International laws, treaties and conventions in the modern era have had the greatest impact in reducing conflicts and disputes between nations, and also in reducing their grave consequences. These laws wouldn’t have seen the light without the existence of dominant implementing bodies, such as the League of Nations – later replaced by the United Nations (UN).
Despite the fact that the UN primarily represents the victors of the Second World War, and lacks the principle of equality between nations because the right to veto resolutions is only enjoyed by the five permanent members of the Security Council, its member states have established the principles of international cooperation and created many methods to deal with international disputes. In addition, the development and expansion of the UN institutions established to address specific global issues like poverty, education and social welfare has brought countries together to achieve common goals. The UN and numerous other similar conventions can, therefore, not be overlooked in strengthening relationships between countries and empowering people.
However, it is pertinent to consider what is at stake for member countries when they ratify international laws and conventions. Answers to some primary questions must be sought: will the country be giving away its national sovereignty by pledging to give international laws priority over its domestic legislation? Are the virtues of international treaties so vast that that they overshadow the concerns of state sovereignty?
The UK’s membership of the European Union (EU) provides a pertinent example of this. Currently, the supremacy of parliament is now considered against the UK’s membership of the EU, which has significant implications for the classical doctrine of sovereignty. Since 1972, when the UK acceded to what was then the European Community, the UK has in many respects ceased to be an autonomous, independent state and has become a member of the over-expanding European political, economic and legal order, the impact of which reaches the heart of the UK’s constitution.
While the UK is a powerful player in the EU, ratification of international treaties by developing countries can have an adverse impact on its sovereignty and capability to manage domestic issues. It is known that members of international treaties with economic potential and military and political influence dictate and impose international laws for weaker members to implement. On the other hand, such stronghold members at times ignore international treaties when these contradict their own strategic interests.
Furthermore, each country has its own specific social fabric and its own set of political problems. Although some external watchdogs may claim to be well acquainted with the nature of these issues, only the country itself knows what is best when it comes to dealing with and resolving its internal issues. Therefore, countries must review the mechanics of international organisations before ratifying their protocols and conventions, so as not to compromise the principle of state sovereignty or allow international organisations or their powerful members to interfere in their internal affairs. It is worth mentioning the manner in which the UK government chose to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law by way of the 1998 Human Rights Act – an act passed by the UK parliament. This choice was based on the premise of ensuring that parliament retains ultimate sovereignty over law making. Hence, when it came to dealing with demonstrations and expressions of political opinions in recent years, the UK swiftly amended legislation, taking into account its national security and state interests.
Any country must ensure that the international convention that it intends to ratify is in its best interest and does not have the potential to be used against its own best interests. The country must be entitled to renounce its membership to the convention if continuing with it is excessively restrictive without any added national interest. The country must always retain its territorial sovereignty as well as its power to maintain its national security without external surveillance or approval.
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