Why non-interference is the bedrock of a state’s sovereignty
The principles and laws that apply to state sovereignty are often described using difficult and complex terminology. However, it is possible to explain the concept of sovereignty in a more simplified form, linking the sovereignty of states, its legal effects and some of the challenges it faces.
Sovereignty is defined as the powers that grant the state the right of control within its agreed borders, and the freedom to organize its legislative, administrative and judicial authorities, along with independence from any external authority, taking into account international law and the agreed borders of other states. So, the term sovereignty does not only mean respect for other states and non-interference in their internal affairs, but also preserves the power of the state and contributes to the expression of its identity. An example is the legal equality of states regardless of their size; all states are equal under international law, as are their peoples and their rights, cultures, customs and morals.
Sovereignty also refers to the relationship between external and internal authority. The former is the status and independence of the state within the international system. The latter is the power of the state to make decisions that apply to all its citizens and institutions, both inside and beyond the borders of the state.
Respect for state sovereignty, the equality of all states regardless of their size and the strength of their economies, and equality of rights and duties of all sovereign states, are among the fundamental concepts that the United Nations aims to protect.
With the evolution of the international system, and in light of recent events, the concept of state sovereignty is facing many challenges; political changes, along with economic and technological developments, may directly or indirectly affect the sovereignty of states and their ability to protect their communities and citizens.
One of the most salient principles of sovereignty is that of non-interference, any breach of which is an international legal taboo. When one state intervenes in the internal affairs of another, it is a derogation of the sovereignty of the state. Indeed, UN General Assembly 2131 explicitly says: “No state has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state.”
Every state is also free to pass its own laws and select its judiciary, since it is not fair for any state to interfere in the judicial processes of another.
Unfortunately, some of the challenges affecting sovereignty have occasionally led to countries relinquishing a part of their sovereignty for various purposes, including the protection of economic and political interests. However, any attack on the sovereignty of a state is understandably considered an attack on that state’s existence and independence.
As these challenges increase for various reasons, some countries struggle to preserve their own sovereignty, and keep it whole. The citizens of each state play a key role in supporting their countries to achieve and implement this sovereignty by believing in the independence of their homeland and having confidence in their leadership’s choices and decisions.
It is with pride that we have witnessed before, and are witnessing now, the most beautiful lessons in consolidating and affirming this sovereignty on the principle of either winning or dying … there is no place for defeat.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers.