Recent Posts

The Seemingly Inexorable March of “Unwilling or Unable” Through the Academy

by Kevin Jon Heller

How does an international-law doctrine become conventional wisdom without actually having support in the practice of states? It starts with one article asserting the doctrine, but failing to defend it. Then another article makes the same claim, citing only the first article. And then another. And another. And so on — until no one remembers that the first article did not actually identify any state practice at all.

So it is with the “unwilling or unable” test, as indicated by an otherwise quite good new article in the Journal of Conflict & Security Law entitled “Jus ad Bellum and American Targeted Use of Force to Fight Terrorism Around the World.” Consider (p. 228):

With regard to the use of self-defence against private actors located in another state, two consequences flow from the requirement of necessity. First, state practice indicates that the exercise of self-defence against the private actor is conditioned on the inability or unwillingness of the authorities in the host state to stop the private actor’s activities.98 Obviously, if the host state both can and will stop the activities in question, it will not be necessary for the victim state to resort to the use of force.

I’ve left the footnote number in, because it refers to precisely one source: Ashley Deeks’ essay “Unwilling or Unable: Toward an Normative Framework for Extra-Territorial Self-Defense.” An essay in which, as I have pointed out, the author openly admits that she “found no cases in which states clearly assert that they follow the test out of a sense of legal obligation.” (The US and UK have formally endorsed the unwilling or unable test since Deeks’ article was published.)

To be sure, the new article elaborates a bit on the “support” for the unwilling or unable test. But none of that support involves the practice of states — nor does the article acknowledge the inconvenient fact that the Arab League (22 states) has formally rejected the test (post-9/11, even). Instead, it simply says this (p. 229):

The test is widely supported in the literature, and it is also mentioned in two 2013 UN reports by, respectively, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. It also features among a series of “Principles Relevant to the Scope of a State’s Right of Self-Defense Against an Imminent or Actual Armed Attack by Nonstate Actors” proposed by the former legal adviser of the United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office, Daniel Bethlehem.

“Instant custom”? How passé. Who needs state practice at all? And please don’t bore us by pointing out contrary practice by a bunch of benighted states in the Global South. All we really need are enough scholars, special rapporteurs, and former legal advisors in the Global North willing and able to endorse a particular doctrine and poof — customary international law.

Iran Nuke Review Act Does Not Actually “Require” a Vote of Congress

by Julian Ku

According to the WSJ,  the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act”  that I discussed earlier this week may already have 64 declared supporters in the Senate.  This means that supporters are only 3 votes shy of enough to override President Obama’s veto of this bill.

Since the bill might actually become law, it is worth reminding supporters of the bill that it does NOT guarantee that Congress will vote on the Iran nuke deal.  This might be confusing, but as I argued earlier this week, the proposed law would only suspend the lifting of sanctions for 60 days.  During that 60-day period, Congress could vote on the bill, or it could choose not to do so.  Silence would allow the sanctions to be lifted after the 60 days.  So it is not quite right to say, as the WSJ does, that the proposed law would “require a vote of Congress.”  Still, it is quite likely that Congress would vote, and at least this bill would give them the opportunity to do so.

If the bill passes, and a veto fight breaks out, it will be worth considering whether President Obama invokes any constitutional arguments to justify his position.  I believe that President Obama’s threatened veto reflects a robust and unilateralist conception of the President’s power to make sole executive agreements without Congressional approval.  It will be interesting to see if he defends his veto on constitutional grounds.

Cote D’Ivoire Seeks Provisional Measures Order from ITLOS To Stop Oil Exploration in Disputed Waters

by Julian Ku

Last September, Ghana commenced an arbitration under Annex VII of the UN Convention for the Law of Sea seeking judicial confirmation of its rights to explore for oil and other resources in maritime areas disputed by its neighbor Cote D’Ivoire.  This past January, the two countries agreed to submit a dispute over maritime boundaries to a special chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.  And last week, Cote D’Ivoire filed a request for Provisional Measures with the special chamber asking it to require Ghana to suspend any oil exploration activities while the matter is before the ITLOS special chamber.

Under UNCLOS Article 290, a court or tribunal with jurisdiction is empowered to issue provisional measures “which it considers appropriate under the circumstances to preserve the respective rights of the parties to the dispute or to prevent serious harm to the marine environment, pending the final decision.”  I haven’t been privy to the papers filed in this case, but it does seem like Cote D’Ivoire should have a pretty reasonable provisional measures claim.  Indeed, the UK oil company currently exploring the disputed waters pursuant to a contract with Ghana is already planning to suspend its operations pending the outcome of the provisional measures hearing.

The Ghana-Cote D’Ivoire dispute bears watching. If these two countries are able to settle their maritime boundary dispute where lots of oil is at stake, then this would be a pretty significant accomplishment for the UNCLOS dispute settlement system. Hello, China? Anyone there?   History suggests this is going to be pretty hard, but you never know.

 

President Obama Goes Unilateralist; Threatens to Veto Bill Requiring Congressional Review of Iran Agreement

by Julian Ku

As Washington continues to digest Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s (possibly unconstitutional) address to the U.S. Congress criticizing a pending nuclear arms deal with Iran, a constitutional and political fight is brewing over the scope of the President’s powers to make such an agreement and Congress’s power to limit or overturn his agreement. A group of Senators re-introduced a bill last Friday to require President Obama to submit any agreement with Iran to Congress.  President Obama has already threatened to veto this bill, even though, in my humble opinion, it is a pretty modest effort by Congress to oversee the President’s power to make international agreements since it does not actually force the President to seek their approval of the agreement.  It is thus striking that even this modest law has drawn a veto threat.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 would require the president to submit to Congress the “(1) the text of the agreement, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities” (according the website of the bill’s sponsor, Senator Bob Corker).

Here’s the key provision: the bill would suspend for 60 days the President’s ability to waive or lift any sanctions on Iran.  Congress would have a chance to permanently suspend his power to waive or lift sanctions via a joint resolution of both houses of Congress.  But if Congress does not act at all, or simply approves the agreement, the President can go forward and lift whatever sanctions he otherwise has the authority to lift.

Crucially, congressional silence would (after 60 days) allow the president to go forward and implement the agreement. In political terms, it is therefore possible that a filibuster of a joint resolution in the Senate could result in the necessary silence needed to allow President Obama to implement any agreement after 60 days.

Gentle as this oversight is, it is still too much for the administration. Not only was there an immediate veto threat, but Secretary Kerry stated, ““I believe this falls squarely within the executive power of the president of the United States in the execution of American foreign policy,”    This might be correct, but it is only correct if you have a pretty robust conception of the President’s powers to make international agreements outside of the Constitution’s Treaty Clause.  While scholars have generally agreed that the President has such independent powers, the type of agreements he can make and the subjects of those agreements remain deeply uncertain and contested.

President Obama may be creating another important precedent here in favor of unilateral presidential power to make non-treaty agreements (to go along with his precedents in favor of unilateral presidential powers to use military force for humanitarian reasons).  Let’s just say he will not go down in history as a president that was deferential or respectful of congressional participation in foreign affairs.

Does Promoting Democracy in Hong Kong Violate the Principle of Non-Interference in Domestic Affairs?

by Julian Ku

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers proposed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act last week.  The proposed law would “would enhance U.S. monitoring of Hong Kong’s autonomy and human rights and ensure that these issues remain a cornerstone of U.S. policy,” according to the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith.

Reactions in Hong Kong and China are already pretty negative.

“We don’t want foreign governments or foreigners to intervene in affairs that can be handled by ourselves,” [Hong Kong Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung] said, adding that the Beijing and Hong Kong governments, Hongkongers themselves and the city’s lawmakers were the only stakeholders in the city’s political reform.”

If the bill gets closer to passage, one can imagine China will invoke the principle of “non-interference” in domestic affairs and sovereignty as an international law argument against the bill.  So this could set up an interesting contrast in views on how this principle is understood and interpreted.

In fact, the proposed bill is quite limited in scope.  All it requires is for the U.S. Secretary of State to annually certify “whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to justify separate treatment different from that accorded the People’s Republic of China in any new laws, agreements, treaties, or arrangements entered into between the United States and Hong Kong after the date of the enactment of such Act.”

It does not even threaten to change existing laws and treaties (such as the visa waiver provision for HK residents or the extradition agreement with HK).  It just threatens to limit “any new laws, agreements..treaties” (emphasis added). Nor does the proposed law actually require “genuine” democratic suffrage or compliance with the UK-China Joint Agreement or any other hard metric that the recent protests in Hong Kong had argued for.  Certification can be made as long as HK remains “sufficiently autonomous” in the opinion of the US Secretary of State and as long as he “considers” the Joint Agreement’s requirements in his certifcation.

Moreover, even this pretty easy requirement can be waived by the Secretary of State is in US national interests.  For this reason, I would be surprised if this bill becomes controversial within Congress or opposed by the State Department.

Nonetheless, it is worth asking: Is it a violation of the principle of non-interference to condition new agreements and arrangements with Hong Kong on the progress of domestic arrangements in China?  I don’t think most US international lawyers would find this gentle prodding to be a credible violation of the non-interference principle (see this useful summary of the principle from Princeton here), but I am fairly sure many Chinese international lawyers would see things differently.  If the bill progresses, we may find out.

Will Japan Embrace the “Illegal But Legitimate” View of the UN Charter’s Limits on Use of Force?

by Julian Ku

Japan has been slowly moving to modify its domestic law, both constitutional and legislative, restricting the use of its military forces outside of Japan.  In its latest political discussions, it is worth noting that Komeito, a partner to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has been insisting on the three “Kitagawa” principles as a basis for any new law governing the use of force overseas.  The three principles are: “legitimacy under international law, public understanding and democratic rule, and ensuring the safety of SDF personnel.”

Interestingly, the ruling party has been hesitant to fully embrace the “legitimacy under international law” requirement, which might be read to require UN Security Council authorization for most overseas uses of military force. Noting that China has a veto in that body, ruling party lawmakers would like to make sure “legitimate under international law” is given a broader meaning.

“In terms of international law, legitimacy isn’t necessarily limited to [those situations involving] a U.N. resolution,” said a senior LDP official. “We’d like to discuss what cases would be legitimate.”

The US and Western powers have used this “illegal but legitimate” analysis to justify actions in Kosovo and elsewhere.  It will be interesting to see if Japan eventually adopts some version of this approach.  It would be wise to do so from a practical perspective, since many scenarios where Japanese forces would act “overseas” including the Senkakus, Taiwan, Korea, or Syria may not qualify as “self-defense” under the U.N. Charter.  But such a move would chip away again at the UN Charter’s limits on the use of military force.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, March 2, 2015

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

UN/World

Events and Announcements: March 1, 2015

by An Hertogen

Events

  • On Tuesday, 3 MarchOpinio Juris‘ own Kevin Jon Heller will be giving a Supranational Criminal Law Lecture at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague entitled “What is an International Crime?” The event starts at 19:00 and seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Calls for Papers

  • The Board of Editors of Trade, Law and Development [TL&D] is pleased to invite original, unpublished manuscripts for publication in the Winter ’15 Issue of the Journal (Vol. 7, No. 2). The manuscripts may be in the form of Articles, Notes, Comments, and Book Reviews. All manuscripts received by September 15, 2015, pertaining to any area within the purview of international economic law, will be reviewed by the editorial board for publication in the Winter ’15 issue. TL&D aims to generate and sustain a democratic debate on emerging issues in international economic law, with a special focus on the developing world. For more information, please go through the submission guidelines available at www.tradelawdevelopment.com or write to editors[at]tradelawdevelopment.com
  • International Law Weekend 2015 (ILW 2015) – the premier international law event of the fall season  – is scheduled for November 5-7, 2015, in New York City.  The event is sponsored by the American Branch of the International Law Association (ABILA) and the International Law Students Association (ILSA). The theme for 2015 is Global Problems, Legal Solutions: Challenges for Contemporary International Lawyers. The ILW Organizing Committee invites proposals to be submitted online on or before Friday, March 20, 2015 via the ILW Panel Proposal Submission Form located here. ILW 2015 is scheduled to be held at 42 West 44th Street on Thursday evening, November 5, and at Fordham Law School at Lincoln Center on November 6 – 7, 2015. For questions regarding ILW 2015, please contact conferences [at] ilsa [dot] org.  2015 ILW Program Committee Members: Chiara Giorgetti (University of Richmond Law School), Jeremy Sharpe (Office of the Legal Adviser, U.S. Department of State), David Stewart (President ABILA, Georgetown University Law Center), Santiago Villalpando (Office of Legal Affairs, United Nations), and Tessa Walker (ILSA).
  • The Canadian Council on International Law’s 44th Annual Conference will take place at the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada in Ottawa, Canada from November 5 – 7, 2015. This year, the theme is International Law: Coherence or Chaos? International law scholars, practitioners, and graduate students are invited to submit proposals for panels or papers. All proposals should be submitted to manager [at] ccil-ccdi [dot] ca no later than March 20, 2015. More information is available here.
  • The Independent Panel on Global Governance for Health (a collaboration between the University of Oslo and The Lancet medical journal) is preparing a report to be published in The Lancet in 2015. The topic is the implications for health and the social determinants of health of trade and investment treaties, agreements, and negotiation processes. International trade and investment agreements can have major effects – both positive and negative – on people’s health and wellbeing.  These agreements are formalized and interpreted according to legal procedures that are complex and technical. Powerful states and corporations exert a strong influence on the outcome because of the greater resources they bring to the negotiating table. As a result, affected communities and stakeholders may be excluded from the process. The Panel hereby invites submissions of evidence on this topic from all interested parties – academia, civil society, business, public administration etc. Submissions may be in various forms, ranging from peer-reviewed research papers to qualitative or quantitative evidence of the implications for health and the social determinants of health of trade and investment treaties, agreements, and negotiation processes. Also welcome are descriptive essays, personal stories, news and media articles, visual items etc. Submissions should describe the context, methods, and processes involved in gathering the evidence; specific lessons; and wider global lessons. Submissions may also include recommendations for action; these should be as specific as possible, with regard to identified actors, processes etc. Please send your submission to: globalgovhealth-contact [at] sum [dot] uio [dot] no by April 30, 2015.

Our previous events and announcements post 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. 

Guest Post: The Mirage of Hybrid Justice in Africa?

by Patryk Labuda

[Patryk I. Labuda is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Before joining the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, he worked in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan and South Sudan.]

Although international criminal law is increasingly assimilated with the International Criminal Court (ICC), hybrid justice remains surprisingly common thirteen years after the establishment of the landmark Special Court for Sierra Leone. Last month a UN-mandated International Commission of Inquiry made headlines when it recommended a hybrid tribunal for the Central African Republic (CAR). Citing the collapse of the country’s judicial system, Philip Alston, one of the Commission’s members, suggested that the international community should ‘act fast’ to ‘fund a tribunal’ if it wanted to break the ‘cycle of impunity’ fueling the conflict. His plea came on the heels of similar calls for a hybrid judicial mechanism in South Sudan, which has received the endorsement of international advocacy groups and the UN in recent months.

It is clear that the establishment of the ICC, the only permanent court with (potentially universal) jurisdiction over international crimes, has not eliminated the need for more tailored, country-specific responses to mass violence. Different kinds of hybrid tribunals have operated, or continue to operate, in the aftermath of violence in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cambodia, Indonesia (East Timor), Iraq, Lebanon, Chad and Kosovo. What is less known is that blueprints for mixed international-national jurisdictions have also emerged in many other conflict- and post-conflict settings, including Liberia, Burundi, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Sudan and Somalia. Two names can now be added to that long list of African states: South Sudan and CAR.

What these proposals have in common is that not one of these hybrid tribunals has actually been set up, despite – in some cases – years of lobbying by local civil society groups and oft-repeated assurances from African governments that accountability is essential for national reconciliation. This prompts the question: why are hybrid tribunals so frequently debated but so rarely established in the aftermath of African conflicts?

Hybrid and internationalized tribunals emerged in the early 2000s as a corrective to other forms of international criminal justice. There is no single definition of ‘hybridity’, but the notion is used conventionally to refer to institutions that mix national and international elements. Unlike purely international courts, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda or the ICC, hybrid tribunals have either mixed jurisdictional bases (domestic and international law) or mixed staffs (domestic and international judges or prosecutors). The hope was that this blending of international and local elements would allow such tribunals to overcome the limitations of both purely domestic courts and fully international bodies.

International justice activists advance three broad claims about hybrid justice. First, by bringing together local and international partners, mixed tribunals have the potential of building domestic capacity and increasing the legitimacy of prosecutions among affected populations. Second, despite the growing number of ratifications of the ICC Statute, hybrid tribunals remain an important alternative where the ICC cannot exercise jurisdiction. Last but not least, the hybrid model should decrease the tension between international demands for accountability and state sovereignty. By giving states a say in the design of hybrid mandates, it was hoped that state concerns about international criminal law could be adequately addressed.

Debates around proposed hybrid tribunals in Africa reveal that, if there is still some consensus on the first two points, reconciling state interests with internationally-driven accountability has proved elusive in practice.

Contrary to expectations, hybrid justice now looks like the most invasive form of international intervention. Many African governments – Kenya being the prime example – understand that the prospect of a hybrid tribunal is far less appealing than the much-demonized ICC. Notwithstanding the high-profile standoff between the AU and the ICC, individual African states have learned to skillfully manipulate the ICC to their advantage. By outsourcing sensitive cases to The Hague while trying minor perpetrators before domestic courts, the governments of the DRC, Uganda, Kenya and Cote d’Ivoire have all, to different degrees, used the ICC’s interventions to bolster their domestic standing. Due to the ICC’s limited enforcement powers, it is relatively easy for states to project an image of compliance where cooperation is convenient, and obstruct the ICC’s investigations where national or regional interests are at stake.

It is doubtful that hosting a hybrid tribunal on one’s own territory offers the same flexibility. Established for more or less defined periods of time (mandates vary), hybrid tribunals operate under the watchful eye of international staff, which prevents national authorities from controlling investigations and prosecutions. A key stumbling block in negotiations over the establishment of hybrid tribunals in Africa, notably in the DRC, has been the composition of their staff. Echoing political disputes from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, where a preponderance of national staff allowed Cambodian magistrates to outvote their international peers, the Congolese government has rejected UN attempts to secure a majority of international judges and prosecutors. Loath to finance projects it cannot control, the international community has sought to craft mandates that give them an outright majority, for instance in Kenya and Liberia. Early reports from CAR suggest this may emerge as a sticking point in negotiations between the government and international donors. While the Central African authorities have emphasized hybridity and the need to bolster domestic capacity, Alston’s remarks imply that a more robust international presence will be required due to a lack of independent national judges.

The obstacles to establishing hybrid tribunals in Africa vary from country to country, so it is important to not overstate the dismal success rate of such proposals. As with the ICC, complex political dynamics at the domestic, regional and international levels explain these setbacks. However, it is precisely the AU’s repeated condemnations of the ICC, coupled with its advocacy of ‘African solutions to African problems’, that prompts a critical look at its efforts to pursue hybrid justice.

Though last week’s decision to commit Hissène Habré to trial has rightly been praised by human rights advocates, it is important to remember the convoluted process by which the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal were established. Similar problems have arisen in relation to Darfur, Kenya and South Sudan. Despite years of mediation led by Thabo Mbeki, the Sudanese government’s refusal to act on the AU’s calls for a hybrid tribunal has elicited practically no follow-up from the AU. In Kenya, the AU’s support for President Kenyatta has been a one-way street, with no sustained pressure to resurrect the Waki Commission’s idea of a Special Tribunal (or a purely domestic accountability mechanism). This also explains why last month’s decision to ‘indefinitely shelve’ the report of the AU’s South Sudanese Commission of Inquiry has caused so much consternation. The AU appears, yet again, to be prioritizing peace over justice.

The Central African Republic is the next test case for the viability of hybrid justice in Africa. At first blush, the prospects of the proposed ‘Special Criminal Court’ in CAR – where the interests of the national government, the AU and international actors coincide – seem good. The transitional government signed a memorandum of understanding with the UN several months ago, and investigations would focus on non-state actors: rebels from the Seleka and anti-balaka movements. Yet the track record of African hybrid tribunals suggests a good dose of caution. Progress on legislation needed to bring the Special Court into existence has been slow, and it remains unclear who will fund a tribunal operating alongside the ICC. One thing is certain, the money will not come from the AU which is busy laying the groundwork for its institutional alternative to the ICC: the revamped African Court of Justice and Human Rights with criminal jurisdiction and immunities for heads of state and senior officials.

In the end, there is a distinct possibility that the Central African court will join the ranks of most other African hybrid ventures, which remain in the realm of promising but unfulfilled ideas. If this happens, it might well be time to ask whether hybrid justice on the continent resembles something of an African mirage… as one approaches and strains for a closer look, the prospect of justice recedes on the horizon.

One War Begins, Another Ends?

by Jens David Ohlin

Yesterday, as members of Congress continued to debate the need for a new AUMF against ISIS, lawyers for Guantanamo detainee Al Warafi have filed a new habeas petition to the D.C. District Court, arguing that the basis for detaining Warafi evaporated when the war in the Afghanistan ended. Specifically, the petition argues that the administration has conceded in prior litigation that the basis for Warafi’s detention was his membership in the Taliban. In the past, Warafi had argued in that he was a medic for the Taliban and his continued detention violated IHL’s rules on the treatment of medics. That argument was ultimately rejected by a district court which concluded that Warafi’s status was not analogous to that of a medic in a traditional army.

Warafi’s new argument takes as its starting point that last legal conclusion. Since Warafi was deemed detainable as a regular member of the Taliban, the authority for his continued detention evaporated with the conclusion of the war in the Afghanistan.

How do we know that the war in Afghanistan is over? On this point, Warafi’s petiton relies exclusively on Obama’s own statements that the conduct of hostilities in Afghanistan is over:

On December 15, 2014, President Obama stated that “[t]his month, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over,” and “[t]his month, America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.” Exhibit A, p. 2. Then, in the State of the Union Address on January 20, 2015, the President stated, without any qualifications or conditions, that “our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.” Exhibit B, p. 1.

These pronouncements had been foreshadowed during the preceding two years by repeated presidential statements that the United States’ war in Afghanistan would be ended, and its combat mission would be terminated, by the end of 2014. On February 12, 2013, President Obama declared in the State of the Union Address that “[b]y the end of [2014], our war in Afghanistan will be over.” Exhibit C, p. 5. On May 23, 2013, he stated that “[t]he Afghan war is coming to an end.” Exhibit D, p. 7. On November 25, 2013, he stated that ‘[t]he war in Afghanistan will end next year.” Exhibit E, p. 1. On December 20, 2013, he stated that, “[b]y the end of next year, the war in Afghanistan will be over.” Exhibit F, p. 2. In the State of the Union Address on January 28, 2014, he repeated that “we will complete our mission there [Afghanistan] by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.” Exhibit G, p. 6. The President followed up with a prepared statement on May 27, 2014, that “this year, we will bring America’s longest war to a responsible end,” that “this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan,” and that “America’s combat mission [in Afghanistan] will be over by the end of this year.” Exhibit H, p. 1. On December 28, 2014, the United States Case 1:09-cv-02368-RCL Document 80 Filed 02/26/15 Page 3 of 7- 4 – marked the end of the war in Afghanistan with a ceremony in Kabul.1 Exhibit I. On that date, President Obama released a statement that “the ceremony in Kabul marks a milestone for our country” because “our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.” Id.

The argument relies exclusively on the President’s own statements regarding the conduct of hostilities, rather than engage in an underlying assessment of the actual situation on the ground. This strategy seems designed to appeal to the D.C. Circuit, which might be more inclined (than another court) to view the President’s assessment as dispositive of the issue:

The D.C. Circuit has also stated that the “determination of when hostilities have ceased is a political decision, and we defer to the Executive’s opinion on the matter, at least in the absence of an authoritative congressional declaration purporting to terminate the war.” Al-Bihani v. Obama, 590 F.3d 866, 874 (D.C. Cir. 2010). “Whether an armed conflict has ended is a question left exclusively to the political branches.” Al Maqaleh v. Hagel, 738 F.3d 312, 330 (D.C. Cir. 2013), cert. dismissed sub nom. Al-Maqaleh v. Hagel, 135 S. Ct. 782 (2014). Under these precedents, a conflict is over when the President says it is over.

The argument also suggests an estoppel point which goes unexpressed in the petition: since the administration has conceded that the war is over in public statements, it is estopped from arguing before the judiciary that the war continues (for the purposes of justifying Wafari’s continued detention).

One issue is whether Obama’s multiple statements regarding the conclusion of “our combat mission in Afghanistan” is the same thing as saying that hostilities there are over. Does the former imply the latter? It seems like a viable and legitimate inference to draw, although none of the Obama quotes in the petition include the actual words: “the hostilities are over.” Is that distinction important? Or would it be overly legalistic to insist that the political branch use the phrase “hostilities” in its public pronouncements?

The petition also tees up another important legal issue. Is there a “wind up” period after the conclusion of hostilities when continued status-based detention is still justified, or must law-of-war detainees be released immediately upon the conclusion of hostilities? As this ICRC analysis notes, the Hague Regulations once required that POWs be released as soon as possible after the conclusion of peace, but the Third Geneva Convention requires that “Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities” (article 118). Most legal experts assume that it was significant that the codified law moved from a “conclusion of peace” standard to a “conclusion of hostilities” standard, because the latter requires repatriation of soldiers after fighting ends, even if there is a delay in negotiating a formal state of peace. Also, article 118 of the Third Geneva Convention requires release “without delay” as opposed to the older and looser requirement of “as soon as possible,” which is vague and somewhat indeterminate. So the law has moved over time to require quicker repatriation of captured soldiers. Of course, this assumes that IAC principles of detention are the relevant principles governing Gitmo detention, which is itself a contested and controversial question.

Overall, the Warafi petition highlights that extinguishing or ending an armed conflict is often just as legally complex as declaring or authorizing an armed conflict. Both involve questions of inter-branch allocations of constitutional authority (Article I versus Article II of the US Constitution), as well as the relative value of public statements versus actual events on the ground.

Elders Proposal for Strengthening UN

by Kristen Boon

If you haven’t seen it yet, the Elders Proposal for Strengthening the UN is a must read.  Chaired by Kofi Annan, The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights.

Released earlier this month at a conference in Munich, the four proposals are generating a lot of attention include:

1)  A new category of Security Council membership is needed: non-permanent members but who are immediately eligible for re-election, thus making them de facto permanent members if they secure the confidence of fellow member states.

2)  A pledge for non-use of the veto:  P5 states must also be more responsible in using their veto, especially during a crisis where people are threatened with genocide or other atrocities.

3)  Consultation with civil society:  the Security Council should take care to regularly consult those people who are affected by its decisions, especially in conflict zones.

4)  A new, more transparent and accountable system for choosing the next Secretary-General.

The last proposal, a new process for choosing the Secretary General, is where the Elders really break new ground.  They propose:

At the United Nations, it is the Secretary-General who has to uphold the interests and aspirations of all the world’s peoples. This role requires leadership of the highest calibre. Yet for 70 years the holder of this post has effectively been chosen by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who negotiate among themselves in almost total secrecy. The rest of the world is told little about the process by which candidates are identified, let alone the criteria by which they are judged. This barely follows the letter, and certainly not the spirit, of the UN Charter, which says the Secretary-General should be appointed by the General Assembly, and only on the recommendation of the Security Council.

To remedy this, we call on the General Assembly to insist that the Security Council recommend more than one candidate for appointment as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, after a timely, equitable and transparent search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or regional origin.

We suggest that the next Secretary-General be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years, in order to strengthen his or her independence and avoid the perception that he or she is guided by electoral concerns. She or he must not be under pressure, either before or after being appointed, to give posts in the Secretariat to people of any particular nationality in return for political support, since this is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Charter. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that the United Nations can make full use of it to choose the best person to assume the post in January 2017.

By tradition, the post rotates amongst different geographical areas of the world, and the next Secretary General would, under this system, come from Eastern Europe.  Because of tensions at the UN between Russia and Western States, however, many predict it will be impossible to find a candidate acceptable to all.   The proposal for implementing a merit based search with multiple candidates, and for a non renewable 7 year term therefore comes at an excellent time.  Member states should take up the call and consider updating the SG selection procedure. What will be required to implement it is a new GA resolution.   Ban Ki Moon’s term will be up at the end of 2016:  the time to act is now.

A helpful overview of the UN Charter requirements for the post (Article 97), relevant GA resolutions on the selection process, and recent proposals for reform of the office of the SG can be found here.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, February 23, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

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

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

  • US-led air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in Syria have killed more than 1,600 people since they began five months ago, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
  • The UN special envoy to Syria is travelling to Damascus to try to reduce the fighting which has intensified in Aleppo, where rebels claim to have killed 300 government soldiers in the past week.
  • A Moroccan court sentenced a former Spanish soldier to eight years in jail on Friday on charges of leading an Islamist network in the kingdom that was plotting terror attacks, the state news agency MAP said.

Asia

  • North Korea has banned foreign runners from participating in an international marathon scheduled to be held in the capital in April, citing fears about the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, a Beijing-based travel agency said.
  • Nearly three months after police cleared away the last of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy street protests, lingering anger is stoking a new front of radical activism that has turned shopping malls and university campuses into a fresh battleground.

Europe

Americas

  • High-level nuclear negotiations between the United States and Iran resumed in Geneva on Monday as both sides work through technical and political differences to come up with an initial deal by a March 31 deadline.
  • Indonesia has recalled its new ambassador to Brazil after the South American country stopped him taking part in a credentials ceremony following the execution of a Brazilian national for drugs trafficking.

Oceania

UN/World