Notable statements on international law during July 2020

Published: 02 October 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.

1 July 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on a Turkish drone strike in Syria, the Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office stated with regard to the use of force more generally:

“It is also the basic position of the Federal Government that any use of weapons must take place within the framework of the relevant rules of international law.

These rules include the international law prohibition of the use of force and its exceptions and, in particular in the context of armed conflicts, international humanitarian law. The Federal Government advocates the inclusion of armed unmanned aerial vehicles in international disarmament and arms control regimes.”

2 July 2020

In an interview on the eve of Germany assuming the presidency of the UN Security Council for the month of July, Germany’s permanent representative to the United Nations stated that one of Germany’s four main priorities was “pandemics and security”. Germany would put the COVID-19 pandemic on the agenda of the Security Council because “the Security Council must deal with the fact that the pandemic also has security-related consequences, because the spread of the virus can weaken states and exacerbate existing conflicts, particularly humanitarian emergencies.”

2 July 2020

During the Open debate of the UN Security Council on Pandemics and Security, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated:

“[T]he Security Council must finally embrace a broader understanding of peace and security. The founders of the United Nations may well have had artillery, bombers and soldiers in mind when they drafted the Charter. Today, we know that a virus can be deadlier than a gun, a cyberattack can cause more harm than a soldier and climate change threatens more people than most conventional weapons. Closing our eyes to that reality means refusing to learn. What we need is early, preventative action, based on good reporting and adequate capacities in the United Nations system. That is what “maintaining peace and security” means in the twenty-first century.”

2 July 2020

Asked about the logjam at the Security Council, Germany’s permanent representative to the United Nations stated in an interview with German TV station ZDF:

“The Security Council is currently not experiencing one of its moments of glory. But despite the many difficulties […], the conflict between China and Russia and the United States, the three permanent members of the Security Council who do not get up every morning and think: how can they strengthen international law? Nevertheless, there is progress.”

6 July 2020

In a parliamentary question the Federal Government was asked to set out its legal views on the conformity with international law of Turkey’s military presence in Syria and any resulting relevant obligations of Turkey under international humanitarian law concerning the protection of the civilian population in the areas in Syria principally under its control. The Federal Government gave the following answer:

“The Federal Government has taken note of the fact that Turkey has invoked the right to self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter and resolutions of the UN Security Council on combating international terrorism as international law justification for its military operations ‘Euphrates Shield’ (between August 2016 and March 2017), ‘Operation Olive Branch’ (between January 2018 and March 2018) and ‘Operation Peace Spring’ (October 2019). From the Federal Government’s point of view, the Turkish reasoning is not beyond doubt. Regarding ‘Operation Peace Spring’, the Federal Government has stated that it could not see any reasons that would legitimize the operation under international law. Regarding the Turkish military presence in Idlib province, Turkey justifies its presence on the basis of the agreement it concluded with the Russian Federation in Sochi on 17 September 2018, which Syria has consented to.

By the way, the Federal Government has always made it clear to Turkey that the protection of the civilian population and compliance with international humanitarian law are of paramount importance.”

6 July 2020

During a closed UN Security Council (VTC) on UNRCCA, the German representative stated:

“It’s very clear that violating human rights and marginalizing youth lead to extremism. Therefore, respect for human rights is key. We urge all states in Central Asia to live up to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, refrain from any measures curtailing them, be it through limiting freedom of religion or belief, freedom of movement, freedom to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech, or the protection of minorities. As colleagues have said before, it is very important that we respect the principle of non-refoulement in cases where minorities are potentially subject to ending up in detention camps or the like. We encourage all governments to closely cooperate in the framework of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and to issue standing invitations to these Procedures.”

7 July 2020

During a UN Security Council debate on Peacekeeping and Human Rights Open, the Federal Minister of Defence, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, said:

“If human rights are to mean something — anything — the Security Council has a role to play and a responsibility to fulfil. The Council has a special obligation to guarantee the protection of human rights in each of the United Nations peacekeeping operations it authorizes.”

8 July 2020

During the regular government press conference, a spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office stated with regard to the provision of cross-border humanitarian aid to civilians in Syria:

“The Syrian Government has not agreed to this in the past. Therefore, it became necessary for the UN Security Council to decide in its resolution 2165 that the United Nations Organization may send this vital humanitarian aid into Syria even without the consent of the Syrian Government. As I said, 2.8 million people depend on this cross-border aid for their survival.”

8 July 2020

Asked about Turkey’s role in Syria, a spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“Turkey, as you know, exercises control in various forms over different areas in northern Syria.”

13 July 2020

On 2 August 2019, the United States formally withdrew from the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) of 8 December 1987. In response to a parliamentary question the Federal Government put the blame for the termination of the Treaty firmly on Russia, stating:

“The Federal Government, together with its allies, is convinced that Russia has broken the INF Treaty by developing and introducing the SSC-8 cruise missile in contravention of the Treaty.”

20 July 2020

During the UN Security Council closed meeting on UNFICYP, the German representatives stated with regard to the drilling for hydrocarbons off the coast of Cyprus by Turkey:

“International law needs to be respected; the drillings need to stop. A dialogue between the communities concerning income generated off natural resources is urgently required.”


20 July 2020

During the regular government press conference, the Federal Government was asked whether in its talks with the U.S. Government, it regularly stated that Guantanamo Bay prison camp should be closed. A spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office replied as follows:

“What I can tell you is that our stance on questions of international law, including questions of international humanitarian law, respect for human rights and respect for the standards of international humanitarian law, is of course time and again the subject of discussion with our partners, the United States. […]

As I said, in our view, the challenges of terrorism can be met in the long run only by adhering to international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights. […]

In our view, the Guantánamo camp calls into question important principles of humanity, the rule of law and human rights.”

20 July 2020

In response to parliamentary questions on U.S. attempts to export more armed drones the Federal Government stated:

“The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) was established to prevent the proliferation of missile technology (ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, drones) for all types of weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, chemical weapons). The basis is not a treaty in terms of international law, but the foreign policy commitment of the participating States. […].

Questions of conventional armament or the capability to arm do not play any role in the MTCR guidelines. The only criterion to be taken into account is the suitability of the means of delivery for the deployment of weapons of mass destruction, which is primarily based on range and payload.

All means of delivery with a range of at least 300 kilometres that are suitable for the delivery of weapons of mass destruction should continue to be subject to the MTCR regulations. Speed plays a minor role in this connection.

The regime sets global standards for export control of dual-use items related to missile technology (drones, ballistic missiles, cruise missiles). These standards are used worldwide as a guide to design, improve and implement national export control regulations. They also provide a reference framework for all UN members to meet their obligations under Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery to terrorists. The lists of goods drawn up by the MTCR also form the basis of United Nations sanction regimes concerning weapons of mass destruction/missile technology. For example, they were consulted to formulate the sanctions regulations against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (UN Security Council Resolution 1718 etc.) and UN Security Council Resolution 2231 in connection with the Vienna Nuclear Agreement with Iran.

[…] the MTCR is not per se aimed at regulating the export of armed drones. However, owing to the MTCR listing parameters its regulations may affect the export policy concerning armed drones of MTCR Participating States and States applying the MTCR regulations.”

20 July 2020

During the regular government press conference, a spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office strongly rejected the suggestion that by recognizing an opposition politician as interim president of Venezuela, the Federal Government was intervening in the internal affairs of Venezuela. The spokesperson said:

“The Federal Government, of course, does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, including the internal affairs of Venezuela.”

20 July 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on the U.S. sanctions against Cuba, the State Secretary at the Federal Foreign Office Miguel Berger replied:

“The Federal Government and the European Union (EU) reject extraterritorial sanctions on principle. Regulation (EC) No 2271/96 ‘protecting against the effects of the extra-territorial application of legislation adopted by a third country, and actions based thereon or resulting therefrom’ (so-called ‘Blocking Regulation’) prohibits EU companies to comply with third-country sanctions. Affected EU companies may bring a claim within the EU. With the activation of Title III of the Helms Burton Act, the Blocking Regulation has automatically applied since 2 May 2019. Against this background, the Federal Government is continuously addressing US sanctions against Cuba and the extraterritorial provisions of the U.S. embargo in conversations with the U.S. side.”

21 July 2020

During the Security Council VTC Meeting on the situation in the Middle East, State Secretary Miguel Berger stated:

“We are alarmed by the stated intention of the Israeli government to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. If implemented, this would constitute a violation of international law, including the UN Charter and Security Council resolutions, irrespective of the size of the territory affected and the terminology used.”

21 July 2020

In response to a parliamentary question on the use of anti-personnel mines, biological, chemical and nuclear weapons by German soldiers, the Federal Government stated:

“The Federal Ministry of Defence’s Joint Service Regulation A-2141/1 on international humanitarian law in armed conflicts from 2018 […] sets out the law of armed conflict as understood at the time of its adoption by the Federal Ministry of Defence.”

Asked whether in its view the use of nuclear weapons was prohibited against targets which, with a “reasonable chance of success”, could also be eliminated by conventional means, the Federal Government did not categorically rule out the use of nuclear weapons, stating:

“The selection of effective means to be used against certain targets is made in each individual case according to the principle of military necessity and in compliance with the applicable rules of international humanitarian law. According to the principle of military necessity, in an armed conflict all military measures are permitted that are militarily necessary for the successful conduct of military operations with the aim of combatting the opposing party to the conflict and that are not prohibited by international humanitarian law.”

The Federal Government was also asked whether it was correct that Germany signed the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions with the reservation that its rules apply only to the use of conventional weapons and that this was intend to keep open the possibility of justifying the use of nuclear weapons on the basis of the law of reprisals. The Federal Government replied:

“[In the Declarations made at the time of ratification] the Federal Government expresses its understanding that the rules of international law for the use of non-conventional weapons are applicable without prejudice to the ratification of the First Additional Protocol.”

23 July 2020

During a UN Security Council VTC meeting on Syria, State Minister Niels Annen stated:

“More than 14,400 Syrians have died as a result of torture, almost 99 per cent of them at the hands of Syrian regime forces. […] In its latest report, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic has detailed human rights violations and war crimes in Idlib. This reporting as well as the findings of the Investigation and Identification Team of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and of the United Nations Headquarters Board of Inquiry demonstrate that the Syrian regime and its allies are responsible for indiscriminate attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure in north-west Syria. […] Russia and China blocked the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is their responsibility that those who committed and are still committing the most serious crimes in Syria cannot be brought to justice before the ICC.”

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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