Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
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Commentary of 2016 
Article 60 : Accession
Text of the provision
From the date of its coming into force, it shall be open to any Power in whose name the present Convention has not been signed, to accede to this Convention.
Reservations or declarations

A. Introduction
3202  Under general international law, a State can express its consent to be bound by a treaty in a variety of ways.[1] Among these, the Geneva Conventions retain two alternatives: signature followed by ratification, or accession. Accession gives States the possibility of binding themselves to the Conventions in a single act, instead of the two-stage process (signature then ratification) laid down in Articles 56 and 57. Accession is also the only means for a State that has not signed the Convention to become a Party to it. The procedure for accession provided in Article 60 is common to the four Conventions.[2]
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B. Historical background
3203  The draft provision adopted by the 1948 International Conference of the Red Cross in Stockholm was largely identical to the final text adopted, but contained in addition the condition that the accession had to be ‘duly notified’.[3] This wording reflected that of the corresponding provisions in the 1929 Conventions.[4] The Drafting Committee of the Conference changed the text to the current wording and thus left the notification requirement addressed entirely in a separate provision (Article 61), which prompted no discussion at the Conference.[5]
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C. Discussion
1. Conditions of accession
3204  Ratification is only possible for States fulfilling the conditions for signature set out in Article 56, whereas any State which has not signed the Convention may accede to it.[6]
3205  No limitation or condition on accession is imposed other than that the Convention must have already entered into force. The invitation is addressed to ‘any Power’, whether or not it is a Party to one of the earlier Conventions.[7] The Geneva Conventions, which draw their strength and reach from their traditional universality, are, as in 1929, treaties open to all. However, entities wishing to accede to the Conventions have to be a ‘State’, i.e. they have to fulfil the criteria of statehood defined by international law.[8] The existence of a State is not only a legal but also a political question. Recognition is not enough to create a State, nor does its absence negate it. However, when statehood is a condition for accession to a treaty, it is of importance whether or not the depositary and the other States Parties are convinced that an acceding entity fulfils the criteria for statehood. If the depositary cannot clearly determine whether an entity wishing to accede to a treaty is a State, it has to leave this determination to the States Parties in order to maintain its impartiality in the performance of its functions.[9]
3206  Like other depositaries,[10] the depositary of the Geneva Conventions does not consider itself in a position to determine the often political question of whether an entity whose status is unclear is a State. Therefore, if the depositary is not in a position to determine whether or not an entity wishing to accede to the Convention is a State, it informs the States Parties of the deposit of the instrument of accession, without determining the validity of such accession and without formally listing the entity wishing to accede as a State Party to the Convention.[11]
3207  In this context, the functions of the depositary and its role as a State Party to the treaty have to remain clearly distinct and separate. The depositary has to assess the situation in an objective way, according to the applicable legal conditions. In the course of this assessment, political considerations the State may have as a State Party, for example with regard to its recognition of the acceding entity, must not be taken into account.
3208  In the practice of the depositary of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, there are cases of accessions of entities which were, at the time of accession, not (yet) recognized as States by Switzerland. The depositary did not always deal with these cases in entirely the same way, not because Switzerland did not recognize the entities in question, but because of their differing statuses within the international community.
3209  In 1960 and 1974, the depositary notified the States Parties of the accessions of the Provisional Government of the Algerian Republic and of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, respectively, without, however, confirming a date of entry into force. In parallel, the Swiss Confederation addressed a diplomatic note to the States Parties indicating that Switzerland, as a State Party to the Conventions, did not recognize the entity in question, in the case of Algeria, and did not, by taking note of its accession, make a statement on the international status of Guinea-Bissau.
3210  Also in 1974, the depositary notified the States Parties of the accession of the Revolutionary Provisional Government of the Republic of South Vietnam, confirming the immediate applicability of the Conventions. In parallel, Switzerland, as a State Party to the Conventions, addressed a diplomatic note to the States Parties identical to that sent in relation to the accession of Guinea-Bissau.
3211  In 1983, the depositary notified the States Parties of the accession of the United Nations Council for Namibia, confirming the entry into force of the Conventions. Although Switzerland had not recognized Namibia at the time, it did not in this case address a parallel note of non-recognition to the other States Parties.
3212  In 1989, 1990 and 1991, the depositary informed the States Parties that Palestine had deposited an instrument of accession but that owing to the uncertain status of this entity within the international community, it was not in a position to determine whether this act constituted a valid accession.[12] Subsequently, the depositary notified the States Parties that the State of Palestine had acceded to the four Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I on 2 April 2014 and to Additional Protocols II and III on 4 January 2015.
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2. Nature and effect of accession
3213  Accession is a single act expressing the consent of a State to be bound by the Convention and making it applicable to that State’s relations with the other contracting Parties. Thus, like ratification, it requires a thorough examination by the acceding State of the merits of the treaty in question, and means that specific approval and implementation procedures laid down in the domestic law of that State must be followed.[13]
3214  Accession has the same effect as ratification, namely that the acceding State is bound by the treaty in question. As in the case of ratification, the Convention enters into force for the acceding State six months after the deposit of the instrument of accession.[14]
3215  Accession to the Conventions can, according to the text of the provision, only take place after their entry into force, i.e. six months after the first two instruments of ratification have been deposited. However, with the accession of Jordan on 29 May 1951 and entry into force of the Conventions for this State on 29 November 1951, the depositary accepted, and the signatories did not object to, the deposit of an instrument of accession before the entry into force of the Conventions, which took place on 21 October 1951. This was possible because at the time of the deposit of Jordan’s instrument of accession, the date of entry into force of the Conventions pursuant to Article 58 (and its parallel provisions in the other three Conventions) was already determined.[15] Therefore, it was clear that the accession would only take effect after the coming into force of the Conventions. To stick to the letter of the provision would have led to the rather peculiar situation that from the date of the end of the period of signature (12 February 1950) up to the date of entry into force (21 October 1951), States that had not signed the Conventions would have been unable to express their consent to be bound by them. More recent international treaties no longer contain such restrictions and are usually open for accession to all States that have not signed them, either without temporal limitation or after the end of the deadline for signature.[16]
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3. Reservations
3216  The formulation of reservations and declarations is possible for an acceding State to the same extent and under the same rules and conditions as for a signatory State at the time of ratification.[17]
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4. Succession
3217  The subject of succession is covered neither by the final provisions of the Conventions nor by the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.[18] It is governed by the 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties, which at March 2016 had only 22 Parties. It has been argued that the 1978 Vienna Convention is largely a progressive development of international law rather than a codification of customary law and that it is, therefore, ‘not a reliable guide to the customary law rules on treaty succession’.[19] However, the UN secretary-general is of the opinion that ‘the Convention in many of its aspects codifies established customary law on the matter’.[20]
3218  The 1978 Vienna Convention posits the principle of ‘tabula rasa’ (‘clean slate’), whereby a new State is not bound by the treaties of the predecessor State.[21] This is without prejudice, however, to the new State being bound by customary international law.[22] The Vienna Convention also makes an exception for treaties relating to boundary and other territorial regimes as not being affected by a succession of States.[23] However, under the Convention automatic succession is set forth as the default rule in the case of a uniting of States or the separation of parts of a State, i.e. the creation of a new State outside the context of decolonization.[24] But it is not clear to what extent the distinction drawn in the Vienna Convention reflects the practice of States.[25]
3219  Another possible exception is treaties which reflect generally accepted rules of international law, in particular those concerned with human rights or international humanitarian law.[26] Already in the 1960s, in the context of decolonization, the ICRC defended the position that there was automatic succession with regard to the Geneva Conventions, unless the State made an explicit declaration to the contrary.[27] The UN Security Council implicitly followed this position in at least one situation.[28] Following the adoption of the Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties in 1978, the ICRC and the Standing Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent concluded that the ‘tabula rasa’ principle had to be accepted. Thus they adapted their interpretation of the definition of membership of the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to the effect that only those new States which had made a formal démarche in relation to the Conventions could be members of the Conference.[29]
3220  Even so, in 2001 the ICTY Appeals Chamber took the position that the Geneva Conventions are subject to automatic succession because of their object and purpose and their customary nature.[30] This position avoids any gap in the protection afforded by the Conventions to any victims of armed conflict that might otherwise result from a succession of States. The Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission on the other hand found that although ‘[t]reaty succession may happen automatically for certain types of treaties’, it had ‘not been shown evidence that would permit it to find that such automatic succession to the Geneva Conventions occurred in the exceptional circumstances here, desirable though such succession would be as a general matter’.[31]
3221  But a gap can also be avoided by a declaration of succession. The practice of the depositary of the Conventions, in accordance with the practice of the UN secretary-general as depositary in the case of treaties which do not contain a specific provision on succession, has been to accept instruments of succession from newly existing States on the condition that the Convention was applicable, through the predecessor State, on the territory of the new State prior to succession.[32]
3222  The general condition for being a State Party to the Convention as contained in the article on accession, which is statehood, also has to be fulfilled in the case of succession.
3223  There is no clear rule in international law on the question of the legal effects of succession on the possible reservations and declarations of the predecessor State. If the instrument of succession or any accompanying declarations of the successor State do not make clear the will of the State in this respect, the depositary would invite the successor State to specify whether or not it intends to maintain the reservations and declarations of the predecessor State. It may also be admissible for the successor State to make new reservations or declarations, according to the same rules as acceding States.[33]
3224  If successor States are not bound by the treaty obligations of their predecessors, they are free to choose whether they want to declare their succession to all or some of the treaties applicable to the predecessor. Consequently, they also have the possibility of becoming a Party to the Convention by accession, like any other State, instead of by depositing an instrument of succession.
3225  Alongside political considerations, which may influence States in their choice of succession or accession,[34] there are differences between the two in their legal effects. One important difference is that by depositing an instrument of succession, the State consents to be bound by the treaty from the date of the State’s coming into existence.[35] Hence, successions lead to a continued application of a treaty, whereas entry into force after an accession depends on the provisions of the treaty and is in most cases delayed after the deposit of the instrument.[36]
3226  At the time of writing, of the 196 States party to the Convention, 55 have become party by way of succession, mostly out of decolonization processes.[37] Although in not all of these cases did the instruments deposited use the term ‘succession’, in substance they were succession and were dealt with by the depositary accordingly.
3227  Article 64 entrusts the depositary with the task of informing the UN Secretariat of ratifications, accessions and denunciations of the Convention. The same would obviously also apply to successions.[38]
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Select bibliography
Aust, Anthony, Modern Treaty Law and Practice, 3rd edition, Cambridge University Press, 2013, pp. 101–103 (Accession) and 320–340 (Succession to treaties).
Caflisch, Lucius and Gamma, Serge, ‘La Suisse, dépositaire des Conventions de Genève’, Allgemeine schweizerische Militärzeitschrift, Vol. 165, No. 3, 1999, pp. 7–9.
Crawford, James R., Brownlie’s Principles of Public International Law, 8th edition, Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 423–444 (Succession to rights and duties).
Daillier, Patrick, Forteau, Mathias, Pellet, Alain, Müller, Daniel and Nguyen, Quoc Dinh, Droit international public, 8th edition, Librairie générale de droit et de jurisprudence (LGDJ), Paris, 2009, pp. 599–619 (State succession).
David, Eric, Principes de droit des conflits armés, 5th edition, Bruylant, Brussels, 2012.
Distefano, Giovanni, and Henry, Etienne, ‘Final Provisions, Including the Martens Clause’, in Andrew Clapham, Paola Gaeta and Marco Sassòli (eds), The 1949 Geneva Conventions: A Commentary, Oxford University Press, 2015, pp. 155–188.
Hafner, Gerhard and Novak, Gregor, ‘State Succession in Respect of Treaties’, in Duncan B. Hollis (ed.), The Oxford Guide to Treaties, Oxford University Press, 2012, pp. 396–427.
Kamminga, Menno T., ‘State Succession in Respect of Human Rights Treaties’, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 7, No. 4, 1996, pp. 469–484.
Rasulov, Akbar, ‘Revisiting State Succession to Humanitarian Treaties: Is There a Case for Automaticity?’, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 14, No. 1, 2003, pp. 141–170.
Rosenne, Shabtai, ‘Participation in the Geneva Conventions (1864–1949) and the Additional Protocols of 1977’, in Christophe Swinarski (ed.), Studies and Essays on International Humanitarian Law and Red Cross Principles in Honour of Jean Pictet, ICRC/Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague, 1984, pp. 803–812.
Schenker, Claude, Practice Guide to International Treaties, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Bern, 2015, p. 30, available at
Sinclair, Ian, The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 2nd edition, Manchester University Press, 1984, p. 42 (Accession).
Stern, Brigitte, ‘La succession d’États’, Recueil des cours de l'Académie de droit international de La Haye, Vol. 262, 1996, pp. 9–438, at 176–190.
United Nations, Office of Legal Affairs, Treaty Section, Summary of practice of the Secretary-General as depositary of multilateral treaties, UN Doc. ST/LEG/7/Rev.l, United Nations, New York, 1999.
Zimmermann, Andreas, ‘State Succession in Treaties’, version of November 2006, in Rüdiger Wolfrum (ed.), Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Oxford University Press,
Zimmermann, Andreas and Devaney, James G., ‘Succession to treaties and the inherent limits of international law’, in Christian J. Tams, Antonios Tzanakopoulos and Andreas Zimmermann (eds), Research Handbook on the Law of Treaties, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, 2014, pp. 505–540.
Zimmermann, Bruno, ‘La succession d’états et les Conventions de Genève’, in Christophe Swinarski (ed.), Etudes et essais sur le droit international humanitaire et sur les principes de la Croix-Rouge en l’honneur de Jean Pictet, ICRC/Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, The Hague, 1984, pp. 113–123.

1 - A principle today codified in the Article 11 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which mentions ‘signature, exchange of instruments constituting a treaty, ratification, acceptance, approval or accession, or by any other means if so agreed’.
2 - See also Second Convention, Article 59; Third Convention, Article 139; and Fourth Convention, Article 155.
3 - Draft Conventions adopted by the 1948 Stockholm Conference, p. 28: ‘From the date of its coming into force, the present Convention shall be open to accession, duly notified, by any Power in whose name this Convention has not been signed.’
4 - Geneva Convention on the Wounded and Sick (1929), Article 35; Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War (1929), Article 93.
5 - Final Record of the Diplomatic Conference of Geneva of 1949, Vol. II-B, p. 163.
6 - On conditions for accession in general, see Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), Article 15, and Aust, pp. 101–103.
7 - For the meaning of the term ‘Power’ as equivalent to ‘State’, see the commentary on Article 56, para. 3141.
8 - The most cited qualifications necessary for a State are (a) a permanent population, (b) a defined territory, (c) government and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other States. This definition is part of customary international law as codified in the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States. For a detailed discussion of the legal criteria of statehood, see Crawford, pp. 127–142 (adding as criteria to ‘produce a working definition’: (e) a degree of permanence, (f) willingness to observe international law, (g) sovereignty, and (h) function as a State), and The Creation of States in International Law, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press, 2006.
9 - See Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969), Article 76(2), which is an established rule of customary international law (Villiger, p. 932).
10 - For the practice of the UN secretary-general, see United Nations, Summary of practice of the Secretary-General as depositary of multilateral treaties, paras 82–97.
11 - The depositary notifications since 1977 are available on
12 - See also Caflisch/Gamma. For a critique, see David, para. 1.212.
13 - According to Article 46 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, ‘[a] State may not invoke the fact that its consent to be bound by a treaty has been expressed in violation of a provision of its internal law regarding competence to conclude treaties as invalidating its consent unless that violation was manifest and concerned a rule of its internal law of fundamental importance’. This article can be assumed to be declaratory of customary international law (Villiger, p. 594).
14 - See Article 61(1).
15 - Switzerland having ratified it on 31 March 1950 and Yugoslavia on 21 April 1950.
16 - See e.g. Additional Protocol I, Article 94; Additional Protocol II, Article 22; Additional Protocol III, Article 10; Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (1997), Article 16; and Convention on Cluster Munitions (2008), Article 16.
17 - On reservations, see the commentary on Article 57, section C.2.
18 - On the subject of State succession in treaties, see Aust, pp. 320–340; Crawford, pp. 423–444; Andreas Zimmermann; and Zimmermann/Devaney.
19 - Aust, p. 321.
20 - United Nations, Summary of practice of the Secretary-General as depositary of multilateral treaties, para. 287.
21 - Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties (1978), Article 16.
22 - See ibid. Article 5.
23 - Ibid. Articles 11–12; see also Aust, pp. 322–323, and Crawford, p. 439.
24 - Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties (1978), Articles 31 and 34.
25 - For a discussion, see Aust, p. 321; Crawford, pp. 438–439; and David, paras 1.162–1.168.
26 - Aust, pp. 323–324; Hafner/Novak, pp. 421–423. Automatic succession to human rights treaties is supported by the UN Commission on Human Rights: see Res. 1993/23, Succession of States in respect of international human rights treaties, 5 March 1993; Res. 1994/16, Succession of States in respect of international human rights treaties, 25 February 1994; Res. 1995/18, Succession of States in respect of international human rights treaties, 24 February 1995; UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 26, Continuity of Obligations, UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.8/Rev.1, 8 December 1997; and UN Secretary-General, Succession of States in respect of international human rights treaties, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1995/80, 28 November 1994, para. 10. See also ICJ, Application of the Genocide Convention case, Preliminary Objections, Judgment, 1996, Separate Opinion of Judge Shahabuddeen, pp. 634–639, and Separate Opinion of Judge Weeramantry, pp. 640–655. For an overview of State practice with regard to succession to human rights treaties, see UN Secretary-General, Succession and accession of States to international human rights treaties, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1994/68, 26 November 1993. See also Kamminga.
27 - See Henri Coursier, ‘L’accession des nouveaux Etats africains aux Conventions de Genève’, Annuaire français de droit international, Vol. 7, 1961, pp. 760–761; ‘The Universality of the Geneva Conventions’, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 6, No. 64, July 1966, p. 386.
28 - UN Security Council, Res. 307 (The India/Pakistan Subcontinent), 21 December 1971, para. 3.
29 - Bruno Zimmermann, pp. 118–119.
30 - ICTY, Mucić Appeal Judgment, 2001, paras 107–115, particularly para. 111 (‘It may be now considered in international law that there is automatic State succession to multilateral humanitarian treaties in the broad sense, i.e., treaties of universal character which express fundamental human rights.’). See also ICTY, Blaškić Decision on Defence Motion, 1997, para. 12. For a critical appraisal, see Stern, pp. 176–190, and Rasulov.
31 - Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission, Prisoners of War, Ethiopia’s Claim, Partial Award, 2003, paras 24–25. The Commission noted that senior Eritrean officials had made clear that Eritrea did not consider itself bound by the Geneva Conventions; that Ethiopia had consistently maintained that Eritrea was not a Party; and that the ICRC had not regarded Eritrea as a Party either.
32 - Vienna Convention on Succession of States in respect of Treaties (1978), Article 17. See, for example, the declarations of succession of the States emerging from the former Yugoslavia: Slovenia on 25 June 1991 and Croatia on 8 October 1991 (depositary’s notifications of 7 July 1992), Bosnia and Herzegovina on 6 March 1992 (notification of 17 February 1993), the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on 8 September 1991 (notification of 13 December 1993) and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on 27 April 1992 (notification of 30 November 2001). See also the notifications of 12 June 1978 relating to the declaration of succession by Tonga, of 8 May 1981 relating to the succession of Tuvalu and of Grenada, and of 27 September 1984 relating to the declaration of succession by Samoa. For the wording of the declarations, see the depositary notifications, available at
33 - Crawford, p. 442, calling these issues ‘as yet unsettled’; see also Bruno Zimmermann, pp. 122–123.
34 - A newly existing State may wish to explicitly demonstrate the continuity of its legal obligations by choosing succession or to highlight its new independence by opting for accession.
35 - This seems logical given that ‘the essence of succession to treaty rights and obligations being that the notification of succession is merely formal confirmation of what has already happened by operation of law’ (Aust, p. 335).
36 - With respect to the First Convention, see Article 61. If a State chooses accession instead of succession and is, at that time, involved in an armed conflict, Article 62 on immediate effect applies.
37 - For the current status of the Conventions, see:
38 - See also the commentary on Article 64, para. 3312.