Speech by minister Blok on upholding international law

Speech by minister of Foreign Affairs Stef Blok on upholding international law in the context of peace and security to the UN Security Council in New York 17 May 2018.

Upholding international law in the context of peace and security

First, let me thank Polands President Duda for devoting this open debate to a theme so close to our Kingdom’s heart.

As the host country to the Hague Peace Conferences, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court and other important international legal institutions, the Netherlands has a proud tradition of championing international law. Today’s subject is embedded in our DNA. In fact, it is enshrined in our Constitution.

There are good reasons for that. A dependable, rule-based legal order is a prerequisite for security, stability and economic growth. When adhered to, it is our best guarantee for prosperity – and the best conflict prevention tool available.    

Today, and in spite of the vast progress made, our international rulebook is under serious pressure.

From the annexation of Crimea, to the slave-markets in Libya and the suffering of the people in Myanmar: a quick glance at this Councils agenda makes one thing clear: the world we committed ourselves to building, when we all signed the Charter, is still a long way off.

The situation in Syria has been a stark reminder of a deep crisis. A protection crisis. A crisis of respect for the hard-won gains in international law we fought for since the end of the First World War. From the Geneva Conventions, to the Charter of the UN, to the Chemical Weapons Convention - in Syria, all of these norms were trampled.

Of course, the primary responsibility for the protection of its citizens lies with a country itself. But when it is not able or willing to do so, collective action should be taken. In that case, says our Charter, the primary responsibility rests with this Council. Especially with those five permanent members, to whom the Charter has granted a special privilege.

I am referring, of course, to the veto. And to the need to use this special privilege with the highest degree of responsibility. This means: with maximum restraint.

In Syria, this has certainly not been the case. The past seven years, the veto has been used twelve times. Twelve times, impunity was allowed to become ‘the new normal’. Twelve times, innocent Syrian citizens payed the price.

What would happen, Mr. President, if we allowed this privilege to be used as a license to kill, as a means to obstruct justice, as a way to prevent the truth from being told? As a means to hold hostage those, who want to uphold the principles of the Charter?

The Council would force itself into irrelevance.

The rules based international order would break down.

The laws would, again, cede to arms.

And we will all lose.

We cannot allow this to happen. In the event of mass atrocities, a paralyzed Security Council cannot simply be the end of the road.

This conviction is widely shared. It forms the basis of initiatives like the French-Mexican initiative, and the code of conduct of the Accountability, Coherence and Transparency Group. Initiatives supported by a large majority of the United Nations membership.

Today, I want to echo and amplify their message: if and when the Council makes itself irrelevant by inaction, other avenues will have to be explored to make sure fundamental international norms are upheld.

In the run up to the next General Assembly, we will consult with the Group, to explore options to make this principle more concrete.

This brings me to my final point: the importance of accountability. There can be no lasting peace without it.

Whether in Syria, in Libya, in Yemen, or elsewhere: fact finding, investigation and attribution are essential elements in the accountability chain. They send a clear message to the victims: justice may not be swift, but it will, in the end, be done.

I will, therefore, not stop calling on the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

And when the Council does become paralyzed, we have to search for alternatives. Like the International Impartial and Independent Mechanism for Syria (IIIM).

Today, I am proud to announce that we will support the IIIM with another EUR 2.5 million – on top of the 2.5 million that we contributed earlier. We hope others will follow our lead.

Mr. President, in closing,

The development of international law is a job never finished. We must not only work to ensure respect for the existing norms, but also to strengthen them - by writing the next and very necessary chapters. Standing on the shoulders of great men and women like Hugo Grotius, Fyodor Fyodorovich de Martens, Eleanor Roosevelt and others, we must put protection up front.

Only thus, the arms will be allowed to cede to the law. Only thus, the peoples’ expectations for justice and humanity will be finally met.

The Netherlands stands ready to contribute to that goal – during, and after our Security Council membership.

Thank you.