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Last update: June 22, 2023

Summaries of the Work of the International Law Commission

Fundamental rights and duties of States

See also: Analytical Guide | Texts and Instruments

By resolution 178 (II) of 21 November 1947, the General Assembly instructed the International Law Commission to prepare a draft declaration on the rights and duties of States, taking as a basis of discussion the draft declaration on this subject presented by Panama1 and certain other related documents.

At its first session, in 1949, the Commission examined article by article the Panamanian draft. It also had before it a memorandum by the Secretary-General, which reproduced inter alia comments and observations of Member States on the Panamanian draft and a detailed analysis of the United Nations discussions on the subject.2

At the same session, the Commission, after three readings, adopted a final draft Declaration on Rights and Duties of States in the form of fourteen articles with commentaries.3 It decided to transmit the draft to the General Assembly with its conclusion that it was for the General Assembly to decide what further course of action should be taken in relation to the draft Declaration.4 The Commission also observed that:

“the rights and duties set forth in the draft Declaration are formulated in general terms, without restriction or exception, as befits a declaration of basic rights and duties. The articles of the draft Declaration enunciate general principles of international law, the extent and the modalities of the application of which are to be determined by more precise rules. Article 14 of the draft Declaration is a recognition of this fact. It is, indeed, a global provision which dominates the whole draft and, in the view of the Commission, it appropriately serves as a key to other provisions of the draft Declaration in proclaiming ‘the supremacy of international law”.5

By resolution 375 (IV) of 6 December 1949, the General Assembly commended the draft Declaration to the continuing attention of Member States and of jurists of all nations and requested Member States to furnish their comments on the draft. It also invited the suggestions of Member States on: (1) “whether any further action should be taken by the General Assembly on the draft Declaration”; and (2) “if so, the exact nature of the document to be aimed at and the future procedure to be adopted in relation to it”.

As the number of States which had given their comments and suggestions was considered too small to form the basis of any definite decision regarding the draft Declaration on Rights and Duties of States, the General Assembly, in resolution 596 (VI) of 7 December 1951, decided to postpone consideration of the matter “until a sufficient number of States have transmitted their comments and suggestions, and in any case to undertake consideration as soon as a majority of the Member States have transmitted such replies”.

1 Document A/285.

2 Document A/CN.4/2 and Add.1 (Preparatory Study concerning a draft Declaration on the Rights and Duties of States).

3 See Yearbook … 1949, Report to the General Assembly, paras. 46–52.

4 See Yearbook … 1949, Report to the General Assembly, para. 53.

5 See Yearbook … 1949, Report to the General Assembly, para. 52.