Protocol Law and Legal Definition

The term protocol, in the context of international law refers to the forms of ceremony and etiquette observed by diplomats and heads of state. A protocol has similar legal characteristics as a treaty. However, protocol is an agreement of a less formal nature than a treaty or convention. Generally, a protocol amends, supplements or clarifies a multilateral treaty. A protocol may be on any topic relevant to the original treaty and is used either to further address something in the original or parent treaty, or to address a new concern. A protocol is also used to add a procedure for the operation and enforcement of the treaty. A protocol is ‘optional’ because it is not automatically binding on States that have already ratified the original treaty and in order to be binding, the states must independently ratify a protocol. An example of a protocol is the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child concern the involvement of children in armed conflict and the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.