Notable statements on international law during August 2021

Published 30 March 2023 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 August 2021

On 4 August 2021, an Iranian Revolutionary Court sentenced 66-year-old German-Iranian human rights activist Nahid Taghavi to ten years and eight months in prison for participating in the management of an illegal group and propaganda activities against the State. During the regular government press conference on the same day, the spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office explained:

“Ms. Taghavi is a dual national. From an Iranian perspective, dual nationals are Iranian citizens. That is why it is often not possible for us to provide consular assistance in such cases. But we tried to help Mrs. Taghavi as best as we could.”

6 August 2021

On 29 July 2021, the Liberia-flagged oil tanker MT Mercer Street, travelling from Tanzania to the United Arab Emirates was attacked by a drone off the coast of Oman causing damage to the bridge of the ship and killing two members of its crew. The Japanese-owned tanker was managed by an Israeli international ship management company headquartered in London. The  Iranian Government formally denied any involvement in the attack. On 6 August 2021, Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas joined other G7 Foreign Ministers in a joint statement regarding the HV Mercer Street attack which read in part:

“We condemn the unlawful attack committed on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman on 29 July, which killed a British and a Romanian national. This was a deliberate and targeted attack, and a clear violation of international law. All available evidence clearly points to Iran. There is no justification for this attack.

Vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. We will continue to do our utmost to protect all shipping, upon which the global economy depends, so that it is able to operate freely and without being threatened by irresponsible and violent acts.

Iran’s behaviour, alongside its support to proxy forces and non-state armed actors, threatens international peace and security. We call on Iran to stop all activities inconsistent with relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and call on all parties to play a constructive role in fostering regional stability and peace.”

6 August 2021

In response to a parliamentary question, the Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of the Interior and Community, Helmut Teichmann, commented on the state of diplomatic relations with Syria, saying:

“The Federal Government’s diplomatic relations with Syria continue in principle, but are limited to the absolute minimum necessary due to the ongoing conflict and the Syrian regime’s continued refusal to engage in a credible political process based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 (2015).”

7 August 2021

On the thirteenth anniversary of the conflict between Russia and Georgia, the Director for Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia at the Federal Foreign Office expressed his support for the statement of the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Georgia and reiterate Germany’s “firm support to the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.” The statement of the EU Delegation made in agreement with the EU Heads of Mission in Georgia read in part:

“We reiterate our condemnation of Russia’s recognition of and continued military presence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia in violation of both international law and of its commitments under the 12 August 2008 agreement.

The European Union remains committed to upholding the human rights of all conflict-affected communities. These rights continue to be violated, including through so-called ’borderisation’ policies, closures of crossing points and illegal detentions. During these times of pandemic, such violations have taken an additional toll on civilians, especially those requiring urgent medical support, leading to more fatalities. Restrictions on their freedom of movement must end. In addition, all past violations of human rights, as recognised by the landmark European Court of Human Rights ruling on 21 January 2021, […] must be followed up through credible investigations and accountability to bring justice to the victims. […].”

8 August 2021

In response to parliamentary questions on gene drive organisms, the Federal Governments stated:

“As genetically modified organisms (GMOs), GDOs [Gene Drive Organisms] fall under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety (CP). The aim of the CP is to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use, and, in particular, in the cross-border movement of GMOs. For that purpose, it contains general requirements for mutual information in the case of intentional, but also unintentional and (in case of knowledge) illegal transboundary movement of GMOs. With the Biosafety Clearing-House (BCH), an internationally established information platform is available for this purpose. The CP thus provides the basis for avoiding inter-State conflicts and supports bilateral and multilateral communication. Rules and procedures in the area of liability and redress for adverse effects of GMOs on the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, also taking into account human health risks, are included in the Nagoya/Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol on Liability and Redress. Appropriate response measures should be taken both in advance and in the event of damage to prevent, minimize or contain damage and restore biodiversity. The Protocol, which Germany ratified in 2018, has so far been ratified by 49 contracting States. It offers some flexibility with regard to its implementation in national law. The challenges for those involved due to the special characteristics of GDOs compared to other GMOs have not yet been addressed by the community of parties to the CP. […]

The potential [military or terrorist] use of gene drive techniques with malicious intent, for example by releasing agricultural pests or insects with increased aggressiveness, is theoretically conceivable. […] A possible improper use of the gene drive technology would fall under the comprehensive prohibition norm of the 1975 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which now has 183 members and prohibits the development, production and stockpiling of biological weapons.

The CP establishes rules on transboundary trade in ‘living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology’ (LMO) that are binding under international law. The aim of the CP is to ensure an adequate level of protection in the field of the safe transfer, handling and use of living modified organisms resulting from modern biotechnology.

Article 14 of the CP stipulates that the parties may enter into bilateral, regional and multilateral agreements and arrangements regarding intentional transboundary movements of LMO, consistent with the objective of this Protocol and provided that such agreements and arrangements do not result in a lower level of protection than that provided for by the Protocol. There is therefore no reason to fear that the provisions of the CP could be undermined by a bilateral agreement.”

9 August 2021

In a written statement for the VTC Open Debate of the UN Security Council on “Enhancing Maritime Security: A case for international cooperation”, Germany stated:

“The international rules-based order determines our co-existence everywhere – on land, in space, in the cyber world and at sea.

Unfortunately, this order has been exposed to tangible pressure. We need to defend and preserve it more than ever.

The integrity of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which sets out the legal framework that governs all activities in the oceans and seas, needs in particular to be maintained.

With our contribution to the Group of Friends of UNCLOS, we underline the importance of UNCLOS as “a constitution for the seas”.

Germany calls on all states to reaffirm their commitment to the freedoms of the High Sea, in particular the freedom of navigation and overflight, and to the right of innocent passage enshrined in UNCLOS.

Moreover, Germany remains firmly committed to the peaceful settlement of maritime disputes in accordance with UNCLOS, including through the compulsory procedures provided therein. Advisory opinions by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea can also contribute to strengthening the law of the sea. […].

The High Seas must be considered as a global public good […]. More than ever, it is necessary to conclude an ambitious international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. This remains a political priority for us.”

10 August 2021

During the Turkish intervention in Cyprus in August 1974, the Greek Cypriot population fled the town of Varosha, the southern quarter of Famagusta. Since then, the town was under the control of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot authorities who fenced off the abandoned town. On 20 July 2021, it was announced that Varosha was to be partly reopened for potential settlement by Turkish Cypriots. Asked about the consequences which the Federal Government was drawing from these resettlement plans, the State Secretary at the Federal Foreign Office Antje Leendertse replied:

“In the opinion of the Federal Government, the announcement by Turkish President Erdogan and the Turkish Cypriot leader Tatar on the status of Varosha on 20 July 2021 is incompatible with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations (UN). The Federal Government has therefore immediately called on the Turkish government to comply with these resolutions and to participate constructively in the UN-led process to resolve the Cyprus issue.”

11 August 2021

On 10 August 2021, a Chinese court convicted Canadian citizen Michael Spavor of the crime of spying and illegal provision of state secrets abroad and sentenced him to 11 years in prison, confiscation of 50,000 yuan (€6,574) worth of personal property and deportation. On the next day, Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas issued a statement which read in part:

“The trial against Michael Spavor was held behind closed doors and his consular rights were restricted in breach of international law. […] We stand in solidarity with Canada. […] I call on the Chinese government to release Michael Spavor […] immediately.”

Michael Spavor had been detained since 10 December 2018 on charges of espionage. After the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in December 2019, China restricted consular assistance to foreign detainees to so-called “on-site virtual consular access”.  The charge d’affaires of the Canadian Embassy in China who was accompanied by diplomats from several Western countries, including Germany, was denied access to Michael Spavor’s trial on 19 March 2021 on the ground that the hearing was closed to the public as the case involved State secrets. While the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations does not expressly allow consular officials to have access to trial hearings, the consular agreement between Canada and China provides that in the case of a trial or other legal proceedings against a national of the sending State in the receiving State a “consular officer shall be permitted to attend the trial or other legal proceedings.” Canadian consular officials were granted virtual access to Mr. Spavor for the first time since his trial began only on 31 March 2021.

On 12 August 2021, the spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Canada strongly objected to accusations of a breach of international law, stating that China had “respected and honored the Canadian side’s consular rights such as visiting and receiving notification, and arranged for the Canadian side to attend the trial.” The Chinese Embassy in Berlin also protested against Foreign Minister Mass’ statement asserting that the defendant was guaranteed all legal rights to which he was entitled, “including the right to consular protection”. The Chinese statement continued:

“The German side ignores the […] facts, arbitrarily attacks the Chinese Government and judiciary and interferes in China’s internal affairs, which not only violates the basic norms of international relations, but also grossly spurns the rule of law.”

11 August 2021

In response to a parliamentary question, the Secretary of State at the Federal Foreign Office, Antje Leendertse, stated:

“The Federal Government is […] working both in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and among the member States of the European Union and in bilateral talks to mandate a special rapporteur on human rights and climate change. […]

The Federal Government also supports the recognition of a human right to a clean environment along the lines of the recognition of human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation.”

12 August 2021

In an interview with daily Stuttgarter Zeitung, Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said:

“Should the Taliban establish a caliphate, they would isolate themselves on the international stage and would not receive diplomatic recognition as a state.”

15 August 2021

Germany joined seventy other States and the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in a statement on Afghanistan which read in part:

“Given the deteriorating security situation, we support, are working to secure, and call on all parties to respect and facilitate, the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country. Those in positions of power and authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility—and accountability—for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration of security and civil order.

Afghans and international citizens who wish to depart must be allowed to do so; roads, airports and border crossing must remain open, and calm must be maintained.”

17 August 2021

At the initiative of the Federal Foreign Office the special representatives and special envoys of the United States of America, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, NATO, Norway, and the United Kingdom met virtually to discuss the situation in Afghanistan. At the end of the discussion, the German chairman issued the following statement:

“Conscious of this highly sensitive and vulnerable phase of transition participants exchanged views on the current situation in Afghanistan and discussed ways to support the desire of the Afghan people for lasting peace. To that end,

1. Participants reaffirmed continued commitment to supporting the Afghan people during this phase of political transition. Participants highlighted the shared responsibility and interest of Afghan representatives in the wellbeing of the Afghan people. Participants encouraged leaders of Afghan political groups to engage in sincere discussions and seek necessary compromises.

2. Participants called for an immediate cessation of all violence and intimidation, the restoration of security and civil order and the protection of and respect for civilian life, dignity and property throughout Afghanistan. In this regard participants expressed deep concern about reports of serious human rights abuses in areas across Afghanistan in recent days.

3. Participants urged the Taliban to live up to their repeated commitments concerning (a) inclusive governance; (b) respect for human rights, including the rights of women and minorities; (c) a mechanism to deliver a representative government, (d) not to allow any individuals or groups to use the Afghan soil to threaten the security of other countries; and, (e) respect for international law, including international humanitarian law. Participants furthermore welcomed the commitments made by the Taliban at yesterday´s press conference in Kabul regarding freedom of press and commercial business.

4. Participants emphasized that international assistance to any future Government of Afghanistan is dependent on good governance and a commitment to a constitutional order; the rule of law, human rights, including preservation of the gains made by women and girls over the past two decades; Afghanistan´s international obligations; the fight against corruption; and the prevention of any international terrorist group or individuals from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of other countries.

5. Participants called on all parties to respect and facilitate the safe and orderly departure of foreign nationals and Afghans who wish to leave the country. Those in positions of authority across Afghanistan bear responsibility – and accountability – for the protection of human life and property, and for the immediate restoration and preservation of security and civil order.”

19 August 2021

The spokespersons of the Foreign Ministries of France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action which read in part:

“We, the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom, note with grave concern the latest reports by the IAEA confirming that Iran has produced uranium metal enriched up to 20% for the first time, and has significantly increased its production capacity of uranium enriched up to 60%.

We reiterate that these are serious violations of Iran’s commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA). Both are key steps in the development of a nuclear weapon and Iran has no credible civilian need for either measure. Our concerns are deepened by the fact that Iran has significantly limited IAEA access through withdrawing from JCPoA-agreed monitoring arrangements and ceasing application of the Additional Protocol. […].”

20 August 2021

During the regular government press conference a spokesperson for the Federal Foreign Office declared with regard to the “Taliban regime” in Afghanistan:

“As a matter of principle, Germany recognizes States, not governments. In terms of international law, the Islamic Republic continues to be the internationally recognized State.”

23 August 2021

Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Peter Altmaier represented Germany at the first meeting of the so-called ‘Crimea Platform’ in Kiev. On this occasion, his ministry issued a press release stating that

“The Federal Government, together with its EU partners, is firmly committed to the territorial integrity of Ukraine and to the non-recognition of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which is contrary to international law, as well as to the maintenance of the Crimean sanctions on Russia.”

Minister Altmaier also signed the Joint Declaration of the International Crimea Platform Participants in which participants decided, inter alia, to “urge the Russian Federation to comply with its obligations as an occupying power under international humanitarian law and other applicable international law, to urge the Russian Federation to bring an immediate end to all violations and abuses of human rights of residents of Crimea and to provide full and unimpeded access to Crimea for established regional and international monitoring mechanisms, in particular the UN Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine and the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, as provided for in their existing mandates, which cover the entire territory of Ukraine, including Crimea, as well as for human rights non-governmental organizations”.

23 August 2021

In a parliamentary question, the Federal Government was asked whether the Minsk Agreements constituted a legally binding document under international law considering that the United Nations Security Council had called on the contracting parties in a unanimously adopted resolution (S/RES/2202) to implement these agreements. The Federal Government avoided a clear answer on the legally binding force of the Agreements under international law, stating instead:

“[T]he Federal Government sees the Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 2015 as a binding plan and appropriate political framework for a series of security provisions and political measures that are intended to form the basis for a lasting resolution of the conflict.”

The Federal Government commented also more generally on the Minsk Agreements:

“The Minsk Agreements, in particular the Minsk Package of Measures for the Implementation the Minsk Agreements of 2014 and 2015, remain the basis of the Federal Government’s commitment to a peaceful solution of the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the full restoration of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. In the Package of Measures Russia and Ukraine have agreed to a binding plan which, in the Federal Government’s view, represents the appropriate political framework for peaceful conflict resolution. The implementation of a number of measures, including those of the Paris Summit Conclusions of 2019, such as demining, disengagement and the opening of further crossing points, are failing, primarily because of Russia’s obstinacy. In addition,  through the political, military, logistical and financial support of the separatists of the so-called ‘People’s Republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014, Russia has had a decisive influence on the development of the conflict.

In the military conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russia has been providing political, military, logistical and financial support to the separatists in the so-called ‘People’s Republics’ of Donetsk and Luhansk since 2014. This constitutes a serious violation of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. Based on this assessment and in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea, the Federal Government, together with the European Commission and the member States of the European Union, imposed sanctions on Russia.

From the Federal Government’s point of view, it is above all the continued political, military, logistical and financial support of the separatists and Russia’s obstinacy that are preventing decisive progress in the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. In the Federal Government’s view, Russia, which is largely responsible for the precarious situation in eastern Ukraine, must play a more constructive role in resolving the conflict.

The Federal Government is committed to ensuring that Ukraine meets its obligations under the Minsk Agreements. In addition to the ceasefire, these include elements of the political process such as, above all, local elections in the Donbas region, amnesty, exchange of prisoners, modalities for the restoration of economic ties and decentralization.”

31 August 2021

In response to a parliamentary question on drone attack by Turkish forces on a hospital in northern Iraq, the Secretary of State at the Federal Foreign Office Miguel Berger stated:

“The situation in northern Iraq is regularly the subject of talks between the Federal Government and all the actors involved, including the Turkish government. The Federal Government calls through political channels for respect for sovereignty, restraint, respect for international humanitarian law and the safeguarding of national security interests.”


DOI: 10.17176/20230330-195315-0

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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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