The Interpretation of Security Council Resolutions

in Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law Online
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The Interpretation of Security Council Resolutions

in Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law Online


  • 1 This article is based on a talk given at the Research Centre for Interna- tional Law at the University of Cambridge on 28 April 1995. The views expressed are personal, not those of the United Kingdom Government. M.K. Yasseen, "12interpr6tation des traites d'apres la Convention de Vienne sur le Droit des Traites'', RdC 151 (1976), 20 et seq; I.M. Sinclair, The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 2nd edition, 1984, 114 et seq; Oppenheim's International Law, Vol. I, 1992, 1266 et seq; and authorities cited in these works. On the interpretation of the Charter see Pollux, "The Interpretation of the Charter", BYIL 23 (1946), 54 et seq; H. Kelsen, The Law of tbe United Nations, 1950, xiii et seq.; G. Ress, "Interpretation of the Charter", in: B. Simma (ed.), The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, 1995, 25 et seq.; L.B. Sohn, "The UN System as Authoritative Interpreter of its Law", in: United Nations Legal Order, O. Schachter (ed.), 1995, 169 et seq; H. Thirlway, "The Law and Procedure of the International Court of Justice 1960-1989", BYIL 67 (1996), 29 et seq. 2 Legal Consequences for States of tbe Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (south West Africa) notwithstanding Security Council Reso- lution 276 (1970), ICJ Reports 1971, 16 et seq. See also E. Jimenez de Arechaga, Voting and the Handling of Disputes in the Security Council, 1950; J. Castaneda, Legal Effects of United Nations Resolutions, 1969;

  • J. Castaneda, "Valeur Juridique des Resolutions des Nations Unies", RdC 129 (1970), 205 et seq; R. Higgins, "The Advisory Opinion on Namibia: Which UN Resolutions are Binding under Article 25 of the Charter?", ICLQ 21 (1972), 270 et seq.; R.A. Brand, "Security Council Resolutions: When Do They Give Rise to Enforceable Legal Rights?", Cornell Int'l L.J. 9 (1976), 298 et seq.; S.A.Tiewal, "Binding Decisions of the Security Council within the Meaning of Art. 25 of the UN Charter", IJIL 15 (1975), 195 et seq.; E. Jimenez de Arechaga, "International Law in the Past Third of a Century", RdC 159 (1978), 9 et seq., (119-123); K. Herndl, "Reflections on the Role, Functions and Procedures of the Security Council of the United Nations", RdC 206 (1987), 322 et seq; S.D. Bailey/S. Daws, The Procedure of the UN Security Council, 3rd edition, 1998.

  • 3 S.Sur, L'interpretation en droit international public, 1974; R. Bernhardt, "Interpretation in International Law", in: R. Bernhardt (ed.), EPIL Vol. II (1995), 1416 et seq.; J.-D. Sicault, "Du Caractere Obligatoire des Engagements Unilateraux en Droit International Public", RGDIP 83 (1979), 633 et seq. On the International Court's approach to the interpre- tation of declarations under Article 36 para. 2 of its Statute (the Optional Clause), see Sh. Rosenne, The Law and Practice of the International Court, 1920-1996, 1997, 809-15. See also Legality of the Use by a State of Nuclear Weapons in Armed Conflict, ICJ Reports 1996, 66 et seq., 76; W Lang, "Les r�gles d'interpretation codifiees par la Convention de Vienne sur le Droit des Traites et les divers types de traites", Osterreichi- sche Zeitschrift fiir 6ffentliches Recht und V61kerrecht 24 (1973), 113 et seq.; Sh. Rosenne, Developments in the Law of Treaties, 1989, 224 et seq.; H.G. Schermers/ N.M. Blokker, International Institutional Law, 3rd edition, 1995, 829 et seq.; C.F Amerasinghe, "Interpretation of Texts in Open International Organizations", BYIL 65 (1994), 175 et seq. 4 ICJ Reports 1971, 53.

  • 5 The Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadic a/k/a "Dule", Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, 2 October 1995, Inter- national Tribunal for the Prosecution of Persons Responsible for Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law in the Former Yugoslavia since 1991, Case No. IT 94-1-AR72: ILM 35 (1996), 32 et seq.; ILR 105 (1997),419 et seq. 6 Amerasinghe, see note 3, 204 et seq. See Lanner v. Secretary-General of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation, ILR 31 (1966), 479 et seq., a decision of the OEEC Appeal Board the headnote to which states that the interpretation of the resolution of the OEEC Council "was based on the travaux preparatoires of the resolution, on subsequent practice, and on certain broad principles laid down in the Constitutional Treaty and Staff Regulations". 7 See note 2. 8 See, for example, J. Fawcett, "Security Council Resolutions on Rhode- sia", BYIL 41 (1965/66), 103 et seq.; V Gowlland-Debbas, Collective Responses to Illegal Acts in International Law, 1990; M.P. Vorster/N.J. Botha, "Security Council Resolution 418 (1977)", South African Journal of International Law 4 (1978), 130 et seq; S.D. Bailey, The Making of Resolution 242, 1985; S. Sur, "La resolution 687 (3 April 1991 ) du Conseil de Securite dans I'affaire du Golfe",AFDI 37 (1991), 25 et seq.; G. Nolte, "Restoring Peace by Regional Action: International Legal Aspects of the Liberian Crisis", ZadRV 53 (1993), 603 et seq.; P. Martin-Bidou, "Les

  • mesures d'embargo prises a 1'encontre de la Yougoslavie", AFDI 39 (1993), 262 et seq. 9 The leading work on the Council is S.D. Bailey/S. Daws, The Procedure of the UN Security Council, 3rd edition, 1998. See also the relevant sections of the four principal commentaries on the Charter: H. Kelsen, The Law of the United Nations, 1950; L. M. Goodrich/E. Hambro/A.P Simons, Charter of the United Nations, 1969; J.P Cot/A. Pellet, La Charte des Nations Unies, 2nd edition, 1991; B. Simma, The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, 1995; The Development of the Role of the Security Counril, Hague Academy Workshop, 1993.

  • 10 D. Shraga/R. Zacklin, "The International Tribunal for the Former Yugo- slavia", EJIL 5 (1994), 363 et seq.; Tadic Decision of 2 October 1995, see note 5. 11 Adopted by A/RES/49/59 of 9 December 1994. 12 Herndl, see note 2, 385. 13 0. Schachter, "The Quasi-Judicial Role of the Security Council and the General Assembly", AJIL 58 (1964), 959 et seq.; E. Lauterpacht, Aspects of the Administration of International Justice, 1991, 37 et seq.

  • 14 P. Tavernier, "Les declarations du President du Conseil de Securite", AFDI 39 (1993), 86 et seq. 15 S/RES/868 (1993) of 29 September 1993.

  • 16 OJC 166,17.6.1993, 1 ; European Union, Selected Instruments taken from the Treaties, Book I, Vol. I (1993), 877. One international tribunal that has considerable experience of interpreting what might loosely be termed "resolutions" is the Court of Justice of the European Communities, but the context in which it operates and the kinds of "resolutions" that it has to interpret are so far removed from the Security Council that its juris- prudence is of little assistance.

  • 17 H. Freudenschuss, "Article 39 of the UN Charter Revisited: Threats to the Peace and the Recent Practice of the UN Security Council", Austrian J. Publ. Int. Law 46 (1993), 1 et seq.

  • 18 Jaworzina Advisory Opinion of 6 December 1923, PCIJ Series B, No. 8, 37.

  • 19 M.P. Scharf/J.L. Dorsin, "Interpreting UN Sanctions: The Rulings and Role of the Yugoslavia Sanctions Committee", Brook.J.Int'l L. 19 (1993), 771 et seq.; M. Koskenniemi, "Le Comite des Sanctions (cree par la resolution 661 (1990) du Conseil de Securite)", AFDI 37 (1991), 119 et seq.

  • 20 Castaneda, see note 2, 91. 21 J. Soubeyrol, "Aspects de la fonction interpretative du Secretaire-General de 1'O.N.U. lors de l'affaire du Congo", RGDIP 70 (1966), 565 et seq. Rosenne points out that each principal organ of the United Nations is par inter pares, having no power to change the meaning of a decision of another principal organ, but not being prohibited from interpreting a decision of another if that is necessary for the purposes of a decision: see note 3, 114.

  • 22 Thirlway, see note 1, 29. 23 Howrani and 4 others, UNAT Judgment No. 4 (1951), Judgments of the United Nations Administrative Tribunal (JUNAT) Nos 1-70, 8. See also Crawford, UNAT Judgement No. 61 (1955), JUNAT Nos I-70, 331.

  • 24 See note 2, 51. 25 See also S/RES/1031 (1995) of 15 December 1995, which states expressly that earlier authorizations of the use of force are terminated.

  • 26 Sh. Rosenne, "On Multi-Lingual Interpretation", Is.L.R. 6 (1971), 360 et seq., reprinted in: J. Norton Moore (ed.), The Arab-Israeli Conflict, Vol. II, 1974, 906 et seq. Rosenne points out that in the case of requests for advisory opinions only the English and French texts of the resolutions and other materials are transmitted to the Court, see note 3, 995. 27 See note 5, paras. 71 to 78 et seq.

  • 28 See note 5.

  • 29 J. Kahng, Law, Politics and the Security Council, 1984; R. Higgins, "The Place of International Law in the Settlement of Disputes by the Security Council ", AJIL 54 (1970),118 et seq.; A. Prandler, "The Security Council and International Law", Acta Juridica Academiae Scientiarum Hungari- cae 16 (1-2) (1974), 177 et seq.; Herndl, see note 2, 385. 3o ICJ Reports 1993, 2.

  • 31 See note 5, paras 86 and 87.

  • 32 See note 5, paras 75, 88, 143. 33 There are no official records of informal consultations. The Secretariat take notes for their own internal purposes as well as sound recordings, but these are not available to others, and in any event would not give a complete picture since even informal consultations are often only the tip of the iceberg. The reports of individual Council members may in due course become available as part of their public records, but those need to be treated with caution. Even more caution is needed with the notes or recollections of individual delegates. 34 Yasseen, see note 1, 85. The Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, 1973-82, is a good example of the phenomenon. The temptation for "those who were there" to write their memoirs, as it were, is seen here too.

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