Notable statements on international law during August 2020

Published: 05 November 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.

3 August 2020

On the sixth anniversary of the start of the genocide campaign against the Yezidis in Iraq, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office Michelle Müntefering stated:

“UNITAD [United Nations Investigative Team to Promote Accountability for Crimes Committed by Da’esh/ISIL] is collecting evidence across Iraq to provide the basis for delivering accountability for the unspeakable crimes committed against the Yazidis – crimes that may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Germany fully supports the remarkable work done by UNITAD.

German law recognises universal jurisdiction for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide under international law. German prosecutors have been investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Da’esh in Iraq and Syria on this basis since 2014. The investigations have resulted in several trials. The focus of these trials is on crimes committed against Yazidi women and girls. These trials demonstrate that survivors can seek justice even thousands of miles away from where the crimes have been committed.

While these efforts are no substitute for a strategy for comprehensive justice for the victims of Da’esh, we will support the fight against impunity in this way, and I call on all states to use all legal means at their disposal to end impunity.”

5 August 2020

At the UN Security Council media stakeout the German Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations delivered the following statement on the situation in Georgia on behalf of Belgium, Estonia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States as well as Ireland and Norway:

“This week marks 12 years since the beginning of the conflict between Russia and Georgia on 7 August 2008. […] We firmly support Georgia’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.

The continuing Russian military presence in the Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as well as Russia’s recognition of the so-called independence of these regions violates the territorial integrity of Georgia and undermines Georgia’s sovereignty, as well as the Rules Based International Order. […]

Today we call again on the Russian Federation to fully implement her obligation and commitments under the Agreements of 12 August and 8 September 2008. The Six Point Agreement of 12 August includes an obligation by Russia to withdraw its armed forces to positions held before hostilities began.  The ceasefire agreement also committed the parties to establish an international security mechanism.

We reiterate our support for the respect and protection of human rights, including the rights of forcibly displaced persons, as well as the importance of enabling their safe, voluntary, dignified and unhindered return to their homes in accordance with international law. […].”

5 August 2020

During the UN Security Council VTC Meeting on Syria (chemical weapons), the German representative stated:

“Syria has indeed not fully complied with obligations dating from 2013. It has not fully complied with its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention. Not only has Syria continued to stall and to obstruct, the Syrian regime has also repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own population. It has also probably used the missing chemical agents that the Declaration Assessment Team are still trying to account for.

Those who claim now that the entire chemical weapons arsenal has been declared in 2013 and subsequently destroyed make a case which defies logic. Either the Syrian regime has not fully declared their arsenal, or they have continued to produce chemical weapons. These are the only conclusions that are logically to be drawn here. The fact is, an expert body, after extremely careful and thorough investigations, has found reasonable grounds to conclude that the Syrian Arab Air Force is responsible for at least three attacks with sarin and chlorine gas against the Syrian population, with one of these attacks being an attack on a hospital.”

5 August 2020

Asked for a legal assessment of SpaceX’s “Starlink” project, a satellite internet constellation of some 42.000 small satellites in low Earth orbit, providing satellite Internet access, the State Secretary Miguel Berger stated:

“Due to the projected increase in space activities, in the medium to long term an international ‘Space Traffic Management’ (STM) based on the five UN space treaties will be necessary to coordinate and regulate space traffic in order to ensure the free use of space by all States guaranteed by international law in a safe and sustainable way. The legal aspects of such a regulatory framework have been discussed (on Germany’s initiative) in the Legal Subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space since 2016.

According to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and other Celestial Bodies (Outer Space Treaty), all States are free to explore and use outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, without discrimination of any kind, on a basis of equality and in accordance with international law. States shall conduct their activities with due regard to the corresponding interests of all other States and are obliged to undertake international consultations before carrying out space activities that could negatively affect the space activities of other States.

According to the Outer Space Treaty, States also bear international responsibility for the activities of non-State space actors and shall authorize and continuously supervise their activities. They are also required to take into account international standards for the sustainable use of outer space, including the UN Guidelines for the Long-term Sustainability of Outer Space Activities adopted in 2019. The planned large satellite constellations involve an enormous increase in space objects. Large constellations must therefore comply with measures to avoid space debris with a very high degree of reliability. This includes that a satellite must have entered the atmosphere from the low Earth orbit and burned up no later than 25 years after the end of its mission. This IADC guideline is recognized worldwide.”

6 August 2020

During the UN Security Council VTC open debate on “Threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts: Linkage of Counterterrorism and transnational organized crime”, the German representative stated:

“When fighting terrorism and combating organized crime, we must ensure that all action respects the principles of international law, in particular human rights, humanitarian law and the rule of law. Neither countering terrorism nor combating organized crime can serve as a pretext to violate human rights. Disrespecting these rights is not only a breach of our most fundamental international obligations, it creates at the same time one of the root causes for radicalisation, for mistrust in institutions and for successful recruitment by criminal and terrorist groups. This has been demonstrated clearly time and again.”

6 August 2020

In reply to a parliamentary question on the return of migrants rescued at sea to the port in Tripoli, the Federal Government stated:

“The law of the sea term ‘place of safety’ is further explained in numbers 6.12 to 6.18 of resolution MSC.167(78) of the International Maritime Organization. The definition is geared to ending the situation of danger of shipwrecked persons at sea in practical terms, taking into account the circumstances of each individual case.”

12 August 2020

During the regular government press conference a spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office stated with regard to the various bilateral maritime delimitation agreements in the eastern Mediterranean that it is “a fundamental principle of international law that agreements at the expense of third parties are not effective.”

12 August 2020

During the regular government press conference, a spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office stated with regard the arrest of members of the Baha’i community in Iran:

“The German government is observing the human rights situation in Iran and in particular the difficult situation of religious minorities such as the Baha’i with great concern. […] We criticize human rights violations against religious minorities in general and against the Baha’i in particular.”

12 August 2020

During the Security Council’s open VTC on “Pandemics and the Challenges for Sustaining Peace”, Minister of State Niels Annen called on the Council to adopt “a comprehensive understanding of peace and security.” He stated:

“A comprehensive approach to peace and security means to also address root causes and mid- and long term challenges as opposed to only acute crises. It means the need to find integrated solutions for interconnected challenges and to strengthen prevention, peacebuilding and sustaining peace – no matter if we are facing human rights violations, a pandemic or climate change as multidimensional challenges.”

12 August 2020

In response to press reports about the discovery of a secret nuclear facility for the extraction of uranium yellowcake – a potential precursor for a nuclear reactor – in a remote desert location in Saudi Arabia, the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“The Federal Government’s critical stance on nuclear power is well known. It is of central importance that Saudi Arabia fully complies with its NPT obligations and that its nuclear program is subject to the international verification standards (‘safeguards’) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).”

Two days, later, the spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Ministry stated during the regular government press conference:

“We have said that it is of central importance that Saudi Arabia too adheres to its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and subjects its nuclear programme to the international verification standards, the safeguards, of the International Atomic Energy Agency. I think that in this agreement and also within the framework of the IAEA there is a set of rules that lists and shows exactly what the criteria are that are to be complied with and what steps are to be taken jointly within the framework of this cooperation, these agreements and the organization in order to meet these standards. We think that is what Saudi Arabia should comply with within the framework of these agreements.”

19 August 2020

During the UN Security Council meeting on Syria (political), the German representative stated:

“Russia and China have blocked the referral of the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is their responsibility that those who have committed and are still committing the most serious crimes in Syria cannot be brought to justice before the ICC. National jurisdictions are starting to at least fill some of the void in Germany and elsewhere. The message is clear: whoever commits crimes against humanity or war crimes cannot feel safe anywhere and will eventually be held accountable. We therefore call on all States to use all legal means at their disposal to prosecute the perpetrators and to initiate criminal proceedings under the principle of international universal jurisdiction.”

19 August 2020

In response to parliamentary questions of whether the rules of engagement of German armed forces deployed abroad were complying with the “Safe Schools Declaration”, a Parliamentary Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Defence stated:

“The ‘Safe Schools Declaration’ is a political declaration aimed at protecting schools and universities in armed conflict which politically supports the legally non-binding ‘Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict’ (Lucens Guidelines) which were developed by a group of non-governmental organizations. […]

The rules of engagement put into practice existing requirements for the use of military force and coercive measures in the context of a specific military operation and thus always stay within the applicable legal framework. Since action against civilian buildings and buildings that are not used for military purposes is prohibited under international humanitarian law, such action is not included in the rules of engagement for any deployments in the context of armed conflicts.

The rules of engagement for the present operations of the Armed Forces abroad thus meet the objectives of the “Safe Schools Declaration” due to the generally applicable international legal requirements.”

“Furthermore, the Federal Government continues to maintain its position, which it stated when it endorsed the ‘Safe Schools Declaration’, that the protection of schools and universities in armed conflicts can best be guaranteed by complying with the requirements of international humanitarian law which the ‘Safe Schools Declaration’ confirms. Germany will continue to guarantee the protection of schools and universities in full application of international humanitarian law.”

21 August 2020

In its 2019 Climate Protection Report, the Federal Government explained:

“On 12 December 2015, the Contracting Parties of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed in Paris to a legally binding agreement to combat climate change. […] By ratifying the agreement the Contracting Parties commit themselves in a legally binding way to pursue efforts to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C. […]  In addition, the Paris Agreement for the first time anchors the internationally binding goals of strengthening climate resilience and making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”

24 August 2020

During the UN Security Council meeting on threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist act, the German representative stated:

“Among the most important lessons we have learned in our struggle is that counter-terrorism measures must never serve as a pretext for human rights violations. We all know examples of so-called counter-terrorism measures that indiscriminately target ethnic minorities. That must not be our approach. The exclusion of ethnic minorities only makes those marginalized more prone to falling into the traps of violent extremism and terrorist networks. That counteracts all our efforts in trying to prevent terrorism.

Regarding Xinjiang, the internment of large parts of the population is, in our view, unjustified. In the long run, it is likely not to reduce but, rather, to increase the risk emanating from terrorist organizations.”

25 August 2020

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

“Germany remains convinced that a negotiated two-State solution based on international law, the relevant United Nations resolutions and the internationally agreed parameters is the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We keep repeating this message because it reflects our strong conviction and firm commitment to the rules-based international order, to the security of Israel as a Jewish and democratic State, and to the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and statehood.”

26 August 2020

In responses to a question about maritime rescue operations in the Mediterranean, the Federal Government stated:

“Rescuing persons in distress at sea is a humanitarian and international law obligation. According to the 1979 Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue, the primary responsibility for coordinating maritime rescue operations rests with the coastal State in whose search and rescue region the distress occurs.”

26 August 2020

During an Arria formula meeting on cyber-attacks against critical infrastructure the German representative stated:

“States should strictly refrain from supporting Information and Communication Technology activity contrary to their obligations under international law – not least in the light of the potential to create and escalate international tensions. In particular, no actor should jeopardize the general availability or integrity of the public core of the Internet, which is vital to the stability of cyberspace. […].

Germany believes this is an important topic for the Security Council. We share the conviction that existing international law, notably the UN Charter and international humanitarian law, applies equally offline and online.”

In a tweet the German mission to the United Nations in New York went even one step further, tweeting:

“International Law, notably the UN Charter and int’l humanitarian law, applies equally offline and online. UNSC must keep cybersecurity on the agenda, as cyberattacks, e.g. against critical infrastructure, can constitute a threat to international peace & security.”

26 August 2020

During a UN Security Council meeting on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), the German representative commented on violence against peaceful protesters and accountability in Iraq, stating:

“We remain deeply concerned by reports of ongoing arrests and acts of violence and intimidation against protesters, civil society activists, human rights defenders and journalists. We condemn in particular the recent targeted assassinations of activists in Basra and Baghdad. Systematic attempts to threaten and prevent people from exercising their fundamental right to peaceful assembly and their freedom of expression are unacceptable.”

31 August 2020

Asked for a legal assessment of the U.S. blockade of Cuba, a spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“I can tell you that, as a matter of principle, we reject any sanctions that have extraterritorial effect, regardless of the country concerned.”

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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