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Weekly News Wrap: Monday, October 24, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Here’s your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:


Middle East and Northern Africa

  • The siege and bombing of eastern Aleppo in Syria constitute “crimes of historic proportions” that have caused heavy civilian casualties amounting to “war crimes”, according to the top United Nations human rights official.






  • The United States is campaigning hard against proposed U.N. General Assembly resolution banning nuclear weapons, pressuring treaty allies like South Korea, Japan and NATO members to vote against the resolution, a new report said.; the resolution, led by Austria, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, calls for the formal launch of negotiations on a nuclear ban in 2017 and the U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote on the resolution as early as next week and proponents expect it to pass easily, according to the Foreign Policy magazine.
  • More than 600 United Nations staff members have signed an online petition calling on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a professed feminist, to reconsider the appointment of the fictitious superhero as its ambassador for women’s empowerment.

Ecuador’s Disconnect of Assange: Politics or Principle?

by Steven Ratner

[Steven Ratner is the Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.]

Ecuador’s announcement that it had severed Julian Assange’s internet connection in its London Embassy can be seen as a cynical manipulation of international law or a principled stance in favor of an important rule. Recall that Assange has been holed up in the embassy since June 2012, evading a Swedish warrant for questioning him, upheld by the UK Supreme Court. Ecuador justifies the move as an act of diplomatic asylum, which it argues is allowed under international law. The UK has rejected the claim, calling him little more than a fugitive from justice for a sexual assault charge in Sweden.

In cutting off Assange’s internet combination, Ecuador suggests that Wikileaks’ publication of hacked Clinton emails constitutes unlawful intervention in the internal affairs of the United States, an act that Ecuador seeks to end. Marko Milanovic, over at EJILTalk!, finds this all too rich – that Ecuador has in fact been interfering in the UK’s internal affairs through the harboring of Assange, and that its latest act just makes matters worse by denying him his human right to free expression. I think Ecuador has a stronger case than that.

The legality of Ecuador’s shielding of Assange seems to go mostly against Ecuador. The right of a state to grant diplomatic asylum is not generally accepted as a matter of customary international law, and the ICJ rejected Colombia’s claim that it was a customary rule for Latin American states in the Asylum Case in 1950. Even if it is a rule of regional custom, it is certainly not opposable to the United Kingdom. As for the Caracas Convention on Diplomatic Asylum of 1954, although Ecuador is a party, the UK is not. Moreover, Assange does not seem, at least based on the evidence, to be bona fide political asylee, but merely a fugitive from justice for a non-political crime. The United States, for its part, does not recognize such a norm, though it has accepted that embassies can grant temporary humanitarian refuge to a foreign national facing imminent danger. This theory proved the basis for the U.S. secret harboring of Fang Lizhi in its Beijing Embassy for thirteen months after the June 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, as well as its simultaneous rejection of any right of the Papal Nunciatura to hold Manuel Noriega after he sought refuge there after the US invasion of Panama the following December.

But what about the interference claims? Is Ecuador unlawfully interfering in UK domestic affairs, and was Assange unlawfully interfering in US domestic affairs? As an initial matter, the customary law norm of noninterference (or nonintervention) bars only coercive action, not all the run-in-the-mill ways that states try to influence run another. Thus, in the Nicaragua case, the ICJ wrote that coercion is “the very essence of prohibited intervention.” (para. 205) Broadcasts, diplomatic protest, withholding of foreign assistance, most prescription of domestic law to cover extraterritorial conduct, funding of foreign human rights NGOs, and other non-coercive acts, while sometimes unpleasant for the government on the receiving end, are not acts of unlawful interference or intervention, even if some global actors may claim that. If they were, much of routine international intercourse would be unlawful. Moreover, the interference must go to something core about the state, notably the way it organizes itself politically or economically.

So even if Ecuador has no ex ante right to deploy diplomatic asylum, it’s difficult to see it as unlawful interference in the UK’s internal affairs. It is not coercive and it does not go to core governance issues in the UK.   Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that the ICJ in the Asylum Case stated that “diplomatic asylum withdraws the offender from the jurisdiction of the territorial state and constitutes an intervention in matters which are exclusively within the competence of that State.” (p. 275). On that view, Ecuador’s act is analogous to kidnapping Assange off the streets of London insofar as Ecuador did put him beyond the reach of British police. Either way, we have a more precise and clear norm that is relevant here -– namely the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, where it seems clear that Ecuador has violated Article 3 through an impermissible use of the diplomatic premises. (Though that list is non-exhaustive, it probably does not include as a normal function the prevention of arrest by local authorities.)

As for Assange, he would not seem to have any duties under international law in his current situation. Individual duties are generally confined to the list of well-accepted crimes (and even then, some scholars insist the only duties are on the states to suppress them). So he’s not breaking international law rules on nonintervention or diplomatic law (though I suppose evading an international warrant directed at him could be seen as breach of international law). That does not, however, contra Marko, mean that he has a human right to disseminate private emails all over the world. This too is a complicated question. The ICCPR makes freedom of expression a “balanceable” right, and so it’s not at all clear that he has a human right to share such information, even if the US might grant him a constitutional right to do so. Demands of privacy and public order in a democratic society would cut toward allowing Ecuador, the UK, or the United States to interfere with his exercise of free expression.

Where does that leave Ecuador’s claim that it shut down Assange’s internet connection to avoid interference in the US elections? Perhaps Ecuador fears that its grant to him of an internet connection made it complicit in interference in the U.S. elections. This makes some sense given the way in which an internet connection presumably facilitates Assange’s actions. (The embassy did not say whether they severed his phone connection as well.) Yet the ILC Articles on State Responsibility (ASRs) do not attribute the acts of a private actor to the state merely because the latter has facilitated the acts of the former, so legally it seems a stretch to say that Ecuador is committing an illegal act by allowing Assange access to the internet. Perhaps it fears complicity with Russia, which the U.S. government sees as responsible for the original hacking. But under ASR Article 16, one state is only complicit if it does so “with knowledge of the circumstances” of the act, and it’s hard to say Ecuador knew about the Russian hacking.

Moreover, even if Ecuador fears complicity of some sort, the release of the documents does not seem to represent truly unlawful interference in the US elections, as seen from the legal elaboration above. It certainly can affect the outcome, but is it coercive and does it deny the United States voters a voice in charting the future course of their country? Again, governments routinely express their preferences in foreign elections, in some ways muted and other ways quite direct. According to the New York Times, Ecuador’s president has expressed the hope that Hillary Clinton will prevail. And, in the end, Wikileaks is merely releasing authentic communications. But while we may find these foreign preferences distasteful, or unwarranted, that does not make them illegal. A harder question concerns the illegality of the hacking itself, as Sean Watts points out over at JustSecurity. If it’s not illegal under current international law, there is a good argument from the perspective interstate order that it should be, and state attitudes might well change on this question.

All this suggests that international law does not require Ecuador to sever the internet connection. Nevertheless, Ecuador’s invocation of the principle of noninterference is not that surprising. Latin American countries have traditionally been among the strongest advocates of the norm of non-intervention, and so from Ecuador’s perspective their claim that Assange’s acts constitute such interference does not seem cynical, even if that claim has not been broadly accepted internationally. Quite ironically, it is Latin America’s sensitivity to historical heavy-handedness by the United States in some Latin American countries that serves as the ground for an Ecuadorian attempt to avoid interference in the U.S. elections.

Ironic, but also quite principled. For legal rules do not function merely as commands to states as to what they must or must not do. Law can also frame a policy decision by suggesting that that decision is grounded in, and consistent with, a legal norm. As Rosalyn Higgins wrote long ago about the Security Council, we are witnessing “political operation within the law, rather than decision making according to the law.”

We will probably never know Ecuador’s exact motivations for the latest move. Maybe the U.S., the UK, or one of Ecuador’s friends read the government the riot act. Maybe its leaders want Hillary Clinton to win. Maybe they and their diplomats are getting a little tired of their houseguest and are signaling that they want to end the standoff with the UK and Sweden. But whatever their motivations, they seem to have come up with a pretty sound legal grounding for their actions. Their hands may not be so tied that they were legally bound to cut off the connection, but they have deployed the law to give a principled reason for doing so.

Events and Announcements: October 23, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Calls for Papers

  • The Cambridge International Law Journal in conjunction with Monckton Chambers will be hosting the Cambridge International and European Law Conference in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge on 23 and 24 of March 2017. More information can be found on the Facebook page here
  • Call for Papers: 2017 ILA-ASIL Asia-Pacific Research Forum, Taipei, Taiwan. The Chinese (Taiwan) Society of International Law will hold the ILA-ASIL Asia-Pacific Research Forum on May 19-20, 2017 in Taipei, Taiwan, ROC. The theme of the Research Forum is “The Geopolitics of International Law: Contemporary Challenges for the Asia-Pacific.” Paper proposals should be submitted by January 10, 2017 to ila [at] nccu [dot] edu [dot] tw. The call for papers is available here.
  • Volume XXVI (2016) of the Italian Yearbook of International Law (IYIL) will include a Focus on “International Law in Regional and Domestic Legal Systems”, which will be edited in cooperation with the Interest Group on “International Law in Domestic Legal Orders” of the Italian Society of International Law. More information about the call for papers can be found here (.pdf).


  • The Cambridge International Law Journal in conjunction with Monckton Chambers will be hosting the Cambridge International and European Law Conference in the Faculty of Law at the University of Cambridge on 23 and 24 of March 2017.
    Please find attached the Call for Papers in respect of this conference. We would be very grateful if you could circulate this information on your blog.
  • The New York City Bar Association presents: “International Criminal Justice and Transitional Justice: Tensions and Synergies?” on Thursday, October 27, from 3:30-5:30 pm at the New York City Bar Association (42 W 44th St, New York, NY 10036). After 20 years of international criminal trials, it is time to reassess the relationship between such trials and transitional justice. Do such trials promote the aims of transitional justice or thwart them? Are there synergies between rule of law initiatives and accountability measures or are they operating at cross-purposes? Our speakers will address these fundamental questions in the context of the latest developments in the field, such as the trial of Hissene Habré. More information can be found here.


  • iCourts – Centre of Excellence for International Courts, University of Copenhagen, is currently looking for a new professor or associate professor of international law. The Associate Professor’s or Professor’s primary duties include research and teaching, supervision of graduate – and PhD students, participation in examinations, and administrative tasks in relation to bachelor -, graduate – and PhD studies. The Associate Professor or Professor is expected to publish results of their in/with internationally highly recognised journals/publishers, exchange knowledge with relevant parts of the surrounding society, and contribute to the academic development of the research area and related study programmes for the benefit of society and the legal profession. iCourts, the Danish National Research Foundation’s Centre of Excellence for International Courts, is a research centre dedicated to the study of international courts, their role in a globalising legal order and their impact on politics and society. If you are interested in the position, please feel free to read more and apply via the link here.
  • The University of Richmond School of law is looking for a Director of International Programs. The Director is responsible for leading Richmond Law’s international initiatives, including: the build-out of the LL.M., LL.M./M.B.A., and J.D. programs; the creation and implementation of a comprehensive strategy for increasing our international visibility, reputation, and attractiveness to international students; the initiation of co-curricular programming for international students within the law school; the development of academic and other support for international students, so as to maximize the quality of their experience at Richmond Law; and the oversight of other international opportunities within the law school for both students and faculty. The Director will be expected to travel as appropriate to meet personally with both prospective applicants and representatives from law firms, companies, and foreign universities, and will be a key partner with the Dean, the faculty, and senior leadership in identifying, assessing, and taking advantage of new international opportunities. Please apply online here.

If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us with a one-paragraph description of your announcement along with hyperlinks to more information.

Don’t Blame IHL for Attacks on “Hospital Shields”

by Kevin Jon Heller

Just Security published a very interesting post yesterday entitled “Military Attacks on ‘Hospital Shields’: The Law Itself is Partly to Blame,” which seeks to explain why deliberate attacks on hospitals are becoming increasingly common — in Syria, in Yemen, and elsewhere. The authors acknowledge that deliberate attacks on hospitals are almost always unlawful under IHL, because they violate the principle of distinction. But they nevertheless insist that “[t]he tragic irony is that international humanitarian law itself offers the legal toolkit for these regimes to justify the bombing of hospitals.”

The argument is provocative, but it is also misguided. And the authors’ solution is, I think, worse than the problem.

Let’s take a look at the how the authors believe IHL itself helps justify the bombing of hospitals. They cite two interrelated rules. Here is the first:

First, the logic of the human shields clauses can, it seems, quite easily be transferred to medical facilities. International law prohibits the use of civilians as human shields to protect military targets, but it also permits the attacking forces to kill human shields as long as they abide by the principle of proportionality. In this instance, then, international law ceases to protect civilians and actually becomes a weapon of the strong, protecting those who kill non-combatants. By extension, if hospitals are used as shields, they too can be bombed provided the principle of proportionality is not breached.

This argument is absolutely correct. Yes, human shields can be killed as long as they are not directly targeted and as long as an attack on the legitimate military objective they are shielding does not kill them disproportionately. And yes, the same goes for civilians objects, including hospitals, that are being used to shield military targets. But it is not clear what is problematic about either of those IHL rules, which are straightforward expressions of distinction and proportionality — unless you think that combatants should be able to render themselves completely immune from attack by hiding in hospitals. (Which is precisely what the authors think, as discussed below.) You don’t have to be soft on the military to suggest that combatants should not be able to use the protection IHL offers hospitals to gain a military advantage over their enemy.

Moreover, the authors fail to note that even though IHL permits “hospital shields” to be attacked, it imposes significant restrictions on such attacks. Most importantly, Art.19 of the Fourth Geneva Convention provides that hospitals being misused lose their protection against attack “only after due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit and after such warning has remained unheeded.” Assuming that the attacking military complies with Art. 19 (and it is hardly IHL’s fault if it doesn’t), no hospital will be attacked that has not had an opportunity to expel the military objective it is shielding. IHL thus puts so much emphasis on protecting hospitals that it would rather require an attacker to let the enemy escape unharmed rather than apply the normal targeting regime of distinction and proportionality.

A similar problem undermines the authors’ argument concerning the second rule:

Second, international law affirms that the protection to which hospitals are entitled is revoked when they are “used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy.” This extremely vague formulation lends itself to those who target hospitals. Unlike IHL clauses prohibiting torture, which are absolute, applying at all times and in all circumstances, the articles relating to the bombardment of hospitals are conditional. Therefore, in certain “exceptional” situations medical facilities do lose their protected status.

This argument is vastly overstated. Is the “acts harmful to the enemy” formulation “extremely vague”? Sometimes, perhaps. But certainly not always. Art. 19 makes clear, for example, that “[t]he fact that sick or wounded members of the armed forces are nursed in these hospitals, or the presence of small arms and ammunition taken from such combatants and not yet been handed to the proper service, shall not be considered to be acts harmful to the enemy.” IHL can thus hardly be blamed when a military justifies attacking a hospital by claiming that the hospital was treating enemy soldiers. (A claim made by Afghanistan regarding the MSF hospital in Kunduz.)  Any such attack categorically violates IHL.

There is also widespread agreement about what kinds of acts do qualify as “acts harmful to the enemy.”  The ICRC’s commentary to Art. 21 of the First Geneva Convention is typical:

Such harmful acts would, for example, include the use of a hospital as a shelter for able-bodied combatants or fugitives, as an arms or ammunition dump, or as a military observation post; another instance would be the deliberate siting of a medical unit in a position where it would impede an enemy attack.

It is possible to criticise this understanding of harmful acts as being overbroad and in need of revision. I, for one, have a problem with the idea that a hospital can be attacked simply because combatants are using it as “an arms or ammunition dump.” Given the importance IHL puts on protecting medical units, that doesn’t strike me as enough to justify a hospital forfeiting its protected status. I might even be convinced that the mere presence of unwounded combatants in a hospital shouldn’t justify a deliberate attack.

But the authors are not arguing for a tightening of the rules that govern when hospitals can be deliberately attacked. No: because they believe it is too easy for an attacker to claim that a hospital is shielding a military objective (permitting attack after a warning), they want a categorical rule that prohibits attacking hospitals no matter how they are being used:

The only way to overcome this travesty is if IHL clauses pertaining to the protection of hospitals are reformulated in a way that categorically prohibits the use of lethal force against them. Currently, IHL provides the necessary protections for hospitals, and all that is really needed is to erase the clauses stipulating exceptions since these in essence hand out militaries a license to bomb medical facilities.

In other words, the authors believe that a hospital should be immune from attack even when combatants are using it to attack the enemy. What the attacked forces are supposed to do in such a situation, the authors never explain. Apparently, they are simply supposed to either tolerate casualties or somehow avoid coming within the hospital’s field of fire. (Which may well be impossible, depending on the kinds of weapons the holed-up combatants possess.)

That will never happen, of course. Not even the most professional military will tolerate being fired upon from a civilian hospital — or at least it won’t tolerate it indefinitely, which is what the authors expect. IHL recognises this basic reality of combat, which is why it attempts to strike a balance between humanitarian concerns and military necessity by permitting a hospital that is being used as a shield to be deliberately attacked, but requiring a warning and a reasonable time to comply.

As with the definition of “acts harmful to the enemy,” it is possible to quibble with the procedural requirements for attacking a hospital that is being used as a shield. Perhaps IHL should avoid using a mushy “reasonableness” test for the length of the warning a military must give before attacking a hospital, imposing a minimum amount of time instead. I’d be open to that. But again: the authors are not trying to strike an appropriate balance between humanity and necessity. They simply want a categorical ban on attacking hospitals — even those that are genuinely being used to shield military objectives.

I understand (and am sympathetic to) the reasoning behind the authors’ position. They don’t want innocent civilians, especially medical personnel and the wounded, to pay the price for the actions of combatants who have no respect for IHL. Hospitals don’t choose to be misused by combatants, and there will almost certainly be situations where combatants simply refuse to leave a hospital that has been warned of an impending attack. So hospitals may well find themselves in an impossible situation: subject to attack because their premises are being misused, but unable to do anything about it.

The answer, however, is not to categorically prohibit attacking hospitals. As noted, militaries would never comply with such a prohibition. And, of course, such a prohibition would ensure that combatants who don’t respect IHL will use hospitals as a shield as often as possible. The authors begrudgingly acknowledge that possibility, writing that “[s]ome might argue that such norms will produce the perverse incentive among certain belligerents to use hospitals as shields.” But that is a serious understatement. Some might argue? What IHL scholar wouldn’t? Why would a military that doesn’t respect IHL not use a well-placed hospital as a shield if doing so renders its forces absolutely immune from attack?

The authors are correct that anything short of a categorical prohibition on attacking hospitals will leave open the possibility of militaries inventing facts to justify attacks. That is the nature of IHL rules that are not categorical — and a reflection of the fact that IHL is neither purely humanitarian nor purely war-enabling. The authors’ solution, however, is worse than the problem. A categorical prohibition will not prevent IHL from being misused; it will simply ensure that IHL is ignored — resulting in far more “incidental” deaths than under the current IHL rules. The better solution (absent a tightening of the rules as discussed above) is to searchingly examine the legitimacy of each and every attack on a hospital and hold militaries to account when they use the concept of the “hospital shield” to justify an unlawful attack.

And that, of course, is exactly what IHL requires.

Kim Priemel, “The Betrayal: The Nuremberg Trials and German Divergence”

by Kevin Jon Heller

I want to call readers’ attention to Oxford University Press’s publication of my friend Kim Priemel‘s new book, The Betrayal: The Nuremberg Trials and German Divergence. Here is the publisher’s description:

At the end of World War II the Allies faced a threefold challenge: how to punish perpetrators of appalling crimes for which the categories of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ had to be coined; how to explain that these had been committed by Germany, of all nations; and how to reform Germans. The Allied answer to this conundrum was the application of historical reasoning to legal procedure. In the thirteen Nuremberg trials held between 1945 and 1949, and in corresponding cases elsewhere, a concerted effort was made to punish key perpetrators while at the same time providing a complex analysis of the Nazi state and German history. Building on a long debate about Germany’s divergence from a presumed Western path of development, Allied prosecutors sketched a historical trajectory which had led Germany to betray the Western model. Historical reasoning both accounted for the moral breakdown of a ‘civilised’ nation and rendered plausible arguments that this had indeed been a collective failure rather than one of a small criminal clique. The prosecutors therefore carefully laid out how institutions such as private enterprise, academic science, the military, or bureaucracy, which looked ostensibly similar to their opposite numbers in the Allied nations, had been corrupted in Germany even before Hitler’s rise to power. While the argument, depending on individual protagonists, subject matters, and contexts, met with uneven success in court, it offered a final twist which was of obvious appeal in the Cold War to come: if Germany had lost its way, it could still be brought back into the Western fold. The first comprehensive study of the Nuremberg trials, The Betrayal thus also explores how history underpins transitional trials as we encounter them in today’s courtrooms from Arusha to The Hague.

I cannot recommend the book highly enough. It’s a remarkable piece of scholarship, weaving together legal history, political history, and intellectual history into a seamless and compelling whole. Kim is a superb historian — and one who writes about law as well as most legal scholars. The book also does something almost unprecedented: tell the story of the IMT and NMTs together, which is necessary for understanding both. The book’s only competitor in that regard is Telford Taylor’s wonderful book The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials: A Personal Memoir — but Taylor’s book is, as the title indicates, a memoir, not an “objective” legal history.

Anyone interested in Nuremberg, international criminal law, or transitional justice will want to pick up a copy of The Betrayal. To appropriate Larry Solum: read Priemel!

The Brexit Case and the Foreign Man on the Clapham Omnibus

by Mariam Kizilbash

[Mariam Kizilbash read for her LLM in Public International Law from UCL, has worked as a legal officer with charities in London and Islamabad on areas such as death-row offences, US drone strikes and large-scale corporate corruption. She now works now as a freelance writer.]

An Englishman of Bangladeshi origin, an Irishman, two Scotsmen resident in France, a Welshman and and a Gibraltarian, whose wife is Spanish, with family resident in Spain.

Miss Mountfield does not narrate these individuals as the start to a colourful joke, but as an introduction to the parties she is representing in her submissions in the ongoing case, The Queen on the Application of Santos & Miller v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 2016, which concerns, as she points out, the nature of the EU citizenship rights which her clients enjoy and seek to enjoy.

The UK High Court through this case is presently considering whether ministers can invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the trigger for formal talks for the UK to leave the European Union, without Members of Parliament passing a new law which allows them to do so. It may be interesting especially for the people affected by Brexit, to try and make sense of what points were raised by the first hearing on Thursday.

While the UK Government feels a need to argue that the European Union will, by no means, be re-joined by the UK via a “back door” being unbolted through the bringing of this case against them, for the claimants, perhaps it is just about the pertinent legal point; only Parliament, they argue, can remove or reduce rights granted under law and Article 50 must have the consent of the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

If the Government intends to give simple effect to the outcome of the EU referendum without this step, royal prerogative- a collection of executive powers held by the Crown-will be seen to trump parliamentary sovereignty, something which just cannot be legally done as the claimants are arguing.

Till now some of the claimants in this case have had their arguments heard. Some of the most cogent arguments I feel made by Lord Pannick on behalf of Ms. Gina Miller, the lead claimant in this case last Thursday were these:

Firstly, that notification of withdrawal from the EU via Article 50(2) of the Lisbon Treaty, has a “dramatic impact” in UK domestic law. This removes certain rights conferred by Parliament through the European Communities Act 1972. This is why these rights cannot be simply removed by a minister through his prerogative powers.

Secondly the EU Referendum Act 2015 itself, lacks a provision specifying what consequences, if any, should follow from the referendum result. The Act, said Lord Pannik, does not provide statutory authorization for the trigger notification. Neither does it suggest common law legal limits on the use of the prerogative are in any way limited by the Act.

Thirdly, the European Communities Act 1972, confers rights at international law which take effect it national law. These rights also take priority over inconsistent national law. For example the Van Gend & Loos case, pointed out the direct applicability of European community law which renders inapplicable any conflicting national law. This is a case about the limits of executive power where the Parliament has itself conferred those fundamental rights to the citizens of the country. Presumably this means, the Parliament must inevitably now have a say in the change or discarding of those rights.

Fourthly, the defendant cannot lawfully use the prerogative to make the notification under Article 50 because this has the intended consequence of depriving individuals of rights they currently enjoy under the 1972 Act as well as other legislation. The Case of Proclamations from 1610 narrated by Lord Pannick, amongst others, stated “The King, by his proclamations or other ways, cannot change any part of the common law or statute law or the customs of the realm.” A common law restriction on the use of prerogative powers can only be removed or altered by an express statutory provision. Lord Pannick stated: “The fact that Parliament has not addressed the common law use on the limits of prerogative powers simply means in my submission, and elementarily means, that Parliament is content for the common law limits to continue to be applied by the courts.” This argument may be a reverse form of the Lotus principle i.e. the Lotus principle would result in the thinking that it is permissible to assume there is executive prerogative to make the Brexit notification in absence of Parliament not expressly forbidding this, but here it is being said executive prerogative cannot be said to prevail over Parliamentary sovereignty because the latter has not expressly overruled the common law restriction of it doing so.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chambers on behalf of the claimant Santos, stated this case can simply be resolved by a direct application of parliamentary sovereignty- the “most fundamental legal doctrine of the British constitution.” No person or body is recognised by the law as having the right to override or set aside the legislation of Parliament. Indeed, the Bill of Rights 1688 states: “The pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws by a legal authority without consent of Parliament, is illegal.”   Chambers also reminded us of an interesting point. The philosopher, John Austin, in his lectures Province of Jurisprudence Determined, spoke about a “sovereign” as being the electorate; in this case, indeed can the “sovereign” be seen as majority of UK people who voted for Brexit in the 2015 Referendum instead of the UK Parliament? However Chambers goes on to say that the electorate may be the political sovereign and not the legal sovereign even in Austin’s terminology- the latter which remains the UK Parliament.

There have been a string of other legal cases of course in the past which have examined the dance between Parliament sovereignty and the opposing, executive prerogative. For instance, in Attorney General v De Keyser (1920), the House of Lords had to decide whether the Government could use a broad prerogative power to requisition property, rather than using a statutory power which allowed the same but also imported an obligation to pay compensation. Lord Parmoor said: “The growth of constitutional liberties has largely consisted in the reduction of the discretionary power of the executive, and in the extension of Parliamentary protection in favour of the subject, under a series of statutory enactments.” In R v Secretary of State for the Home Department ex parte Fire Brigades Union [1995], the question was whether the prerogative could be used to establish a criminal injuries compensation scheme, given that such a scheme was already granted by statute while not yet in force. In that particular case Lord Browne-Wilkinson said “it would be most surprising if, at the present day, prerogative powers could be validly exercised by the executive so as to frustrate the will of Parliament.” In both cases the prerogative was curtailed. In BBC v Johns ( HM Inspector of Taxes) 1964, LJ Diplock had stated: “It is 350 years and a civil war too late for the Queen’s courts to broaden the prerogative…”

However, these cases by no means give a clear cut answer the Brexit conundrum. De Keyser established if legislation grants the Government a power to do something which the Government is also empowered to do under the prerogative, then the statutory power displaces the prerogative power if the statutory power is subject to conditions to which the prerogative power is not. The Fire Brigades Union case examined the manner in which the Government must act. The BBC case was more concerned with which institution can claim the prerogative and in doing so, be subject to judicial review.

In the Brexit case before us today however there is no conflict between statute and prerogative. Instead the tension is between the relationship with the European Union both the Parliament and the Executive individually hold and who can effectively now dissolve this relationship.

The Queen on the Application of Santos & Miller is also not the only “Brexit” case. The United Nations Commission might be hearing a petition by World War 2 veteran who argues that British citizens abroad were denied the right to vote in the referendum. Barrister Eskander may assist clients against individuals who lead the exit campaign on the interesting legal premise of “broken promises”. But Santos & Miller, which will surely go up to the Supreme Court may be the most decisive case by a UK court.

What arguments the defence presents next week will be beyond interesting. After all, we are far from the days where the execution of the royal Charles 1 was brought on by his altercations with Parliament. One also cannot forget Lord Steyn’s words in Jackson v Attorney General 2005 when he said: “Parliamentary sovereignty is no longer, if it ever was, absolute….”

The EU’s other 27 members have said negotiations about the terms of the UK’s exit cannot begin until Article 50 has been invoked. All eyes and ears will be on the case as it continues and the following Supreme Court appeal which will be leapfrogged to the end of this year. Already being hailed as the Queen Mary of all constitutional cases, this affair after an already controversial Brexit, questions the relationship between state organs, the result of a national referendum as well as the rippling effects on devolved governments- as arguments next week will reveal.

Håkan Friman

by Jens David Ohlin

I am very sorry to report the shocking news, that many have already seen on Twitter, that Håkan Friman has passed away, much too young.

Anyone involved in international criminal justice surely knows Håkan’s name, and more likely than not, knew Håkan personally. In addition to his many many academic publications on international criminal law (including the well-known Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure by him, Robert Cryer, Darryl Robinson, and Elizabeth Wilmshurst), Håkan was a Judge on the Solna District Court in Sweden, and also held several academic appointments along the way.  Håkan also had a distinguished career with Sweden’s ministry of justice and was a key member of Sweden’s ICC delegation to the Rome Diplomatic Conference, where it all began.  He was a mainstay of academic conferences on multiple continents.  I hosted him at Cornell once for my course called the Jurisprudence of War, where he led a masterful session on the crime of aggression and the Kampala amendments. On more than one occasion, his name came up in conversations I had with others when we discussed ideal candidates to be a judge on the ICC some day.

More importantly, Håkan was an absolute gentleman to every person in the profession.  It didn’t matter whether you were the most junior of doctoral researchers or the most senior jurist at an international tribunal. He was equally kind and generous to everyone.

He will be missed.


UPDATE: The International Criminal Court has issued this statement:

It is with great sadness that the International Criminal Court learnt of the sudden passing of Senior Judge Håkan Friman, Head of Division at Solna District Court (Sweden) on Monday, 17 October 2016.

As a former member of the Swedish Delegation on the ICC, a magistrate and the author of many international criminal law publications, Mr Friman made an invaluable and lasting contribution to international criminal justice. Mr Friman had a prominent role in the drafting and adoption of the Rome Statute, as well as in the development of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence and Regulations of the Court. He was also called upon on numerous occasions in an expert capacity to assist in initiatives to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the Court’s operations. His commitment, expertise and warm personality earned him countless friends in the field of international criminal justice.

The Court presents its sincere condolences to Håkan Friman’s family and friends in these difficult moments.

Still on that Syrian IAC

by Deborah Pearlstein

Thanks to Ryan Goodman for his thoughtful entry in our ongoing discussion about the existence of an international armed conflict (IAC) in Syria. For those just joining, I’d questioned Ryan’s analysis that an IAC exists in Syria as between Syria and the United States on the grounds that none of the three recent events Ryan cited in support for his conclusion – the putative existence of a U.S.-backed “no-fly” zone in country, the United States’ mistaken attack on Syrian forces (which the U.S. says it mistook for ISIL forces), and the U.S. support for Turkish operations in northern Syria – established that the United States was now a party to a conflict against Syria (any more than earlier U.S. operations had established as much). Ryan responds solely on the matter of U.S./Turkish operations in the north, arguing that an area of northern Syria is now subject to occupation by Turkey, and that the United States is a “co-belligerent” with Turkey in this occupation.

Let me begin with an area of agreement – that if one state occupies the territory of another state it triggers an IAC. Is that what’s happening in Syria? I suspect Turkey and the United States would quibble with that characterization of affairs – both Turkey and the United States have stated that the area of concern is in the control of the Free Syrian Army, who have the support of coalition and Turkish forces. But for these purposes let us assume the situation is simply a partial occupation of Syria by Turkey. The core question here with respect to the United States’ status is whether its involvement demonstrates its co-belligerency with Turkey (against Syria).

Whatever else might be said about the concept of “co-belligerency,” a model of legal clarity it is not. Ryan cites to several useful posts on the topic (in a different context) by Just Security’s Nathalie Weizmann; and Rebecca Ingber has an indispensable article on the topic as well. Two points I think especially important for present purposes. First, as both Nathalie and Rebecca explain, co-belligerency is a concept from the (pre-UN Charter) law of neutrality that has been imported into the law of armed conflict; its scope and applicability in the modern law of even IAC remains the subject of much debate and little if any authoritative guidance. Nathalie and Rebecca thus rely mostly on arguments of various scholars to unearth its meaning. That said, second, as Nathalie describes it: “Under the law of neutrality, a State will become a co-belligerent when, in association, cooperation, assistance or common cause with another belligerent it participates in hostilities to a significant extent or it systematically or substantially violates its neutrality duties of impartiality and non-participation in the conflict.”

Is the United States (and for that matter, other air forces in the “coalition” it describes as participating in the north) “systematically or substantially violat[ing] its neutrality duties of impartiality and non-participation in the conflict” by supporting a Turkish occupation of Syria? I think it is certain that the United States would strongly contest that assessment. In the DOD press conference cited in Ryan’s original post regarding the fighting in northern Syria, the Pentagon spokesman was at pains to make clear that U.S. activities in the region were exclusively focused on attacking ISIL full stop: “When they [Turkish forces] began to focus on something other than ISIL then I think we had to withdraw our support for that. And so I think we are now trying to keep those elements separated and focused on the counter ISIL fight at this point….. [W]hat we have made clear is that our support is — our support to all parties is contingent upon the focus on ISIL. And that will be how we will continue to do this.” The news stories Ryan cites on the U.S. role in the region are consistent with this statement. From this I glean not only does the United States not share common cause with Turkey to the extent of any Syrian occupation, but that the United States does not cooperate, assist, or in any other way support Turkey to the extent that state is participating in any Syrian occupation.

While I think the public reports of activities in the region are all consistent with this view, my point here could hardly be to hope to settle definitively what exactly the United States and its allies are doing in northern Syria. The open sources speak for themselves, but undoubtedly do not contain the whole story. My point is rather, as I put it in response to Ryan’s original post, I think the claim that the United States is a co-belligerent in an IAC in Syria (based on these events) is hardly clear. Given that legal uncertainty, and given what I believe (and still believe) are significant negative policy consequences that would flow if the United States decided to publicly announce it was engaged in an IAC in Syria, I would not encourage the U.S. government to pursue such an announcement.

A Syrian IAC?

by Deborah Pearlstein

Like Gabor Rona, I, too, found Ryan Goodman’s post yesterday at Just Security intriguing. Further to our ongoing discussions here (e.g.) and there (e.g.) about the classification of armed conflicts, Ryan’s claim is that in light of three recent events (noted below), the armed conflict in which the United States is engaged in Syria (a conflict I think most have understood as a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) between the United States and certain non-state groups (including ISIL and Al Qaeda and associated forces)) is now international in nature – a conflict between (among others) the United States and Syria. He further argues that the ability to now classify the fighting as an international armed conflict (IAC) is a good thing for two main reasons: (1) the IAC designation triggers an obligation among all states (under the Geneva Conventions) to try or extradite those suspected of war crimes in that conflict, with the effect, he argues, of ratcheting up the diplomatic pressure on Syrian officials; and (2) it is possible for the United States (and presumably others) to reap the benefits that come with the legal classification “IAC” without also absorbing the burdens associated with (I take him to mean) the legally meaningless but politically weighty description, “war.” I disagree with Ryan’s analysis that the conflict is, for the reasons he gives, now an IAC. More, I tend to see the relative political and legal consequences of a U.S. recognition of such a conflict as having exactly the opposite effect he anticipates. Here’s my thinking. (more…)

New Article on SSRN

by Kevin Jon Heller

I have posted a short article on SSRN, entitled “Taking a Consenting Part: The Lost Mode of Participation.” Here is the abstract:

This short article, my contribution to a special issue of the Loyola International and Comparative Law Review commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Trial, critically examines “taking a consenting part” in an international crime – a mode of participation that was applied by the Nuremberg Military Tribunals but then disappeared into the ether of international criminal law, never to be seen again. The article is divided into three sections. Section I briefly explains how the NMTs understood the basic principles of individual criminal responsibility. Section II discusses the essential elements of “taking a consenting part” as a sui generis omission-based mode of participation. Finally, using Hadžihasanović at the ICTY as a case study, Section III asks whether international criminal law would be better off if it rediscovered “taking a consenting part” in an international crime.

As always, comments welcome!

15 Years Later: A History of the Forever War and the Laws of War (Part 2 of 2)

by Boyd Van Dijk

[Boyd van Dijk is a doctoral candidate at the European University Institute and a GTA at the War Studies Department of King’s College, London. He holds degrees in History and Political Science from the University of Amsterdam and Columbia University. He is currently working on a new international history of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. His first post can be found here.]

In my first post I discussed the historical origins of the ideas underpinning the relationship between war and peace, and those rules regulating them – and demonstrated the risks that arise from prioritizing one field over another. This second post will bring the story forward to today.

The United Nations, ICRC, and IHL

The United Nations, like its predecessor the League of Nations, was initially also very skeptical about saying anything regarding the laws of war. Largely in line with the League’s Covenant, the UN Charter remained completely silent on this issue, mainly out of fear that it might undermine its wish to re-create stability between the Great Powers and lasting peace following the defeat of the Axis powers. In light of these attempts to ban most types of war (except of self defense), Jesús Yepes, the Colombian representative at the International Law Commission, said “it would certainly create an unfortunate impression on public opinion if the laws of war were included in the list of topics for codification.” Whereas some of its state representatives demanded the laws of war’s further development, the ILC as a whole finally removed the subject from its drafting agenda. This situation changed gradually only in the late 1950s – though arguably more so in the period directly afterwards.

At this time, certain prejudices or hostilities towards the laws of war started to slowly evolve, partly due to the UN Secretariat and the General Assembly’s progressive engagement with “reaffirming” and “developing” the Geneva Conventions, a terminology which had to prevent particular states from getting the impression they were trying to fundamentally revise the original treaties. This change in attention of the UN’s bureaucracy was a direct response to its most recent witnessing of violations and other legal defects that were exposed during the wars of the Cold War and decolonization, for instance in Algeria (see Fabian Klose’s article).

As a result of this change in attitudes towards the laws of war – a critical alteration which is badly in need of historical interpretation – there was a revival in interest, both intellectually as well as globally. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, originally skeptical about studying the topic, started to regularly publish reports about it. Similarly, the United Nations, like the ICRC, began preparing for the revision of the Geneva Conventions. In 1968, with the twenty years anniversary of its adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – and in light of its witnessing of forms of impunity in Vietnam and Palestine, the General Assembly accepted its so-called “Teheran Resolution,” demanding the recognition of human rights in wartime. Soon after, the UN Secretary-General published one of his famous reports, entitled “Respect for Human Rights in Armed Conflicts,” which helped to further stimulate the overall drafting process.

In other words, the UN, under the strong influence of its Human Rights Division led by the former wartime exile and Belgian jurist Marc Schreiber, broke almost completely with its original skepticism towards the idea of regulating warfare. Conversely, the ICRC, originally strictly limiting its focus to regulating war alone, gradually adopted certain elements of peace activism and universalism in its own rhetorical devices, mostly in light of pressures caused by the Cold War and decolonization.

While often neglected in the still booming human rights historiography, the Teheran Resolution constituted not just a major break in the UN’s own history, but it also showed the increasing overlap and cross-fertilization between originally quite separate – though far from distinct – initiatives and fields of international law. Around this period, Jean Pictet, one of the many influential drafters of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, coined the phrase of “international humanitarian law” (IHL), a term that incorporated different fields of law, including human rights law, “Geneva Law,” “Hague Law,” and possibly even the laws of peace, revealing the ever changing boundaries between these different legal realms. In 1970, he and others also helped to establish the International Institute of Humanitarian Law, in San Remo. At the same time, his organization, working closely together with (post-)colonial governments, felt forced to balance its humanitarian interests, which were informed by its fundamental principles of (Swiss) neutrality, independence, and impartiality (see Andrew Thompson’s article Accordingly, it picked its battles strategically. Among other things, it expressed certain reservations when confronted with initiatives it saw as being ‘far too political’, for instance those demanding the end of ‘Western imperialism’, or certain racist regimes (Jim Crow laws, apartheid).

One example of this hesitant attitude of the ICRC can be seen in the fact that it kept a certain distance from particular peace movements, such as the World Peace Council that was under a strong Communist influence. In the 1950s, it attracted the attention of numerous activists, from Jean-Paul Sartre, Bertrand Russell to W.E.B. Du Bois, who sought to remove, as they claimed, the “causes” – e.g. colonialism, racism, marketism – rather than the “symptoms” of war – protecting hospitals in imperial wars. While being an observer at some of these Council’s meetings, the ICRC took a distance from the views at such gatherings, mainly out of fear they might potentially undermine its own (Swiss) humanitarian interests.

Still, in the wake of increasing superpower tensions and heated debates surrounding the topics of Third World-ism, peace activism, anti-racism, human rights, and civil liberties, the ICRC felt obliged to bring some of these efforts into line with its own ‘mental maps’, as it saw itself as a promotor of peace, for instance, although – as A.J.P. Taylor once noted – it preferred to see itself as pacifistic, rather than pacifist.

Take for example the ICRC’s application for the Nobel Peace Prize of 1963, which was sent by Pictet to his intermediary. In this document, it admitted forthrightly that it was often criticized for being “an obstacle to attempts to outlaw war,” or that in rendering war less atrocious it had made it “less detested.” While admitting that its work was not “completely pacifist,” it said that it essentially constituted “acts of peace,” thereby referring to its calls upon parties to abolish atomic warfare, to make a truce, or to create “inviolable areas” for wounded and sick soldiers where “fire and the sword had no place.” In addition to these examples, the ICRC further suggested that it had helped to bring about a so-called “advent of ethical ideas,” leading to a situation in which the “political and military interests of states (…) [are] no longer the only ones concerned.” In connection to this, it claimed that “its existence, its work, its attitude, [were] a living protest against the unleashing of material forces” – a clear reference to the recent Cuba Crisis and its threat of a nuclear Holocaust.

To sum up, at a time when the anniversary of the post-September 11th AUMF and the commencement of the “forever war” continues to attract popular and scholarly attention, it is worth remembering three lessons about its complicated relationship with especially the laws of war. First, by moving beyond overly simplistic dichotomies or anachronistic suppositions, the laws of war are about far more than just making war more humane. Its history has been shaped by a mosaic of ideas, both progressive and deeply conservative, as well as states, armies, national liberation movements, international organizations to humanitarians, including the ICRC.

Second, instead of being legal comrades in arms, advocates of the laws of war and those fighting against injustice and for peace have frequently been uncomfortable bedfellows. And, lastly, it is vital to remember that this relationship, featuring a history of major contradictions, paradoxes, potentials, and limits, is far less teleological, or unitary, than what many have said so far. Sometimes they, the work of the laws of war and that of peacemaking, overlap and work cooperatively, whereas at other times they operate completely independently, or even work in ways going directly against each other, with occasionally potentially dangerous implications in light of relatively new technological (e.g. drones, autonomous weapons), legal (such as the 9/11 AUMF, the responsibility to protect), and certain ideological developments (the rise of emergency doctrines).

Despite Referendum Defeat, Colombian President Santos Wins Nobel Peace Prize

by Roger Alford

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2016 has been awarded to Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. According to the Press Release, the award was given for his “resolute efforts to bring the country’s more than 50-year-long war to an end…. The award should also be seen as a tribute to the Colombian people who, despite great hardships and abuses, have not given up hope of a just peace, and to all the parties who have contributed to the peace process.” The Committee noted that peace in Colombia is now uncertain with the narrow defeat of the referendum on the peace deal. But “the referendum was not a vote for or against peace. What the ‘No’ side rejected was not the desire for peace, but a specific peace agreement.”

The award to President Santos is consistent with a long tradition of awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to architects of peace agreements. There are numerous examples. President Theodore Roosevelt won the prize in 1906 for mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese war. During the interwar period, the prize was awarded to Aristide Briand, Gustav Stresemann, and Sir Austen Chamberlain for the Locarno peace deal between France and Germany. In 1950, Ralph Bunche won the prize for negotiating an end to the Arab-Israeli war in the Middle East. Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho won the prize in 1973 for the ceasefire agreement in Vietnam. Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin (and much later Jimmy Carter) won the prize for the Camp David Accord. Costa Rican President Oscar Arias won the prize in 1987 for negotiating peace in Central America. Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin won the prize in 1994 for the Oslo Peace Accords. And John Hume and David Trimble won the prize in 1998 for the Good Friday Agreement. In short, the award to President Santos is in recognition of one of the most common themes in the long history of the Nobel Peace Prize: those who have sought and achieved an end to conflict through negotiated peace.

There are two items worthy of note about the decision to award the prize to President Santos. First, it is notable that the award was not also granted to FARC leader Rodrigo Londono, better known as Timochenko. Typically following a peace deal, the prize is granted to leaders from both sides of the negotiating table. It is possible that Timochenko was not nominated in time to win the prize (as was the case with Jimmy Carter in 1978), or more likely, there are aspects of Timochenko’s background that the Committee considered disqualifying. Widely suspected of war crimes and drug trafficking, a shared prize between President Santos and the Marxist guerilla leader would have raised eyebrows. (Prizes to unsavory figures like Yasser Arafat and Henry Kissinger are among the most controversial in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize). By singling out Santos for the prize, the Committee maintained the integrity of the prize and lauded the chief architect of the peace deal.

Second, the decision to award the prize to Santos despite the peace deal’s narrow defeat in the October 2 referendum came as a surprise to many. But the Nobel Committee has frequently used the prize to not only honor past achievements, but also spur parties to redouble their efforts to secure peace. No one considered that the Oslo Accords had achieved peace in the Middle East, but it was a high water mark for what was possible in the region. Likewise, the award to Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan in 1976 was solely about the hope of future peace in Northern Ireland. By awarding the prize only to Santos, it strengthens his hand in the negotiations. It is widely suspected that the principal reason the Colombian people rejected the peace deal was because the amnesty deal was too favorable to FARC, and now Santos will have enhanced moral authority to strike a harder bargain. It also should embolden Santos to continue his efforts to find a peace deal that is acceptable to both the FARC guerillas and the Colombian people.

The awarding of the prize recognizes the tireless efforts of Santos and his mediation team (including my friend and Notre Dame colleague Doug Cassel) to end the longest ongoing civil war in modern history. It is cause for celebration and hope that peace will someday come to the long-suffering people of Colombia.