Notes taken from materials and transcripts provided by the Université catholique de Louvain.

  • Reservations are an expression by a state upon joining a treaty that it will not be bound by one or more provisions.
  • Reservations are generally made to preserve certain elements of states’ domestic legislation or to shield state policies from scrutiny.
  • Reservations allow states to accede to multilateral instruments where they may have some doubts about certain aspects.
  • Reservations can raise questions about the seriousness of a state to be bound by the treaty, or threaten its integrity.

US reservations to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

  • The United States entered several reservations, understandings and declarations upon ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
  • Reservations of the Untied States:
    • Article 20 (that ‘any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law’) does not authorise or require the US to restrict freedom of speech and association protected by US laws and the US Constitution.
    • The US reserved the right to impose capital punishment, including for persons below 18 years of age, regardless of article 6 (which prohibits the death penalty for those under 18).
    • The US considers itself bound by article 7 to the extent that ‘cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ means the cruel and unusual treatment or punishment prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution.
    • Because US law generally imposes on an offender the penalty in force at the time of the offence, the US does not adhere to the third clause of article 15(1) — ‘If, subsequent to the commission of [an] offence, provision is made by law for the imposition of the lighter penalty, the offender shall benefit thereby.’
    • The US reserves the right to treat juveniles as adults in exceptional circumstances, and with respect to individuals who volunteer for military service prior to age 18.
  • Understandings maintained by the US:
    • The Constitution and laws of the US guarantee equal protection and provide extensive protections against discrimination.
      • Distinctions based on race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or any other status are permitted under the ICCPR for legitimate governmental objectives.
      • The prohibition against discrimination in article 4(1) does not bar distinctions that may have a disproportionate effect upon persons of a particular status.
    • The right to compensation in articles 9(5) and 14(6) to require effective and enforceable mechanisms for a victim of unlawful arrest or detention or a miscarriage of justice