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Wikipedia mentions that

As was obvious[citation needed] in Qatar v. Bahrain, disputes may arise concerning the status of the document once one of the parties seeks to enforce its provisions.

"The document" is presumably a Memorandum of Understanding (because that's what the Wikipedia article is about), but even that's not terribly clear.

So what is Qatar v. Bahrain? How is it relevant to the form of international agreements? (Wikipedia has no article on Qatar v. Bahrain, even though it's supposedly an important cornerstone of international law. Yes there are a couple of jstor papers on this. I want a summary here is someone already knows this stuff.)

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    Might this page answer your question? "Synopsis of Rule of Law. An international agreement creating rights and obligations can be constituted by the signatories to the minutes of meetings and letters exchanged." (Asking b/c your question isn't very clear, at least for someone who isn't neck deep into law-related questions on a regular basis.) – Denis de Bernardy May 14 at 1:48
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    The page from the International Court of Justice is here. Interesting question. Thanks for asking it. – indigochild Jun 18 at 18:07
  • Not a lawyer, but I took a little international law in school. I put up an answer. At least that will give the community something to react to. – indigochild Jun 26 at 22:06
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It Expanded What Counts as a 'Treaty'

Shabtai Rosenne, who is both a professor of international law and a former ambassador, published an analysis of this (Rosenne, 1995). Much of international law is based on formal documents such as signed treaties, agreements, etc. In the Qatar/Bahrain case, the court found that a series of letters exchanged by officials from the two countries constituted a valid agreement under international law.

More Context

To focus on the context of the case, both Qatar and Bahrain claimed sovereignty over some islands and sea-space. Although there was no treaty or protocol dictating how they should solve this problem, the King of Saudi Arabia had been acting as a mediator through a series of letters.

These letters were being sent by state officials in Qatar and Bahrain to the government of Saudi Arabia. In one of those letters, the two states agree that should a disagreement arise over this territory the International Court should resolve it.

Qatar would later claim that these letters are a valid international treaty. Bahrain claimed that they were not. The court agreed with Qatar and decided that they had the ability to intervene in this case.

The Wikipedia Quote

The wikipedia quote in the question seems to be referring to the legal status of the letters. When they were signed they presumably represented some kind of shared understanding between Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. However, once Qatar disputed control over some of the territory covered in those letters the entire legal status of that agreement was contested.


Rosenne, Shabtai. 1995. "The Qatar/Bahrain Case: What is a Treaty? A Framework Agreement and the Seising of the Court". Leiden Journal of International Law, 8 (1): 161-182. Link.

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