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  • From dream to reality: Is the 1972 Convention on international liability for damage caused by space objects a model regarding the responsibility of the State for activities not forbidden by international law?

    Paper number



    Ms. Melanie Vincent, european centre for space law, France



    More than thirty years after the promulgation of the only convention establishing the objective responsibility of the State in public international law––the 1972 Convention on “international liability for damage caused by space objects”––,  the law regarding the responsibility of States for activities not forbidden by international law has not yet been codified by the International Law Commission.
    When the 1972 Convention was established, it was seen as a pioneering move. Space debris was still regarded as a merely potential risk. The damage it could produce was difficult to assess. The authorities held responsible for that damage were the launching States––a complex notion when it came to finding who was at fault.
    Ever since then, the precaution principle has resulted in an almost complete absence of damage, and conflicts have been solved through amicable agreements. But now that the beneficial effects of  XXIst century technology know no frontiers, everyone knows that the risks they bring about also cross the frontiers between States. Suffice it to mention the legal or illegal introduction of transgenic organisms into the environment, or nuclear energy, or space debris.
    Many States, especially in the Western world, see the responsibility of States for lawful activities as an important––and maybe decisive––tool to enter the decisive spiral leading to the moral improvement of certain activities.
    Being from now on the essential weapon of environmental strategy, the responsibility of States for activities not forbidden by international law constitutes for the outside world––other States, private investors in particular––a strong signal showing that there is a willingness to repair, if not to avoid.
    The proposed paper will look back at the innovative character of the 1972 Convention in the field of international responsibility. It will then try to show how this legal instrument could, in a high-risk international context, serve as a model for  the codification of State responsibility for activities that are not  forbidden by international law.
    Abstract document


    Manuscript document