Statement of the President of the Republic of Poland at the High Level Debate of the UN Security Council
Strengthening and Promoting International Law Within the Context of the Maintenance of International Peace and Security
New York, 17 May, 2018
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Madame Maria Luiza Viotti, Judge Hisashi Owada, Judge Theodor Meron, let me express my gratitude for your valuable, substantive and insightful briefings.
Please allow me to open my statement with a quotation by Paweł Włodkowic, the rector of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, who already in the 15th century proclaimed that there are certain rights of nations which must be secured: existence, freedom, independence, own culture, decent and unhampered development. Włodkowic wrote: “Where force is stronger than friendship, one is guided by his own self-interest. The law, including natural law, condemns actions of people, who attack those wishing to live in peace, according to the rule do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
Włodkowic’s arguments were further developed in the 17th century by Hugo Grotius in what are regarded as fundamental works in international law, namely “On the Law of War and Peace” and “The Freedom of the Seas”. The conceptual work initiated by Włodkowic and reinforced by Grotius gave rise to the concept of the rights of nations – the basis of international law. Today, 600 years later, Poland wishes to return to those roots. We want to highlight: there is no peace without law. The international law remains the strongest tool for civilized nations to ensure long-term peace – peace based on trust and mutually respected norms and values.
The need to recover the lost meaning of the works of Włodkowic and Grotius is particularly visible today, as a paradox of the modern world becomes clear. On the one hand, there is an extensive system of international law and institutional architecture to stand guard over it. This is the UN system with the international courts and tribunals. On the other hand, a temptation to place force above law, and fear above trust, remains present around the world. That is why I invite all countries and institutions, who are sitting at this table today, to a discussion on the significance of international law. We – as States – cannot deal with those challenges unless we invest in the very foundation of the global order – the respect of international law.
I believe that it is impossible without firstly providing coherent definitions of the basic categories of international law in the context of contemporary challenges to peace. They are also relevant in broader political debates.
For if we call an act of aggression – “a conflict”, without properly defining the victim and the aggressor; if we call a threat – “a challenge”, without defining the source of that threat; and if we call building aggressive military capabilities – “a disturbance of balance”, without determining who is advancing his offensive military capabilities – then we are helpless in terms of selecting legal steps to react. In international law, unnamed phenomena do not exist, and ill-defined concepts build ill-shaped realities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Following these general remarks, which I would like us all to take to heart, I wish to concentrate on the problems with the functioning of international law in three aspects:
1. Means of peaceful settlements of disputes,
2. Actions against violations of international law, and
3. Ways of bringing the perpetrators of crimes under international law to justice.
Firstly, I would like to refer directly to: Chapter VI of the UN Charter – Peaceful settlement of disputes. Poland considers it the most useful tool at the international community’s disposal in case of disagreements and imminent conflicts.
The United Nations has a rich history of envoys and mediators. For decades, they have been sent to hot spots all over the world in order to assist both sides with their expertise and experience. Their aim was to prevent violations of international law or to stop such violations. In this regard, we remember the late UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld, who gave his life to safeguard international order.
It is worth underlining some recent “success stories” of mediations, in particular, in West African States. For example, Gambia where ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) intervened effectively during a political crisis in 2017.
Furthermore, we cannot forget that peaceful settlements of disputes also happen outside of the scope of the United Nations and regional organizations. They take place with the involvement of recognized moral authorities. I would like to mention at this point the special role of the Pope and Vatican diplomacy in the process of normalization of international relations and peaceful settlement of many world crises.
Currently, the importance of solving conflicts by diplomatic means is visible in the ongoing efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Poland has been involved in the region for over 60 years, including through participation in the works of the Neutral Nations Supervisory Commission in Korea. We have always stressed that the channels of communication should be kept open, and this is something I personally repeated during my visit to Panmunjom earlier this year. We are fully supportive of the new high-level diplomatic initiatives aimed at reestablishing peace on the Peninsula.
We cannot also forget about one the longest conflicts in the world – the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Poland, as a country having close and good relations both with the Israeli and Palestinian people, has always strongly supported all initiatives aimed at stabilization and strengthening peace and security in the Middle East. Only return to meaningful bilateral negotiations, based on the relevant United Nations resolutions and international law, might bring about a peaceful settlement of this dispute. That is the only path towards a two-state solution and resolving all final-status issues. Today, more than ever we need peace in the Holy Land, which is sacred to all major monotheistic religions. If you want to achieve peace, terrorism and violence is never an answer.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The second issue, I would like to highlight, concerns the situations in which peaceful settlements of disputes are not applied or do not bring satisfactory effects. This results in situations of conflicts and wars, death, suffering and lack of hope of millions of human beings. At this point, we need to ask ourselves a question: how to protect international law and in particular – the international humanitarian law in the darkest hour?
The Security Council can introduce targeted sanctions` regimes. We welcome the international solidarity in implementing the sanctions and exerting maximum pressure on the States which disregard the international legal order. Even though divisive at times and not perfect, coercive measures are often crucial in defending the principles of international law. Having said that, persistent international pressure needs to be combined with dialogue, as sanctions should never be an end in themselves.
Imposing UN sanctions requires this Council’s decision. Unfortunately, there are situations where lack of consensus prevents effective countering of obvious international law violations.
The Syrian conflict has entered its eighth year. Continuous and widespread violence, violations of international law, including those of human rights, are Syrians` daily reality. The situation in Syria demands from the United Nations and from each member State to stand in defense of humanitarian principles. The international community, and in particular the Security Council, need to emphasize the importance of providing uninterrupted access for all humanitarian actors to the whole territory of Syria. All actors engaged in Syria must be called upon to take actions to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons. The conviction about the need to terminate this shameful practice should be shared by all Members of the Security Council.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As President of the Republic of Poland, I cannot refrain from turning to my region – Central and Eastern Europe. The violation of territorial integrity with illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea and separatists in Donbas, which benefit from strong, third country support, are major challenges not only to Ukraine, but also to the stability of the whole European continent.
Poland supports the idea of deploying UN peacekeeping operation in Eastern Ukraine. The mandate of such operation should not be limited to the protection of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission, but should cover the whole area of the conflict, including the entire Ukrainian-Russian internationally recognized border.
The international community should not lose its focus on the ongoing desperate plight of the Crimean Tatars and human rights activists in the occupied Crimea, who are subject to constant intimidation.
When speaking about Central and Eastern Europe in this forum I have to refer also to common concerns related to the so-called frozen conflicts in Georgia, Moldova and Nagorno-Karabakh. We have to strive to foster an open, constructive and respectful dialogue to contribute to their successful settlements. Those conflicts constitute clear violations of international law that can and should be addressed by the Security Council.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thirdly and finally, I would like to refer to the issue of accountability. The international community and the Security Council in particular are morally responsible for guaranteeing individual criminal accountability for international crimes.
In this context, I would like to stress Poland’s support for international law mechanisms aimed at bringing those responsible for violating international law to justice. We remember the work done by the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and for the former Yugoslavia. We have also noted with satisfaction the referral of the cases of Sudan and Libya to the International Criminal Court.
In 2016, Poland welcomed the establishment of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism which recently published its first report. This mechanism remains a unique initiative that contributes to the prevention and prosecution of the immense atrocities and human rights violations committed in Syria.
At the same time, as we have stated on many occasions: impunity of those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria is not only contrary to international law. It also undermines the peace process and our common security. Therefore, we fully support the establishment of an independent, impartial and professional mechanism to attribute responsibility for the use of chemical weapons. Any such crime must be properly investigated, and those responsible held accountable. Those crimes should never happen again.
Let me underline that the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction has always been an important element of Poland’s security policy. In our work in the non-proliferation regimes, including as the chair of the Second Preparatory Committee for the 2020 Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, we have been constantly advocating the primacy of international law, strong international institutions, binding non-proliferation norms, widespread and credible verification mechanisms, implementation of good practices and closer international co-operation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In conclusion, let me refer to the principle of good faith. Acting in line with that principle is an inherent element of respect for international law. If we notice some States’ actions against the spirit of international law, we cannot pretend that it is legitimate and tolerate it. We cannot accept dubious legal justifications of actions taken in bad faith – in fraudem legis.
Law cannot be a tool against justice. It must serve justice and justice only. For those who seek justice, law has to be a supportive force. It applies specifically to such issues as compensations for historical losses, or modern investigations, for instance concerning flight disasters, such as the full clarification of the causes of the crash of the Polish airplane in Smolensk, where the late President of Poland Lech Kaczyński, his wife and all member of the Polish delegation perished.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are morally and legally responsible to react and restore trust in international law.