- Ahead of Barack Obama’s speech on national security today, in a letter to Senator Patrick Leahy, US Attorney General Eric Holder admitted that the United States has killed four American citizens with drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan.
- The British House of Commons has passed legislation for same-sex marriage; now the bill goes to the House of Lords for a vote.
- The UN and World Bank chiefs are visiting the Democratic Republic of Congo in a push for peace and development amid fighting in the country’s east causing many to flee.
- A British soldier was hacked to death with a meat cleaver by two men in London in an apparent Islamist terrorist attack, stating that the soldier’s death was “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”
- IMF Chief Christine Lagarde is in court in France today to be questioned about a €285 million ($366 million) arbitration payout to a supporter of Nicolas Sarkozy.
I want to call readers’ attention to a new — and very original — article written by one of my best Melbourne students, Ilana Singer, which has just been published in Criminal Law Forum. Here is the abstract of the article, which is rather wordily entitled “Reductio Ad Absurdum: The Kapo Trial Judgements’ Contribution to International Criminal Law Jurisprudence and Customary International Law”:
Several Jewish persons designated as concentration camp guards (Kapos) during the Holocaust were subsequently tried in Israel in the 1950s and 1960s for allegedly committing grave crimes. This article examines these trial judgements and considers their significance to international criminal law jurisprudence and customary international law. First, this article will delineate the trial judgements’ purpose, relevance and previous contribution to customary international law. Secondly, a comparative narrative of the judgements with recent case law from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the International Criminal Court will illuminate their potential contribution, specifically to the principles of modes of liability, criminal intent, and the defence of duress. The Kapo trial judgements may therefore continue to offer an extreme case example and a worthy source of common law for international criminal law jurisprudence and customary international law.
The article makes an important contribution to the regrettably scarce literature on the Kapo trials. Anyone interested in the Holocaust, the trials themselves, or war-crimes trials in general should check it out. The final draft of the article is available on SSRN here, and the article itself is available here.
Noticing President Obama’s big speech tomorrow at the National Defense University on US counterterrorism policy, Commentary Magazine has decided to release today my new essay, “The Case for Drones.” It will appear in the print journal in June, but has been posted with a free, open link on the website now.
A couple of caveats for OJ readers, if you’re inclined to read it (close relatives of mine have declined on grounds they’ve heard me on this too much already). Commentary is a conservative magazine, and this is an argument for drones written with a particular audience in mind – conservative readers and Republican members of Congress in particular. It’s an argument about effectiveness and ethics, not law as such; it’s an overtly politically conservative version of the much more centrist, principled, and neutral argument that, for example, Ben Wittes and I sought to make in the Oxford Union debate. I hope that some folks still might find it useful as a thumbnail sketch in non-technical form of some of the leading arguments, objections, and replies in this debate. (more…)
Should We Care that the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is Coming Back to the U.S. Senate?
Last December, the U.S. Senate failed to give consent to U.S. ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Since the election hasn’t really changed the composition of the Senate all that much, I kind of thought this treaty was dead, or at least dormant, for a while here in the U.S. Maybe not!
Groups opposed to US ratification of the CRPD are saying that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will hold hearings on June 4 to discuss ratification of the treaty. And the critics are ready. In the latest critique, Iain Murray and Geoffrey McClatchey argue that the CRPD really does go beyond what U.S. law requires under the American with Disabilities Act by suggesting all entities must give all individuals accommodations, whereas the ADA has a number of important exemptions. I am not sure about this, and it seems like a fairly technical matter that could be interpreted narrowly or broadly. Since the CRPD would be non-self-executing, I am not sure this would be a huge problem for Congress, which could easily say that the ADA is enough to comply with the CRPD.
More problematically, the senators who offered their opposition last summer in the SFRC committee hearings are deeply troubled by the refusal of the Obama Administration to clarify that the language requiring equal treatment in the provision of “health care” for “sexual and reproductive health” in the CRPD’s Article 25 does not include abortion services. Again, I think the practical impact is fairly small, but I don’t fault senators who are pledged to oppose expansion of abortion services to be worried about this. Senator Marco Rubio’s proposed “declaration” to attach to advice and consent would seem to solve this.
The United States understands that the phrase “sexual and reproductive health” in Article 25(a) of the Convention does not include abortion, and its use in that Article does not create any abortion rights, cannot be interpreted to constitute support, endorsement, or promotion of abortion, and in no way suggests that abortion should be promoted as a method of family planning.
I don’t see this is a big deal, but if it would remove one obstacle to ratification and get the necessary votes, I don’t see why CRPD proponents wouldn’t just agree to take this language on.
Overall, I do think critics of the CRPD are overstating the likelihood that the treaty will have a meaningful impact on U.S. law and policy. There could be an impact, but the institutional protection is that any changes required by the CRPD will have to clear Congress in the form of another statute. This is a non-trivial institutional protection. Sure, the Disabilities Committee will probably crank out some interpretations of the CRPD that the U.S. Congress will disagree with, but the chances of those interpretations seriously affecting U.S. law seem fairly small.
On the flip side, I also think the proponents of the CRPD are exaggerating its benefits. It may have some small impact on the practice of foreign countries, but there is little evidence it would lead to wholesale changes in other countries either.
As I have argued before, the potential problems in this treaty are just not serious enough for me to get worked up about it. On the other hand, the benefits are not exactly large enough to get excited about either. Still, the upcoming battle for the CRPD is a proxy for the entire U.S. attitude toward the various U.N. human rights treaties. So it matters, even if this particular treaty is not a big deal.
- Top officials from India and China met in New Delhi in an effort to ease tensions between the two countries, while a “special envoy” from North Korea visited Beijing in an effort to reinstate some diplomatic ties between the two nations.
- In related news, Japan has been considering restarting diplomatic talks with Pyongyang, with a focus on the abduction of Japanese citizens and other issues.
- According to defense and prosecution lawyers, the trial of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt has likely collapsed after the country’s top court struck down his conviction for genocide. Jurist has more on the Court’s ruling.
- The UK has asked the European Union to place Hezbollah’s military arm on its terrorist group list, denying that this move has anything to do with Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian conflict.
- Foreign Policy investigates whether 3-D printing could be the answer to the world’s food shortages.
Professor Stefan Talmon of the University of Bonn and St. Anne’s College in Oxford offers one of the first serious attempts to defend China’s position on the UNCLOS arbitration brought by the Philippines. In an essay published by the Global Times, China’s hawkish state-owned daily paper, Professor Talmon argues that all of the Philippines’ claims against China fall outside of the jurisdiction of the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal.
For example, the claim that China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea based on the so-called nine-dash line are invalid, the claim that China has unlawfully claimed maritime entitlements beyond 12 nautical miles around certain insular features and has prevented Philippine vessels from fishing in the waters adjacent to those features, and the claim that China has unlawfully interfered with the exercise by the Philippines of its right to navigation and other rights cannot be decided without touching upon China’s claim to historic title and rights within the area of the nine-dash line.
In addition, any measures taken by China against the Philippine vessels may also be subject to the “law enforcement activities” exception with regard to fisheries matters or may be excluded as an exercise of China’s sovereign rights and jurisdiction provided by UNCLOS.
The claim that China unlawfully occupies certain low-tide elevations in the South China Sea cannot be addressed without dealing with the question of sovereignty or other rights over these insular land territories.
Finally, declarations that certain submerged features form part of the continental shelf of the Philippines, that China has unlawfully exploited the living and non-living resources in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, and that China has interfered with the Philippines’ right to navigation and other rights in areas within and beyond 200 nautical miles of the Philippines cannot be made without engaging in sea boundary delimitations.
I have to admit I am not very persuaded by this analysis. In Prof. Talmon’s defense, the essay is very short and not an attempt to provide a deep legal analysis of the problem. But the idea that any challenge to the nine-dash line is excluded from UNCLOS arbitration is hardly obvious to me, since the basis of China’s nine-dash line is very murky anyway. It is not an historic bay. I suppose it could be an “historic title” within the meaning of Article 298, but that is hardly obvious. Under Prof. Talmon’s reading, any claim of historic title, even if it undermines all of the other principles of UNCLOS, are outside the jurisdiction of the UNCLOS tribunal.
Similarly, when the Philippines argues that something is a “rock” and not an “island” under the definition of UNCLOS, I don’t see how that requires a sea boundary determination?
Most importantly, I can’t see how Prof. Talmon can avoid the question of why China is not even bothering to make these jurisdictional arguments in the UNCLOS tribunal. It is an oddly disrespectful move, to say the least, for China to essentially boycott the tribunal. Does Prof. Talmon think the Philippines case is so weak that ignoring the arbitration is justified?
Still, it is worth exploring these questions, since the arbitral tribunal will likely do so. I would hope Prof. Talmon has a longer version of his views posted somewhere, and if not, he is welcome to do so here at any time!
- In the latest twist on the case, Guatemala’s highest court has overturned the May 10th genocide conviction against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt and reset his trial back to when a dispute broke out a month ago over who should hear the case.
- North Korea has released a Chinese fishing boat after having taken it from waters between the two nations.
- Pakistan’s presumptive prime minister has called for peace talks with Taliban fighters at war with the government. Foreign Policy offers a piece about why negotiating with the Taliban may be a good idea.
- Qatar’s emir said that the emergence of ‘people power’ from the Arab Spring uprisings had put Arabs in direct confrontation with Israel and made a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more pressing.
- Justice in Conflict has a post regarding Indonesia and the ICC entitled Indonesia and the false promise of international justice.
[Jonathan Horowitz is writing in his personal capacity. He is the Associate Legal Officer at the Open Society Justice Initiative’s National Security and Counterterrorism Program.]
When assessing the legality of drone strikes, attention is often focused on the State that carries out the strike—usually the United States. On May 8th, for example, the U.S. Congressional Progressive Caucus Peace and Security Taskforce held a hearing on the United States use of weaponized drones abroad and heard testimony that detailed specific incidents of civilian harm and encouraged transparency, after-action investigations, accountability, and greater fidelity to traditional understandings of international law. (Harold Koh, the former Legal Advisor to the U.S. Department of State, made similar pleas around transparency during his May 7 speech at Oxford.)
These are all critical points that Congress and others should be hearing, but I would like to shift the focus—away from U.S. responsibilities and on to the responsibilities of the States that consent to the use lethal force on their territories. This is part of the “drone” discussion (or, to be more accurate, the “extraterritorial use of lethal force outside an active battlefield” discussion) that has not received enough attention. Yet, it is worth exploring how the legal responsibilities of the consenting State interact with the notion of what I’ll call “transnational non-international armed conflict (NIAC) targeting.”
“Transnational NIAC targeting” occurs when a State, which is engaged in a NIAC in one country, targets with lethal force an enemy fighter who happens to be in another country. Or, to quote John O. Brennan when he was Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, it is based on the notion that, “[t]here is nothing in international law that …prohibits us from using lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield, at least when the country involved consents or is unable or unwilling to take action against the threat.” (i.e., an Al Qaeda commander who is fighting the United States in Afghanistan but has traveled to Yemen seeking recruits and cash for arms.)
First, I should make clear that lethal targeting outside an active battlefield is, in certain circumstances, permissible under international law…
- A senior Pentagon official told a Senate committee last week that the U.S. would be at war with al-Qaeda for 15 to 20 more years and said the military could target terrorists anywhere under the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in 2001 after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
- After France won some goodwill throughout Mali during the five-month offensive against al-Qaeda fighters, the European country is now pushing its luck with some allies by pursuing a political settlement with a separate group of Tuareg rebels.
- North Korea has launched short-range missiles again today, following three such launches yesterday.
- A senior judge for the Judiciary of England and Wales partially upheld Foreign Secretary William Hague’s request to withhold certain information from the investigation into the 2006 death of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
- Lebanese Hezbollah militants attacked a Syrian rebel-held town alongside Syrian troops on Sunday and Israel threatened more attacks on Syria to rein the militia in.
- Over at Lawfare, a guest post discusses law, ethics and the Guantanamo hunger strike.
[Ingrid Wuerth is Professor of Law and Director of International Legal Studies at Vanderbilt University Law School.]
Yes, this is another post on foreign official immunity, prompted in part by the Fourth Circuit’s decision in Samantar. It responds to Professor Bill Dodge’s post here and contributes to the growing blog commentary on this topic summarized in my earlier post here. I am grateful to Opinio Juris for hosting this discussion.
In this post, I focus on just one issue. The Fourth Circuit’s decision in Samantar reasoned that jus cogens violations are not “private acts” but instead can constitute “official conduct” that comes within the scope of foreign official immunity. Bill disagrees, arguing that conduct violating jus cogens can never be official for immunity purposes, but is instead always private. Facts on the ground, State practice, and the purposes of immunity all suggest that the Fourth Circuit was correct.
As other commentators have emphasized, the perpetrators of human rights abuses do not generally operate privately, but instead “through the position and rank they occupy.” It is their official position which allows them to “order, instigate, or aid and abet or culpably tolerate or condone such crimes as genocide or crimes against humanity or grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.” (Antonio Cassese, at 868). Thus even for many people who strongly favor accountability in international fora (like the late Professor Cassese), it is hard to view jus cogens as somehow inherently private; one might call this a flies-in-the-face-of-reality argument. (Dapo Akande & Sangeeta Shah, at 832 (further citation omitted)). The House of Lords itself – in an opinion directly counter to Bill’s position –rejected the argument that jus cogens violations are not official acts for immunity purposes. Jones v. Saudi Arabia ¶ 19 (Lord Bingham) (“I think it is difficult to accept that torture cannot be a governmental or official act..”) id. at ¶ 85 (rejecting “the argument that torture or some other contravention of a jus cogens cannot attract immunity ratione materiae because it cannot be an official act.”) (Lord Hoffman).
What State practice does support the not-official-acts argument? (more…)
Calls for Papers
- The Centre on Human Rights in Conflict is organising a workshop on Law, Faith and Historical Memory to take place in London (Stratford Campus, University of East London) on June, 12. More information is here
- The University of Wisconsin is inviting internationally acclaimed women scholars and advanced PhD candidates to the second conference on the Creation of International Law: Exploring the International Law Components of Peace, on April 4-5, 2014 as part of its Wisconsin International Law Journal annual symposium. The intention is to continue and expand the network of women scholars and practitioners that was launched in 2009 in Norway to support their engagement in public international law. The deadline for submission of abstracts is October 1, 2013. More details are here.
- The Canadian Bar Association’s International Law Section is organizing its 2013 International Law Conference on Friday June 7th in Ottawa. The title of this year’s conference is: Emerging Issues in International Corporate Social Responsibility, Corruption and Compliance. Socially responsible business practices and strict adherence to anti-corruption measures are increasingly required of Canadian businesses and organizations. This one-day conference will examine the pertinent legal issues in a holistic way and give participants tips and skills to deal effectively with them in practice. Registration is available here.
- TDM Journal has released a special issue on Corruption and Arbitration. The issue analyses new trends, developments, and challenges respecting the intersection between, on the one hand, allegations, suspicions or findings of corruption and, on the other hand, decisions by arbitral tribunals regarding jurisdiction, admissibility and the merits of commercial and investment disputes.
I want to call readers’ attention to a remarkable new report on international criminal justice authored by Daniel McLaughlin, a former legal officer at the ECCC, for Fordham’s Leitner Center for International Law & Justice. As the introduction states, the report is an attempt — a very successful one — to visualize information about the criminal tribunals:
There is wide awareness, though little true understanding, of the work of the international criminal tribunals.
International prosecutions of high-ranking civilian and military leaders, including former heads of state, on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, represent for many the ultimate condemnation of these individuals’ past actions and a measure of their fall from power. Yet, despite the tribunals’ grasp on the popular imagination, they are the subject of significant misconceptions and confusion. Much of the media coverage dedicated to their work remains superficial, at best, and largely muddles over key distinctions between various tribunals, past and present. Conversely, the more informed scholarship is largely confined to specialty publications that remain inaccessible to most. In truth, many lawyers and non-lawyers alike lack a clear understanding of the role and functioning of these increasingly-pivotal international institutions.
This publication seeks to redress this knowledge gap by providing well-researched and accessible information for those wishing to more fully understand the international criminal tribunals and the conflicts over which they have jurisdiction. An informed public is an engaged public — and the issues that animate these tribunals, including delivering justice for victims of some of the world’s worst atrocities, are too significant to be discussed solely by a small cadre of international criminal law specialists.
Notably, this publication was created in partnership with graphic and information designers so as to reach a broader public. The designers’ visualizations present information regarding the tribunals and their underlying conflicts in a direct and accessible manner to a wide range of viewers, including those without a legal background. Beyond this democratizing function, information visualization also serves to reveal important data and trends that might otherwise go unnoticed in a more conventional format. Ideally, the following information, which is current as of January 2013, would be integrated into a continually updated interactive webportal dedicated to engaging a global public on issues of international justice.
In sum, this publication aims to facilitate a broader discussion of the international criminal tribunals’ notable accomplishments, as well as ongoing shortcomings.
I can’t do the amazing graphics justice, so just click through and download the report for yourself! It’s a must read — a must look? — for anyone interested in the tribunals.