Opening its 2020 session, members of the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations and on the Strengthening of the Role of the Organization expressed concern about a rising tide of unilateralism, debated longstanding questions on the merits and legality of sanctions and weighed such novel topics as the role of conciliation in the Organization’s broader dispute resolution toolbox.
Also emerging on the first day of the session — which is slated to run until 26 February — were discussions related to cooperation between the United Nations and regional bodies. While some delegates continued to raise concerns that the Special Committee’s work unnecessarily duplicates that of other United Nations bodies, others strongly rejected any attempts to curtail its scope.
Delivering opening remarks, newly elected Chair Kira Christianne Danganan Azucena (Philippines) recalled that, nearly 40 years ago, a session of the Special Committee resulted in the General Assembly’s endorsement of the Manila Declaration on the Peaceful Settlement of International Disputes. That document — one of the Special Committee’s most important accomplishments — formed part of the legal basis for the peaceful settlement of international disputes. Among other things, it called for the elimination of the use of force, or the threat of force, in dispute resolution between States.
Throughout the day, speakers remarked on the importance of the Manila Declaration, especially against the backdrop of the United Nations seventy-fifth anniversary. Considering both old and new proposals before the Special Committee, many emphasized the body’s unique role in interpreting international law and paving the way for the peaceful resolution of disputes between States.
“A revisit to the spirit of the […] Charter and an exploration of the United Nations role in international affairs are the best way to commemorate the anniversary, and are of great relevance today,” said the representative of China. Warning that unilateralism and protectionism are rampant across the globe, he said conflict hotspots continue to emerge and non-traditional threats to security are spreading. Member States should reaffirm their commitment to multilateralism, safeguard the international system — with the United Nations at its core — and facilitate the development of a more just and effective system of global governance. Among other things, he touched on the Special Committee’s past work relating to sanctions, reiterating China’s opposition to their unilateral imposition and urging the Security Council to adopt a prudent and responsible approach to their use.
The representative of Ukraine declared: “Against all odds, the United Nations Charter has withstood dramatic changes in international relations and proved its centrality in today’s global architecture.” However, he said there have also been many instances where the Charter principles — including State sovereignty and restrictions on the use or threat of use of force — have been violated. Some States prefer to apply a “pick and choose” approach to those principles, he said, citing the 2014 occupation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, as well as the latter’s armed aggression against eastern Ukraine. Since the start of that conflict, Ukraine has repeatedly urged the aggressor State to accept its international legal responsibility. Even after the International Court of Justice rejected the Russian Federation’s jurisdictional objections and issued a 2017 Order on provisional measures against it, Moscow still fails to recognize that opinion. “Paying lip service to the principles and purposes of the Charter will not suffice anymore,” he stressed, calling for the Special Committee’s role to be further strengthened.
The representative of the Russian Federation, responding to the remarks about his country, rejected attempts by the representative of Ukraine to use the Special Committee as a platform to level false allegations. The body is a venue for productive discussions, he said, noting that it can help Member States better understand each other on matters related to international peace and security and the resolution of disputes, even in cases where there is no consensus. Recalling a request submitted by the Russian Federation and Belarus to the International Court of Justice — asking it to render an opinion on the legal consequences of the use of force without prior approval by the Security Council — he drew attention to attempts by some States to justify their interventions in the affairs of others. In particular, attempts by some countries to rationalize their use of force in Syria through Article 51 of the Charter “should concern the international community”, and merits discussion. On the issue of sanctions, he echoed concerns about the imposition of unilateral, coercive economic measures, which lack Security Council approval and risk undermining its work. In that regard, he expressed support for a proposal by Iran to develop a set of guiding principles to mitigate the impact of sanctions. Stressing that all means of resolving disputes between States must be based on the principle of consent and carried out in good faith, he welcomed that conciliation offers conflict parties the freedom to either embrace, or reject, the conclusions of a conciliation commission — and, therefore, to maintain their sovereignty throughout the process.
The representative of Iran, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, voiced concern about the continued encroachment by the Security Council on the functions and powers of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council. Meanwhile, he said, all reforms of the United Nations should be carried out in accordance with the Charter. Stressing that the use of sanctions by the Security Council remains a source of serious concern, he said targeted measures should be imposed only where a threat exists to international peace and security or in case of an act of aggression. “Sanctions are blunt instruments, the use of which raises fundamental ethical questions of whether suffering inflicted on vulnerable groups in the target country is a legitimate means of exerting political pressure,” he said. Turning to proposals submitted to the Special Committee on the peaceful settlement of disputes, he expressed concern over the reluctance of some Member States to engage in meaningful discussions and asked the body to carefully examine proposals aimed at strengthening the United Nations role in that arena.
Cuba’s representative said that, each year, the Special Committee sees attempts to reinterpret and selectively apply the Charter principles in ways that are convenient to some countries. Expressing support for new proposals put forward this year by Iran, Syria and Mexico, she recalled that her own delegation has previously put forward and subsequently updated proposals related to the maintenance of international peace and security. In that regard, she looked forward to the Special Committee’s 2020 discussions and voiced her willingness to make necessary adjustments to reach consensus. Welcoming ongoing attention to the question of the peaceful resolution of international disputes and conflicts, she drew attention to emerging discussions on the concept of conciliation — which will be considered by the Special Committee in 2020 — and rejected any attempts to biennialize or otherwise reduce the body’s scope of work.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said that, 75 years after the United Nations’ founding, the basic Charter principles of respect for sovereignty, the sovereign equality of States and non-interference in internal affairs are wantonly ignored. “It is a stark reality that sanctions and blockades, military threats and armed interventions are blatantly enforced against sovereign States under the signboards of […] ‘democracy’, ‘counter-terrorism’, ‘protection of human rights’ and ‘non-proliferation’,” he said. Currently, United States sanctions recklessly imposed against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea block Pyongyang’s relations with foreign countries, as well as humanitarian assistance, and impeded livelihoods. Calling on Member States to oppose and reject such expressions of unilateralism and high-handedness, he also drew attention to the threat posed by United States troops stationed on the Korean Peninsula as part of the so-called “United Nations Command”, which is really a mechanism of the United States.
The representative of Syria described the Special Committee as the core United Nations body tasked with strengthening international law and the protection of the Charter, as well as preventing the misuse of either instrument. “Multilateralism is at a real crisis today and may be verging on a total collapse,” he said, warning that some powerful States are increasingly demonstrating unilateral tendencies. Among other things, he requested that the issue of privileges and immunities of United Nations personnel and related officials be considered by the Special Committee, noting that the imposition of restrictive measures by a country hosting United Nations offices — such as is currently being done by the host of the Organization’s Headquarters in New York — constitutes a serious violation of the Charter. Emphasizing that that Government insists on misusing the Host Country Agreement, he said its actions have included the imposition of nearly insurmountable administrative obstacles and the denial of entry visas based on bilateral disagreements. Spotlighting the Special Committee’s role in analysing those issues from a legal perspective, he urged Member States to recommit themselves to the principle of multilateralism.
The representative of Azerbaijan pointed to several principles that flow from the Charter, noting that States are bound to refrain from the use or threat of use of force, except in self-defence. Meanwhile, no settlement can be reached that runs counter to international law — including the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, injured States are entitled to undertake certain measures. Among other things, States have a duty to cooperate to end any serious breaches of international law, as well as to refrain from aiding or supporting parties that commit such breaches. In such instances, he said, resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly are crucial to provide an authoritative framework upon which third party States can base their actions. Acts of armed aggression and resulting occupations or ethnic cleansing are totally unacceptable, resolutions of the Council and Assembly notwithstanding, he stressed.
The representative of the European Union delegation said targeted sanctions remain an important tool under the Charter for maintaining international peace and security. It is crucial that sanctions be implemented in full compliance with international human rights law, as well as due process laws, and that their procedures be fair and clear. When designing and implementing sanctions, their potential effects on exclusively humanitarian activities carried out by impartial actors must be carefully considered. All measures to combat terrorism must comply with international law, including human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law. Noting that some proposals considered by the Special Committee in 2019 were duplicative of discussions taking place in other forums, he said they have been discussed for several years and do not add value. Regarding a newly revised working paper on strengthening United Nations cooperation with regional organizations in the peaceful settlement of disputes, he welcomed the Special Committee’s discussion of that item, so long as it is not duplicative of work ongoing in other forums — especially regarding the financing of peacekeeping operations.
The representative of the United States welcomed positive developments within the United Nations system designed to ensure that targeted sanctions remain a robust tool for combating threats to international peace and security. The Special Committee should not pursue activities that would duplicate, or be inconsistent with, the roles of the principal organs of the United Nations on the maintenance of international peace and security. That includes any consideration of proposals calling for the Special Committee to conduct a legal study of the General Assembly’s powers, as well as a longstanding proposal on United Nations reform. Noting that the United States does not support the General Assembly’s request for an International Court of Justice advisory opinion on the use of force, she said the new proposal on strengthening cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations in the peaceful settlement of disputes could yield fruitful results if its scope is narrowed to areas where consensus is possible. She also welcomed the Special Committee’s consideration of any new items that might add value, so long as they are “practical, non-political and not duplicative” of efforts ongoing elsewhere in the Organization.
At the meeting’s outset, the Special Committee elected Kira Christianne Danganan Azucena (Philippines) as Chair of its 2020 session; Dee Maxwell Saah Kemayah (Liberia), Mine Özgül Bilman (Turkey) and Rodrigo A. Carazo (Costa Rica) as Vice-Chairs; and Alis Lungu (Romania) as Rapporteur. Members also adopted the session’s provisional agenda (document A/AC.182/L.152).
Also speaking today were representatives of Qatar, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Honduras, Nepal, Malaysia, Chile, Viet Nam, Sudan, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Turkey, Guatemala, El Salvador, Iraq, Venezuela, Algeria, Iran and Pakistan.
The Special Committee will convene its various working groups at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 19 February.