Vietnam gets fresh opportunity to help shape international law

VNE – December 9, 2021 | 07:41 am GMT+7

Nguyen Hong Thao, Diplomat

A Vietnamese naval soldier stands guard at Thuyen Chai island in the Spratly archipelago, 2013. Photo by Reuters
A Vietnamese naval soldier stands guard at Thuyen Chai island in the Spratly archipelago, 2013. Photo by Reuters

Vietnam has won a second term on the International Law Commission (ILC), indicating the international community’s trust in its capacity to resolve common challenges.

In the Asia region, most of the positions in ILC were already estimated to be occupied in the election this year, therefore 45 candidates had to fight to get the remaining one to two seats.

With 145 of the 191 votes cast, Vietnam polled the highest number after India, Thailand and Japan and more than China, South Korea, Mongolia, and Cyprus.

Winning was great because I and the Vietnamese delegation at the U.N. were tensely waiting for the result. We were confident but the pressure was huge.

Notably, it came in the final month of Vietnam’s second term as a non-permanent member of the Security Council (2020-2021). So I could say it was a double pleasure.

I saw there were some key reasons for my success and Vietnam’s in general.

First, Vietnam has clearly established its role as a responsible member of the international community.

In an evolving world with a number of challenges, the country is consistent in highlighting international law as a tool to firmly protect its territorial sovereignty and legitimate interests. Also, Vietnam considers international law as a cooperative tool to address global problems.

In the South China Sea, called East Sea in Vietnam, the country is actively promoting the creation of an effective and substantive Code of Conduct (COC) between ASEAN members and China.

Vietnam is also taking the lead among developing countries to foster initiatives to tackle major challenges such as climate change, sea level rise and greenhouse gas emissions.

The international community has deeply appreciated Vietnam’s role in the Security Council and as chair of ASEAN in 2020. Its achievements in cooperating with other countries to fight Covid-19 too have been highly respected.

With these, Vietnam is gradually playing its role as a middle-income country capable of participating in the formulation and development of international law.

Second, my reelection is a result of Vietnam campaigning at all levels, including online meetings of leaders and bilateral and multilateral meetings by its representative agencies, and the enthusiastic support of people at home and abroad.

During those exchanges, countries, especially developing ones, expressed their trust in Vietnam following our full attendance of virtual meetings of the ILC regardless of time zone differences for nearly two years in my first term.

I believe it is a lesson for the next campaign in the future.

During my first term, when Covid broke out globally, the Vietnamese delegation joined Chile, Sierra Leone, Portugal, and Turkey to organize a workshop on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly to assess the fight against Covid in the previous 10 months.

After that, the Vietnamese delegation started an initiative at the U.N. General Assembly to adopt an International Day for Pandemic Prevention and Control, and it was approved. It is on December 27 every year.

I would like to attract attention to the large number of candidates competing this term, 50 for 34 positions, which shows that countries are increasingly interested in the role international law plays.

They have great interest in the ILC’s international law-drafting function, in participating in the shaping of international law and affirming a rules-based world order.

At the same time, Vietnam winning for a second time indicates that the country’s practical issues have given valuable lessons to codification and development of international law.

A war victim, Vietnam has overcome the consequences of war and collaborated with former foes to peacefully settle international disputes.

The country’s handling of the impacts of Agent Orange is a pragmatic contribution to environmental protection during armed conflicts.

Besides, Vietnam’s assistance to Cambodia to prevent genocide was recognized by The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) and included in the Draft Convention on Crimes Against Humanity drafted by the ILC.

In my second term, I and colleagues from Chile and Sierra Leone are developing research to cooperate with The World Health Organization (WHO) for setting up an international convention for the prevention of and responding to pandemics.

The idea was mooted at a workshop in 2020 that Vietnam cohosted. In early December the WHO issued a resolution calling for the establishment of a drafting body for the convention by March 2022.

This is not only a matter of health but also of the right of people to work, about vaccine distribution, international cooperation and many problems that Covid poses to the world.

I am of the opinion that in the future Vietnam needs to pay more attention to creatively applying the three-principle formula: publicity, justice and international law.

That formula will be useful in resisting all attempts to change the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the rule-based order which relies on the rule of law for peace, justice and prosperity of all peoples.

*Nguyen Hong Thao is a member of the United Nations’ International Law Commission for the 2023-27 term.

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