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Note: A complete summary of today’s meeting will be available after its conclusion.
MARIA LUIZA VIOTTI, Chef de Cabinet, delivered a statement on behalf of United Nations Secretary‑General António Guterres, saying international law was the Organization’s foundation, with the Security Council playing a special role in ensuring that was respected. The Charter did not prescribe the use of any particular means of dispute settlement, leaving Member States free to choose from many tools, including negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration and judicial settlement. The Council also had many options, such as calling on States to settle disputes, recommending they used a particular means of settlement — a power it had rarely employed. Where States agreed to use the International Court of Justice, the Council could ensure its judgment was properly observed, she said, calling on Member States to consider accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction.
Turning to accountability for international crimes, she said resolutions had established tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, which together had laid the groundwork for the development of international criminal law. The Council had also advanced the interpretation of the Charter and its own functions, highlighting the close link between international criminal justice and the purposes of the United Nations. Advancing global criminal justice fell within the Council’s scope, she said, noting the establishment of various special courts and peacekeeping operations in addition to an increasing momentum for gathering and securing evidence, in cases such as Iraq’s efforts to hold Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da’esh) accountable.
International criminal accountability was a relatively new area of work for the United Nations, but there was room for improvement, she said. For instance, the Council must become the driving force to ensure adherence to international humanitarian law, human rights law and other relevant rules. In addition, sustainable funding must be provided to create relevant institutions and the international community must engage constructively in ensuring accountability. The Council had played a critical role in upholding international law, supporting the peaceful settlement of disputes and advancing the fight against impunity. “Against a backdrop of grave threats and growing turmoil in many regions, the unity of this body and the serious commitment of the entire international community will be crucial in preventing human suffering and defending our common humanity,” she said.
HISASHI OWADA, Senior Judge and President Emeritus of the International Court of Justice, said international peace and security must be maintained in parallel with the administration of justice, with the Court and Council working together towards that end. The constitutional framework of the United Nations had envisioned such a relationship, with peace being reinforced by combining those common ambitions. The crucial question to examine today was how the Council and the Court could and should work together to resolve disputes.
Emphasizing the links in the Charter between the Council and the Court, he said mechanisms had been created to facilitate the bodies’ effective discharge of their mandates. Highlighting Charter provisions, he said the Security Council was empowered to make recommendations, as it had when referring to the Court the dispute between Albania and the United Kingdom in 1948. While few non‑compliance cases involving Court judgments existed, the Charter provided the Council with a specific procedural framework for action. Provisions of Article 96 granted the Court an advisory function to provide the United Nations and its entities an authentic legal opinion on a given situation, as was the case in 1970 with the situation of the legal consequences for States of the continued presence of South Africa in Namibia. Ultimately, the Court’s opinion had helped to inform the Council on that and other matters.
Providing examples of how the two bodies could work together to contribute to the maintenance of international peace and security, he first pointed out that the Council must act in terms of peacekeeping operations, frequently turning to the Court’s legal opinions on issues that often were at the root of the conflict, as was the case with the Balkans conflict whereby the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia was created. Similarly, the Court and Council had considered the 2008 border dispute between Cambodia and Thailand, whereby the Council had called for a ceasefire to no avail and, when Cambodia had brought the case to the Court, the judicial body, for the first time in its history, had set up a demilitarized zone to prevent irreparable damage until the final judgement. The conflict in the Great Lakes region in the 1990s was another example, he said, noting that the Council had closely monitored the situation, demanding that all parties refrained from destructive actions. Meanwhile, the Court had provided its advice, demonstrating that its opinions could complement the Council’s work.
To strengthen such cooperation, he suggested that the Council could pay more attention to its discretionary power to refer a legal dispute to the Court. Turning to non‑compliance cases involving Court judgments, he said the Council would have a meaningful role to play in the post‑adjudication of a dispute. He expressed hoped that the Council could pay more attention to consider making use of the Court’s advisory opinion, under Article 96 of the Charter. There had been 26 requests for advisory opinions, including 15 from the General Assembly. However, the Council had submitted very few requests, he said, pointing at some, including on Israel’s construction of a border wall and Kosovo’s declaration of independence. The Council had wide options on how to effectively perform its function, he said, expressing hope that the Court’s work would make significant contributions to the Council’s effective maintenance of international peace and security.
THEODOR MERON, President of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, said he was 9 years old when Nazi Germany had invaded Poland, the country of his birth. Most of his family had been killed by the Nazis because they were Jews. When the war ended, he had emerged lucky to be alive but profoundly affected by his experiences. While his career had followed a circuitous path, the abiding focus had been to grapple with the brutality of war, and to strive to find ways to end the horrific atrocities committed during armed conflict. Central to any such effort was the need to ensure respect for and adherence to international law, and the humanitarian principles and values of human rights and dignity reflected therein.
He said it was thanks to the Council’s ground‑breaking work that the issue of accountability was being considered today, recalling that on 25 May 1993, it had established the first international criminal court of the modern era: the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, followed by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in the wake of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. The establishment of other such courts and specialized chambers followed, including the first permanent international criminal court. At the same time, a growing number of national authorities had undertaken domestic criminal trials of those alleged to have committed war crimes. As a result, “there is an ever‑increasing expectation in communities around the world that where atrocities are committed, in violation of international law, accountability shall follow,” he said, a profound change from 25 years ago.
Yet, international criminal justice was still in its infancy and a highly vulnerable stage of development, he said. With the pioneering tribunals now closed, and the International Criminal Court facing numerous investigative and institutional challenges amid growing distrust for international organizations, efforts to advance accountability at the international level were contracting. If efforts to ensure accountability for violations of international law were to succeed, the Council must sustain them through steps to contribute to the work of the International Criminal Court, notably by complying with judicial orders, arrest warrants, and requests for investigative cooperation, as well as using soft and hard forms of leverage to convince others to do likewise. It was important to support fugitive‑related investigations, enforce sentences against convicted persons and more broadly ensure that existing mechanisms were adequately resourced.
For accountability to truly take hold, officials in national jurisdictions must take on the lion’s share of such work, which demanded creativity, innovation and an understanding of its interdependence with other initiatives. There were also other means to ensure accountability, such as the proposed grant of jurisdiction over international crimes to a regional court in Africa. Without judges who acted impartially, and judicial systems free of political influence, principled accountability was not possible. Upholding accountability was thus deeply linked to other shared international aims, such as the promotion of respect for the rule of law. As for the Council, it must serve as a model. The rule of law hinged on consistency and equality of enforcement; it abhorred selectivity. If one situation involving alleged atrocity crimes was treated with all due attention, and another left to linger in decision‑making limbo, the values underpinning the rule of law would be undermined.
Proposing several options, he said the Council could develop and adopt objective criteria to assess all credible allegations of international crimes. More broadly, it could reflect on its role as a representative political body, and the appropriate role for political decision‑making in treating specific cases. In many respects, the Council had been a gate‑keeper, deciding whether one situation should be subject to accountability measures. While perhaps necessary 25 years ago, he suggested it was time for a paradigm shift whereby the Council would refer possible violations of international law to appropriate judicial actors for further action, rather than risk becoming stymied in debates about whether atrocities occurred. Doing so would enhance accountability and increase confidence in the courts’ ability to assess evidence fairly.
ANDRZEJ DUDA, President of Poland, said conceptual work by Paweł Włodkowic and reinforced by Hugo Grotius had given rise to the concept of the rights of nations, the basis of international law. Today, 600 years later, the Council must return to those roots. International law was the strongest tool for civilized nations to ensure long‑term peace, based on trust and mutually respected norms and values. There was a temptation to place force above law, fear above trust, and he urged States to invest in respect for international law. “If we call an act of aggression a ‘conflict’, without properly defining the victim and the aggressor; if we call a threat a ‘challenge’ without defining the source of that threat… then we are helpless in terms of selecting legal steps to react,” he said.
Underscoring the importance of peaceful dispute settlement, and citing the United Nations’ history of mediators, as well as the role of the Pope and Vatican diplomacy, he expressed support for new high‑level diplomatic initiatives to re‑establish peace on the Korean Peninsula, and said only a return to bilateral negotiations based on international law could peacefully settle the Israeli‑Palestinian conflict. Where peaceful dispute settlement was not applied, he said the Council, to protect international law in its darkest hour, could introduce targeted sanctions, as coercive measures were often crucial in defending international legal principles. He expressed support for international legal mechanisms to bring perpetrators of international law violations to justice, stressing that the international, impartial and independent mechanism was a unique initiative that fostered prosecution of human rights violations in Syria.
TEODORO NGUEMA OBIANG MANGUE, Vice‑President of Equatorial Guinea, said strengthening of the rule of law must result in the consolidation of sustainable development, human rights and peace. Long‑term conflicts in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Libya, Somalia and elsewhere often led to famines and forced displacement, which must be addressed under international law. He underscored the need for peaceful dispute settlement as a basic principle of international law enshrined in the Charter’s Chapter VI. For such law to prevail during conflict, there must be a guarantee of compliance with peacekeeping principles, he said, welcoming the Secretary‑General’s efforts to reform such operations in order to win the trust of host countries, and the Council’s commitment to incorporate defence for the rule of law. Conflict resolution must include the concept of inclusive development. The United Nations must support African Union efforts to maintain peace in order to optimize joint action. Noting that impunity often led to acts of revenge, he said achieving justice was not simply a legal issue, but rather linked to political, economic and cultural factors. Reaffirming the need for peaceful conflict resolution through frank, inclusive dialogue, he said his country agreed to refer to the International Court of Justice its border dispute with Gabon, and denounced the ferocious media campaign against Equatorial Guinea using “fake news”.
STEPHANUS ABRAHAM BLOK, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, said the international rule book was under pressure, from the annexation of Crimea, to slave markets in Libya, to suffering in Myanmar, with Syria a stark reminder of a deep “crisis of respect” for the hard‑won gains in international law the world fought for following the First World War. From the Geneva Conventions, to the Charter of the United Nations, to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in Syria, all those norms had been trampled. When a country was not able or willing to protect its citizens, the responsibility rested with the Council, meaning that those with veto power must use that privilege with maximum restraint. Yet, it had been used 12 times over the last seven years on the situation in Syria. He wondered what would happen if it could be used as a licence to kill or a means to obstruct justice. “The Council will force itself into irrelevance,” he said. “The laws will, again, cede to arms. And we will all lose.” That could not be allowed to happen. “If and when the Council makes itself irrelevant by inaction, other avenues will have to be explored” to ensure fundamental international norms were upheld. Ahead of the next General Assembly, the Netherlands would consult with the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group to explore such options. Urging the Council to refer the Syria situation to the International Criminal Court, he said the Netherlands would support the international impartial and independent mechanism for Syria with another €2.5 million, in addition to the €2.5 million it had already contributed.
MARAT BEKETAYEV, Minister for Justice of Kazakhstan, recalling that his country was the first to give up its nuclear arsenal, said there could be no greater achievement that ridding the world of such weapons. Collective measures to prevent and eliminate threats to peace, and the responsibility of each State in that regard, had been set out in “The World. The Twenty‑First Century”, a 2016 manifesto by the President of Kazakhstan which envisioned a world free of conflict by 2045 and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. The Council must lead the way in that regard. Emphasizing the critical role of regional and subregional organizations, he wondered if the Council could enhance its legitimacy, and public awareness of its work, by meeting in other places from time to time. He highlighted the Conference on Interaction and Confidence‑building Measures in Asia, through which 26 States from Egypt to the Republic of Korea were doing significant work in the field of preventative diplomacy. He went on to say that Kazakhstan supported efforts by the United Nations, including the Council, to adapt its procedures to new challenges, and that today’s debate should mark the beginning of an ongoing dialogue. States and institutions could thrive when they had clear and just objectives and an open mind about the best way to achieve them, including robust mechanisms for enforcement and accountability.