Breaking Down the Top 5 International Laws, Treaties, and Conventions You’ll Hear Being Discussed in Committee Part II

by lstefanos on December 18, 2013

In light of the positive responses we got from Part I of this article, I decided to follow it up with a Part II! Hopefully this quick background will continue to give new delegates and veterans enough of an understanding of the major international laws to use them in committee. For any questions, requests, or clarifications, feel free to contact


The Charter of the United Nations (1945)

This document is arguably seen as the most important piece of international law in existence. Although legislations passed by the General Assembly are not technically binding, every single member state of the UN is a signatory of the charter because of its importance as an international norm. The Charter outlines etiquette rules in relations between states and is designed to promote peace and dialogue in order to avoid a third world war conflict. The two most commonly used parts of the Charter are Chapter IV, the General Assembly, and Chapter V, The Security Council. These two Chapters establish everything from voting procedures for the Permanent 5 States to who can vote as a member state and who only has observer status. After learning what the purposes and powers are of the two major organs of the UN, you would then check out Chapter VI and Chapter VII which deal with peaceful settlements, and when that fails, containing aggression and intervention. Under Chapter VI, member states have to first seek to solve conflicts through mediation, judicial settlement, and regional agencies. In the event that this fails, it is the responsibility of the Security Council to establish peace again and check state aggression under Chapter VII. This chapter also gives the Security Council the force of Peacekeeping Troops at its disposal for intervention.

The actual question of if intervention is ever necessary however remains pretty in the international community, but this question leads us to the next document:


The Responsibility to Protect (2005)

The Responsibility to Protect, otherwise known as R2P has been a controversial document since its establishment in 2005 by the Canadian government and the United Nations. The idea behind this law (which is quickly becoming an international norm) is that in a Post-Cold War Era, national sovereignty is no longer a natural right but a privilege. Countries have the primary responsibility to protect their citizens from human rights violations, specifically from genocide, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes. In the event a country does not meet these standards, R2P requires the international community to attempt to help the country in question; if that fails, member-states have the authority to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions and military intervention at the last resort.

During the initial drafting of R2P in 2005, countries were relatively optimistic that the international would be willing to move ahead with this initiative, but time showed that ultimately, countries do not want to completely give up their autonomies within their own borders. The UN did also adopt two parts of R2P in its Outcome Document in 2005: paragraph 138, which states that the international community should support one another in developing necessary early warning systems in tandem with the UN to secure human rights. The second part that was adopted, paragraph 139, emphasises that states and the UN Security Council must use their Chapter VI and Chapter VII privileges from the Charter to collectively act to ensure violations are not occurring.

This document may not be as concretely binding as the Charter, but R2P is definitely becoming an accepted norm by the international community and definitely has some weight in discussing human rights. Don’t be afraid to call certain notorious leaders out on the basis of R2P, I’m sure SOCHUM will love that!


The Ottawa Treaty (1997)

Also known as the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, the Ottawa Treaty was a major agenda issue in the 1990’s thanks to the major support of the late Princess Diana of Wales. Thus far, 161 countries have signed this convention and 36, including the United States, India, Russia, and China, have yet to sign. This convention seeks to abolish the use of small AP mines that aim to injure humans and not tanks. As I just mentioned, the use of AP mines is controversial because they don’t aim to kill, they’re often designed to seriously injure in order to increase the enemy side’s need for medical and logistical support. While there are also land-mines that have larger targets such as tanks, AP mines are the most controversial because of their capability to be hidden so well that civilians often accidentally get caught in a minefield. AP mines are also not removed immediately after a conflict is over; while they are relatively easy to destroy, most warring parties leave the mines their for up to 30 years later which seriously can injure unsuspecting civilians.

Part of the reluctance to destroy AP mine stockpiles from larger countries comes from the fact that when protecting a large, unsafe border, one of the most convenient ways to do so is by placing landmines on it to serve as detectors for unwanted visitors. This can be especially useful in regions such as the Middle East where borders are relatively unstable because of Arab Spring and organizations like Al-Qaeda and move easily between states. At the same time, there are also a lot of refugees that are seeking to flee the turmoil in their countries that can get caught in an explosion.

Discussing this treaty in committee will definitely be a fun move since whether or not your representative country has signed it or not, you’re bound to have a pretty strong opinion on it. Besides, setting an agenda topic such as this one lets you set the tone of the committee for a while, so why not give it a try!


The Kyoto Protocol (1997 and 2012)

For all my environmentalists out there, the Kyoto Protocol is a necessity when talking about curtailing greenhouse emissions. This initiative was originally started in the 1990’s with Kyoto’s predecessor, the Montreal Protocol (1987). Kyoto aims to address the negative externalities of human industrialization by reducing greenhouse gasses in industrialized countries. Like the Ottawa Treaty, the Kyoto Protocol is possible even more controversial because of all the different countries that have accepted the agreement. For example, the United States has signed the document, but had never ratified it and does not plan on doing so anytime in the foreseeable future. Conversely, Canada was once a signatory but withdrew in 2011 on the basis that the agreement was too binding. This argument is also what is hindering several countries from signing and ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. The second part to opposition against the Kyoto Protocol is that it does not target developing countries; roughly 80% of the world is excluded in the words of former President George W. Bush. The idea behind this decision is that developed countries were able to industrialize without any restrictions, therefore countries developing right now should also have the same privilege and opportunity. Moral of the story? If you’re representing a developing country at a conference, don’t be afraid to guilt the great powers!

As far as international environmental law goes, this is definitely the most well known and accepted one. Even though many countries may not want to be as tightly bound as Kyoto requires, it is still nonetheless becoming an accepted norm that all countries should at least try to abide by. Even if there are states like the United States that are not fully members of this protocol, they are still making active efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions through programs such as  the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Western Climate Initiative that was signed between the United States and Canada.


The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998)

Because of the confusion that surrounds the differences between the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice, the Rome Statute is pretty important to look to clear this up. The ICC came into full existence in 2002 in order to assist countries that don’t have the necessary infrastructure in place to try individuals and leaders who have committed crimes against humanity. Like R2P, the Rome Statute also has four pillars that constitute as international crimes: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and crimes of aggression. The primary difference between the ICC and the ICJ is that the ICC can only try individuals  and the ICJ tries national governments. Under the Rome Statute, the ICC is also an independent body that does not need UN approval for trials. The ICJ on the other hand is known as “The World Court” because it is the official court of the UN and is explained in more detail in Chapter XIV of the Charter of the United Nations.

Due to the fact that the ICC is an independent body, its jurisdiction only applies to countries that are a party to the Rome Statute. There  are, as you can imagine, several countries that are have not ratified this document, including the United States, Russia, China, India, and several African and Middle Eastern nations. More and more African countries are choosing to not join because of the belief that the ICC targets African leaders, who do oftentimes have greater occurrence of human rights violations. One of the more controversial requirements of the Rome Statute is that all states must immediately arrest individuals who have been found guilty by the ICC if the individual enters another state. Unfortunately, this does not always happen as was seen in the case of the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir in 2008 partly because the Sudan was not a party to the Rome Statute at the time but also because there are several member-states who see him as a key ally. Nevertheless, this law should still start some pretty dynamic conversion in LEGAL so give it a go!

So to sum it all up, in most cases, the norms and legacies of these laws are oftentimes even more crucial than the laws themselves. Even if a country is not a signatory to a certain treaty, that does not necessarily mean that it completely ignores them- we all have a public image to maintain, remember! Using a law effectively will also definitely give you an advantage in committee that not everyone will have so don’t be afraid to discuss them!

If you found this useful, you should definitely check out part one. As always, please feel free to send in suggestions, comments, and requests!

Part I:

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: