The Soviet Union announced Thursday that it recognizes for the first time the authority of the U.N. International Court of Justice to interpret and apply six key international human rights treaties.
The new Soviet stand was outlined in a letter dated Feb. 28 from Foreign Minister Eduard Shevarnadze to U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar. The letter was made public Thursday in Moscow and Wednesday in New York.Shevardnadze's letter acknowledged that acceptance of international jurisdiction over the treaties would allow the world court to supersede Soviet internal law, a move Moscow had resisted for more than 40 years.
It also allows other nations to contest the Soviet Union at the world court regarding those pacts. The world court, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, was established at The Hague, Netherlands, in 1945.
Until the emergence in March 1985 of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who is a Moscow University Law School graduate, an interpretation giving precedence to international rulings was seen as an infringement of Soviet sovereignty.
Shevarnadze's letter, accepting as binding any international court ruling regarding the treaties, said:
"The Soviet Union, which attaches much importance to enhancing the role of the U.N. International Court of Justice in world affairs in present day conditions, has begun considering the issue of withdrawing its earlier-made reservations to a number of international treaties concerning the jurisdiction of this legal body.
"A Feb. 10 decree by the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (parliament) recognizes the compulsory jurisdiction of the U.N. International Court of Justice over the interpretation and application of (the) human rights agreements," the letter said.
"In advocating the primacy of international law, we consider that international legal norms and obligations of states supersede their internal regulations," Shevardnadze wrote.
The treaties in question are the 1948 convention against genocide, the 1949 convention against slave trade and prostitution, the 1952 convention on political rights of women, the 1965 convention barring racial discrimination, the 1979 convention forbidding discrimination against women and the 1948 convention against torture and other cruel punishment.
Finally accepting the jurisdiction of the world court represents another step by Gorbachev to bolster the prestige of the United Nations and reinforce the image of the Soviet Union as a state based on law.
It also signals another move to break his country out of the isolation of the Josef Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev eras of diplomacy and make the Soviet Union a full partner in all international efforts from peacemaking to resolving environmental problems.
In his drive to improve the Soviet Union's human rights record, Gorbachev began releasing political prisoners in 1985, has allowed greater travel by Soviet citizens and has won approval by Western nations to hold a human rights conference in Moscow in 1991.