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Speech at the International Court of Justice

The Hague, 29.11.2011  |  speech

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Speech by Dr Danilo Türk, President of the Republic of Slovenia, at the International Court of Justice
The Hague, 29 November 2011

President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk, addressed the International Court of Justice (photo: Stanko Gruden/STA)Mr President,
Members of the Court,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you for your kind and friendly welcome. It is with deep awareness of the honour granted to me that I address you on this special occasion in the splendid and highly symbolic environment of the Peace Palace in The Hague.

The International Court of Justice has been, since its inception, not only the world's highest court of law, but also a symbol of the highest human aspirations. The Court epitomizes the historical human longing towards an international order based on human reason and rule of law. It is associated with the highest standards of international jurisprudence. Many of the decisions taken in this distinguished building have become milestones in the evolution of the organized international community.

Jurists, diplomats and political leaders draw inspiration from the judgments and advisory opinions of the International Court of Justice, from the message of justice and fairness expressed in the Court's decisions, as well as in the separate opinions of its judges. In particular, this message resonates in those states which established their place in the international system in the course of the twentieth century.

One such state is the Republic of Slovenia, an independent, sovereign state for twenty years.
Slovenia’s experience, as a member of the international community, has been closely associated with international law. This experience can be summarized in a variety of ways.

However, the following three key conclusions drawn from international law have been significant in my country's history:

First, the principle of sovereign equality of states continues to have full validity in the contemporary world.

Second, the principle of free choice of means of peaceful settlement of disputes between states is often essential for decision making by states in their efforts to settle their disputes peacefully.

Third, international law and, in particular, the idea of fairness inherent in it, hold a significant and creative potential.

President of the Republic of Slovenia, Dr Danilo Türk, addressed the International Court of Justice (photo: Stanko Gruden/STA)Allow me to make a few additional remarks concerning these three conclusions drawn from our specific experience.

First, the Republic of Slovenia emerged as a sovereign state and became a member of the United Nations in the wake of the dissolution of its predecessor state, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, which had ceased to exist. From the first days of independence twenty years ago, the principle of equality of all successor states of former Yugoslavia was essential to Slovenia. The legal and political effort to promote acceptance of this principle took almost a decade of discussions. These discussions were not easy due to both political and historical complexity. Finally, the logic of law and justice prevailed. In October 2000, the last among the immediate successor states of former Yugoslavia applied for membership in the UN as a new member state.
A few months later the five successor states concluded their agreement on state succession in matters of state property, financial assets and liabilities and archives. The principle of sovereign equality was thus accepted and applied. Today we can look back to the legal resolution of that situation with satisfaction.

It is only proper to recognize the role of the International Court of Justice in this context. Of course, the Court did not deal with the question of state succession in former Yugoslavia per se. However, in the course of the Court addressing a wide range of issues of international law relevant to former Yugoslavia, it provided wise guidance on and carefully safeguarded the principle of sovereign equality of successor states. In the reasoning of its judgments and the separate opinions of its judges, the Court helped to clarify some of the questions under negotiation and indirectly helped the successor states in their search for the right solutions.

The principle of sovereign equality of states reaches far beyond the issues of state succession. It is basic to the entire United Nations system. It is also essential in the process of treaty making, in the field of diplomatic relations and in all other fields of international life of a state. Even in the European Union, a highly integrated regional arrangement, of which the Republic of Slovenia is a member, sovereign equality has not been superseded by any other principle. Time and again the discussions within the European Union reaffirm the basic fact that the European Union, like any other international organization, remains the product of the sovereign will of its member states. Moreover, an analysis of the European Union law reminds us of the fundamental importance of the democratic legitimacy that only sovereign states can possess. The decision making bodies of the European Union must seek genuine acceptance by the sovereign member states and their democratically elected bodies for all decisions that might affect the legal architecture of the Union.
In brief, sovereign equality of states remains a vital foundation of the organized international community. This realization has a profound bearing on all aspects of international life, including the ways in which states choose and utilize the means for peaceful settlement of their disputes.

In this context, too, the experience of the successor states of former Yugoslavia is interesting, given the number and variety of disputes which have arisen as a result of dissolution of that complex, multiethnic and federal state. Some among those disputes have filled the docket of the International Court of Justice. Others have been solved or are being solved by negotiation, mediation or by other peaceful means. One of them, the dispute between Slovenia and Croatia regarding the maritime and land boundary, will be resolved by arbitration, in accordance with the bilateral Arbitration Agreement that was concluded recently.

Efforts of the two countries to find a mutually agreeable method of dispute settlement had been pursued continuously for nearly two decades. They included proposals for direct negotiations, good offices and mediation, an exchange of ideas regarding conciliation and adjudication and, finally, the agreement on arbitration. The process of searching for an approach to the actual dispute settlement was long and included careful pondering of difficult choices. At times, success appeared to be close only to discover that full agreement was not yet possible. In the final phase, the European Commission played a welcome and effective role by mediating the process and assisting – with suggested drafts during the negotiation of the Arbitration Agreement.

The lesson learned in this case - as in many cases before - has been that the process of choosing the means of dispute settlement is a learning opportunity and a creative process which allows the parties to adapt to the factual and legal particularities of the dispute at hand and to find the way forward, towards a solution.

Let me now, Mr President, proceed to my final and a more general point.

The processes of application of international law are, in general, creative processes. Jurists involved in these processes in their different roles have to use their knowledge and skills to ponder claims of varying degrees of legal merit, to manage a variety of conflicting interest and to understand international law in its relative indeterminacy. The latter is important because norms of international law mainly belong to the category of ius dispositivum. They are most effectively applied when their application takes into account all the relevant factual circumstances and when they are applied with due regard to equity and fairness.

The search for fairness begins with the search for an agreement. As the recent history demonstrated, fairness holds a significant and creative potential which can be translated into a wide variety of agreements. The past two decades have witnessed many new expressions of this phenomenon. International criminal law and its institutions have been brought to entirely new levels. The international law of human rights has gained in precision and legal texture, as well as in the sophistication of its implementation procedures. Even the United Nations Security Council improved its methods of work and made the substance of some of its decisions relating to certain targeted sanctions more susceptible to the idea of fairness. Slovenia has had the opportunity to play an active role in the processes of international legislation and decision making in all these vital areas of application of international law.
This gave my country an excellent opportunity to exercise its sovereignty actively, with a serious appreciation of the importance of fairness and with a keen understanding of the key role of the search for an agreement.

However, when it comes to substantive fairness there are still vast areas of international law which leave much to be desired. Global trade negotiations have yet to deliver on their promise of fair trading arrangements for developing countries. Environmental protection systems still require new and fair arrangements in many areas. Major international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the United Nations Security Council need to be reformed – in part to better reflect the distribution of power in the world – but more importantly to also ensure greater fairness of their decisions for the benefit of humankind as a whole.

International law and its inherent concept of fairness can become key instruments of the necessary change. It is already generally accepted that international law is the common language of the international community. However, international law is much more than that. It is the main carrier of the notions of fairness and justice and hence of the further improvement of the human condition in the globalized world. As president of a sovereign state and as a lifelong student, teacher and practitioner of international law, I feel confident that sustained and fair functioning of international law will gradually improve and, indeed, transform the world.

In this historical march of change, the International Court of Justice will continue to play an essential role and its decisions will continue to inspire beyond the limits of its immediate jurisdiction.

Mr President,
Distinguished Members of the Court,

I feel honoured to have been given the opportunity to address you today. Before concluding, I wish to congratulate you, Mr. President, and other Members of the Court who have been recently reelected to this high office, on your reelection. I wish you every success in your work and I thank you all, distinguished Members of the Court, ladies and gentlemen, for your attention.
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