Archive for
August, 2014

Did Vladimir Putin Call for the Statehood of Eastern Ukraine?

by Chris Borgen

As the military situation in eastern Ukraine become more violent with the incursion of Russian troops, Vladimir Putin has called for talks to determine the statehood of eastern Ukraine. The Interpreter, a website that translates and analyzes Russian media reports, states that in an interview on Russian television Putin said:

We must immediately get down to a substantial, substantive negotiations, and not on technical questions, but on the questions of the political organization of society and statehood in the south-east of Ukraine with the purpose of unconditional provision of the lawful interests of people who live there.

[Translation by website The Interpreter.]

In its analysis of this somewhat cryptic quote, the Interpreter posits:

It is not clear how Putin envisions the “Novorossiya” entity, but given a presentation by his aide Sergei Glazyev yesterday at a conference in Yalta attended by Russian-backed separatists and European far-right party figures, there is a notion to make the amalgamated “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Lugansk People’s Republic” a member of the Customs Union of which Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan are members.

For more on the Eurasian Customs Union, see this previous post.

As for the rhetoric of an independent Novorossiya, described in Foreign Policy as  the rebirth of a forgotton geopolitical term, Anne Applebaum wrote the following this past week in a grim article on Slate:

In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow. Some include Kharkov and Dnipropetrovsk, cities that are still hundreds of miles away from the fighting. Some place Novorossiya along the coast, so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian-occupied province of Moldova. Even if it starts out as an unrecognized rump state—Abkhazia and South Ossetia, “states” that Russia carved out of Georgia, are the models here—Novorossiya can grow larger over time.

Applebaum notes that for Novorossiya to move from Putin’s rhetoric to political reality will require more than the actions of the Russian army.  “Novorossiya will not be stable as long as it is inhabited by Ukrainians who want it to stay Ukrainian,” she explains.  Moreover, “Novorossiya will also be hard to sustain if it has opponents in the West.” Further sanctions will likely be the centerpiece of the EU and U.S. response.

But while some would say “international law is useless without sanction,” in this case I believe that economic sanctions are not enough without international legal argument.  For the moment, Russia’s strategy seems to be an amalgamation of stealth invasion and quasi-legal rhetoric. The “stealth”  part of the invasion is to maintain a fig-leaf of deniability and to make the uprising in eastern Ukraine seem homegrown as opposed to Russian-led. This strategy of stealth interlocks with Russia’s rhetoric, a quasi-legal/ nationalist amalgamation that attempts to persuade those who can be persuaded and befuddle those who cannot.

However, we are at an inflection point where an important new argument (the apocryphal “once and future Novorissya” argument, in this case) is being sent up like a trial balloon. Perhaps a more accurate metaphor is the idiom: “send it up the flagpole and see who salutes.” Putin and his advisers are sending the flag of Novorissya, figuratively and literally, up the flagpole.

If the EU and U.S. do not want another South Ossetia or Transnistria, then they will have to actively engage Russia’s arguments over what is “right.”  Consider this statement by Putin this week, explaining why the events in Eastern Ukraine confirm that Russia was correct in its actions in Crimea:

Now, I think, it is clear to everyone – when we look at the events in Donbass, Lugansk and Odessa – it is now clear to everyone what would have happened to Crimea, if we had not taken corresponding measures to ensure that people could freely express their will. We did not annex it, we did not seize it, we gave people the opportunity to express themselves and make a decision and we treated that decision with respect.

I feel we protected them.

If the illegality of Russia’s actions is not stressed, if the denial of Ukraine‘s right of self-determination is not emphasized, then the only thing many will hear is the rhetoric of those trying to slice off successive pieces of Ukraine. That rhetoric, unanswered, can reinforce the beliefs of those who want to dismember Ukraine. For others, it may make it seem as if maybe Russia “has a point” and muddy the waters. In both instances, effective sanctions could be perceived as just another example of might overcoming right.  And, rather than resolving the situation, the seeds for further conflict would be planted.

While effective sanctions enforce norms, clear norms strengthen sanctions.



Events and Announcements: August 31, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey


  • On 23rd and 24th October 2014 the Dresden Research Centre for International Economic Law and the affiliated research project “Global TranSAXion” will be hosting a conference on “Mega-Regionals and the Future of International Trade and Investment Law”. The conference offers a forum to discuss the content and structure of the preferential trade agreements currently under negotiation between some of the world’s major trading partners. The main focus is on the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Further information about the conference, the registration and the venue can be found here.
  •  An international symposium will track the latest developments in the field of legal theory and legal philosophy and offer an insight into current developments and emerging debates. The overall theme of this year’s conference is “Legal and Philosophical Challenges of Transnational Law”, which is to be analyzed through a variety of substantive and methodological lenses, including: legal theory, legal argumentation, legal philosophy and political philosophy, international law, human rights and ethics. The conference will thus consist of four panels, dedicated to legal theory and legal philosophy; legal argumentation; international law and ethics. A special panel will be reserved for PhD researchers and researchers at an early stage of their career.


  • The Institute for Global Law and Policy (IGLP) at Harvard Law School invites you to apply to participate in our 2015 Workshop in Doha, Qatar, from January 2-11, 2015IGLP: The Workshop is an intensive residential program for doctoral and post-doctoral law scholars and junior faculty. The aim of The Workshop is to strengthen the next generation of scholars by placing them in collaboration with their global peers as they develop innovative ideas and alternative approaches to issues of global law, economic policy, social justice and governance. Sponsored by the Qatar Foundation and hosted by Hamad bin Khalifa University, the Workshop brings together more than 100 young scholars and more than 50 senior and junior faculty from around the world for serious research collaboration and debate.The deadline for applications is September 12, 2014. Learn more and apply here today.

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.

Weekend Roundup: August 23-29, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, Julian asked whether the US President can enter into a legally binding climate change agreement without Congress, and educated news agencies about the difference between Taiwan’s airspace and its Air Defense Identification Zone.

The main focus this week was on the Middle East. Kevin commented on an Al Jazeera America piece on Israel’s attack on Shujaiya, while Peter discussed the likelihood and the practical usefulness of stripping ISIS fighters of their US citizenship, and Deborah addressed the difference between paying ransom for hostages and negotiating over prisoner exchanges.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and I listed the events and announcements.

Have a nice weekend!

Hostages and Prisoners

by Deborah Pearlstein

I’ve been impressed by the number of questions I’ve fielded in the past few weeks from students, colleagues and media alike about whether the United States can and/or should pay ransoms or exchange prisoners for Americans held by various groups overseas. (I discuss the issue in short clips here and here.) Why did we exchange prisoners to rescue Bowe Bergdahl, but refused to pay ransom for James Foley? Is it illegal to pay ransom to these groups, or just a bad idea? Is it really a bad idea?

In the interest of consolidating some answers on a topic that raises a complex cluster of issues, I thought it worth summarizing some of them here – first on the topic of ransom for hostages taken by terrorist groups, then on the topic of prisoner exchanges more broadly. The upshot: It may well be the right policy decision in an individual case for a government not to pay ransom to a terrorist group, but the broader, categorical statement that “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” is neither historically accurate nor strategically wise. Continue Reading…

Dear News Agencies of the World: China Did NOT Breach Taiwan’s Airspace, Just Its ADIZ

by Julian Ku

Several news agencies (here and here) have suggested that recent reports of Chinese military aircraft entering into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone  is akin to a territorial incursion.  For instance, J. Michael Cole warns at the Diplomat, “If they were indeed intentional, the latest intrusions could signal a further denigration of Taiwan’s sovereignty….”  In my view, calling ADIZ intrusions a breach of “airspace” and a denigration of “sovereignty” overstates the significance of an ADIZ under international law.

Taiwan’s own government has used the phrase “airspace”, so reporters can’t be faulted for repeating this phrase. But legally speaking, entering an Air Defense Identification Zone is NOT the same as entering a nation’s territorial airspace.  For an island like Taiwan, such territorial airspace would presumably start  end 12 nautical miles from its relevant island coast.  An ADIZ is usually a much larger zone declared by countries in order to allow them to track and identify aircraft that come near their territorial airspace.  If you look at Taiwan’s ADIZ  (in red), you’ll notice it goes well beyond 12 20131209DEN0006Mnautical miles from Taiwan’s coast (in fact, it technically stretches into China itself!).  An ADIZ is adjacent to a nation’s territorial airspace.  Declaring an ADIZ is not by itself illegal because it is not a claim of sovereign control over the airspace.  Of course, nations with an ADIZ usually demand foreign aircraft identify themselves before entering their ADIZ, but nations do not usually claim the right to exclude other nations’ aircraft from their ADIZ, as if it was sovereign territory. (For a recent discussion of the legal issues in ADIZ declarations, see here).

Now, since China has usually been careful to avoid crossing into Taiwan’s ADIZ (or at least parts of Taiwan’s ADIZ), its decision to do so now is interesting and significant.  But it is not a territorial incursion and it is not (technically) breaching “Taiwan’s airspace”.  So news agencies should be careful not to report it as such.

Will the U.S. Move to Citizenship-Strip ISIS Fighters?

by Peter Spiro

It’s only a matter of time before we start seeing proposals to take away the citizenship of Americans fighting for ISIS/ISIL forces in Syria and Iraq. They have drawn renewed attention in the wake of James Foley’s beheading (apparently by a British citizen) and the death, reported at length today in the NYT, of American Douglas McCain in Syria. Several hundred individuals with Western citizenships are thought to be fighting with the extreme Sunni group.

A proposal to expatriate terrorists associated with entities hostile to the United States went nowhere in 2010 when Joe Lieberman’s Terrorist Expatriation Act failed to garner so much as a committee hearing. A similar initiative might have more legs today.

The Lieberman effort had the Times Square bombing as a hook, but that just looked like ordinary crime. (There was also the problem of Joe Lieberman.) The face of the ISIL fighters is way more scary and foreign. They make bin Laden look like Jesse James — criminal, but not unrecognizable. (Bin Laden had a brother who went to Harvard Law School.) Al-Qaeda has a lot of blood on its hands, but it doesn’t go around cutting peoples heads off and tweeting the results.

The U.S. would be following the UK and Canada’s lead, both of which have adopted expatriation measures aimed at citizens fighting in Syria. That gives U.S. legislators some cover on the international human rights front. Even human-rights-pure Norway is looking to follow suit.

That doesn’t mean terrorist expatriation would make any more sense now than it did in 2010. Any punitive intent would be clearly unconstitutional under the Supreme Court’s 1958 decision in Trop v. Dulles. The law would pass the Court’s test only if the conduct was taken to reflect an individual’s intent to relinquish citizenship. In other words, the law would have to work from the calculation that fighting for ISIS evidences an individual’s desire to expatriate. (For the full constitutional analysis, see this.)

Beyond the constitutional niceties, it’s not clear what expatriation would accomplish. True, ISIS may look to weaponize adherents with premium Western passports and visa-free mobility. But you couldn’t take away someone’s citizenship for being associated with ISIS before you knew that he was associated with ISIS. Once a citizen is identified as an ISIS fighter, you can bet he gets put on a watch list. That minimizes the threat. There’s no case in which citizenship-stripping adds much to the counter-terror toolbox.

That may not stop legislators from adding expatriation to their rallying calls. Chalk it up to counter-terror showboating. But it won’t be any more than that.

Can the U.S. President Enter into a Legally Binding Climate Change Agreement Without Congress?

by Julian Ku

The New York Times is running a big report today on the U.S. plan to sign a “sweeping” climate change agreement without having to go to Congress for approval or ratification.  Instead of a typical treaty requiring ratification by the Senate, the U.S. has a different more creative strategy.

American negotiators are instead homing in on a hybrid agreement — a proposal to blend legally binding conditions from an existing 1992 treaty with new voluntary pledges. The mix would create a deal that would update the treaty, and thus, negotiators say, not require a new vote of ratification.

Countries would be legally required to enact domestic climate change policies — but would voluntarily pledge to specific levels of emissions cuts and to channel money to poor countries to help them adapt to climate change. Countries might then be legally obligated to report their progress toward meeting those pledges at meetings held to identify those nations that did not meet their cuts.

Jack Goldsmith is already out with a typically smart analysis of this approach, and he concludes the new agreement is intended to sound like a big deal, but will be unlikely to commit the U.S. to do anything meaningful.  I think that is probably right, although I can’t really tell based on the incomplete details in this NYT article.  I think there might be a little bit of domestic legal effect, and may also create an important precedent on what the President can do to bind the US on the international level.

Surely, the President can sign a political agreement that pledges voluntary cuts and to channel money to poorer countries. Such an agreement would have no domestic legal effect until Congress acted to implement the legislation.   But can the President bind the U.S. under international law, even if it has no domestic legal effect?

The President can, in limited circumstances, bind the US under international law via a sole executive agreement.  It has done so especially in the areas of post-conflict settlements such as the famous Algiers Accords that released US hostages and also sent seized Iranian and US assets to an international arbitration tribunal.  US courts have given those agreements limited domestic effect.  But the line between what the President can do via a sole executive agreement and what he must do via a treaty is not completely clear (although there is a line!).  Maybe the President is claiming some delegated authority from the original 1992 Framework Convention, which might bolster his ability to bind the U.S. internationally. I don’t see any obvious basis in that treaty for this delegation, but I suppose experts on the Framework Convention might come up with something.

So I think the President might be able to sign the US up to a binding international agreement on climate change, but it would be pretty unprecedented and its legal effect uncertain.  Such an agreement would be unlikely to have domestic legal effect on its own, but the President could cite the agreement as the basis for executive orders he is already implementing on climate change.  I don’t think it would carry the policy much farther than he is already doing under creative interpretations of the Clean Air Act, but it might provide just a little bit more support for his domestic orders.

I think it will be important to look at the details of the proposed agreement, and to ask the US administration to explain its legal authority for the new agreement.  Will it be the 1992 Framework Convention?  Or is it going to be just the President’s general Article II executive power?  If the latter, this may be an important precedent for future sole executive agreements under the US Constitution.  In any event, President Obama is certainly exploring the outer limits of his Article II powers.

Israel’s Indiscriminate Attack on Shujaiya

by Kevin Jon Heller

On the record, US officials invariably defend even the most indefensible IDF uses of force in Gaza, most often parroting the Israeli line that the IDF does everything it can to spare civilian lives and that Hamas’s use of human shields is responsible for any innocent civilians the IDF does kill.

When speaking anonymously, however, those same officials tell a very different story.

Exhibit A: an absolutely devastating new article in Al Jazeera America about Israel’s destruction of Shujaiya in Gaza, which involved 258 IDF artillery pieces firing 7,000 high-explosive shells into the neighborhood, including 4,800 shells in seven hours. I’m not sure I’ve ever read quite such damning statements about the IDF’s tactics, going far beyond John Kerry’s widely reported sarcastic comment that the attack was “a hell of a pinpoint operation.” Here is a snippet from the article:

Artillery pieces used during the operation included a mix of Soltam M71 guns and U.S.-manufactured Paladin M109s (a 155 mm howitzer), each of which fires three shells per minute. “The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible,” said the senior U.S. military officer who spoke with me about the report. “It’s not mowing the lawn,” he added, referring to a popular IDF term for periodic military operations against Hamas in Gaza. “It’s removing the topsoil.”

“Holy Bejesus,” exclaimed retired Lt. General Robert Gard when told the numbers of artillery pieces and rounds fired during the July 21 action. “That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.” A West Point graduate, who is veteran of two wars and now the Chairman of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Gard added that even if Israeli artillery units fired guided munitions, it would have made little difference.


Senior U.S. officers who are familiar with the battle and Israeli artillery operations, which are modeled on U.S. doctrine, assessed that, based on the rate of artillery fire into Shujaiya overnight Sunday, IDF commanders weren’t precisely targeting Palestinian military formations, as much as laying down an indiscriminate barrage aimed at “cratering” the neighborhood. The cratering operation was designed to collapse the Hamas tunnels discovered when IDF ground units came under fire in the neighborhood. Initially, said the senior U.S. military officer who spoke with me about the military summaries of IDF operations, Israel’s artillery had used “suppressing fire to protect their forward units, but then poured in everything they had — in a kind of walking barrage. Suppressing fire is perfectly defensible — a walking barrage isn’t.”

The Israelis’ own defense of their action reinforced the belief among some senior U.S. officers that artillery fire into Shujaiya had been indiscriminate. That’s because the Israelis explained the civilian casualty toll on the basis that the neighborhood’s non-combatant population had been used as “human shields” because they had been “ordered to stay” in their homes by Hamas after the IDF had warned them to leave.

“Listen, we know what it’s like to kill civilians in war,” said the senior U.S. officer. “Hell, we even put it on the front pages. We call it collateral damage. We absolutely try to minimize it, because we know it turns people against you. Killing civilians is a sure prescription for defeat. But that’s not what the IDF did in Shujaiya on July 21. Human shields? C’mon, just own up to it.”

As I said, stunning stuff. And utterly damning of the IDF — the “most moral army in the world.” It’s just a shame the US government won’t be more open with what it really thinks about the IDF’s actions. Perhaps then Israel wouldn’t feel free to use force against Palestine with impunity.

NOTE: After reading the article in Al Jazeera America, make sure to read Shane Darcy’s important post at EJIL: Talk! discussing a recent decision by Israel’s Supreme Court that upholds the legality of collective punishment.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, August 25, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

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




Middle East and Northern Africa




Events and Announcements: August 24, 2014

by An Hertogen

  • International Law in Practice is a four-day programme run by the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL), which provides a broad introduction to key issues in international and comparative law – from public to private and from commercial to human rights. The course is unique in that it introduces participants to international law, as broadly understood and as it arises in practice. Led by many of the Institute’s leading researchers and practitioners, the course is ideal for those in the early years of legal practice, those working in governmental and non-governmental organisations with legal elements to their work, and students who are about to commence a postgraduate degree in aspects of international law. The course is accredited for 28.5 CPD points. For more details and to book online, please visit
  • On September 18-19, 2014, the Center for International and Comparative Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law and PluriCourts – Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order at the University of Oslo Faculty of Law will hold a symposium on “Legitimacy and International Courts,” in Baltimore. The symposium, which will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Center, will bring together experts on specific courts and tribunals including the ICJ, WTO, ECJ, ECHR, Inter-American Court, ICSID, ITLOS, and ICC and specific themes including democracy, effectiveness, and judicial selection. The goal of the conference and the book to follow is to think comprehensively and comparatively about the legitimacy of international courts and tribunals. What can we learn from the experiences of specific courts and to what extent are lessons from one court generalizable to other courts? The event is free and open to the public. The program is available here. Please RSVP 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.


Weekend Roundup: August 16-22, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week  on Opinio Juris, we had the final instalments of our Emerging Voices symposium, with a post by Tamar Meshel on awakening the “Sleeping Beauty of the Peace Palace” and one by Mélanie Vianney-Liaud on the controversy surrounding the definition of the Cambodian genocide at the ECCC.

More definitional issues arose in Kevin’s post discussing Britain’s expanded definition on terrorism, which now includes watching the video of James Foley’s beheading.

In other posts, Chris blogged about the quilt maps of sovereignty in the Baarles, Deborah argued why shifting alliances in the Middle East matter, Julian renewed his argument that Argentina has no case against the US in its latest ICJ claim, and Duncan commemorated the 150th anniversary of the first Geneva Convention with the question whether there is new IHL to be made and what is should be.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and listed events and announcements.

Many thanks to our guest posters and have a nice weekend!

IHL’s Era of Application?

by Duncan Hollis

Today marks the 150th Anniversary of the signing of the first Geneva Convention — the Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field.  12 States signed it on August 22, 1864, and the treaty went on to have 57 parties before being replaced by later Geneva Conventions in 1906, 1929 and 1949.  The ICRC is using the occasion to make a call for more action on international humanitarian law and to spread knowledge about that law more generally (including a 4 minute video on the Rules of War in a Nutshell).  

It’s interesting to think about the full arc of IHL that this anniversary represents. It seems we’ve gone from decades of iteration — where States and others worked to hammer out what rules actually exist — to what is now much more an era of application.  Today’s IHL debates (many of which we’ve hosted here in recent weeks) regularly revolve around where, when and how specific rules apply to particular cases.  Or, they debate which rules exist only in treaty form versus those that have the status of customary international law.  Even in areas of new technology, the prevailing effort is to explain how existing rules govern by analogy (see, e.g., the Tallinn Manual).  These are all important and even laudatory causes.  But it does leave me with a question:  Is the corpus of IHL now largely complete, or should we expect another round of law generation akin to the Geneva Convention projects of 150 and 75 years ago?  Simply put, is there any new IHL to be made, and, if so, what should it be?   

I’ve Thought About It Some More: And I Still Think Argentina’s World Court Lawsuit Against the U.S. is Bogus

by Julian Ku

Reasonable people can disagree about the legal merits of U.S. court judgments against Argentina requiring it to pay holdout creditor hedge funds. But I can’t say the same about Argentina’s recently announced claim against the United States at the International Court of Justice. Based on Argentina’s own description of its legal arguments, I stand by my earlier assessment: Argentina’s international law claim against the United States is frivolous and would have almost no chance of succeeding, even if Argentina somehow convinced the U.S. to accept ICJ jurisdiction.

Although Argentina’s complaint to the ICJ has not been publicly released, it is likely that Argentina will accuse the U.S. of allowing its court system to violate Argentina’s immunity rights as a nation-state and to interfere in Argentina’s ability to pay its non-holdout creditors through U.S. banks.

What makes this claim ridiculous is that Argentina chose to grant the U.S. judicial system a wide-ranging jurisdiction over bonds it sold to private investors. When issuing those bonds, Argentina promised that it had “irrevocably agreed not to claim and has irrevocably waived” immunity “to the fullest extent permitted by the laws of the U.S. and New York. Argentina also agreed to allow “any of its revenues, assets or properties” to be subject to judicial execution and enforcement to whatever degree permitted by U.S. law.

Okay, This Time Britain Really Has Killed Terrorism (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

Last November, I wrote a post entitled “Terrorism Is Dead, and Britain Has Killed It.” I chose that title because I couldn’t imagine a conception of terrorism more absurd than the one argued by the British government and accepted by a Divisional Court: namely, that David Miranda’s mere possession of documents illegally obtained by Edward Snowden qualified as terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000.

I obviously need to expand my imagination.

Why? Because the British government’s is now arguing that merely watching the video of James Foley’s execution is terrorism. From the Telegraph:

Viewing or sharing the harrowing video of James Foley’s beheading online could be regarded as a terrorist offence, Scotland Yard has warned.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said specialists from the Counter Terrorism unit were continuing to examine the footage in order to look for clues as to the identity of the suspected British jihadist but said the public should refrain from viewing the video.

In a statement a spokesman said: “We would like to remind the public that viewing, downloading or disseminating extremist material within the UK may constitute an offence under Terrorism legislation.”

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe explained that while viewing the video was technically a crime, his officers would be more focused on tracking down those who shared the footage or glorified it.

Um, no — viewing the Foley video is not “technically a crime.” Foley’s execution is a horrific act by a horrific organisation. But there is absolutely no plausible argument that merely watching a video of it qualifies as terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000 — not even in light of the awful Miranda judgment. We can see why by quoting the UK Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation‘s summary of that case:

What the Miranda judgment reveals is that the publication (or threatened publication) of words may equally constitute terrorist action. It seems that the writing of a book, an article or a blog may therefore amount to terrorism if publication is “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause”, “designed to influence the government” and liable to endanger life or create a serious risk to health or safety.

There are two obvious problems with considering the mere act of watching the Foley video an act of terrorism. First, watching the video is not “liable to endanger life or create a serious risk of health or safety,” as required by s 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000 — unless, of course, we think that anyone who watches it will somehow magically be transformed into an ISIS terrorist. Second, although I don’t understand why anyone would want to watch the savage murder of an innocent person, individuals are clearly not watching the video “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause” or because they intend “to influence the government.” So no, watching the Foley video does not qualify as a terrorist act under s 1(1).

Nor does merely watching the Foley video violate any of the substantive offences in either the Terrorism Act 2000 or the Terrorism Act 2006. (Section 1(1) is not an offence in itself; it provides the definition of terrorism for the substantive offences.) In terms of the Terrorism Act 2000, it’s not “support” under s 12, because that section requires the defendant to have “invite[d] support for a proscribed organisation.” It’s not “use and possession” under s 16, because that section, like s 1(1), requires the specific intent to promote terrorism. It’s not “possession for terrorist purposes” under s 57, because merely having the Foley video on a computer (which streaming does not even involve) does not “give rise to a reasonable suspicion that his possession is for a purpose connected with the commission, preparation or instigation of an act of terrorism.” And it’s not “collection of information” under s 58, because an execution video, though disgusting, is not “a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.”

Merely watching the Foley video also does not run afoul of the Terrorism Act 2006. Section 1 criminalises “encouragement of terrorism,” but it applies only to those who “publish” a statement that encourages “the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism.” Watching a video is not publication. For similar reasons, watching a video does not qualify as “dissemination of terrorist publications” under s 2 — not even in light of s 2(2)(f), which criminalises possessing a terrorist publication “with a view to its” dissemination.

In his most recent report, the Independent Reviewer wrote that “[a] statutory definition [of terrorism] so broad that the enforcement authorities resort to their own rules of thumb in order to make sense of it is unhelpful.” I think the Metropolitan Police’s argument about the Foley video makes his point.

NOTE: I have updated the post in response to Adrian Hunt‘s excellent comment below, which deserves to be read in full.

A Summer of Shifting Alliances?

by Deborah Pearlstein

Just keeping up with the news on international terrorism/counterterrorism this summer could be a full time job. Among many other potentially significant reports, I wanted to highlight this statement recently released by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), often described by U.S. officials as the branch of Al Qaeda that currently poses the greatest threat to the United States. The AQAP statement announces the group’s support for the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL).

“We announce solidarity with our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the crusade. Their blood and injuries are ours and we will surely support them…. We assert to the Islamic Nation [all Muslims worldwide] that we stand by the side of our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the American and Iranian conspiracy and their agents of the apostate Gulf rulers.”

The statement goes on to offer various bits of non-rocket-science tactical advice to the Islamic State – watch out for spies, don’t assume electronic communications are unmonitored, digging trenches can help protect against the impact of shelling (thanks General Pershing). While I can’t generally vouch for the journalistic practices of the Yemen Times (on which I’m relying for the AQAP statement), this seems a simple direct quotation.

Why does this matter? A few reasons potentially. First, core Al Qaeda (led by Al Zawahiri) has condemned ISIL/the Islamic State and dissociated itself with the group. It is unclear how core Al Qaeda will take this move by one of its branches to voice its support for ISIL, but if AQAP intends to signal a real move away from core Al Qaeda, it would be another significant weakening of Al Qaeda’s regional and international capabilities (and a significant boost to ISIL). Second, AQAP has long been understood by the United States as a force “associated with” Al Qaeda for purposes of coverage by the statutory AUMF (authorizing the President to use force – targeting, detention, etc. – against those groups that attacked us on 9/11). If AQAP is moving to break its association with core Al Qaeda, the statutory argument that AQAP remains one of groups Congress meant to authorize force against in 2001 becomes much weaker. Given that the United States has reportedly continued to conduct targeting operations against AQAP forces in Yemen, this poses a potentially significant legal wrinkle in administration arguments that it enjoys statutory authorization for those operations. On the other hand, it would strengthen any case the administration might make to Congress for new authority to use force against ISIL and its associates. Will the administration seek such new congressional authority, particularly when the War Powers Act 60-90 day clock runs on current U.S. operations in Iraq (after which the President is required to seek congressional authorization)? Stay tuned.

Emerging Voices: Controversy on the Definition of the Cambodian Genocide at the ECCC

by Melanie Vianney-Liaud

[Mélanie Vianney-Liaud is a PhD Candidate in International Law at the Aix-Marseille University in France.]

Many international Human Rights authorities, including the United Nations General Assembly talked about the “Cambodian genocide” to designate the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. Yet, while the term “genocide” undoubtedly has considerable appeal, it turns out to be legally inappropriate to describe the massacre of 1.7 million of Cambodians from 1975 to 1979. At the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – the court in charge of trying the Khmer Rouge – the indictment of the last surviving Khmer Rouge senior leaders, known as “Case 002”, includes very limited genocide charges, only with respect to crimes committed on two minority groups: the Cham and the Vietnamese. Predictably, this decision disappointed many victims.

The trial began in June 2011. However, in September 2011, the Trial Chamber decided to sever Case 002 into smaller trials and limited the scope of the first trial to the evacuation of Phnom Penh on 17 April 1975 and movements of population in other regions of Cambodia. The genocide charges were excluded from the scope of this first trial. On August 7, 2014, the Chamber found the Accused guilty to have committed the crimes against humanity of murder, political persecution and other inhumane acts through their participation in policies to forcibly displace people. It sentenced them life imprisonment.

The Accused are currently trying within a second trial whose scope includes the genocide charges. Since this trial has started on July 30, 2014, it seems appropriate to clarify some of the complexities of the crime of genocide, generated by the specificities of the Cambodian context and the legal framework of the ECCC.

Genocide has been defined in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Repression of the Crime of Genocide as requiring the intentional destruction of “a national, ethnical, racial or religious group as such”. The enumeration of specific protected groups implies that the perpetrators’ conception of the victim group bears some relation to one of these protected groups. The Khmer Rouge regime is known for its system of terror and arbitrariness. Conditions of living were so extreme that a substantial part of the population died without that seemed to be directly imputable to group-based persecutions. However, indications of the targeting of particular groups undeniably exist in the case of the Khmer Rouge. This is the case for example, and among others, of the group of educated people and city dwellers referred to as “new people” by the Khmer Rouge. Contrary to “base people,” “new people” did not join the Khmer Rouge revolution prior to April 17, 1975 when Phnom Penh fell into Khmer Rouge’s hands. Forcibly transferred from cities to countryside, “new people” members were often targeted based on this identity (Indictment, § 227). This group however, does not fall under the listed classification defined in the Genocide Convention as the distinction made by the Khmer Rouge was based on an individual’s socioeconomic background.

Thus, although the Khmer Rouge had policies of group discrimination, both in regard to ethnic minorities as well as with respect to groups identified within the ethnic Khmer- majority, the characterization of genocide within the definition of the Convention only applies to crimes committed on minority groups. Many victims have therefore seen the crimes for which they have suffered be excluded from the characterization of the “crime of crimes,” even though they are victims of crimes of the same gravity as those committed against the minorities.

The definition introduced by the Genocide Convention is too narrow to mirror the historical analysis of the Khmer Rouge criminal phenomenon. The fact that the Khmer Rouge targeted groups within the Khmer-majority population shows that the strict enumeration of protected groups is inappropriate. The question that arises then is whether it would be conceivable to have this definition evolved to correspond with the social reality of the “Cambodian genocide”.

Cambodia ratified the Genocide Convention in 1949. Consequently, since its entry into force in 1951, Cambodia has been submitted to the conventional obligation to “enact (…) the necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the Convention” (Convention, Article V). However, under the Khmer Rouge, the Convention had not been received into national law yet. This reception only occurred in 2001, with the creation of the ECCC. The 2003 international agreement between the United Nations and Cambodia and the 2004 amended domestic law which establish the court, provide both for its jurisdiction over the crime of genocide “as defined in the 1948 Convention.” However, and despite these provisions, the domestic law then gives a definition of the crime of genocide that differs in key points from the definition set out in the Convention.

A state is not prohibited by the 1948 Convention from adopting a broader definition of genocide. The Convention only adopted by a convention a principle which already existed in international customary law. Thus, the reception of the Convention into national legal orders has often resulted in a broadening of the definition of the crime. France, for instance, has gone further adding the “group determined by any (…) arbitrary criterion” to the groups protected by the Convention (French Penal Code, Article 211-1).

In the particular case of the ECCC however, the differences between the Convention and the Law have important implications for its subject-matter jurisdiction. In the English version of the ECCC Law, with regard to the list of underlying crimes, the Law indeed replaces the expression “any of the following acts” with “any acts” and the phrase ‘as such’ referring to “group” in the Genocide Convention with ‘such as’ but referring to “acts”. Continue Reading…

A Tale of Two Baarles: Crazy-Quilt Maps and Sovereignty Over Certain Frontier Land

by Chris Borgen

Map credit: Wikimedia Commons via Radiolab

Map credit: Wikimedia Commons via Radiolab

Radiolab has  posted an informative and entertaining essay entitled “How to Cross 5 International Borders in 1 Minute without Sweating.” It describes the intertwined municipalities of the Dutch town Baarle-Nassau and the Belgian town Baarle-Hertog. Here’s the evocative description by Robert Krulwich of Radiolab:

The hunky yellow bit labeled “H1” (for Hartog) toward the bottom is mostly the Belgian town. But notice those little white bits inside the yellow — labeled “N1, N2, N3” — those are little patches of the Dutch town (N for Nassau). The two towns are not geographically separate. Instead, they’re like M&M’s in a candy bowl. There are 22 distinct Belgian bits, and a dozen or so Dutch bits, and they are sprinkled together; so sometimes you’ve got bits of Belgium inside Dutch areas, and sometimes Dutch patches inside Belgian neighborhoods. They vary in size. The largest is 1.54 square kilometers, the smallest, an empty field, is 2,632 square meters.

Krulwich is correct to note that in the Middle Ages “Checkerboard maps were common.” One reason they were common was that feudalism had a different conception of sovereignty than the “modern” conception of sovereignty that became prevalent in the years following the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Rather than strictly territorial, medieval sovereignty was in part relational, between lords and subjects as well as between and among varying levels of nobility. With an emphasis on personal loyalty and duty, the feudal conception of sovereignty was like a network of individuals with multiple linkages and relationships.  Displaying such relationships as a territorial map with bold-line boundaries results in a crazy quilt that may actually obscure the complex interwoven relationships.

But the Westphalian emphasis on territorial sovereignty called for such bold-line maps. Areas that started as territorial patchworks were usually consolidated and rationalized. Krulwich continues:

But for some reason, writes Alastair Bonnet in his new book, Unruly Places, it didn’t [happen here]. During Napoleon’s time, villages were swept cleanly into one nation or another, the borders tidied up, but apparently — and no one can quite explain why — Baarle-Nassau and Baarle-Hertog escaped the broom. Maybe they were too small, too unimportant, but they made it through, their mosaic-ness intact, becoming, Bonnet says, a “living laboratory of medieval micro-borders.”

For more detail on the land grants, treaties, planning commissions, and other aspects of the history of these two towns, see this website.

This mosaic of sovereignty has led to some incredible results. In a 2008 post on Baarle-Hertog/ Baarle-Nassau,  BLDGBLOG reported that:

Sarah Laitner, at the Financial Times, adds that “women are able to choose the nationality of their child depending on the location of the room in which they give birth.”

For more about the administration of Baarle-Hertog and Baarle-Nassau, see this .pdf.

The contested status of two specific plots created by these micro-borders led to a dispute before the International Court of Justice, Sovereignty over Certain Frontier Land (Belgium/ Netherlands). The ICJ found that the plots in question were under Belgian sovereignty.

While perhaps the most complex territorial enclave, the two Baarles are not the only examples; see  the website European Small Exclaves. You can also see more about Swiss cheese sovereignties and cartographic discrepancies in this post I wrote a while back. (And the part about cartographic discrepencies should really be considered by that guy trying to found a Kingdom of North Sudan for his daughter…)



Emerging Voices: Interstate Arbitration: Awakening the “Sleeping Beauty of the Peace Palace”

by Tamar Meshel

[Tamar Meshel is an SJD Candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.]

In the early 1990s, a trend emerged among international legal scholars and practitioners aimed at reviving the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) and, by extension, the use of arbitration to resolve interstate disputes peacefully. The PCA was created during the 1899 Hague Peace Conference, following a century of successful interstate arbitrations such as those between the United States and Great Britain under the Jay Treaty and the Treaty of Ghent, and it reflected the high hopes of the conference participants that the institution would bring about world peace through arbitration. However, after a decade or two of glory, the PCA gradually fell into disuse as states lost interest in arbitration as a dispute resolution mechanism, and it became aptly known as the “Sleeping Beauty of the Peace Palace” (Sam Muller & Wim Mijs, “The Flame Rekindled” (1993) 6(2) Leiden Journal of International Law). There are many political, historical, and legal rationales for this downturn, including the outbreak of the two World Wars, changes in the international political system, and the creation of the PCIJ and ICJ. This post focuses on another development that, while perhaps less recognized, is arguably responsible in part for the decline of interstate arbitrations during the 20th century, and is still relevant today. This development is the gradual ‘judicialization’ or ‘legalization’ of interstate arbitration to the point of being effectively equated with judicial settlement and both its original nature and distinctive qualities becoming imperceptible and inconsequential.

The evolution of interstate arbitration

The origins of arbitration can be traced back to ancient Greece, where arbitrators were seen as quasi-diplomats rather than judges, and could therefore “consider the equity of the case, whereas a judge is bound by the letter of the law” (Aristotle, cited in M.C.W. Pinto, “The Prospects for International Arbitration: Inter-state Disputes” in A.H.A. Soons, ed, International Arbitration: Past and Prospects (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1990)). Arbitration continued to be used during the Middle Ages to end wars by reconciling the warring parties, and when the modern era of interstate arbitration began with the signing of the 1794 Jay Treaty between Great Britain and the United States, it was perceived as a hybrid process that combined legal proceedings with diplomatic negotiations. For instance, some of the disputes submitted to arbitration under the Jay Treaty were to be decided according to “justice, equity, and the laws of nations”, and their successful settlement was largely credited to the commissioners’ “spirit of negotiation and compromise”. While they rendered binding decisions and applied legal principles, the commissioners also “act[ed] to some extent as negotiators rather than as judges … temper[ed] justice with diplomacy [in order] to give a measure of satisfaction to both sides” (Pinto, 1990).

This perception of interstate arbitration persisted in the first decades of the 20th century. Some states, for instance, distinguished between judicial settlement, designed to resolve “legal disputes”, and arbitration, designed to resolve all other disputes ex aequo et bono while “having regard to the general principles of international law” (e.g., the 1928 Geneva General Act for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes (.pdf); the 1957 European Convention for the Peaceful Settlement of Disputes). Arbitrators were also “prepared to waive a strict application of the law in order to achieve an acceptable settlement” in interstate disputes, such as the 1909 Casablanca case and the 1910 North Atlantic Fisheries case (M.C.W. Pinto, “Structure, Process, Outcome: Thoughts on the ‘Essence’ of International Arbitration” (1993) 6 Leiden Journal of International Law). However, as a result of the growing global quest during the 20th century for “orderly” interstate dispute settlement through the application of law, this quasi-diplomatic use of interstate arbitration gradually fell into disuse, and the dominant perception became that of the International Law Commission, which viewed it as “a procedure for the settlement of disputes between States … on the basis of law” (Pinto, 1990 (.pdf)). Accordingly, states increasingly restricted or excluded the power of arbitrators to decide disputes on the basis of equity or non-legal considerations and in all but a few rare, yet successful, cases (e.g., the 1968 Rann of Kutch arbitration; the 1986 Guinea-Guinea Bissau arbitration) arbitrators followed suit. The perception that only ‘judicial’ arbitration based on law should be “arbitration properly so called” thus became the conventional wisdom, even though in some cases, such as the 1977 Beagle Channel arbitration, it failed to resolve the parties’ dispute (Pinto, 1990, 1993). Continue Reading…

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, August 18, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

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




Middle East and Northern Africa



Events and Announcements: August 17, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Calls for Papers

  • A reminder: the AALS has announced a call for papers on International Human Rights New Voices Panel for the AALS Annual Meeting taking place January 2-5, 2015, in Washington, D.C. The deadline to submit a paper is September 15, 2014. More information can be found here.
  • The Australian International Law Journal, published by the International Law Association (Australian Branch), calls for papers of between 6,000 -12,000 words on topics of public or private international law.  Casenotes (2,000-3,000 words) and Book Reviews (1,000 words) within the area of public or private international law are also welcomed.
  • A call for papers: OGEL special on “Laws Regulating the Polish Energy Sector Transition.” This special will be focusing on laws regulating the Polish energy sector and the transition that is currently taking place. Guest editors for the special are Michal Domagala (Assistant professor in John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin) and Piotr Pszczel (Head of Energy Task at the Kawalko&Godlewski law firm, Warsaw, Poland). Deadline: papers should be submitted by the end of September 2014 to the editors
  • Another call: OGEL Special Issue on “Emerging Issues in Polar Energy Law and Governance.” The Polar areas provide special challenges, opportunities and restrictions regarding the development of energy resources, particularly oil and gas. The potential for enormous untapped energy reserves and the international law challenges of maritime boundaries borders and competing claims of sovereignty will make the Arctic region home to one of the most compelling sets of international legal issues in the 21st Century. The renegotiation of the Madrid Protocol in the Antarctic, which currently prevents mining in the Antarctic regions, combined with similar issues of competing claims of sovereignty, and the overarching Antarctic Treaty Framework means that potential energy resource development Antarctic region will become increasingly controversial and prominent. The guest editor for this special issue is Dr Tina Hunter (Director of the Centre for International Minerals and Energy Law Centre at the University of Queensland, Australia, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland). Deadline: A one-page proposal should be submitted by 15 November 2014. Final papers should be submitted by 15 March 2015.


  • symposium on environment and international law has recently been published in the Leiden Journal of International Law (volume 27, issue 3). Entitled ‘Locating Nature’, this group of articles explores the discipline’s relationship with the natural environment. While international lawyers have focused on crafting solutions to environmental problems, less attention is paid to the disciplinary role in fostering harmful and unsustainable behavioral patterns. Environmental issues are usually relegated to the specialized field of international environmental law. This symposium explores instead the role of nature in the general discipline, arguing that the natural environment is a determinative factor in shaping international law, and assumptions about nature lie at the heart of disciplinary concepts such as sovereignty, development, economy, property, and human rights.
  • The Fourth Annual Junior Faculty Forum for International Law has been launched by the Forum’s founding co-convenors (Dino Kritsiotis – Nottingham; Anne Orford – Melbourne; J.H.H. Weiler – Florence). The Fourth Forum will take place in Florence, Italy, in June 2015, and the call for applications is here. Please note: the closing deadline for applications is December 15.

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.

Weekend Roundup: August 9-15, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, we started with follow-up on last week, with Julian raising more issues with the emerging Article II humanitarian intervention power and Kevin sharing his final thoughts on the Bar Human Rights Committee’s letter to the OTP in relation to the situation in Gaza.

More on the Gaza situation in a post by Kristin Hausler and Robert McCorquodale, who asked whether attacks on schools, teachers and students ever be legitimate under international law.

This week, we welcomed Lucas Barreiros, Stacey Henderson and Marcos Kotlik to our Emerging Voices symposium, who, respectively, compared the European and Inter-American Human Rights Courts, discussed R2P and measures-less-than-force in the context of protecting children in armed conflict and proposed enhanced participation of civil society organizations in Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

Another guest post, by Priya Urs, asked whether states are injured by whaling in the Antarctic.

Of our permanent bloggers, Kevin argued that the attack on MH17 should be framed as murder not as a war crime, Chris asked whether the US should change its approach to zero-day exploits and Kristen wrote about ensuring robust peacekeeping missions.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and I listed events and announcements.

Many thanks to our guest contributors and have a nice weekend!

Emerging Voices: Civil Society Organizations and the Committee on Enforced Disappearances–Towards Enhanced Participation in the Decision-Making Processes

by Marcos Kotlik

[Marcos D. Kotlik is a Lawyer, University of Buenos Aires, School of Law –UBA– This post is a part of his ongoing research as a Masters in International Relations candidate and as a research scholarship holder at UBA.]

In 2000, Kofi Annan submitted that “decision-making structures through which governance is exercised internationally must reflect the broad realities of our times”. He explained that better governance is achieved through greater participation and accountability and argued that the international public domain must be opened up to many actors, including those from the private sector and civil society organizations.

A few years earlier, discussions had begun within the UN that would lead to the conclusion in 2006 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPAPED). During its negotiation process, non-governmental organizations played a very active role on many levels, most notably on the treaty’s design.

Whether we call them “NGOs”, “civil society organizations” or “human rights organizations” (I will not discuss the scope of each category), I propose to examine their involvement in the negotiation of the ICPAPED as an example of global policy networks. Further, I believe that this type of dynamic throughout the treaty’s design process enabled these organizations to ensure their own enhanced participation in the decision-making processes to come, mainly through their intervention before the Committee on Enforced Disappearances.

The design of the ICPAPED

The interest of civil society organizations on the issue of enforced disappearance has much to do with several countries’ tragic histories and can be traced some decades back (as depicted here (.pdf)by Manfred Nowak). After the UN General Assembly issued the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance in 1992 and the OAS General Assembly adopted the Inter-American Convention on Enforced Disappearance of Persons in 1994, human rights organizations focused their lobbying in favor of a draft UN Convention.

In 1998, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the UN Commission on Human Rights approved the draft Convention in its fiftieth session (.pdf). Resolution 1998/25 requested to “invite […] non-governmental organizations to provide comments on the draft convention” along with governments and intergovernmental organizations. In consequence, the OHCHR held a two-year long consultation process, and by the end of 2000 the Commission collected the comments of eight NGOs (see document 2001/69).

Civil society organizations continued to participate in the elaboration of the Convention, as reported between 2003 and 2006 by the Inter-sessional open-ended working group on a draft legally binding normative instrument for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance, led by Bernard Kessedjian. Even without considering NGOs’ informal lobbying, these documents demonstrate how they participated in formal debates side-by-side with State delegations, issuing statements and submitting written proposals to modify the final text. The Convention still depended on its final approval by States, but the serious influence of NGOs cannot be ignored.

As early as 2000, Witte, Reinicke & Benner already explained here that “international organizations do at times act as norm entrepreneurs by using networks as platforms to advance norms in such areas as sustainable human development or human rights”. The design process of the ICPAPED suggests that the UN system was able to provide the formal governance structure in order to adopt the treaty, although nurturing an informal “coalition for change” (Annan).

It seems that the idea of different sectors coming together and collaborating “to achieve what none of the single actors is able to achieve on its own” was accomplished taking advantage of civil society’s “voluntary energy and legitimacy” and of the “enforcement and rule-making power and coordination and capacity-building skills” of states and international organizations. The main characteristics of global policy networks –as described by the former Secretary-General (.pdf)– emerged throughout the negotiation of the ICPAPED: a non-hierarchical process gave voice to civil society almost at every stage; it set a global policy agenda, framed debates and raised public consciousness, developing and disseminating knowledge at the universal level concerning enforced disappearance; it seemingly made it easier to reach consensus and negotiate agreements on new global standards; and it most definitely determined the creation of new kinds of mechanisms for implementing and monitoring those agreements. This last feature will be the focus of the next section.

The seed of enhanced participation

Continue Reading…

Robust Peacekeeping Missions

by Kristen Boon

Peacekeeping missions such as the UN’s intervention brigade in the DRC (established within MONUSCO by Security Council resolution 2098) have important legal implications. In particular, if the Brigade is considered a party to the conflict in the Congo, do peacekeepers become combattants?   Can they be captured and detained? For an overview of the main issues see the ASIL analysis by Bruce Oswald here & the new ICRC review.

New peacekeeping missions also raise questions of attribution.   Is the standard of attribution set out in Art. 7 of the Draft Articles on Responsibility of IOs sufficient? How should brigades be considered in relation to the peacekeeping mission as a whole? If wrongdoing occurs, how should responsibility be divided between multiple troop contributing countries and regional forces including NATO and the AU, who may contest any assertion they have international legal personality?

For those interested in this topic, an excellent panel discussion was held at the Irish Mission to the UN this summer.  The panelists, including UN Ambassadors and a retired Force Commander, discuss the “C2” (command and control) structures of peacekeeping missions and their views of future challenges.   The discussion can be viewed here.

In addition, at the upcoming ESIL meeting in Vienna in September, the Amsterdam SHARES project, in conjunction with the ESIL peace and security interest group, has organized a special symposium to tackle some of these issues.  I will be speaking there, and am looking forward to the discussion.

Guest Post: Are States Injured by Whaling in the Antarctic?

by Priya Urs

[Priya Urs has recently received a Master of Law (LL.M.) with a specialisation in International Law from the University of Cambridge, U.K.]

The recent Whaling in the Antarctic decision of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has unraveled existing debates about the propriety of whaling today, illustrated by the pivotal determination of whether the Japanese Whale Research Program under Special Permit in the Antarctic (JARPA II) was in line with the object and purpose of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling 1946, and what that object and purpose might be. This issue, in turn, raises less discussed questions about the nature of the obligations the Convention imposes on contracting states; specifically, whether it includes an obligation erga omnes to refrain from commercial whaling. In this brief post I describe what the dispute does and does not tell us about the increasingly multilateral quality of state obligations, allowing even non-injured states like Australia to hold others accountable for obligations owed to the international community as a whole.

Multilateralism in International Law

Australia in its application to the Court alleged that the Japanese Government’s authorization of commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research was a violation of its obligations under international law – the Convention in particular, as well as ‘other obligations’ for the preservation of marine mammals and the marine environment. New Zealand (intervening) went a step further, suggesting that Japan’s actions were a challenge to the system of collective regulation established by the Convention, including contracting parties’ duty of ‘meaningful co-operation’. Japan on the other hand insisted that JARPA II was in line with the treaty’s Article VIII exception for scientific research, also claiming that there exists in customary international law a freedom to engage in whaling.

Considered collectively, the tenor of these various arguments raises a larger question about the very nature of state obligations: have multilateral ‘law-making’ treaties become the dominant source of obligations among states in contemporary international law? Professor James Crawford in a recent publication argues that to a large extent, they have. This trend is evident not only from the pleadings of Australia and New Zealand that conservation is a collective interest among states, but from the framework of the Convention itself. The Court’s discussion of the system of regulation set up by the Convention alludes to the cooperative effort among states contemplated during its drafting. In particular, the majority opinion notes the ‘significant role’ accorded to the Whaling Commission in regulating the activities of contracting states. In sum, whether the Convention amounts to a prohibition on or merely the regulation of commercial whaling, its law-making effect is well established.

The obvious conclusion to be drawn, then, is that multilateral agreements – such as the present Convention – are not merely aggregations of bilateral relationships. Their multilateral effect is manifested in the interest of states like Australia and New Zealand in ensuring mutual compliance irrespective of their ability to make claims to specific injury arising out of Japan’s violation. As a result, irrespective of whether the Convention was intended to prohibit commercial whaling as a conservationist effort, or simply to regulate states’ access to a common resource, this emphasis by the Court reaffirms this trajectory in the development of international law.

Obligations Erga Omnes

What is interesting about the proceedings in this dispute, then, is an issue that was not debated at all. Japan made no challenge to Australia’s standing before the Court (only making a challenge to ICJ jurisdiction using Australia’s reservation to the Convention), seemingly accepting as law the proposition that even though Australia was not an injured state in a bilateral relationship with Japan, it had a legal interest in ensuring widespread compliance among contracting states. This conclusion is purely conjecture, yet, regardless of whether this omission was a conscious decision or a glaring mistake by Japan, it is indisputable that all three parties’ positions in the Whaling dispute fall in line with the ICJ’s gradual recognition of obligations erga omnes over the last half-century.

Quick to offer an apology for its rejection of Ethiopia and Liberia’s public interest claim against South Africa in the South West Africa Cases, in 1970 the Court in its famous dictum in Barcelona Traction identified obligations erga omnes for the first time as obligations owed to the international community generally. It was only in 2012, however, that the question of standing was addressed by the Court directly, affirming in Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite that all states – including Belgium, a non-injured state – had a legal interest in ensuring Senegal’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture 1984.

This trend is reflected most clearly in Article 48 of the ILC’s Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts 2001 (ARSIWA), a progressive development of the law in which, instead of diluting the definition of an injured state, the ILC ultimately chose to recognise the right of a non-injured state to invoke the responsibility of a state in violation of its international obligations. Though not formally, the ICJ has affirmed the text of Article 48(1)(a) in its 2012 decision in Belgium v Senegal.

It is worth noting, however, that the Court indulged Belgium as a complaining state in a situation where the obligations involved were erga omnes partes only. As a result, its position on the broader category of obligations erga omnes in Article 48(1)(b) – owed to the international community as a whole – remains uncertain. It would appear that Article 48(1)(a) might have been similarly applied in the Whaling decision as involving obligations erga omnes partes on the basis of which Australia could defend its standing before the ICJ. Indeed, the Court seems to have subconsciously restricted itself to its position in 2012, determining the whaling dispute entirely on the basis of the Convention and choosing not to address Australia’s claims to Japan’s ‘other obligations’ outside of it.   

The ICJ’s silence on these developments in the law of standing in the Whaling decision is perhaps an unfortunate result of Japan’s failure to challenge to Australia’s locus standi. It might have been worthwhile for Japan to have argued that Australia had no legal interest in its alleged non-compliance with its treaty obligations, refuting Australia and New Zealand’s characterization of the dispute as involving multilateral obligations of the sort contemplated by Article 48(1)(a).

Conversely, Japan could have taken greater advantage than it did of Australia’s characterization of the Convention as a ‘multilateral regime for the collective management of a common resource’ in its jurisdictional challenge, precluding the need for the ICJ’s resolution of the dispute in the first place. Judges Owada and Bennouna hint at this in their dissenting opinions, each arguing that the self-contained institutional framework created by the Convention should be allowed to take effect in the interest of genuine multilateral cooperation, but stopping short of challenging Australia’s right of standing before the Court.

Is it possible to conclude that the ICJ is inclined towards expanding the content of obligations erga omnes to include efforts towards conservation of common resources? While the peremptory norm against torture might have been persuasive in recognizing Belgium’s claim to locus standi in Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite, strictly speaking, the peremptory status of the norm in question is irrelevant to the determination of whether the obligation to adhere to it is erga omnes. Consequently, it would be inaccurate to suggest that the Court in the Whaling decision has recognized the existence of an international norm against whaling. Continue Reading…

Should the U.S. Government Change Its Approach to Zero-Day Exploits?

by Chris Borgen

Dan Geer, the chief of information security for In-Q-Tel (essentially, the venture capital fund that supports tech innovation for the CIA) gave a wide-ranging keynote speech at Black Hat, a convention of cybersecurity experts.  A video of the speech is available here.

I want to focus on one specific issue among the many he discussed: his call for the US government to publicly disclose the software loopholes and hacks that it purchases.

I have discussed in other posts (1, 2) the market for information regarding security loopholes known as “zero-day exploits.”  The U.S. is already a big player in this market,  purchasing exploits for use by its intelligence and law-enforcement agencies.

Rather than informing producers, purchasers, or users of the software of the flaws, the U.S. government (and other governments that participate in the exploits market) allegedly require non-disclosure agreements from the hackers who sell exploits so that the holes will stay open as long as possible. This has been called a strategy of offense: trying to maximize intelligence gathering capabilities. Geer  paraphrases a former senior NSA official:

If we were to score cybersecurity the way we score soccer, we would be twenty minutes into the game and the score would be 462 to 456. That is to say: all offense.

He further explains: “Offense is where is where the innovations that only states can afford is going on.”

Some have argued that the result is the widespread use of software riven with security flaws that could have been fixed.  Instead, the U.S. should use its market power to make software more secure by purchasing and then disclosing zero-day exploits.  As reported by Wired, Geer argues that by incentivizing disclosure:

the U.S. can drastically lower the impact of international cyberwarfare. [He explains:] “We don’t need intelligence on what weapons our adversaries have if we have something close to a complete inventory of the world’s vulns and have shared that with all the affected software suppliers.”

As far as I understand, proponents of a strategy of maximizing offensive capability assume that computer systems will always have many holes and the U.S. might as well use these flaws to get as much useful intelligence as possible rather than chasing what they view as the illusory promise of real defense.

I do not know enough about the ins-and-outs of computer security architecture to opine as to whether the U.S. should maintain an offensive strategy or move to securing vulnerable systems with a primarily defensive strategy of disclosure. However, I would suggest that a defensive strategy may be strengthened by international coordination.

In any case, if you are interested in issues of cyber-security then Geer’s speech is a must-listen.

[This post has been corrected to fix the misspelling of Dan Geer’s name.]


Emerging Voices: Protecting the World’s Children: R2P and Measures Less-Than-Force

by Stacey Henderson

[Stacey Henderson is a PhD Candidate and Teaching Fellow at Adelaide Law School, The University of Adelaide, South Australia]

Children are among the most vulnerable during armed conflict.  The existence of special protections for children in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and the existence of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, all attest to the special vulnerability of children.  The security of children during armed conflict has even been recognised by the Security Council as being a matter of international peace and security (see for example: SCR 1261, SCR 1314, SCR 1379).  Given the importance of protecting children and other vulnerable groups during armed conflict, does the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (‘R2P’) clarify the principles governing international responses to atrocity crimes?

At its heart, R2P is about duty – the primary duty of states to protect their populations from atrocity crimes and the secondary duty of the international community to ‘use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means’ to help protect against atrocity crimes and to take action through the Security Council when the state ‘manifestly fails’ to protect its population.  Even if it is R2P-lite (.pdf), this formulation of R2P and the duty of the international community which flows from it, in practice appears to allow considerable scope for the international community to take significant steps to intercede in armed conflicts where atrocity crimes are being committed, provided those measures do not cross the threshold of use of force in the absence of a Security Council resolution.  In order to distinguish these less-than-force measures from the baggage that comes with the term “intervention,” in my view they are better described as “intercession.”  Although in its early stages, my research indicates that these less-than-force measures (intercession) include unilateral sanctions, trade restrictions, diplomacy, withdrawal of aid funding and even non-lethal support to rebel groups (.pdf).  These are measures taken by states, without Security Council authorisation, which are less than the use of force, but which appear to be the site of the most significant opportunities for change that protects the most vulnerable, including children.

The increasing use of intercession by the international community in response to modern armed conflicts reveals an emerging norm in international law which recognises that there are international obligations to protect human rights, particularly the human rights of the most vulnerable such as children, and humanitarian ideals that are more important than, and overtake, sovereignty when atrocity crimes are being committed.  Continue Reading…

Guest Post: Attacks on Schools–What about International Law?

by Robert McCorquodale

[Kristin Hausler is an Associate Senior Research Fellow in Public International Law and Robert McCorquodale is the Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law. The views expressed here are those of the authors and not of BIICL.]

On 30 July, a school operated by a UN agency in the Jabalia refugee camp, north of Gaza City, was shelled by the Israeli army, killing at least 16 people and injuring more than 100.On 3 August, the Israeli army bombed another Gaza school run by the UN, this time in Rafah, where over 2,000 displaced Palestinians were sheltering. This attack reportedly killed at least 10 individuals. There have also been reports that Hamas has been storing weapons in schools. Can attacks on schools, teachers and students ever be legitimate under international law?

International humanitarian law applies, in its entirety, to international armed conflicts, while some of its key principles apply also to non-international (internal) armed conflicts. All the parties to the current armed conflict in Gaza and other armed conflicts, no matter if they qualify as state or non-state actors, are, at the very least, legally bound by the rules of customary international humanitarian law. The key rules are the distinction between civilians and those taking a direct part in hostilities, and between civilian and military objects. Deliberate attacks on civilians are prohibited. Therefore, students, teachers and all other civilians who may be located in a school are protected as long as they do not take an active part in the hostilities. In addition to deliberate attacks, indiscriminate attacks, which do not distinguish between civilian and military targets, such as those consisting of area bombardments over densely populated areas or those conducted with imprecise weapons that are not able to target military objectives with sufficient precision, are prohibited. Disproportionate attacks which cause excessive harm to civilians are also prohibited.

In the same way as individuals are protected if they do not take part in hostilities, schools are protected from attacks because they do not serve a military function. While some buildings, such as hospitals, benefit from special protection under international law, this is not the case for schools. The protection of schools from attacks ceases if they become military objectives, which occurs when they are used for military purposes and effectively support military action, such as to store weapons or to station troops. Such use should be discouraged.

Deliberately placing civilians in or around military objects amounts to using civilians as ‘human shields’, which is prohibited under customary international law. If schools are used solely as shelters for civilians, they remain civilian objects. In case of doubt about the military nature of an object, the building in question must be presumed to be civilian. At all times, any party to a conflict must minimize the risks of civilian casualties and injuries, as well as minimize the risks of damage or destruction of civilian objects by taking all possible precautionary measures in the conduct of military actions.

In addition, parties to a conflict also have a duty to respect human rights within their borders, as human rights continue to apply during armed conflicts. States exercising effective control over territories beyond their borders are also bound by their human rights obligations on those territories. Both Israel and Palestine are parties to human rights treaties that protect the right to education and protect children’s rights. Therefore, the use of schools for military purposes, which is likely to threaten the provision of education, may also amount to a human rights violation on the part of the state responsible to provide education.

Through the application of international criminal law and after appropriate investigation, the perpetrators of international crimes may be held individually responsible. In relation to both international and non-international armed conflicts, the Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) establishes that intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population, as well as intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to education, are war crimes. However, the ICC can only prosecute crimes if the alleged perpetrator is a national of one of its State Parties, if the crime was committed on the territory of a State Party, or if the matter is referred by the UN Security Council. While Israel has signed the ICC Statute, it has never ratified it, and Palestine’s declaration accepting the ICC jurisdiction was not accepted when it was made.

It is also important that those, including the injured and the relatives of the victims, who have suffered harm as a result of those attacks are provided with adequate reparations. States responsible for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law are under an obligation to provide adequate reparation, even if their actions were committed extra-territorially. For example, the schools that have been destroyed must be repaired so that the right to education continues to be provided.

Elsewhere, schools, pupils and teachers have been the objects of acts of violence in recent times, including, for example, in Nigeria, where Boko Haram conducted targeted shootings at schools and abducted female students, and in Pakistan, where the Taliban attempted to kill student and activist Malala Yousafzai. All of these attacks highlight the need to uphold the international legal provisions protecting education, as has been shown by BIICL’s research on Protecting Education in Insecurity and Armed Conflict. If a state and a people are to have long-term sustainable peace and development after an armed conflict, then there is a great need for education now and in the immediate future. Furthermore, the right to education is an enabling right, empowering access to other human rights and to meaningful participation in society. It is a right deserving of all our protection, at all times.


Emerging Voices: Freedom or Restraint? On the Comparison Between the European and Inter-American Human Rights Courts

by Lucas Barreiros

[Lucas E. Barreiros is a Professor of Public International Law and Coordinator of International Human Rights Law Masters Program at the University of Buenos Aires.]

While much attention has been paid to the differences and similarities between the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) as well as to the dialogue between them [see here, here, here and here for examples], none of that attention has been devoted to comparing the one aspect of their work that best and most synthetically captures all that sets them apart – that is, the doctrines of “margin of appreciation” and “control of conventionality”. It is proposed here that more attention should be paid to the explanatory power of these two doctrines in understanding the different identities and diverging trajectories of the ECHR and the IACHR.

As known, the “margin of appreciation” doctrine was developed by the ECHR starting in its Handyside v. United Kingdom judgment. It has been understood to refer, as pointed out by Steven Greer, to “the room for manoeuvre that the Strasbourg institutions are prepared to accord to national authorities in fulfilling their obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights”. The rationale for allowing this margin of appreciation, as pointed out by the ECHR in Handyside when referring to the conditions set out in the Convention to lawfully restrict the freedom of expression, is that national authorities, “by reason of their direct and continuous contact with the vital forces of their countries (…) are in a better position than the international judge to give an opinion on the exact content of these requirements”.

For its part, the “control of conventionality” was first mentioned by the IACHR in its judgment in the Case of Almonacid Arellano et al v. Chile.The IACHR held that:

“(…) domestic judges and courts are bound to respect the rule of law, and therefore, they are bound to apply the provisions in force within the legal system. But when a State has ratified an international treaty such as the American Convention, its judges, as part of the State, are also bound by such Convention. This forces them to see that all the effects of the provisions embodied in the Convention are not adversely affected by the enforcement of laws which are contrary to its purpose and that have not had any legal effects since their inception. In other words, the Judiciary must exercise a sort of “conventionality control” between the domestic legal provisions which are applied to specific cases and the American Convention on Human Rights. To perform this task, the Judiciary has to take into account not only the treaty, but also the interpretation thereof made by the Inter-American Court, which is the ultimate interpreter of the American Convention.” (emphasis added).

It should be noted that there are two components to the doctrine – one deals with the responsibility of national authorities to ensure that the application of national legislation does not adversely affect the rights under the American Convention of Human Rights; the other, however, is the direct opposite of the “margin of appreciation” as it leaves no room for national authorities to conduct their own assessment and requires them to apply the interpretation of the IACHR.

Continue Reading…

MH17 Should Be Framed as Murder, Not as a War Crime

by Kevin Jon Heller

It has become quite common to describe the downing of MH17 as a war crime. In late July, for example, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “[t]his violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime,” More recently, William Burke-White has said that, for framing purposes, “[t]he time has come for governments and international organizations to call the attack on MH17 a probable war crime.” 

[I]f whoever launched the missile did so with the intent of killing the civilian passengers aboard MH17, the act was unmistakably a war crime.

Even if the objective was to strike a Ukrainian transport aircraft, the act likely constitutes a war crime. Fundamental to the law of war, including the law applicable in non-international armed conflicts, is the principle of distinction – the requirement that fighting parties distinguish between civilian and military targets. In the words of the International Committee of the Red Cross, that duty of care includes doing “everything feasible to verify that targets are military objectives.”

In this case, many steps could easily have been taken to differentiate MH17 from a military-transport plane, including visual identification (perhaps with binoculars), radar-signature analysis, and a check of the civilian aircraft transponder-code broadcast. If, as seems likely, these basic steps were not taken, even an accidental strike on MH17 would constitute a war crime.

If the Ukrainian separatists did indeed intend to kill civilians, Bill and Navi Pillay are absolutely right to describe the attack as a war crime — in this case, murder and/or intentionally directing attacks at civilians or civilian objects (to use the Rome Statute’s terminology). But everything we know to date about the attack indicates that the separatists honestly believed MH17 was a Ukrainian military transport, not a civilian airplane. If so, that changes the legal assessment of the attack considerably. The attack would still qualify as murder under domestic law — but it would not qualify as a war crime, under either the Rome Statute or the jurisprudence of the ICTY. (The latter likely representing the customary definition of the war crimes of murder and attacking civilians or civilian objects, which most states would apply in a prosecution based on universal jurisdiction.)

Let’s go in order. The problem with describing the attack on MH17 as a war crime under the Rome Statute is Article 32(1), which provides that “[a] mistake of fact shall be a ground for excluding criminal responsibility only if it negates the mental element required by the crime.” The actus rei of the war crime of murder and the war crime of intentionally directing attacks at civilians or civilian objects each include a circumstance element: the individuals attacked must qualify as civilians (or as otherwise protected persons). The relevant mens rea for circumstance elements is knowledge, pursuant to Art. 30(3) of the Rome Statute: “For the purposes of this article, ‘knowledge’ means awareness that a circumstance exists.” Black-letter criminal law provides that an honest mistake of fact negatives any mens rea that requires subjective awareness. So if the separatists honestly believed they were attacking a Ukrainian military transport, they were not aware that they were attacking civilians. In which case they could not be convicted of either the war crime of murder or the war crime of intentionally directing attacks at civilians or civilian objects.

The result is no different under the ICTY’s jurisprudence, even though the ICTY applies a lower mens rea to the war crimes of murder and attacking civilians. A complete discussion of the issue is beyond the scope of this post; suffice it to say here that an accused will be responsible for either war crime only if he was reckless toward the possibility that the objects of his attack qualified as civilian. (Dolus eventualis in civil-law terminology.) Recklessness is a subjective mental state in the ICTY’s jurisprudence; as the Trial Chamber noted in Brdjanin, specifically in the context of murder, “the threshold of dolus eventualis entails the concept of recklessness, but not that of negligence or gross negligence.”” Like the ICC, the ICTY recognizes mistakes of fact. As a result, the separatists could not be convicted of either the war crime or murder or the war crime of attacking civilians under ICTY jurisprudence if they honestly believed they were attacking a Ukrainian military transport: although that belief might have been negligent, even grossly negligent, its honesty meant that they were not subjectively aware they were attacking civilians.

The bottom line is that the accidental downing of civilian airplane based on an honest belief that the airplane was a military objective is not a war crime. Failing to take adequate precautions may violate IHL, but it is not criminal. The downing of MH17, therefore, should be framed not as a war crime but as murder.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, August 11, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

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




Middle East and Northern Africa



More on the Troubling, But Emerging Article II Humanitarian Intervention Power

by Julian Ku

Now that President Obama and his advisors have offered some more detail on the domestic legal basis for U.S. military’s action in Iraq, I think it is even more clear now than when I first posted on this subject that the administration is relying on some sort of Article II Commander-In-Chief power to “prevent an act of genocide” against a Iraqi minority group.  In reading the administration briefing, it is clear that the need to protect U.S. persons and property is a separate justification for a separate set of air strikes.  I don’t think the Administration is arguing that protecting U.S. life and property requires striking at the ISIS forces threatening the trapped Iraqi civilians.

Both Marty Lederman and Jack Goldsmith have also picked up on this point, with Goldsmith suggesting this would be a troubling extension of the President’s already expansive Article II Commander-in-Chief power. Ilya Somin dismisses this whole approach as going against the text of the Constitution.   I agree with Ilya that this approach is hard to square with either the text or even the history of Article II’s drafting and subsequent interpretations. And I also agree with Goldsmith that this expansion is troubling. But I also think that the President’s invocation of the need to “prevent an act of genocide” as the legal basis for air strikes, along with apparent acquiescence by Congress (so far), sets an important legal precedent for future U.S. presidents.

Events and Announcements: August 10, 2014

by An Hertogen


  • The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (“ICTR”) is organising an International Symposium on the Legacy of the ICTR to be held in Arusha, Tanzania on November 6-7, 2014. With the ICTR’s closure scheduled for 2015, the Symposium aims to provide an opportunity for experts in the field of international justice to reflect on the ICTR’s contributions to the development of international humanitarian law, administration of justice, and promotion of the rule of law, particularly in the Great Lakes Region. We invite experts in the field to submit proposals for papers to be presented during the Symposium. Papers should focus on the topics indicated in the draft programme, which can be found here. The full text of the call for papers can be found here.


  • American University Washington College of Law’s Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law is pleased to announce that the American Bar Association, at its Accreditation Committee’s June 26-28, 2014 meeting, approved the LL.M. in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. This new offering by the Academy recognizes the vast interest in the legal community in studying human rights law at American University Washington College of Law (AUWCL). This program is the only LL.M. program in International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in the United States to offer a hybrid curriculum of its kind in a U.S. law school. With online and residential course components, this program is designed for practitioners and other human rights professionals who wish to pursue advanced studies in international human rights law and humanitarian law alongside their existing work responsibilities. AUWCL has built a significant reputation in this field and it is highly recognized around the world.  Moreover, its unique location in Washington D.C. offers unparalleled opportunities to legal professionals from the U.S. and around the world. Access more information HERE.
  • The School of Law at the University of Reading in the UK has just launched Global Law at Reading (GLAR), a major new teaching and research hub for law staff and students working in public international law, EU law and human rights. The GLAR website has recently been developed and is now live here. This provides up-to-date information on GLAR, including news and events, relevant staff profiles, publications and research, and much more. As such, it is an invaluable resource especially for those interested in studying public international law, EU law or human rights at Reading, whether for one of our dedicated GLAR LLM programmes or the PhD. The GLAR website will be continually updated with news and events concerning the work done in global law areas at the University of Reading, and it will soon feature a regular free podcast featuring debates and papers on GLAR topics.

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.

Final Thoughts on the Bar Human Rights Committee’s Letter

by Kevin Jon Heller

Kirsty Brimelow QC, the chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) — and a colleague of mine at Doughty Street Chambers — has responded to my position on the 2009 Declaration, as recounted by Joshua Rozenberg in this Guardian article. Here is the relevant paragraph:

Neither Rozenberg’s opinion piece nor academic he relies upon, Kevin Heller, cite the text of the 2012 decision in support of their positions. This is hardly surprising given that the decision does not in fact “formally reject” the 2009 declaration.

Although I stand behind my claim that the OTP “formally rejected” the 2009 Declaration in its 2012 decision, Kirsty correctly points out that I did not cite the text of the decision. So I think it’s useful to summarise the text and quote it where appropriate:

[1] The 2009 Declaration purported to accept the Court’s jurisdiction over the situation in Palestine on an ad hoc basis, retroactive to 1 July 2002 (para. 1).

[2] Per Art. 15 of the Rome Statute, the OTP initiated a preliminary examination “in order to determine whether there was a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation” (para. 2).

[3] The OTP stated that the first step in that inquiry was to determine whether it had jurisdiction over the events in Palestine. In that regard, it noted that “only when such criteria are established will the Office proceed to analyse information on alleged crimes as well as other conditions for the exercise of jurisdiction” (para. 3)

[4] The OTP pointed out that only a “State” can accept the Court’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis under Art. 12(1) of the Rome Statute (para. 4), which meant that the key issue with regard to the Declaration was whether Palestine qualified as a State (para. 5).

[5] The OTP concluded that it did not have the authority to decide whether, as a matter of law, Palestine was a State; that responsibility was “for the relevant bodies at the United Nations or the Assembly of States Parties” (para. 6).

[6] The OTP acknowledged that numerous states had acknowledged Palestine’s statehood and that Palestine had applied for membership as a State in the UN, but insisted that although the UN application was relevant, “this process has no direct link with the declaration lodged by Palestine” (para. 7).

[7] The OTP said it “could in the future consider allegations of crimes committed in Palestine” if the statehood issue was “eventually” resolved by the UN or ASP (para. 8).

Although the decision is not the picture of clarity, I still think it qualifies as a “formal rejection” of the 2009 Declaration. The Declaration formally requested the OTP accept jurisdiction and investigate the situation in Palestine. The OTP opened a preliminary examination, as required by the Rome Statute, but then ended that examination at the first step, concluding that it did not have jurisdiction over the events in question because Palestine could not establish that it was a State. That’s a rejection, even if the OTP — to use a common-law phrase — dismissed the Declaration without prejudice.

My guess is that paragraph 8 is the crux of the disagreement between the BHRC experts and me. They are reading it as a statement that the OTP would essentially hold onto the Declaration until the UN or ASP clarified Palestine’s status as a state, at which point it could then advance the preliminary examination. It’s possible — but I think the OTP would have said as much if that’s what paragraph 8 meant. I read the paragraph as making clear the OTP was rejecting the Declaration without prejudice to a later ad hoc declaration — a reading, not incidentally, that seems to square with Fatou Bensouda’s recent statement that the OTP won’t act without a new Declaration or Palestine’s ratification of the Rome Statute.

I also want to make clear that I disagree with Rozenberg’s statement that the BHRC “is at best naive, and at worst misleading, for suggesting [the] legal situation is beyond doubt.” I don’t think there is anything naive or misleading about the letter, even though I disagree with it. These are very difficult issues, over which reasonable people can disagree. And there is, of course, nothing wrong with advocates advocating.

Finally, I want to sincerely apologise to the BHRC for revealing that I had been asked to sign the letter. Although I waited for the letter to appear publicly before commenting on it, I should not have mentioned that I had been approached.

Weekend Roundup: August 2-8, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, the main point of discussion was the ICC’s jurisdiction over the situation in Gaza. Eugene Kontorovich put the spotlight on a recent development at the ICC in relation to Egypt that reduces the chances of the Palestinians’ ICC accession bid being accepted, to which Kevin responded here and Eugene followed up here. In related posts, Kevin pointed out the Bar Human Rights Committee in the UK request to the OTP for an investigation of the situation in Gaza, the OTP’s statement that the ICC lacks jurisdiction, and his podcast on the issue.

Clare Frances Moran contributed an Emerging Voices post on the contribution of international criminal tribunals and courts to the development and promotion of international human rights law. Other posts in this symposium discussed race-based statelessness in the Dominican Republic and a discussion of the impact of extraordinary reparations on the legitimacy of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

In other posts, Julian shared his thoughts on Taiwan’s East China Sea Peace Initiative, and criticized Argentina for launching ICJ proceedings against the US, which the latter is unlikely to consent to. He also discussed the Article II “Humanitarian Intervention” powers in light of President Obama’s authorization of airstrikes against ISIS.

Jessica wrapped up the weekly news and listed events and announcements. A very special event is Philippe Sands’ upcoming London premiere of his “A Song of Good and Evil“.

Many thanks to our guest contributors and have a nice weekend!

Emerging Voices: Extraordinary Reparations, Legitimacy, and the Inter-American Court

by David Attanasio

[David L. Attanasio is a professor of law at the Jorge Tadeo Lozano University in Bogotá, Colombia, and Doctoral candidate in philosophy at U.C.L.A.]

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights—the highest authority dedicated to enforcing international human rights law in the Inter-American system—has received deep praise for its influential and innovative reparations decisions (.pdf). Nonetheless, its more innovative reparations measures suffer from a serious problem of legitimacy, in that they do not seem to respond to the human rights violations that the Court identifies. Specifically, in the vast majority of its reparations decisions since 2001, the Court has ordered what I call extraordinary reparations, measures such as human rights training, changes to law and policy, improvements in the justice system, and provision of education, water, food, or public services (preceding links to .pdfs). These typically are in addition to compensation payments and other measures explicitly designed to eliminate the violation’s consequences. Although the Court has not adequately defended its practice of ordering extraordinary reparations, several potential bases of legitimacy may justify its principal decisions. Some extraordinary reparations are disguised orders to cease violations, others seek to repair damage to communities, and some aim to repair victim trust in the state.

Despite the importance of its innovations, the Inter-American Court has not explained why it may order extraordinary reparations, particularly when it has already ordered measures supposedly sufficient to eliminate the effects of past human rights violations. For example, following a forced disappearance (.pdf), the Court ordered monetary compensation for the victim’s family supposedly equivalent to the harm suffered, but went on to order, among other measures, a literacy program for the victim’s mother. The American Convention on Human Rights empowers the Court to order reparations only for identified human rights violations, not to order any measure it thinks might make for a better state or for a more human rights-friendly social environment. It is not an international legislature. However, extraordinary reparations, which often appear aimed at changing the victim’s circumstances, apparently lack any “causal nexus” (.pdf) with a past human rights violation. As states have complained (.pdf), they do not seem to address the violation’s effects, as other reparative measures such as restitution or compensation are supposedly sufficient for that objective. The Court lacks explicit principles in its jurisprudence sufficient to clarify when and why extraordinary reparations might be legitimate.

Continue Reading…

The Article II “Humanitarian Intervention” War Power

by Julian Ku

Assuming there really was authorization from the Iraqi government, I don’t have any doubt that the U.S. has the right under the international law to launch new airstrikes in Iraq.  But the domestic authority for the U.S. airstrikes is much more murky, and, as Ilya Somin argues here, Congress might need to authorize continuing military action.

Jack Goldsmith goes through the domestic legal bases for action here: the 2001 AUMF against Al Qaeda, the 2002 AUMF to conduct hostilities in Iraq, and the President’s inherent power under Article II of the U.S. Constitution. I agree with Jack that, for political reasons, the Administration seems to be relying on the President’s inherent powers under Article II of the Constitution rather than on either of the statutory authorizations passed by Congress.  But even under Article II, Presidents have usually cited rationales such as the need to act quickly to protect U.S. citizens and their property or to prevent an imminent attack on the U.S or a treaty ally, or a threat to U.S. national security.

But President Obama does not cite any of these reasons in his explanation of why he is authorizing airstrikes to prevent the deaths of the Iraqi civilians trapped in a mountain region.  Instead, he cited the need to “prevent a potential act of genocide” in his remarks yesterday. So it turns out that Article II also can be invoked for a purely humanitarian intervention where no U.S. citizens or property are threatened, and the national security interest is not cited.  While I do think there is a very plausible national security rationale for these airstrikes, it is worth noting that President Obama does not cite national security directly in his remarks.  When one looks back at his similar rationale for Article II-based airstrikes in Libya, I think one of President Obama’s legacies will be a new reading of Article II that will allow future presidents to use military force for humanitarian reasons without the authorization of Congress.

Guest Post: More on Morsi’s Shadow on Palestine’s ICC Efforts

by Eugene Kontorovich

[Eugene Kontorovich is a Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law.]

Rumors and speculation about a Palestinian ICC bid continue to abound. However, news accounts about the process behind the PA’s consideration of the issue underline the point I made in a prior post that based on the Morsi precedent, Abbas could not accept the Court’s jurisdiction. I will elaborate on that here, and address some comments about my argument (partly concurred in by Kevin) about the relevance of the Morsi matter to a Palestinian referral.

In a meeting last week Abbas sought “written consent to join the ICC” from other Palestinian factions. According to another account Abbas has a draft acceptance letter, and is “waiting for signature from Hamas and Islamic Jihad.” If the PA needs the written consent – not just a political nod- from the Gaza–based factions, it strongly supports the view that the PA government does not have full power to accept jurisdiction on behalf of Palestine, especially for Gaza.

Some might say that if the government is divided and both possible claimants to full powers agree, then any defect is cured (this may be why Abbas wants written authorization).  The argument does not work: the sum of governmental authority is greater than its parts. To accept ICC jurisdiction, especially after the Morsi matter, it must be clear which particular government is in control, and it must be that government that accepts jurisdiction.

The reason to require government control over a state for ICC jurisdiction is it is that government that will be responsible for enforcing the treaty. A joint signature raises myriad intractable problems. Who will ultimately be carrying out the obligations of the treaty? Abbas would presumably not mind signing over authority over Israeli crimes, but then not cooperate with the court in investigating Hamas crimes, saying he has no control there.

If all factions give written consent to join, who has authority to terminate membership?

Continue Reading…

Here Comes That Frivolous Argentina ICJ Claim! Oh, And They Have No Jurisdiction Either!

by Julian Ku

As I noted last week, Argentina has been making threats to take the US government to the International Court of Justice over the results of US litigation over their 2002 sovereign debt default.  And so today, Argentina has made good on its threat by filing an application to the ICJ contending that “that the United States of America has committed violations of Argentine sovereignty and immunities and other related violations as a result of judicial decisions adopted by US tribunals concerning the restructuring of the Argentine public debt.”

As the ICJ’s press release notes, Argentina is seeking to found jurisdiction upon the U.S. deciding to grant consent to the case. But the U.S. has no obligation to give such consent, nor does it have any incentive to do so. Nor does Argentina (I suspect) really expect the U.S. to grant consent.  This is almost certainly a way to show its people and the world that it has a grievance, without actually ever having to test that grievance in a judicial proceeding.

And the fact that this lawsuit has no chance of getting to a court is probably a good strategy for Argentina. The actual specific claims are not yet available, but I have a hard time imagining they are anything but frivolous.  The only claim I am aware of that was raised by a commenter to my post last week is that Judge Griesa exceeded his jurisdiction by ordering third-party banks not to pay out moneys on bonds issued under foreign law.  This is an interesting argument, and even if it were plausible, I don’t understand why Argentina has not raised that argument directly to the U.S. courts. And this would still not impact the bonds issued under New York law.

Bottom line: there is no chance that Argentina gets the U.S. to accept jurisdiction before the ICJ. Expect more grandstanding from the Argentine government as it tries to use the ICJ as an international public relations platform.

My Podcast on Palestine and the ICC — and an Additional Thought

by Kevin Jon Heller

I had the pleasure of doing a podcast yesterday with Mark Leon Goldberg, purveyor of the essential UN Dispatch website, on the possibility of Palestine ratifying the Rome Statute or accepting the Court’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis. It’s about 20 minutes long, and you can find it here (or on iTunes).

I do want to mention another aspect of Palestine’s decision — one I hadn’t thought about until I read this excellent article in the Guardian by Joshua Rozenberg. (And it’s not just excellent because he quotes me.) As I discuss in the podcast, Palestine has two roads to a potential ICC investigation of Operation Protective Edge: (1) accept the Court’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis retroactive to 29 November 2012, the date of UNGA Res. 69/17; or (2) ratify the Rome Statute and then file an ad hoc declaration retroactive to 29 November 2012. Although both roads would give the ICC jurisdiction over the situation in Gaza, there is actually a critical procedural difference between them — assuming that the OTP wanted to investigate (which I still think is extremely unlikely). If Palestine simply accepts the Court’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis, the OTP’s decision to investigate would be considered proprio motu — and that decision would be subject to review by the Pre-Trial Chamber. (See, in that regard, the Cote d’Ivoire situation.) By contrast, if Palestine ratified the Rome Statute and then filed an ad hoc declaration, the OTP’s decision to investigate would be based on the referral of a State Party — and would not be subject to Pre-Trial Chamber review.

We’ll see what happens…

“A Song of Good and Evil” and Telling International Law’s Story to a Broader Audience

by Chris Borgen

Philippe Sands is well-known as a scholar and as a practicing attorney. Now let’s add spoken word artist:

October 1946, Nuremberg.

Human rights lawyer Philippe Sands narrates an original piece that offers new insights into the lives of three men at the heart of the trial, with the music that crossed the courtroom to connect prosecutor and defendant.

A personal exploration of the origins of modern justice and the fate of individuals and groups, in images, words and music.

Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninov, Aragon, Mizraki and Leonard Cohen, performed by acclaimed bass-baritone Laurent Naouri and renowned jazz pianist Guillaume de Chassy.

The piece is called “A Song of Good and Evil” and it will have its premiere in London on November 29th.

Engaging and educating as broad a public as possible about international law is no easy feat. For example, there have been depictions of international law and international legal themes in film, in television, and in fiction.  While at times the authors of such works may want to say something about international law or international institutions, such works have varying degrees of accuracy and educational value.  More often than not, “international law” or “the World Court” or “the UN” are just plot devices with very little consideration as to how any of these things actually work (or even what they are).  And I don’t know of many (actually, any other) international lawyers actively writing and performing theater pieces with legal themes.  (If there are, please let me know!)

Every work of art that depicts international law and international institutions affects the perception of some segment of the public about international law. Some of these books and films are produced in ignorance and stoke paranoia or the worst form of cynicism.  However, because so many of the stories of international law are profoundly human stories, they can also be the stuff of great art. Or the stuff of entertainment that also enlightens.

So, break a leg Philippe Sands! (And please have a performance in New York.)

Hat tip: John Louth for having mentioned this event.

Emerging Voices: New Citizenship Law Will Not End Race-based Statelessness in the Dominican Republic

by Jillian Blake

[Jillian Blake is an immigration attorney at a non-profit organization in Alexandria, Virginia. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).]

In May, Dominican President Danilo Medina signed a new naturalization law aimed at restoring the rights of some who were stripped of their citizenship in a September 2013 Supreme Court ruling. The ruling held that those born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented immigrants, who are predominantly black and of Haitian origin, are not Dominican citizens and instructed the government to apply the ruling retroactively, going back to 1929. International human rights groups strongly condemned the decision as racist and xenophobic and argued it would render hundreds of thousands of people stateless. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM), an international organization made up of 15 Caribbean states, also denounced the ruling and suspended the Dominican Republic’s application for membership.

The new citizenship law, Law 169-14, was passed this spring in response to the international backlash against the Supreme Court decision. Law 169-14 establishes a regime to restore the citizenship rights of those born between 1929 and 2007 who are entered in the civil registry. Notably, the law excludes restoration of citizenship to those born between 2007 and 2010, the year the new Dominican Constitution first revoked jus soli citizenship, or citizenship based on where one is born. All those born after 2007, or who are not in the civil registry, are required to register as foreigners and will then have to apply for regularization and naturalization.

While the law could restore citizenship rights to thousands of people, it is far from a final victory against statelessness in the Dominican Republic. First, the law only addresses a small percentage of those impacted by the Supreme Court ruling. According to human rights groups roughly 24,000 of the more than 200,000 people rendered stateless could qualify to have their citizenship restored under the law, and even that restoration is not automatic. Part of the reason so few will be affected is that for many years hospitals and government agencies refused to issue birth certificates or other identity documents to children of parents of Haitian origin. Many children born in the Dominican Republic do not have birth certificates and/or are not listed in the civil registry. Any long-lasting solution will require hospitals to issue birth certificates for, and enter into the civil registry, all persons born in the Dominican Republic and recognize their citizenship. There also should be a national drive to document (as citizens) those born in the Dominican Republic who do not currently possess birth certificates.

Second, the new law is still premised on the illegal assumption that those born in Dominican territory are not citizens. This retrogression of established inter-American law, which recognizes jus soli citizenship, is not only illegitimate but could lead to the denial of rights elsewhere in the future. Third, given the racially-biased administration of past immigration and naturalization regulations in the Dominican Republic, there is a serious concern that even those entitled to the restoration of citizenship under the law will never actually be recognized as citizens. Fourth, the law requires those who are not in the civil registry to register with the government within 90 days after the law takes affect, which will exclude many who can’t register in time, especially the poor and those living in remote areas. Finally, the law will not restore citizenship to future generations born in the Dominican Republic, which will leave a perpetual system of statelessness in the country.

In an Article forthcoming in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Modern Critical Race Perspectives entitled, “Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Race-based Statelessness in the Americas” I analyze the 2013 Supreme Court decision and long history of citizenship exclusion based on racial and ethnic prejudice in the Dominican Republic. Continue Reading…

Can International Law Be an Obstacle to Peace? Some Thoughts on Taiwan’s East China Sea Peace Initiative

by Julian Ku

I had the privilege today to attend a conference in Taipei today discussing the “East China Sea Peace Initiative”.  The ECSPI is Taiwan’s proposal to reduce and maybe even eliminate the confrontation between China and Japan in the East China Sea over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.  The ECSPI is not all that complicated.  1) Shelve Territorial Disputes;and 2) Share Resources Through Joint Development.  There is more to the proposal (but not much more).  President Ma of Taiwan put his personal imprimatur on this initiative with a speech this morning.

As it was a conference sponsored by a foundation closely linked with the Taiwan government, no one at the conference had much to say that was critical of this initiative.  Of course, no scholar or speaker I saw today came from China os it is hard to know what they might have said. But there is nothing wrong or objectionable to the ESPCI.

What’s interesting about the “shelve disputes” strategy is that eschews the formal legal resolution of particular questions and suggests plowing forward despite sharp differences on legal rights and obligations.  For instance, the ECPSI recommends “joint conservation and management” of the living (mostly fish) and non-living resources (mostly hydrocarbons) of the East China Sea.  Yet this proposal is preceded by a fairly long statement of the justness of Taiwan’s legal claim to sovereignty over those same resources.

“Never compromise on sovereignty,” President Ma recommended today, but he also then suggested that countries can share and develop resources each country believes it has sovereign legal rights over.  Isn’t this really compromising on sovereignty, while at the same time denying you are compromising on sovereignty?

The idea that we can shelve (in this case) legal disputes in international relations is not one that originated with Taiwan, but it is not surprising that Taiwan is the country proposing this strategy.  After all, Taiwan itself is the living embodiment of the success of avoiding legal resolution of complex sovereign claims.  In its relations with China, it has agreed to shelve the question of Taiwan’s ultimate legal status in favor of increasingly close economic and other relations.  Interestingly, this approach would also eschew international arbitration or judicial resolution of these arbitral disputes, since such legal proceedings would adjudicate, rather than shelve, the sovereignty issues.  In reality, this approach suggest international law, which defines rights and obligations, is an obstacle to peace, rather than a facilitator of it.

I do hope Japan and China consider the Taiwan ECSPI.  But I have my doubts as the viability of continuing to “shelve” questions about sovereignty.  At some point, these questions will re-emerge and the “joint development” will actually result in giving up sovereign resources.   Some more stable equilibrium is probably needed.  My guess is that China feels the time for a new equilibrium is getting closer.

Three Thoughts on the OTP’s Rejection of Jurisdiction over the Situation in Palestine

by Kevin Jon Heller

The ICC Office of the Prosecutor has just released the following statement:

Palestine is not a State Party to the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC; neither has the Court received any official document from Palestine indicating acceptance of ICC jurisdiction or requesting the Prosecutor to open an investigation into any alleged crimes following the November 2012 United Nations General Assembly Resolution (67/19), which accorded non-member observer State status to Palestine.

The ICC has no jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed on the territory of Palestine.

I have three thoughts on the statement. First, the OTP clearly believes that the 2009 Declaration by the Palestinian Authority is void. If Palestine wants the OTP to investigate, it will have to either ratify the Rome Statute or file a new declaration accepting the Court’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis.

Second, it seems equally clear that the OTP will not accept a Palestinian declaration accepting jurisdiction over events prior to before 29 November 2012, when the UNGA adopted Res. 67/19. The statement strongly implies — if it doesn’t quite say it explicitly — that Palestine’s statehood, at least for the ICC’s purposes, began on that date. Any other conclusion is difficult to reconcile with the statement’s emphasis on Res. 67/19; the fatal flaw of the 2009 Declaration seems to be that it was made before the UNGA upgraded Palestine’s status.

Third, the statement’s reference to “the territory of Palestine” raises the possibility that the OTP will not accept an ad hoc declaration that is limited to Gaza — even one that properly focuses, as the 2009 Declaration did, on crimes committed by both parties to the conflict. To be sure, the reference may just reflect casual or sloppy drafting; indeed, I see no reason why Palestine could not self-refer only the Gaza situation, given previous situations the OTP has accepted (Northern Uganda, Ituri, Darfur, etc.) But it’s a point to ponder going forward.

Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales Asks OTP to Investigate Gaza (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

The request is supported by a number of leading QCs and professors in Britain. (Full disclosure: three of the signatories are barrister members and one is an academic member of Doughty Street Chambers, with which I’m associated.) Here is the Bar Human Rights Committee’s summary:

Public international law and criminal law Q.C.s and Professors based in Britain join with the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales to urge the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to initiate a preliminary investigation into crimes being committed in the Gaza Strip.

In response to the extreme gravity of the situation in the Gaza Strip, including spiralling civilian deaths and large scale destruction of homes, hospitals and schools, the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales, supported by leading Q.Cs and Professors, has submitted a formal request, calling upon the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to initiate an investigation, pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute.

The letter of request was submitted to the ICC on 3rd August 2014. It asserts that the 2009 Declaration, submitted by the Government of Palestine pursuant to Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, provides the prosecutor with the necessary jurisdictional basis on which to act.

Kirsty Brimelow Q.C., Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, stated: “The initiation of an investigation would send a clear and unequivocal message to those involved in the commission of these crimes that the accountability and justice called for by the United Nations on the part of victims are not hollow watchwords. It would bring about an end to the impunity which has prevailed in the region to date, fuelling ever increasingly brutal cycles of violence. The international community cannot continue to act simply as witness to such bloodshed and extreme civilian suffering.”

I declined to sign the request, despite my profound respect and admiration for the signatories. Although I have no doubt that serious international crimes have been committed by both Israel and Hamas in Gaza, I find the request problematic. Moreno-Ocampo formally rejected the Palestinian Authority’s 2009 Declaration on behalf of the OTP, and the UNGA did not give Res. 67/19 — which upgraded Palestine to non-member-state status — retroactive effect. In my view, therefore, the 2009 declaration is effectively (and perhaps even legally) void. That conclusion is supported by Fatou Bensouda’s public statement that “the ball is now in the court of Palestine”, “Palestine has to come back,” and “we are waiting for them.”

The bottom line for me is that Palestine needs to submit a new declaration accepting the ICC’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis. (Assuming the Palestinian Authority has the authority to do so — about which see my previous post.) That declaration should refer the situation in Gaza, not simply Israel’s crimes, as the 2009 Declaration properly did. (The primary reason I do not believe the complaint filed by the Palestinian Authority’s Justice Minister can be considered an ad hoc declaration is that it singles out Israel for investigation.) The declaration should also clearly specify the temporal parameters of the jurisdiction Palestine is giving to the ICC. Any attempt to accept the Court’s jurisdiction retroactive to 1 July 2002, when the Rome Statute entered into force, is likely to fail, because I seriously doubt that the OTP wants to determine when Palestine became a state. The most plausible date for retroactive jurisdiction would be 29 November 2012, when the UNGA adopted Res. 67/19. (Like many others, I believe Palestine qualified as a state long before that. But I wouldn’t be the one deciding whether to investigate.)

In short, and again with the greatest respect to the signatories of the present request, I do not think it is wise to pursue what seems to me to be a procedural shortcut to ICC jurisdiction over the situation in Gaza. If the ICC is to become involved in the most heavily politicised conflict in recent history — and I think the likelihood the OTP would act on even a proper request is essentially zero — there should be no doubt whatsoever about either Palestine’s desire for an investigation or the ICC’s jurisdictional competence. If we’ve learned anything about the conflict in Gaza, it’s the importance of always crossing the legal “t’s” and dotting the legal “i’s.”

UPDATE: Multiple sources are reporting on Twitter that the ICC has announced it has no jurisdiction over the situation in Gaza. (See here, for example.) That would seem to put beyond doubt that any attempt to rely on the 2009 Declaration will fail.

Can the PA Ratify the Rome Statute? (A Response to Eugene)

by Kevin Jon Heller

As Eugene notes in today’s guest post, the Palestinian Authority (PA) appears to have decided to ratify the Rome Statute. I’ll believe it when I see it: the PA has threatened to ratify before, only to back down at the last moment. But could it? Most observers have assumed it could, but Eugene disagrees. I think his bottom line may well be right, as I will explain at the end of this post. But I have problems with other aspects of it.

To begin with, let’s dispense with Eugene’s claim that Abbas’s lack of control has an upside for him, because it “prevents him from being held responsible for the war crimes there. If he does control the territory, and has allowed it to be a rocket launching base for years, he would be in trouble.” Abbas has neither de jure nor de facto effective control over the members of the groups (especially Hamas) that are responsible for the rocket attacks on Israel. Nor does it seem likely that he would be part of the military chain of command in a Fatah-Hamas unity government. So whatever the state of Palestine’s responsibility for the rocket attacks might be, it is extraordinarily unlikely that Abbas would ever be held individually criminally responsible for them — now or in the future.

I also think that Eugene is overreading the OTP’s rejection of Mohammed Morsi’s attempt to accept the ICC’s jurisdiction. In particular, I think he is eliding the difference between two different concepts of “effective control”: for purposes of determining the government of a state, and for purposes of determining whether part or all of a state’s territory is belligerently occupied. Here is the relevant paragraph of the ICC press release concerning the decision:

In accordance with the legal test of “effective control,” the entity which is in fact in control of a State’s territory, enjoys the habitual obedience of the bulk of the population, and has a reasonable expectancy of permanence, is recognized as the government of that State under international law. Application of that test, on both the date that the purported declaration was signed and the date it was submitted, lead to the conclusion that Dr Morsi was no longer the governmental authority with the legal capacity to incur new international legal obligations on behalf of the State of Egypt. The information available indicates that, at all material times, the applicants did not exercise effective control over any part of Egyptian territory, including on the date the declaration was signed. Nor would it be consistent with the “effective control” test to have one putative authority exercising effective control over the territory of a State, and the other competing authority retaining international treaty-making capacity.

As the paragraph indicates, the OTP relied on effective control to determine which of two rival domestic Egyptian entities represented the government of Egypt. In that context, the OTP quite rightly decided that “the entity which is in fact in control of a State’s territory, enjoys the habitual obedience of the bulk of the population, and has a reasonable expectancy of permanence, is recognized as the government of that State under international law.” Morsi lost under that test, because his claimed failed all three conditions.

That concept of effective control has little to do with the concept of effective control in the law of occupation. Effective control in the latter context determines whether the law of occupation applies; it does not determine who the sovereign is in the occupied state. On the contrary, one state’s effective control over the territory of another state does not transfer sovereignty from the government of the occupied state to the occupying state; the government in the occupied state remains the occupied state’s government, even if it loses some of its powers of governance for the duration of the (ostensibly temporary) occupation.

I see no reason, therefore, why Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and possible occupation of Gaza would have any impact on the OTP’s decision to accept or reject the Palestinian Authority’s ratification of the Rome Statute. Even if the state of Palestine is completely occupied by Israel — which Israel obviously rejects — the government of Palestine is still the government of Palestine. Indeed, the only way that wouldn’t be true is if the state of Palestine suffered debellatio, understood as the complete destruction of a state’s sovereignty through conquest. If that were the case, then Israel would be the government of Palestine and would be entitled (exclusively) to make decisions on its behalf. That was the situation after World War II: because of the debellatio of the German state, the Allies, via the Control Council, exercised supreme legislative authority in Germany as a condominium. But that is hardly the case in Palestine, as both sides agree. (And in any case, the concept of debellatio may well have fallen into desuetude.)

All that said, I agree with Eugene’s claim that the Palestinian Authority may not qualify as the government of Palestine — at least without the inclusion of Hamas. According to Eugene, “Hamas came to power in a coup against Abbas’s government, and since the ‘statehood’ of Palestine, the latter has never exercise ‘effective control’ over the area. Indeed, the Hamas authorities in Gaza, such as Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, dispute Abbas’s standing as president.” That’s an inaccurate description of the situation: Hamas was democratically elected by Palestinians in 2006, but was prevented from governing by Fatah until it seized control of Gaza in the 2007 civil war. Hamas’s election, however, only strengthens Eugene’s point, because it indicates that the Palestinian Authority may well have a Morsi problem if it attempts to ratify the Rome Statute without Hamas’s consent. The Palestinian Authority fails all of the elements of the OTP’s “effective control” test in the context of rival governments: it does not control all of the state of Palestine, it does not enjoy the “habitual obedience of the bulk of the population,” and it does not have “a reasonable expectancy of permanence.”

Nor, for that matter, does Hamas — for similar reasons. So it may well be that only a unity government between Fatah and Hamas, such as the one that Israel desperately tried to undermine prior to its invasion of Gaza, is competent to ratify the Rome Statute. Whether the Palestinians will still be able to form such a unity government remains to be seen.

Emerging Voices: The Contribution of International Criminal Tribunals and Courts to the Development and Promotion of International Human Rights Law

by Clare Frances Moran

[Clare Frances Moran is a teaching fellow in law at Abertay University, and is due to submit her PhD thesis at the University of Glasgow in late 2014.]

In the eight years since Cesare Romano’s assertion that the ‘season’ of international criminal law was coming to an end, the season appears to have turned into an Indian summer. During this summer, the focus of international criminal law has evolved. The formative debates on the significance of the idea of aggression and the conceptual boundaries of genocide have developed into a discussion on how to use such concepts in order to protect individuals, regardless of traditional concerns such as a state link or sponsorship of the violence. This shift in focus indicates a continued interest in the idea of international criminal law, and the aim of creating a system of international criminal justice, but with greater attention to the protection of individuals. As such, the reason for continuing interest in international criminal law can be explored in relation to two strands of reasoning: the fading of the State requirement, and the shared purpose of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law.

The law of the initial international criminal tribunals – those of Nuremberg, Tokyo, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia – focused on criminal conduct committed by those acting on behalf of States. Even the name of such tribunals gives away their aim: punishing those who have committed crimes while acting in official positions. Although the International Criminal Court looked a likely successor to these tribunals, it has taken a different direction with its prosecutions. Not a single defendant convicted or tried by the International Criminal Court to date has been affiliated to a state; the focus of the Court has shifted to the most serious situations, rather than those linked to acts on behalf of a State or committed by those representing a State. This premise represents a true departure from the origins of international criminal law in national military tribunals and the internationalised tribunals of Nuremberg and Tokyo. The trial of such individuals utilises the silence by the Statute on what may constitute an ‘organisational policy’ in the context of a crime against humanity. Many international lawyers would, in a similar vein, read into article 8 on war crimes the idea that the criminal activity was backed by a State, or at least that the State was complicit. However, this article is similarly restrained on mentioning the idea of a link to a State.

The lack of direct prosecutions against State officials is interesting, and the arrest warrants issued for certain Heads of State indicate that the idea has not yet faded into obscurity. There is substantial difficult, however, apparent in organising such prosecutions. Laurent Gbagbo, former President of the Ivory Coast, remains the first and only Head of State to be detained by the ICC. His arrest warrant was issued in 2011 and initial hearing to confirm the charges was adjourned in February 2013, with the charges against him confirmed only recently in June 2014. In postponing the hearing in 2013, the Court clearly stated that the seriousness of the charges underpinned its decision to give the prosecution more time, and invariably it seems that trying Heads of States and the decision-makers of the piece is more complex. This again demonstrates the priority that the Court is giving to the seriousness of the crimes, rather than the link between the State and the individual.

The number of prosecutions which have been raised against individuals who are part of groups which are non-state actors further indicates a shift away from the traditional focus on the State. The reduction of the number of States which engaged in armed conflict with one another makes it less likely that States ought to be the central focus of the Court, and that its mission to prevent impunity would be better served by ensuring that those who breach international criminal law and international humanitarian law are prosecuted. The recent crimes committed by Boko Haram in Nigeria and ISIS in the Middle East indicate that the discipline is evolving with the world. Continue Reading…

Guest Post: Effective Control and Accepting ICC Jurisdiction

by Eugene Kontorovich

[Eugene Kontorovich is a Professor of Law at Northwestern University School of Law.]

New reports say the Palestinian leadership has decided to seek to join the International Criminal Court as a member state. The PA has been threatening such action fairly constantly for several years, and it remains to be seen whether they mean it this time.

A recent and little-noticed development at the ICC suggests the Palestinian Authority may have a harder time getting the Court to accept its accession than many previously thought. A few months ago, in a situation quite analogous to the Palestinians’, the Court rejected an attempted accession.

Recall that the ICC rejected a 2009 Palestinian attempt to invoke its jurisdiction by saying that it lacked the competence to determine if Palestine was a “state” under international law. A main motive for the last year’s General Assembly’s vote to treat Palestine as a non-member state was to bolster its case for ICC membership. The idea was that the OTP would look only to the formal, “political” action of the General Assembly, rather the the objective factors of whether Palestine satisfies the criteria of statehood, such as whether they control their own territory.

Whether that is true or not, recent developments show that even if the OTP accepts that Palestine is a state – ignoring objective tests – it would conclude that the PA cannot accept jurisdiction on behalf of that state, certainly not for Gaza. Continue Reading…

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, August 4, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey


  • The United States will announce nearly $1bn in business deals, increase funding for peacekeeping and commit billions of dollars to expanding food and power programs in Africa during a summit this week, officials said.
  • Little action has been taken to clean up pollution caused by oil production in Nigeria’s Niger Delta region, either by the government or Shell Oil, Amnesty International and other groups have said.
  • Health workers turned up in Monrovia’s Clara Town district on Sunday to remove two bodies of possible victims of the Ebola virus, four days after they dropped dead there when nobody would take them to hospital.
  • West African leaders agreed on Friday to take stronger measures to try to bring the worst outbreak of Ebola under control and prevent it spreading outside the region, including steps to isolate rural communities ravaged by the disease.



Middle East and Northern Africa




Events and Announcements: August 2, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Call for Papers

  • The Lex Mercatoria Publica Project at the Max Planck Institute in Heidelberg has issued a Call for Papers for a workshop on “The (Comparative) Constitutional Law of Private-Public Arbitration” to be held on 21-22 November 2014. Against the background of a rising number of arbitrations between private economic actors and public law bodies, both on the basis of contracts and investment treaties, the workshop looks at how constitutional laws in a variety of different jurisdiction or regional regimes approach private-public arbitration and ensure that the public interest is safeguarded when public entities agree to arbitrate disputes. The deadline for responding to the Call is 15 September 2014. The full Call is available here.


  • The International Committee of the Red Cross has published its Bibliography: Second Quarter 2014.
  • During the current conflict in the Gaza Strip, ALMA is working to provide a service both to international law people and the general public, and provide a platform for IHL questions and discussions related to the current situation on our Facebook page. We would like to invite the readers of Opinio Juris to join our discussions visiting our page, express their thoughts on the ongoing discussions and send us new questions and thoughts to our facebook page, our twitter account (@ALMA_IHL via #AskIHL) or our email account info [at] alma-ihl [dot] org. We promise to answer any relevant question posted.


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.

Weekend Roundup: July 26-August 1, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, we had some vigorous debate on the legality of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza. Kevin opened the week with the question whether Israel can cut off water and electricity to Gaza, and Janina Dill raised two concerns with the IDF’s practice of using warnings. Julian commented on the Joint Declaration on the Gaza Offensive signed by over 140 international law experts, and Tali Kolesov Har-Oz and Ori Pomson discussed the use of human shields through the lens of international criminal law.

Our Emerging Voices symposium continued with a post by Rosemary Grey on sexual violence as a war crime in the Ntaganda decision. Continuing on this gender theme, Jens Iverson discussed the rights of women in armed conflict. Finally, David Benger argued that the preliminary examinations in Iraq had resulted in a net loss for the ICC’s political capital.

Big arbitration news as well this week with the historic $50bn dollar award against Russia in the Yukos arbitration, and Argentina’s default followed by its threat to sue the United States for its courts’ contribution to the default.

In other posts, Jens Ohlin inquired after the meaning of the common law of war and examined when the combatant’s privilege applies, while Duncan analysed US claims that Russia’s tests of a ground launched missile violated the 1987 INF Treaty.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and I listed events and announcements.

Many thanks to our guest contributors and have a nice weekend!

Guest Post: The Use of Human Shields and International Criminal Law

by Tali Kolesov Har-Oz and Ori Pomson

[Ori Pomson and Tali Kolesov Har-Oz are both teaching assistants and LL.B. candidates at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Law Faculty.] 


The recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas have attracted a great deal of media and public attention. However, while a number of media reports have alluded to the legality vel non of certain actions committed by both sides, they have thus far contained little in-depth legal analysis.

One practice that has attracted significant attention is the purported use of “human shields” by Hamas. This post will present a legal analysis of such practices, and examine the possible implications of that analysis on the current situation in Gaza. Although it would be interesting to examine as well the possible criminal responsibility for statements endorsing or encouraging this conduct, that question will not be examined in the framework of this post.

The Use of Human Shields under International Law

In international humanitarian law (IHL), the term “human shields” concerns “civilians or other protected persons, whose presence or movement is aimed or used to render military targets immune from military operations.” The use of human shields both in international armed conflicts (IACs) and in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) is considered a violation of customary international law (von Leeb, 15 ILR 395, n.1; ICRC, Rule 97). Treaty law directly prohibits such practice in IACs (GCIV 28; API, art. 51(7)) and indirectly in NIACs (e.g., CA 3 with Category ‘C’ Claims, 109 ILR 441).

Post-Second World War tribunals considered the use of human shields – focusing on POWs – to be a war crime (Student, 118-120; von Leeb,15 ILR 395, n.1). This was codified in the Rome Statute, which explicitly prohibits the use of human shields in IACs in art. 8(2)(xxiii), criminalizing utilization of “the presence of a civilian or other protected person to render certain points, areas or military forces immune from military operations.” There lacks such a provision concerning the customary prohibition of the use of human shields in NIACs. Yet, considering the famous Tadić dicta that the dichotomy between IAC and NIAC crimes “should gradually lose its weight” and that “the current trend has been to abolish the distinction and to have simply one corpus of law applicable to all conflicts,” it could be argued that the analysis of Rome Statute’s provision concerning human shields in IACs is relevant to the analysis of the customary prohibition of the use of human shields in NIACs as well.

The specific elements relevant to the definition of the crime of using human shields in the International Criminal Court’s Elements of Crimes document are as follows…

When Does the Combatant’s Privilege Apply?

by Jens David Ohlin

Under any view, the privilege of combatancy is key to the basic architecture of the law of war. It stands at the fault line between domestic criminal law and International Humanitarian Law, between impermissible killing and lawful belligerency. Simply put, the privilege of combatancy transforms, almost magically, what would otherwise be an unlawful act of murder into a lawful killing consistent with jus in bello. How does this transformation happen? However it happens, it is a powerful legal mechanism, and one whose exact contours demand definition and clarity.

The privilege has recently taken center stage in debates about targeted killing, and it featured prominently in the background of the debate over the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, and the associated drone memo drafted by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. In particular, that memo examined the foreign murder statute and concluded that the statute incorporated the standard homicide justifications, including the public authority justification, which arguably includes acts of privileged combatancy consistent with the laws of war.  At issue here is whether CIA officers—who do not wear uniforms or carry arms openly—are eligible for the privilege of combatancy.

For some, the entire discussion of the privilege of combatancy is misplaced because the privilege only applies in international armed conflicts (IAC), and never in non-international armed conflicts (NIAC). Under this well-known view, the concept of “combatant” is an element of the legal structure of IAC, and has no place in NIAC, which includes government forces and rebels.  Allegedly, to talk of privileged or unprivileged combatants in NIAC is to make a category mistake.

In a new draft article I reject this orthodox position, and I conclude that in some situations the privilege of combatancy might apply in NIAC.  In particular, the 19th Century view of the subject was far more complex; scholars believed that NIACs that shared the functional characteristics of international conflicts should be treated in the same manner.  I argue that this sophisticated view carried over into the 20th Century and was preserved in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, though it got misplaced in overly simplistic textbook definitions of the privilege of combatancy.

What about the right of the government to prosecute rebels in a NIAC?  If the privilege applies, such prosecutions would arguably be illegitimate. First, I argue that 19th Century scholars concluded that both sides in such conflicts were moral and legal equivalents, and therefore prosecutions during the war were inadvisable or even impermissible. However, at the conclusion of the conflict, a victorious government was permitted to prosecute defeated rebels for their decision to take up arms against their government. However, the best reading of this rationale is that prosecutions for treason were appropriate because rebels had violated a duty of loyalty to their own government, but prosecutions for murder were inappropriate because they suggested that rebels were not professional soldiers.  What was criminal about a rebel was his or her decision to violate a duty of loyalty to the sovereign.

This suggests to me that the literature has over-simplified the relevant law regarding NIAC and the privilege of combatancy. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. Therefore, it makes sense to ask whether government forces in the armed conflict against al-Qaeda are privileged or not.  Terrorists in general don’t qualify for the privilege because they don’t wear uniforms or carry their arms openly, but in theory one could imagine a non-state actor that meets the functional requirements of belligerency.  Whether government personnel qualify for the privilege is another question entirely.

The standard answer is that CIA personnel involved in drone strikes are not eligible for the privilege because they don’t wear uniforms or carry arms openly – I think this is absolutely correct.  However, I also think there has been insufficient attention paid to uniformed soldiers deployed during covert actions under Title 10. As most readers of OJ know, covert action isn’t simply the purview of the CIA anymore. Military deployments by JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) remain officially unacknowledged for various complex reasons.  In some case the territorial government is unwilling to acknowledge U.S. military presence on their territory and therefore conditions their consent on the covert nature of U.S. conduct. In other cases, a state may wish to proceed covertly, even with uniformed military troops, because they believe their actions might violate jus ad bellum.

I believe that these covert deployments of uniformed military personnel are deeply problematic from the perspective of the privilege of combatancy. Despite what some others have written regarding the Geneva Conventions, I believe that by custom even regular armed forces are required under the law of war to meet the standard criteria for belligerency: a responsible command, uniform or emblem, carrying of open arms, respect for customs of warfare. This point is almost definitional.  These criteria define what it means to be a regular armed force, since almost all armies in the world fulfill these requirements. The point of the Geneva Convention was to extend privileged belligerency to other non-standard militias that are functional equivalents to regular armed forces. This doesn’t mean that regular armed forces are exempt from those requirements; it simply means that regular armed forces are assumed to meet the criteria based on universal custom. It would be very odd to say that a fighting group that meets none of the criteria would be entitled to the privilege just because they are called a regular army.

I make two related arguments in my Article. First, the privilege is collective in nature and attaches to a collective unit that meets the functional requirements of belligerency—the group as a whole must carry arms openly, wearing a fixed emblem or uniform, etc. There is no such thing as a purely individual privileged soldier. In short, the privilege of combatancy is a collective privilege that the political entity asserts on behalf of the individual soldier – a process that is logically impossible if the state denies that it used force in the first place. In order to assert the privilege of combatancy, a state must always acknowledge that the forces were operating on its behalf – precisely what covert action denies.

Second, I’m not sure that covert action is consistent with the requirement of carrying arms openly. Generally, the commentaries discuss that requirement in the context of rifles and grenades and the phrase is given a physical description. I think it requires a more conceptual understanding. Carrying arms openly is related to the requirements of distinction, which means more than just separating civilians from combatants. It also requires separating friendly forces from enemy combatants – a process which is totally obscured when a state refuses to acknowledge the use of force.  I therefore question whether a covert deployment is a form of “open” warfare consistent with the laws of war and the privilege of combatancy.  If this is correct, then for the privilege it doesn’t matter whether drones are deployed by CIA or uniformed personnel – both are unprivileged insofar as the deployment remains unacknowledged.

This departs significantly from the traditional analysis of covert action, and suggests to me that we need more research into how basic principles of jus in bello apply in the covert context.

Emerging Voices: The Preliminary Examinations in Iraq: A Net Loss for the ICC’s Political Capital

by David Benger

[David Benger is the Course Assistant for the Brandeis University in The Hague intensive summer school in International Criminal Law. He may be reached at dabenger [at] gmail [dot] com.]

The International Criminal Court, an ostensibly purely legal organization, is nevertheless plagued by a wide variety of political pressures. For example, the attempt to balance The Court’s relationship with The African Union (widely considered to be deteriorating) and its relationship with the United States (widely considered to be improving) is an important thorn in the side of the Court’s daily operations. This post will examine the re-opening of the preliminary examination of British soldiers in Iraq through the lens of the potential political fallout of that decision. The re-opening of the preliminary examination in Iraq is not a signal of sufficient substance to appease the African anti-ICC lobby. Unless and until there are actual trials of European commanders in The Hague (not likely in the near future), the characterization of the ICC by African leaders as a neo-imperialist Western tool is not likely to dissipate based on a mere preliminary examination. With regard to the United States, however, the impact of this decision will almost certainly resonate. Though many observers of the USA-ICC relationship subscribe to the narrative of a steadily improving rapport between the two, this post will argue that this is not quite the case. In fact, the relationship between the Court and the USA is in a decidedly precarious position, and the re-opened Iraq investigation may have a decisive and damning impact on America’s potential support for The Court.

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Joint Declaration Charging Legal Violations in Israel’s Gaza Offensive

by Julian Ku

A group of international law and criminal law scholars have issued a joint declaration denouncing Israel’s Gaza offensive for causing “grave violations…of the most basic principles of the laws of armed conflict and of the fundamental rights of the entire Palestinian population.” It is the latest front in the public debate over legal violations arising out of the Gaza conflict, some of which we have noted here at Opinio Juris (the legality of denying electricity to Gaza and the legal effect of Israeli warnings to civilians).Personally, I don’t think there is enough evidence in UN and media reports to support the Joint Declaration’s main claim: that Israel is intentionally trying to target, terrorize, and collectively punish the civilian population of Gaza. Rather, my view is that Israel is conducting an aggressive military operation which is resulting in civilian deaths, and that those deaths may or may not be legal violations of the law of armed conflict (it is hard to say based on media reports at this time).   But I am not convinced (as the Joint Declaration seems to allege) that killing civilians is actually the basic intention and goal of the Israeli government.

Still, the Gaza conflict has plainly drawn the attention of the global community of international and criminal law scholars. I think these kinds of statements will have, and are already having, an impact on world opinion and the Israeli government. So it is worth taking a look.