Recent Posts

Huge Win in the Zimbabwe Torture Docket Case

by Kevin Jon Heller

Earlier this year, Chris Gevers blogged about the Zimbabwe Torture Docket case, in which the Constitutional Court of South Africa was asked to determine whether the South African Police Service (SAPS) is required to investigate allegations that high-ranking government and security officials in Zimbabwe committed acts of torture. Those acts took place solely in Zimbabwe and involved only Zimbabweans, so the key issues in the case were (1) whether South Africa’s adoption of universal jurisdiction over torture obligated SAPS to investigate the torture, and (2) if so, what conditions, if any, qualified that obligation.

As Chris noted in his post, I and three other international criminal law scholars (Gerhard Kemp, John Dugard, and Hannah Woolaver, with Hannah doing most of the heavy lifting) filed an amicus brief with the Court addressing the question of whether anything in international law prohibits a state from opening a universal-jurisdiction investigation in absentia — without the presence of the suspect. That was a critical sub-issue in the case, because although the Zimbabwean suspects travel regularly to South Africa, they would not necessarily be present at the beginning of a SAPS investigation.

The Court released its decision today — and it’s a complete win for the amici and (far more importantly) for the excellent Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), which brought the case. First, with regard to the in absentia issue, the Court agreed with amici that international law did not prohibit universal-jurisdiction investigations in absentia (p. 27). I won’t rehash the Court’s analysis, but I do want to quote the Court’s excellent explanation of why states should be allowed to conduct such investigations (p. 28):

[48] This approach is to be followed for several valid reasons. Requiring presence for an investigation would render nugatory the object of combating crimes against humanity. If a suspect were to enter and remain briefly in the territory of a state party, without a certain level of prior investigation, it would not be practicable to initiate  charges and prosecution. An anticipatory investigation does not violate fair trial rights of the suspect or accused person. A determination of presence or anticipated presence requires an investigation in the first instance. Ascertaining a current or anticipated location of a suspect could not occur otherwise. Furthermore, any possible next step that could arise as a result of an investigation, such as a prosecution or an extradition request, requires an assessment of information which can only be attained through an investigation. By way of example, it is only once a docket has been completed and handed to a prosecutor that there can be an assessment as to whether or not to prosecute.

The Court then proceeded to hold that SAPS not only had the right to open a universal-jurisdiction investigation into torture in Zimbabwe, it had an obligation to do so — a remarkable position for the Court to take…

Paul Barrett’s Law of the Jungle (Excellent Account of Chevron Ecuador)

by Peter Spiro

Paul Barrett gave a talk earlier this week at Temple on his Law of the Jungle. It’s a terrific journalistic account of the epic 20-year battle over Chevron’s pollution of Ecuador’s rain forest.

For anyone with a vague awareness of the case the book supplies a highly readable cheat-sheet. I suspect like many with incidental interests in international law, I had some idea that Chevron (Texaco) did some awful things in Ecuador but also that there was something not-quite-right about the plaintiffs’ side of the equation. Barrett’s account fills out the picture on both sides.

The book is a model biography of a case with epic turns. It’s also in many respects the biography of Steven Donziger, the activist lawyer who made this case different from other suits against US multinationals for misdeeds abroad. Barrett paints a pretty persuasive picture of how Donziger’s hubris ultimately did him in. For starters, Donziger had himself shadowed by a documentary filmmaker, the raw footage of which ended up discoverable along with the rest of his paper trail. Material that would ordinarily have remained protected by attorney-client privilege ends up supplying the backbone to Barrett’s narrative.

That gives the book something of an unbalanced feel — the equivalent from Chevron’s side isn’t part of the record ($400 million in fees to Gibson Dunn!), so Chevron’s litigating maneuvers get much less air time here. Conservatives and the business community will be happy with the result (see this favorable review in the Wall Street Journal, for instance). But although Chevron got itself in trouble in various respects along the way (starting with the oil drilling itself, but also including the strategically disastrous push to have the proceedings transferred to an Ecuadorian court which ultimately delivered an $18 billion judgment in the case), its lawyering was clearly of a more conventional description. There are interesting cameos of Ecuadorian politicians and judges, litigation venture capitalists, and other US lawyers who misguidedly jumped on board even after the veneer of celebrities and good press had started to crack. But it’s Donziger that makes this the exceptional case.

And exceptional for the telling. For any cause lawyer, this is a cautionary tale. Sure, one has to play public interest cases from various angles, in and outside the courtroom (including of course the media, with which Donziger proved masterful until things started falling apart). But there are limits, and Donziger clearly exceeded them on various fronts. Though he may yet survive the RICO judgment entered against him in the SDNY (on appeal, on fairly technical grounds unrelated to the underlying facts), he’ll come out of this with a severely tarnished reputation among progressives as well as more natural adversaries.

I’m not sure that the lessons are generalizable much beyond that. The book closes with thoughts on how US class-action lawyers have overreached in other contexts. I don’t know that Chevron Ecuador necessarily points in that direction. US-style litigation could still take hold on a global basis even as it gets a haircut at home. This case shows that transnational disputes have yet to be adequately institutionalized, with much greater potential to get out of hand in various directions. No one really wins on that terrain.

Expanding the UN Ombudsperson’s Mandate & Better Cooperation Between the ICC and Sanctions Regimes

by Kristen Boon

The UN Ombudsperson’s office currently has jurisdiction over the 1267 sanctions regime, but the discrepancy between the due process afforded to individuals affected by that regime as opposed to other regimes has long been noted: individuals listed under the various sanctions regimes applicable to situations in Africa, and the Weapons of Mass Destruction regimes applicable the situations in Iran and North Korea, only have access to a UN focal point to request delisting. The UN focal point, however, has fewer powers and does not operate under the same due process guidelines as the Ombudsperson.

This issue was debated last week in the Security Council during an open meeting on Security Council methods. According to the UN Press who reported on the day long meeting, Kimberly Prost, the UN Ombudsperson, noted that in her experience a fair process was essential to the implementation of sanctions, and it connected with a possible reduction in legal challenges to the application of sanctions at regional and domestic levels.  For analysis of the reasons the UN Ombudsperson herself and certain Member States support extending the Ombudsperson’s mandate, see Maya Lester’s blog here. General background on the Working Methods debate is available here.

At the same session, states also discussed overlap between sanctions regimes and the ICC, and ways to improve cooperation. For background on the main issues, see my blog here.

There is little question that an expansion of the Ombudsperson’s mandate at least to more sanctions regimes, and better cooperation between criminal tribunals and the UN Sanctions regimes will improve the effectiveness of UN sanctions. Moreover, they complement the UN High Level Review of Sanctions which is coming to an end, in which a parallel effort to assess and improve sanctions regimes has taken place.

 

What Does China Mean When It Celebrates the “International Rule of Law”?

by Julian Ku

In observance of United Nations Day on October 24, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi issued a long statement expressing China’s view of itself as a “staunch defender and builder of international law” (Chinese version here). As China-watchers know, China’s Communist Party has just completed its “Fourth Plenum” (sort of a Party leadership strategy meeting) on the theme of the promotion of the rule of law, so it is not surprising that China’s leadership would have something to say about the international rule of law as well.

The statement is pretty predictable (and largely unobjectionable) in its broad pledge for Chinese support to “international law” or the “international rule of law.”  It is hardly pathbreaking.  Still, as I have suggested in earlier posts, China’s government tends to have a slightly different view on what constitutes “international law” as compared to the United States or Europe.  So while much of the statement is pretty anodyne (it is communist-party-speak, after all), there are a few points relating to China’s emphasis on sovereignty and its allergy to human rights that are worth noting:

1) International Law and China’s History of National Humiliation

The statement places China’s commitment to international law in the context of its historical struggles facing foreign oppression in invasion beginning with the Opium War of the 1840s.  This reference to China’s historical weakness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is standard nationalist fare in China, but it is interesting that it is linked here to modern international law. As the statement notes, “[s]eeing the contrast between China’s past and present, the Chinese people fully recognize how valuable sovereignty, independence and peace are.”  I think this historical experience is a useful explanation for why there are deep roots to the version of international law presented here.  For China, international law is closely linked to its achievement of independence from foreign powers, and there is no principle more dear to China in international law than “sovereignty” and independence from foreign domination.  Those of us educated in the States have been taught that sovereignty is usually an obstacle to the promotion of international law (Louis Henkin even called it the “S” word), but that concept is still hard to sell in China.

2) Sovereignty 5:  Human Rights 0

Indeed, the statement mentions “sovereignty” five times as a fundamental principle of international law, as referenced in the United Nations Charter. Thus, the statement cites certain universally recognized norms of international law and relations such as

…[A]s respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of international disputes and non-interference in the internal affairs of others, as enshrined in the UN Charter, are the foundation stones upon which modern international law and conduct of international relations are built.

This is right out of Article II of the UN Charter.  But it is hard to imagine a statement by the United States about international law that did not also mention the UN Charter’s commitment to the protection of human rights.  To be sure, human rights protection is not in Article II of the UN Charter’s list of “Principles” but it is odd (at least to an American) to see it ignored so completely here.

3) Just Say No to Responsibility to Protect 

The statement takes direct aim at those countries who are interventionist.

Hegemonism, power politics and all forms of “new interventionism” pose a direct challenge to basic principles of international law including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. Some countries follow a pragmatist or a double-standard approach to international law, using whatever that suits their interests and abandoning whatever that does not.

Hmm.. I wonder which country or countries it is referring to here?  This position also reflects longstanding Chinese policy against any kind of military intervention (and most other kinds as well) no matter what the justification.  So don’t count on a Chinese vote for that Syria intervention.

4) Go Democracy (between, but not within, nations)!

The statement also endorses democracy…that is to say, democracy in international lawmaking.  It accuses some countries (the One-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) of trying to make “rules of certain countries as “international rules”, and their standards “international standards”. I am guessing this is clearly a shot at the U.S. in areas as varied as trade laws, IP, and human rights.

5) Philippines and UNCLOS arbitral tribunal: Don’t You Dare Ruin International Law

Not surprisingly, the statement takes aim at international and national courts.   It declares:

“National and international judicial institutions should avoid overstepping their authority in interpreting and applying international law. Still less should they encroach on the rights and interests of other countries under the pretext of”the rule of law” in total disregard of objectivity and fairness.”

I think this is clearly a warning signal to the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal formed to resolve the Philippines claim against China.  This is another sign there will be no backing down on this arbitration. China is going to continue to loudly proclaim its commitment to rule of law, and continue to reject and maybe even denigrate the legitimacy of this arbitration.

6) International Rule OF Law, not Rule BY Law

Finally, I’ll note that the statement’s use of the phrase “international rule of law” might help clarify a debate among China-watchers as to what China means by the phrase “rule of law.”  As Josh Chin has usefully explained in the Wall Street Journal here, the Chinese phrase “法治“ (fazhi) is often translated as “rule of law” but could also be translated as “rule by law”.  Indeed, there is a traditional Chinese “Legalist” tradition that thinks of law as an instrument for ruling society, but less so as a constraint on lawmakers and government.  Most China-watchers would probably say that “rule by law” is a more accurate translation of what the Chinese Communist Party means when they call for the promotion of the “法治” (fazhi) in domestic reforms, since most expect the Party to remain effectively above the law for most key matters in the future, but for law to be used as a mechanism of social and political control of everyone else.

No matter what the Party means domestically by 法治 (fazhi), it is clear that its use internationally fits within the Western conception of law as an autonomous force constraining state power and preserving state equality.

In promoting international rule of law, the most important thing is to use universally applicable rules in international relations to distinguish right and wrong, end disputes and seek a win-win solution through coordination. This is vital to international rule of law. The formulation, interpretation and application of international law should all be conducive to this goal. Under no circumstances should we inflate the arrogance of hegemonism and power politics, still less use international rule of law to instigate disagreement and friction,for it will only lead us to a wrong direction.

Indeed, in its call for universally applicable principles, democratic lawmaking, and the use of law to restrain strong states from taking advantage of the weak, the Chinese Communist Party is invoking a version of rule of law that many Westerners would be familiar with.  It will be interesting to see if this conception bleeds over into the Party’s push for domestic rule of/by law reform.

 

The ICC, Continuing Crimes, and Lago Agrio

by Kevin Jon Heller

Lawyers for the Lago Agrio plaintiffs have filed a communication with the ICC asking the OTP to investigate Chevron officials for alleged crimes against humanity in connection with the company’s “rainforest Chernobyl” in Ecuador. Ecuador ratified the Rome Statute in 2002.

Regular readers know my sympathies — both ethical and legal — lie squarely with the Lago Agrio plaintiffs. The only thing more unconscionable than Chevron’s destruction of the rainforest in Ecuador is its willingness to lie and manufacture evidence in order to avoid paying for its destruction. In a world with better criminal laws, I have no doubt that the CEO of Chevron and everyone else involved in the company’s misdeeds would be serving long prison sentences somewhere.

But we do not live in a world with better laws, and unfortunately the Lago Agrio plaintiffs’ communication faces a steep uphill battle. To begin with, the communication is not quite sure what Chevron has done that qualifies as a crime against humanity. It oscillates — very confusingly — between failing to pay the damages award in Ecuador (p. 19), attempting to cover up the extent of the pollution in Ecuador (p. 23), engaging in unsavoury litigation practices (p. 25), maintaining the polluted conditions (p. 36), and causing the pollution in the first place (p. 36). Those are, of course, very different arguments.

One thing is clear: the ICC could not prosecute Chevron’s deliberate dumping of more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste-water into the Lago Agrio region, because that dumping occurred long before 1 July 2002, when the Rome Statue entered into force. That’s too bad, because I think a strong case can be made that intentional pollution of an area occupied by civilians could, in the right circumstances, qualify as a number of crimes against humanity — from forcible transfer to persecution to “other inhumane acts.” As the plaintiffs rightly note (p. 27), an “attack on a civilian population” does not have to involve physical violence.

That said, the communication seems to suggest that the plaintiffs view the contamination as some kind of continuing crime. It claims (p. 40), for example, that the potential crimes against humanity involved in the dumping “continue even today.” The idea seems to be that those crimes will continue until Chevron remediates the pollution — similar to the idea, promoted by various scholars, that Israel’s illegal transfer of its civilians into the West Bank will qualify as a crime against humanity until such time as the settlements are disbanded or that enforced disappearances continue until the responsible government identifies the fate of the victims. It is an open question whether the ICC will even recognise continuing crimes, as the ICTR has. I’m skeptical, given the drafters of the Rome Statute’s quite deliberate decision not to give the ICC retroactive jurisdiction. Few Latin American governments would have ratified the Rome Statute if they knew that their actions during the Dirty War would be open to judicial scrutiny.

But let’s assume the ICC will recognise continuing crimes. Would that mean the Lago Agrio plaintiffs have a case? It’s an interesting question. As noted above, it’s possible that Chevron’s deliberate pollution of the Lago Agrio region qualified as the crime against humanity of forcible transfer; “forcible” doesn’t require physical force and the defendant(s) do not have to intend to drive people fro where they are lawfully entitled to be. (They simply have to be virtually certain that will be the result.) So there is at least an argument that Chevron is responsible for forcible transfer until it cleans up the region to the point where displaced residents can return to their homes. But I can’t see the ICC accepting that argument, if only because of the potential implications — there are probably dozens of situations in member-states in which pollution predictably drove people from their homes and continues to prevent their return. That’s the problem with “continuing crimes”: they simply throw open the courthouse door in a manner the drafters of the Rome Statute were unlikely to have intended.

But that is not the only problem with the communication. Even if the ICC recognised continuing crimes, it is not clear how the current crop of Chevron officials could be held responsible for the (continuing) forcible transfer of people from Lago Agrio. Aiding and abetting would seem to be the most likely mode of participation, given that those officials presumably had nothing to do with the dumping of the waste (which was done by Texaco, which Chevron later acquired). Not paying the judgment and litigation misconduct, though reprehensible, would hardly qualify as aiding and abetting the forcible transfer. (I suppose one could argue paying the plaintiffs would make it easier for them to return home, but I can’t see the ICC convicting someone on such an attenuated basis.) The only real argument would be that Chevron’s current officials are aiding and abetting the continuing forcible transfer by failing to remediate the environmental damage in Lago Agrio. That is not a nonsensical idea, but it seems unlikely to succeed. Art. 25(3)(c) aiding and abetting would almost certainly be off the table, because it would require the Chevron officials to subjectively intend for people in Lago Agrio not to be able to return to their homes. No matter what you think of Chevron — and I obviously think precious little — that would be nearly impossible to prove. More likely is Art. 25(3)(d)’s version of aiding and abetting, contributing to a group crime, which would “only” require the OTP to prove that Chevron officials contributed to the forcible transfer by impeding remediation despite knowing that Chevron intended for the displacement to continue. Again, no matter what you think of Chevron’s remediation efforts (much of which was fraudulent), that’s a stretch. Not impossible, to be sure. But a stretch.

In short, unless the ICC is willing to recognise continuing crimes and adopt a very capacious understanding of aiding and abetting, it is difficult to see the OTP opening an investigation into the Lago Agrio situation. All of the other crimes against humanity identified by the Lago Agrio plaintiffs — murder, persecution, other inhumane acts — clearly took place, if they took place at all, long before 1 July 2002. And the current Chevron officials can hardly be held accountable for them.

Privileges and Immunities Hearing in The Haiti Cholera Case against the UN

by Kristen Boon

An interesting and significant hearing on the UN’s Privileges and Immunities in the Haiti Cholera case took place on Thursday morning, October 23, in the Southern District of New York.   For plaintiffs, the hearing was a milestone because it represented the first time that they have had the opportunity to argue any aspect of their case regarding the cholera epidemic in Haiti in a tribunal.   Hearings on privileges and immunities are rarely granted by domestic courts (judges generally make the determinations on the basis of written submissions of the parties), and so Judge Oetken’s invitation was an unusual and important development.  Plaintiffs were represented by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and the District Attorney responded for the United States, as host state to the UN.   Three amici spoke on behalf of plaintiffs.

In front of a packed court room, lawyers for the plaintiffs in Georges et al v. UN made the case that the UN has breached the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN by not providing an “appropriate mode of settlement” for private law matters as required by Article 29 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN (CPIUN).   This argument is developed in the plaintiff’s August 28 sur reply (available here), in which they state that the broad immunities granted to the UN in Article 2 of the convention need to be read in light of the UN’s obligation to make appropriate modes of settlement in Article 29. According to the plaintiffs, the UN’s failure to adhere to Article 29, which in this case would involve the establishment of a mechanism like the Standing Claims Commission envisioned in the model status of forces agreement (SOFA), should result in a lifting of the UN’s immunities.

In response, the US government, who has asserted absolute immunity on the part of the UN, relied on its letter in support of its statement of interest dated July 7 (available here), making the case that the UN’s immunities are absolute under Article 2 of the CPIUN, and that the only exception to Article 2 is an express waiver of immunity, which the UN has not given in this case.  According to the US government, Article 29 cannot be read as a condition precedent to Article 2.

Judge Oetken displayed a high level of knowledge of the applicable international legal framework and precedent in US courts and abroad on the scope of the UN’s immunities.   He appeared to be using the oral argument as an opportunity to test ways to frame the question, and to challenge each of the parties with regards to the scope of applicable precedents.  He both orally acknowledged that he is bound by 2nd circuit precedent, and cases like Brzak, in which the UN’s immunity was found to be absolute, and expressed interest in whether courts elsewhere have faced a similar question or come to a different conclusion with regards to the scope of the UN’s immunities. He was interested in Plaintiffs argument that there is a fundamental bargain between member states behind the CPIUN, which, if breached by the UN’s decision not to provide an appropriate mode of settlement, might be a basis to lift the immunity protections under the CPIUN.  Using terminology from contract law, he asked the US government if the UN were not in material breach of the treaty in this instance, for failure to provide a mechanism to resolve the claim. He also engaged in a close reading of the text of the CPIUN – noting that Article 29 says that the UN shall provide appropriate modes of settlement, not may or might. Moreover, he challenged both parties about venue, asking whether, pursuant to Article 30 of the CPIUN, the ICJ wasn’t the better forum to resolve questions of interpretation, such as the relation between Articles 2 and 29, and why Haiti or the US couldn’t refer such a question to the ICJ.

From my perspective two issues that were not addressed by the parties in oral argument that seem important to the resolution of the case involve the distinction between public and private law disputes, and the status of private parties within the CPIUN.  To recall, the plaintiffs take the position that the claims in this matter are private (sounding in tort, involving a request for compensation for death or injury), whereas the UN’s response to their initial complaint stated that the claim was not receivable because it would involve a review of political and policy matters.  The UN did not provide reasons for this characterization. Given the centrality of the distinction between public and private law definitions under Article 29 with respect to the obligation to provide appropriate modes of settlement, clarity about the definition of public versus private law will be important to this and future such cases against International Organizations like the UN.  Second, the status of the claimants, here private individuals who were never part of the ‘grand bargain’ underlying the CPIUN between UN member states was not explored, yet this seems significant to the question of material breach.

Judge Oetken has reserved judgement, and a decision in this case is not expected before the new year. Two other class actions have been filed in US courts and are currently pending.

For background on this case, please see my prior blogs on Opinio Juris and an October 17 program on CBC Radio entitled “The Current” in which journalists, lawyers, and an independent academic (myself) were interviewed. http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/current_20141017_93209.mp3

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, October 27, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

  • A group of asylum seekers in Australia who took the immigration department to court over the exposure of their personal details in a major data breach have won a federal court appeal, and the immigration minister has been ordered to pay their costs.

UN/World

Events and Announcements: October 26, 2014

by An Hertogen

Events

  • ALMA and the Radzyner School of Law of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) invite you to the opening session of the Joint International Humanitarian Law Forum for the 2014-2015 Academic year. The session will be held on Wednesday, October 29, 2014, 18:30, in the meeting room of the Communication school (room C228, Arazi-Ofer Building, 3nd floor) at the IDC. In this session they will host the distinguished Prof. Malcolm Shaw, Emeritus Sir Robert Jennings Professor of International Law, School of Law, University of Leicester. Prof. Shaw will discuss the topic of: Combatant Immunity for State Forces in Non-International Armed Conflicts. Following the presentation, there will be an open round table discussion. Please note that the session will be conducted in English. The meeting is free and open to the public. If you wish to attend the meeting please register in advance via forum [at] alma-ihl [dot] org.
  • On Thursday, October 30, from 4:00 to 5.30 p.m., GW Law will hold an event on Professor Chiara Giorgetti’s new book titled Litigating International Investment Disputes:  A Practitioner’s Guide (Brill/Nijhoff 2014).  The session will feature book contributors who will address topics such as selecting the arbitrator, representing the State, the award, and relationship of counsel/parties to the secretariat.  In addition to Prof. Giorgetti, panelists will include John Crook of GW Law, Eloise Obadia of Derains & Gharavi PLLC, and Jeremy Sharpe of the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Legal Adviser; the discussion will be moderated by Stanimir Alexandrov of Sidley Austin LLP.  The events will be held at GW Law, 2000 H Street, N.W., with the panel in the Jacob Burns Moot Court Room (Lerner 101), and a reception thereafter in the Dee Kelly Lounge.  All are invited.  No rsvp is needed. More information about the book here.

Call for papers

  • The 4th Conference of the Postgraduate and Early Professionals/Academics Network of the Society of International Economic Law (PEPA/SIEL) offers graduate students and early professionals/academics studying or working in the field of IEL an opportunity to present and discuss their research and to network with senior people in the field. The upcoming conference will take place on April 16-17, 2015 in Milan, Italy. If you wish to apply, or if you have any questions, write to: pepa2015conference [at] gmail [dot] com. The call for papers is here.
  • The deadline for submitting proposals for the 21st Annual Forum of Young Legal Historians (AYLH 2015, Tel-Aviv, March 1-3, 2015) is November 1. The Call for Papers and further information on the Forum are and will be available on the AYLH website.

Announcements

  • The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) is pleased to announce the launch of the “First Annual International and Comparative Disaster Law Essay Contest”.   The contest is co-sponsored by the IFRC, the American Society of international Law (ASIL) and the “International Disaster Law Project” of the Universities of Bologna, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Roma Tre and Uninettuno (also associated with the Italian Red Cross Cross), with support from the International Institute of Humanitarian Law. They are looking for entries from graduate or undergraduate students (regardless of major/concentration) with a deadline of January 30, 2015.  Among the top prizes are sponsored participation in next year’s week-long “International Disaster Law Course” in Sanremo and a year membership in ASIL and waiver of fees for attendance of the 2015 Annual meeting on April. Note that all submissions must be in English and must address international or comparative legal issues for disasters linked to natural hazards. They are also looking for qualified persons willing to serve as readers/scorers of some of the contest submissions. The reading would take place in the first 2-3 weeks of February. If anyone is willing and available, he/she should write to disaster [dot] law [at] ifrc [dot] org and include his/her CV. The web link for the contest is here.

Last week’s events and announcements can be found 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. 

Lawfare Podcast on al-Bahlul

by Kevin Jon Heller

While in DC last week for the ICC/Palestine event at George Mason — I’ll post a link to the video when it becomes available — I had the pleasure of sitting down with Lawfare’s Wells Bennet and Just Security’s Steve Vladeck to discuss the oral argument at the DC Circuit on the al-Bahlul remand, which the three of us attended that morning. You can listen to the podcast at Lawfare here; Steve did most of the talking, because he understands the constitutional issues in the case better than anyone, but I weighed in a few times on the international-law side. I hope you enjoy it — and my thanks to Wells for inviting me to participate.

Mark Kersten on the Terror Attacks in Canada

by Kevin Jon Heller

These days, I usually use Twitter to point readers to blog posts that deserve their attention. But Mark Kersten’s new post at Justice in Conflict is so good — and so important — that I want to highlight it here. The post achieves the near-impossible, passionately indicting Canada’s right-wing government for creating a political environment ripe for terrorism without in any way suggesting that Wednesday’s terror attacks were justified. It’s a truly brilliant post, from top to bottom. Here is a snippet, concerning the Harper government’s foreign-policy disasters:

The Canadian government has actively pursued a political philosophy of retribution and control that tarnishes the country’s image as an ‘honest international broker’. Harper’s record attests to an unyielding mission to reshape Canada’s international identity as a tough and hard-power state. The Harper government plays the part of destructive belligerent in climate change negotiations and tar-sands cheerleader. It is first in line to threaten Palestine with “consequences” if Ramallah pursues accountability for alleged crimes committed by Israeli forces in Gaza. While it isn’t usually described as such (many prefer terms like “militarily engaged”), the reality is that Canada has been at war, primarily in Afghanistan, for most of the last decade. And while we should judge each decision to engage in wars on their own terms, the government has positioned itself as a military – rather than diplomatic or humanitarian – middle power. The role of Canadian citizens in the Afghan detainee scandal has been swept under the rug. The government willfully left a child soldier, Omar Khadr, to rot in Guantanamo and were the only Western government not to request the repatriation of their citizens from that nefarious island prison. It left Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian citizen wrongly accused of terrorism, stranded in Khartoum for years and threatened anyone who tried to help him return to Canada with aiding and abetting terrorism. In a country that takes pride in seeing Lester B. Pearson as the father of peacekeeping, the government prefers to count the number of fighter jets it will buy than the number of peacekeepers it deploys. And, making matters worse, those who disagree with the Harper government’s approach to being “hard on crime”, “tough on justice”, and “a military power” are too often portrayed as naive or betraying Canadian values.

Sadly, it’s not just Canada that has pursued the kind of right-wing policies that make horrific acts of terrorism more likely. Very similar posts could — and should — be written about the Key government in New Zealand, the Abbott government in Australia, and (yes) the Obama government in the US. These misguided policies have done next to nothing to prevent terrorism; they create the illusion of security, not its actuality. Indeed, insofar as they do little more than further radicalize the populations they affect, the policies have made us all that much less safe.

Read Kersten. And if you are on an academic committee that is looking to appoint a brilliant young lecturer, hire him.

Guest Post: A CISG Question

by William S. Dodge

[William S. Dodge is The Honorable Roger J. Traynor Professor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.]

The U.N. Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG) sets forth substantive rules of contract law to govern contracts for the sale of goods between parties who have their places of business in different CISG countries. See Art. 1. The United States is one of 83 countries that have joined the CISG. According to figures from the Census Bureau, U.S. trade in goods with CISG countries exceeded $2.4 trillion in 2013, which means a lot of contracts to which the CISG potentially applies. (I have written about the need for American contracts students to have some exposure to the CISG here.) It is possible for contractual parties to exclude application of the CISG (see Art. 6), but they must do so expressly. A choice of law clause stating that the contract is governed by “the laws of California,” for example, would not be sufficient. See, e.g., Asante Technologies, Inc. v. PMC-Sierra, Inc., 164 F. Supp. 2d 1142, 1149-50 (N.D. Cal. 2001).

The CISG entered into force with respect to Brazil on April 1, 2014. But treaties do not become effective as domestic law in Brazil until approved by executive decree, which did not happen until October 16, 2014. See Decree No. 8.327. Trade in goods between the United States and Brazil averages $6 billion a month, so a lot of contracts for the sale of goods between Brazilian companies and U.S. companies were presumably entered between April 1 and October 16.

What law governs those contracts (or more precisely, those that did not effectively exclude application of the CISG)? It may well depend on the forum in which suit is brought. My guess is that a Brazilian court would not apply the CISG to these contracts because it was not effective as a matter of Brazilian law. But I expect that a U.S. court would apply the CISG to these contracts because the treaty was in force between Brazil and the United States as a matter of international law and binding on U.S. courts under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution. If the parties have chosen arbitration, the answer should turn on the parties’ (presumed) intent, but that may be hard to fathom in a case like this. In any event, this situation presents a good example of the need for countries to make sure that treaties to which they are bound internationally are properly implemented in their domestic laws.

Guest Post: The Evolving Law of Foreign Official Immunity–Mortazavi and Bakhshi, Prince Nasser, and “Samantar II”

by Chimene Keitner

[Chimène Keitner is Harry & Lillian Research Chair and Professor of Law at UC Hastings. She is on Twitter @KeitnerLaw.] 

I look forward to discussing developments in the international law of non-state actor immunity on a panel on “Responsibility and Immunity in a Time of Chaos” at International Law Weekend this Saturday morning with co-panelists Kristen Boon and August Reinisch, moderated by Larry Johnson. For those of you who can’t attend, we thought we’d offer a taste of our discussion here on Opinio Juris.

In recent years, my research has focused on questions relating to the personal responsibility and ratione materiae immunity of individuals who act on behalf of states. The International Court of Justice has thus far managed to avoid dealing with the subject of ratione materiae immunity. As I recounted on Opinio Juris earlier this year, a Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights found in Jones v. United Kingdom that the grant of ratione materiae immunity for torture to Saudi officials by the U.K. State Immunity Act (SIA) did not interfere disproportionately with the applicants’ right of access to court.

Jurisprudence in other Commonwealth countries with state immunity acts that resemble the United Kingdom’s has largely tracked the House of Lords’s 2006 judgment in Jones v. Saudi Arabia. In that case, the House of Lords found that the SIA conferred immunity on foreign officials from civil proceedings for torture, even though its 1999 judgment in Pinochet (No. 3) established a lack of such immunity from criminal proceedings. As a matter of statutory interpretation, the distinction between criminal and civil proceedings finds some support in the explicit exclusion of criminal proceedings or prosecutions from the scope of the U.K., Canadian, and Australian state immunity acts. (For more on these cases, see here.) The Canadian Supreme Court’s October 10 judgment in Kazemi and Hashemi v. Islamic Republic of Iran reinforced this bifurcated approach by interpreting the Canadian SIA to provide immunity from civil proceedings to two named officials (Mortazavi and Bakhshi) who allegedly ordered, oversaw, and actively participated in the torture to death of Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi.

Given the exclusion of criminal proceedings from the scope of the SIA, claims to immunity ratione materiae from prosecution for torture in U.K. courts have followed the different path set out in Pinochet (No. 3). As Oliver Windridge related here at Opinio Juris, the way has been cleared for a criminal investigation into claims that Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the son of the King of Bahrain, was directly involved in the torture of three individuals in a prison in Bahrain. Although some reports indicated that the prince had “lost” his immunity, it would be more accurate to state that the U.K.’s Director of Public Prosecutions ultimately determined that the prince did not benefit from, and never had benefited from, ratione materiae immunity from criminal proceedings for torture. Oliver’s post also notes that, in January 2013, a Nepalese army officer was charged in the U.K. with intentionally inflicting severe pain or suffering as a public official on two individuals during the 2005 civil war in Nepal.

In the United States, the only prosecution for torture to date remains that of Chuckie Taylor, who was sentenced in 2009 to 97 years in prison for torture committed in Liberia. The Torture Victim Protection Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1350 note, explicitly creates a civil cause of action for torture or extrajudicial killing committed under color of foreign law. Unlike the state immunity acts at issue in the civil cases described above, the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) does not exclude criminal proceedings. The Supreme Court determined in Samantar v. Yousuf (2010) that the FSIA does not apply to suits against individual officials in their personal capacity that seek damages from the defendant’s “own pockets,” in which the state is not the “real party in interest.” In the absence of a statute, foreign official immunity in U.S. courts is governed by the common law. (For a guide to analyzing immunity claims post-Samantar, see here.)

Curt Bradley and Jack Goldsmith argued against taking a U.S.-style approach to personal capacity vs. official capacity suits in a short article published before Samantar was decided. Although I have taken issue with parts of their historical analysis here, their basic point that different policy considerations are in play in designing domestic immunity regimes and international immunity regimes remains sound. Curt has blogged about post-Samantar cases here, and John Bellinger has been chronicling these developments as well. On October 14, the Supreme Court asked for the Solicitor General’s views on whether to review the Fourth Circuit’s determination on remand that there is no ratione materiae immunity for torture because it is a jus cogens violation.

Much conceptual and historical analysis remains to be done as we await the Solicitor General’s brief and the Supreme Court’s decision about whether to tackle the issue of ratione materiae immunity under the “common law” in Samantar II or a future case. Just as the Court should not transplant domestic immunity doctrines wholesale into the foreign official immunity context, so too should it resist parroting decisions that interpret state immunity acts with fundamentally different structures and provisions. It is more important to resolve these issues properly than it is to resolve them quickly or all at once—especially since, in the U.S. context, the Court’s examination of common law immunity in civil cases could have potentially unintended consequences for criminal proceedings as well.