Becoming a Party to the WHO FCTC: Ratification, Acceptance, Approval, Formal Confirmation and Accession
The World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) was adopted by the World Health Assembly on May 21, 2003 and was open for signature from June 16, 2003 until June 29, 2004 during which 168 countries signed the treaty. Signature indicates a good faith intention by a country to ratify the WHO FCTC and a political commitment not to undermine the objectives of the treaty. However, signature does not bind countries to the obligations of the WHO FCTC. In order for a country to be legally obligated to implement the provisions of the WHO FCTC countries must become parties to the treaty. They can do so through ratification, acceptance, approval, formal confirmation or accession.
Most countries that have become parties to the WHO FCTC did so through ratification, a legal action indicating a country’s consent to be bound by the terms of the treaty. Acceptance and approval following signature are other processes by which countries can become parties to the WHO FCTC and have the same legal effect as ratification. Formal confirmation is a process open to regional economic integration organizations (for example, the European Union) to become parties to the WHO FCTC and also has the same legal effect as ratification. However, members of an international organization that has become a party do not themselves become parties by virtue of this act.
Ratification (or acceptance, approval or formal confirmation) is an option only for countries that have signed the WHO FCTC. Countries and regional economic integration organizations that have not signed the WHO FCTC can become parties through the one-step process of accession, which has the same legal effect as ratification.
All of these processes require a country’s head of state, head of government or other legally authorized government representative to deposit an instrument of ratification or legal equivalent with the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN Headquarters in New York), which serves as the Depositary for the Convention. The acceptance by the UN of the deposit of the instrument of ratification – not the approval of ratification at national level -- establishes that a country is a party to the WHO FCTC and thus bound by the treaty’s obligations.
The WHO FCTC entered into force on February 27, 2005, 90 days following November 29, 2004, the date that the Depositary accepted the 40th instrument of ratification or legal equivalent. Therefore, the WHO FCTC entered into force on February 27, 2005 for all countries that became parties to the WHO FCTC on or before November 29, 2004. For all other countries, the WHO FCTC enters into force 90 days following the date they became a party to the treaty.
For more detailed information on these processes please see: