Statement by Ambassador Christoph Heusgen in the Security Council VTC Open Debate on Strengthening the Cooperation between the UNSC and the ICJ, December 18

18.12.2020 - Speech

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First of all, I would like to thank you for putting the promotion of the rule of law on the agenda of your presidency. I would like to commend Judge Yusuf for his speech. I will come back to the concrete proposals that he made. But let me first actually repeat what many, if not most of you have said before: that the Security Council and the International Court of Justice are key to guide member states on how to act in accordance with international law. With the UN Charter at its core, respect for international law is the basis for our multilateral cooperation. Effective multilateralism only works if the international order is based on rules applicable to us 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 these institutions rule within their own competency to decide on a specific case, even if and when these decisions go against immediate national interest. We are convinced that in the long term, the rules-based order itself lies in the national interest of all of us.

Back to the intervention of Judge Yusuf: I think he said it very simply, but it's so true that the policy of force has no place in the UN order that we all live in. I found it remarkable that he also clearly said that the violation of international humanitarian law and international human rights law constitutes a threat to international peace and security. I think this is very important position that we have always held. Thank you for that confirmation.

I think it would be good if disputes were referred to the Court more often. We only have this one case. We believe also it could be valuable for the Security Council to invite the President of the ICJ for briefings when instances of non-compliance with decisions of the Court might threaten international peace and security. What Judge Yusuf highlighted was the use of advisory functions, also with regard to conflict prevention. He plead for the Counci to use this possibility more often. Germany totally subscribes to this.

Judge Yusuf referred to one very important advisory opinion, which I would like to recall because we are commemorating the 10th anniversary of the advisory opinion on Kosovo. You may remember at the time, Serbia launched an initiative by the General Assembly to ask the Court to determine if the Declaration of Independence of Kosovo was legal or not. The judgment came 10 years ago, which clearly stated that the Declaration of Independence of Kosovo was in compliance with international law. I think it would help if everybody read that again and followed the outcome, which is a recognition of Kosovo, because this would resolve a lot of problems that we still have in that region.

In addition to your briefings, we are very much in favor of the possibility of the Security Council visiting the Court. Unfortunately, if the Security Council decides to do that, we won't be part of it. If you travel to The Hague, you will then meet a German judge. I would like to take this occasion to express our gratitude for the strong support that the Security Council a few weeks ago gave to Professor Georg Nolte. We consider the election of this outstanding German international law expert as judge to the ICJ as of February 2021 to be a validation of Germany's commitment to the rules-based international order. At the same time, it is an obligation to continue our effort in promoting international law.

Germany has subscribed to the acceptance of compulsory jurisdiction of the Court. There are 74 countries that have subscribed to it. We fully back this and are working on a presidential declaration. We should respond to the request of Judge Yusuf and in our presidential statement, include that more countries accept the compulsory jurisdiction, just as we did in 2012.

We believe that the application of the UN Charter needs to evolve over time to ensure continued authority and legitimacy. The purpose and principles enshrined in the UN 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 the international law, but their application is subject to contemporary challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic is only one striking reminder of these challenges. The international community is jointly confronted with a multitude of global and existential questions for the future of humanity, such as climate change, the protection of our environment, pandemics, and respect for human rights.

The evolution of international law is reflected both in the practice of the Security Council and in 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.

We commend the recent decision by the General Assembly to establish a trust fund for the Judicial Fellowship Program of the ICJ. It will increase opportunities for law students from a wide range of geographic and linguistic backgrounds to familiarize themselves with the work of the Court, develop their skills in the field of peaceful settlement of international disputes through law, and so become supporters of the rules-based international order themselves. Again, thank you very much for having put this important item on the agenda.


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