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Powerful States should lead effort to support international law: UN legal counsel

Powerful States should lead effort to support international law: UN legal counsel

Hans Corell
Speaking to a group of lawyers in Washington, DC, the head of the United Nations legal office has stressed that international law must be followed fully, with powerful States taking a lead role in contributing to this common effort.

Addressing the American Society of International Law in Washington, DC, on Friday evening, UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell acknowledged that "there are those who have a less positive attitude" towards the creation of common international legal norms. "This attitude is sometimes found even in the United States of America," he said, adding, "This fact is of great concern to many - including, in particular, many insightful Americans."

Mr. Corell emphasized that the existing international legal framework must be followed in its entirety. "To pick and choose among the many international agreements that exist will simply not do in the future," he said.

Drawing the analogy between international law and a "carefully woven net," the Legal Counsel said, "I think that we would all expect that those States who are the strongest and most powerful would take the lead in knitting this net." He added that it was in the interests of the strong and powerful "to add their determined contribution to our common effort."

Mr. Corell underscored that "a powerful State like the United States" should "demonstrate firmly and consequently that it will align itself with other States in accepting the international rule of law."

Stressing that countries must work within the framework of the UN, Mr. Corell said it was an unfortunate fact that "States criticize other States, vigorously invoking international law, only to turn their back upon this very law as soon as it suits their interests."

"This is simply not credible," said Mr. Corell, "Nor is it sustainable."

The UN Legal Counsel stressed that the International Criminal Court -- the Statute of which the United States has signed but not ratified -- represents no threat to countries with an organized criminal justice system. The Court, he said, "is designed to help end the impunity that has caused so much suffering and sorrow among human beings for as long as we can remember."

Mr. Corell urged those present to help bring an appreciation of the fundamentals of international law to the grass-roots level, noting that "from this level, the pressure can be built that finally will set the politicians in motion."