Does Amb. Rice Believe UN Security Council Presidential Signing Statements are Legally Binding?

by Julian Ku

The WSJ Editorial Page takes UN Ambassador Susan Rice to task for claiming that the recent UN Security Council “presidential statement” is legally binding on North Korea.  Here is Rice’s full statement on this point, I believe.

Reporter: Ambassador, there seems to be some debate as to whether there’s any legally binding items in this presidential statement. We talked to one party and they say, “no.” Your saying, “yes”.

Ambassador Rice: First of all the United States views presidential statements, broadly speaking, as binding. In this instance, it is more than binding in that it adds to an existing Chapter 7 sanctions regime. So in our view, there is no doubt that the measures that will be imposed as a consequence of this presidential statement by the 24 or 30 of April will occur and will be binding.

Is this a change of U.S. position?  The WSJ argues that no action by the Security Council can have legally binding effect on members unless it is a resolution issued pursuant to the UNSC’s Chapter VII powers.  UNSC presidential statements don’t qualify as a Chapter VII action, and are designed not to do so, since it is easier to get agreement from the SC members. I’m no UN Charter expert, but I believe the weight of academic literature supports the non-binding view. (For those with contrary views, please chime in below).

If that’s right, is Ambassador Rice adopting on a new legal interpretation of the UN Charter and of the Security Council’s powers?  Or did her lawyer just screw up?

http://opiniojuris.org/2009/04/21/does-amb-rice-believe-un-security-council-presidential-signing-statements-are-legally-binding/

2 Responses

  1. Julian, good spot on that, and it does seem that this is a potentially significant development. I’ve written about this last week at EJIL Talk.

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