State Responsibility in Public International Law

Table of Contents

    “Responsibility is the necessary corollary of a right.  All rights of an international character involve international responsibility”

    Max Huber

    (Spanish Zone of Morocco case)

    Traditionally, under public international law, States have been only subjects of public international law; being a subject they acquire a legal personality and can be held liable for carrying out any such act which amounts to internationally wrongful act against another State. State responsibility, is that principle of public international law which makes the State internationally responsible for the reparation of the unlawful act committed by it against another State. Any act of the state which is not in conformity with its obligations, irrespective of the nature and origin of the act, will amount to the breach of its international obligation. State responsibility for breach of international obligation can be call forth on fulfillment of three conditions:

    • Firstly, the concerned States must have an international legal obligation in force.
    • Secondly, the State has violated its international obligation by committing unlawful acts or omissions and is answerable for the same.
    • And lastly, such violations of international obligations have caused wrongful loss or damage to the another State.

    Unless these condition are fulfilled, State cannot be held liable under its State Responsibility for causing damage to the other Sate by its actionable acts or omissions. The nature of state responsibility depends upon the contents of the treaties States have entered into; different range of commitments corresponds different range of responsibilities. There is no uniform code in the public international law to determine the state’s responsibility in cases of breach of international obligations. Further, the notions of state responsibility (like acknowledgement, breach, and consequences) are very general in nature and are assumed to be applicable unless expressly excluded.

    Further, it is very important point to keep in mind that State responsibility arises independently under international law, it is not subjected to any kind of invocation by another State. But, sometimes this is also possible that the act committed by the State which amounted to breach of its international obligation was to secure its performance of obligation of cessation and reparation (also known as mise-en-oeuvre of State responsibility).

    State responsibility arises only in the cases where its actions amount to international misconducts and it cannot be invoked in the cases of international crimes. Though the Articles of International Law Commission (ILC) do not cover or even mention international crimes, yet they do provide a clear distinction between international delicts and international crimes. Moreover, States can be held accountable for aiding, abetting, giving directions to another State or coercing another State for the noncompliance of tits international obligation which could probably cause damage to third State. This type of responsibility in which State is not acting on its own rather it is inciting/ provoking another State, is known as ‘derived state responsibility’. In this case, the State will be retained culpable as if the State itself has carried out the corresponding breach of international obligation.

    As a measure to limit the ambit of external sovereignty of the State, international responsibility of the State also serves the purpose of accommodating equality of states. It does not differentiate between contractual liability and tortuous liability of the State; irrespective of the origin of the act, the violation gives rise to the duty of reparation. After breaching the obligation State is not discharged from such obligation rather the onus of reparation (restitution, compensation and satisfaction), ceasing the performance of such act and assuring non-repetition are parallel to fulfilling such obligation.

    Further, ILC enlists certain situations in which state cannot be held liable for its violations such as consent of the another state, distress, Force majeure, necessity, self-defense, compliance with peremptory norms and countermeasure of international wrongful acts. In contrast to these exceptions, there are few situations where these exceptions are not applicable, for example, where there is violation of human rights or international humanitarian law.

    Therefore, state responsibility is that stopgap which stands States liable for their actions in international sphere. States cannot act arbitrarily and so there is a dire need to put limitations upon their actions which is very well executed by putting an international responsibility upon them and making them accountable for their wrongful actions.