“Extraterritorial application of US laws contravenes international law”

by Professor Dr iur et phil Alfred de Zayas*

The indignation in Germany and France against the new US sanctions against Russia is understandable, because this time the sanctions impact not only Russia, but also European businesses. Moreover, the sanctions are hardly related to issues of international   “morale” or “self-determination”, but intend to advance US economic interests at the expense of European companies. If the US sanctions come into force in this way, they are, of course, illegal to international law, incompatible with customary international law, with free trade, with the UN Charter, with the regulations of the World Trade Organization, with several resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly, including Resolution 2625.
As we have seen, President Trump has signed the law, albeit under protest. Constitutionally this is a major humiliation for Trump, since pursuant to the US Constitution it is the President, not Congress, who makes foreign policy. In any event, European politicians must now come up with  specific measures of retorsion or counter-measures.
People complain that the sanctions are helpful for the US concerns and damage the European concerns, including German and European companies in connection with pipeline systems, etc. Apart from these economic and commercial concerns, the exterritorial application of US laws is undoubtedly against international law, as any international court or arbitral tribunal would easily determine. The Europeans should engage various UN agencies – including the International Court of Justice in The Hague – both in its contentious jurisdiction as well as in its competence to issue advisory opinions. Europeans should also appeal to the Permanent Arbitration Court in The Hague, to the Dispute Settlement Panels of the World Trade Organization in Geneva, etc.
In addition, there are considerable human rights problems. The UN has already condemned unilateral sanctions as early as 2000 in a long report by the former human rights commission. Since 2014 there has been a UN Special Rapporteur on unilateral coercive measures, who has highlighted the human rights consequences in several reports. It is not only violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, but also articles of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Furthermore, these US sanctions have no legitimacy. Where are the “proofs” that Russia has behaved in a manner contrary to international law which would justify such sanctions? We have only seen fake news and disinformation. Actually, the sanctions are a pretext, a masquerade for the enforcement of economic interests of the US. One must not only claim the sovereignty and self-determination of the European states but also actively defend them.     •

*    Alfred de Zayas is UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. This statement is expressed in his personal capacity and not as UN independent expert.