International law is more than a set of rules for States, it is a "language of communication", Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali declared on 17 March in addressing the United Nations Congress on Public International Law (13-17 March, New York).
Today, however, some principles which in the past were the foundation for international society, had become "outdated or obsolete", he said. That was a result of the sudden acceleration in the pace of change and the new context affecting relations between States after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the bloc politics and the emergence of new Powers.
"We must therefore, and as a maker of urgency. rethink the ruses of our collective future and attempt to instil, if not a moral code. at least a minimum of legal rationality into the behaviour of the key social factors", the Secretary-General stated.
First of a kind in UN history,the Congress was held within the framework of the UN Decade of International Law (1990-1999). in order to "promote the role of law in international relations", as Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and UN Legal Counsel Hans Corell put it on 13 March in an opening statement.
The multinational event--convened pursuant to General Assembly resolutions 48/30 and 49/50, in the year of the UN's fiftieth anniversary under the general theme "Towards the twenty-first century: International law as a language for international relations"--brought together some 650 participants from 140 countries: practicing lawyers. parliamentarians, corporate counsel, government officials, judges, arbitrators, teachers of law, diplomats and members of academia.
Among topics considered were: the promotion and implementation of the principles of international law; means of peaceful settlement of disputes between States, including resort to and full respect for the International Court of Justice; new developments and priorities relative to codification and progressive development of international law; approaches to research, education and training in international law; and new challenges and expectations towards the twenty-first century.
Round-table discussions included: UN sanctions as a tool of peaceful settlement of disputes; fact-finding commissions; the role of the Security Council and the World Court in a changing world; State sovereignty; international humanitarian law; legal aspects of sustainable development; space law; environmental law challenges to the Law of the Sea Convention; and the "physiognomy of disputes and the appropriate means to resolve them". …