International democratic institutions can counter autocrats’ lawfare


Whatever problems China and Russia may be experiencing, the foreign policy of both countries are a growing threat to global peace and security, argues Ingrid Wuerth, a Professor at Vanderbilt Law School. Working together, the two countries have voted together to block important U.N. Security Council action on Syria. And now they have signed a Joint Declaration on international law, signaling more concerted action going forward, she writes:

  • First, the Joint Declaration explicitly emphasizes the ongoing importance of the sovereign equality of states to international law, an emphasis likely meant to highlight that some aspects of human rights law, the right to democracy, and the responsibility to protect are based on the views of some but not all states. Hence, the Joint Declaration’s language that “States have the right to participate in the making of, interpreting and applying international law on an equal footing” – meaning that Western states may not build or change norms of international law at the exclusion of non-Western or developing countries.   More fundamentally, the sovereign-equality aspect of the Joint Declaration highlights the long-standing and deeply held views of Russia and China that international law has historically been a tool of Western Imperialism and that sovereignty and sovereign equality of the states are the key doctrinal bulwarks against such imperialism today.  This history deeply informs public opinion and foreign policy of both countries today. 
  • Second, the Joint Declaration explicitly suggests that state immunity is alive and well – maybe including even the absolute rather than the restrictive view of foreign state immunity. ….  The Joint Declaration does not explicitly reject the restrictive view of immunity, but it does at least suggest that China and Russia will take the absolute approach and that they will continue to reject human-rights based restrictions on the immunity of individual officials.
  • Finally, as mentioned above, the Joint Declaration may mean bad news for the humanitarian intervention and responsibility to protect. RTWT


One only need look at Russia’s destabilizing activities in Ukraine or their intimidation of Eastern European nations that seek strategic alignment with the West through NATO or the EU to appreciate the importance of international democratic institutions, argues U.S. Senator Ben Cardin:

Similarly, China has engaged in aggressive maritime claiming activities throughout the Asia Pacific region and has willfully worked to break the functioning of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has fostered greater diplomacy and economic ties throughout the continent. And any hope to bolster democracy and respect for human rights in Venezuela will require the stepped-up engagement of all the members of the Organization of American States.


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