The Legalizing and Legitimizing Function of UN General Assembly Resolutions
AJIL Unbound, 18 July 2014
Bonn Research Papers on Public International Law No 8/2014
10 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2014
Date Written: October 14, 2014
Larry Johnson recently called for more thought to be given to "innovative and inventive non-use of force measures which the UN General Assembly could employ in situations where the Security Council has been blocked". This paper considers the possible impact of such resolutions given the limits of the General Assembly’s powers. It questions whether resolutions recommending non-use of force collective measures could have any permissive effect and, in particular, whether they can legally justify measures by Member States that would otherwise be contrary to international law.
After exploring several possible legal justifications, it concludes that collective measures recommended by the General Assembly are limited by the existing treaty and customary international law obligations of Member States. General Assembly resolutions cannot legalize conduct that is otherwise illegal.
The paper further suggests that the legitimizing function of General Assembly resolutions should not be overestimated. The weight or force of a resolution will depend on the circumstances of its adoption, including the number of States voting for its adoption. It also concludes that even if a resolution has a legitimizing function, the justification of a measure as being "illegal but legitimate" must be seen as deeply troubling and totally unsatisfactory.
Keywords: United Nations, General Assembly, Resolutions, Uniting for Peace Resolution
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