Notable statements on international law during May 2021

Published: 22 July 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.

3 May 2021

On 27 April 2021, Human Rights Watch released a 213-page report entitled “A Threshold Crossed: Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution,” in which the human rights NGO examined Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. It treated the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea as a unity, populated by two groups of roughly equal size – Israelis and Palestinians – in which Jewish Israelis were methodologically privileged while Palestinians were repressed, most severely in the occupied territories. Asked to comment on the report, the cabinet spokesperson stated:

“The Federal Government expressly does not endorse the view expressed in the report that Israel is committing the international crime of apartheid. We do not consider this to be a correct assessment. […] The report is based on a single legal area between the Mediterranean Sea and the River Jordan, in other words a one-State regime, so to speak. That is explicitly not the legal opinion of the Federal Government.”

The spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office added:

“In those areas, the protective provisions of international humanitarian law and, in particular, those of the Fourth Geneva Convention apply. These obligations must be observed. […] Politically, we remain of the opinion that a negotiated two-State solution between Israel and the Palestinians is suitable to achieve lasting peace and dignity and the realization of human rights for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

5 May 2021

On 5 May 2021, Russia hosted an Arria-formula meeting of the Security Council on the situation in Ukraine entitled “Odessa seven years after: Neo-nazism and violent nationalism as drivers of conflict in Ukraine”. Germany joined seven other States in a statement on Russia’s Arria-Formula Meeting on Odessa Events which read in part:

“Russia held an informal Arria-formula meeting at the UN today to again promote a false narrative about Ukraine. […]

We urge Russia to immediately cease all of its aggressive and destabilizing activities and to de-escalate by fully reversing its troop buildup in temporarily occupied Crimea and along Ukraine’s borders without delay and to end its temporary occupation of the territory of Ukraine without delay. We further call on Russia to recommit to a ceasefire in the Donbas and provide transparency on its military activities, in line with its commitments under the OSCE Vienna Document.

We strongly condemn Russia’s attempted annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol. Russia’s actions are of global concern and in violation of international law, including the UN Charter, and contrary to the Helsinki Final Act.

As we saw during the March 12 High-Level Arria-formula meeting on Crimea hosted by Estonia with 23 co-sponsors, and from the UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/68/262, Ukraine has the full support of the international community in defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, within its internationally recognized borders and territorial waters. […].”

5 May 2021

Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas joined his colleagues from the other G7 countries in a communiqué after their meeting in London which underlined, inter alia, the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The communiqué read in the relevant parts:

“We emphasise the universal and unified character of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and reaffirm UNCLOS’s important role in setting out the legal framework that governs all activities in the ocean and the seas. We consider the 12 July 2016 award rendered by the Arbitral Tribunal under UNCLOS as a significant milestone and a useful basis for peacefully resolving disputes in the South China Sea.

We reaffirm UNCLOS’s important role in setting out the legal framework that governs all activities in the ocean and seas. We reaffirm the need for all states to act in good faith, to build trust and ensure security on the oceans and seas, and to commit to the peaceful management and settlement of disputes in accordance with international law, including through internationally recognised legal dispute settlement mechanisms, including arbitration, without using the threat of force or coercion. We reiterate our commitment to the freedoms of the high seas, including the freedom of navigation and overflight, and to other rights and freedoms, including the rights and jurisdiction of coastal states, and other internationally lawful uses of the seas.”

In their communiqué, the G7 Foreign Ministers also addressed the question of internet shutdowns, stating:

“We are concerned about actions by states to intentionally disrupt their own populations’ access to, or dissemination of, information, knowledge, and data online. Internet shutdowns and network restrictions undermine civic space, online and offline and unjustifiably limit access to information and the rights of peaceful assembly, association and freedom of expression online. We reaffirm our commitment to a multistakeholder approach to Internet governance and urge all countries, in accordance with their international legal obligations and commitments, to refrain from intentional disruptions that render Internet and mobile network services inaccessible or unusable, thereby undermining the exercise of individual rights and freedoms.”

6 May 2021

The spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office joined his counterparts from France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom in a statement on Israeli settlements which read in part:

“We urge the Government of Israel to reverse its decision to advance the construction of 540 settlement units in the Har Homa E area of the occupied West Bank, and to cease its policy of settlement expansion across the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Settlements are illegal under international law, and threaten prospects for a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

If implemented, the decision to advance settlements in Har Homa, between East Jerusalem and Bethlehem, will cause further damage to the prospects for a viable Palestinian State, with Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and a Palestinian State. This move, alongside settlement advancement in Givat HaMatos and continued evictions in East Jerusalem, including in Sheikh Jarrah, also undermines efforts to rebuild trust between the parties, following the positive resumption of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. […].”

10 May 2021

The Federal Government was asked whether it shared the accusation of the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem that Israel was committing “crimes of apartheid” in dealing with the Palestinians. The Secretary of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Miguel Berger, replied:

“The Federal Government does not endorse an assessment in the sense of the question. The Federal Government regards the Palestinian territories as being occupied by Israel; in these territories the protective provisions of international humanitarian law apply. The Federal Government consistently advocates compliance by Israel with its obligations under international humanitarian law. Only a negotiated two-State solution between Israel and the Palestinians is suitable to ensure lasting peace, dignity and the realization of universal human rights for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

12 May 2021

Despite China’s opposition, Germany, together with the United States and the United Kingdom, hosted a high-level meeting at the United Nations on the situation of Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslim minorities in Xinjiang. During the meeting, Germany’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Christoph Heusgen, stated:

“[H]uman rights are universal and all UN member states have the unconditional obligation to respect them. From what we hear today, this is clearly not the case in Xinjiang. We appeal on [sic] China to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and tear down the detention camps. If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you finally grant unimpeded access to the HCHR [High Commissioner for Human Rights]?

[…] let’s commit to continue our efforts until the Uighurs can live again in freedom, until they are no longer detained, no longer victims of forced labour and other human rights abuses, until they can exercise freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”

On 13 May 2021, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry commented on the meeting, saying:

“The United States, Britain and Germany ganged up with some NGOs to host a virtual conference on Xinjiang’s human rights situation based on lies and political prejudice falsely in the name of the UN. China deplores and rejects it. The conference was awash with outrageous lies and disinformation. It was another despicable shoddy show and sheer political farces put together by a handful of countries including the US. In fact, it was firmly rejected by the vast UN membership.

I must point out that these countries that are always trying to lecture others on human rights issues actually have a deplorable record on human rights and have committed piles of crimes. The false allegations they launch against China mirror their own historical crimes and sinister mentality. […]

In the beginning of the 20th century, German colonists slaughtered over 100,000 indigenous Namibian tribespeople. United Nations Economic and Social Council Commission on Human Rights said in a report that this is the first genocide in the 20th century. During WWII, Nazi Germany slaughtered almost six million Jews. Where is Germany’s concern for human rights?

Instead of reflecting deeply on their poor human rights records and crimes in the past and at present, the countries above crossed every line to smear and denigrate China. This only exposes their sanctimonious hypocrisy. […]

Some people said, ‘If you have nothing to hide, why don’t you grant unimpeded access to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?’ My question is, if someone makes a false accusation against you and arbitrarily asks you to open the door unconditionally so that they can rummage through your chests and cupboards, will you allow it? This is not about facts, but sovereignty and dignity! We welcome all unbiased people to visit Xinjiang. That said, we firmly reject so-called investigation with presumption of guilt by citing lies and rumours, firmly reject interference in China’s domestic affairs under the pretext of human rights, and firmly reject playing up the so-called Xinjiang-related issues to undermine China’s stability and contain China’s development. […].”

It is of interest to note that the event was co-sponsored by only 18 mainly European UN Member States and that only 13 States took the floor at the meeting, including the three host States. In addition, China addressed the audience.

17 May 2021

During the UN Security Council VTC Arria meeting on The Impact of Emerging Technologies on International Peace and Security, Germany’s Deputy Representative to the United Nations stated:

“We have been particularly concerned by cyber-attacks on public institutions and health facilities during recent years and during the pandemic. We must ensure compliance with international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights law, by both state and non-state actors. […]

The rigorous implementation of international non-proliferation regimes as well as UN sanctions and embargos can be advanced by analysis and surveillance tools supported by new technologies. Challenges to these UNSC-mandated regimes are caused, inter alia, by crypto-currencies, 3-D-printing, polymer-weapons and the transfer of malware. Export control regimes need to tackle these challenges. These challenges arise both when it comes to the proliferation of WMD to non-state actors in the context of UNSCR 1540 and in country-specific sanctions regimes and arms embargos. […]

We don’t necessarily need a new set of rules for each and every new technology. International law, including international humanitarian law and international human rights law, is fully applicable to the use of new and emerging technologies, whether we are talking about the deployment and use of cyber means in situations of armed conflict or about their use in new weapons systems. In some areas, e.g. with respect to LAWS, these established rules need to be spelled out specifically to the new technologies; and still other areas might need new international rules and regulations to create the arms control architecture of the future and to avoid destabilization.”

19 May 2021

In a parliamentary question, the Federal Government was asked which criteria were decisive in 2019 for its recognition of Juan Guaidó as Venezuelan interim president. The Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Niels Annen, replied:

“As a matter of principle, the Federal Government only recognizes States and not governments in terms of international law. In the case of Venezuela, the Federal Government announced in February 2019 that it viewed Juan Guaidó as the interim president in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution. the interim president in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution. The Venezuelan Constitution in Article 233 provides for a constitutional succession in the event of “the President being permanently unavailable to serve”. On this basis, the then president of the Venezuelan National Assembly Juan Guaidó declared himself Interim President on 23 January 2019 in order to organize free, fair and credible presidential elections.”

Category: International law in general

DOI: 10.17176/20220627-172802-0

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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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