Notable statements on international law during February 2020

Published: 09 April 2020 Author: Stefan Talmon

Throughout the year, Germany makes numerous statements on international law. Not all of these statements form part of a case study presented on GPIL. However, these statements may nevertheless be of interest to international lawyers. We therefore compile these statements on a monthly basis.

3 February 2020

In response to the parliamentary question of whether the Syrian resistance against the Turkish advance in northern Syria constituted a lawful act of self defence against an illegal aggression on the part of Turkey, the Federal Government stated:

“As a result of the agreement that was concluded between Russia and Turkey in Sochi on 22 October 2019, which Syria approved, the question of Syrian military resistance against the Turkish advance into northern Syria does not arise.”

4 February 2020

Germany, together with other current and previous Security Council members of the European Union, recalled that “provisional measures indicated by the ICJ […] are compulsory under international law”.

6 February 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on the legality of the Turkish invasion of north Syria, the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“The Federal Government has taken note of the fact that Turkey relies on the right of self-defence under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter and resolutions of the United Nations Security Council on combatting international terrorism to justify its action in north eastern Syria under international law. On the basis of all that is currently known about the situation on the ground, the Federal Government cannot see that the current situation in Syria justifies a military intervention against Kurdish groups under international law.”

6 February 2020

The Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations declared in the Security Council:

“Germany remains committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. It is now six years since Russia invaded and annexed parts of Ukraine, the Crimea, and it still occupies part of Ukraine, in flagrant breach of international law. […] We condemn the continued threats and restrictions of movement against the SMM [the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine]. Those actions occur predominantly in the areas not controlled by the Government [of Ukraine], that is, the areas invaded by Russia.”

“I am still a bit speechless after having listened to the fairy tale of our Russian colleague. I am under the impression that, if we continue our discussions about Ukraine, one day our Russian colleague will say that Ukraine invaded Russia and not the other way around.”

“We all remember the Russian rebels celebrating the successful downing of the plane [Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17]. To date, there has been no compensation paid by Russia regarding the victims of that incident.”

6 February 2020

In the Security Council, the Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations made the following statement the humanitarian situation in north-west Syria:

“Civilians have the right to be protected from the horror of war, and warring parties have the obligation to ensure their protection. Once again, we recall that there are humanitarian obligations that need to be observed. There are rules to warfare; we should not forget that. […]  However, counter-terrorism efforts can never absolve the parties from respecting their obligations under international humanitarian law. [13] We call on the Syrian regime and Russia to ensure the protection of civilians and to comply with international humanitarian law.”

7 February 2020

The German representative on the Security Council declared:

“Counter-terrorism measures must never serve as a pretext for human rights violations. Yet there are multiple examples around the world  of counter-terrorism measures that indiscriminately target ethnic or religious minorities, in violation of international human rights law. […] That is why we must ensure that human rights, international humanitarian law and the rule of law are respected in the fight against terrorism, which will increase trust in State structures.”

14 February 2020

Addressing the Munich Security Conference, German Federal President Steinmeier stated:

“Russia […] annexed Crimea in total disregard of international law. China […] is selective in accepting international law only where it does not run counter to its own interests. […].

It is indeed true that international law primarily protects the small. The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must, as Thucydides put it over 2000 years ago, looking at the ancient world. In other words: whilst laws and rules are of extreme importance to the ‘little man’, they are always merely an option for the great. They have other ways to survive. […].

However, as a result of the post war order, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council share a special privilege. At the same time, this means that even now they bear a special responsibility for peace, security and disarmament. […] The privileges of the P5 are only justified as long as they stand up as preservers or promoters of a world order that goes beyond their own interests. But not if they are indifferent or hostile to this order, or if they undermine it in pursuing their foreign policy.”

18 February 2020

Together with the other EU Member States on the Security Council, Germany stated with regard to the implementation of the Minsk agreements:

“Respect for the territorial integrity of UN member states and the prohibition of the use of force are fundamental principles of international law both under the UN Charter as well as under the Helsinki Final Act. By the use of force against the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine, Russia is clearly violating the fundamental principles of international law.”

18 February 2020

Germany’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations stated in the Security Council:

“Today is a sad day for international law and for Ukraine and its people. […] Six years ago, when the Ukrainian President fled Kyiv after he refused to agree to a European Union Association Agreement and there was public unrest, there was volatility in the country. Russia took advantage of the situation. It invaded Ukraine and occupied and annexed a part of it. […] from the very beginning, Russia has not implemented the Minsk agreements […]  Russia could not be trusted because it violated the first paragraph of the Minsk package of measures.”

“I would like to give a very quick answer to one of the questions, namely, whether I believed that the separatists in charge in Donetsk and Luhansk were puppets of the Kremlin. Yes, I do believe that.”

18 February 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on the legal status of the headquarters agreements between Germany and the European Central Bank and the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority, the Federal Government stated that these agreements were “treaties governed by international” law which “did not produce any effects for third parties”.

20 February 2020

During the General Assembly debate on the situation in the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine the German representative declared:

“It has been six years since Russia illegally annexed the Crimean peninsula. We cannot and will not accept this breach of international law by a permanent member of the Security Council. Germany stands firmly with Ukraine in support of its sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders. […] Germany condemns the construction of the Kerch Strait Bridge without the consent of Ukraine, which constitutes a further violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

20 February 2020

In response to a parliamentary question the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“The Federal Government does not recognize the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation in violation of international law. It is committed to restoring Ukraine’s full sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

24 February 2020

In a debate on the situation in Somalia, the German representative on the Security Council emphasised “the challenges posed by climate change for regional stability and security.” He stated:

“[C]limate-related risks are not the only drivers of conflict […]. But, at the same time, it is a reality that they represent one driver, and often a very significant one, of conflict, which we cannot ignore and, we feel, the Security Council should not ignore. Floods and droughts exacerbate conflicts. […] We are therefore convinced it is high time for the Security Council to duly take into account climate change as a factor relevant to peace and security.”

26 February 2020

Germany accused the Syrian Government and its supporters of “ massive violations of international humanitarian law” in north-west Syria, including the deliberate targeting of hospitals, health centres, schools, and shelters. The Federal Government was clear: “Fighting terrorism cannot and must not justify massive violations of international humanitarian law.”

26 February 2020

On visiting the largest Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development stated:

“Such ethnic cleansings and crimes against humanity are unacceptable. Myanmar has an obligation to guarantee that the one million refugees can return safely to their homelands, and that it will protect the Rohingya still living within its borders. Until Myanmar commits to do so, we will suspend our development cooperation with the country. […] It is time for all of us to put greater pressure on Myanmar and to back the proceedings of the International Criminal Court in order to induce Myanmar to take immediate measures to protect the Rohingya. And, in Europe, we should now seriously consider imposing further sanctions, such visa restrictions or trade sanctions.”

27 February 2020

During a debate on the Middle East Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas declared in the Security Council with regard to the conflict in Syria:

“[C]onducting counter-terrorism measures does not absolve anyone, especially the countries represented in this Chamber, from respecting international humanitarian law, and indiscriminate attacks against civilians are war crimes. Those responsible must be held accountable.”

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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