| by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne

( February 4, 2014, Montreal, Quebec, Sri Lanka Guardian) The External Affairs Ministry of Sri Lanka, referring to the recent visit of an American official who is alleged to have made a disparaging report of Sri Lanka after her visit, issued a communiqué published in the Daily News of 4 February 2014 (online edition) that: “[A]s a sovereign state and one of Asia’s oldest democracies, Sri Lanka does not wish to be dictated to by others in the international community in the conduct of its internal affairs".

From a strictly legal standpoint this statement is absolutely true and acceptable. United Nations Resolution 34/101 adopted by the General Assembly on 14 December 1979 reaffirmed inter alia that a declaration of non-interference in the internal affairs of States would be an important contribution to the future elaboration of the principles for strengthening equitable cooperation and friendly relations among States, based on sovereign equality and mutual respect. The External Affairs Ministry implicitly claims that the "sovereign equality and mutual respect" enunciated in the Resolution have been derogated.

Resolution 36/103 that followed in 1981 entitled Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention and Interference in the Internal Affairs of States recognized that full observance of the principles of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal and external affairs of sovereign States and peoples, either directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, is essential to the fulfilment of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations. The Declaration stated that the principle of non-intervention and non-interference in the internal and external affairs of States recognized : sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity, national unity and security of all States, as well as national identity and cultural heritage of their peoples, the sovereign and inalienable right of a State freely to determine its own political, economic, cultural and social system, to develop its international relations and to exercise permanent sovereignty over its natural resources, in accordance with the will of its people, without outside intervention, interference, subversion, coercion or threat in any form whatsoever; and the right of States and peoples to have free access to information and to develop fully, without interference, their system of information and mass media and to use their information media in order to promote their political, social, economic and cultural interests and aspirations, based, inter alia, on the relevant articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the principles of the new international information order.

Against this backdrop, and being burdened with a legal education grounded mainly in international law, I ventured to seek an acknowledged definition and expose of State sovereignty. I found that the web definitions of sovereignty are:

" The supreme, absolute, and uncontrollable power by which an independent state is governed and from which all specific political powers are derived; the intentional independence of a state, combined with the right and power of regulating its internal affairs without foreign interference.

Sovereignty is the power of a state to do everything necessary to govern itself, such as making, executing, and applying laws; imposing and collecting taxes; making war and peace; and forming treaties or engaging in commerce with foreign nations".

Another definition states sovereignty of a State is: "The union and exercise of all human power possessed in a state; it is a combination of all power; it is the power to do everything in a state without accountability; to make laws, to execute and to apply them: to impose and collect taxes, and, levy, contributions; to make war or peace; to form treaties of alliance or of commerce with foreign nations, and the like. Abstractedly, sovereignty resides in the body of the nation and belongs to the people. But these powers are generally exercised by delegation. When analysed, sovereignty is naturally divided into three great powers; namely, the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary; the first is the power to make new laws, and to correct and repeal the old; the second is the power to execute the laws both at home and abroad; and the last is the power to apply the laws to particular facts; to judge the disputes which arise among the citizens, and to punish crimes. Strictly speaking, in our republican forms of government, the absolute sovereignty of the nation is in the people of the nation; (q.v.) and the residuary sovereignty of each state, not granted to any of its public functionaries, is in the people of the state".

Professor J.G. Starke, an eminent international lawyer of and professor at Oxford University has stated: " The principle of non-intervention is part of international law and is based on the recognition of the territorial sovereignty and integrity of States. Intervention is not permitted at international law if such adversely affects the free choice of States made by virtue of State sovereignty. Intervention becomes unacceptable when it restricts free choice of a State".

Judicially sovereignty of a State was viewed by Justice Huber noted in the 1928 Island of Palmas case:

" Sovereignty in the relations between States signifies independence. Independence in relation to a portion of the globe is the right to exercise therein, to the exclusion of any other State, the function of a State. The development of the national organization of States during the last few centuries and, as a corollary, the development of international law, have established this principle of exclusive competence of the State in regard to its own territory in such a way as to make it the point of departure in settling most questions that concern international relations. Sovereignty in relation to a portion of the surface of the globe is the legal condition necessary for the inclusion of such portion in the territory of any particular State".

Here is my take:

Sovereignty is all that is stated above and should legally obviate any interference from any State or the United Nations, as stated in Article 2.7 of the United Nations Charter, that nothing contained in the Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any State. However, sovereignty should not be viewed as an absolute right that can be applied by a State at will (and this statement is by no means attributed to the Government of Sri Lanka). Current international trends, demarcations of rights and duties and the sharing of responsibility by States ascribe to the community of nations a certain right to be unobtrusively involved in and comment upon the welfare of people across the globe. One may attribute this trend to globalization; the lifting of trade barriers or simply the mass migration from State to State which occurred prolifically over the past four decades.

I agree with United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan who, in defining sovereignty said: " State sovereignty is being redefined by the forces of globalization and international cooperation. The state is now widely understood to be the servant of its people, not vice versa. At the same time, individual sovereignty --the human rights and fundamental freedoms of each and every individual as enshrined in our Charter-- has been enhanced by a renewed consciousness of the right of every individual to control his or her own destiny".

Much of what goes on in the world, be it in Kiev (Ukraine) or Cairo (Egypt) or for that matter in Syria or Thailand clearly indicates that individuals control their own destiny and are entitled to live their lives without persecution, segregation, discrimination and with dignity . If this is Sri Lanka's position regarding its sovereignty it has nothing to worry about interfering States.