What’s your FILA (Favorite International Law Acronym)?
A while back, a commentator (aptly named Irritated) complained about my use of acronyms in a post on treaty priorities of the Obama Administration. I understand the frustration of the uninitiated. That said, the reality is a facility with acronyms appears to have become part of the job description for international lawyers. I have no idea when or how this phenomenon started (a fun law review topic I’m sure), but you cannot work as an international lawyer today without using (and sometimes creating) acronyms of all sorts. Many simply serve as shorthand references to longer-titled institutions or instruments (think UN, NATO, WHO, WTO, UDHR, ECHR, ECtHR, ICJ, IJC, ICC, or IMO). In other cases, acronyms supplant the practice of referencing a treaty by the location of the final negotiations; a practice that proved problematic once cities like Vienna began to play that role repeatedly. So today, it’s not the “Vienna Convention” anymore, but the more specific VCLT, VCCR or VCDR. Sometimes, an international law acronym sounds like a real word, such as PIC, or actually replicates a real word, like the START treaty currently being renegotiated or the older SALT treaties or many SOFAs that exist today. And then there are competing acronyms; the earlier reference to UNCLOS has little appeal to its opponents, who prefer to refer to that treaty as LOST.
So what are my FILAs? Actually, I tend to appreciate acronyms that suggest a drafting committee had a sense of humor about their project. I’m pretty sure, for example, that in devising a POPRC, the treaty-makers were not merely creating a very interesting example of international delegation, but also hinting at their preferred musical genre. My own personal favorite though is the Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage. I have it on good authority that one of the negotiators got other representatives to sign off on his preferred acronym–CPUCH–for that treaty despite a peculiar pronunciation he neglected to share with them (hint — read the initial C softly and give the CH that follows a hard reading to get an unfavorable description of the final treaty product). Of course, I claim no monopoly on FILAs. Thus, I’d welcome reader comments on other favored or hated acronyms, not to mention examples that give some levity to an otherwise serious field.