By Ioan Voicu
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres report Our Common Agenda is, probably, the most quoted document by the delegations of the 193 member states of the world organization during the current 76th session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA).
This report sets out a comprehensive vision for a better, more sustainable and peaceful future, as well as for more effective, inclusive and networked multilateral diplomacy.
The legal dimension of the future world is well designed in this document, as illustrated by nine substantive references to the role of international law. These references are focused on abiding by international law and ensuring justice and on recommendations related to a global road map for the development and effective implementation of international law.
The point of departure is crystal – clear : “the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and international law remain timeless, universal and an indispensable foundation for a more peaceful, prosperous and just world. International legal regimes underpin and are essential to the protection of the global commons and the delivery of many of the global public goods …., and more broadly to an international order based on respect for human rights and the rule of law. The fact that international law, in particular international human rights law, underpins approximately 90 per cent of the Sustainable Development Goals is a strong example of this”.
While dealing with international cooperation guided by international law , the report offers a comprehensive list of recent persuasive examples such as : information and communications technology ; the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction; promoting respect for democracy and human rights; enhancing democratic governance and the rule of law by strengthening transparent and accountable governance and independent judicial institutions.
A significant objective is advanced in the report : a global road map for the development and effective implementation of international law. This road map could encourage states to ratify or accede to treaties of universal interest on disarmament, human rights, the environment and penal matters, including multilateral legal instruments for which the UN is the depositary (over 600).
Positive reference is made to the role of the International Law Commission which is entrusted with making recommendations for the purpose of promoting the progressive development of international law and its codification, thus being a driving force for the supremacy of jus gentium.
The conclusion of the report on the primordiality of international law governed by the UN is action-oriented. The UN Secretary-General asserts : “While international law is essential in delivering global public goods and I have called for a renewed commitment to its development, we also have ways to encourage mutual accountability through other frameworks, including peer-review models (such as the universal periodic review) and mechanisms for sharing good practices and transparent data gathering. Finally, key to ensuring effectiveness is that funding and financing are brought to bear in support of our collective commitments”.
In fact, to use the exact terminology of the report, ” The purpose of Our Common Agenda is to keep delivering on the promise of the Charter of the United Nations. This report has provided a vision of solidarity and international cooperation that puts us on a path towards a breakthrough for a greener, safer and better future, and walks us back from the cusp of breakdown”.
During the consideration in the UNGA Sixth (Legal) Committee of the item The rule of law at the national and international levels many delegations took the opportunity to comment on Our Common Agenda. An interesting statement on this document was made by the European Union (EU) representative who said inter alia : “the rule of law remains at the centre of a renewed social contract, a contract that is anchored in respect for human rights and solidarity, and that leaves no one behind”. The EU advocates for “a new kind of multilateralism. A multilateralism that is built on the principle of solidarity between people, between nations, between current and future generations, between people and institutions”.
What can be expected in the future on the topic of international law’s primordiality ?
A lucid answer was offered in an anticipatory manner by Richard A. Falk, Professor Emeritus at Princeton University (USA) in his book entitled (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance. He wrote :” It seems to me that when, if ever, the leadership of major states are socialized to the extent of submitting their foreign policy to the discipline of international law and the procedures of the United Nations, a major precondition for transition to global democracy will have been satisfied. In effect, since we cannot speak about the future with experiential authority, it is important to be attentive to antagonistic behavioral patterns on the part of the dominant actors that inform international relations practice, particularly geopolitical actors who continue to insist on relying upon unrestricted self-help as the foundation of their security, including even extending to claiming a unilateral and unregulated option to wage preventive wars”.
In the light of these undeniable realities, highly visible today, we can only express the hope that UN member states will use multilateral diplomacy to support the recommendations contained in Our Common Agenda and will take action to give tangibility to the primordiality of international law in their relations, moving forward on an active intergovernmental process culminating with a successful Summit of the Future to be held in 2023.
What can be also asserted is that the best ways and means for promoting the primordiality of international law remain a widely open topic for future debates, consultations and diplomatic negotiations at the UN and in its specialized agencies, as well as for presenting doctrinal views on the matter in the mass-media.
*Dr Ioan Voicu was a Visiting Professor at Assumption University in Bangkok (2000-2019).