1. What are the differences between a treaty, declaration, and a decision? And what does it mean for an instrument to apply to a country?
When searching by instrument, it is important to note that there are distinctions between treaties, declarations, and decisions.
Treaties: Treaties are considered a primary source of international law. For a treaty to "apply" to a country in the database, they must ratify it, accede to it, or approve it and there are usually specific national processes involved in doing so. If a country ratifies a treaty, it is legally binding on that country once the treaty enters into force. In some situations, a country may sign a treaty and then not ratify it (e.g. The US signed but did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol). Here, the instrument would not apply to this country; however, it still would have a duty not to act in a manner that frustrates the objective of that treaty.
Declarations: Declarations are typically considered soft sources of international law, in that they are not strictly binding on countries by virtue of its form. However, Declarations can often lead to or represent a codification of “customary international law,” which is binding on countries. In simple terms, customary norms develop over time based on both a State’s intention and its practice in following a particular norm. A good example is the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which is considered to be customary international law. In this database, we have included a limited number of Declarations taken by major international or regional bodies, such as the United Nations General Assembly. With respect to these Declarations, there are typically three ways in which a country can relate to it. They can vote in favor of it, abstain, or vote against. For the purposes of this database, we have only included Declarations that have passed by majority vote and consider it "applicable" to countries unless they voted against it. Applicability does not necessarily mean it is binding, but is an indication that the Declaration is relevant in a broader forest governance context.
Governing Body Decisions: For many environmental agreements, there are governing bodies (formed by the Parties to the treaty) that oversee ongoing implementation of the treaty. If a country has ratified the treaty under which a governing body decision was taken, then we consider it to apply to that country. Please note that the extent to which decisions are binding on countries is not completely settled as a matter of international law. ForestDefender.org only includes a limited number of decisions from the UNFCCC and the CBD that specifically address rights or safeguards related to REDD+. Also, these types of decisions are distinct from decisions taken by judicial or quasi-judicial bodies at the international level.
Please note that when an instrument makes reference to another instrument, ForestDefender does not include the rights from that referenced instrument in your search results. Doing so would require further analysis that this analytcal tool is not intended to provide.
This database includes international legal instruments that have been tagged according to specific rights related to forest governance. These rights are described differently in various instruments; therefore, we have identified key terms to make it easier for you to find the information you need. For instance, the key term “access to information” would cover any provisions that refer to the right to information or access to information as well as particular steps a country may need to take to ensure the information is available. (Please see “Explanation of Tagging” to more fully understand how we have used key terms and tagged them.) Our key terms and related tagging have been peer reviewed by multiple international environmental law experts. If you believe that a right has been mistagged, please do not hesitate to contact us. Finally, do not forget that the search function allows you to search using any word or phrase of your choosing (you only need to use our key terms if you wish to). Thus, as long as an instrument in the database contains the word or phrase you are looking for, the search will generate results.
Each instrument in the database has icons next to it. They are intended to give you a quick sense of what kind of instrument you are dealing with (is it a treaty, declaration or decision) and what its scope is (is it global, regional, or bilateral). There is also an icon that lets you know if there are any reservations or declarations associated with the instrument. On each of the search results pages, there is a legend that you can refer to if you are not sure what the icons mean. There is also an orange circle on certain instrument articles. This icon denotes that a right tagged therein is part of an evolving law open to different interpretations.