The Office of the Legal Adviser publishes the annual Digest of United States Practice in International Law to provide the public with a historical record of the views and practice of the Government of the United States in public and private international law. The complete 2020 Digest is available at the bottom of this page. The 2020 Digest provides a historical record of key legal developments in 2020. Acting Legal Adviser Rich Visek summarized the contents of the 2020 Digest in the Introduction, stating in part:

        The 2020 edition of the Digest of United States Practice in International Law reflects the ways in which the work of the Office of the Legal Adviser continued during the global coronavirus pandemic. 

        The impact of the pandemic is evident in nearly every area of legal practice and, accordingly, every chapter in this volume. Beginning in January 2020, a series of presidential proclamations, memoranda, and other measures suspended and restricted entry into the United States to prevent further spread of COVID-19. Many scheduled international meetings had to be postponed beyond 2020 if they could not be convened virtually, including, for example: the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (“COP26”) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”); the 109th Session of the International Labor Conference; the 10th Nonproliferation Treaty (“NPT”) Review Conference (“RevCon”); and sessions of the Bilateral Consultative Commission under the New START Treaty. United States diplomatic notes argued against onerous restrictions on the basis of reciprocity and asserted inviolability, among other privileges and immunities under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (“VCDR”), on behalf of arriving and departing personnel when many governments around the world instituted quarantine and testing requirements as conditions of entry and exit. The United States provided a written statement explaining its position on the 73rd World Health Assembly (“WHA”) resolution on the COVID-19 response and made further statements emphasizing the importance of the International Health Regulations (“IHR”) and transparency and timely sharing of public health data and information. The United States supported UN Security Council resolution 2532, calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities in all situations on its agenda after the UN Secretary General’s call for a worldwide ceasefire to combat the pandemic.  

        Even in the unusual year that was 2020, representatives of the U.S. government continued to explain U.S. views and positions on critical topics, albeit sometimes virtually. Early in the year, the general counsel for the Department of Defense, Paul C. Ney, Jr., delivered remarks explaining certain legal considerations related to the U.S. air strike against Qassem Soleimani. The United States strongly objected to the ICC Appeals Chamber authorizing an investigation into activities of the Taliban and U.S. and Afghan personnel related to Afghanistan and also objected to the ICC prosecutor’s assertion of jurisdiction over Israel. The United States submitted its observations on the Human Rights Committee (“HRC”) draft General Comment No. 37 on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) regarding peaceful assembly (General Comment No. 37 was adopted by the HRC during its 129th session, held online). The United States submitted comments to the International Law Commission (“ILC”) regarding sea-level rise in relation to the Law of the Sea. 

        There were numerous developments in 2020 relating to U.S. international agreements, treaties and other arrangements. The United States and Sudan signed a claims settlement agreement in relation to the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole, and the 2008 killing of a USAID employee. The U.S. government, the Bailiwick of Jersey, and the Government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria signed an agreement for the return of more than $308 million in stolen assets to the Nigerian people. Seven countries signed bilateral instruments with the United States implementing the “Artemis Accords,” relating to international cooperation on and around the Moon, to include the “Gateway,” a habitable station in the Moon’s orbit. The President transmitted to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification several law enforcement-related instruments: instruments related to the U.S.-Croatia Extradition Treaty and the U.S.-Croatia Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty; the Convention on the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Relating to International Civil Aviation (“Beijing Convention”); and the Protocol Supplementary to the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Seizure of Aircraft (the “Beijing Protocol”). Air transport agreements (“ATAs”) with The Bahamas, Qatar, and Bangladesh entered into force, and the United States negotiated ATAs with Kazakhstan and the United Kingdom and negotiated and signed or initialed amendments to the ATAs with Kenya and Japan. The United States took steps to protect the cultural property of Jordan, Yemen, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Chile by extending an existing memorandum of understanding (“MOU”) pursuant to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, or entering into a new MOU, or taking emergency measures. In 2020, the United States also signed the Mining, Agriculture, and Construction (“MAC”) Protocol to the Cape Town Convention under the auspices of UNIDROIT, which had been concluded in 2019. The United States provided notice of its decision to withdraw from the Treaty on Open Skies, and that withdrawal became effective on November 22, 2020. 

U.S. government works are in the public domain per section 105 of the Copyright Act.

Persons or organizations wishing to comment on this website or the Digest in general are invited to do so by sending an email to

Download 2020 Digest [6 MB]

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future