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Egypt and the United Nations

Egypt has played a central role at the United Nations since the world organisation’s foundation in the dying days of World War II

Hussein Hassouna , Thursday 20 Dec 2018
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The history of the United Nations testifies to the important role played by Egypt in the creation of the world organisation and the drafting of its charter at the San Francisco Conference at the end of World War II.

This history has also recorded how Egypt has consistently defended the interests and aspirations of the Arab and African nations in the organisation in accordance with the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter.

Most recently, Egypt has been exercising this leading role on behalf of these nations during its membership of the Security Council as a non-permanent member for 2016 and 2017.

In its approach to national and regional issues, Egypt’s foreign policy has been based over the years on a number of fundamental premises that include respect for the principles of international law and justice and its application in the relations between states.

This was demonstrated in Egypt’s positions during the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty negotiations, negotiations to settle the Palestinian issue, arbitration over Taba, the delimitation of Egypt’s maritime borders, the protection of Egypt’s rights to Nile water, the settlement of many Arab crises through peaceful means while preserving the unity and territorial integrity of the Arab states, and the fight against terrorism in all its forms and manifestations.

Since the creation of the United Nations, Egypt has actively participated in all international conferences and United Nations organs and committees concerned with international law.

Egyptian representatives have significantly contributed to the work of the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia, the International Law Commission, the Committee on International Trade Law, the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Definition of Aggression, the Conference on the Law of the Sea and the Conference establishing the International Criminal Court, among others.

In such United Nations fora, Egypt and the Third World countries have strongly supported the United Nations Charter and the principles of the sovereignty and equality of states, as well as those of non-aggression and non-intervention.

They have further called on the United Nations to approach the issue of human rights guided by the principles of impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, within a context of dialogue and cooperation rather than of confrontation and condemnation.

In addition, Egypt and the Third World countries have actively worked together with a view to codifying and progressively developing principles of international law that reflect the interests of the developing nations.

They have succeeded in upholding novel legal concepts such as the right to development, the right to self-determination, the New World Economic Order, a state’s permanent sovereignty over its resources, the common heritage of humanity, exclusive maritime economic zones, the protection of human rights without discrimination and justice and equality in the application of international economic law.

As a founding member of the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organisation (AALCO), which includes 47 member states from Asia and Africa, Egypt has endeavoured over the years to promote legal cooperation between the Asian and African countries and coordinate their positions in the field of international law.

In its active involvement in the law-making processes of the United Nations, the AALCO has made valuable contributions in the fields of diplomatic law, the law of treaties, the law of the sea, human rights and international humanitarian law, international criminal law and environmental law, among others.

One of the fundamental principles of the United Nations under its charter is the respect for international law and justice. However, the organisation has often failed in ensuring that member states apply international law and abide by it in their relations.

In many cases, states have violated United Nations Resolutions, adopted double standards, and given precedence to their own political interests over their legal obligations.

However, the United Nations has been successful in its mission, derived from its charter, of calling for the progressive development of international law and its codification.

This role has been performed by the United Nations International Law Commission, which was created in 1947 and currently comprises 34 prominent experts in international law drawn from all the regional groupings in the United Nations and representing the world’s major legal systems.

Through their participation, the Egyptian members of the Commission have actively contributed over the years to its collective work in the field of international law.

These members have included figures such as the late Abdallah Al-Erian, former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros Ghali, former secretary-general of the Arab League Nabil Al-Arabi, and the present writer.

Since its creation, the Commission has drafted multilateral treaties in the most important areas of state relations such as diplomatic relations, the law of treaties, the law of the sea, the law of international watercourses and the law of criminal responsibility.

The Commission’s current agenda includes further topics of contemporary importance such as crimes against humanity, the protection of persons in the event of disasters, the expulsion of aliens, the protection of the atmosphere, the immunity of state officials from foreign criminal jurisdictions and the protection of the environment in armed conflicts, among others. It has a rich agenda of legal texts to be submitted to the United Nations General Assembly for adoption.

Finally, it is my firm conviction that as a founding member of the United Nations and former member of the Security Council, Egypt will continue supporting the world organisation’s central role in our increasingly globalised and inter-connected world.

However, in order to play that role, the United Nations ought to be given full support by its member states, as well as undergo institutional reform to make its decision-making more representative, fair and credible.

Let us always remember, however, that despite its failings the United Nations remains the principle representative of international legitimacy and the best hope for ushering in a world based on the rule of law and justice

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister for international legal affairs.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 13 December, 2018 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: Egypt and the United Nations  

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