Responsibility of a State

Responsibility of a State

 

in international law, the legal consequences that ensue when a state violates the norms of international law or its international obligations. State responsibility may arise as a result of wrongful acts by the state itself (for example, violation of the immunity of a foreign diplomatic representative) or as a result of omission, when the state does not take the steps necessary to fulfill its international obligations (for example, violation of the obligation to ensure the safety of a foreign diplomatic representative). In addition, a state bears responsibility for the wrongful acts or omissions of all its agencies and those of physical persons, both its own citizens and foreigners, which are committed on its territory. However, state responsibility for the actions of physical persons ensues only if state agencies did not fulfill their obligations to prevent or punish wrongful acts.

A state bears the gravest responsibility for actions that constitute international crimes, for crimes that endanger international peace and security, such as apartheid and war propaganda. An important feature of current international law is that it envisages responsibility for aggression. Because there are no courts that hear disputes related to international relations on a mandatory basis, direct negotiations between interested parties and other methods of peacefully resolving disputes play an important part in establishing responsibility and determining its forms and scope.

In current international law a distinction is made between a state’s political responsibility (the application of international sanctions and giving satisfaction to the injured state) and its material responsibility (reparations and restitution). For a simple violation that has harmed an individual state or group of states the responsible state must compensate for damage caused or give satisfaction in the form of an expression of regret, an apology, punishment of the guilty parties, an expression of respect for the injured state, or a payment of compensation to injured officials or citizens. Differences of opinion concerning the form and scope of responsibility may be settled by the peaceful means specified in the UN Charter. Arbitration is generally used in such instances, but it is also possible for disputes to be heard by the UN International Court, whose jurisdiction includes determining the nature and amount of compensation to be given for violation of international obligations.

If the transgressor state refuses to give compensation or satisfaction, does not agree to a peaceful settlement of differences of opinion, or does not carry out the decision of a competent international agency that has taken effect, appropriate international sanctions may be applied. For the most grave international delicts—international crimes infringing on the fundamental principles of international relations and causing harm to the entire international community of states—the sanctions specified in the UN Charter (mandatory steps) must be applied to the transgressor state immediately. International sanctions may be applied to stop acts of aggression and restore international peace and security only on the decision of the UN Security Council.

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