UNSC: Meeting on International Law
By Patrick Liu and Lizzie Mcgowan
This open debate was on the topic of “Maintenance of international peace and security: Upholding international law within the context of the maintenance of international peace and security”. Hosted by the President of Poland, this conference featured the SG, as well as other member nations invited to speak at the debate. Additional information can be found here.
A. Briefing from Secretary General Chef de Cabinet Ribeiro Viotti
On behalf of the Secretary General, Viotti urged debate to result in a clarity on the role of the SC in “peaceful settlement of disputes”. Viotti cited the UNSC-mandate tribunals that have contributed to the definition and implementation of international law and the positive law-related efforts by the Council in South Sudan and Central African Republic. Viotti concluded that the NSC has a role in reducing suffering and impunity by enforcing accountability mechanisms and investigating international law crimes, referencing ISIL in Iraq.
B. Briefing from Judge Owada
Judge Owada additionally praised the UNSC’s efforts to promote regular discussion and foster collaboration between the SC and the ICJ. Owada emphasizes justice and international law as essential to peace and security. In exercising its “executive functions”, the UNSC is bolstered through the ICJ judicial opinion, as compliance with ICJ rulings is in the best interest of the international community. Therefore the UNSC should be more proactive in recommending that member states take their disputes to the ICJ. Even further he emphasizes that the UNSC should play a stronger role in monitoring the proper implementation of ICJ decisions. Overall, Owada hopes that the UNSC will consult with the ICJ more on issues of international law.
C. Briefing from Judge Theodor Meron
Judge Meron, President of the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals, highlighted the atrocities that are still committed in today's world. Meron mentioned the former Rwanda and Yugoslavia tribunals that had “profound change” on assumptions that those committing atrocities must face justice. However Meron also noted the “worrying concerns of contraction” as trust levels in the international community seem to be waning. Even more so he noted that national jurisdictions must take up “the lion’s share” of prosecutions to ensure peace and security internationally.
With regards to the UNSC, Meron urges more robust leadership in holding criminals accountable and in creating “more objective criteria” of implementation. Additionally, instead of the UNSC’s role as a political body, Meron suggested it should become a “representative political body” acting on behalf of the international community. Lastly, Meron presses the SC to abandon its “gate-keeping” proclivity; and instead, it should use other legal mechanisms to ensure accountability.
II. Statements from Permanent Members (and President of Poland)
The President of Poland addressed “certain rights of nations”, and notes that where “force is stronger than friendship,” states and peoples tend to be preoccupied only with their own interests. He continues and reminds the SC that “there is no peace without law”. He invited all to consider how international law can address “contemporary challenges to peace.” In order to resolve conflict, Poland mentioned the need to define the perpetrators of terrorism and violence preventing international peace.
Poland addressed active sanctions against state and non-state actors who ignore their international legal obligations that can be used in the “dark hour” for international humanitarian law. It exemplifies the “illegal occupation of Crimea” and laments other “frozen” regional conflicts. President Duma also supported an accountability mechanism with emphasis on chemical weapons crimes. Poland’s security policy also stresses the importance of weapons non-proliferation.
The President concluded that the “good faith” principle is indispensable to the fullness of international law. In closing, the law should never be at odds with justice, and Poland affirms the need to restore trust in international law.
The US highlighted the UN Charter’s connection to the US constitution in the words “We the Peoples.” The Charter additionally mandated the respect of human rights, and the obligation of member states to abide by international humanitarian law. These steps hold an undeniable connection to maintaining international peace.
The US pointed out, however, the challenges faced in the “follow-through” of upholding these fundamental values. The US further claimed that the UN should intervene on behalf of international law, defending its right to do so against others claims of “sovereignty”. “The paralysis in the face of so much suffering is unacceptable” concluded the US.
The United Kingdom maintained that international law is the foundation of peace and security under the UN. The UK further cited Crimea’s annexation as a major violation of international law that continues to claim lives. “There must be no impunity when international law is violated” emphasized the UK Minister of State.
The UK again mentioned the obligations of the international community to help states reach their responsibilities to maintain peace and security. The UK also offered its support to the Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court – stating that these deterrents will only work with the full cooperation of states.
France declared that the primacy of law is at the heart of the UN, and is the cornerstone of multilateral order. In maintaining international law and peace, the Security Council can and should act as the “strong arm” to insist on state compliance.
On the comment of “annexation”, France stressed that states are obligated not to recognize such gains through the use of force. In order to combat impunity, France also urged the UNSC to fulfill its mission to encourage states to cooperate with the ICC to bring to just and hold those accountable. Lastly, France advised for the unilateral suspension of the veto power for the members with such power, noting that such members have obligations to uphold the Charter values that it insists for other states.
China reflected on the rising number of regional conflicts and security threats. With these challenges to the UN, international law is constantly being contested. China recommends that states strictly adhere to international law, and that they should consider integrating international law into their state systems as their duty to uphold “legal and just” acts. Additionally, in these modern times, China urged the rejections of “zero-sum” and “cold war” thinking. Reminding the Council that “the life of the law is in its implementation”, China further explained that sanctions levied outside of the UNSC framework will impede the search for a just peace. Lastly, China asserted the right of people to choose their own methods of governance, but demanded that this choice cannot interfere or undermine global governance cooperation.
Russia noted the main principles of international relations built into the UN Charter. It specifically distinguished the ban of use of force without Security Council authority or in “self-defense.” Given this fundamental value, Russia expressed concerns of larger, more powerful states taking advantage of smaller states. Russia directed its comments at the US in Syria, while they “weren’t invited”, clearly violating international law. The US, as well as UK and France, as three permanent members of the UNSC, also violated international law when they carried out a bombing on April 14.
Lastly, Russia accused the US as the UN host country of abusing its powers and threatening Russian real estate holdings. It concluded by urging countries to continue “good faith”, non-abusive relationships and conflict resolution mechanisms.
III. Statements from non-permanent members
The European Union explained that respecting international and refugee law, \is important to stymying terror threats. In this vein, there should also be swift and severe punishment for violators of the ICC. The law of the sea or the “constitution of the oceans,” has major implications on conflicts and international cooperation. External action should be applied to the implementation of international law and the peaceful settlements of disputes. Moreover, there should be a collaborative effort within the international community to respond to crises, in addition to the SC having a systematic review of threats.
Several other European countries expressed similar views. Sweden emphasized that international institutions should “harness” war and that international law is a modern part of international relations. Selectively following rules and impunity from certain powerful countries should not be tolerated. The Netherlands affirmed UNSC’s role to take collective action to protect vulnerable people when their native country cannot. Ireland said that legal norms without enforcement are insufficient. Ireland and Spain view the court as an excellent tool to bring about peace and enforce international law. Spain said that they attach great importance to international law and the ICC as well.
B. Latin America ( Peru, Bolivia, Mexico, and Brazil)
Bolivia cited the evolving commitments to multilateralism and its legal framework, but also the increase in state actors violating these frameworks or fulfilling them only selectively, especially with regard to the “use of force”. These violations are a danger to maintaining justice and should be addressed. Accordingly, the UN Charter should have wider applications to resolve disputes. “International law mandates a positive duty to promote justice” emphasizes Bolivia. Bolivia also highlighted the “double standards” used regarding applications of international law, and stressed its rejection in resolving violations of such laws.
Many other Latin America states shared similar views as Bolivia. Peru additionally emphasized the role of the Council as the source of law itself. Brazil separately addressed the use of force, even when justified, creates great damage and has implications under international law.
C. Central Asia - Kazakhstan
Kazakhstan lauded the UNSC for the opportunity to reflect on international justice responsibilities as “the sign of a healthy institution.” Kazakhstan also points out the major threat to international law posed by nuclear weapons possession. However, Kazakhstan urge dthe UNSC to utilize its Article 33 tools referring to conflict dispute mechanisms such as referring conflicts to the ICJ. Moving forward, Kazakhstan advised that member-states should engage in an “ongoing dialogue” with “open minds” to find the best tools to promote justice and maintain peace.
D. East Asia (Japan, Pakistan)
Japan noted that the primary UNSC limitation is related to implementation of international law. Consequently, Japan contended that the UNSC cannot do everything itself, so it must make use of other bodies.
Pakistan reminded the UNSC that international law “ rejects the right” to do as a country pleases. More importantly, the UNSC must be the “embodiment of collective aspirations.” However, they have failed to do so because of ignoring international law. To do this, the UNSC must end selectivity in its resolutions and what it deems as important. Solutions to peace and security cannot be a top-down approach.
E. Middle East and Arab States
Iran argued that unilateralism and disrespect for the international system constitutes major threats to international law. On the issue of use of force, the UN has achieved many milestones but there are some countries that continue to issue threats. They explicated that unilateral efforts on behalf of the U.S. to stymie their “right to development” undermines international law. Noting this, Iran segwayed into the United States’ “addiction to sanctions” and material breach of the JCPOA as additional violations of international law.
Kuwait mentioned that the rule of law and development are interconnected and are essential for economic growth. Implementing laws and following them are key to maintaining peace and ending impunity. Therefore, the UNSC must hold Israel accountable for its violations. In that vein, the relocating of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem was a clear indication that the U.S. has a strong alliance with Israel and condones their violations of international law. Abuse of veto power by UNSC members is a roadblock to progress, accountability, and conducting investigations. Lastly, the UNSC and international community should remember that arbitration and negotiation are useful tools at their disposal to ensure that peace, justice, and stability are maintained.
Israel chose to focus its discussion on international law to recent escalations between Hamas and Israel. Israel alleged that Hamas’ acts were not “ not acts of peaceful protest;” rather, they were acts of aggression and violence. It further stated that “enemies without redlines” based “cynical calculations” are violations to international law. Therefore, Hamas is attempting to continue their agenda of violence and infiltration of Israel.
“Egypt said that more attention should be paid to the human rights violations and violence against the Palestinian people. He condemned states that place their national interests above the UN and its charter obligations. In this vein, there should be a quicker response to countries that face the threat of collapse. Finally, he warned that trust in international institutions and law will begin to wane if its guardians do not hold themselves accountable to violations and acts of aggression.
F. African States
The Ivory Coast said that they wanted more crisis prevent from the UNSC. They charged the UNSC with doing more to protect people who prone to experience violence and live in volatile regions. In this vein, there seemed to be challenges to upholding “existing texts” within the council, which has resulted in inactivity. To ensure justice around the world, the there should should be an international push for all countries to join the ICC. A major shift in joining the ICC jurisdiction would affirm values of “collective security” and uphold charter values and protections.
Ethiopia said that the UNSc has failed miserably in upholding international law and responding to acts of violence and human rights violations. Since events that affect one part of the world consequently affect another, the UNSC must play an active role in ensuring that peace is maintained. Moreover, member states clearly lack the commitment to carry out the agenda of the council.
Equatorial Guinea said that the African continent is the main victim of violence and crime. With all of the atrocities that have affected Africa, there can be no peace without justice. To ensure that peace is sustainable, the victims must feel that justice was served. He later went on to address the bias of the UNSC in targeting countries and that one state should not dominate the council. More importantly, he chastised the UNSC and international media for engaging in a smear campaign against this state.