In another question a comment mentioned that the change in government in the Ukraine conformed to UN norms.

Do such UN norms for government changes (e.g. impeachment of the president) exist?

If so, what are they?

2 Answers 2


There are not any specific norm or norms for “change of government” which may mean whether a change of government can be assumed internationally legal or illegal. This is a political subject-matter, and therefore, there are certain related issues that can be raised here. These issues will clarify the answer and therefore it is necessary to pay attention to them:

  1. Change of Government and recognition of a new State or Government (a government has changed and a new government is in power) - The recognition of a new State or Government is an act that only other states and governments may grant or withhold. It generally implies readiness to assume diplomatic relations. The United Nations is neither a State nor a Government, and therefore does not possess any authority to recognize either a State or a Government. As an organization of independent States, it may admit a new State to its membership or accept the credentials of the representatives of a new Government. This is very important, since these are the member states that have to recognize the changed government. If so, then the acceptance of the credentials may seem to happen easier. If not, there might be problems. This is a political process. Let’s imagine that a president is changed illegally (through coup d’état for instance). Even if initially successful in seizing the main centres of state power, the coup may be actively opposed by certain segments of society or by the international community. Opposition can take many different forms, including an attempted counter-coup by sections of the armed forces, international isolation of the new regime, and military intervention. The UN monitoring bodies will look into the whole process (coup, counter-coup, oppositions and political or military action and reactions), and by the time there is no threat to the international peace and security, there might be no political motion. Also, if the rights of the people are extensively violated then reactions may start. However, political relationships matter. It is important to consider the fact that how those in power (new-comers or the previous regime) connect politically with the UN member states and how they gain the political support. Meanwhile, Threat to peace and security and massive human rights violations are much worth in the context of the United Nations.
  2. United Nations bodies have produced (through cooperation of its members) a series of human rights principles. Most of these principles are about the governments’ behaviours. The governments have to observe these principles by the time they formally approve the principles. For instance, the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) contains the rights that children should have in a country. When one state join the convention, then the state has to observe these regulations. Now, suppose that there is a government that has been criticized by the International community for its behaviours towards children because the government is a member to CRC. When the government changes, if it shows that it would like to observe the principles regarding the children, it may be said that the government is acting based on UN norms. However, these norms are not about every issues; for instance, there is not any convention on the behaviour of a president or about the impeachment of a president (of course impeachment has been used in the question in its informal meaning).
  3. Change of Government and membership in UN (the previous government has not been a member and the new government expresses its intention to be a member of the United Nations). Membership in the Organization, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, “is open to all peace-loving States which accept the obligations contained in the [United Nations Charter] and, in the judgment of the Organization, are able to carry out these obligations”. States are admitted to membership in the United Nations by decision of the General Assembly upon the recommendation of the Security Council.
  4. The previous government has resorted an act that has been determined by the Security Council as a threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression (Article 39 of the UN Charter) and the Security Council decides to take actions – but the new government has changed its behaviour and therefore, the Security Council may remove the actions (such as bans or …). In certain cases, the Security Council even is involved in changing a government. What happened in Libya, can be a good case to raise here. The Security Council in that time felt an imminent threat of mass atrocities and the international community and regional and sub-regional bodies acted to protect the populations through a range of economic, political, and military measures. In fact, UN bodies quickly became seized of the crisis and condemned the attacks against civilians by Gaddafi’s forces. I am not going to write the whole story here, but it is important to mention that United Nations played a major role in changing the regime in Libya.

If we try to summary the whole answer, then we may say that the norms are not there, but two important aspects have to be considered: Threat to peace and security and massive human rights violations; meanwhile, if there are not such cases, and the change has gone through the due process of law and the new government has been able to gain the most support of the member states, then the new government is recognized. In this case, one may say that the government has changed (or has been changed) based on UN norms.


I think the question is about when the new regime is recognized by the UN and when it is not. In fact most coups and revolutions happening in the world pass without any troubles for the country's status in the UN, but there are exeptions

In practice this mostly depends on the position of the diplomats representing the state in the UN and their superiors, that is the minister of foreign affairs of the country in question.

If the diplomats recognize or support the government change, are willing to represent the new regime or give up their powers to those appointed by the new regime, then the representation of the country in the UN passes to the new regime without much troubles.

If on the other hand, the diplomats are unwilling to represent the new regime and maintain that they are only subordinated to the former head of state, then there are much troubles, and a UN general assembly resolution is usually required.

In the case of Ukraine, the former prime minister, Arbuzov, peacefully resigned and declared he is willing to cooperate with the new head of state. As such, the appointment of the new prime minister, Yatsenuk by the disputed acting president was accepted by the apparatus of the cabinet of ministers without a conflict (and yes! the final word belonged to a girl from the personnel department, who decided whether to accept the order signed by Turchinov!). So was replaced the foreign minister.

The majority of the diplomats after initial disorientation accepted the lead of the new minister. So did the representatives in the UN, and as such, the coup in the Ukraine passed without much troubles in the UN.

As another example you may consider the consequences of the Japanese occupation of Thailand in World War II. In December, 1941 Japan invaded Thailand and installed occupation regime in this country. Although the leading figures in the cabinet were kept unchanged, the supreme authority in the Thai politics now on belonged to Japan with the Thai government remaining as a puppet state. Under Japanese supervision the Thai government declared war on both the US and the British. The declaration of war was not signed by the regent though which was a violation of the procedure.

Given these circumstances, the Thai diplomats in Britain and the US acted differently. The ambassador in the UK delivered the war declaration to the British authorities, while the ambassador in the US considered the declaration issued under occupation and in violation of the procedure void.

As such, the US did not consider itself in the state of war with Thailand throughout the war while the British did and demanded reparations after the war concluded.

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