Breaking Down the Top 5 International Laws, Treaties, and Conventions You’ll Hear Being Discussed in Committee

by lstefanos on November 25, 2013

We’ve all been there: hearing the power delegates rambling off an already memorized list of those international laws and treaties that even some Model UN veterans have never heard of. Nine times out of ten, most of those power delegates are banking on the fact that most people don’t know the laws as well as they do to get away with their points. Background guides do a great job on helping you determine where to start your research, but in order to succeed in MUN you really have to know how the international community works inside and out. It’s normal to be intimidated by more experienced delegates, but hopefully with this list, you can grasp a better understanding of what these laws are designed to do, and who knows– it may be you bringing them up in debate at your next conference!


The Geneva Conventions

The Geneva Conventions were a series of four treaties and three protocols signed and ratified by 195 countries. The first convention took place in Switzerland in 1864 and the last took place after World War II in 1949. The Conventions changed the ways of traditional warfare when the introduced laws that protected treatment of prisoners of war. This eventually expanded to include the wounded and civilians, especially women and children, in conflict zones. It’s best to include the Geneva Conventions in resolutions dealing with war zones and when naming-and-shaming leaders who are not in compliance with the treaties.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea

UNCLOS is also a series of conventions that was signed by the international community between 1973 and 1982 and addresses the responsibilities that each country has for its national waters. As of August 2013, 165 countries have signed and ratified UNCLOS. The most important part of this convention is to remember that international waters start 12 nautical miles (22 km) out from a country’s coastline. The organizations that enforce UNCLOS are the International Maritime Organization, the International Whaling Commission, and the International Seabed Authority. Definitely something you want to check out if your topic deals with pirates or illegal fishing and dumping!

Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Probably the most controversial law on the international agenda, the NPT works with the International Atomic Energy Agency to make sure countries are complying with the conditions necessary to seek nuclear proliferation. Every country in the world has signed this treaty at one point with the exception of India, Pakistan, Israel, and South Sudan. North Korea was the only country to withdraw from the treaty. This piece of legislature is the most religiously followed out of any arms and disarmament laws in the entire world. Under the provisions of the NPT, countries are able to seek nuclear power only for peaceful purposes like energy or medical treatment. The purpose was also to eventually give the P5, which are confirmed to have nuclear power, an opportunity to eventually disarm their nuclear programs. So far that hasn’t happened yet, but don’t let that stop you from bringing it up in DISEC or SPECPOL!

The Chemical Warfare Convention

With the heat on Syria’s gross humanitarian violations lately, everyone wants to know what’s stopping us from seriously intervening? Did Syria really cross Obama’s red line? Well technically no, since it never signed the Chemical Warfare Convention. As of October 2013, 190 have agreed to ban the use of chemical weapons in war primarily because containing something as deadly as gas is extremely difficult to do. This law was introduced by DISEC in the UN General Assembly in 1968. The CWC is enforced by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the organization who actually won the Nobel Peace Prize this year for its work on making the use of chemical warfare a taboo in the international community.

The Biological Warfare Convention

Like its cousin the CWC, the BWC became a hot agenda topic in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. This convention was actually a byproduct of the 1925 Geneva Protocol which prohibited the use and development of chemical and biological weapons. 170 countries have so far agreed to stop stockpiling biological toxin weapons that include, “Microbial or other biological agents, or toxins whatever their origin or method of production, of types and in quantities that have no justification for prophylactic, protective or other peaceful purposes;” and “Weapons, equipment or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.” You should also try bringing this one up in DISEC or SPECPOL!

Got any more you’d like us to take a look at ? Send suggestions and requests to and we’ll help you break them down. You’ll be using them in committee in no time!

  • Ryan Villanueva

    Great list! And don’t forget the most important treaty of all: the Charter of the United Nations!

    Delegates should reference the Charter in their preambulatory clauses. This is particularly important in simulations of the Security Council, in which resolutions operate under either Chapter VI (peaceful measures) or Chapter VII (sanctions, peacekeeping, military force, etc.).

  • Joel Davis

    Good description but I think it’s extremely important and necessary to break it down further to prevent confusion. It’s worth mentioning that there is a difference between signing and ratifying treaties: for some states who are dualist in nature (like the United States) signing does not bind them to the treaty’s provisions under International Law, instead, signing and ratifying is necessary to adhere to those provisions under law; a monist state, like the Netherlands, only needs to sign a convention, treaty, covenant, etc., for those provisions to be incorporated as domestic legislation. Additionally, protocols are optional and a signatory to the Convention on the Law of the Sea may not be party to its protocols. I would also suggest that you include a breakdown of International Legal Principles and detail the different types of International Law: Human Rights Law, Humanitarian Law, Law of the Sea, Outer Space, etc., and show delegates the points of convergence between them and their applicability in several (if not every) committee. A strong grasp of IL in MUN should go far beyond understanding of 5 treaties, and also touch upon the other sources of IL like custom. Delegates who understand these complex relationships open so many doors.

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