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International Law Conference.

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29 June 2000



Today I addressed the first joint conference of the Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law (ANZSIL) and the American Society of International Law (ASIL). The conference theme is ‘International Legal Challenges for the Twenty-First Century’.

As we move into the era of globalisation, international law is of increasing relevance and influence. The role and work of governments is increasingly complex and we are faced with a plethora of international rights, duties and obligations relating to a range of issues including protection of the environment, human rights and international trade and competition law. This means that Governments should engage responsibly with the international legal system. Today, I highlighted three areas of such responsible engagement: the domestic/international law interface; international dispute settlement; and the international law applying to private transactions.

Australia takes its international rights and obligations seriously. This is not always apparent from the way the Government’s position is reported in the media.

For example, as a responsible government with a strong history of involvement with and support for the UN, we engage with the United Nations Treaty Committees in good faith, submitting detailed reports and sending strong delegations to appear before the Committees. We expect the same responsible engagement from the UN Treaty Committees.

We have announced a whole of government review of Australia’s interaction with the UN Treaty Committee system in an attempt to ensure that Australia’s engagement with these committees is responsible and effective. The review is not about withdrawing from treaty obligations. It is important to distinguish between the Government’s acceptance of the standards set by UN treaties and the Government’s engagement with the committees established under them.

While we do not see withdrawal from treaties as an option, the Government firmly believes that there are real problems with the treaty system which needs to be addressed. We are committed to examining the way we interact with UN treaty committees to ensure such interaction is constructive and worthwhile. In particular, we are concerned to focus on:

The need for committees and individual members to work within their mandate. ●

The need to ensure that fair and appropriate recognition is given to the input of democratically elected governments and that the views of non-government organisations are not given primacy over the input of governments.


The need for greater coordination between committees. ●

In examining these problems, we do not turn our back on the UN. Australia has been actively pursuing treaty body reform for many years. This is an attempt to improve the operation, accountability and effectiveness of the UN Committees. Australia has not been alone in pursuing this type of reform. Other like-minded States such as New Zealand, Canada and Norway have also sought to improve the committee system. Australia remains committed to a constructive process of reform.



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