I was recently invited by the Asian-African Legal Consultative Organisation (AALCO), in my capacity as a member of the United Nations International Law Commission, to participate in its 58th annual session held in Dar es Salaam in the United Republic of Tanzania. This was a high-level meeting attended by Egypt and most African and Asian UN member states.
AALCO, with its headquarters in New Delhi, was founded in 1956 as an outcome of the historic Asian-African Conference held in Bandung, Indonesia, in April 1955. As a founding member of AALCO, Egypt has throughout the years supported the organisation and its mission. It has played host to some of its annual high-level sessions, and an Egyptian secretary-general has exercised that high function for a period of two full terms. Cairo has been chosen as a major location for one of AALCO’s five Regional Arbitration Centres in Africa and Asia.
Over past years, AALCO has played, with Egypt’s participation, a positive role in enhancing legal cooperation among its member states and coordinating their positions in the field of international law. By the same token, it has fostered and strengthened the spirit of Asian-African identity that had given birth to the organisation. In its active involvement in the law-making process, 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 other areas.
At the recently held AALCO session in Dar es Salaam, a variety of international legal issues of concern to member states were debated over four days of meetings. In reviewing the world situation, the participants declared that respect for and observance of international law was a prerequisite for international peace and security. They considered multilateralism as the solution for many crises emanating from unilateralism and protectionism. They condemned violent extremism and terrorism, as well as flagrant violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. A call to reform global governance structures was also issued.
There was agreement on the need to settle disputes between states through peaceful means to be chosen by the parties themselves. In that context, the transboundary effects of climate change and environmental harm raised the importance of the pacific settlement of environmental disputes. The delegations further considered that unilateral sanctions imposed by states were an illegal exercise of extra-territorial jurisdiction and a violation of state sovereignty and of non-intervention in the internal affairs of another state.
On the issue of Palestine, the participants condemned the violations of international law by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. They stressed the need to recognise East Jerusalem as the capital of the sovereign state of Palestine and condemned all measures to alter the legal status of Jerusalem, emphasising that such measures had no legal effect. They called for the settling of the conflict by peaceful means only and reaffirmed their unwavering support for the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.
In relation to the law of the sea, the meeting underlined the principle of freedom of navigation in international waters and straits. It was observed, however, that such freedom should not be used as a pretext to challenge the maritime boundaries of another state. Support was further expressed for current efforts to create an international legally binding instrument for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity.
With regard to international law on cyberspace, the delegations stressed the importance of peacefully using cyberspace and the need to exert all efforts to tackle the threat of cybercrime. In that context, they supported national, regional, and international efforts to enhance cybersecurity, including the elaboration of a comprehensive international convention on combating cybercrime.
On international trade and investment, the participants called for the reform of the World Trade Organisation and the development of mechanisms for the settlement of investment disputes, including the establishment of a permanent international investment court. Finally, wide support was expressed for the work of the United Nations International Law Commission in the field of the codification and progressive development of international law.
I strongly believe that at a time when international law is facing tremendous challenges in today’s world, it is of paramount importance for AALCO members to be actively involved in the formation of rules of international law that reflect their vital interests and legitimate concerns.
The writer is a member of the UN International Law Commission.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 6 February, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.