The Principle of Non-Intervention in Domestic Affairs and State’s Responsibility in International Law

19 Apr 2022

In International law, we can find many general principles, such as the strict limitation on the rights to use force against other States, The strict prohibition on the acquisition of territory by force, the non-intervention in domestic affairs, the Principle of neutrality, State responsibility, etc. 

In this article, we will focus our attention on two principles:

The Principle of Non-Intervention (NI) in domestic affairs (I) and the State’s responsibility (II). 

Both principles are based on the Principle of the sovereignty of a State, which is subject to the exclusive jurisdiction of the State.


1. The Principle of Non-Intervention in Domestic Affairs

The Principle of non-intervention or non-interference in domestic affairs means that a State must not intervene in each other’s internal affairs. This Principle is based on the respect of the sovereignty of the State and territorial integration. On the political level, this Principle was formulated during the 7th annual message addressed to Congress on December 2 (1823) by United States President James Monroe. According to him, any European intervention in the continent’s affairs will be seen as a threat to peace and security. The United States will never interfere in business in Europe. In the eyes of International Organizations, non-intervention was first consecrated by the Charter of the United Nations in its article 2§7: “No provision of this Charter does not authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters relating to essentially within the national jurisdiction of a State nor does it oblige Members to submit such matters to a settlement proceeding under this Charter… “. Until the 1960s, the Principle of non-intervention was often linked to military action (direct or indirect). Still, we had to wait for the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2625, which enshrined a comprehensive vision of the prohibition in the following terms: “No state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for whatever reason, in internal or external affairs from another state. As a result, not only the armed intervention but also any other form of interference or any threat, directed against the personality of a State or its political, economic and cultural elements, are contrary to the international law “. It appears that the prohibition encompasses, in addition to the classic form in terms of armed incursion, any action that risks undermining the exercise by the State of its sovereign rights inside and outside its territory. Following this approach, it can be considered as an intervention in the affairs of others when a State opens its territory to opponents of another state to engage in a campaign of propaganda against the regime in place or to incite sedition. On the other hand, in a country that welcomes those who flee a dictatorial regime and criticize government methods, the lack of freedom of expression cannot be interpreted as interference in business. Moreover, the interference can also be economical when a state no longer has a monopoly on the design, development, and choice of its economic and social policy. Furthermore, the recognition of this Principle was established in the declaration on the inadmissibility of intervention and interference in states’ domestic affairs in 1965. 

This declaration states the rights and duties or the Principle of non-intervention such as:

  • Political independence, territorial integrity, national unity, sovereignty, and security of all States, as well as national identity and cultural heritage of their peoples.
  • The inalienable right and sovereign of each State to determine its own economic, political, social, and cultural system, to develop its international relations, and to exercise permanent sovereignty over its natural resources, following the will of its people.
  • Freedom to access their system information and mass media and use the information media to promote their social, political, economic, and cultural interests and aspirations.

An example of application of the Principle of non-intervention in domestic affairs is the case with Greece insofar as to benefit from loans from institutions of the European Union and the International Monetary Fund; the government Greek had to accept the “austerity program” in terms of recommendations and measures to be implemented in the economic and social sectors (privatization of port infrastructure, reduction of wages, retirement pensions …).This program was developed by the aforementioned Institutions and delivered turnkey to the Greek authorities for application. At the same time, the Greek people have spoken out in the referendum against this program. Nevertheless, the Principle of non-intervention has limitations such as the requested intervention and the intervention of humans. The requested intervention is a military operation carried out by the armed forces of a State on the territory of another State following a request made by the requesting State’s legitimate authorities. Concerning the intervention of humanity, In the 19th century, international law recognized this practice. These are actions taken by the great powers to protect populations victims of torture, abuse, or other inhuman acts. 


2. State Responsibility

The States have rights and responsibilities in International Law. State responsibility is an essential principle of international law; it provides that international responsibility is established between the two whenever one State commits an internationally illicit act against another state. In case of an injury to another state, the State must repair with the restitution of the original situation or compensation. A-State is responsible for breaches committed by its internal institutions, by entities and persons exercising governmental authority, by persons acting under the direction or control of the State, and by the private activities of persons to the extent that the State subsequently adopts them. Nevertheless, if the State takes a measure in conformity with the right to self-defense or as a result of greater force, a State will not be internationally responsible. According to the International Law Commission in the draft on State Responsibility (1996), the State can be held responsible for International Crimes such as aggression, colonial domination, and genocide. Still, it isn’t easy to establish this responsibility. Finally, in its draft articles adopted in 2001, the International Law Commission discarded this responsibility. Still, it emphasizes that the State must end the situation of International crimes. On the other hand, States can take up the prerogatives of persons injured because of another state’s acts or omissions. The injured persons shall have exhausted all domestic remedies to hold the State responsible, and the injured individual must be a national of the State adopting the claim.

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