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International Law

The UN Charter specifically calls on the United Nations to undertake the progressive codification and development of international law. The over 510 conventions, treaties and standards resulting from this work have provided a framework for promoting international peace and security and economic and social development. States that ratify these conventions are legally bound by them.

The International Law Commission prepares drafts on topics of international law which can then be incorporated into conventions and opened for ratification by States. Some of these conventions form the basis for law governing relations among States, such as the convention on diplomatic relations or the convention regulating the use of international watercourses.

The UN Commission on International Trade Law develops rules and guidelines designed to harmonize and facilitate laws regulating international trade. The UN has also pioneered the development of international environmental law. Agreements such as the convention to combat desertification, the convention on the ozone layer, and the convention on the transborder movement of hazardous wastes are administered by the UN Environment Programme.

The Kyoto Protocol to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which addresses the problem of global warming, went into effect on 16 February 2005. It requires industrialized countries to reduce their combined emissions of six major greenhouse gases during the five-year period from 2008 to 2012 to below 1990 levels. More than 190 countries have ratified the accord.

The Convention on the Law of the Sea seeks to ensure equitable access by all countries to the riches of the oceans, protect them from pollution and facilitate freedom of navigation and research. The Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs is the key international treaty against drug trafficking.

The United Nations remains at the centre of international efforts to create a legal framework against terrorism. More than a dozen global conventions on the issue have been negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations, including the 1979 Convention against the Taking of Hostages, the 1997 Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombing, and the 1999 Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, and work is in progress on a comprehensive anti-terrorism treaty.

In 2001, following the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States, the Security Council adopted a wide-ranging anti-terrorist resolution, under the enforcement provisions of the UN Charter. It included provisions to prevent the financing of terrorism, criminalize the collection of funds for such purposes, and to immediately freeze terrorist financial assets. The Council has called on States to accelerate the exchange of information regarding terrorist movements and decided that States should afford one another the greatest measure of assistance for criminal investigations or proceedings relating to terrorist acts.