Charter of the United Nations and Vienna Conventions: A Guide to the Complex Road to Normalization between Cuba and the United States

Granma International – After more than five decades of broken diplomatic ties, it is difficult to find recipes that do not repeat past mistakes

For two countries which have lacked formal ties for more than half a century, it is very difficult to find recipes on how to build a new relationship that do not repeat past mistakes.

But since the Presidents of Cuba and the United States announced their intention to open a new chapter in their complex bilateral history, there exists an indispensable set of references regarding the way forward: the Charter of the United Nations and International Law, in particular the Vienna Conventions on Diplomatic and Consular Relations.

Army General Raúl Castro Ruz mentioned these himself during his speech on December 17 and ratified as such in important speeches including that of the 3rd CELAC Summit and the 7th Summit of the Americas.

The issue was included in the rounds of talks held between Cuban and U.S. diplomats to polish the details of the final agreement announced Wednesday, July 1, on the reestablishment of relations and opening of embassies.

In the letters exchanged between Obama and Raúl, the commitment to implement these principles, once the Cuban flag is again flying in Washington and the U.S. in Havana, is noted.

The UN Charter is the constituting instrument of the Organization and determines the rights and obligations of Member States. It also establishes its bodies and procedures.

The Charter was signed on June 26, 1945, in San Francisco, at the end of the United Nations Conference on International Organization, and came into force on October 24 of that year. It was the result of four years of intense work with the view to avoid new wars that would put humanity on the brink of annihilation.

Among the principles and purposes are the defense of sovereign equality, the settlement of disputes by peaceful means, refraining from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State and non-intervention in matters of domestic jurisdiction.

Similarly, the Charter promotes friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and the self-determination of peoples, cooperation in solving international problems and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all.

For its part, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations entered into force on April 18, 1961, while the Convention on Consular Relations became valid from April 24, 1963.

Both Cuba and the United States have signed these documents, which were drafted within the UN to regulate a practice that is as old as man himself.

While the Conventions are based on very specific points, at the same time they establish that the customary norms of international law continue to govern any questions not expressly addressed.

“Customary international law (…) is nothing more than the practices of international subjects that are generally accepted by them as Law,” Rodolfo Dávalos, professor at the University of Havana and president of the Cuban Court of International Commercial Arbitration, told Granma.

In order that any practice is admitted as Law, it is necessary for this repetition of acts to be generally accepted, uniform, repeated over the course of time and based on a legal conviction, he adds.

In other words, the professor explains, no practice outside the framework of the functions of diplomatic missions as established by the Vienna Convention may be lawful unless it is covered by customary international Law, and this does not cover any illicit act, contrary to the norms of the receiving State.

The diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States have had no solid reference in over a century, especially after the U.S. intervention in the War of Independence, but compliance with the basic principles established for all nations, can help lay the foundation for progress in this long and complex road to the full normalization of relations.

Some articles of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations:

Article 3

1. The functions of a diplomatic mission consist inter alia in:

a) representing the sending State in the receiving State; b) protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law; c) negotiating with the Government of the receiving State; d) ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State; e) promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.

Article 27

3. The diplomatic bag shall not be opened or detained.

4. The packages constituting the diplomatic bag must bear visible external marks of their character and may contain only diplomatic documents or articles intended for official use.

Article 41

1. Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.

3. The premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.

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