Notable statements on international law during May 2020

Published: 06 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.

5 May 2020

In a UN Security Council meeting on the ICC Report on Libya, the German representative expressed Germany’s general support for the ICC, stating:

“The ICC is a crucial pillar of a strong rules-based international order. We fully support the court, its impartial work and the values enshrined in the Rome Statute. […] full continued and steadfast support for the ICC and to the efforts of the prosecutor in establishing accountability to enforce the urgently needed respect for the rule of law remains absolutely essential. We call on the members of this Council and indeed on all UN member states to support the court and its efforts to end impunity and ensure accountability. Let me also again call on those who have not yet joined the Rome Statute to consider doing so.”

12 May 2020

In a joint statement with current and former EU Members of the UN Security Council on the first report of the Investigation and Identification Team to the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and to the Secretary General of the United Nations on 8 April 2020, Germany declared:

“The use of chemical weapons by anyone anywhere, at any time and under any circumstances is a violation of international law and can amount to the most serious of international crimes – war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

12 May 2020

The Commissioner for Disarmament and Arms Control and Director General for International Order, the United Nations and Arms Control at the Federal Foreign Office tweeted:

“We strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria; a blatant breach of international law must not go unpunished. Welcome briefing […] on the IIT [Investigation and Identification Team of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] report of 8 April 2020. Demand compliance with international humanitarian law in Syria.”

13 May 2020

During the regular government press conference, the spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office declared:

“As far as drones are concerned […] this is not a weapon that is generally prohibited under international law, but its use is subject to the same rules as are applicable to other weapon systems. That is why we, as Federal Government, are particularly committed to regulating new weapons systems and subjecting them to an international law assessment, so that regulations are provided for their use and are observed.”

13 May 2020

During question time in the Federal Parliament Chancellor Merkel accused Russia of pursuing a “strategy of hybrid warfare, which includes warfare in connection with cyber disorientation and distortion of facts.”

13 May 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on the possible disembarkation of person rescued at sea by ships flying the German flag during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Parliamentary State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community declared:

“The nationality of a ship, including the flag it flies, does not determine the place of disembarkation of persons rescued at sea by that ship.”

14 May 2020

In a joint statement with current and former EU Members of the UN Security Council on the situation in Myanmar Germany “recall[ed] that Myanmar is under the obligation to comply with the provisional measures indicated by the ICJ, according to international law.”

15 May 2020

Federal Foreign Minister Maas declared in the Federal Parliament:

“One thing is clear: all states have a duty to impose protective measures in response to COVID-19 – and these measures may temporarily restrict human rights. But such action must be taken for legitimate reasons. It must be proportionate, and it must absolutely be temporary.”

15 May 2020

Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated with regard to Israeli plans to annex part of the occupied Palestinian territories:

“In our opinion, an annexation is not compatible with international law. From our point of view, changes to borders must, if at all, be the result of negotiations and happen in agreement between both sides.”

19 May 2020

In a joint statement with his Palestinian counterpart, Federal Foreign Minister Maas commented on the agreement of 20 April 2020 between coalition parties in Israel to advance plans for annexation of occupied Palestinian territories:

“Annexation of any part of occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem constitutes a clear violation of international law and seriously undermines the chances for the two-state solution within a final status agreement. […] international law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, constitutes a cornerstone of peace and security in the region and of a rules-based multilateral order globally.”

19 May 2020

The Federal Constitutional Court stated in its judgment on the surveillance powers of the Federal Intelligence Service regarding foreign telecommunications:

“The binding force of German fundamental rights establishes a responsibility and accountability only on the part of German State organs. It only determines the framework for autonomous political decisions of the Federal Republic of Germany and limits its own freedom of action. For that reason, fundamental rights operate abroad as rights of protection only vis-à-vis German State authority and thus run parallel to the restrictions resulting from the principle of non-intervention in international law. The binding force of fundamental rights therefore does not amount to a violation of the principle of non-intervention under international law, nor does it limit the executive or legislative powers of other States. It does not impose its own law, nor does it supplant foreign fundamental rights. […] The binding force of fundamental rights for German State organs does not impose any burden on other States which could raise concerns under international law.”

19 May 2020

Commenting on the arrest of Félicien Kabuga, who had been wanted since 1997 under international criminal jurisdiction for genocide and crimes against humanity in Rwanda, a Federal Foreign Office spokesperson stated:

“Germany’s support for international criminal jurisdiction, for example the International Criminal Court, the International Residual Mechanism and other special tribunals, represents a key contribution towards international law and justice.”

20 May 2020

During the UN Security Council VTC Meeting on the Middle East Peace Process, the German representative stated:

“We are seriously concerned, however, by the provisions in the coalition agreement as well as by remarks delivered by members of the new Israeli government on a possible annexation of occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank. […] we therefore strongly encourage the Israeli government not to implement any measures which would constitute a violation of international law. We will not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem, unless agreed to by Israelis and Palestinians; and we will continue to distinguish between the internationally recognized territory of the State of Israel and the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 in accordance with our obligations under international law. […]

The starting point for any discussion or negotiations should be the relevant UN resolutions, international law and the internationally agreed parameters. […]

Resolution 2334 remains the most crucial guideline and needs to be fully implemented, with regard to settlement activities […] We reiterate our position that Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal under international law and severely undermine the prospects for ending the occupation and for achieving a negotiated two-state-solution. We call upon Israel to end the expansion of settlements, including the latest construction plans for Efrat, Har Homa, Givat Hamatos and the areas E1 and E2, the legalization of settlement outposts, and ongoing demolition and confiscation of Palestinian structures and land.”

20 May 2020

Joint Statement by Current and Former EU Members of the UNSC (Germany, Belgium France, Estonia, Poland) before the UN Security Council VTC Meeting on the Middle East:

“International law is a fundamental pillar of the international rules-based order. In this respect, we recall that we will not recognize any changes to the 1967 borders, unless agreed by Israelis and Palestinians. The two-state solution, with Jerusalem as the future capital for both States, is the only way to ensure sustainable peace and stability in the region.

In this vein, we note with grave concern the provision – to be submitted for approval by the Israeli cabinet – on the annexation of parts of occupied Palestinian territories, as stated by the Prime Minister when presenting his government to the Knesset on 17 May and as envisaged in the coalition agreement signed earlier. We strongly urge Israel to refrain from any unilateral decision that would lead to the annexation of any occupied Palestinian territory and would be, as such, contrary to International Law.”

20 May 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on whether the Italian, Spanish and Libyan ports qualified as places of safety in terms of the law of the sea and international law, the Federal Government declared:

“The term ‘place of safety’ in the law of the sea is explained in paragraphs 6.12 to 6.18 of resolution MSC.167 (78) of the International Maritime Organization. The definition is aimed at ending the respective situation of danger for persons in distress at sea. In doing so, the circumstances of each individual case must be taken into account.”

21 May 2020

Germany’s permanent representative to the United Nations in New York tweeted:

“Russia illegally annexed Crimea more than six years ago. Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are being violated to this day. […] the referendum in 2014 conducted in Crimea violated Ukrainian law, international law and UN Charter.”

22 May 2020

During the Security Council VTC Arria on Cybersecurity, the German representative stated:

“In today’s world, conflicts do not necessarily start with tanks, guns or invading armies. Disinformation, election interference, intellectual property theft and infrastructure disruption: these are elements of modern warfare! They all pose tangible, real threats to our peace and security. Trust can easily be lost in cyberspace and the risk of escalation of small misunderstandings into full blown conflicts and even wars is real.

[…] We have to safeguard the internet as a place, where human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and international law are fully respected and upheld.

Germany shares the conviction that existing international law, notably the UN Charter and international humanitarian law, applies equally offline and online. We support the implementation of the existing voluntary norms for responsible state behaviour in cyberspace. […].

Let me be clear: this deep commitment to a rules-based international order for cyberspace is only one pillar of our approach to international cybersecurity. It is complemented by our efforts to build up credible deterrence against cyber-attacks: bad behaviour in cyberspace – the disrespect of international law and agreed norms – must have serious and deterrent consequences.

We are constantly increasing our resilience: together with our partners in the European Union we have put in place a cyber sanctions regime, which will allow us to respond to cyberattacks in a firm, effective and targeted manner. And: this regime is in accordance with international law. If our security is compromised, we will not hesitate to use this instrument of sanctions. […].”

27 May 2020

In response to a statement by the U.S. ambassador to Germany that the United States was planning further sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, a spokesperson for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy declared:

“The time in which the corona pandemic is putting countries across the globe under immense pressure is not the time to further escalate and threaten with further extraterritorial sanctions, that is, sanctions in violation of international law.”

27 May 2020

Setting out Germany’s vision for the common foreign and security policy of the European Union during the German presidency in the second half of 2020, Chancellor Angela Merkel stated with regard to EU-Russia relations:

“The basis for this [a critical and constructive dialogue with Russia and peaceful cooperation] can only be the understanding that in international relations it is not a question of the rule of the strongest but the strength of the law. For us, a commitment to the Helsinki Final Act and the European Convention on Human Rights is an integral part of our foreign relations. Russia has repeatedly violated this canon of rules and values. Russia has created a belt of unresolved conflicts in its immediate neighbourhood and annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in violation of international law. It supports puppet regimes in parts of eastern Ukraine and attacks Western democracies, including Germany, by using hybrid means. […] Where fundamental rules of international law are disregarded, we will call this out.”

27 May 2020

During a Security Council debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Niels Annen, said:

“In Syria […] parties to the conflict do not uphold their obligations to protect civilians. Instead, they bomb schools and hospitals. The targeting of healthcare facilities in the midst of a pandemic is particularly atrocious and cynical. Similarly, the recent attack in Afghanistan on a maternity ward is particularly heinous.  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.”

28 May 2020

During the Security Council VTC meeting on the cooperation between the UN and the EU, the permanent representative of Germany to the UN said:

“The invasion by Russia of the Ukraine and the violation of the sovereignty of an independent country violates the UN Charter and shows that we still have the rule of the of the strongest.

We unfortunately see a lot of disrespect for Security Council resolutions over the last few years when you look at the Middle East and Libya. […] countries are even open about their supply of weapons and mercenaries to Libya in violation of binding international law of Security Council resolutions that have been adopted here.”

28 May 2020

In response to parliamentary questions concerning the outlawing of Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems (LAWS), the Federal Government stated:

“The Federal Government is committed to a worldwide ban of lethal autonomous weapon systems.

The Federal Government defines LAWS as weapon systems that are completely beyond human control when using lethal force. In contrast, weapon systems with autonomous functions are understood as weapon systems that can only perform certain functions, such as take-off and landing, without human intervention. The use [of lethal force] as such, with its limits and conditions, must continue to be decided, controlled and accounted for by a human being. The Federal Government takes the view that the level of human control over a lethal weapon system must be sufficient to ensure that the weapon system is compliant with international law. In particular, this means that the decision on and responsibility for the use of lethal force must remain with a human being.

International humanitarian law applies in armed conflicts to all weapon systems, including the development and use of LAWS. The negotiations within the CCW framework help to clarify the application of the rules of international law LAWS.”

29 May 2020

During the regular press conference, the government spokesperson stated with regard to Israeli plans to annex parts of the occupied Palestinian territories:

“We have expressed our general concern about annexations together with our European partners on previous occasions. One thing is clear: A change of borders is only in accordance with international law if it takes place by mutual agreement. This requires a negotiated agreement, which both sides must have consented to.”

29 May 2020

In response to parliamentary questions concerning alleged inconsistencies with regard to the poison gas attack in Duma on 7 April 2018, the Federal Government stated:

“The Duma incident is one of numerous confirmed uses of internationally outlawed chemical weapons in Syria. The Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of the United Nations (UN) and the OPCW has confirmed the use of chemical weapons in five out of nine cases investigated up to 2017 and in four cases has established the responsibility of the Syrian regime.

The use of chemical weapons is a blatant violation of international law. It is the responsibility of the international community to protect the Chemical Weapons Convention as one of the central pillars of the global non-proliferation architecture and to support the OPCW as guardian of the Convention in carrying out its task, and to defend it against unsubstantiated attacks. Any use of these terrible weapons must be prevented, those responsible must be identified and held to account.”

Category: International law in general

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  • 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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