Notable statements on international law during December 2020

Published: 23 March 2021 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.

4 December 2020

Asked whether he considered the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh a legitimate means, Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas replied:

“No. In abstract terms, there may be situations in which preventing people from carrying out activities in order to avert imminent crimes such as attacks falls under the remit of international law.”

7 December 2020

Asked about calls by the acting U.S. ambassador to Berlin for a moratorium on the construction of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, a spokesperson for the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy stated:

“We reject [possible sanctions] because we do not consider extraterritorial sanctions to be compatible with international law.”

7 December 2020

Commenting on the carrying out of death sentences in the United States, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance at the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“The execution of the death penalty in the United States goes against the global trend. Capital punishment is increasingly being abolished. Fewer than 60 countries still apply the death penalty. […]

The German Government is opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances, as it is a brutal and inhumane form of punishment. […] The death penalty means that miscarriages of justice cannot be rectified. Furthermore, it has been proven that capital punishment does not serve as a deterrent.”

7 December 2020

On 7 December 2020, the Federal Foreign Office confirmed that Chalid al-Saleh and his family were flown from Jordan to Germany on a German government plane. Mr. Al-Saleh is an ex-leader of the Syria Civil Defence, also referred to as White Helmets, which provides emergency services in rebel-held areas of Syria in response to government air strikes and armed attacks. These services include medical transport, emergency medical services and fire brigade operations. The White Helmets have received many international prizes, including the so-called “Alternative Nobel Prize” and the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights. The Syrian Government claimed that the White Helmets supported the rebels and had links to jihadist groups and considered them a “terrorist organisation”. Mr. al-Saleh was among 422 White Helmets and families who were evacuated in the summer of 2018 via the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights to Jordan at the request of Germany and several other Western States. The evacuation of Mr. Saleh to Germany had been held up for some two and a half years because of suspicions on the part of the Federal Ministry of the Interior and German intelligence services that he had jihadist links. On 21 December 2020, the Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates issued a statement saying that receiving Mr. al-Saleh reaffirmed the German Government’s involvement in the aggression on Syria and providing support to terrorist organizations and the affiliated groups. The statement went on saying that while the Syrian Arab Republic strongly condemns the misleading statements issued by the German Foreign Ministry and its representatives at international organizations, it warns that providing protection to terrorists constitutes a blatant violation of Security Council resolutions relevant to combating terrorism and poses threat to security and peace in the world.

8 December 2020

In response to a parliamentary questions on U.S. sanctions against private companies involved in the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, the Federal Government stated:

“The Federal Government has repeatedly made it clear that it rejects unilateral, extraterritorial sanctions against German and European companies, such as those imposed by the United States and recently tightened again. It considers these sanctions as an interference in EU regulatory powers.

As a matter of principle, the Federal Government rejects extraterritorial sanctions of third States without sufficient links to the jurisdiction of the third State.”

9 December 2020

In response to a parliamentary question, the Parliamentary Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Defence, Thomas Silberhorn, stated:

“The international and constitutional requirements for the use of armed UAS [Unmanned Aircraft Systems] do not differ from [those for] the use of other weapon systems. […] Of central importance here is the requirement of constant distinction between protected civilians and civilian objects on the one hand and legitimate military objectives on the other (distinction requirement).”

9 December 2020

Commenting on the killing of a 15-year-old Palestinian by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during protests against an Israeli settlement outpost in the occupied Palestinian territory, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance at the Federal Foreign Office stated:

“According to reports, live ammunition was used disproportionately against the protesters. International humanitarian law rightly stipulates that children and minors enjoy special protection from violence.”

10 December 2020

Against the background of U.S. sanctions against officials of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Germany joined 12 other current or incoming members of the UN Security Council in a statement reconfirming their “unwavering support for the Court as an independent and impartial judicial institution.” The statement read in the relevant part:

“Following the statements of the President of the Assembly of States Parties, issued on 11 June and 2 September 2020, we reiterate our commitment to uphold and defend the principles and values enshrined in the Rome Statute and to preserve its integrity and independence undeterred by any measures or threats against the Court, its officials and those cooperating with it. We note that sanctions are a tool to be used against those responsible for the most serious crimes, not against those seeking justice. Any attempt to undermine the independence of the Court should not be tolerated.

The ICC embodies our collective commitment to fight impunity for the most serious crimes under international law. By giving our full support to the Court and promoting its universal membership, we defend the progress we have made together towards an international rules-based order, of which international justice is an indispensable pillar.”

11 December 2020

At the UN Security Council stakeout, the German Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, delivered a statement on behalf of Germany and six other European Sates strongly condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, saying in part:

“The use of chemical weapons by anyone – be it a state or a non-state actor – anywhere, at any time and under any circumstances is a violation of international law and can amount to the most serious crimes of international concern – war crimes and crimes against humanity. The re-emergence of chemical weapons is one of the most urgent threats to international peace and security and has to be dealt with firmly and collectively.

Any use of chemical weapons – wherever it occurs – must be investigated and impunity for the use of chemical weapons must not and will not be tolerated. We reaffirm our commitment, to supporting the OPCW in its efforts to implement the decision of States Parties, in June 2018, to put in place arrangements to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic and strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Arab Air Force as concluded by the first report of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) to the OPCW Executive Council and to the Secretary General of the United Nations on 8 April 2020. […]

Finally, we stress that we will continue to support efforts to gather evidence of violations of international humanitarian law and human rights violations and abuses with a view to future legal action, including through the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism (IIIM) for Syria.”

11 December 2020

During the UN Security Council meeting on Syria (chemical weapons), the German representative accused the Russian Federation of undermining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), saying:

“Germany has been on the Security Council for two years, and in all of the meetings on this topic during that time, Russia has undermined the OPCW. […] After two years on the Security Council, we have to say that the Russian efforts to undermine the OPCW have failed. The OPCW remains a very strong and respected organization. It has functioned well, despite the constant efforts to undermine it, or, to quote the Russian Ambassador, despite the smear campaign that is being led against it.”

11 December 2020

From 2014 to 2017, the UN Security Council held an annual public meeting on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Since 2018, opposition by Russia, China and a several other members of the Council has prevented these public sessions, as Western States were no longer able to muster the nine votes required to put the issue on the agenda of the Security Council. In a closed-door VTC session of the Council on 11 December 2020, Germany and other Western Council members raised the human rights situation in the DPRK under AOB. After the meeting, the German Permanent Representative to the United Nations made the following statement on behalf of Germany and seven other Council members:

“The egregious human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is well known to the international community and has been documented, inter alia, by reports of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR), the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the DPRK (COI) as well as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK. The COI determined that the DPRK commits crimes against humanity and that ‘the gravity, scale and nature of [the DPRK’s] violations reveal a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world’ and that those crimes are committed ‘pursuant to policies established at the highest level of the State.’ […]

Today, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Japan, the UK and the USA reemphasize the importance of a discussion of this topic in the Security Council as the DPRK’s human rights violations pose an imminent threat to international peace and security. The DPRK government diverts resources away from its people to its illicit ballistic missile and nuclear programs. Indeed, the DPRK’s human rights violations, including forced labour, underwrite these programs. In order to ensure international peace and security, it is imperative that the DPRK shall abandon all nuclear weapons, its ballistic missile programs and its existing nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner in accordance with relevant Security Council resolutions. The failure to respect human rights is also part and parcel to the DPRK’s hostile policies towards its neighbours, including the issue of international abductions of Japanese and other citizens. […].”

12 December 2020

In a joint statement on Georgia, the German and the French Foreign Ministries declared:

“In the context of recent talks regarding further economic integration of the breakaway region of Abkhazia with the Russian Federation, we reiterate our strong support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia within its internationally recognized borders.”

12 December 2020

In October 2019, Iranian dissident and blogger Ruhollah Zam, who had been granted asylum in France, was kidnapped in Iraq. A few days later, he was shown on Iranian state television wearing a blindfold. In June 2020, he was sentenced to death by an Iranian revolutionary court for fomenting unrest and inspiring nationwide economic protests in Iran in late 2017. On 8 December 2020, it was announced that the country’s supreme court had upheld the death sentence, and on 12 December 2020 Ruhollah Zam was hanged. On the day of the execution, a Federal Foreign Office spokesperson issued the following statement:

“The Federal Government is horrified about the execution of the blogger Ruhollah Zam carried out today in Iran. Our sympathy goes out to his family and friends. We are shocked by the circumstances surrounding the conviction, particularly by the preceding kidnapping from abroad. The Federal Government’s position on the death penalty is clear, namely that it is a cruel and inhumane form of punishment that we reject in all circumstances. We call upon Iran to respect the freedom of opinion of its citizens, to release all political prisoners and to refrain from handing down or carrying out further death penalties.”

This statement prompted the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to summon the German ambassador to Tehran the next day. The Director General for European Affairs at the Iranian Foreign Ministry strongly condemned the statement and dismissed it as “interference in Iran’s internal affairs”. He also strongly protested at the tolerance shown towards elements who provide violence and acts of terror, and have taken refuge in some European countries and target the security of Iranian people. In protest of the execution, the German Ambassador to Tehran cancelled his participation in the Ambassadors’ Panel on Economic Diplomacy of the Europe-Iran Business Forum scheduled to take place on 14 December 2020.

15 December 2020

In response to a parliamentary question, the Federal Government emphasized “the existing obligation under international law of all States to take back their own nationals.”

17 December 2020

Looking back on Germany’s two-year term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas stated:

“We’ve seen attacks against the heart of [the] UN: international law & multilateralism. In these icy days, we’ve got multilateralism through the winter as best as we could.”

18 December 2020

A German delegation, including the Director of Consular Affairs and Immigration and the head of the Consular Assistance Department of the Federal Foreign Office visited north-eastern Syria without the consent of the Syrian Government and held talks with the rebel Kurdish Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, also known as Rojava, and the Syrian Democratic Council. The Director of Consular Affairs and Immigration told the ANHA News Agency: “The reason for our visit is humanitarian.” During the meeting, the German delegation signed a protocol concerning the repatriation of three women and 12 children of German nationality.

18 December 2020

During the UN Security Council VTC open debate on Strengthening the Cooperation between the Security Council and the International Court of Justice, the German representative stated:

“[…] the Security Council and the International Court of Justice are essential for guiding Member States on how to act in accordance with international law. With the Charter of the United Nations at its core, respect for international law is the basis for our multilateral cooperation. Effective multilateralism works only if the international order is based on rules applicable to all.

Germany, as a member of the Security Council, has always shown determination to uphold respect for, and adherence to, international law, including human rights and humanitarian law. It is imperative that all of us accept and implement legally binding decisions delivered by international courts and tribunals, including, and in particular, when those institutions rule within their own competency to decide on a specific case, even if, and when, those decisions go against immediate national interests. We are convinced that in the long term a rules-based order itself lies in the national interest of all.

[…] the violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law constitutes a threat to international peace and security. I think that is a very important position that we have always held. […]

[…] We believe also that it could be valuable for the Security Council to invite the President of the International Court of Justice to provide briefings when instances of non-compliance with decisions of the Court might threaten international peace and security. What Judge Yusuf also highlighted was the use of advisory functions with regard to conflict prevention. He pleaded for the Council to use that possibility more often. Germany totally subscribes to that. […]

We believe that the application of the Charter of the United Nations needs to evolve over time to ensure continued authority and legitimacy. The purposes and principles enshrined in the Charter, such as the call to maintain international peace and security and the prohibition of the use of force in international relations, are the timeless and enduring core of international law, but their application is subject to contemporary challenges. The coronavirus disease pandemic is only one striking reminder of those challenges. The international community is jointly confronted with a multitude of global and existential questions for the future of humankind, such as climate change, the protection of our environment, pandemics and respect for human rights.

The evolution of international law is reflected in both the practice of the Security Council and the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. Therefore, cooperation between the Security Council and the Court of Justice is needed more than ever. The Security Council determines any threat to, or breach of, peace or act of aggression and decides on measures to maintain or restore international peace and security. But in doing so the Council has demonstrated the adaptability, pragmatism and creativity. It must do better when it comes to dealing with new challenges. […].”

19 December 2020

The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance at the Federal Foreign Office issued the following statement on the imminent execution of a young Iranian:

“Mohammad Hassan Rezaiee was only 16 years old at the time of the crime he is accused of having committed. Iran has ratified both the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, both of which prohibit the execution of individuals who were minors at the time of an offence. In addition, there is credible evidence that his confession was extracted under torture and that this sentence thus contravenes fundamental principles of the rule of law. […]

This year, at least four people who were minors at the time of the crime have already been executed in Iran. Many other people who were minors at the time of the crime they are accused of having committed are on death row.

I therefore urgently call on all those responsible in Iran to respect Iran’s obligations under international law and to suspend the execution of the death sentence against Mohammed Hassan Rezaiee with immediate effect. No further death sentences must be imposed or carried out in the case of minors.”

21 December 2020

In response to a parliamentary question, the Federal Government stated:

“The existing traffic separation areas in the German Bight, Terschelling-German Bight and German Bight Western Approach, are legally-binding traffic-regulating measures under international law which have been adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) under the 1974 International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea of 1974 as vessel traffic management systems. Changes to such measures are to be decided by the IMO.”

22 December 2020

During the UN Security Council meeting on non-proliferation, the German representative reiterated Germany’s position on the interpretation of Security Council resolution 2231 (2015):

“With regard to annex B to resolution 2231 (2015), I would like to briefly reiterate that we continue to consider Iran’s development of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles and related technologies as inconsistent with paragraph 3 of annex B. We reaffirm the need to ensure compliance by all States with the provisions in annex B, including the prohibition on the transfer to and from Iran of items listed under the Missile Technology Control Regime.”

22 December 2020

The Federal Foreign Office notified the Turkish Embassy in Berlin that Germany would not review extradition requests sent by Turkey when the person in question faced an aggravated life sentence. Aggravated life imprisonment, which replaced the death penalty in Turkey in 2004, is the harshest sentence under Turkish penal law. It means severe restrictions on inmates, solitary confinement and no early parole. Referring to Federal Constitutional Court rulings in 2010 and 2011, the Federal Foreign Office underlined that “in such cases, the approval of the extradition request would not comply with the minimum standards of international law applicable in Germany and the basic principles of [German] constitutional law.”

28 December 2020

In response to a parliamentary on the legality of U.S. armed drone attacks, the State Secretary at the Federal Foreign Office, Miguel Berger, stated:

“The use of armed drones is governed by the same rules of international law as the use of other weapons. If the use takes place outside an armed conflict, the general human rights norms apply without any restriction. If, on the other hand, the use takes place in the context of an armed conflict, the rules of international humanitarian law apply.

To the Federal Government’s knowledge, the United States of America uses drones as a means in armed conflicts against parties to the conflict which use terrorist means.”

30 December 2020

The United States requested the extradition of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to face charges of espionage. Mr. Assange had been in extradition custody since September 2019. A ruling on the extradition request under the US-UK extradition treaty was scheduled for 4 January 2021. On 30 December 2020, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance at the Federal Foreign Office expressed “concerns” over the extradition proceedings, stating:

“The human rights and humanitarian aspects of a possible extradition must not be overlooked. Julian Assange’s physical and mental state absolutely must be taken into account in the ruling on whether he should be extradited to the United States. In this context, the United Kingdom is bound by the European Convention on Human Rights, also with respect to the possible sentence and the conditions of imprisonment.”

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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