Conference "Soft Law in Outer Space"

On 2 April 2011 the NPOC Space Law organized the conference “Soft Law in Outer Space – The Function of Non-binding Norms in International Space Law” at the Faculty of Law of the University of Vienna. About 70 participants, among them experts in the area of space law, delegates of UNCOPUOS to the Legal Subcommittee that took place at that very period, as well as other interested legal experts and students attended the venue.

Non-binding norms have become popular in many areas of international law. The difficulty of formulating and enacting binding multilateral treaties, the diversity of States’ interests and the increasing importance of private actors on the international level have contributed to this phenomenon. Non-binding instruments are common in international environmental law, in the context of social governance and the protection of indigenous people, as well as in international economic law. As regards outer space, non-binding norms have played an important role from the very beginning of space activities. The Declaration of Legal Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space of 1963 is a good example of how a non-binding instrument, such as a UN General Assembly resolution, may develop into a binding instrument, namely into the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.

The conference’s aim was to clarify and discuss the role of soft law in outer space. It consisted of two main parts: the first part dealt with “General Considerations” on the role of soft law in international law and in international space law. The function of soft law in the international legal system in general and for the development of international space law in particular was analyzed. Issues like the role of soft law in the making of international customary law and international treaty law as well as compliance, verification and monitoring were addressed, as well as the role of non-state actors in the creation and application of soft law. Another focus was the interaction of soft law and national law. Furthermore, the speakers discussed the role of soft law for standard-setting and its consequences for liability.

The second part was dedicated to “Special Issues” in relation to specific non-binding international instruments concerning space activities. Several instruments were analyzed in view of their regulative effect on the conduct of States and private actors. These instruments include UN General Assembly resolutions (Direct Broadcasting, Remote Sensing, Benefits Declaration, Concept of the Launching State, Registration Practice), Guidelines (Space Debris Mitigation Guidelines), Codes of Conducts (e.g., Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, European Code of Conduct) and Frameworks (e.g., Safety Framework for Nuclear Power Sources). The analysis of the specific instruments took up and reflected the general aspects addressed in the first part.




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