As he prepares to travel to Moscow to meet with foreign minister Sergey Lavrov (and possibly with Vladimir Putin, whether publicly or in secret), U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would do well to review the following excerpts from the U.N. General Assembly’s 1970 Declaration on Friendly Relations which is considered to be an authoritative statement of international law:
Reprinted from “REPRISE: Russia’s utter and continuing violation of international law in the Ukraine: U.N. General Assembly Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (1970) on Principles of International Law and Friendly Relations Among States,” The Trenchant Observer, February 27, 2017.
“In 1970, at the height of the Cold War and only two years after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact Allies, the United Nations General Assembly approved Resolution A/RES/25/2625 (October 24, 1970) containing the “Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”
“The Declaration has been universally accepted and is considered today to represent a definitive codification of the international law governing the use of force. As such, it is particularly relevant to any consideration of Russia’s ongoing violations of international law in invading and annexing the Crimea, and in invading and occupying the eastern Ukraine.
“The text of relevant portions of the Resolution follow:
The General Assembly,
Reaffirming in the terms of the Charter of the United Nations that the maintenance of international peace and security and the development of friendly relations and co-operation between nations are among the fundamental purposes of the United Nations,
Recalling that the peoples of the United Nations are determined to practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours,
Bearing in mind the importance of maintaining and strengthening international peace founded upon freedom, equality, justice and respect for fundamental human rights and of developing friendly relations among nations irrespective of their political, economic and social systems or the levels of their development,
Bearing in mind also the paramount importance of the Charter of the United Nations in the promotion of the rule of law among nations,
Considering that the faithful observance of the principles of international law concerning friendly relations and co-operation among States and the fulfillment in good faith of the obligations assumed by States, in accordance with the Charter, is of the greatest importance for the maintenance of international peace and security and for the implementation of the other purposes of the United Nations,
Noting that the great political, economic and social changes and scientific progress which have taken place in the world since the adoption of the Charter give increased importance to these principles and to the need for their more effective application in the conduct of States wherever carried on,
Recalling the established principle that outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means, and mindful of the fact that consideration is being given in the United Nations to the question of establishing other appropriate provisions similarly inspired,
Convinced that the strict observance by States of the obligation not to intervene in the affairs of any other State is an essential condition to ensure that nations live together in peace with one another, since the practice of any form of intervention not only violates the spirit and letter of the Charter, but also leads to the creation of situations which threaten international peace and security,
Recalling the duty of States to refrain in their international relations from military, political, economic or any other form of coercion aimed against the political independence or territorial integrity of any State,
Considering it essential that all States shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations,
Considering it equally essential that all States shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in accordance with the Charter,
Reaffirming, in accordance with the Charter, the basic importance of sovereign equality and stressing that the purposes of the United Nations can be implemented only if States enjoy sovereign equality and comply fully with the requirements of this principle in their international relations,
Convinced that the subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a major obstacle to the promotion of international peace and security, Convinced that the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples constitutes a significant contribution to contemporary international law, and that its effective application is of paramount importance for the promotion of friendly relations among States, based on respect for the principle of sovereign equality,
Convinced in consequence that any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country or at its political independence is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter,
Considering the provisions of the Charter as a whole and taking into account the role of relevant resolutions adopted by the competent organs of the United Nations relating to the content of the principles,
Considering that the progressive development and codification of the following principles:
a. The principle that States shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations,
b .The principle that States shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered,
c. The duty not to intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, in accordance with the Charter,
d. The duty of States to co-operate with one another in accordance with the Charter,
e. The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples,
f. The principle of sovereign equality of States,
g. The principle that States shall fulfil in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the Charter,
so as to secure their more effective application within the international community, would promote the realization of the purposes of the United Nations,
Having considered the principles of international law relating to friendly relations and co-operation among States,
1. Solemnly proclaims the following principles:
The principle that States shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations
Every State has the duty to refrain in its international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. Such a threat or use of force constitutes a violation of international law and the Charter of the United Nations and shall never be employed as a means of settling international issues.
A war of aggression constitutes a crime against the peace, for which there is responsibility under international law.
In accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations, States have the duty to refrain from propaganda for wars of aggression.
Every State has the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force to violate the existing international boundaries of another State or as a means of solving international disputes, including territorial disputes and problems concerning frontiers of States.
Every State likewise has the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force to violate international lines of demarcation, such as armistice lines, established by or pursuant to an international agreement to which it is a party or which it is otherwise bound to respect. Nothing in the foregoing shall be construed as prejudicing the positions of the parties concerned with regard to the status and effects of such lines under their special regimes or as affecting their temporary character.
States have a duty to refrain from acts of reprisal involving the use of force.
Every State has the duty to refrain from any forcible action which deprives peoples referred to in the elaboration of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of their right to self-determination and freedom and independence.
Every State has the duty to refrain from organizing or encouraging the organization of irregular forces or armed bands including mercenaries, for incursion into the territory of another State.
Every State has the duty to refrain from organizing, instigating, assisting or participating in acts of civil strife or terrorist acts in another State or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed towards the commission of such acts, when the acts referred to in the present paragraph involve a threat or use of force.
The territory of a State shall not be the object of military occupation resulting from the use of force in contravention of the provisions of the Charter. The territory of a State shall not be the object of acquisition by another State resulting from the threat or use of force. No territorial acquisition resulting from the threat or use of force shall be recognized as legal. Nothing in the foregoing shall be construed as affecting:
a. Provisions of the Charter or any international agreement prior to the Charter regime and valid under international law; or
b. The powers of the Security Council under the Charter.
All States shall pursue in good faith negotiations for the early conclusion of a universal treaty on general and complete disarmament under effective international control and strive to adopt appropriate measures to reduce international tensions and strengthen confidence among States.
All States shall comply in good faith with their obligations under the generally recognized principles and rules of international law with respect to the maintenance of international peace and security, and shall endeavour to make the United Nations security system based on the Charter more effective.
Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as enlarging or diminishing in any way the scope of thue provisions of the Charter concerning cases in which the use of force is lawful.
The principle that States shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered
Every State shall settle its international disputes with other States by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered.
States shall accordingly seek early and just settlement of their international disputes by negotiation, inquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements or other peaceful means of their choice. In seeking such a settlement the parties shall agree upon such peaceful means as may be appropriate to the circumstances and nature of the dispute.
The parties to a dispute have the duty, in the event of failure to reach a solution by any one of the above peaceful means, to continue to seek a settlement of the dispute by other peaceful means agreed upon by them.
States parties to an international dispute, as well as other States shall refrain from any action which may aggravate the Situation so as to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, and shall act in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
International disputes shall be settled on the basis of the Sovereign equality of States and in accordance with the Principle of free choice of means. Recourse to, or acceptance of, a settlement procedure freely agreed to by States with regard to existing or future disputes to which they are parties shall not be regarded as incompatible with sovereign equality.
Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs prejudices or derogates from the applicable provisions of the Charter, in particular those relating to the pacific settlement of international disputes.
The principle concerning the duty not to intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State, in accordance with the Charter
No State or group of States has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other State. Consequently, armed intervention and all other forms of interference or attempted threats against the personality of the State or against its political, economic and cultural elements, are in violation of international law.
No State may use or encourage the use of economic political or any other type of measures to coerce another State in order to obtain from it the subordination of the exercise of its sovereign rights and to secure from it advantages of any kind. Also, no State shall organize, assist, foment, finance, incite or tolerate subversive, terrorist or armed activities directed towards the violent overthrow of the regime of another State, or interfere in civil strife in another State.
The use of force to deprive peoples of their national identity constitutes a violation of their inalienable rights and of the principle of non-intervention.
Every State has an inalienable right to choose its political, economic, social and cultural systems, without interference in any form by another State.
Nothing in the foregoing paragraphs shall be construed as enlarging or diminishing in any way the scope of the provisions of the Charter concerning cases in which the use of force is lawful.
The duty of States to co-operate with one another in accordance with the Charter
The principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples
The principle of sovereign equality of States
All States enjoy sovereign equality. They have equal rights and duties and are equal members of the international community, notwithstanding differences of an economic, social, political or other nature.
In particular, sovereign equality includes the following elements:
a. States are judicially equal;
b. Each State enjoys the rights inherent in full sovereignty;
c. Each State has the duty to respect the personality of other States;
d. The territorial integrity and political independence of the State are inviolable;
e. Each State has the right freely to choose and develop its political, social, economic and cultural systems;
f. Each State has the duty to comply fully and in good faith with its international obligations and to live in peace with other States.
The principle that States shall fulfil in good faith the obligations assumed by them in accordance with the Charter.
Every State has the duty to fulfil in good faith the obligations assumed by it in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.
Every State has the duty to fulfil in good faith its obligations under the generally recognized principles and rules of international law.
Every State has the duty to fulfil in good faith its obligations under international agreements valid under the generally recognized principles and rules of international law.
Where obligations arising under international agreements are in conflict with the obligations of Members of the United Nations under the Charter of the United Nations, the obligations under the Charter shall prevail.
In their interpretation and application the above principles are interrelated and each principle should be construed in the context of the other principles. Nothing in this Declaration shall be construed as prejudicing in any manner the provisions of the Charter or the rights and duties of Member States under the Charter or the rights of peoples under the Charter, taking into acchount the elaboration of these rights in this Declaration;
3. Declares further that:
The principles of the Charter which are embodied in this Declaration constitute basic principles of international law, and consequently appeals to all States to be guided by these principles in their international conduct and to develop their mutual relations on the basis of the strict observance of these principles
“These are binding principles of international law.
“These principles of international law have been developed and agreed to over the last four hundred years, and particularly over the last century with the experience and hindsight of the devastation and suffering of World War I and World War II which, in the words of the Preamble of the United Nations Charter, “have caused untold suffering to mankind.”
“Any agreement with Valdimir Putin and the Russian Federation to halt and undo their aggression in the Ukraine, including the purported “annexation” of the Russian-occupied territory of the Ukraine known as the Crimea and the City of Sevastopol, must necessarily be consistent with these legal norms, if the postwar system for maintaining international peace and security established in the United Nations Charter is to be upheld.”
As Tillerson travels to Moscow, he would do well to bear in mind that the principle prohibiting the international use of force embodied in Article 2 paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter is a rule of peremptory international law or jus cogens, from which no derogation may be made by agreement. Under internatiional law, any such agreement would be null and void ab initiio.
While there has been a lot of glib talk recently by commentators to place in question the existence of a “rules-based international order”or the existing international political and security system or “international norms”, there should be no confusion about the fact that we are talking about international law and the United Nations Charter.
Tillerson and Donald Trump should also bear in mind that some of the strongest bulwarks against further Chinese encroachments in the South China Sea are these fundamental norms of international law.
Moreover, the principle of non-īnterventioni in the internal affairs of another state, quoted above, underlines the fact that the Russian intervention in the 2016 U.S. elections, and Russia’s ongoing efforts to intervene in upcoming elections in France, Germany and other countries, are in blatant violation of international law.
The principle is critically important, and might become the cornerstone for a large international effort to force the Russians and other states to desist from such actions.
Violation of the principle of non-īntervention provides a legal basis in international law, it should be noted, for the imposition of ecdonomic santions.
The Trenchant Observer