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Swedish statement at the UN Security Council Open Debate on upholding international law within the context of international peace and security


National statement delivered by Ambassador Olof Skoog on behalf of Sweden at the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on upholding international law within the context of the maintenance of international peace and security, 17 May 2018, New York.

Madam President,

The UN Charter sets out the ambition to "save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind". Sadly, seven decades after the Charter was signed the scourge of war continues to bring untold sorrow.

Yet, the vision set out in the Charter in 1945 was not naïve. It embodies a clear view of how to ensure a better path for the world: "to ensure, by the acceptance of principles and the institutions of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest". That is, that international law and international institutions should harness war. This vision holds true today.

Madam President,

Sweden warmly welcomes Poland's initiative of convening today's meeting. We believe it is a timely discussion, taking place at a moment when severe strains are being placed on international law.

International law is an essential part of modern international relations and, although invisible to most, an essential part of modern life. Almost everything we do is dependent on international agreements and international cooperation - the ability to talk to friends and family overseas by mail, phone and email; the ability to travel and to discover one another's cultures; international trade; and protecting our societies from global health risks or through criminal law cooperation. The list is long.

This tapestry of international rules and institutions enables international cooperation, and in many cases, prevents and manages conflict. It creates stability, predictability and regularity while allowing for peaceful change. Most rules are followed by most actors most of the time. Such is the moral expectation; violations are the exception to the rule. It is also our only enlightened and civilised option; the alternative being indiscriminate chaos with the most powerful intervening at their whim.

We have created these mechanisms to protect the rights and interests of states, peoples and individuals. They are not only essential for the maintenance of international peace and security but also confirm the duty of all states to settle disputes by peaceful means.

Madam President,

In today's debate, many will reaffirm their commitment to the respect for international law.

Yet, we need to be clear-sighted: the implementation of international law is being challenged in many quarters. And efforts to undermine the legal fabric built over the past century to protect us, are threatening international peace and security.

Madam President,

No state can be above the law. Yet, all too often, this Council deals with situations in which international law has been violated. These breaches aim to undermine a system which, ultimately, is there to protect us all.

In Syria, seven years of war have borne witness to some of the most egregious and sustained violations of international humanitarian law in modern times. Civilians are consistently targeted and humanitarian agencies are regularly denied access to those in need of assistance. When such conditions prevail, it is our duty to act. It was for this reason that, with Kuwait, we tabled the resolution 2401 adopted unanimously by this Council in February. In Backåkra, Sweden, the summer residence of the former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, this Council confirmed that the use of chemical weapons is a violation of resolution 2118 and is unacceptable. We reaffirmed our commitment to establish an independent and impartial attribution mechanism.

In Ukraine, Russia's continuous aggression and illegal annexation of Crimea, is an ongoing breach of international law. The redrawing of borders backed by military power represents a threat that goes beyond Ukraine; it is a challenge to the international legal order and the UN Charter as such, thus a threat to all states.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has lasted for more than half a century and flagrant violations of international law, such as illegal settlements, continue. The prolonged occupation of Palestine has an extended negative impact on the daily lives of the Palestinian people, and undermines respect for international law. As repeatedly stated by the Secretary-General, the only sustainable way forward is a two-state solution based on international law.

Finally, in Myanmar, just weeks ago, the Security Council members witnessed the appalling situation for the Rohingya minority. Systematic, widespread and coordinated acts of violence strongly indicate that crimes against humanity have been committed. Impunity for such crimes cannot be tolerated and this Council cannot abdicate its role in ensuring that those responsible are held to account.

These are examples of situations where conflicts – and suffering – could have been prevented or mitigated if international law had been respected.

Madam President,

We must ask ourselves, how can it be that we succeed in using the tools of international law in most areas, yet fail in this most critical one – protecting the life and dignity of our fellow human beings? This Council, which the Charter entrusts the ultimate power, has a duty to meet its responsibility to hold those who violate international law to account and to bring justice to the peoples the Charter was promulgated to protect. Our credibility depends on it.

The Security Council essentially has all the tools necessary to respond and maintain peace in accordance with the Charter. We, its members, acting on behalf of all members of the UN, have an obligation to shoulder this responsibility.

And the permanent members have a particular responsibility. That is why the use of the veto to protect narrow national interests in situations of serious violations of international law is totally unacceptable. I call on all members to adhere to the ACT group Code of Conduct and the Franco-Mexican initiative on restraint of the veto.

Three points are particularly important.

First, early warning and peaceful settlement of disputes.
The Council needs to do more than react to violence. It must use the early warning tools available to it to the fullest extent possible. Early warning mechanisms and relevant and independent information from the ground play a crucial role in enabling the Council to effectively assess, address, prevent and respond to conflicts and threats to international peace and security. The Council must make better use of the tools at its disposal to advance the peaceful settlement of disputes provided for in the Charter, including the legal mechanisms available.

We have a Secretary-General who is very committed to conflict prevention and peaceful settlements of disputes. We encourage him to integrate relevant international law perspectives and tools more clearly in reporting to the Council.

Second, the role of international law in sustaining peace must be further developed.

International law and institutions that uphold it provide a common basis for addressing the root causes of conflict such as violations of human rights, international humanitarian law, environmental and climate change, justice and inequalities. It provides frameworks for inclusive development, the empowerment and full and effective participation of women, and other prerequisites for peaceful societies. As such, international law, is not only fundamental to bringing an end to conflict but also imperative to preventing them in the first place and to building sustainable peace.

Finally, the Council needs to come back to addressing the entire spectrum of the peace and justice agenda. Accountability is not only "justice done" and reparations, it also deters and prevents crime and abuse. The national responsibility for addressing violations must be emphasized. But where that is lacking, the international community, including this Council, must use the means available under international law to act.

Universal jurisdiction of states and the complementary mandate of the International Criminal Court should be used when national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute those responsible for mass atrocities.

In this regard we are pleased that the crime of aggression in the Rome statute will soon be activated. It is a historical event when not only states but also individuals can be responsible for this crime.

Madam President,

We need to effectively achieve the purposes and principles of the organization by faithfully adhering to the international law set out in the Charter. This is not just a legal and political imperative, it is a question of common interest. Those that seek to undermine our common legal protection should be wary of doing so; the longer term and wider consequences of weakening any single instrument can be hard to predict.

I thank you.


Lisa Laskaridis
Head of Press and Communication, Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN
Phone +1 212 583 2543
Mobile +1 917 239 0941
email to Lisa Laskaridis