No Consensus on What Consensus Means for the #Armstreaty

January 30 2012, 8:22 AM by Øistein Thorsen

There seems to be little agreement on exactly what “consensus” means. A safe definition would be that consensus has been achieved when most are in favor of a proposal and those not in favor do not feel strongly enough to block the proposal.

 In his manual for UN Delegates published in 2011 Ronald A. Walker states:

“The view has become very widely held-to the point that it can be said to be now part of customary law-that the Chairman should not declare consensus if a single delegation raises a formal objection to an impending decision.”

He goes on to say:

“This view is explicit in several sets of Rules of Procedure adopted in recent decades.”

 On the other hand Robbie Sabel in his “Procedure at International Conferences” Published in 2006 states:

“Rules of procedure can specify that a conference is obliged to take decisions by consensus, leaving no option for voting; such a rule is rarely adopted. Since there is little incentive to compromise, the outcome of such a conference is very likely to be ‘the least common denominator of agreement’. No treaty-making conference has adopted such a pure form of consensus and it appears unlikely that it will be adopted in the future.”

Alternatives to pure consensus are possible in 2 areas.

First it can be said that the rule on consensus only applies to substantive and not procedural matters. In the latter case votes can be by majority or 2/3rds.
Second it can be said that if after strenuous effort consensus was not obtained the conference would proceed to a vote. Examples of this can be found in the 1990 Second UN Conference on the Least Developed Countries; the 1993 UN Conference on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks; and the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.

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