November 25, 2017

Statement by the Representative of Cyprus to the 6th Committee Ambassador Andreas J. Jacovides – Agenda Item 149: United Nations Decade of International Law

Mr. Chairman,

Since Cyprus has associated itself with the statement of the European Union on this subject, delivered by the distinguished representative of Austria, I shall confine my statement to certain aspects which are of particular interest and importance to us.

Allow me to recall that the very idea of declaring the decade of the 1990’s as the UN Decade of International Law was conceived in the context of the Non-Aligned Foreign Ministers’ Conference in Nicosia, Cyprus, in September 1988. It was subsequently elaborated on in the declaration adopted by the Non-Aligned Movement meeting on Peace and International Law at the Hague in 1989, and was endorsed by the NAM Summit later that year.

Let me also recall that ever since 1963, Cyprus has been serving on the UN Advisory Committee on the Teaching, Study, Dissemination and Wider Appreciation of International Law.

I can say with conviction that the Republic of Cyprus, in its modest way, has endeavoured, throughout its somewhat turbulent existence as an independent state since 1960, to be an “International law-minded” and indeed a “United Nations minded” state, both as a matter of principle and because we are firmly convinced that if the relevant rules of International law had been applied, the Cyprus problem would not have arisen. Moreover, and more practically important, if these rules are applied today, the international aspects of this problem can be resolved quickly and fairly for all parties concerned and in the interest of peace in our volatile region.

The Republic of Cyprus has accepted the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice and has repeatedly declared its willingness to have the highest judicial organ of the United Nations adjudicate on the legal aspects of the problem that has been confronting us for so long, whether through contentious proceedings or through an Advisory Opinion as a result of a decision of the General Assembly or the Security Council to that end. In this regard, we took careful note of the position recently stated by the President of the International Court of Justice Stephen M. Schwebel (in introducing the Annual Report of the International Court of Justice, to the General Assembly on 27 October 1998), that “States…may have recourse to the Court in parallel with other methods of dispute resolution, appreciating that such recourse may complement the work of the Security Council and the General Assembly as well as bilateral negotiations”, and that in certain cases, “the Court’s decision has provided the parties with legal conclusions which they may use in framing further negotiations and in achieving settlement of the dispute”.

Cyprus has made it its policy over the years to participate constructively in the major law making conferences held under UN auspices and to make its contribution in such areas as developing compulsory third-party dispute settlement procedures (notably in the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea) and the adoption of important progressive notions as jus cogens (notably in the Vienna Conference on the Law of Treaties), as well being active over the years in advocating the acceptance of international criminal jurisdiction, which culminated earlier this year through the adoption of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. We became parties to most International Conventions, universal as well as regional, for the protection of human rights, including most recently in the Council of Europe of Framework Convention for the Protection of Minorities and, as we were just reminded in the context of item [148], (doc. A/53/287) Cyprus is a party to Protocol I and Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. In other ways, such as being the first state to contribute to the UN Secretary-General’s Trust Fund to cover expenses of developing countries in order to enable them to resort to the International Court of Justice and through voluntary – albeit token – contributions to finance such worthy causes as the International Law Commission’s annual seminar, UNCITRAL symposia and the Hamilton Shirley Amerasinghe Memorial Scholarship in the Law of the sea, Cyprus has endeavoured to play a constructive role in this regard.

Moreover, as part of this consistent pattern of relying on law, Cyprus did not hesitate to resort to national and regional courts and was repeatedly vindicated, for instance in the Federal Court of Indianapolis with the recovery of the Kanakaria Mosaics, an important precedent setting case for the protection of cultural property looted and purportedly sold abroad and, more recently, before the European Court of Justice on the phytosanitary certificates issue and even more recently before the European Court of Human Rights of the Council of Europe on the Titina Loizidou case, both of which have far reaching legal and political implications and which justified our taking the risk of resorting to American and European justice.

Mr. Chairman,

With the UN Decade of International Law in its ninth year and coming to a close next year, it is timely to look back by way of stocktaking and forward to steps leading to its culmination.

The main objectives of the UN Decade, as spelled out in General Assembly resolution 44/23, of 17 November 1989, which launched it were, inter alia,

a. To provide acceptance of and respect for the principles of International Law;
b. To promote means and methods for the peaceful settlement of disputes between states, including resort to and full respect for the International Court of Justice;
c. To encourage the progressive development of International Law and its codification;
d. To encourage the teaching, study, dissemination and wider appreciation of International Law.

In short, Mr. Chairman, the purpose of the Decade has been to enhance and solidify respect for international law and also to popularize it.

Looking back over the past nine years, we cannot fail to see that much useful work has been done in all these areas, as detailed in successive reports of the Secretary-General, most recently in the Note of 13 October 1998 (A/53/492) to which the Legal Counsel introduced us this afternoon. Major events, such as the Congress on Public International Law, have been held, major publications have been issued in several areas, with emphasis understandably on the work of the International Law Commission (and here I would make particular mention of the 1997 volume on “International Law on the Eve of the Twenty-first Century – Views from the International Law Commission”), of UNCITRAL and on the Law of the Sea, regarding which the Codification Division, the International Trade Law Branch and the Division for Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea, among others, deserve highest commendation. Particularly welcome is the emphasis placed on utilizing the electronic media to disseminate a variety of information on UN activities in the field of international law, thus keeping up with the needs of our times, which evidently met with very positive response.

Another event of particular interest and importance considering the pivotal role of the participants, is the new informal forum which developed since 1990 (not expressly within the preview of the Decade but very much related to it) of annual meetings of the legal advisers of Foreign Ministries, on the sidelines of the annual debate of the ILC report in late October in New York. It is a non-institutional forum which provides the opportunity for practitioners, who can really make a difference through the exercise of their respective functions, to compare notes and to get to know each other and each other’s views on issues of topical concern. These meetings, and the forthcoming publication to which they will contribute, certainly advance the objectives of the Decade and just tribute should be paid to the organizers of these meetings and to the Legal Counsel Hans Corell, who was one of the initiators in his earlier capacity as Legal Undersecretary in Sweden, for their respective roles.

In the same context, Mr. Chairman, allow me to also mention the very useful practice of such regional organizations as the Asian-African Legal Consultative Committee (AALCC) to hold in New York, at the same time as the ILC debate gets under way in the Sixth Committee, meetings of the representatives and legal advisors of the respective member states, often (as this year) addressed by leading personalities such as the President of the International Court of Justice, and exchanging views on matters of topical concern to the AALCC member states and their region. This, in addition to the annual sessions of the AALCC and other regional organizations such as European Committee on Public International Law (CADHI), and the Inter-American Juridical Committee, certainly contribute positively to the objectives of the Decade.

Not only regional institutions but also such major bodies as the Non-Aligned Movement and the Commonwealth offer fertile ground for pursuing international law activities. I have already referred to NAM’s initiative which brought the Decade into existence. In the light of the transformation of the international community with the end of the cold war, increased activity in the international legal field certainly offers itself as providing a focal point on the Non-Aligned Movement within the brad framework of the principles upon which its existence is based. Similarly, the Commonwealth, representing as it does nearly one third of the UN membership and sharing common values based on Common Law, constitutes a principal legal system in the world and can play an active role in the international legal field. In this connection I recall that in the 1993 Commonwealth Heads of State and Government Meeting held in Cyprus, our President was the main proponent of the item on the International Criminal Court on the agenda of the Summit, thus effectively promoting the notion of international criminal jurisdiction at a time when support for it in certain quarters was lukewarm at best.

Mr. Chairman,

Looking back over the past nine years, we witness not only a substantial increase in the work load of the ICJ but also major other developments. In terms of the Law of the Sea, the Law of the Sea Tribunal was created and begun its work in Hamburg. In terms of international criminal jurisdiction, the ad hoc Tribunals for Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda have been operating and, as already noted, the Rome Conference last summer took the historic step of establishing a permanent International Criminal Court as an instrument of punishment and deterrence to present and future aggressors and other violators of international criminal law, as my country has been advocating for decades.

With less public awareness, but also significantly, other institutions such as the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC) meeting in Geneva, has been applying the relevant rules of the law of state responsibility within the parameters laid down in binding Security Council resolutions and the Claims Resolution Tribunal for Dormant Swiss Accounts (CRT) has been doing systematic work in Zurich, in carrying out its historic task of doing justice, and seen to be doing justice, for all concerned.

So much for what has already been done and of course, there is much more than I was able to indicate, including the commendable initiative of the delegation of Mongolia on the draft guiding principles for international negotiations, on which considerable work has been done this year in shedding further light on this important mechanism of dispute settlement, as reflected in draft resolution in doc. A/C.6/53/L.14.

We should now look ahead to the successful conclusion of the Decade. My delegation fully supports the initiative put forward by the delegations of the Netherlands and the Russian Federation to mark appropriately the centennial of the first International Peace Conference in 1899 – and the closing of the UN Decade of International Law (as outlined in docs. A/C.6/53/10, 11 and 12). May I recall that we have been an early advocate of the idea itself and Cyprus, as one of the Friends of 1999, expresses its deep appreciation to the two delegations for all their efforts, including the preparation of appropriate reports on the three topics (dispute settlement; international humanitarian law; disarmament and arms control) and look forward to the events planned in May 1999 in the Hague and in June 1999 in St. Petersburg, as well as the other related activities and the International Red Cross Conference in the Fall of 1999, as a fitting way for the conclusion of the Decade.

Mr. Chairman,

I believe we can say with conviction that, on the eve of the Decade’s conclusion, there is considerably greater awareness than ever before of the role which international law plays in international relations and on the need to apply the rule of law in international relations. We can take satisfaction that, to a greater or lesser extent the objectives of the UN Decade have been largely achieved. In the final analysis, however, what is more important is whether the rules of international law are applied in practice in all cases and especially in the area of peace and security. This is an area which permits much less optimism for in several situations in the world today, including the situation confronting my country, because of power politics and other extra-legal factors, the law of the jungle continues to prevail. To remedy this situation is certainly worth striving for if we are to hope for a world of peace with justice, in accordance with the rule of law among nations. This can be a worthy objective in the new millennium. In this context and within the spirit of the Decade of International Law, Cyprus reiterates its wholehearted dedication to the concept of international legal order.