13 January 2006

Legal Instruments on International Contracts, Safety of UN Personnel to Open for Signature on 16 January

NEW YORK, 12 January (UN Office of Legal Affairs) -- The Convention on the Use of Electronic Communications in International Contracts and the Optional Protocol to the 1994 Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel will open for signature at United Nations Headquarters on 16 January 2006.

The Convention, adopted by the General Assembly on 23 November 2005 (resolution A/60/21), will assure companies and traders around the world that contracts negotiated electronically are as valid and enforceable as traditional paper-based transactions. The treaty seeks to remove obstacles to the use of electronic communications in international contracting, including obstacles that might arise under current international trade law instruments, most of which were negotiated long before the development of technologies such as e-mail, electronic data interchange and the Internet.

The provisions of the Convention aim at enhancing legal certainty and commercial predictability where electronic communications are used in relation to international contracts. They deal with, among other things, determining a party's location in an electronic environment; the time and place of dispatch and receipt of electronic communications; and the use of automated message systems for contract formation.

Other provisions contain criteria establishing functional equivalence between electronic communications and paper documents -- including "original" paper documents -- as well as between electronic authentication methods and handwritten signatures

The Convention was drafted between 2002 and 2004 by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Working Group on Electronic Commerce, and was adopted by UNCITRAL at its thirty-eighth session in 2005.  The Convention complements and builds upon earlier UNCITRAL instruments, including the Model Law on Electronic Commerce and the Model Law on Electronic Signatures.

The treaty will be open for signature by all States until 16 January 2008.  It is subject to ratification, acceptance or approval by the signatory States, and open for accession by all States that are not signatory States.  In accordance with its article 23, it will enter into force on the first day of the month following the expiration of six months after the date of deposit of the third instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.  A signature event to promote participation is expected to take place during UNCITRAL's thirty-ninth session, to be held in New York from 19 June to 7 July 2006.

The Optional Protocol, adopted by the General Assembly on 8 December 2005 (resolution A/60/42), expands the scope of the 1994 Convention to cover all other United Nations operations -- from the delivery of humanitarian, political or development assistance in peacebuilding to the delivery of emergency humanitarian assistance. The 1994 Convention is a key legal instrument in efforts to give United Nations and associated personnel the security required to carry out their work.  The legal protection it offers, however, does not go far enough -- thus the need for the new Protocol.

"I urge those Member States that have not yet done so to sign and ratify the Convention", Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the General Assembly on 8 December, "and all Member States to become party to the Protocol whose adoption we mark today. Without security, our work for your people suffers."

In accordance with its article IV, the Optional Protocol shall be open for signature by all States until 16 January 2007 at United Nations Headquarters in New York.   The Optional Protocol is subject to ratification, acceptance or approval by the signatory States and is open for accession by any non-signatory State after 16 January 2007, in accordance with its article V.  Only States which are party to the 1994 Convention may ratify, accept, approve or accede to the Optional Protocol. 

States wishing to sign the Convention and the Optional Protocol must notify, and provide copies of the required full powers in advance to the Treaty Section, Office of Legal Affairs, at United Nations Headquarters in New York (Telephone: (212) 963-5047, Facsimile: (212) 963-3693, e-mail: treaty@un.org ).  For information on full powers, please refer to the Treaty Handbook on the United Nations Treaty Collection website, which can be accessed at http://untreaty.un.org .  The above procedures also apply to States wishing to deposit instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession.

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