GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADOPTS TEXTS ON UNITED NATIONS DECADE OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, CENTENNIAL OF 1899 INTERNATIONAL PEACE CONFERENCE19991117
The General Assembly welcomed the achievements in the codification and progressive development of international law realized during the United Nations Decade of International Law (1990-1999), and called on States to become parties to the multilateral treaties adopted during that period, according to one of two resolutions adopted without a vote this afternoon at a meeting that marked the closing of the Decade.
By other terms of that resolution which concludes this week, the Assembly acknowledged that the Decade had made a significant contribution to the strengthening of the rule of international law. States were asked to identify areas of international law that might be ripe for progressive development or codification, and to promote discussion on them in the competent forums.
Also by that text, the Secretary-General was asked to continue developing the electronic database of the United Nations Treaty Section and to keep up-to-date lists, available on the Internet, of the multilateral treaties deposited with him. The Assembly also expressed appreciation to the Office of Legal Affairs for the establishment, during the Decade, of various Internet Web sites and the United Nations Audiovisual Library in International Law.
The other text, on the outcome of this centennial celebrations of the First International Peace Conference (held at the Hague in 1899), directed the attention of States and organizations to reports from the Netherlands and the Russian Federation, the co-hosts of the celebrations, which gave information on expert discussions on the centennial themes of disarmament and arms control; humanitarian law and laws of war; and peaceful settlement of disputes.
During the Assemblys general discussion, a number of speakers once again underscored the importance of the adoption of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court. The representative of Lesotho described it as the greatest advance since the adoption of the Charter. The new Court provided one of the best hopes that millions of lives in the next century would be spared the devastation and horrible suffering experienced during the past 100 years.General Assembly Plenary - 1a - Press Release GA/9659 55th Meeting (PM) 17 November 1999
He also said that the enhancement of the legislative role of the Sixth Committee (Legal) might be one of the least known, but most significant achievements of the Decade and one of the most important ways in which the Assembly was improving its effectiveness and accountability.
The representative of India said the blurring the boundaries of international humanitarian law with those of human rights law and the increasing universalization and criminalization of violations of human rights gave rise to the imperative need for such crimes to be defined with the same clarity, precision and specificity required by criminal law.
The speaker from Iran said a decentralized reaction to possible violations of the norms and principles of international law was not permissible. The very nature of unilateral measures of a punitive character, was detrimental to the promotion of and respect for the principles of international law. The Charter provided appropriate mechanisms to counter those who challenged the basic norms of international society. He called upon all States and international organizations to continue to act in accordance with international law and the Charter's provisions.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Mozambique, Ecuador, Mongolia, Ghana, Colombia, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Burkina Faso, Peru, Libya and China. The Permanent Observer for Switzerland, the observers for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Secretary-General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration also spoke.
The President of the Assembly, Theo-Ben Gurirab (Namibia) informed delegations that the Committee on Contributions would meet at 11:30 a.m. tomorrow instead of 10 a.m. as originally scheduled.
The Assembly will meet again tomorrow at 10 a.m. to begin consideration of the situation in Central America and the University for Peace.
Assembly Work Programme
The Assembly met this afternoon to continue its observance of the conclusion of the United Nations Decade of International Law (1990-1999) and to take action on two draft resolutions contained in a report of its Sixth Committee (Legal) (document A/54/609). (For background on documents related to the Decade, see Press Release GA/9658, issued today.)
The Sixth Committee recommends that the Assembly adopt Draft Resolution I, on the Centennial of the First Hague Peace Conference, and Draft Resolution II, on the Decade of International Law.
By the terms of Draft Resolution I, sponsored by the Netherlands and the Russian Federation, the General Assembly would recall that the Centennial coincides with the closing of the Decades and could be considered the Third International Peace Conference -- the second was held in 1907.
By the text, the Assembly would take note of the reports of the Netherlands and the Russian Federation, co-hosts of the centennial Conference, which was observed at The Hague and St. Petersburg. The reports cover the outcome of the discussions, which centred on the themes of development of international law relating to disarmament and arms control, humanitarian law and laws of war, and peaceful settlement of disputes. The Assembly would direct the attention of States and organizations to them.
By Draft Resolution II, on the Decade of International Law, the Assembly would acknowledge that the Decade had made a significant contribution to the strengthening of the rule of international law and would reaffirm the continued validity of its main objectives. It would urge States and international organizations, particularly depositories, to continue to provide the Secretariat with copies of treaties for registration, including wherever possible their translations in English and French.
The Secretary-General would be asked to continue developing the United Nations Treaty Sections electronic database to provide Member States expeditiously with a wider range of easily accessible, treaty-related information. He would also be asked to keep up-to-date lists, available on the Internet, of the multilateral treaties deposited with him, and to implement vigorously the plan to eliminate the backlog in the publication and translation of the United Nations Treaty Series.
Appreciation would be expressed to the Office of Legal Affairs for the establishment during the Decade of various Internet Web sites and the United Nations Audiovisual Library in International Law. The Assembly would also note key publications issued by the Office, including a forthcoming publication on international instruments related to the prevention and suppression of international terrorism.
By other terms of the text, States would be asked to identify areas of international law that might be ripe for progressive development or codification, and to promote discussion on them in the competent forums.
The General Assembly would call on States to become parties to the multilateral treaties adopted during the Decade. It would further invite States and international organizations to continue to encourage the publication of materials and convening of meetings aimed at promoting a wider appreciation of international law, and to encourage educational institutions to offer more courses in international law. Statements
CARLOS DOS SANTOS (Mozambique), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said the Communitys member countries had participated actively in sub-regional, regional and international forums where important treaties had been adopted. He reviewed some of the advances achieved during the Decade, including the adoption of such important treaties as the Ottawa Convention on Landmines, the Convention on the Law of Non Navigational Use of International Watercourses, the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. He noted also the entry into force in 1994 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
The SADC countries had held this year a summit that had adopted regional legal instruments on wildlife conservation and law enforcement. The organization had reiterated its strong commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes through local mechanisms of conflict prevention, management and resolution, assuming its role in contributing for the maintenance of peace and security in the region. However, he said, the issue of small arms regulation was a source of great concern, particularly in the southern African region, where the proliferation of small arms was attributable to a high demand for them, both for specific security needs and for criminal purposes.
MARCELO VAZQUEZ (Ecuador) said the results of the Decade had been positive as shown by the numerous multilateral instruments that had been adopted. It had also been an important impetus in achieving results for global peace. International law had been shaped through negotiating conventions, as well as through the role of international customs. The International Court of Justice had already recognized that customary law could be expressed in multilateral conventions, as well as in the codification of international law, which could become a States practice and, after a while, a customary norm. While resolutions were not a formal source of international law, a relation could be formed between customary norms and the content of those resolutions of the General Assembly.
To assure the validity of law in international relations was not enough, he continued. Use of the law must be a model for conduct. The strengthening of international law would not be fostered by unilateral observations. After the cold war, the international order had been going through a transition. International players had known what to expect during the cold war, but currently, a sense that groups did not want to appear to be at a unilateral advantage was being fostered. In that context, even the most powerful peoples sought alliances with those who might be considered unimportant to their objectives.
Turning to the issue of settling disputes peacefully, he said that Ecuador and Peru had just celebrated the anniversary of the signing of a settlement on a border dispute that had existed between the two nations for over a century. That could be used as an example in the consideration of the issue.
SEYED MOHAMMAD HADI NEJAD HOSSEINIAN (Iran) said that peace and security could only be preserved through the predominance of the rule of law in international relations. The major achievements of the Decade of International Law had been the establishment of the International Tribunals for and Rwanda, and the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court. Moreover, various activities carried out in the course of the Decade had helped disseminate its noble goals in many areas.
However, a decentralized reaction to possible cases of violation of norms and principles of international law could not be permissible, he said. The very nature of unilateral measures of a punitive character, was detrimental to the promotion of and respect for the principles of international law. The strong opposition demonstrated by various governments concerning the application of unilateral sanctions illustrated the determination of the international community to reject unilateralism in its entirety. In that context, the Charter of the United Nations provided appropriate mechanisms to counter those who challenged the basic norms of international society. He therefore called upon all States and international organizations to continue to act in accordance with international law and the Charter provisions.
Turning to disarmament and arms control, he said that despite the incremental success, achievements had been minimal with regard to the elimination of nuclear weapons. Therefore, nuclear disarmament should be an objective for years to come.
J. ENKHSAIKAN (Mongolia) said the Secretary-General's report and its addenda vividly demonstrated that the Decade was a success. Important international treaties and conventions had been established in many fields including the International Tribunals for Rwanda, and the Law of the Sea. The Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court was another milestone in strengthening both the concept of international criminal responsibility and a deterrent to the commission of heinous international crimes. Recourse to the International Court of Justice had significantly increased. Those achievements alone demonstrated that the decade had contributed significantly to the development and promotion of international law, thus promoting its strengthening.
He said within the framework of the Decade, the General Assembly, on Mongolia's initiative, had adopted resolution 53/101 containing principles and guidelines for international negotiations. Those principles and guidelines would prove useful in the management of international relations, the peaceful settlement of disputes and the creation of new international norms of conduct. The themes of the 1899 Hague Conference -- disarmament, humanitarian law and the peaceful settlement of disputes -- were still as relevant today as they had been 100 years ago. Although the Decade was drawing to a close, that did not mean international efforts in advancing the rule of law should be weakened. On the contrary, the end of the Decade marked a new stage in the efforts of the international community to strengthen and further promote the principles and norms of international law. Much more needed to be done. Moreover, besides codification and the progressive development of international law, the existing principles and norms needed to be strengthened, strictly enforced and fully implemented.
NARINDER SINGH (India) said the scope of crimes under international humanitarian law had increasingly been the subject matter of liberal interpretation. In that regard, the impact of public opinion on the formation of opinio juris and customary law deserved closer scrutiny. The current study of the customary rules of international humanitarian law by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) would reveal whether States were prepared to accept an expansive interpretation of international customary law without much supporting practice.
He said that whether it was the role of the Security Council under the Charter, the establishment of the International Criminal Court, the setting up of ad hoc criminal tribunals or the enforcement of humanitarian law, the trend had been to push through certain ideas without exerting adequate efforts to develop suitable consensus at the universal level. An enhanced role for the Council beyond the strict confines of the Charter was not acceptable until its composition was geographically representative and its decision-making in accordance with the well-established norms of equality. Blurring the boundaries of international humanitarian law with those of human rights law and increasing universalization and criminalization of violations of human rights gave rise to the imperative need for such crimes to be defined with the same clarity, precision and specificity required by criminal law.
HENRY HANSON-HALL (Ghana) said that as Member States marked the end of the Decade of International Law, they should remember the dangers facing United Nations staff who undertook dangerous missions in order to foster international peace and security. Several regular and locally-recruited employees had been killed or had gone missing during the Decade. He was convinced that if Member States educated their citizens about the important role United Nations employees played in the desire to encourage the acceptance of the primacy of international law, there would be greater respect for United Nations activities and those who carried them out. He emphasized that the United Nations should continue to be the conscience of mankind and the wheel around which international law revolved.
In assessing the achievements of the Decade, he said there had been some notable successes such as the peaceful settlement of disputes between States through the International Court of Justice; the establishment of the International Tribunals for and Rwanda and the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court in Rome. He announced that Ghana had ratified the statute of the International Criminal Court on 11 November. In conclusion, he agreed that as the new millennium approached, there was a growing need for an international order based on the rule of law, the continued duty of the international community to build peace, as well as to prevent and suppress violations of international rules.
ANDRES FRANCO (Colombia) said he considered the general principles of international law a necessary element for the peaceful co-existence of nations. More than before, the community of nations must accept its commitment to comply with those principles by favouring justice and order, and by harmonizing the States moral commitments with the political realities it might face at the domestic and international levels. Respect for individual human rights, democracy and pluralism was best demonstrated by such compliance.
Colombia complied in good faith with the international obligations it had accepted, he noted, and expected other States to do the same in the framework of multilateral or bilateral negotiations. To give up on the principle of pacta sunt servanda was to accept the consolidation of an anarchical and insecure international system and would facilitate the consolidation of a system of relations without rules which could render States behaviour unpredictable, irregular and erratic.
Compliance with and respect for the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other States were the bases of international relations, he said. Unfortunately, there had been many recent examples of violations of that principle by both powerful and smaller nations. The principles of friendly relations among nations, as well as of peaceful settlement of disputes, and condemnation of the use of force against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of States, were among other principles to be considered in strengthening the United Nations, and were at the heart of peaceful existence of nations. PERCY M. MANGOAELA (Lesotho) said while there had significant achievements during the Decade, there had also been terrible disasters -- wars and internal conflicts reflected the continuing deficiency of the development and adherence to international law. Acceptance of the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice remained a distant goal. The goal of the 1899 Hague Peace Conference of limiting the reproduction or armaments had also not been realized. At the end of the century, the world community was horrified that it had witnessed civilians becoming the main victims of war, including children who were used as soldiers. In addition, weapons such as landmines slaughtered more victims -- almost all civilians -- after the cessation of war than during hostilities. Those failures had been profoundly devastating for Africa. Conflict and strife continued to engulf the continent. It could not emerge from its terrible economic and political turmoil unless respect for international humanitarian law was enforced in the next century.
He said the adoption of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court had been hailed as the greatest advance in the rule of law since the adoption of the Charter. That new world court provided one of humanity's best hopes that millions of lives in the next century would be spared the devastation and horrible suffering experienced during the past 100 years. A great thinker had once described history as a race between education and disaster. In that light, it was vital that all sectors in the world community better understand the importance and the role of international law. He said it was pertinent that in addressing the objective of the progressive development of international law as well as its teaching, study, dissemination and wider appreciation, "we do not forget those who are not part of these negotiations, but are strongly affected by them: the young generation that is still grasping for a stable concept in an ever-more quickly changing world".
He said the enhancement of the legislative role of the Sixth Committee might be one of the least known, but most significant achievements of the Decade and one of the most important ways in which the Assembly was improving its effectiveness and accountability. The acceptance of the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice by powerful and weak States was perhaps the world's best measure of the acceptance of the rule of law in international affairs. The right of sovereignty could not excuse impunity towards fundamental international legal principles and laws. The opposite of "mutual assured destruction" was the just rule of law in international affairs. That central purpose of the Decade and commitment to that goal must not end with its closure.
OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway), with respect to humanitarian laws, said he shared the view that priority should be given to promoting compliance with existing law rather than adopting a number of new instruments -- although some development of existing laws was desirable in some important fields. He welcomed the Secretary- General's report on the protection of civilians in armed conflicts because it was fundamental to the desired goal of conflict prevention. In that context, he said safety of United Nations personnel was a critical issue and supported the general idea of guidelines for peacekeepers.
He said, however, that recent attempts to develop new doctrines of humanitarian intervention to justify the use of armed force outside the framework of the United Nations Charter was of great concern to his country. He feared that the introduction of such doctrines could be hazardous and lead to an international order founded not on international law but one based on power politics. Might could come to replace right and the security of smaller States could be put at risk.
He was convinced that the threat or use of force in international relations should have a legal basis in the United Nations Charter. While a difficult humanitarian situation should be part of the Security Council's assessment of whether a situation constituted a threat to international peace and security, it was not in itself on sufficient basis for the threat or use of force.
FAWZI SHOBOKSHI (Saudi Arabia) said that the United Nations had undertaken activities for the maintenance of peace in many areas, resulting in the adoption of many resolutions and decisions. The Decade of International Law aimed to strengthen multilateral treaties and the settlement of disputes by peaceful means by providing States and international organizations with the opportunity to express their proposals. The spread of programmes to teach and disseminate international law at all educational levels underlined the importance given to the subject by the United Nations and Member States.
Saudi Arabia had supported all efforts made to meet the objectives of the Decade, he said. He called upon States to coordinate and continue those efforts.
MICHEL KAFANDO (Burkina Faso) said it was essential to recognize the contribution of international law to the establishment of international peace. Burkina Faso was pleased at the important results that had been attained at the end of the Decade. Most important was that the objective to promote international law had been made possible by the establishment of a number of multilateral treaties. States increased resort to the International Court of Justice was also indicative of the success of the Decade. He noted that there had also been codification in the areas of human rights, environment, penal justice and law of the sea, among others.
While he believed that the results of the Decades efforts were positive, questions remained on the future course of international law. Developing countries appeared to be on the sidelines in the development of multilateral treaties, he noted. Burkina Faso was particularly committed to the aspects of education and study of international law, as those areas contributed to developing multilateral treaties. In that regard, participation by all States would make international law more understood and acceptable. Moreover, much remained to be done in the codification of international law.
Francisco Tudela (Peru) said that with respect to the promotion of the acceptance of and respect for the principles of the international law, progress had been made in the use of the International Court of Justice. Concerning the promotion of study, computers and the Internet were valuable tools. In particular, the recent opening of a Web site providing specific information on issues under discussion in the Sixth Committee was welcome. Moreover, international law programmes organized in different countries were appreciated and he called upon donors countries to continue their support to those programmes.
Despite those achievements, he wondered about the role of international law in the future. It was important that all States continue to adhere to the implementation of its principles.
GUMA IBRAHIM AMER (Libya) said important progress had been made in the past 10 years. The various conventions and instruments, including the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, the Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, and numerous conferences, seminars and workshops, all underscored the realization of the objectives of the Decade. One of the main objectives was to encourage the peaceful settlement of disputes through the United Nations and International Court of Justice. The Decade had witnessed many States taking that recourse, his own country being one of them. Disputes on boundaries with neighbours had been settled and the decisions faithfully implemented even when they were not in Libya's favour. His country believed that the International Court of Justice was the main reference point for the international community in interpreting international law. The issue over Pan Am Flight 103, between the United States, the United Kingdom and Libya, was also the exclusive jurisdiction of the Court.
He said the celebrations today once again underscored the importance given by the international community to the development of international law. However, over the last 10 years and indeed since the 1899 Hague Peace Conference, the international community had yet to receive full compliance with and respect for the rules of international law. Some States had resorted to force to settle disputes while others had used the Security Council and other mechanisms to impose sanctions. The international community had not yet ended such practices, which contravened international law. The Helms-Burton and D'Amato-Kennedy acts transcended national boundaries. He believed that today presented an opportunity for the international community to reaffirm its intention to adopt measures that would end laws like that which went against the Charter. His country had adopted several measures to reinforce international law. It was an important subject taught in universities while international humanitarian law was a mandatory subject in Libya's military academies.
GAO FENG (China) said the development of international law was at a crossroads. Since the end of the Cold War, conflicts that had been triggered by intrastate ethnic problems were becoming new threats to international peace and security. Humanitarian interventions under the pretext of protecting human rights were being used by some influential politicians as an answer to those challenges to the international order.
Humanitarian intervention embodied in international law had always been controversial, he continued. Post cold war examples in Africa and the Balkans were proof that intervention was still being used as an excuse for certain countries to realize their own strategic interests. Those who had been engaging in such activities might be reluctant to discuss or develop criteria for legalizing humanitarian intervention. Only when decided through the collective security regime guided by the Charter could intervention be useful in resolving crises. Protecting and respecting human rights or the rights of self-determination did not nullify the significance of the State.
He said the splitting of States since the end of the cold war did not make States disappear; rather it demonstrated the political and social significance of national culture and spirit. The reasoning that to protect a nations human rights there must be a resort to force, and that to protect the rights of a group of people in a particular nation, another group had to be denied those rights, including the right to survival, was unconvincing and extremely dangerous. Protecting human rights was not above international law. A legitimate goal should be achieved only through legitimate means.
JANO C. A. STAEHELIN, Permanent Observer for Switzerland, said his Government was particularly pleased at the new cooperation that had been established during the Decade. International law had gone through many remarkable developments during that time, for example the end of the East-West debacle. Other striking examples were the evolution of international humanitarian law, new measures to promote the application of law, and the adoption of the Geneva conventions.
He said the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the International Court of Justice had made it possible to take stock of the Courts activities and decisions. It had made possible significant efforts in the area of the peaceful settlement of disputes, although some parties continued committing serious violations in flagrant disregard for the law.
Innovative methods of dissemination of information on international law must be developed and made available today. More thinking was also needed on monitoring the application of the law. In that regard, he cited the adoption of the Statute of the International Criminal Court.
SYLVIE JUNOD, observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that even though there had been considerable developments in the field of international law, the international situation showed that there were still many challenges. She cited the number and magnitude of armed conflicts, the large-scale violations of humanitarian law committed during those conflicts, the lack of coherence and consistency in the use of armed force when human rights were violated or when international security was threatened.
Despite those negative aspects, progress had been made, she said. In particular, the marked increase in the number of cases brought before the International Court of Justice, the codification of new legal instruments, the many conventions adopted during the Decade, the establishment of the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda Tribune, and the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court were welcome. Moreover, humanitarian law had been further reaffirmed and clarified with respect to a number of specific issues, such as naval welfare, the protection of the environment, internally displaced persons and, more recently, thanks to the initiative of the Secretary-General, the observance by United Nations forces of international humanitarian law.
The ICRC was pleased and proud to have been involved, in its capacity of expert and guardian of humanitarian law, in almost all those developments, she said. Furthermore, it had striven to develop a constructive relationship with the States and all those who must see to the application of humanitarian law. To do so, the ICRC had set up its Advisory Service to provide technical assistance in the drafting of domestic legislation for the implementation of humanitarian law. Another ICRC initiative had been the launch of a wide-ranging study on customary norms of international humanitarian law, involving specialists and research teams from all parts of the world, the results of which would be published in the course of next year. Along similar lines, the ICRC, with the assistance of national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, had conducted an in-depth survey, focusing in particular on several countries which had experienced war, in order to gain a clearer insight of the local populations perceptions of the conflicts they had lived through, and the role of humanitarian law in war.
TJACO VAN DEN HOUT, Secretary-General of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), said arbitration thrived as an alternative to the formal judicial resolution of disputes by reasons of economy, efficiency and focus on ad hoc adjudication. Member States should therefore make greater use of the services of the PCA. Since 1996, the International Bureau of the PCA had administered six arbitral tribunals, one of which had been between Eritrea and Yemen and had handled more than 50 complicated requests regarding the appointment of arbitrators. It had also taken on the registry role for the Confidentiality Committee of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. Other international and regional organizations also wanted to entrust the PCA with a specific role in their procedures for dispute resolution.
The PCA was also closely in touch with developments in the field of administering international commercial arbitration because of the responsibility entrusted to it by the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) to break deadlocks which might occur in the establishment of arbitral tribunals under the arbitration rules, he continued. It had also taken up the challenge of helping to fill the gap in a range of international environmental disputes. In environmental disputes or disasters which resulted in massive claims, he said it should be noted that, compared to judicial settlement, arbitration offered parties a greater comfort level, because it allowed them to decide on procedures and allowed for the participation of expert witnesses as well arbitrators who themselves could be experts in a particular field.
He said the United Nations Secretary-General had encouraged States, international organizations and private parties to make greater use of the PCA's services, which also included fact-finding and conciliation, as this would help ease the workload of the International Court of Justice.
Introduction of Report of Sixth Committee
JOSKO KLISOVIC, Rapporteur of the Sixth Committee, introduced that Committee's report on the United Nations Decade of International Law (document A/54/609) which contained two draft resolutions, for adoption by the Assembly. He drew attention to a typographical error in draft resolution II entitled "United Nations Decade of International Law". At the end of paragraph 14, the footnote "1" should read "5".
The Assembly then decided not to discuss the report of the Sixth Committee today.
Action on draft
Draft resolution I, entitled "Outcome of the action dedicated to the 1999 centennial of the first International Peace Conference was first adopted without a vote.
The Assembly then adopted draft resolution II as amended by the Rapporteur without a vote.