States Not Adhering to International Obligations Undermine Rule of Law, Sixth Committee Delegates Say, as Debate on Principle Concludes
Unable to Adopt Work Programme Due to Ongoing Issues, Speakers Urge that Diplomacy Prevail, Tradition of Consensus Upheld
Implementation of the rule of law principle on the international level — particularly in the area of conflict resolution — was being undermined by States failing to adhere to their international obligations, along with the selective enforcement and exploitation of existing frameworks and mechanisms, delegations stressed as the Sixth Committee (Legal) concluded its consideration on the topic today. (For background, see Press Releases GA/L/3595 and GA/L/3596.)
The representative of Azerbaijan urged that conflict-settlement frameworks and mechanisms must not be misused by the violators of international law. Unfortunately, in situations such as protracted armed conflict, perpetrators were not being held accountable and were enjoying immunity as a result. The International Court of Justice plays a critical role in encouraging the resolution of international disputes by peaceful means, and the Organization must continue to advocate in favour of responses that address the rights and needs of victims, he stressed.
The representative of Viet Nam observed that States’ failure to follow existing international law in good faith resulted in many conflicts and tensions around the world. For example, while urging relevant parties in the South China Sea to respect international law — especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea — he noted serious incidents that infringed upon his country’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its maritime zone.
Also questioning the report was the representative of the Russian Federation, who took issue with the illegitimate mechanisms to investigate events in Syria and Myanmar established in violation of the Charter of the United Nations. As well, the report’s consideration of the death penalty, cybercrime and climate change was superficial and should be addressed in a forum other than the Sixth Committee. “This is a classical demonstration of duplication of effort,” he said. Nevertheless, he reaffirmed his country’s commitment to the rule of law at the international level.
However, Nigeria’s delegate, echoing that commitment, stressed that adherence to the principle regulated the behaviour of States and held them to high standards. Other, equally important principles such as respect for the sovereignty, integrity and independence of States and the peaceful resolution of disputes were also crucial to the rule of law and peaceful coexistence.
The Sixth Committee also took up the matter of adopting the remainder of its programme of work for the seventy-fourth session, which had been delayed due to continuing issues with the restrictions placed on certain delegations by the host country. (For background, see Press Release GA/L/3592.)
Michal Mlynár (Slovakia) Chair, urged the Committee to adopt the remainder of its programme of work by consensus, referencing extensive consultations with concerned delegations along with several meetings of the Committee’s Bureau to consider the best way forward.
However, the representative of Iran said that, despite these efforts, there have been no developments regarding the issues raised. The restrictions imposed by the host country were designed to cease the existence of the Iranian mission. The only option was to refer the matter to arbitration. However, recognizing the importance of the Committee’s work, he said that his delegation would try to engage constructively in further consultations.
Syria’s delegation, citing the United Nations Headquarters Agreement, also called for arbitration of the outstanding matters, emphasizing that if that process did not work, the International Court of Justice should be asked to issue an advisory opinion on the matter pursuant to sections 20–21 of that Agreement. Affected States are not seeking therapy or a yoga session in the Committee, he emphasized; they were seeking a solution to this ongoing issue.
In response, the representative of the United States underscored that the Sixth Committee’s programme of work was not the proper venue for this discussion. Rather, the issue should be discussed at a meeting with the Committee for Relations with the Host Country. Furthermore, she pointed out that members of the Iranian Permanent Mission in the United States were able to freely access 400 blocks of Manhattan, including hospitals, schools and numerous amenities.
Calling attention to the frank nature of interventions, China’s delegate observed that, despite different viewpoints, all delegates displayed a constructive attitude and a respect for consensus. “We don’t need to rush into a vote,” he urged, and expressed hope that these issues would be resolved during an emergency session of the Host Country Committee on 15 October.
The representative of Oman said he regretted that the Committee was being held hostage and stressed that diplomacy must prevail in this situation. The Sixth Committee is one of the few that steers its work through consensus, he reminded delegations. If there was any way that such consensus could be achieved, this should be the Sixth Committee’s goal.
Speaking on the rule of law at the national and international levels were representatives of Nepal, Cameroon, Ecuador, Malaysia, Croatia, Burkina Faso, United Arab Emirates, Senegal, Nigeria, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Guinea-Bissau, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Iran and Indonesia, as well as observers from the Holy See and the State of Palestine.
Representatives from the Hague Conference on Private International Law and the International Development Law Organization also spoke.
The representatives of Mauritius and the Russian Federation spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
Also speaking on the Committee’s programme of work were representatives of Cuba, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Venezuela, and Ukraine, as well as the representative of the European Union delegation.
The Sixth Committee will next meet at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 15 October, to continue its consideration on its programme of work.
Statements on Rule of Law
GHANSHYAM BHANDARI (Nepal), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said the importance of rule of law finds eloquent expression in his Government’s recent policies and plans. Highlighting the 2015 Constitution written by the Nepali people’s elected representatives, he said it proved the country’s unwavering commitment to rule of law at the national and grassroots levels. Nepal also takes seriously domestication of relevant international instruments, including the 24 human-rights-related ones to which it is a party. The obligations under those treaties have equal legal effect to that of domestic laws. Condemning the rising levels of hate speech and intolerance, he said that rule of law should not be used as an excuse for one country to dominate others.
ZACHARIE SERGE RAOUL NYANID (Cameroon) noted that while rule of law is understood as a positive value to protect freedom and democracy, it is important to remember that a totalitarian group could also have rule of law if it has a constitution which enables the authorities to take decisions. Ideally, rule of law must also guarantee the right to free expression, freedom of movement and residence, and other inviolable rights. It must establish equality between people and allow them to understand their position as citizens and autonomous subjects with control over their own history. Without rule of law the State is a cold spectre, he said, emphasizing that at the international level, rule of law is the pillar of a fairer world as wanted by the Charter of the United Nations.
LUIS XAVIER OÑA GARCÉS (Ecuador) underscored that the rule of law is a fundamental pillar of peaceful coexistence between citizens and among nations. In Ecuador, both nationals and foreigners have the same rights and obligations and both can access an efficient, transparent judicial system. The Government prioritizes compliance with international human-rights instruments and implements them domestically, protecting the rights of asylum-seekers and refugees. Encouraging all States to support international courts and tribunals, he added that Ecuador works to strengthen the rule of law at the national level, along with civil society, the private sector, international bodies and academia. Its efforts aim to implement lasting solutions that promote peace, justice and public participation and that combat corruption and impunity.
SYED MOHAMAD HASRIN AIDID (Malaysia), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), pointed to his country’s membership in the Advisory Committee of the United Nations Programme of Assistance in the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law. Recalling his country’s peaceful transition to independence in 1957 and its participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, he expressed support for peaceful conflict resolution. He highlighted the importance of the progressive development of international law and its codification through the work of the International Law Commission. As well, he stressed that the Organization should review the veto power of the “privileged five” that supersedes the views and wishes of other Member States.
ALEXANDER S. PROSKURYAKOV (Russian Federation), said that while the Secretary-General’s report provided an overview of the Organization’s assistance programmes in security, justice for women and girls and efforts to counter corruption, it also mentions the abolition of the death penalty and issues related to cybercrime and climate change. The report considered these aspects in a superficial way. While these matters deserve the most serious attention, the Sixth Committee is an inappropriate forum for this. “This is a classical demonstration of duplication of effort,” he said, also questioning the references to the International Criminal Court, as well as the illegitimate mechanisms established to investigate events in Syria and Myanmar. The process of setting up these mechanisms was a brazen violation of the Charter, he said, reaffirming his country’s commitment to rule of law at the international level.
Mladen Bručić-Matic (Croatia), aligning himself with the European Union, pointed out that competent, efficient and responsible institutions are necessary to preserve the principle of rule of law. The independence, impartiality and integrity of international courts and tribunals is crucial. Any violation of these elements directly affects the legitimacy and authority of decisions and discourages States from considering third-party dispute settlement. Any attempt to circumvent the rules and principles of international humanitarian and criminal law or any “quasi-institute introduced with relation to jurisdiction” with the sole purpose of selectively prosecuting the perpetrators of the worst crimes threatens peace and stability and denies justice and comfort to victims and their families, he stressed.
DIE MILLOGO (Burkina Faso), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that there can be no lasting peace and stability in the world unless rule of law is at the heart of all international action. Protecting the rights of children, women and people with disability is essential to upholding the principle, he said, also stressing the need to fight corruption and impunity. His country is strengthening rule of law through the ratification of the main international human rights instruments and the enhancement of its domestic legal framework. Burkina Faso is drafting a new constitution using a participatory and inclusive approach. That draft will be submitted to a referendum soon, he said, also acknowledging the Organization’s support of many African countries in bolstering security and legal institutions and promoting good governance.
Ms. AL ALI (United Arab Emirates) said that development does not just refer to economic improvement, but also to an investment, based on tolerance, in human beings. Her country’s national agenda for 2020 seeks to create a society without crime, to bolster justice and the role of judges and to guarantee the rights of individuals and legal entities. Abu Dhabi’s rule of law indicator ranks highest in the Middle East and North Africa. The State also protects itself from radicalism and the destabilization present in other countries as a result of their expansionist policies. The current proliferation of extremist behaviour is a result of States violating their commitments to not fund or harbour terrorists, and the international community must bring these States back to order.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said that the failure to observe international law in good faith has resulted in conflicts and tensions in many corners of the world. His country is working with other members of ASEAN to build South-East Asia into a region of peace and prosperity. Urging relevant parties in the South China Sea to respect international law, especially the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, he noted serious incidents that infringe upon his country’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction in its maritime zone. He called upon all parties to exercise self-restraint.
MAMADOU RACINE LY (Senegal), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, said that rule of law is reaffirmed by the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human rights. Upholding rule of law is essential to tackling many contemporary challenges, from climate change to hate speech, he said, calling on the international community to cultivate a culture in which the principle can thrive. Expressing appreciation for the Programme of Assistance, he said that rule of law is an essential element in his country’s plan. Gender parity and bolstering female leadership is a crucial part of the inclusive growth strategies followed by Senegal’s Ministry of Justice, he said, also expressing support for the International Court of Justice and its goal of peaceful settlement of international disputes.
Mr. NGOFA (Nigeria), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and the African Group, stressed that adherence to the rule of law is important to regulate the behaviour of States and hold them accountable to high ideals and standards. Equally pertinent to the rule of law and peaceful co-existence are time-honoured principles such as respect for sovereignty, integrity and independence of States and the peaceful resolution of disputes. Nigeria’s policies on gender issues is another testimony to its adherence to the rule of law at the national level. Its policies particularly focus on women empowerment as well as elimination of discriminatory practices that are harmful to women. Tremendous progress has been made towards parity in primary school education between boys and girls in Nigeria. The Constitution also prohibits discrimination on any grounds, including gender. The Government also is focusing on fighting corruption through agencies such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, he said.
GEORGE MIKELADZE (Georgia), aligning himself with the European Union, spotlighted his country’s efforts to strengthen the rule of law domestically, including the enhancement of prosecutorial independence and the implementation of comprehensive legal and structural reforms in the penitentiary system. Further, the Government aims to ensure a timely response to and effective investigation of domestic violence, violence against women, crimes based on discrimination, hate crimes, trafficking and crimes committed by or towards minors. Georgia recognizes the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and commits to strengthening the International Criminal Court. Pointing to the latter Court’s investigation into crimes committed in his country during the 2008 Russian aggression as the first instance of the Court entering Europe’s legal geography, he emphasized that this investigation serves as a litmus test for upholding the values of the Rome Statute.
TOFIG MUSAYEV (Azerbaijan) said the established principle of the inadmissibility of the use of force for the acquisition of territory is one of the constituents of the common rules-based order; it must be enforced unconditionally and without exception. It is critical that conflict settlement frameworks and mechanisms not be exploited and misused by the violators of international law, he said, highlighting the critical role of the International Court of Justice in encouraging the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means. Unfortunately, in some situations of armed conflict, including those of a protracted nature, accountability has not received proper attention and perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity. The United Nations must continue to advocate in favour of responses that address the rights and needs of victims, he stressed.
Mr. NAPOCO (Guinea-Bissau), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Group and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said his country, in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), provides extensive and free legal support services through the Bureau of Legal Information and Guidance for women and victims of violence. Further, Guinea-Bissau adopted the Law of Parity which established a 36 per cent quota for women in elected offices. Today, his Government has an equal number of men and women at the ministerial positions, placing the country at the forefront of promoting the participation of women in politics and thus advancing Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
PHONESAVATH PHONEKEO (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), associating himself with the Non-Aligned Movement and ASEAN, detailed Government measures to establish his country’s domestic rule of law. These include improving legal institutions and promoting public awareness of legal rights and public participation in the legal system. It is important to promote the rule of law at the international level as well and, to this end, his Government recently ratified the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and acceded to the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods. He pointed out that, to date, his country is party to more than 900 international conventions, treaties and instruments in various areas.
ALI ANDIKA WARDHANA (Indonesia) commended the United Nations’ contributions to capacity-building and technical assistance in upholding the rule of law at the domestic level. The Constitutional Court of Indonesia has provided a new interpretation on the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties’ definition of “treaty”, in which its classification requires the involvement of his country’s Parliament. The Government has also been working closely with various stakeholders in the deliberations of national legislation to address the decisions of international organizations, including the Security Council. International law recognizes the legality of applying the death penalty, he emphasized, adding that this punishment is applied only as a last resort and through rigorous due process.
ALI NASIMFAR (Iran) pointed to the failure of the Secretary-General’s report to recognize important challenges for the rule of law, including unilateral coercive measures, armed conflicts, aggression and occupation. Further, the report was selective in mentioning developments at international courts and tribunals such as a recent decision by the International Criminal Court to reject a prosecutor’s request to open an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan that paves the way for impunity for perpetrators of war crimes. Stressing that unilateralism is the most pressing challenge for the rule of law at the international level, he stressed that the United States seems to believe that sanctions, bullying and threats represent “magical solutions” to every international-relations challenge. That country’s threat of economic revenge against those States who continue their economic ties with Iran constitutes naked economic terrorism. The United States has also violated Articles 100 and 105 of the Charter by imposing crippling restrictions on the Iranian Mission in New York.
FREDRIK HANSEN, observer for the Holy See, applauded the Organization’s various capacity-building and technical support projects aimed at strengthening the rule of law at the national level. The carefully crafted framework of multilateral treaties and legal agreements concluded under the Organization’s aegis underpins the rule of law at the international level. However, such achievements must be rendered effective and operative to ensure that the voiceless and defenceless have access to justice. The rule of law can only be effective if the observance of human rights rests upon adequate, effective, accountable and inclusive procedures and institutions at the national level. “We must therefore find ways to measure the actual impact of legal reform on the lives of those whose need is greatest,” he stressed. Moreover, noting with dismay the continued rise of assaults upon the independence of the bench and bar around the world, he called for greater prominence for this issue in the Sixth Committee’s discussion on the rule of law.
Ms. ISMAEL, observer for the State of Palestine, associating herself with the Non-Aligned Movement, said that as soon as it was granted observer State status in the Organization, Palestine matched its positions with actions, joining international instruments, recognizing the jurisdiction of international courts and actively contributing to international law. It contributed to the elaboration of a treaty to ban nuclear weapons, joined the Bureau of the International Criminal Court and took the lead in establishing mechanisms of investigation and accountability through the Human Rights Council. Her country has also submitted reports under most of the human rights instruments, she said, noting that such reporting is not a public relations exercise but rather a tool to further implementation with the guidance of treaty bodies. “The State of Palestine, which continues to suffer in its flesh the consequences of injustice, double standards and denial of rights”, will remain inhabited by the spirit of multilateralism, she stressed.
GERADINE GOH ESCOBAR, Hague Conference on Private International Law, said her organization focused on unifying the rules of private international law through the framework of international conventions and other instruments to provide individuals whose lives cross borders between jurisdictions a high degree of certainty and predictability. Its scope includes international family and child protection law, international civil procedure and recognition of documents, she said. Highlighting Sustainable Development Goal 16, she underscored the importance of rule of law and access to justice as an essential building block to sustainable development. Her organization works to advance private international law related to legal parentage and the status of children, as well as how family law agreements can be recognized and enforced. In the field of international civil procedure and litigation, the Hague Conference works to enhance legal certainty and simplification of legal procedures across borders. Calling attention to the partnership between the Conference and various organs of the United Nations, she noted the Conference’s work provided technical assistance and supported international cooperation in efforts to achieve Goal 17.14.
DJORDJE DJORDJEVIć, International Development Law Organization, said that much of the organization’s work focuses on strengthening criminal justice in conflict-affected countries to increase stability and prevent recurrence or escalation of violence. It also pursues gender programming to eradicate sexual and gender-based violence and to empower women economically. To help narrow the justice gap by 2030, the organization has committed to: enhancing access to justice, especially for women, children and others most at risk of being left behind; helping countries experiencing conflict or fragility to build peace and sustain development by reforming laws and strengthening judicial institutions; and engaging with informal and customary systems as well as formal institutions to ensure fair, accessible and affordable pathways to justice in keeping with local context, national ownership and international human-rights standards.
Right of Reply
The representative of Mauritius, speaking in exercise of the right of reply, recalled the statement made by the delegation that expressed disappointment the question of accession of the Chagos Archipelago had been taken to the International Court of Justice. That comment challenged the will of the General Assembly as expressed in resolution 71/292 on requesting an advisory opinion from the Court on the matter. The colonial power insists at every chance it gets that it has no doubt about its sovereignty. Quoting the American playwright John Patrick Shanley, who, in his play Doubt, said that where there is certainty, there is dead end, while doubt allows for growth and change, he emphasized: “The colonial power is at a dead end.” The Chagos Archipelago is an integral part of Mauritius’ territory. It was artfully misleading to claim that an advisory opinion does not carry the same binding force as a judgement in a case. The overwhelming majority of the Court found that the colonial power has an obligation to terminate its colonial administration as quickly as possible under customary international law, he said.
The representative of the Russian Federation, also speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said that while he will not comment on the activities of the International Criminal Court, he wished to record that under the regime of the current President of Georgia, there was an attack on peaceful southern territories, where a large number of civilians died and that was recognized by the international community.
Programme of Work
MICHAL MLYNAR (Slovakia), Chair of the Sixth Committee, outlined the new changes in the programme of work. There had been extensive consultations with concerned delegations, along with several meetings of the Bureau to consider the best way forward. Informal consultations will continue, he said, recommending that now is the time to take action on the programme of work.
The representative of Iran said that despite high-level talks, there have been no developments regarding the issues raised. The restrictions imposed by the host country are designed to cease the existence of the Iranian mission, he said, adding that the only option is to refer this matter to arbitration. Expressing a wish to see the Sixth Committee’s work progress, he said his delegation will try to engage constructively. However, the Committee must not remain indifferent to this. While his delegation is not in a position to adopt the entire work programme, it had put forward another proposal, he said.
The representative of Syria said that the situation of not providing visas to members of the delegations of Iran and the Russian Federation is not temporary in nature. The Sixth Committee has followed this matter for years and the affected States are not seeking psychological therapy or a “yoga session,” but, in fact, a solution. The Government of the host country thinks it has the right to use the United Nations Headquarters as a weapon. Affected States desire a lasting solution in which the Headquarters Agreement is applied. Specifically, the Government of the host country must respect sections 11–13 and 28 of the Agreement and, if arbitration does not work, to ask for an opinion from the International Court of Justice per sections 20–21. He expressed regret that the representative of the United States said that measures to restrict the movement of some States’ representatives were due to concerns of national security, as this amounts to accusing Venezuelans, Syrians, Koreans and Iranians of posing a threat to the national security of the United States. If a temporary solution is accepted this year, the situation could be worse next year, he stressed.
The representative of Cuba also reiterated her rejection of the use by the United States of its position as host country to arbitrarily grant access to the Headquarters. She supported the proposal put forward by Iran’s delegation, she stressed, adding: “We are not asking for any favours here by asking for our rights to be respected.”
The representative of Nicaragua said it is unfortunate that a number of delegations have not received their visas. Non-granting of visas makes it difficult for delegations to perform adequately, and violates the States’ equality, she said, encouraging the host country to reflect on not politicizing the United Nations work.
The representative of the United States said that the organization of work of the Sixth Committee is not the proper venue for this matter. There should not be parallel processes and the Sixth committee should not prejudge the Host Country Committee work. “We have engaged actively on the matter,” she said, including on the specific issues that the Iranian delegation raised, adding that Iran need only accept the positive affirmative response we have delivered”. United States-based Iranian Permanent Mission members have free access to 400 blocks of Manhattan, including numerous hospitals and colleges and grocery stories, as well as large swathes of Queens.
The representative of the Russian Federation said that this issue is a matter of concern to all present, not just individual delegations. His country’s delegation has still not received 18 visas, and none were issued in the previous week. The host country’s denial of a visa to the translator of the Russian delegation has resulted in that delegation only being able to disseminate its statements in Russian. He reiterated that affected States are not asking for special treatment, merely for the host country to carry out its duties properly under the treaty it concluded with the United Nations. Expressing hope that the host country will bring constructive proposals to the meeting of the Host Country Committee on 15 October, he proposed to postpone a decision on this matter to a later date in the name of preserving consensus within the Committee.
The representative of Syria, taking the floor a second time, expressed support for the compromise proposal put forward by the Russian Federation’s delegation, underscoring that the resolution of the crisis faced by the Iranian delegation is vital. The host country must not apply these immunities and privileges to the political relations with specific Governments. He also proposed holding a meeting of the Host Country Committee tomorrow.
The representative of Iran noted his support for the Russian Federation’s proposal and pointed out that diplomats like him are in New York to represent their countries at the United Nations, not to traverse around the city. The new travel restrictions should be called movement restrictions, he said, adding that he has no access to a general doctor. The objective behind the Headquarters Agreement is not to inflict suffering and pain on the diplomatic community. In reality, the host country has sanctioned the United Nations.
The representative of China noted it was the first time that the Sixth Committee heard such frank statements. They deserved “rethinking and digestion.” Although the different delegates had different viewpoints, all were showing a constructive attitude, including their respect for consensus. “We don’t need to rush into a vote,” he said, expressing the hope that during the emergency session of the Committee on Relations with the Host Country on 15 October, all parties will show a constructive attitude and resolve the issues.
The representative of Oman said it was unfortunate that the Committee was being held hostage. Diplomacy must prevail in this kind of situation, he said, expressing support for the proposal by the Russian Federation delegate to give the matter further time to avoid voting. The Sixth is one of the few Committees that has steered its work through consensus and if there is any room to come to a consensus, the Committee should aim for that.
The representative of the European Union delegation said that multilateralism must underpin the work of the Committee. The use of consensus contributes to that objective and voting could put into question that well-established tradition. He also reaffirmed the need to ensure that all delegations are able to perform their functions fully.
The representative of Venezuela added his support for the Russian Federation’s proposal, also echoing his counterparts that the work programme should be approved on a consensus basis.
The representative of Ukraine said the Committee needs to move forward and adopt the programme of work. He emphasized that host country issues can be addressed in the Host Country Committee meeting.
Responding to delegates, Mr. MLYNAR noted the constant use of the “C-word”, referring to the many delegates who had voiced their respect for the Sixth Committee’s tradition of consensus. He was not going to shy away from additional consultations, he said as he adjourned the meeting, taking into account the many requests for the meeting to be suspended. He also invited working group chairs and the coordinators of resolutions to use the time for consultations.