WORLD VIEW – Fortifying international law: safeguarding global stability


Sir Ronald Sanders


IN today’s complex global landscape, peace and prosperity face significant threats due to a blatant disregard for international law and the meticulously constructed human rights framework established since the aftermath of World War II. This disregard poses a grave threat to the stability of nations worldwide.

Hence, all nations, particularly the small and powerless ones, must be deeply concerned about the actions of Israel in Gaza and the Russian Federation in Ukraine. In both cases, international law and the global humanitarian system have been ignored, not only by Israel and Russia but also by other nations with a vested interest in supporting them, despite the illegalities that have been perpetrated.

Consequently, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) finds itself paralyzed, with its five veto-wielding nations failing to act collectively, either due to direct involvement (as in the case of Russia) or because of alliances with Israel (as with France and the US).

The consequences of this inaction are stark and evident to all. It is a grim tableau of death, destruction, and displacement, with innocent individuals, including women and children, bearing the brunt of the conflicts. In Ukraine, nearly six million people have been forcibly displaced, with almost eight million fleeing to neighbouring countries and beyond. Alarmingly, UN officials report that more than 20,000 Ukrainian children have been forcibly deported to Russia, given Russian nationality in violation of established rules of war.

In Gaza, Palestinians have been forcibly displaced, enduring indiscriminate, disproportionate, and direct attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals. More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed and over 69,000 wounded, with the majority being women and children. In contrast, since Hamas launched an assault on Israel on October 7, 2023, the Israeli death toll stands at 233 soldiers and 1,200 civilians.

The atrocities and gross violations of human rights and international law persist. Yet, in the Israeli-Gaza conflict, the countries that have been the strongest advocates of human, civil, and political rights have failed to condemn Israel’s disproportionate and excessive actions, which are indiscriminately killing Palestinians. Instead, powerful Western nations continue to provide billions of dollars in support to Israel, while refraining from supporting calls for a ceasefire in the UN Security Council.

To address any misconceptions, it’s important to note that I have unequivocally condemned the October 7, 2023, attack on Israel by Hamas, describing it as “stupid.” This condemnation stems not only from the inherent wrongness of attacks on civilians but also from Hamas’s reckless miscalculation, providing Israeli leaders with the pretext to pursue what they term as “total victory.”

Similarly, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation has indicated that a ceasefire with Ukraine can only be achieved if there is agreement that Russia will not relinquish any Ukrainian territory gained during the conflict.

The fundamental point that should never escape acknowledgement is that Russia blatantly and knowingly violated international law and the Charter of the UN by its attack on Ukraine and annexation of its territory. This is a particularly egregious act because the Russian Federation is a veto power in the UNSC with the responsibility to safeguard peace.

Many smaller countries of the world, for example those in the Caribbean, have not developed any military muscle. None of them have military air forces or naval battleships, and such armies as they have, are rudimentary with no capability for war. This is so because, when they became independent from European powers, they regarded the Charter of the United Nations and international law as their protection from aggression, including invasion, by external forces. Small countries are now left to question the value of the international system to them.

It would be easy for developing countries to take the position that since powerful nations have betrayed the international system, it is no longer effective or beneficial.

However, such a position, while understandable, would be a mistake. For, it would play into the hands of authoritarian regimes everywhere.

The International legal and humanitarian systems, which have been painstakingly assembled over seven decades, should continue to be strongly upheld and vociferously advocated. They remain vital protections for democratic countries which should insist that they be upheld and vigorously applied to all.

This is why in all the organizations of the UN and other regional organizations such as the Organization of American States, smaller nations should not surrender their voice nor cede their votes to those who use the international system selectively and as a convenience for their own interest.

Similarly, the one-sided approach, taken by powerful nations in relation to Russia and Israel in their conflicts with Ukraine and Hamas respectively, and their flouting of the international legal and humanitarian systems, has weakened their authority and influence. They should learn lessons from the ways in which they have damaged themselves by double standards.

In the face of all this adversity, it is imperative that democratic countries do not succumb to despair or cynicism. Rather, all nations must redouble their efforts to uphold and strengthen the international legal and humanitarian frameworks that serve as their collective shield against chaos and tyranny.

Small countries need global peace and stability in which to achieve economic prosperity and social progress, or their peoples will face persistent poverty and global inequity. The key to such prosperity and progress is the international legal and humanitarian systems which must always be upheld, strengthened, and broadened.

(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US and the OAS. He is also the current President of the OAS Permanent Council. The views expressed are entirely his own. For comments and previous commentaries, see: www.sirronaldsanders.com)

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