Definition of pacta sunt servanda
Pacta sunt servanda (Latin for "agreements must be kept"), is a brocard, a basic principle of civil law and of international law.
In its most common sense, the principle refers to private contracts, stressing that contained clauses are law between the parties, and implies that nonfulfilment of respective obligations is a breach of the pact. The general principle of correct behavior in commercial practice - including the assumption of good faith - is a requirement for the efficacy of the whole system, so the eventual disorder is sometimes punished by the law of some systems even without any direct penalty incurred by any of the parties.
With reference to international agreements, "every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith." Pacta sunt servanda is based on good faith. This entitles states to require that obligations be respected and to rely upon the obligations being respected. This good faith basis of treaties implies that a party to the treaty cannot invoke provisions of its municipal (domestic) law as justification for a failure to perform.
The only limit to pacta sunt servanda are the peremptory norms of general international law, called jus cogens (compelling law). The legal principle clausula rebus sic stantibus, part of customary international law, also allows for treaty obligations to be unfulfilled due to a compelling change in circumstances.
- Black's Law Dictionary (8th ed. 2004)
- From the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, signed at Vienna on May 23, 1969, entered into force on January 27, 1980, art. 26, and the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties between States and International Organizations or between International Organizations, signed at Vienna on March 21, 1986, not yet entered into force, art. 26.
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