Notable statements on international law during March 2020

Published: 12 May 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.

4 March 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on whether the Turkish invasion of north Syria was contrary to international law and whether the Syrian military operations constituted acts of self-defence in accordance with international law against an illegal act of aggression by Turkey, the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“The Federal Government has repeatedly sharply condemned the Turkish military operation ‘Peace Spring’. From the Federal Government’s point of view, there is no basis in international law for the military intervention.

Concerning the legal assessment of the military operation, the Federal Government has taken note of the fact that, in order to justify its action in north eastern Syria, 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.

The agreement between Russia and Turkey that was concluded in Sochi on 22 October 2019 confirms Turkish control in northeast Syria over the about 120 km wide and 30 km deep zone between Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn. Syria also consented to this agreement. Thus, the question of Syria militarily defending itself against the Turkish military operation ‘Peace Spring’ currently does not arise.”

6 March 2020

The Legal Adviser to the Federal Foreign Office explained the difference between “international law” and “the rules-based international order” as follows:

“International law refers to the legally binding rules on the relations between subjects of international law such as states. The political term rules-based order encompasses the legally binding rules of international law, but extends also to non-binding norms, standards and procedures in various international fora and negotiating processes.”

6 March 2020

During an Aria meeting of the Security Council the German permanent representative to the United Nations stated:

“It is very important that we do not accept the violation of international law as the new normal. We must stand up to the violation of international law. We owe this to the people in Crimea. We owe this to Ukraine, and we owe it to ourselves.”

10 March 2020

After both incumbent Ashraf Ghani and former chief executive Abdullah Abdullah declared themselves president of Afghanistan at rival inauguration ceremonies in Kabul on 9 March 2020, the German representative on the Security Council stated: “We would like to congratulate President Ghani on the occasion of his inauguration yesterday. […] we will not accept any parallel Government […].” Germany had already implicitly expressed its recognition of President Ghani by the German ambassador to Afghanistan attending the Ghani inauguration ceremony at the Presidential Palace. On 13 March 2020, Chancellor Merkel set an official letter to President Ghani congratulating him on the assumption of his second term as President of Afghanistan.

12 March 2020

During a meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Yemen, the German representative stated that “all parties must adhere strictly to international humanitarian and human rights law and protect civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

16 March 2020

The Legal Adviser to the Federal Foreign Office tweeted: “International law needs to be respected, also in times of crisis. Article 36 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations requires States to inform one another if one of its nationals is arrested or being detained in any other manner. This also applies to an officially imposed quarantine.”

25 March 2020

Bärbel Kofler, Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, stated with regard to the confirmation of the death sentence given to Baha’i Hamed bin Haydara in Yemen:

“The persecution of the Baha’i on the grounds of their faith must finally come to an end. In continuing to persecute the Baha’i, Yemen is violating the right to freedom of religion which it committed to protecting and respecting when it signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

26 March 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on the legal status of commitments to development cooperation in the context of inter-governmental negotiations, the Federal Government stated:

“Commitments to development cooperation are political declarations of intent, not agreements that are binding under international law.”

“Declarations of intent or gentlemen’s agreements are not contractual instruments; that is, they are not legally, but only political binding.”

29 March 2020

A Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson issued the following statement on reports of further ballistic missile tests by North Korea on 29 March:

“The German Government condemns the new tests conducted today by North Korea of two short-range ballistic missiles. With a series of missile tests since the beginning of the month in violation of international law, North Korea is continuing to blatantly violate its obligations under relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council. At a time when global solidarity and cooperation in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic are vital, the country is jeopardising international security in an irresponsible way with the tests.

The German Government urgently calls on North Korea to abide by its obligations under international law and, in particular, to refrain from testing further ballistic missiles, as well as to accept the United States’ offer to resume the negotiations that were broken off by North Korea. North Korea remains bound to the complete, verifiable and irreversible ending of its programmes to develop weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.”

30 March 2020

The Legal Adviser to the Federal Foreign Office tweeted with regard to recent threats against the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its staff:

“Germany strongly supports the independence and impartiality of the International Criminal Court. We welcome the statement by the President of the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute [reaffirming the unwavering support of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute for the ICC] and reject any threats against the International Criminal Court.”

30 March 2020

In a United Nations Security Council meeting via VTC [videoteleconference] on the Middle East Peace Process, the German representative stated:

“We remain extremely concerned about repeated statements, plans and steps on the ground towards the annexation of parts of the occupied Palestinian territories.

We strongly advise the Israeli government against the annexation of or the “extension of Israeli sovereignty” to occupied Palestinian territories as this would constitute a clear violation of international law and have serious, negative repercussions on the viability of the two-state solution and the entire peace process.

We reiterate that Germany will continue to distinguish between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967 and that we will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, unless agreed to by both parties.”

30 March 2020

In a United Nations Security Council meeting via VTC on Syria, the German representative stated:

“Let me remind everyone that sanctions are not directed at the population. They are directed at the leadership in Damascus, a leadership who are culpable of the worst human rights violations one could imagine. The humanitarian situation in Syria is the result of the policies of Damascus and of those policies alone. […] As long as the Syrian regime does not change its brutal behaviour and end its grave violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, there will be no lifting of sanctions.”

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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