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The “failed State” and international law

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 April 2010


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Copyright © International Committee of the Red Cross 1999

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1 See the Concluding statement by the United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali of the United Nations Congress on Public International Law: Towards the Twenty-First Century: International Law as a Language for International Relations (13–17 March 1995, New York), Documents, p. 9.

2 In this respect, we can distinguish between two different situations: on the one hand, cases such as that of the Democratic Republic of Congo where a total or near total collapse of government authority does not result in massive violence; on the other, cases such as Somalia and Liberia where the vacuum left by the disintegration of the State is filled by a chaos of small-scale group-based wars.

3 Examples include Afghanistan, Angola, Colombia and Kosovo.

4 Enzensberger, Hans Magnus, Aussichten auf den Bürgerkrieg, Frankfurt am Main, 1993, p. 12.Google Scholar

5 Weber, Max, Staatssoziologie, Winckelmann, Johannes (ed.), 2nd ed., Berlin, 1996, pp. 27 ff.Google Scholar

6 Cf. Arnold Gehlen's incisive reflections on the socio-psychological consequences of the collapse of the State or the social order: “The immediate effect is that the persons concerned become profoundly insecure. The moral and spiritual centres are disoriented because, there too, the certainty of the self-evident has foundered. Thus, penetrating to the very core of their being, insecurity forces people to improvise, compelling them to make decisions à contre cœur or to plunge blindfold into the realms of uncertainty, perhaps seeking at any price fundamentals to cling to and give them a sense of purpose. In practice, moreover, insecurity is manifested in the form of fear, defiance or volatility. The effect is to place a heavy burden of control and decision-making on those layers of the personality where life should be lived problem-free amidst the self-evident and the given if people are to be capable of dealing with more demanding situations. In other words, the displacement people suffer due to the shattering of their institutions is expressed as primitivization.” Quoted in Keupp, Heiner, Lust an der Erkenntnis: Der Mensch als soziales Wesen, Munich/Zurich, 1995, p. 105 ff.Google Scholar – ICRC translation.

7 On this point, see Herdegen, Matthias, Der Wegfall effektiver Staatsgewalt im Völkerrecht: “The Failed State”, Berichte der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Völkerrecht, Vol. 34, Heidelberg, 1996, p. 68 ff.Google Scholar

8 Legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia [South West Africa] Notwithstanding Security Council Resolution 276, Advisory Opinion, I.C.J. Reports 1971, p. 56.

9 Resolution 841(1993) of 16 June 1993.

10 Resolution 794 (1992) of 3 December 1992, para. 10; Resolution 814 (1993) of 26 March 1993. Para. 5; Resolution 837 (1993) of 6 June 1993, para. 5.

11 Cf. Findlay, Trevor, Cambodia — The Legacy and Lessons of UNTAC, SIPRI Research Report No. 9, Oxford, 1995.Google Scholar

12 Ghali, Boutros Boutros, Building Peace and Development 1994 — Annual Report on the Work of the Organization, New York, 1994, p. 147 ff.Google Scholar, esp. 265 ff.

13 Ghali, Boutros Boutros, op. cit. (note 12), p. 235 ff.Google Scholar

14 See Schindler, Dietrich, “The Protection of human rights and humanitarian law in case of disintegration of States”, Revue Egyptienne de Droit International, 1966, p. 1 ff.Google Scholar See also from the same author, “Humanitarian interference and international law”, Essays in Honour of Wang Tieya, Dordrecht/Boston/London, 1993, p. 689 ff.

15 Gasser, Hans-Peter, “International humanitarian law”, in Haug, Hans, Humanity for All, Henry Dunant Intitute/Paul Haupt, Berne/Stuttgart/Vienna, 1993, pp. 491 ff.Google Scholar, in particular pp. 554 ff.

16 See Pictet, Jean (ed.), Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War: Commentary, ICRC, Geneva, 1958, pp. 35 ff.Google Scholar, and Sandoz/C, Y.. Swinarski, /Zimmerman, B. (eds.), Commentary on the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, ICRC/Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Geneva, 1987, pp. 1348 ff.Google Scholar

17 Judgment in the Case concerning Military and Paramiltary Activities in and against Nicaragua, I.C.J. Reports 1986, pp. 14, 122 ff.

18 See the following Security Council Resolutions: 788 (1992) of 19 November 1992; 813 (1993) of 26 March 1993; 91a (1994) of 21 April 1994 and further resolutions on Liberia; 794 (1992) of 3 December 1992 and 814 (1993) of 26 March 1993 on Somalia; 1181 (1998) of 13 June 1998 and 1231 (1999) of 11 March 1999 on Sierra Leone.

19 International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Prosecutor v. Tadic, Dusko, Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction, 2 October 1995, I.L.M., Vol. 35, 1996, p. 54Google Scholar, para. 97, of the decision.

20 The term used by the I.C.J. in the Nicaragua Judgment, op. cit. (note 17), p. 114. See also Beyerlin, Ulrich, Die humanitäre Aktion zur Gewährleistung des Mindeststandards in nicht-internationalen Konflikten, Berlin, 1975.Google Scholar

21 See Bindschedler, Rudolf L., “Völkerrechtliche Verantwortlichkeit als Verbrechen”, Dutoit, Bernard/Grisel, Etienne (eds), Mélanges Georges Perrin, Lausanne, 1984, pp. 51 ff.Google Scholar

22 See Jörg Manfred Mössner, “Privatpersonen als Verursacher völkerrechtlicher Delikte”, Wolf, und Joachim, “Zurechnungsfragen bei Handlungen von Privatpersonen”, Zeitschrift für ausländisches und öffentliches Recht und Völkerrecht, 1985, pp. 232 ff.Google Scholar

23 Sperduti, Giuseppe, “Responsibility of States for activities of private law persons”, Bernhardt, Rudolf (ed.), Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Instalment 10, North-Holland Publishing Company, Amsterdam/New York/Oxford, 1987, pp. 373 ff.Google Scholar; Epiney, Astrid, Die völkerrechtliche Verantwortlichkeit von Staaten für rechtswidriges Verhalten im Zusammenhang mit Aktionen Privater, Baden-Baden, 1992, pp. 205 ff.Google Scholar

24 See Tomuschat, Christian, “Gegenwartsprobleme der Staatenverantwortlichkeit in der Arbeit der Völkerrechtskommission der Vereinten Nationen”, Ress, Georg und Stein, Torsten (eds.), Vorträge, Reden und Berichte aus dem Europa-Institut der Universität des Saarlandes, No. 311, in particular p. 30Google Scholar: “Eine reine objektive Haftung würde allen Traditionen widersprechen. Die Staaten müssen sich in angemessener Weise bemühen, ihre bestehenden Verpflichtungen zu erfüllen und Schaden von fremden Staaten fernzuhalten. Von einer Verletzung kann immer nur die Rede sein, wenn nicht die gebotene Sorgfalt aufgewandt wird.” — See also the decision of the I.C.J. in the Corfu Channel case, which showed that the (Albanian) government could have complied with its obligations of care and information and that the State was liable. Corfu Channel Case, I.C.J. Reports 1949, pp. 18 ff.; and Gattini, Andrea, Zufall und force majeure im System der Staatenverantwortlichkeit anhand der ILC-Kodifikationsarbeit, Berlin, 1991, p. 262.Google Scholar

25 Draft articles provisionally adopted by the Drafting Committee of the International Law Commission, A/CN.4/L.569, 4 August 1998.

26 Article 15 reads as follows:

“1. The conduct of an insurrectional movement which becomes the new government of a State shall be considered an act ofthat State under international law.

2. The conduct of a movement, insurrectional or other, which succeeds in establishing a new State in part of the territory of a pre-existing State or in a territory under its administration shall be considered an act of the new State under international law.

3. This article is without prejudice to the attribution to a State of any conduct, however related to that of the movement concerned, which is to be considered an act of that State by virtue of Articles 5 to 10.”, Ibid. — See also Brownlie, Ian, System of the Law of Nations: State Responsibility, Part 1, Oxford, 1983, pp. 177 ff.Google Scholar, and Yearbook of the International Law Commission, 1975/II, pp. 93 ff., 99 ff., 104.


27 Article 15a reads: “Conduct which is not attributable to a State under Articles 5, 7, 8, 8a, 9 or 15 shall nevertheless be considered an act ofthat State under international law if and to the extent that the State acknowledges and adopts the conduct in question as its own.” Op. cit. (note 25).

28 After 24 Pakistani soldiers of the UN force in Mogadishu were lured into an ambush and killed, the Security Council confirmed “that the Secretary-General is authorized under resolution 814 (1993) to take all necessary measures against all those responsible for the armed attacks…, including against those responsible for publicly inciting such attacks, to establish the effective authority of UNOSOM II throughout Somalia, including to secure the investigation of their actions and their arrest and detention for prosecution, trial and punishment.” Resolution 837 (1993) of 6 June 1993, para. 5.

29 Resolution 827 (1993) of 25 May i993, see I.L.M., Vol. 32, 1993, pp. 1203 ff.

30 Resolution 955 (1994) of 8 November 1994 and Statute of the ICTR. see I.L.M., Vol. 33, 1994, pp. 1600 ff.

31 See Tomuschat, Christian, “Das Statut von Rom für den Internationalen Strafgerichtshof”, Die Friedens-Warte, Vol. 73, 1998, pp. 335 ff.Google Scholar

32 See Thürer, Daniel, “Vom Nürnberger Tribunal zum Jugoslawien-Tribunal und weiter zu einem Weltstrafgerichtshof?”, Schweizerische Zeitschrift für internationales und europäisches Recht, 1993, pp. 491 ff.Google Scholar

33 In accordance with Article 4 of the Statute of the Rwanda Tribunal (op. cit., note 30) — and this is its special innovation — the Tribunal is authorized to prosecute serious offences against Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions and against Additional Protocol II. In contrast to the Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, there is in this case a clear extension of the responsibility of the individual under international criminal law into the purely internal domain. For this and interesting parallel developments with regard to the law on chemical and biological-bacteriological weapons or mines, see especially Meron, Theodor, “International criminalization of internal atrocities”, AJIL, Vol. 89, 1995, pp. 554 ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

34 Op. cit. (note 19), para. 89 in connection with para. 137. The Tribunal held, inter alia, that civil wars have become more frequent and more cruel and that third party States are also directly or indirectly involved. In addition, greater attention had to be paid to the protection of human rights since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

35 Article 8.2(c) of the ICC Statute.

36 “…situations of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence or other acts of a similar nature.” Article 8.2(d) of the ICC Statute.

37 Article 8.2(e) of the ICC Statute. Exception is made for “situations of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence or other acts of a similar nature”. Article 8.2(f), first sentence. Application is described as follows: “It applies to armed conflicts that take place in the territory of the State when there is protracted armed conflict between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups.” Article 8.2(f), second sentence.

38 Article 8.3 of the ICC Statute.

39 Ibid., Article 1.


40 Ibid., Article 17.


41 As at 1 November 1999, the Statute had been ratified by Senegal, Trinidad and Tobago, San Marino and Italy.

42 Ghali, Boutros Boutros, Supplement to an Agenda for Peace, United Nations, New York, 1995, p. 11.Google Scholar

43 The Commission on Global Governance, Our Global Neighbourhood, Oxford, 1995, pp. 71 ff.Google ScholarPubMed

44 See Tomuschat, Christian, “International crimes by States: An endangered species?”, Wellens, Karel (ed.), International Law: Theory and Practice, Essays in Honour of Eric Suy, The Hague/Boston/London, 1998, pp. 253 ff.Google Scholar, 269 f.

45 See Schmidt, Eberhard, Einführung in die Geschichte der deutschen Staatsrechtspflege, 3rd ed., Göttingen, 1983, pp. 47 ff.Google Scholar, 87 ff.

46 Bratton, Michael, “Beyond the State: Civil society and associational life in Africa”, Associations Transnationales, 1991, p. 137.Google Scholar

47 The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Toronto 1961 (reprinted 1978), Vol. XXI, p. 111

48 Ibid., p.112.


49 Ibid, p.122.


50 Schreuer, Christoph, “The waning of the sovereign State: Towards a new paradigm for international law?”, European Journal of International Law, 1993, pp. 447 ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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