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

Ch.I Purposes and Principles, Article 2 (1)

Bardo Fassbender

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)

UN Charter — Sovereignty — States, equality — Universal international organizations — Specific courts and tribunals

(p. 133) Article 2 (1)

Select Bibliography

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  • Equality

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  • Sovereign Equality

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A.  Introduction

The idea of sovereignty belongs to the oldest concepts of modern international law. Through the centuries, it has acquired an almost mythical quality. Sovereignty is usually claimed, or rejected, in times of political crisis, party strife, war, and civil war. Although (or perhaps just because) its contours are so blurred, it played, and continues to play, a prominent role in modern constitutional and international legal theory, as well as in politics. We are here concerned with sovereignty as a legal notion and concept, but as such it integrates a political dimension which paradoxically often defies legal control. In other words, sovereignty as a legal concept is characterized by an uneasy tension between an effort legally to define, and therefore limit, the powers of the person or body who claims to be sovereign, and that sovereign’s (at least occasional) seeking to evade control exerted by legal rules and procedures, or to change the law according to his interests. Not seeing this untamed side of sovereignty means misunderstanding it.

So the first principle proclaimed in Art. 2 of the Charter leads us a long way back into the history of the modern State and international law. It seems, indeed, as if those drawing up the Charter, after having proclaimed the—at that time—progressive purposes of the new Organization in the Preamble and Art. 1, and before setting forth equally new and groundbreaking principles in Art. 2 (see, in particular, Art. 2 (4) and (6)), sought to link their project to the earlier periods of the international legal order, and to make it appear less of a break with the past than it actually was. However, the phrase ‘sovereign equality’, newly introduced into international law by the Charter, is already a signal indicating profound change. ‘Sovereign equality’ is not simply an addition of ‘equality of States’ and ‘sovereignty of States’ in a traditional sense. It is not an expression which would ha