becomes a party to the treaty it cannot offer a judicial candidate for the Law of the Sea Tribunal nor put forth a candidate for membership on the Outer Continental Shelf Commission. Critical debate and decisions occur in these entities and the U.S. must participate and exercise a leadership role to protect our national interests.

  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)
    The United States is the lone industrialized democracy and one of only a handful of countries yet to ratify CEDAW. This failure compromises the U.S.'s credibility as a leader for human rights.

    Women around the world are using CEDAW as a tool in their struggle against the effects of discrimination, domestic violence, lack of legal status and access to education, health care and credit. Without U.S. ratification and leadership, other governments can more easily ignore CEDAW's mandate and their obligations under it.
  • International Criminal Court
    A permanent treaty-based court is needed to end impunity for international criminals; to serve as an alternative for prosecution when national courts are unavailable or ineffective; to promote peace and justice through individual accountability; to redress the numerous inadequacies of reliance on ad hoc tribunals; and to deter future atrocities.
  • Funding for Trade Agencies
    Congress should provide adequate resources to enable U.S. trade agencies to: (i) implement fully the requirements of U.S. trade laws; (ii) enforce vigorously the commitments made under international agreements to the U.S. by our trading partners to open their markets to our goods, services, investments and intellectual property; and, (iii) further a rule-based world trading system through diligent negotiations and active participation in multilateral organizations.

ABA Policy

The ABA supports the ratification of the Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as numerous other treaties. In addition, the ABA supports the provision of adequate funding for U.S. agencies responsible for enforcing trade laws.