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The Charter of the United Nations - A Commentary, Volume I (2012-11-22)

Ch.I Purposes and Principles, Article 1

Rüdiger Wolfrum

From: The Charter of the United Nations: A Commentary, Volume I (3rd Edition)

Edited By: Bruno Simma, Daniel-Erasmus Khan, Georg Nolte, Andreas Paulus, Nikolai Wessendorf, (Assistant Editor)

United Nations (UN) — International peace and security — Civil and political rights — UN Charter

Article 1

The Purposes of the United Nations are:

1. To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace;

2. To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace;

3. To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion; and

4. To be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations in the attainment of these common ends.

  1. A.  Introduction 1–6

  2. B.  Interpretation 7–27

  3. C.  Practice 28–38

Select Bibliography

  • D’Argent P and Susani N, ‘United Nations, Purposes and Principles’ MPEPIL, vol X (OUP 2012) 418–27.
  • Bailey SD, The UN Security Council and Human Rights (Martin’s Press and others 1994).
  • Bennett AL, International Organizations: Principles and Issues (7th edn, Prentice Hall 2002) 59.
  • Delbrück J, ‘Collective Security’ EPIL I (1992) 646.
  • de Wet E and Wood M, ‘Collective Security’ MPEPIL, vol II (OUP 2012) 316–22.
  • Dinstein Y, War, Aggression and Self-Defence (4th edn, CUP 2005).
  • Doehring K, ‘Collective Security’ in R Wolfrum (ed), United Nations: Law, Policies and Practice (CH Beck 1995) 110.
  • Gading H, Der Schutz grundlegender Menschenrechte durch militärische Maßnahmen des Sicherheitsrates—das Ende staatlicher Souveränität? (Duncker & Humblot 1996).
  • Goodrich LM and Simons AP, The United Nations and the Maintenance of International Peace and Security (Brookings Inst 1955).
  • Kerbrat Y, La référence au Chapitre VII de la Charte des Nations Unies dans les résolutions à caractère humanitaire du Conseil de Sécurité (LGDJ 1995).
  • Kimminich O, ‘Was heißt kollektive Sicherheit?’ in D Lutz (ed), Kollektive Sicherheit in und für Europa…Eine Alternative (Nomos 1985) 47.
  • Randelzhofer A, ‘Purposes and Principles of the United Nations’ in R Wolfrum (ed), United Nations: Law, Policies and Practice (CH Beck 1995) 994.(p. 108)
  • Schrijver N, ‘The Future of the Charter of the United Nations’ (2006) 10 Max Planck YB UN L 1.
  • Schwarzenberger G, ‘The Purposes of the United Nations: International Judicial Practice’ (1974) 4 IYBHR 11.
  • Styt AM, ‘1986: UN International Year of Peace’ (1986) 33 NILR 412.
  • UNITAR, The United Nations and the Maintenance of International Peace and Security (Nijhoff 1987).
  • Verosta S, ‘Der Begriff “internationale Sicherheit” in der Satzung der Vereinten Nationen’ in R Marcic, H Mosler, E Suy, and K Zemanek (eds), Internationale Festschrift Verdross (Fink 1971) 533.

A.  Introduction*

The Dumbarton Oaks Proposals were based upon the premise that the effectiveness of a system for the maintenance of international peace and security could be enhanced by defining purposes and principles guiding the actions of the Organization and of its member States. Although such an approach was generally accepted at the San Francisco Conference, proposals were made to modify the Dumbarton Oaks text by introducing additional and more precise definitions. These proposals were designed to limit the relatively far-reaching discretionary powers of the organs, as envisaged by the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals. Accordingly, some of them met with the objections of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. The ‘purposes’ as enshrined in the Charter reflect the compromise achieved.1

The United Nations’ purposes, spelled out primarily in Art. 1 of the Charter, and the principles as set out in Art. 2 are both supplemented by the Preamble to the Charter which expresses the ideas which guided the States parties when establishing the United Nations.2

It is not easy to clearly distinguish between the purposes of Art. 1 and the principles as enshrined in Art. 2, in particular since Art. 2 refers back to Art. 1.

The ‘purposes and principles’ are designed to provide a guide for the conduct3 of the UN organs in a fairly flexible manner. It is a matter of controversy whether the purposes of the United Nations as contained in Art. 1 of the Charter are meant to be legally binding. Their place in the Charter, taking into consideration the legislative history of Art. 1, points in the direction of qualifying the purposes as legally binding. However, the wording of Art. 1 is more appropriate for political objectives rather than for legally binding obligations. Account has to be taken of the fact that certain elements of Art. 1 (1) and (2) are considered principles binding under customary international law (such as the prohibition of aggression, the prohibition of other breaches of peace, an obligation (p. 109) to settle disputes by peaceful means, respect for human rights, respect for equal rights, and self-determination of peoples).

Article 1 of the Charter does not indicate how a possible conflict between different purposes might be resolved. This can only be achieved by establishing a practical concordance while giving priority to the lasting preservation of peace. The preservation of peace is often described as being the ‘purpose of all purposes’.4 The ICJ stated in the Advisory Opinion on Certain Expenses that ‘[t]he primary place ascribed to international peace and security is natural, since the fulfilment of the other purposes will be dependent upon the attainment of that basic condition’.5

Decisions of the organs taken under other Articles may be regarded—if one takes a constitutional point of view—as bearing upon, or even implementing, such ‘purposes and principles’. The majority of the Articles of the Charter—apart from those few which further specify Arts 1 and 2—are merely of a procedural nature and serve either the purpose of attributing specific functions to the organs or demarcating the functions of the organs. These Articles refer directly (Arts 14, 24 (2), 52, 76, 104, and 105) or indirectly to the purposes and principles by repeating the wording of the latter (Arts 11, 12, 13, 24 (1), 33–39, 42, 43, 48, 51, 55, 73, 84, and 99). This means that each decision taken by a UN organ is evidence of the application and interpretation in practice of the purposes of the Charter. This relationship is often expressed in the decisions of the organs in the form of reference made to Art. 1 as a whole or in part, together with a citation of the Articles which allocate powers and assign functions and responsibilities to the various organs.

B.  Interpretation

Paragraph 1 of Art. 1 is composed of two parts, the first of which describes the essential ‘purpose’ of the Organization, namely to maintain international peace and security, whereas the following paragraphs set out means designed to achieve this ‘purpose’. However, it would be incorrect to say that the second part of para 1 and paras 2 and 3 only describe means to maintain international peace and security, even if this notion is understood broadly. Friendly relations among nations and international cooperation serving the objectives as referred to in para 3 are purposes in their own right, too.

The term ‘international peace and security’, which was previously used in the Preamble of the Covenant of the League of Nations, is used quite frequently throughout the Charter.6 Nowhere in the Charter is the term ‘international security’ used alone, whereas the terms ‘peace’ or ‘universal peace’ can be found separately. Both of these latter terms address different, although interrelated or even overlapping, concepts. The degree of overlap, however, depends very much upon whether the term ‘peace’ is narrowly or broadly defined.7 If ‘peace’ is narrowly defined as the mere absence of a threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State (Art. 2 (4))8 (p. 110) (‘negative peace’), the term ‘security’ will contain parts of what is usually referred to as the notion of ‘positive peace’.9 This latter notion is generally understood as encompassing the activity which is necessary for maintaining the conditions of peace.

The Preamble and Art. 1 (1), (2), and (3) indicate that peace is more than the absence of war. These provisions refer to an evolutionary development in the state of international relations which is meant to lead to the diminution of those issues likely to cause war. For example, Art. 1 (2) speaks of the strengthening of peace through the development of friendly relations among nations.10 In the same vein, Art. 1 (3) indicates that the United Nations’ function is to bring about a stabilization of international relations in order to curtail the likelihood of war. Consequently, the GA has frequently emphasized the close link between the strengthening of international peace and security on the one hand, and disarmament, decolonization, and development on the other.11 This approach was not, at least not to its fullest extent, reflected in the Declaration on the Right of Peoples to Peace.12

10  However, it served as a basis for the Proclamation of the International Year of Peace.13 This Proclamation stated that the promotion of international peace and security required continuing and positive action by States and peoples with respect to a series of goals, including: the prevention of war; the removal of various threats to peace (including the nuclear threat); respect for the principle of the non-use of force; the resolution of conflicts and the peaceful settlement of disputes; the development of confidence-building measures; agreement on disarmament; the maintenance of outer space for peaceful uses; respect for the economic development of States; the promotion and exercise of human rights and freedoms; decolonization in accordance with the principle of self-determination; the elimination of racial discrimination and apartheid; the enhancement of the quality of life; the satisfaction of human needs; and the protection of the environment. The High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change enumerated in its 2004 report ‘A more secure world: Our shared responsibility’ five clusters of threats with which the world must be concerned now and in the decades ahead: economic and social threats, including poverty, infectious disease, and environmental degradation; inter-State conflict; internal conflict, including civil war, genocide, and other large-scale atrocities; nuclear, radiological, chemical, and (p. 111) biological weapons; terrorism; and transnational organized crime.14 Similarly, the former Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in his report ‘In larger freedom’:

The threats to peace and security in the twenty-first century include not just international war and conflict but civil violence, organized crime, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. They also include poverty, deadly infectious disease and environmental degradation since these can have equally catastrophic consequences. All of these threats can cause death or lessen life chances on a large scale. All of them can undermine States as the basic unit of the international system.15

11  The term ‘international security’, in turn, consists of a subjective and an objective element. The pursuit of this principle implies a transformation of international relations so that every State is assured that peace will not be broken, or at least that any breach of the peace will be limited in its impact.16 International security implies the right of every State to take advantage of any relevant security system, while also implying the legal obligations of every State to support such systems.17 The GA has stated that national a