Top 10 statements by the German Federal Foreign Office in 2019 on violations of international law

Published: 7 January 2020 Author: Stefan Talmon

Germany considers itself “a firm supporter of international law”. For example, during a debate in the United Nations Security Council on 23 July 2019, the German permanent representative stated:

“As the Ambassador of Germany, I must say that, for us, international law is relevant; international law is not futile. We believe in the United Nations […]. We believe in Security Council resolutions; for us, they are binding international law.
As I said, we believe in the force of international law and we do not believe in the force of the strongest. For us, international law is not an à la carte menu.”

While Germany regularly emphasizes the importance of international law and calls for its respect and promotion in general terms, it very rarely comments on the international legality of particular events or actions.

It seems to be part of the job description of the spokespersons for the German Federal Foreign Office to avoid any public assessment of international conflicts or issues in terms of international law. When pressed on the legality of particular incidents or actions, especially by its allies, the standard reply of the spokespersons is that the Federal Government does not have any or the necessary information on the facts to engage in a legal assessment, that it is to early to comment, or that the question has already been answered in a previous briefing (which, of course, it usually has not). When asked to provide an explanation of “why” the Federal Government considers a certain conduct to be in conformity with, or in violation of international law, the reply is that the spokesperson does not want to enter into “a debate on international law.” While this behaviour is understandable in terms of international politics, it is, at times, frustrating for the international lawyer.

The year 2019, once again, did not provide any significant yield in terms of clear statements on violations of international law. Here are the top 10:

1. [With regard to the U.S. recognition of the Israeli annexation of the occupied Syrian Golan] “Annexation of territory by force is prohibited under international law. Any declaration of a unilateral border change goes against the foundation of the rules-based international order and the UN Charter.”


2. “Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula [is] in contravention of international law.” [The annexation of Crimea] “is and remains a violation of international law. If we were to recognise unlawful annexations after a certain time had passed, we would just be asking for the next one.”


3. “The parties to the conflict in Syria, but particularly the Syrian regime, are committing severe violations of international humanitarian law, such as targeted attacks against civilian installations.”


4. “[The use of chemical weapons in Syria] constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law and all standards of the international community.”


5. “[T]he German Government regards the [Israeli] settlements in the Palestinian territories as illegal under international law.”


6. “In all but the most exceptional of circumstances, demolition [of Palestinian property by Israeli authorities] in occupied territories is contrary to International Humanitarian Law and to UNSC resolutions.”


7. “[A] possible annexation of areas in the West Bank [by Israel], particularly the Jordan valley and the northern shore of the Dead Sea […] would, if implemented, constitute a serious breach of international law.”


8. “The Federal Government condemns Turkey’s military offensive. In its view, as things stand there is no sign that the current situation in Syria would legitimise a military intervention there against Kurdish groups under international law.”


9. [With regard to the Turkish military intervention in Syria.] “We have publicly addressed this breach of international law. Violations of international law are not acceptable.”


10. The seizure of the Iranian oil tanker in the Strait of Gibraltar on 4 July 2019 by British Royal Marine commandos “is in accordance with international law.”

Category: International law in general

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  • Stefan Talmon

    Stefan Talmon is Professor of Public Law, Public International Law and European Union Law, and Director at the Institute of Public International Law at the University of Bonn. He is also a Supernumerary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, and practices as a Barrister from Twenty Essex, London. He is the editor of GPIL.

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