Uniformity Versus Specialisation: A Uniform Regime of Treaty Interpretation?

37 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2013

See all articles by Michael Waibel

Michael Waibel

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law; Lauterpacht Centre for International Law; University of Cambridge - Jesus College

Date Written: November 1, 2013


Fragmentation of international law can occur at two levels: at the level of substantive rules (applicable law), and, at the level of interpretive method. Whereas the substantive aspect of fragmentation has spawned an enormous literature over the last decade, interpretive fragmentation has received less attention. The focus of this chapter is on this second dimension: does international law know a single, unified method, or equivalently, regime or approach to treaty interpretation?

Articles 31-33 VCLT purport to set out a unified approach to interpretation. Yet this chapter contends that the VCLT constrains treaty interpreters only on the margins, and that varieties of treaty interpretation lurk behind the veneer of the VCLT’s general interpretive framework. On closer inspection, interpretive practices in international law diverge, just like in national law. The emergence of specialised interpretive methodologies in international law mirrors the earlier development of statutory and contract varieties of interpretation in domestic law.

Keywords: Treaty Interpretation; Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties; fragmentation; specialized adjudicators; epistemic communities; interpretive home bias; margin of appreciation

JEL Classification: K3, K33

Suggested Citation

Waibel, Michael, Uniformity Versus Specialisation: A Uniform Regime of Treaty Interpretation? (November 1, 2013). University of Cambridge Faculty of Law Research Paper No. 54/2013. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2353833 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2353833

Michael Waibel (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Faculty of Law ( email )

10 West Road
Cambridge, CB3 9DZ
United Kingdom

Lauterpacht Centre for International Law ( email )

5 Cranmer Road
Cambridge, CB3 9BL
United Kingdom

University of Cambridge - Jesus College ( email )

Jesus Lane
Cambridge, CB5 8BL
United Kingdom

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