UC Law SF International Law Review


Dinah Shelton


The practice of authenticating treaties in several languages has grown in recent decades as multilateral agreements are concluded in the six official languages of the United Nations or the corresponding number of official languages of other sponsoring organizations. Problems of translation errors, ambiguities, and deliberate differences lead to conflicts over the content of obligations and rights contained in the treaties. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties provides some guidance to interpreting texts authenticated in several languages, but more effort is needed during negotiations to avoid discordant texts. In addition, the author proposes that greater recourse be had to the negotiating text where differences appear among the various language versions. Where the differences appear intentional, reflecting substantive disagreement, tribunals asked to interpret the agreement need not strive to find a common meaning, but may leave the parties where they concluded the negotiations- without a common obligation.