Public International Law is recognized as a pillar of the international order and its observance is, first and foremost, the best instrument to promote and protect Portugal's interests in its relations with other States.

Thus, the external action of the Portuguese State attaches great importance to International Law as an impartial arbitrator of relations between sovereign States and a vehicle of transformation for a fairer international order and the greater well-being of all human beings. In addition, International Law ensures that external action is ethical and promotes values such as freedom, democracy, justice and peace. This is what Portugal has been successfully seeking to achieve at organizations such as the United Nations, the European Union, the Council of Europe and other cooperation platforms.

According to this view, Portugal attaches the greatest importance to the annual participation in the 6th Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (legal affairs), where the report of the International Law Commission – whose mission is to promote the progressive development of International Law and its codification, is being discussed, and where the legal aspects of issues as diverse and relevant to international relations, such as terrorism, the promotion of the rule of law, the international responsibility of the States or environmental protection are addressed.

Within the scope of the Council of Europe, Portugal follows up on the meetings of the Committee of Ministers for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, which monitors compliance with the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, and participates in the meetings of the CAHDI, the committee of the Council of Europe that brings together legal advisers from the ministries of Foreign Affairs of the various States.

In a world where serious international crimes continue to occur, Portugal considers that the International Criminal Court (ICC) plays an extremely important role and has always advocated the development of this Court's activity. The Court is a key mechanism for attributing individual accountability for crimes that affect the international community as a whole, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression and, thus ensuring justice for the victims of these crimes, as well as enhancing post-conflict transition and peacebuilding processes.

shutterstock 833848572

Also within the EU, and together with the other Member States that share a vision of International Law based on common values and principles, Portugal has valued International Law as the common language of international relations.

Within this scope, Portugal actively participates in the Working Group on Public International Law (COJUR), which meets every six months to discuss International Humanitarian Law issues, monitor the work of the International Law Commission, analyse issues related to the international accountability of the States, and examine the reservations and declarations made by States with regard to international conventions. Given the relevance of the International Criminal Court, there is also a Working Group that convenes to exchange information among Member States on the ICC's activity and to promote the participation and coordination of Member States' positions on the various issues relating to the Court.

The fight against piracy is one of the challenges faced by States and companies at the beginning of the 21st century. In this context, Portugal co-chairs, with Mauritius, the Legal Forum of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), a group created in 2009 following a resolution of the United Nations Security Council. The Legal Forum's mission is to study, analyze and discuss legal matters related to piracy, keeping the Contact Group abreast of all legal information relevant for its activity.

Portugal also chairs the Working Group on the Use of Private Military and Security Companies in Maritime Security of the Montreux Document Forum, focused on the international legal obligations and best practices related to the activities of private military and security companies in the context of armed conflicts. The main legal challenge faced by the Portuguese Presidency is the need to adjust to the maritime context the solutions of the Montreux Document, designed for situations of armed conflict or post-conflict on land.

International Law also cuts across the activity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) as a whole, including the country's external action, which often takes the form of the conclusion of international conventions. The preparation and negotiation of international conventions requires permanent legal monitoring to ensure full compliance with International Law and the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic, and to confirm that the instruments to which Portugal is a party adequately reflect the interests of the country. The role played by Law does not end with the signing of the agreement, and it is necessary to continue monitoring the entire internal process that follows the signing, culminating in the international binding of the Portuguese State. In addition, issues relating to the interpretation, application and resolution of disputes relating to conventions are frequently raised while these are in force.

Despite the fact that Law plays an effective preventative role, the existence of disputes between States is, sometimes, a reality. On these occasions, the legal analysis of the case is an indispensable aid in political decision-making and in the prompt and peaceful resolution of conflicts. In this regard, one of the guiding aspects of Portuguese external action in terms of International Law has also been the promotion of the peaceful resolution of conflicts, as the country recognizes the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and other international conflict resolution bodies. 

  • Share