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Report Office of Legal Affairs

Mr. George Korontzis from the Office of Legal Affairs gave us a very interesting overview on the latest developments concerning the codification of customary law on the topic of unilateral acts of states. Especially those students who were expected to draft a treaty in the United Nations World Conference on Unilateral Acts of States at the Harvard National Model United Nations were excited to meet him and to gain new insights into this controversial and complex topic.

In 1996, the International Law Commission (ILC) decided to place the topic of unilateral acts of states on its agenda.  As a first step, a working group was established in 1997 in order to discuss how the ILC should approach this topic, which direction future work should take and how unilateral acts could possibly be defined. Furthermore, since 1998, a Special Rapporteur issues a yearly report on unilateral acts of states.

In 1999, the working group presented six draft articles which proposed a definition of the term of unilateral acts. According to the draft articles, a unilateral act is an expression of will of one or more states.  Mr. Korontzis stressed that the working group stumbled over several difficulties. For instance, some states doubted the mere existence of unilateral acts of states and claimed that they were always based on some kind of rule or custom. Others maintained that it would be impossible to formulate general rules on this topic since each category of unilateral acts includes very different cases. Most importantly, it is extremely difficult to determine the intention of a state behind a declaration, a notification or any other statement - especially as states rarely publish documents with facts explaining the expression of a unilateral act. All in all, there are many challenges to the task of the working group.

After having talked about the most frequent examples of unilateral acts encountered in international law, such as promises, recognition of states or governments or a waiver of a legal act or claim, Mr. Korontzis kindly responded to our questions and gave us some advice on how we might best design our own convention on Unilateral Acts of States during the Harvard National Model United Nations conference. Thank you, Mr. Korontzis!

Julia Bernhardt