Notable statements on international law during June 2020

Published: 27 July 2020 Author: Stefan Talmon

Throughout the year, Germany makes numerous statements on international law. Not all 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.

2 June 2020

In response to parliamentary questions concerning “disinformation in the corona crisis”, the Federal Government stated:

“A diplomatic mission and its staff are at liberty to conduct political public relations work in the receiving State within the limits permitted by international law, and to make public statements on matters and developments in the receiving State. This applies to the embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Berlin in the same way as it applies to the German embassy in Beijing.”

2 June 2020

Remarks by Minister of State Niels Annen at the High-Level Pledging Event for the Humanitarian Crisis in Yemen:

“Unfortunately, the suffering caused by the pandemic has not changed the policy of regimes across the world. Germany calls on all to respect international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law. And Germany calls on all to show humanity in these challenging times. […]

Indiscriminate attacks on civilians are a violation of international humanitarian law and may amount to war crimes. They must be prosecuted. That is why we strongly support the international criminal justice system with the International Criminal Court at its core. To this end, Germany launched an Alliance against Impunity to spearhead efforts towards accountability. […]

As for Germany, technology, including new and emerging technologies must be employed in compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law, by both state and non-state actors. […]

Moreover, as today’s conflicts are becoming increasingly urbanized, we must strengthen the protection of civilians in urban warfare scenarios, including from the humanitarian impact that can arise from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. Germany is actively engaged in the Irish-led process of developing an international political declaration on this issue. We have introduced an operational approach developed together with the ICRC to enhance respect for existing rules of international humanitarian law through the development and sharing of good military practices. This approach has the potential to achieve concrete improvements in the protection of civilians on the ground, including from harm caused by the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. […].”

4 June 2020

On 10 December 2019, the European Court of Human Rights determined that Osman Kavala’s prolonged pre-trial detention in Turkey was, inter alia, in violation of Article 18 in conjunction with Article 5 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The judgment became final on 11 May 2020 when a panel of the Grand Chamber rejected Turkey’s request to refer the case to the Grand Chamber. Mr. Kavala was acquitted by an Istanbul court on 18 February 2020 but was immediately re-arrested on other charges. On 14 June 2020, the Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Michael Roth, issued the following statement on the enforcement of the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights:

“The ongoing detention of Osman Kavala, despite the fact that the judgement of the European Court of Human Rights of 10 December 2019 recently came into force, is a clear violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. I urge Turkey to respect its international obligations and to implement the ECHR’s judgement swiftly. Germany will continue to closely monitor the case of Osman Kavala during its forthcoming Presidency of the Council of Europe [from November 2020 to May 2021]. Turkey must, at long last, ensure compliance with the rule of law and human rights standards once again. We will do our utmost to ensure that all Member States respect and enforce the ECHR’s judgements to the letter.”

4 June 2020

The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance at the Federal Foreign Office issued the following statement in response to news of the impending imprisonment of renowned Iranian filmmaker and winner of the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival Golden Bear, Mohammad Rasoulof:

“I am alarmed at the news that renowned Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof could very shortly be imprisoned. Mohammad Rasoulof is an artist who is well known and respected around the world. He was convicted because he had made a film about injustice and corruption. This conviction is another blow to freedom of the press and of opinion in Iran.

In ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Iran made a commitment to respect and protect the right to freedom of speech. I therefore appeal to Iran’s judicial authorities to overturn the decision against Mohammad Rasoulof and to let him continue his artistic endeavours freely and without hindrance.”

5 June 2020

On 4 June 2020, a bill for the “Protecting Europe’s Energy Security Clarification Act” was submitted to the U.S. Senate. The Act was to expand sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline and target European companies which are involved in pipe-laying activities or providing underwriting services, insurance or reinsurance on the project. Asked to comment on the bill, a spokesperson for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy stated:

“We are closely following developments in the United States. Our stance on extraterritorial sanctions is well known and clear. We reject them because they are contrary to international law. Especially in the current corona crisis it is not the time to escalate the situation.”

The Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office tweeted: “The threats of sanctions by the United States represent an encroachment on European sovereignty, which we reject.”

8 June 2020

Asked about the legal status of Kosovo in international law, a spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office replied:

“The Federal Government takes the position that Kosovo is an independent State and that we maintain full diplomatic relations with it.”

12 June 2020

During the regular government press conference, the spokesperson for the Federal Ministry commented on amendments to the Ordinance for the Safety of Seagoing Ships and their effect on maritime rescue operations by non-State actors:

“The Ordinance for the Safety of Seagoing Ships serves the purpose […] to fulfill the international law duties of the Federal Republic of Germany as a flag State as set out in Article 94 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.”

12 June 2020

In March 2020, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized an investigation into possible war crimes in Afghanistan, including those committed by the U.S. military and the Central Intelligence Agency, which could lead to the indictment of U.S. military and intelligence personnel before the ICC. On 11 June 2020, the U.S. Secretary of State called the investigation by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) an “ideological crusade against American service members” and a “persecution of Americans”. The Secretary of State said:

“We have responded any way – the way a responsible nation must: by condemning the investigation, by suspending cooperation with the court, and denying visas to those most directly responsible for going after our personnel. […]

We cannot, we will not stand by as our people are threatened by a kangaroo court. […] we also oppose the court because it’s grossly ineffective and corrupt. […] This record of botched prosecutions and poor judgment casts grave doubt on the court’s ability to function at the most basic level and demonstrates the highly politicized nature of this institution. […] The Trump Administration is taking the following actions:

First, we’re authorizing the imposition of economic sanctions against ICC officials directly engaged in the ICC efforts to investigate U.S. personnel or allied personnel […] Designations will be made on a case-by-case basis against specific individuals or entities.

And second, the United States is expanding visa restrictions for officials directly engaged in those same investigations.  We’re extending and expanding these restrictions to include their family members. […].”

In response to this attack on the ICC, the Federal Foreign Ministry issued the following statement:

“We have noted with great concern the US announcement authorising the Secretary of State in certain cases to impose further visa restrictions and also economic sanctions against International Criminal Court staff.

Germany is one of the ICC’s steadfast supporters. We have full confidence in its work. It is an indispensable institution in the fight against impunity of international crimes and is needed more than ever these days. We reject any exertion of pressure on the independent Court, its staff or people who cooperate with it.”

12 June 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on Germany’s climate goals, the Federal Government stated:

“The Federal Government recognizes the need to forcefully counteract man-made climate change and thus prevent its worst consequences in line with the precautionary principle. The Federal Government’s climate goals are derived from the legally binding goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement and Germany’s obligations in the context of European climate protection policy.”

15 June 2020

In response to parliamentary questions on proposals to strengthen the parliamentary element in the United Nations, including the establishment of a parliamentary assembly, the Federal Government stated:

“The important concern of realising the parliamentary role in the UN context as fully as possible, which is supported in principle by the Federal Government, faces the obstacles of the distinct inter-governmental character of the United Nations and the fact that the UN Charter as the pivotal founding and reference document does not foresee a parliamentary assembly. The Federal Government supports the goal of strengthening the parliamentary element in the UN system. For this reason, Germany has been a co-sponsor of a General Assembly resolution on cooperation between the United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and is thus in unison with many other EU Member States. This resolution aims to increase the participation of parliaments. In this regard, according to the Federal Government’s view, the IPU is the main partner in the cooperation with the General Assembly.”

16 June 2020

Foreign Minister Maas issued the following statement on the possible sanctions against ICC staff announced by the United States:

“Germany has been a staunch supporter of the International Criminal Court from the outset and is its second-largest contributor. The ICC is an absolutely vital institution in the fight against the impunity of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. We are working to ensure that the Court can conduct its activities in an independent and impartial manner. The possible sanctions against the Court decided on by the United States may lead to its work being seriously impeded. As a supporter of the Rome Statute, we are concerned that these sanctions will damage an indispensable institution in the fight against impunity. We therefore call upon the United States to reconsider these measures.”

17 June 2020

Commenting on the reported deportation by the United States of Carlos Lehder Rivas, a dual German and Colombian national, a spokesperson of the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“Germany, like any other country in the world, is of course obliged under international law to admit its own nationals to its territory.”

18 June 2020

The German Mission to the United Nations in New York tweeted:

“Germany’s position on status of occupied Golan Heights remains unchanged. Any annexation of territory is a clear violation of international law. Germany does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights occupied by Israel and do not consider them part of the State of Israel’s territory.”

19 June 2020

On the international day for the elimination of sexual violence in conflict, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office declared:

“Rape, forced pregnancy or forced abortion, forced sterilisation, sexual slavery, forced prostitution – whatever form it takes, conflict-related sexual violence is a war crime and a serious threat to peace and security.”

22 June 2020

In a concept note for the high-level open debate of the Security Council on the theme “Pandemics and security”, Germany stated:

“Global health risks, such as pandemics and epidemics, can become a threat to international peace and security. […] In the case of Ebola, the Security Council determined in its resolution 2177 (2014) that the outbreak constituted a threat to international peace and security and undermined the stability of the most affected countries, possibly leading to further instances of civil unrest, social tensions and the deterioration of the political and security climate. […]

As part of the efforts of the United Nations, and in parallel with the development and the human rights pillars, the Security Council should address the question of how to mitigate the impact of the [coronavirus disease (COVID-19)] pandemic on peace and security in the most vulnerable settings as part of its preventive action.”

23 June 2020

As a response to the coronavirus pandemic Germany introduced border controls on its frontiers on 16 March 2020. Asked why the border controls applied to everybody but asylum seekers, the Federal Government stated:

“All member States of the European Union are bound by the international law requirements of the Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR), according to which a return or deportation of a person seeking protection is only possible after an individual examination of his protection request. These requirements are laid down in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (CFR) (Articles 4 and 18 CFR) and form the basis of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS). The requirements of international law and European Union law must also be observed under pandemic conditions. Restrictions on the right to international protection are subject to high requirements.”

23 June 2020

Germany joined 66 other States to reconfirm its unwavering support of the International Criminal Court as an independent and impartial judicial institution. The statement in support of the ICC read as follows:

“As States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), we reconfirm our unwavering support for the Court as an independent and impartial judicial institution. In line with the 11 June press release of the President of the Assembly of States Parties, we reiterate our commitment to uphold and defend the principles and values enshrined in the Rome Statute and to preserve its integrity undeterred by any measures or threats against the Court, its officials and those cooperating with it.

We remain committed to an international rules-based order. The ICC is an integral part of this order and a central institution in the fight against impunity and the pursuit of justice, which are essential components of sustainable peace, security and reconciliation. We will therefore continue to respect our cooperation obligations under the Rome Statute and we call on all States to ensure full cooperation with the Court for it to carry out its important mandate of ensuring justice for the victims of the most serious crimes of international concern.

We recall that the ICC is a court of last resort, which anchors a system of justice for serious international crimes rooted in national courts. National authorities have the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute Rome Statute crimes. The ICC only steps in when States are unwilling or unable to genuinely carry out national proceedings.

The ICC, as the world’s first and only permanent international criminal court, is an essential component of the multilateral architecture upholding the rule-of-law. It embodies our collective commitment to fight impunity for international crimes. By giving our full support to the ICC and promoting its universal reach, we defend the progress we have made together towards an international rules-based order, of which international justice is an indispensable pillar.”

24 June 2020

In response to parliamentary questions on its China policy, the Federal Government stated with regard to the South China Sea:

“The Federal Government is therefore calling on the Chinese Government to strengthen its commitment to maintaining peace and security within the framework of the United Nations. This includes […] respect for established international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The Federal Government is following the increasing tensions in the South China Sea with great concern. It has repeatedly called on all countries bordering the South China Sea to take measures which contribute to the maintenance of peace, stability and security as well as safeguarding the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea in accordance with applicable international law, in particular the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Participation in a ‘Freedom of Navigation Operation’ in the South China Sea is currently not being planned.”

24 June 2020

Asked about its strategy with regard to China blocking international processes concerning marine protection (e.g. within the framework of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resource (CCAMLR), the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)), the Federal Government stated:

“Since 2012, the Federal Government has endeavoured to establish a marine protected area in the Antarctic (Weddell Sea). The proposal was officially submitted by the EU.

Decisions by the Commission for the Conservation of Marine Resources in Antarctica (CCAMLR) on the designation of marine protected areas require unanimity, which has not yet been achieved. While most CCAMLR member States are sympathetic to the establishment of marine protected areas, the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation still harbour reservations about their establishment. The reason for this is a different understanding of what a marine protected area is and what it is supposed to achieve, and the associated different political and economic motives.

The Federal Government, together with the EU and other Member States, will continue to use suitable bilateral and multilateral opportunities and forums to lobby with the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation for the adoption of the European proposals for Antarctic Marine Protected Areas.

With regard to a new agreement relating to the implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerning the protection and sustainable use of biodiversity outside national sovereignty (BBNJ) the EU and its Member States emphasize to the People’s Republic of China the need to draft the provisions of a future implementing agreement in full accordance with the relevant legal framework of UNCLOS. In addition, the effective protection of biodiversity in the area of the high seas and the deep seabed is to be achieved by creating precautionary and science-based instruments. This applies in particular to procedures for the designation of universally recognized and cross-sectoral marine protected areas and strategic environmental audits.

The Federal Government does not see any blocking attitude on the part of China within the framework of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).”

26 June 2020

In a background information note published on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“Torture is illegal under international law and there are no exceptions. […] It is not limited to physical violence; the deliberate infliction of psychological violence can likewise be a manifestation of torture if it reaches a certain degree of severity. Examples of such torture include sleep deprivation, the threat of force or prolonged solitary confinement.”

26 June 2020

Asked for its assessment of the Chinese-sponsored Human Rights Council resolution 35/21 on “The Contribution of Development to the Enjoyment of all Human Rights”, the Federal Government stated:

“The resolution ‘The Contribution of Development to the Enjoyment of all Human Rights’ was not supported by Germany and its European partners because of its narrative that places economic development above the protection of human rights. From the Federal Government’s perspective, human rights and development are complementary and mutually reinforcing. The German and European approach to human rights-based development cooperation is based on the universality and indivisibility of human rights.”

26 June 2020

Asked for its assessment of Human Rights Council resolution 41/3 on the “Enhancement of International Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights”, which had been introduced by Venezuela on behalf of the Movement of Non-aligned States, the Federal Government explained its opposition to the resolution as follows:

“The EU member States represented on the United Nations Human Rights Council voted unanimously against the resolution. The Federal Government shares the European Union’s assessment that international cooperation is only one of several instruments for the better protection of human rights, but the primary responsibility for protecting human rights lies with the respective State.”

29 June 2020

In an Op-Ed the Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Niels Annen, wrote:

“Throughout almost a decade of conflict, the Syrian regime has literally violated every major principle of international law. Its wide-scale war crimes and crimes against humanity are undeniable. This is why the establishment of the International, Impartial, and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria and its collection and analysis of information and evidence was an important step toward accountability. The IIIM keeps alive the memory of tens of thousands of civilians tortured and millions tyrannized—by Assad’s forces and non-state actors—for the sake of upholding a brutal system, silencing opposing voices, and gaining territorial control.

In Syria, not even the most sacrosanct principles of humanitarian law have been upheld. Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons and cluster munitions to slaughter the inhabitants of whole cities. He targeted hospitals, schools, and humanitarian convoys. And he withheld humanitarian aid for regions not under the regime’s control. But make no mistake: the perpetrators’ crimes will not be forgotten. Their sense of security and impunity are of a temporary nature only.”

29 June 2020

In an interview with the news agency DPA, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas delivered a damning verdict on the UN Security Council. Referring to the failure to reach a common Security Council position on the coronavirus pandemic, he said:

“This is another example of how close the Security Council is to incapacity. In the major ongoing crises like Syria and COVID-19, the Security Council is no longer living up to the expectations we ought to have of it. It is in a permanent state of deadlock – now caused by one side, now by the other.

The way the Security Council is presenting itself shows the need for reform is more urgent than ever. But baby steps are no longer an effective way forward on this.”

29 June 2020

In an interview with PassBlue Germany’s representative to the United Nations in New York, Christoph Heusgen, stated:

“We believe that it’s very important to continue to keep human rights on the agenda [of the Security Council]. The United Nations was founded on the idea of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is one of the founding documents [and it’s important] to look at the individual person, to look at individual victims and conflict, and to always remind delegations that we are working for the people who suffer. […]

[…] when you see that other countries in the Security Council […] don’t believe actually implementing the resolutions of the Council is something they should care about, this is a problem. This is why in the Security Council we always remind countries that what we are doing is important, that when we adopt a resolution, it’s legally binding and we better implement what is asked, because if we don’t we create a very bad example, and all of a sudden nobody respects international law and we are going to end up in the jungle.”

30 June 2020

Remarks by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen in the Security Council VTC Meeting on Non-proliferation, June 30, 2020

“[The United Nations and the European Union] are the cornerstones of our post Second World War policy. The foundation of both organizations is the rule of law and rules-based international order. For us, the Charter of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are key for our policy. When I talk about the rule of law today, it has to do with this very foundation of German foreign policy.”

“[…] Iran is violating the very basis of what we are discussing here at the UN: The Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The human rights situation in Iran is appalling. Human rights activists are persecuted. There are political prisoners. There is no press freedom, no right of assembly, and there is aggressive foreign policy meddling in the region. Iran not only does not recognize Israel, but also displays missiles with “death to Israel” written on them. This is all very appalling. […].

We are concerned about Iran’s missile activities in the Secretary-General’s report. They are inconsistent with the resolution 2231.”

Category: International law in general

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Author

  • 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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