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The treaty-making process explained

What’s the difference between types of texts?

What are square brackets?

Square brackets are put around text that has been drafted but on which there is still a degree of debate – the brackets indicate the section of the text that still requires further discussion. This makes it easier for the delegates to follow the negotiations.

Inserting square brackets is a way of marking text that needs further discussion, enabling delegates to keep moving forward on the rest of the text. Removing them is an indication of final agreement being reached.

What are the different types of document?

A DT (document temporaire) is a draft document which is normally put before the conference for discussion.

A White Document is a stable agreed text which has not yet been formally agreed by the conference.

A Blue Document is a stable document which has been submitted for formal ‘First Reading’ by the Plenary. Objections can still be raised by delegations at this stage.

A Pink Document is a document which has passed the First Reading stage as a Blue Document, and which is submitted for the Second Reading stage (the final reading). Objections can still be raised at this stage.

When consensus is reached on a Pink Document it is considered formally approved by the conference and passes into the Final Acts, which are presented to delegations for signing at the end of the conference.

What are Reservations?

Any Member State can take a formal Reservation on any part of the treaty text, which effectively means it is not obliged to apply that part of the treaty. There are several Reservations in the existing ITRs.

Can countries be forced to implement ITR Articles?

No, each country has to ratify the treaty, and it needs to be passed into each country’s national legislature.

Conference procedure

 ‘Sounding out the room’ is a means of avoiding a formal vote and promoting consensus. The Chairman may at any time make proposals of a procedural nature in order to unlock situations. The principle of the survey of the room is not uncommon in conferences and meetings of the ITU.

If it comes to a vote?

At ITU conferences and meetings, it is the tradition and practice that almost all decisions are reached by consensus. However, a vote can be called under the following procedures.

Only Member States of ITU have the right to vote. To acquire the right to vote, Members States must be parties to the ITU Constitution and Convention and must not be in arrears in their payments ( so far, out of the 193 Member States, 17 are not entitled to vote).

If certain formal procedures are followed beforehand, a Member State that cannot be present is able to have another Member State cast a proxy vote on its behalf. 

For voting to be valid, a quorum must be reached of more than half of the delegations accredited to a conference and entitled to vote.

How is a vote conducted?

Proposals and amendments are considered by a conference, provided that each is supported by at least two Member States. If brought to voting, acceptance or rejection is determined by a simple majority of votes from the delegations (plus proxies) that have voted (yes or no); Abstentions are not counted in computing the majority. In the event of a tie, the proposal or amendment is rejected.

If the number of abstentions exceeds half the number of votes cast, discussion and possible voting on the proposal is postponed to a later meeting, when the issue could be decided anew by majority vote without taking into account the number of abstentions on that occasion.

Before voting begins, a secret ballot can be arranged if requested by at least five of the Member State delegations present and entitled to vote. Most voting, however, takes place by a show of hands (actually, the holding up of delegations’ voting paddles), with the chair of the conference declaring the result. If this procedure does not clearly indicate a decision, the chair can order a roll call of delegations present and have each declare its preference, or this method can be requested by at least two Member States present and entitled to vote. In practice, though, ITU conferences have always used either a show of hands or a secret ballot; roll-call voting has never taken place.

No delegation may interrupt the voting once it has begun, except to raise a point of order in connection with the way in which the vote is being taken.  The voting by secret ballot is supervised by tellers from the Member States delegations.

Within committees or working groups of a conference, voting cannot be repeated a second time on the same proposal or amendment; in plenary sessions, a second vote can only be held if a majority of Member States entitled to vote requests it.

When there are two or more proposals on a single matter, they are put to the vote in the order in which they were presented. After each vote, the meeting decides whether the following proposal shall also be voted on. In the case of two or more amendments, the one that is most different from the original text is put to the vote first, followed by the next furthest if necessary, until a majority decision is reached.

More information

The voting procedures outlined here are governed by ITU’s General Rules of Conferences, Assemblies and meetings of the Union, which can be studied online.