Archive for
September, 2014

To Debate or Not to Debate in a Time of War

by Kristen Boon

John Stewart’s Sept. 29 clip “Cameron – What are you Doing?” is a must see on comparative constitutional law.   Stewart contrasts the fulsome and spirited debate in the UK on whether to authorize airstrikes against ISIL, with the absence of congressional action in the US.   Well worth watching. And quite funny.   Here is the show.



Ground Troops & the Myth of Air Power

by Jens David Ohlin

House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview on Sunday that ground troops may be necessary in order to stop the threat of ISIS. Although his comments were interwoven with lots of unnecessary talk of ISIS being barbarians, which I don’t think is terribly helpful, I do agree with his bottom-line assessment: air power and proxy ground troops won’t be enough to win this war.

This points to a frequent mistake. Politicians think they can eliminate the cost of going to war by conducting an air war. That may work in some situations, but they are a distinct minority. The NATO bombing campaign against Serbia (led by General Clark) was frustratingly slow and borderline ineffective without the introduction of ground troops to make a real difference on the ground.

Air power is effective in some situations, especially when combined with a select number of well-trained, well-equipped, and highly motivated infantry on the ground. Air power might also be appropriate to punish an international wrongdoer and deter them from violating international law in the future, in very isolated ways.

In isolation, air power cannot win a war that is designed to deprive an enemy of governmental control over a territory. An enemy facing only air power can hunker down and wait out the air assault especially when, as in this case, the President at first announced that ground troops were off the table. Obama smartly reversed course and is now issuing more ambiguous statements so as not to motivate ISIS forces to wait out the air assault (which cannot go on forever).

True, grounds troops are not entirely absent from this conflict. It is just that they are from Iraq, Turkey, and the moderate Syrian opposition. But the Iraqi Army is incredibly weak at the moment and there is little incentive for troops to show up to fight. The Syrian opposition is also disorganized. And no amount of money and weapons is going to fix that.

Boehner is right that ground troops are necessary if the US is serious about defeating ISIS. But if that happens, I don’t think the Obama Administration will be able to hang on to the fiction that the intervention is covered by the 9/11 AUMF. A new authorization, and political buy-in from Congress, will be required.


Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 29, 2014

by An Hertogen

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


Middle East and Northern Africa


  •  Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai will be sworn in as the new President of Afghanistan later today.
  • Protestors in Hong Kong refuse to withdraw and the use of tear gas by the authorities has created new protests to spring up against Beijing’s new rules imposing strict controls on candidate selection for the next elections.




The Invention of the Khorasan Group and Non-Imminent Imminence

by Kevin Jon Heller

I will be back blogging regularly soon, but I want to call readers’ attention to a phenomenal new article at the Intercept by Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain about how the US government has cynically manipulated public fears of terrorism in order to justify its bombing campaign in Syria. Recall that Samantha Power — the UN Ambassador formerly known as a progressive — invoked the scary spectre of the Khorasan Group in her letter to the Security Council concerning the US’s supposed right to bomb terrorists in Syria in “self-defence.” As it turns out, not only is there literally no evidence that the Khorasan Group intends to launch an imminent attack on US interests — unless “imminent” is defined as “sometime before the Rapture” — there is also very little evidence that the Khorasan Group actually exists in a form that could threaten the US. Here is a snippet from the article on the latter point:

Even more remarkable, it turns out the very existence of an actual “Khorasan Group” was to some degree an invention of the American government. NBC’s Engel, the day after he reported on the U.S. Government’s claims about the group for Nightly News, seemed to have serious second thoughts about the group’s existence, tweeting “Syrian activists telling us they’ve never heard of Khorosan or its leader.”

Indeed, a NEXIS search for the group found almost no mentions of its name prior to the September 13 AP article based on anonymous officials. There was one oblique reference to it in a July 31 CNN op-ed by Peter Bergen. The other mention was an article in the LA Times from two weeks earlier about Pakistan which mentioned the group’s name as something quite different than how it’s being used now: as “the intelligence wing of the powerful Pakistani Taliban faction led by Hafiz Gul Bahadur.” Tim Shorrock noted that the name appears in a 2011 hacked Stratfor email published by WikiLeaks, referencing a Dawn article that depicts them as a Pakistan-based group which was fighting against and “expelled by” (not “led by”) Bahadur.

There are serious questions about whether the Khorasan Group even exists in any meaningful or identifiable manner. Aki Peritz, a CIA counterterrorism official until 2009, told Time: “I’d certainly never heard of this group while working at the agency,” while Obama’s former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford said: ”We used the term [Khorasan] inside the government, we don’t know where it came from…. All I know is that they don’t call themselves that.”

I don’t know for a fact that the Khorasan Group doesn’t exist. But it is profoundly troubling that the Obama administration has provided no evidence that it does — especially given that its case for the international legality of bombing Syria is based so heavily on the supposed threat the Khorasan Group poses to the “homeland.”

And let’s not forget that the Obama administration is doing everything it can to denude the concept of “self-defence” of all meaning. Here is the Intercept article on the “imminent” threat posed to the US by the maybe-existing Khorasan Group:

One senior American official on Wednesday described the Khorasan plotting as “aspirational” and said that there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works.

Literally within a matter of days, we went from “perhaps in its final stages of planning its attack” (CNN) to “plotting as ‘aspirational’” and “there did not yet seem to be a concrete plan in the works” (NYT).

Late last week, Associated Press’ Ken Dilanian – the first to unveil the new Khorasan Product in mid-September – published a new story explaining that just days after bombing “Khorasan” targets in Syria, high-ranking U.S. officials seemingly backed off all their previous claims of an “imminent” threat from the group. Headlined “U.S. Officials Offer More Nuanced Take on Khorasan Threat,” it noted that “several U.S. officials told reporters this week that the group was in the final stages of planning an attack on the West, leaving the impression that such an attack was about to happen.” But now:

Senior U.S. officials offered a more nuanced picture Thursday of the threat they believe is posed by an al-Qaida cell in Syria targeted in military strikes this week, even as they defended the decision to attack the militants.

James Comey, the FBI director, and Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, each acknowledged that the U.S. did not have precise intelligence about where or when the cell, known as the Khorasan Group, would attempt to strike a Western target. . . .

Kirby, briefing reporters at the Pentagon, said, “I don’t know that we can pin that down to a day or month or week or six months….We can have this debate about whether it was valid to hit them or not, or whether it was too soon or too late… We hit them. And I don’t think we need to throw up a dossier here to prove that these are bad dudes.”

Regarding claims that an attack was “imminent,” Comey said: “I don’t know exactly what that word means… ‘imminent’” — a rather consequential admission given that said imminence was used as the justification for launching military action in the first place.

According to the Obama administration, in short, the US is entitled to act in self-defence against “bad dudes” no matter when — or even if — those “bad dudes” might launch an armed attack against the US. This isn’t even the Bush administration’s “anticipatory self-defence.” This is, for lack of a better expression, “hypothetical self-defence.” Apparently, the US government believes it is entitled to use force against a non-state actor anywhere in the world as long as it can imagine a future state of affairs in which that actor would attack it.

The mind — and international law — reels.

Guest Post: ‘New Battlefields, Old Laws’ – Debate on the Future of the 2001 AUMF

by Myriam Feinberg

[Myriam Feinberg is a Post-Doctoral Fellow of the GlobalTrust Project, Tel Aviv University (as of October 1, 2014)]

As part of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism’s 14th Annual World Summit on Counter-Terrorism, a workshop was jointly organised by the ICT and the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism of Syracuse University (INSCT), as part of the project ‘New Battlefields, Old Laws.’ Started in 2006 to adapt our understanding of laws of war, the NBOL Project brings together scholars and experts who aim to address the challenges for the future of armed conflict.

This year’s NBOL workshop dealt with the way we adapt to new threats and expanding battlefields in counterterrorism and culminated in an Oxford Union style debate on the future of the 2001 AUMF. A video of the debate can be found here.

The debate could not have been timelier as the blogosphere is abuzz following President Obama’s speech on the United States’ ‘Strategy to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)’ delivered on the eve of the thirteenth anniversary of the attacks of 11 September 2001. In his speech, the President authorised further air strikes against ISIL militants in Iraq and appeared to authorise air strikes in Syria.   He stated that he secured bipartisan support and welcomed further congressional action, yet also made clear that he did not need further authorisation from Congress to launch the strike. Other official statements made clear that the administration was relying on the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, which authorized the use of force against those responsible for the September 11, 2001, as a justification for striking ISIL. This comes despite a national security address at the US Military Academy in May 2013, when Obama said he wanted to repeal the 2001 AUMF.

At the NBOL workshop, Professor Nathan A. Sales of Syracuse University College of Law and Professor Jennifer Daskal of American University Washington College of Law debated the following motion: ‘This House believes that the 2001 AUMF should be amended to authorize force against future terrorist threats’.

Continue Reading…

Events and Announcements: September 28, 2014

by An Hertogen

Calls for Papers

  • The British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) is making a worldwide Call for Papers on British Influences on International Law 1915-2015. The Institute is publishing a series of books to commemorate the centenary of the establishment in London of the Grotius Society (a forerunner of BIICL) in 1915. One of these books is on British Influences on International Law in the period from 1915 until today. They invite anyone who has an interest in writing a chapter on an aspect of this topic to submit an abstract for consideration. This invitation extends to established academics, early career researchers, doctoral researchers, those with experience in government and other practice, and anyone else with relevant expertise, whether based in the UK or elsewhere. The authors of the selected papers may be chosen for presentation as part of a seminar series which is likely to be held in the first half of 2015. For further information, please visit their website or contact the project co-ordinator Dr Jean-Pierre Gauci on j [dot] gauci [at] biicl [dot] org.
  • The Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) invites submissions to its Working Paper Series. The series provides for the rapid dissemination of preliminary research results and other work in progress, reflecting cross and inter-disciplinary interests within refugee law and policy, broadly defined. Recent papers have considered integration, detention and smuggling of asylum-seekers, gender-related asylum claims and long-term encampment. RLI Working Papers are prominently displayed on the RLI website as a resource for scholars and practitioners worldwide. Papers must be based on original research, conform to the usual standard of academic publishing, be fully referenced and presented in the standard technical format employed by the series. Papers will be evaluated based on their contemporary relevance, contribution to the field, structure and analytical rigour (submission guide). Papers published in the series may subsequently be published in journals or books provided that an acknowledgement is given to the RLI Working Paper Series. Submissions are considered on a rolling basis. For further information, and to submit a paper please contact the Editor-in-Chief, Dr. Ruvi Ziegler, at r [dot] ziegler [at] reading [dot] ac [dot] uk or ruvi [dot] ziegler [at] law [dot] ox [dot] ac [dot] uk.
  • The Chinese (Taiwan) Society of International Law will hold the ILA-ASIL Asia-Pacific Research Forum on May 25-26, 2015 in Taipei, Taiwan. The theme of the Research Forum is “Integrating the Asia-Pacific: Why International Law Matters?” Paper proposals should be submitted by January 20, 2015 to ila [at] nccu [dot] edu [dot] tw. The call for papers is available online. Other inquiries can be directed to Pasha Hsieh, co-chair of the Research Forum (pashahsieh [at] smu [dot] edu [dot] sg)


  • Hart Publishing is delighted to announce that the first issue, published in August, of the Journal on the Use of Force and International Law (JUFIL) is now available online. Please click here for the table of contents. JUFIL is the first peer-reviewed journal covering all aspects of the law governing the use of force (jus ad bellum), as distinct from other areas of international law relating to security issues, such as International Humanitarian Law or International Criminal Law. From the first issue, Hart Publishing is pleased to make the article by Claus Kreß Major Post-Westphalian Shifts and Some Important Neo-Westphalian Hesitations in the State Practice on the International Law on the Use of Force free to view online. To access this article please click on this link and follow the instructions shown (the introduction is also shown on the PDF download). For subscription rates and details on how to subscribe please click 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: September 20-26, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, JensJennifer Trahan and Julian discussed the international legal basis for the air strikes against ISIS. Jens also analysed why Khorasan is seen as a more immediate threat to the US than ISIS. For more on the US domestic legal basis, check out Deborah’s post with a snippet from her Daily Beast article on the perennial US War Powers fight.

A guest post by Anton Moiseienko gave some insights in Russian scholarship on the legality of Crimea’s annexation under international law.

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: What do Russian Lawyers Say about Crimea?

by Anton Moiseienko

[Anton Moiseienko received his LL.M. from the University of Cambridge and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Queen Mary, University of London. All translations from Russian in this piece are his own. He is a citizen of Ukraine.]

Few people with any background in international law would doubt that Russia’s annexation of Crimea raises serious questions of compliance with international law. This has certainly been the position of contributors to Opinio Juris, for instance of Kristin Hausler and Robert McCorquodale, Rhodri Williams, and Chris Borgen. Elsewhere, Anne Peters has written a thoughtful article about Crimea’s secession.

One would expect the annexation of Crimea to spark equally lively discussions among Russian experts in international law, as well as prompt them to voice their views before foreign audiences. Importantly, in accordance with Article 15(4) of the Russian Constitution both “universally recognized norms of international law and international treaties” prevail over domestic laws. Thus, the validity of Crimea’s absorption by Russia under international law ought to be of immediate practical concern to Russian lawyers.

However, so far Russian academics and practitioners have largely remained in the shade, at least on the international arena, while Russian state officials felt free to interpret international law up to the point of redesigning it. Yet – what do we know about Russian lawyers’ attitudes to the annexation of Crimea?

One of the rare English-language documents produced by Russian experts in international law is a June 2014 appeal to the ILA by the President of the Russian Association of International Law, Prof. Anatoliy Kapustin. Before that, in April 2014 the same Association held a conference on the international law aspects of Crimea’s integration into Russia together with the Russian Academy of Diplomacy (in Russian). This event, which brought together senior Russian academics and diplomats, reflects the very close connections between the international law profession and the state apparatus that exist in Russia. Taken together, Prof. Kapustin’s letter and the April 2014 conference seem to espouse the views of Russia’s international law elite on Crimea.

Two main issues occupied the minds of Russian lawyers. First, they mused over the deep “historical connections” between Crimea and Russia. Second, they condemned the “cruel lawlessness” and persecution of Russians by the “Kiev regime” (which fits uneasily with the UN Human Rights Commissioner’s observations on human rights abuse in Crimea and separatist-controlled areas). These two basic claims, strongly reminiscent of the official Russian rhetoric and never questioned, were then framed as various legal and quasi-legal arguments.

Interestingly, both Prof. Kapustin and the conference participants went beyond relying on Kosovo. For instance, Prof. Stanislav Chernichenko referred to the restoration of Russia’s “historic rights” rather than to Crimea’s self-determination (although he did not discard the latter either). Indeed, he noted that Russia’s reliance on Kosovo’s precedent was inconsistent with Russia’s own position on Kosovo. Instead, he drew attention to India’s annexation of Goa in 1961 and the USSR’s annexation of South Sakhalin in the aftermath of World War II. Prof. Kapustin went farther back in history and referred in his letter to Northern Schleswig’s 1920 plebiscites for reunion with Denmark.

The annexation of Crimea, however, defies comparison with either India’s decolonization or territorial reconfigurations brought about by the World War II, let alone the Schleswig plebiscites conducted some 25 years before the UN Charter. In recognition of that, Prof. Chernichenko and his colleagues fell back on the alleged transgressions of the “Kiev regime”. Whereas in other circumstances Russia could attempt to remedy the “historic injustice” of Crimea’s separation by negotiations with Kiev, they claim that the “reunion” with Russia was the only viable option in the circumstances.

Dr. Elena Konnova, a guest participant from Belarus, questioned whether either the 1954 transfer of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine within the USSR or arrangements made after Ukraine’s independence in 1991 were incompatible with the jus cogens rule of self-determination. If yes, then in her opinion, international recognition of Ukraine’s borders could not remedy that defect. While a sensible attempt to rationalize her Russian colleagues’ sentiments, I wonder how far this argument would bring them. First, it is not obvious that self-determination of the Crimea’s “nation” (if at all existent) would require Russia and Ukraine to permit them to choose their new homeland upon the breakdown of the USSR, as opposed to granting Crimea autonomy within Ukraine. Second, one might think that allowing past violations of jus cogens to subvert modern borders would be destructive and would potentially nullify the restrictive approach of international law to remedial secession.

Some scholars attempted to assess the validity of the 2014 Crimea’s referendum under Ukrainian constitutional law. For example, Prof. Oleg Khlestov – an experienced diplomat who headed the Soviet delegation at the negotiations leading to the VCLT 1969 – suggested that the Constitution of Ukraine “was not in force” at the time of the referendum because of the “coup d’etat” in Kiev.

In his turn, Prof. Georgiy Velyaminov tried to “drop” from the Ukrainian Constitution Article 73 that only allows territorial changes to be approved by a statewide referendum: he thought it was inconsistent with the right to self-determination under international law and therefore invalid. Even if that inconsistency existed, such “rectification” of Ukraine’s Constitution is flawed. Ukraine is a dualist state and, pursuant to Article 9 of Ukraine’s Constitution, the Constitution prevails over any rules contained in international treaties that Ukraine may ratify.

With regard to international law, several participants of the April 2014 conference grappled with the issue of whether Crimea’s population is a “nation” for the purposes of the right to self-determination. In their view, the predominantly Russian population of the peninsula ought to qualify as a separate “nation”. As to the requirements for remedial secession, naturally they argued that no internal self-determination was possible for the residents of Crimea in “pro-fascist” Ukraine.

Apart from the more formal statements or events such as those described previously, some Russian lawyers chose to express their private opinions on Crimea in the Internet or in print. Grigoriy Vaypan (PhD Candidate at Moscow State University) wrote a piece for the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law’s blog about the “highly doubtful” validity of Ukraine’s ousted ex-President’s invitation for Russia to invade Crimea before the referendum.

Yet other lawyers prefer Russian-language media and apparently address their concerns to domestic lay audience. Private practitioners Marat Davletbaev and Maria Isaeva regret (in Russian) the “archaic language of Russian diplomacy”:

“In Crimea’s case, Russia – regardless of whether it is right or wrong – communicates with the world in a hopelessly archaic language, as if it were unaware either of the criteria for establishing aggression, or of the serious tensions between the right to self-determination guaranteed by the UN Charter and territorial integrity, or of the rules on non-interference with internal affairs of states, or of the basic requirements for application of the R2P (responsibility to protect) doctrine, or of the definition of “annexation”.

This contrasts with the views of senior academics. Thus, Prof. Ivan Kotlyarov of the Academy of Internal Affairs is another proponent (in Russian) of the “imagine a fascist regime in Ukraine” approach to international law. He somewhat enigmatically argues that the right to self-determination is being denied to citizens of Ukraine (apparently by the government of Ukraine) and that a “genocide” is being perpetrated against the population of the Eastern Ukraine. Ria Novosti, a Russian news agency, quotes (in Russian) Prof. Tatyana Neshataeva of the Academy of Justice claiming that the right to self-determination trumps territorial integrity and, therefore, Crimea’s integration into Russia is lawful.

In conclusion, it would also be fair to note that any criticism of Russia’s annexation of Crimea largely remains a marginal idea in Russian legal media. For example, a well-known website omits any references whatsoever to potential unlawfulness of the annexation when reporting legal developments in Crimea, e.g. introduction of Russian legislation and judicial reforms (both in Russian). As mentioned previously, this is particularly surprising in view of Article 15(4) of the Russian Constitution.

Does the Collective Self-Defense Justification Extend to Khorasan? If Not, Then Is There One?

by Julian Ku

I agree with Jens’ excellent post on the importance of the “unwilling or unable” standard to the US justification for legal strikes on non-state actors in Syria.  I agree this action may reveal state practice supporting (or rejecting) this legal justification.  I am curious whether the UK, France, or other states that may be participating in Syria strikes will embrace this theory. (I already know the Russians have roundly rejected this US justification). I also wonder whether this legal justification will weaken, as a policy matter, the ability of the US to effectively attack ISIS.

I do have one additional observation. Tacked on, almost as an afterthought, Ambassador Power’s letter notes that:

In addition, the United States has initiated military actions against al-Qaida elements in Syria known as the Khorasan Group to address terrorist threats that they pose to the United States and our partners and allies.”

The vague wording of the letter about Khorasan (threats to “the United States and our partners and allies”) as compared to the pretty specific language about ISIS’s attacks on Iraq  (“ to end the continuing attacks on Iraq, to protect Iraqi citizens, “) suggests that Khorasan is not currently engaged in armed attacks on Iraq.  This means that the U.S. is making a much broader international law claim than for its attacks on ISIS.  The U.S. is attacking Khorasan because, like Al Qaeda, it is a terrorist threat to the U.S. itself.  But no actual armed attacks have yet occurred (as far as I know).

It is therefore worth noting whether more  states object to the attacks on Khorasan than on ISIS, because the Khorasan attacks have a weaker international legal justification. My guess is that objecting states like Russia will not bother distinguishing between the two. But it will be interesting to see whether US allies will refuse to join strikes on Khorasan, even if they are willing to strike ISIS in Syria.

The Unwilling or Unable Doctrine Comes to Life

by Jens David Ohlin

Today the U.S. launched airstrikes against ISIS and other extremist groups within Syrian territory. In the past, airstrikes were limited to Iraqi territory, which came with the consent of the Iraq government (and were thus legally uncontroversial from the perspective of jus ad bellum). Today’s airstrikes require a sophisticated legal argument to explain the intrusion on Syria’s territorial sovereignty. Samantha Power’s letter to the United Nations indicates that the Obama administration is relying on a combination of Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and the “unwilling or unable” standard:

September 23, 2014


In Iraq’s letter to the United Nations Security Council of September 20, 2014, and other statements made by Iraq, including its letter to the United Nations Security Council of June 25, 2014, Iraq has made clear that it is facing a serious threat of continuing attacks from ISIL coming out of safe havens in Syria. These safe havens are used by ISIL for training, planning, financing, and carrying out attacks across Iraqi borders and against Iraq’s people. For these reasons, the Government of Iraq has asked that the United States lead international efforts to strike ISIL sites and military strongholds in Syria in order to end the continuing attacks on Iraq, to protect Iraqi citizens, and ultimately to enable and arm Iraqi forces to perform their task of regaining control of the Iraqi borders.

ISIL and other terrorist groups in Syria are a threat not only to Iraq, but also to many other counties, including the United States and our partners in the region and beyond. States must be able to defend themselves, in accordance with the inherent right of individual and collective self-defense, as reflected in Article 51 if the UN Charter, when, as is the case here, the government of the State where the threat is located is unwilling or unable to prevent the use of its territory for such attacks. The Syrian regime has shown that it cannot and will not confront these safe-havens effectively itself. Accordingly, the United States has initiated necessary and proportionate military actions in Syria in order to eliminate the ongoing ISIL threat to Iraq, including by protecting Iraqi citizens from further attacks and by enabling Iraqi forces to regain control of Iraq’s borders. In addition, the United States has initiated military actions against al-Qaida elements in Syria known as the Khorasan Group to address terrorist threats that they pose to the United States and our partners and allies.

I request that you circulate this letter as a document of the Security Council.

Samantha J. Power

His Excellency
Mr. Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations
New York, NY

So the structure of the argument goes as follows. The right of response is originally Iraqi, and the U.S. right of intervention is parasitic upon the Iraqi claim. Iraq has been attacked by ISIS, thus triggering Iraq’s right of self-defense against ISIS. Furthermore, since Syria is apparently unable to adequately respond to the ISIS threat and prevent its forces from using Syria as a base of operations to launch attacks against Iraq, then Iraq is entitled to use military force against ISIS installations and forces in Syria, even without the consent of the Syrian government or authorization from the Security Council. In other words, this falls under the inherent right of self-defense that is carved out by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter as an exception to the general prohibition on the use of force contained in article 2 of the U.N. Charter. The U.S. is intervening militarily to vindicate Iraq’s self-defense interest as a case of individual or collective self-defense.

A few observations here:

First, this was a predictable development. I don’t see another avenue for the U.S. to legally defend the intervention, unless it wanted to rely on the even more controversial RTP doctrine, which isn’t terribly relevant here. Nor was a Security Council resolution possible (given Russian and Chinese positions on Syria).

Second, it will solidify the growing interpretation of the customary international law on self-defense as applying to attacks by non-state actors. I view this position as absolutely correct, pace the International Court of Justice and its unsupported statement that the Article 51 right of self-defense only applies to attacks by states (which is nowhere mentioned in Article 51 anyway). In addition to the Security Council resolution after the 9/11 attacks, the world community’s reaction to the armed conflict against ISIS will be highly relevant for crystallizing the correct interpretation of self-defense as applying to attacks from state and non-state actors alike.

Third, the world reaction to the conflict against ISIS in Syria will help resolve the uncertain status of the unwilling or unable standard for force against non-state actors in third-party territory. Although the status of the doctrine has in the past been in doubt, international law is very much an evolving creature, and years from now the present conflict will no doubt be an important exhibit in that debate. In other words, even if “unwilling or unable” is not the current state of the law, it may well be very soon on account of the present conflict, the U.S. legal justification for it, and the world’ community’s reaction to same.


Guest Post: Pesky Questions of International Law: What’s the basis for air strikes in Syria?

by Jennifer Trahan

[Jennifer Trahan is an Associate Clinical Professor of Global Affairs at NYU-SPS.]

President Obama’s speech on September 10th raised many legal issues, including, whether there needs to be added Congressional authorization for the use of force, or one can utilize the pre-existing Authorization for the Use of Military Force (“AUMF”) that Congress granted after 9/11 (see Deborah Pearlstein’s post and Peter Spiro’s).  But his speech also raised profound questions at a second level – that of public international law (touched upon by Kevin Jon Heller).

This may not seize the attention of the American public, but surely coalition partners would ask these questions:  what was Obama’s basis for the legality of air strikes in Syria?

It is somewhat troubling that President Obama took the step of supporting air strikes in Syria, without articulating any clear legal foundation at the international level.  Just to be clear, the issue of air strikes in Iraq against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (“ISIS”) does not raise similar questions, as Iraq had earlier consented to the use of force.

There are a number of possible legal rationales for air strikes in Syria, but the U.S. needs to make the case under one of these grounds.  Such a legal foundation was not well-articulated in President Obama’s speech.  Continue Reading…

ISIS versus Khorasan

by Jens David Ohlin

The United States continues to launch airstrikes against ISIS. Not only is it unclear if the airstrikes are working to dislodge ISIS from its territory, but recent press reports suggest that ISIS is not even the most important threat facing U.S. interests.

The New York Times quotes Director of National Intelligence James Clapper as saying that the militant group Khorasan poses as much threat to the United States as ISIS:

Some American officials and national security experts said the intense focus on the Islamic State had distorted the picture of the terrorism threat that has emerged from the chaos of Syria’s civil war, and that the more immediate threats still come from traditional terror groups like Khorasan and the Nusra Front, which is Al Qaeda’s designated affiliate in Syria.

Mr. Fadhli, 33, has been tracked by American intelligence agencies for at least a decade. According to the State Department, before Mr. Fadhli arrived in Syria, he had been living in Iran as part of a small group of Qaeda operatives who had fled to the country from Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks. Iran’s government said the group was living under house arrest, but the exact circumstances of the Qaeda operatives were disputed for years, and many members of the group ultimately left Iran for Pakistan, Syria and other countries.

In 2012, the State Department identified Mr. Fadhli as Al Qaeda’s leader in Iran, directing “the movement of funds and operatives” through the country. A $7 million reward was offered for information leading to his capture. The same State Department release said he was working with wealthy “jihadist donors” in Kuwait, his native country, to raise money for Qaeda-allied rebels in Syria.

The argument for this assessment, I suppose, is that while ISIS controls a large swath of territory in Iraq and Syria, their ambitions are currently focused on territorial expansion and local control. Although they have foreign fighters with foreign passports (and thus easy access to foreign territories), they have so far demonstrated little interest in launching terror attacks in the United States. Of course, that might change in the future once ISIS consolidates control over its territory, but for now it is an accurate statement of the current state of affairs.

In contrast, Khorasan is reportedly more focused on traditional terrorist goals: launching attacks against western countries. The group is led by a former Osama Bin Laden associate named Muhsin al-Fadhli. He was allegedly responsible for, among other things, the bombing of a French oil tanker, MV Limburg, in 2002. (A military commission recently dropped charges against defendant al-Nashiri in connection with that bombing, holding that the government had introduced no evidence to show that the MV Limburg bombing was perpetrated in connection with the armed conflict against al-Qaeda, a necessary predicate for the commission to exercise jurisdiction over the case.)

Americans often ignore the internal disputes between these various organizations, producing a vastly oversimplified portrait of the local political situation. In addition to ISIS and Khorasan, each with different agents, al-Qaeda has its own syndicate in the region, the Nusra Front, which is fighting for control over Syria against both ISIS and the government regime of President Assad. One point that the Times article makes is that the U.S. military intervention against ISIS might end up helping the Nusra Front. After the US degrades the military capabilities of ISIS, the Nusra Front might consolidate its control of the anti-Assad faction and inherit any opportunistic fighters now working for ISIS. The only way to prevent this from happening is to make sure that the moderate opposition is poised to “fill the vacuum” once ISIS is weakened. However, I’m not terribly optimistic that the US can ensure that their assistance to the moderate opposition ends up in the right hands. We have enough trouble controlling government bureaucracy in our own country; doing it in war-torn Syria seems near impossible.

As for Khorasan and its relative threat-level versus ISIS, only time will tell which group is most interested in launching terror attacks in the West. Al-Fadhli’s association with Bin Laden and his alleged participation in previous terror attacks suggests that Khorasan, and the threat it represents, should be taken seriously. The fact that it does not carry the “al-Qaeda” moniker should not confuse anyone regarding the threat that it represents.

All of this suggests that US policy might be too reactive. The Obama administration only put the ISIS threat on the front burner after the beheadings generated mass outrage. The method it selected to fight ISIS (airstrikes) does not appear to be working, and ISIS continues to gain territory and execute prisoners. On top of that, greater dangers lurk in the extremist groups that have been pushed off the front pages by recent events.

On the Perennial U.S. War Powers Fight

by Deborah Pearlstein

For readers interested in the domestic U.S. law and history of how the U.S. government authorizes the use of force abroad, I had a little piece this weekend over at Daily Beast summarizing the state of play. Among other things, it laments not only the executive practice of not going to Congress as often as it should, but also the gradual loss of other checks on the war power the Constitution’s drafters expected would operate. Here’s a snippet.

The framers reasons for requiring congressional assent for engagements beyond [self defense] reflected their belief that war was “the greatest of national calamities” and should therefore require the agreement of more—not fewer—members of government. More, it was motivated by a commitment to political accountability in a democracy. Rejecting the British “new model” army of Oliver Cromwell and its associated tradition of tyranny and oppression, the framers thought our armed forces should be manned by the citizen-soldier, one incapable of being turned to oppress The People of which he was part. The People themselves would be called up to fight. The Constitution would require Congress publicly to authorize military expenditures “in the face of their constituents” every two years. And only Congress could vote to take the country into war. War would and should be impossible in a free society without The People and their representatives’ consent. Fast forward two centuries, and all these checks have long since ceased to function. The citizen-soldier gave way to national conscription, which in turn gave way to today’s all-volunteer force. The requirement that Congress publicly authorize all military funding has been weakened by today’s vast reliance on private contractors, making it easier for legislators to shield huge swaths of military-related spending from public view by lodging them in less visible appropriations for other departments…. Madison assumed individuals in power would be ambitious, would want to assert their views, and would want to use their power to affect change. Ambition in Congress would counteract ambition in the Executive, and the daily struggle would help keep all the branches in check. But ours has become a Congress lacking all ambition, preferring to hide in the shadows of presidents whose own political courage sometimes fails. Together, they have helped make it ever more possible for the American people to neither feel nor bear the costs of war.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 22, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

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


Middle East and Northern Africa


  • An American recently sentenced to six years hard labor by a North Korean court pretended to have secret U.S. information and was deliberately arrested in a bid to become famous and meet U.S. missionary Kenneth Bae in a North Korean prison, state media said on Saturday. 



  • The United States will not stand in the way of Venezuela securing a temporary seat on the U.N. Security Council in 2015-16 after Latin American and Caribbean states unanimously endorsed its bid, U.N. diplomats and U.S. sources say. 



Events and Announcements: September 21, 2014

by An Hertogen

  • The Junior International Law Scholars Association (JILSA) is holding its annual meeting on Friday, January 23, 2015, at the University of Miami School of Law.  JILSA is an informal network of junior scholars at mostly American law schools who get together annually for a self-funded workshop.  Junior faculty and fellows interested in presenting at the meeting should email proposals to MJ Durkee and Jean Galbraith by Friday, October 10.  If you are interested in presenting a working draft, please send us the title, an abstract, and an indication of how far along the paper is.  Because of the nature of the workshop, we can only include working drafts that have not yet been accepted for publication.  We also workshop early stage projects.  If you are interested in presenting on an early stage project, please let us know the working title and a few lines about the idea you are pursuing.  Finally, if you are interested in being a discussant, please let us know.  We will do our best to get back to everyone in November, and, for those whose working drafts are accepted for the conference, we will expect the authors to provide the drafts a few weeks before the conference.
  • The Human Rights Essay Award Competition sponsored by the Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law seeks to stimulate the production of scholarly work in international human rights law. Awardees receive a full scholarship to attend the 2015 Program of Advanced Studies in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Washington D.C. This year’s topic is “Transitional Justice, International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law” and the deadline to submit is February 1, 2015. Participants have the flexibility to choose any subject related to the assigned topic. The best articles may be published in the American University International Law Review. For detailed guidelines about the award please visit the website or e-mail the Academy.

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: September 20, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, we hosted an insta-symposium on the Scottish Independence Referendum. David Scheffer surveyed the legal terrain in case of a yes vote, Stephen Tierney discussed how Scotland’s move to independence would be characterised under international law, Milena Sterio argued that international law could develop a norm containing a positive right to secession under certain circumstances, Jure Vidmar looked at Scotland’s position in the EU, Tim Sparks took a long view, and Christopher Connolly discussed the phrasing of the referendum question. Finally, Chris asked whether there will be a Scottish precedent.

In other guest posts, Eliav Lieblich updated us on recent developments in an Israeli case reviving international prize law, Leila Nadya Sadat and Douglas J. Pivnichny wrote about recent steps towards a comprehensive treaty on crimes against humanity, Yanying Li alerted us to a UNGA resolution on a multilateral framework for sovereign debt restructuring, and Michael W. Lewis responded to Kevin’s critique last week of his post on the nature of self-defense.

In other posts by our regular contributors, Kevin criticized the University of Sydney for restricting academic freedom after it “un-invited” Sri Lankan NGOs from an international conference on the enforcement of human rights in the Asia-Pacific. Peter asked if ISIL fighters can be stripped of their passports, and remarked that the AUMF basis for an ISIL intervention looks likely to stick. More on ISIL came from Jens who discussed the issue of ransom and material support for terrorism. Finally, Kristen explained why the Security Council’s decision to take up the issue of Ebola is significant.

As always, Jessica wrapped up the news and listed events and announcements. Duncan also updated us on the new Executive Director of ASIL.

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

Ransom and Material Support

by Jens David Ohlin

The Foley family is furious that the US government did little to help them rescue their son, James Foley, from ISIS terrorists. In a recent New York Times article, the Foley family expresses frustration that European countries were quietly negotiating to pay ransoms for their nationals, while the US steadfastly refused to do so. As foreign nationals were gradually released for payments, detainees from the UK and the US remained behind because these two countries refuse to pay ransoms to terrorists. The Foleys figured this out late in the game and attempted a last-minute fundraising campaign to generate funds, but the effort came too late. They were also told by FBI agents that they could be prosecuted for paying a ransom to ISIS in exchange for their son.

I want to analyze in greater detail the claim that paying a ransom to ISIS could constitute a crime. I’m not aware of a specific federal statute banning the paying of ransoms to terrorist organizations. (If readers are aware of such a statute, please let me know in the comments section). Rather, I’m assuming that the FBI claim is based on the application of the material support provision of the federal code (18 U.S. § 2339B) which provides:

(a) Prohibited Activities.—

(1) Unlawful conduct.— Whoever knowingly provides material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization, or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 15 years, or both, and, if the death of any person results, shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life. To violate this paragraph, a person must have knowledge that the organization is a designated terrorist organization (as defined in subsection (g)(6)), that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorist activity (as defined in section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act), or that the organization has engaged or engages in terrorism (as defined in section 140(d)(2) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Years 1988 and 1989).

(2) Financial institutions.— Except as authorized by the Secretary, any financial institution that becomes aware that it has possession of, or control over, any funds in which a foreign terrorist organization, or its agent, has an interest, shall—
(A) retain possession of, or maintain control over, such funds; and
(B) report to the Secretary the existence of such funds in accordance with regulations issued by the Secretary.

The first question is whether the payment of ransom constitutes the knowing provision of material support or resources. I’m not sure what a jury would do with this question. On the one hand, any money, delivered for any reason, can be considered a type of resource. Furthermore, the statute criminalizes knowing support, not just purposeful support. If it was the latter, the Foleys could claim that their purpose was to free their son, not provide material support. But since the mens rea is knowingly, perhaps they would be liable even if their purpose was the freedom of their son.

The bigger issue is whether they could claim an affirmative defense. The most likely possibilities are necessity and duress.

Necessity applies when a defendant, in response to a threat or emergency, violates a criminal prohibition because doing so represents the lesser of two evils. In that sense, the necessity defense has a utilitarian or consequentialist logic stemming from its status as a justification. If the defendant produces a greater evil, then the defense no longer applies.

In contrast, duress applies when the defendant performs a criminal act due to a threat of grave injury or death to the defendant or a close associate, emanating from a third party. (In the past I’ve argued that the defense should apply even if the target of the threat is not a close associate.) The paradigm of duress involves an autonomy-reducing threat that requires a level of moral heroism that cannot be expected by the law. The third party “forces” the defendant to violate the criminal prohibition by virtue of a threat that cannot be reasonably ignored. As such, duress is an excuse which negates the culpability of the actor. As an excuse, duress should not require that the defendant selected the lesser of two evils, because the claim has nothing to do with the defendant’s selection of a better outcome. Indeed, in duress situations the defendant may have selected the worse outcome because they are unwilling to sacrifice the life of the threatened individual.

American jurisdictions impose restrictions on the application of both defenses. Under the rule from Dudley & Stephens, necessity and duress are unavailable in cases of murder. There is a complicated question of whether the same exclusion should apply in manslaughter cases.

It seems clear to me that the Foleys, if they had paid a ransom to ISIS, would be (and should be) entitled to a duress defense. If they paid the ransom to ISIS, they would be providing material support to ISIS only by virtue of the threat against their son, which they cannot reasonably be expected to ignore. The government position is that paying ransom endangers future US citizens who would be captured for ransom by a terrorist organization incentivized to repeat the strategy. This seems factually true, though this point is irrelevant: duress as an excuse applies even if the outcome produced by the defendant is worse. Duress is not a lesser-evils defense. Finally, even if it were relevant, the future lives endangered by paying a ransom are speculative and hypothetical, rather than actual and manifest.

As a final point, necessity is often excluded as a defense if the statutory provision embodies a specific legislative choice or policy to criminalize the decision made by the defendant. However, that exclusion does not apply to excuses such as duress. And even in the context of necessity, there is no evidence that Congress had in mind the specific situation of paying ransom to terrorists. If, in the future, Congress passes a specific statute outlawing the paying of ransom to terrorists by private citizens, then the exclusion would be relevant.

Consequently, the Foleys are entitled to the duress defense, and that seems like the right result. And it also helps to explain the popular outrage over the FBI’s heavy-handed techniques against the Foley family. For the FBI agents to suggest to the Foleys that they would be prosecuted for paying the ransom was not only tone deaf–but it also indicates that the FBI agents did not understand the law of duress.

The UN Security Council Takes up Ebola

by Kristen Boon

Today, the UN Security Council held an open debate on the ebola outbreak in Africa, and unanimously adopted Security Council Resolution 2177.   Background on the US sponsored resolution is available here.

The Council’s decision to take up the issue of Ebola is significant for three reasons. First, the Council calls the Ebola outbreak a threat to international peace and security. In the preamble, the Resolution expressly states the Council is “determining that the unprecedented extent of the Ebola outbreak in Africa constitutes a threat to international peace and security.”  Although the resolution was adopted under Chapter VI (apparently due to concerns from Russia), it indicates a broadening concept of what events might trigger the Council’s jurisdiction.    Security Council meetings on public health crises are rare, although two prior resolutions have been adopted on HIV/AIDS in 2000 and 2011 (S/RES/1308; S/RES/1983).

Second, the resolution contains a number of direct instructions to member states and private industry.   It “calls on” Member states to lift general travel and border restrictions, provide urgent resources and assistance, including deployable medical capabilities.  It also “calls on” airlines and shipping companies to maintain trade and transport links, reinforcing the Council’s increasing engagement with non-state actors.

Finally, the outbreak of Ebola is changing the UN’s approach to intervention in Liberia generally. Not only have plans to wind down UNMIL and UN sanctions been put on hold in light of the public health and social crisis, but the role of UNMIL is likely to evolve, with peacekeepers being called upon to provide logistical support to fight the epidemic.

This is a good step by the Security Council: it is demonstrating its relevance to a current and destabilizing threat with international ramifications, in a country that has been on the Council’s agenda for many years.

Will There Be a Scottish Precedent?

by Chris Borgen

Since Kosovo’s declaration of independence there has been talk about whether there is a “Kosovo precedent,” and, if so, just what does it mean. The International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion
captured the imaginations of national parties throughout Europe. For example, Aitor Estaban, a representative from Spain’s Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) said that “the main consequence is that Spain cannot keep saying that the international rules don’t allow for a split of the country for a new Basque independent country into the European Union. So I think that should be already over and that’s good news for us.” (See H. Jamar & M. K. Vigness, ‘Applying Kosovo: Looking to Russia, China, Spain, and Beyond After the International Court of Justice Opinion on Unilateral Declarations of Independence’, 11 German Law Journal (2010) 8, 913, 925.)

Will we now add a “Scotland precedent”  as well as  a “Kosovo precedent?”  Today’s referendum in Scotland has been described as a bellwether or a “canary in the coalmine” signaling the future of nationalism within the European Union. There are currently twenty to twenty-five “significant” separatist movements across Europe. (See, Bruno Coppieters, ‘Secessionist Conflicts in Europe’, in D. H. Doyle (ed.), Secession as an International Phenomenon: From America’s Civil War to Contemporary Separatist Movements (2010), 237, 247.) Many writers seem to assume that as Scotland goes so does Catalonia, the Basque Countries, Padania, and any number of other parts of EU countries with their own national aspirations. But is this accurate? Would a “Yes” vote—or even just the fact that there is a vote—form some sort of “Scotland precedent?”

First, what do we mean by “precedent?” At times, commentators  use the word to mean, interchangeably, the strict legal sense of a legally binding decision and the looser political sense of a persuasive analogy that can be drawn from a similar case. What role may Scotland’s referendum have in regards to the nationalist movements elsewhere in the EU? Let us consider the number of legal and political factors at play in just one example: Catalonia.

At first blush, the situation in Catalonia may seem similar to that in Scotland. As a political entity, Catalonia has some similarities to Scotland (if slightly larger). As Bloomberg News explains:

Catalonia is a region in the northeast corner of the Iberian peninsula with about 7.5 million people compared with the 5.3 million who live in Scotland. Its 193 billion-euro economy is about the size of Finland’s and compares with the 150 billion-pound gross domestic product of Scotland.

Like Scotland, Catalonia has a distinct linguistic and national heritage. It has a special status within the Spanish state with greater autonomy and it has a population that has been seeking greater levels of independence, if not full separation and sovereignty. And the regional government of Catalonia has scheduled a referendum on independence for this coming November. For more on the history of Catalonia, see this.

Despite these similarities, most international lawyers could see quickly that a domestic referendum in the UK does not provide binding legal precedent for whether or not a domestic referendum in Spain would actually grant independence to Catalonia. Rather, the issue is one of political precedent: persuasive strength. In an argument supporting Catalonia’s referendum, Carles Boix and J.C. Major wrote in Foreign Affairs that, in their view:

International opinion tends to support this referendum, just as it has supported the one that will be held in Scotland this September or those that took place in Quebec a few years ago. Indeed, finding out where everyone stands would appear to be a necessary step to make an informed decision on how to proceed. And yet the Spanish government has not granted the Catalan authorities the power to conduct what would be a non-binding referendum — something that would be perfectly legal according to articles 92 and 150.2 of the Spanish constitution.

But even if one is to argue that Scotland’s referendum is persuasive authority, one first needs to consider whether the analogy is a good one. And, for that, we need to consider once again the legal and political situation. Continue Reading…

Scottish Independence Insta-Symposium: “Devolution Max” and the Question of Referendum Questions

by Christopher K. Connolly

[Christopher K. Connolly is an Assistant United States Attorney, Southern District of New York.  This post is written solely in the author’s personal capacity.  The views expressed in this post are the author’s alone and cannot be attributed in any way to his employer or any branch of the U.S. Government.]

On September 7th, faced with new polls showing a surge in support for Scottish independence, the British government made a pledge to the people of Scotland: vote “No” in this Thursday’s referendum, thereby remaining within the United Kingdom, and more powers will be devolved to Scotland’s parliament.  According to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, if Scots reject independence, they will receive “[m]ore tax-raising powers, much greater fiscal autonomy . . . . More control over public expenditure, more control over welfare rates and a host of other changes.”

Osborne’s offer represents a new development in the run-up to the referendum–one that Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond quickly dismissed as a “panicky measure” brought on by the increased momentum of the pro-independence campaign.  But it’s hardly a new concept.  In essence, the British government is offering some form of “devolution max”–the term typically used to describe scenarios in which Scotland would obtain virtually complete internal autonomy (in particular, robust economic and fiscal powers) while remaining part of the United Kingdom for external purposes such as defense and foreign affairs.  The SNP recognized devolution max as an option for Scotland’s political future (albeit not the SNP’s preferred option) in a 2009 White Paper, and the party’s initial proposals for the upcoming referendum envisioned a ballot containing two questions, the first addressing independence and the second gauging support for devolution max.

But British prime minister David Cameron, confident in his government’s ability to win the referendum and wary of handing Salmond a “consolation prize” in the form of enhanced autonomy, rejected the idea of including two questions and instead insisted on an “up-or-down” vote on independence.  In the Edinburgh Agreement reached in October 2012, which laid the ground rules for the referendum process, the Scottish government agreed to a one-question referendum ballot in exchange for other concessions from Westminster.  Thus, when Scottish voters go to the polls on September 18th, they will be asked a single, straightforward question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?  Yes/No.”

Although the British government’s push for a single referendum question was prompted in large part by political considerations, it also comports with guidance concerning the phrasing of referendum questions provided by legal opinions and state practice.  In its 1975 Western Sahara advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) recognized the general principle that “the application of the right of self-determination requires a free and genuine expression of the will of the peoples concerned” (para. 55).  The Canadian Supreme Court expanded on this concept in its 1998 Quebec Secession Reference.  There, although the court found that Quebec did not possess a unilateral right to secede under either domestic or international law, it nonetheless concluded that “a clear majority vote in Quebec on a clear question in favour of secession would confer democratic legitimacy on the secession initiative which all of the other [Canadian provinces] would have to recognize” (para. 150).  In other words, the democratically expressed will of the people of Quebec to secede would oblige the rump Canadian state to engage with Quebec in negotiations concerning possible separation.  The court emphasized, however, that “[t]he referendum result, if it is to be taken as an expression of the democratic will, must be free of ambiguity both in terms of the question asked and in terms of the support it achieves” (para. 87).

The Canadian Supreme Court’s opinion was followed in 2000 by the Clarity Act, which gave teeth to the court’s view of the need for a clear and unambiguous referendum question.  Among other things, the Act obliges Canada to negotiate with Quebec over the terms of a possible separation only following a referendum that sets forth an unambiguous choice between either full separation or continued inclusion in the Canadian state.  Accordingly, the Act prohibits any “referendum question that envisages other possibilities in addition to the secession of the province from Canada, such as economic or political arrangements with Canada, that obscure a direct expression of the will of the population of that province on whether the province should cease to be part of Canada” (art. 1, para. 4(b)).

The Quebec Secession Reference and the Clarity Act must be understood against the backdrop of Quebec’s 1980 and 1995 referendums on independence.  The questions posed in those referendums were far from clear.  For example, the 1995 referendum question (the shorter of the two) read: “Do you agree that Quebec should become sovereign, after having made a formal offer to Canada for a new economic and political partnership, within the scope of the Bill Respecting the Future of Quebec, and of the agreement signed on June 12, 1995?”  Moreover, the ultimate issue of independence was to a certain extent obscured by debates over “sovereignty-association,” a proposal often made by Quebecois nationalists under which Quebec, though nominally independent, would retain some form of political and economic partnership with the rest of Canada.  The Canadian government sought to ensure that any subsequent referendum would avoid these pitfalls.

Judged by these standards, the Scottish referendum question could not be more clear and straightforward.  Indeed, in language reminiscent of the ICJ and Canadian Supreme Court opinions, the Edinburgh Agreement asserts that the referendum will “deliver a fair test and a decisive expression of the views of people in Scotland and a result that everyone will respect.”  But there is room to question whether the simple, single question will best capture the political preferences of the Scottish electorate.  Polls have often shown that many, if not most, Scottish voters prefer neither the status quo nor outright independence–they would support devolution max if that were an option in the referendum.  The British government’s recent pledge to provide Scotland with greater autonomy appears to recognize this sentiment by attempting to turn a “No” vote into a vote for devolution max.  But will it be too little, too late for those who want Scotland to remain within the United Kingdom?  And given the question presented to them, which makes no mention of the possibility of further devolution, are Scottish voters being provided with a clear sense what voting “No” might entail?

Undoubtedly, referendum questions must be framed with clarity to ensure that voters understand the choice that is being presented to them.  But notwithstanding the lessons from Quebec, the Scottish situation raises the question of whether that choice should always be limited to either outright independence or continued inclusion in the state.  A clearly-worded second question concerning devolution max might have captured the wishes of many Scottish voters.  As I’ve argued elsewhere, “the increased autonomy envisioned by that proposal might have been sufficient to satisfy many Scottish nationalists.  By taking the option off the table and making the referendum an all-or-nothing affair, the British government is running the risk that many Scottish voters might instead opt for independence” (p. 102).  David Cameron’s single question, though admirably clear and unambiguous, has started to look like a political gamble.  It remains to be seen whether it will pay off.

ASIL Names New Executive Director: Mark Agrast

by Duncan Hollis

Those readers who are members of the American Society of International Law know how critical the role of its Executive Director is and how great a job the previous director, Betsy Andersen did since taking on the role in 2006.  Betsy left ASIL earlier this year to run the ABA’s Rule of Law Initiative, and my former colleague from the State Department, Ron Bettauer, has been serving as an Interim Director for the last several months.  Today, I’m pleased to report ASIL announced the hiring of its newest Executive Director, Mark Agrast.  Here’s the highlights from ASIL’s news release:

The American Society of International Law (ASIL) announces the appointment of Mark D. Agrast to serve as the Society’s eighth executive director beginning October 20, 2014 . . . Agrast, who is an ASIL member, currently serves as deputy assistant attorney general in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legislative Affairs, where he has worked since 2009. . . Prior to joining the Justice Department, Agrast was a senior vice president and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress from 2003 to 2009, and from 1992 to 2003 he held senior staff positions with two members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  Agrast previously practiced international law with the Washington office of Jones Day.  He also has served in numerous leadership capacities in the ABA, including as a member of its Board of Governors and its Executive Committee, a past chair of the Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities and the Commission on Immigration, and current chair of the Commission on Disability Rights.  He is a longtime member of the ABA’s House of Delegates.  Agrast has co-chaired the National Lesbian and Gay Law Association (now the National LGBT Bar) and served as that organization’s ABA Delegate.  He has also been a leader of the World Justice Project since its inception and has played a central role in designing and implementing its Rule of Law Index, a quantitative assessment measure of the extent to which countries adhere to the rule of Law.  Agrast graduated summa cum laude from Case Western Reserve University, pursued his postgraduate studies as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, and received his J.D. in 1985 from Yale Law School, where he was editor in chief of the Yale Journal of International Law. 


Looks Like AUMF Basis for ISIL Operation Will Stick

by Peter Spiro

After a flurry of commentary in the wake of Obama’s speech last week and the on-background legal justification that came with it, the silence has been deafening. The immediate reaction to the AUMF hook for the ISIL operation was something approaching disbelief. It came out of the blue and everyone felt blindsided.

But it is attracting some support. Marty Lederman offers a qualified defense here. Cass Sunstein is all in, so by definition it is a credible legal argument. In the New York Times, the ed board and Bruce Ackerman predictably condemn the justification. But the level of agitation among policy elites seems low, on par with responses to past presidential uses of force. There is a lot of chatter on the Hill, but the prospects for affirmative legislation to authorize or limit (or for that matter prohibit) the ISIL operation are slim. There is no groundswell of opposition from the public.

In other words, this one is going to stick. There will be no serious challenge to the Administration’s legal argument that the President has the authority to undertake the operation. From the Administration’s perspective, the AUMF basis has the advantage of turning off the War Powers Resolution’s 60-day clock. It may also look less confrontational to use a statutory justification (even if it is a stretch) than a constitutional one. It fits more comfortably into the Administration’s narrative of interbranch cooperation.

But it may not matter that the Administration grounds its argument in the AUMF and not in its independent constitutional powers under article II and historical practice. The bottom line is the same. The test: how will future presidents put the episode to work? On the one hand, to the extent that it’s just about applying a particular statute to particular circumstances, it might be seen as limited to the facts, good for this day and train only.

On the other hand, one could imagine it being deployed in support of an article II argument, especially to the extent the statutory basis for the operation looks thin in historical perspective. The informality of the justification would make it more pliable. (Will we get the full legal work-out on this from OLC? Maybe not.) If I were an OLC lawyer looking to justify some future military operation on presidential authority alone, it would look like a precedent to me.

The Administration’s strategy on the WPR clock in the Libya context had the same features and may have the same kind of legacy. The “hostilities” argument was thin as an exercise in statutory interpretation, but it was less confrontational than a constitutional claim (minimalism goes to war). The legacy there won’t just be about what qualifies as “hostilities” for WPR purposes. It is as much about the efficacy of the 60-day clock. The Libya episode doesn’t undermine claims that the WPR is unconstitutional. It might even support those claims, at least indirectly (especially as coupled with the Clinton Administration’s similarly thin defense against application of the 60-day clock in the Kosovo case).

So ultimately it may not matter too much which card the Administration played in asserting authority for the ISIL operation. As in the past, a president failed to secure specific, contemporaneous authorization for a limited use of force, and nobody really pushed back.

Scottish Independence Insta-Symposium: International Law Should Matter–Thoughts on the Proposed Scottish Secession

by Milena Sterio

[Milena Sterio is The Charles R. Emrick Jr. – Calfee Halter & Griswold Professor of Law and the Associate Dean for Faculty Enrichment at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law.]

As many readers may already know, Scotland may soon become an independent nation.  Scots will vote in a September 18 referendum whether to secede from Great Britain.  The exact question that they will answer, in a yay or nay vote, is “Should Scotland be in independent country?” This post will analyze the legality of such proposed secession under international law, and will argue that international law should matter in secessionist disputes, and that international law could develop a norm containing a positive right to secession under certain circumstances.

First, any proposed secession can be analyzed from both a domestic as well as an international lens.  From a domestic perspective, the relevant question for any proposed secession is whether domestic law authorizes it.  In other words, does a domestic constitution or other kind of statute envision the possibility that one portion of a state will separate out to form a new state or join a third existing state. In the Scottish context, domestic law does allow for the possibility of secession – although the United Kingdom (UK) has no written constitution, the referendum is being held with the consent of the UK government, which, although it prefers if Scotland remained a part of the larger UK, has agreed to respect the results of the referendum.  Arguably, if the proposed secession is legal domestically, then international law does not matter, and the question of legality of the proposed secession from an international point of view may never be asked.  However, international law as a body of law governing inter-state relations should matter, because international law may be called upon in order to reserve an inter-state dispute over a secessionist issue.  Moreover, multiple international treaties and other rules exist on the subject-matter of statehood, state formation, and self-determination, which are all related to secession and may need to be analyzed in order to resolve a secessionist claim.  Finally, international law contains norms relating to the respect of any state’s territorial integrity; it seems logical that international law should be consulted at times when such territorial integrity may be at risk of being disrupted, through the process of secession.

This leads me to my second point, which is that international law when examined post-Kosovo may be analyzed as tolerating a limited right of secession.  Most scholars would agree that while peoples have a right to self-determination under international law, such a right does not lead to a positive right to secession. First, the right to self-determination had been interpreted for decades as only applicable in the decolonization context.  Second, the right to self-determination in most instances authorizes a people to exercise its right to internal self-determination, which is typically reflected in a right to form a regional government and/or have other cultural, linguistic, and religious rights respected by the mother state.  The right to self-determination, outside of the decolonization context, may lead to the secessionist type of external self-determination only in extreme instances where the mother state chooses to completely disrespect the people’s right to internal self-determination.   According to the Canadian Supreme Court in the Quebec case, scholars had argued that “when a people is blocked from the meaningful exercise of its right to self-determination internally, it is entitled, as a last resort, to exercise it by secession….” The Canadian Supreme Court went on to conclude that in the Quebec case, it was unnecessary to discuss this issue because the Quebecois rights to internal self-determination had been consistently respected by Canada. However, the Court’s acknowledgement of this possibility of secession, outside of the decolonization context and authorized by international law is meaningful and important, as it points to a growing discussion about the usefulness of developing a positive international law framework on secession

Additionally, recent events and state practice may contribute to a re-shaping of international law on secession.  All readers will remember that in 2008 the Kosovar Parliament unilaterally declared independence from Serbia.  Kosovo was recognized as a new state by multiple countries immediately, and was effectively able to secede from Serbia.  Can a new rule of international law on secession be derived from the Kosovo precedent? Possibly. While no new international law norms have been proclaimed either by treaty or customary law, and while the International Court of Justice has refused to seriously consider the issue of Kosovar secession, nobody can ignore the Kosovo “precedent.”  Several secessionist groups around the planet have already relied on Kosovo in order to legitimize their own secessionist quests.  The Crimean referendum has been compared to the case of Kosovo; secessionist governments of South Ossetia and Akbhazia have invoked the Kosovo precedent; so have various leaders of the Transylvanian, Transnitrian and Quebecois secessionist movements.  Importantly, most governments battling secessionist movements within their borders have refused to recognize Kosovo, such as Spain, Israel and Greece.  And international law scholars have grappled with the legality of the Kosovar secession.  All of this leads me to my third and final point.  It appears that states care deeply about secession, that states often rely on international law in order to (de)legitimize secessionist quests, and that recent state practice, post-Kosovo, may highlight the need to at least discuss the development of a positive right of secession under international law.

My third and final point is that while international law lacks positive norms on secession, a normative framework on secession would be extremely beneficial in evaluating future secessionist claims, in situations where domestic law is silent on secession (as many domestic laws are, for obvious reasons) and where internal warfare is on the brink of erupting or has already erupted.  Most secessionist movements are about territory, as Lea Brilmayer famously wrote several decades ago.  Secession and territoriality go hand in hand, and international law could and should develop to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory norms.  In the context of the proposed Scottish secession, this may not matter as much, because, as argued above, domestic law already provides for this possibility and because warfare is not likely any time soon.  However, in other Kosovo-like situations, international law could serve as a powerful conflict-resolution tool in reconciling the secessionist people’s quest for an independent state (read: territory) with the mother state’s desire to maintain its territorial integrity.  Some potential factors that an international law framework for secession could use include the examination of territorial history and sovereignty over the dispute region, as well as of the historical immediacy of the territorial claim asserted by the secessionist group, an assessment of the disputed territory’s ethnic composition, an evaluation of the mother state’s responsiveness to the secessionist group’s claims to autonomy, and an overall assessment of regional stability and security.  Because any secession destabilizes the territorial integrity of at least one state, leads toward the creation of a new state, and in all likelihood disturbs regional security, it seems fitting that secession should be an issue of international law.

Scottish Independence Insta-Symposium: The International Legal Significance of the Scottish Independence Referendum–A Long View

by Tom Sparks

[Tom Sparks is a PhD Candidate in Law at the Durham University School of Law and member of the ERC-funded “Neo-Federalism project.”] 

We have been repeatedly told that the Scottish referendum of the 18th of September  is an historic moment, and it surely is.  As a matter of international law, however, it may be that the most significant decision in the Scottish independence saga has already been made. On the 15th October 2012 an agreement was concluded between the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments (The Edinburgh Agreement), by which the UK Government agreed to delegate authority under s.30 of the Scotland Act 1998 such that the Scottish Parliament would be competent to pass legislation on an independence referendum.  Paragraph 30 of the Memorandum of Agreement stated that: The United Kingdom and Scottish Governments […] look forward to a referendum that is legal and fair producing a decisive and respected outcome. The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom. Although it appears unlikely that the Edinburgh Agreement has legal force either domestically or internationally, it is significant because it constitutes a political recognition that the question of whether Scotland should become an independent State  .  Moreover, it recognises that the independence decision is a decision that the people of Scotland have the right to make, and indicates that both Governments will abide by the outcome.  The importance of these statements lies in their value as (political) precedents – something which can be best appreciated by looking to the history of self-determination. Self-determination has always been a controversial concept. From its earliest days it has been seen as deeply subversive, but it is at once more radical and more modest that is often appreciated.  In the first place, although self-determination is intimately connected to secession, the two are not synonymous.  I suggest self-determination claims may be subdivided into four categories: political self-determination (often called ‘internal’), secessionary self-determination (‘external’), remedial self-determination (whereby a serious and prolonged denial of political self-determination results in a right to secede), and colonial self-determination (a category sui generis because of the political context).  In its most common incarnation, political self-determination, it is an internal concept that refers to the right of the people of a State (i.e. the entire populace of a pre-defined territorial entity) to determine their form of government.  So commonplace is this political form, that the ICJ in its East Timor decision declared self-determination ‘one of the essential principles of contemporary international law’, and stated that:

In the Court’s view, [the] assertion that the right of people to self-determination, as it evolved from the Charter and from United Nations practice, has an erga omnes character, is irreproachable. (Paragraph 29)

It its political form, the concept of self-determination represents a recognition of what may loosely be described as popular sovereignty, and serves as a guarantee of the principle of non-interference. Simultaneously, however, self-determination represents a claim on behalf of the people to an authority as of right superior to the government of a State, and even a claim on behalf of a minority to an authority as of right superior to the (sovereign) power of the State itself.  Both claims are deeply irreverent, striking as they do at the legitimacy of the existing power structures of the State.  Typically, therefore, although political self-determination has now been accepted as ‘one of the essential principles of contemporary international law’, the concepts have a long and violent history. Self-determination’s voyage from radical and dangerous concept to accepted tenet of international law begins with the American Declaration of Independence.  In 1776 the Continental Congress of America adopted the Declaration, stating that ‘these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States’.  Following a destructive war, the states’ independence from Britain was confirmed in 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.  Although the declaration effected the secession of the United States, the document itself speaks in terms of remedial self-determination, and thus represents a powerful claim to a right to political self-determination on behalf of the territories.  The Declaration holds that, in order to protect the ‘unalienable Rights’ of man, ‘Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed’.  Further:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundations on such principles and organizing its powers in such a form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The principles expressed in the American Declaration of Independence were echoed in the Declaration des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, of 1789.  Like the American Revolution, the French Revolution espoused a philosophical conviction that ‘[m]en are born and remain free and equal in rights.’   Like the American Revolution, the French Revolution  recognised the principle of popular sovereignty: ‘The principle of any Sovereignty lies primarily in the Nation.  No corporate body, no individual may exercise any authority that does not expressly emanate from it.’  And as with its American counterpart, the French Revolution of 1789 represents an acceptance and application of the principle of political self-determination: that the legitimacy of the form of government derives from the will of the people, and that the People, as a corporate entity, has the right to alter that form of government if it has become inimical to their interests or wishes. The revolutions are, and remain, precedents  – in both the legal and political sense.  Of course, they had no legal force in the 18th Century – at that time this idea, that the people can depose the ruling power, was even more controversial than the idea that minorities can break away from a State is today – nor for many years afterwards.  But they have subsequently acquired legal force.  Political self-determination has been enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations (Art.1(2)), and the common first Article of the ICCPR and ICESCR (Art.1(1)), and has evolved into a norm of customary international law of erga omnes status (East Timor).  It is not possible, here, to review the whole progress of the concept – naturally the revolutions were not, in and of themselves, sufficient to generate a legal norm.  But it was this first step that was the most significant: it marked the shift in perspective that begun the slow process towards norm-formation.  As Cassese opines, the revolutions

[M]arked the demise of the notion that individuals and peoples, as subjects of the King, were objects to be transferred, alienated, ceded, or protected in accordance with the interests of the monarch. (Antonio Cassese, Self-Determination of Peoples: a Legal Reappraisal (Cambridge University Press 1995) 11.)

The significance of the Scottish referendum, similarly, lies in its value as a precedent.   The Edinburgh Agreement is, as commented above, a recognition that the independence decision is a decision which the people of Scotland have a democratic right  to make, and that it is a decision to be made by them alone.  It also politically binds the Governments to respect the result of the referendum.  In short, it represents an acceptance, in this instance, by the United Kingdom of the right of the Scottish people to secessionary self-determination.  Irrespective of the outcome of the vote, the Scotland precedent puts pressure on other governments to grant similar referendums to secessionist movements in their own territories.  At present that pressure is only political, but it is entirely conceivable that, should other States follow Britain’s lead, a new norm of customary international law will begin to emerge. Scotland is not a flash in the pan. The question of secession will surely crop up again, and again in years to come (see, for example, Catalonia, and Iraqi Kurdistan).  The reaction of the States concerned, and the wider international community, may mark a paradigm-shift in international law.  It remains to be seen whether Scotland will be secessionary self-determination’s 1776, but we’ll have to wait longer for that result.

Scottish Independence Insta-Symposium: Scotland’s Secession from the EU

by Jure Vidmar

[Jure Vidmar is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in the Faculty of Law and Research Fellow of St John’s College, Oxford. Some arguments made in this post are further elaborated on in this article.]

The Treaty on European Union (TEU) now gives member states an explicit right to exit the EU and provides for a mechanism that makes this right effective. However, the TEU does not directly regulate the future relationship between the EU and a territory which is seceding from a member state. If Scotland votes for independence, this will be the first case of secession from an EU member state. Thus, neither a direct treaty provision nor a useful precedent exist that would regulate the Scottish scenario. Would Scotland either join or stay in the EU at the moment of independence? If not, what would happen with the free movement rights of EU citizens residing in Scotland, and of those future Scottish citizens who are currently residing in other EU member states?

Professors Boyle and Crawford convincingly demonstrate that rump UK (rUK) would continue UK’s international personality, while Scotland would become a new state, with certain problems that this status brings. Among these problems are accession to treaties and membership of international organizations. As Richard Hoyle shows, it is perhaps arguable that automatic accession applies where human rights treaties are concerned. Even that is not uncontested, but in any case, there is no automatic accession to treaties establishing international organizations or other institutionalized supra-state formations. An independent Scotland would thus need to join the UN anew. The same scenario applies for its EU membership. If Scotland exits the UK, it prima facie also exits the EU. This conclusion is not unqualified, however.

Should Scotland vote for independence, a period of negotiations will follow between the governments in Edinburgh and London. In this period, the exact modalities of secession will need to be determined. It is possible and perhaps even politically likely that negotiations with Brussels would also be initiated in this transitional phase, so that Scotland could enter the EU at the moment of independence. It might not be necessary for Scotland to follow Article 49 TEU which regulates admission of new members. Instead, the TEU could be amended by an ordinary revision procedure of Article 48. Professor De Witte convincingly explains that Article 49 is concerned with states that are outside of the EU at the moment of application. Scotland, however, would not (yet) be a state if it asks for admission in the transitional period after a ‘yes’ vote, and it would still be an EU territory at that time. It is thus questionable whether Article 49 should be followed in this case at all. Another argument in support of the route via Article 48 is that the TEU would need to be amended in any case. Without Scotland, rUK would be a smaller state, and without relevant amendments, rUK would be overrepresented in the EU institutions. An elegant solution could be an amendment which would admit Scotland, make institutional provisions for its membership, and acknowledge the new size of rUK.

A shortcut via Article 48 seems to be feasible, but does not solve Scotland’s major problem which is otherwise also looming large in Article 49: all member states would need to ratify such an amendment of the TEU. It is not possible to exclude that the ratification process could fail in some member states with their own secessionist problems (e.g. Spain). In other words, the applicable legal framework does not provide for any automaticity and certainty on Scotland’s path to EU membership. Regardless of which route is followed, EU membership will be subject to political negotiations and approval of all member states.

The possibility of Scotland’s implicit EU exit opens the problem of rights stemming from EU citizenship. Would they be lost entirely? This could have serious consequences for Scots currently residing in other EU member states, as well as for EU citizens currently residing in Scotland. Would they need to acquire visas and work permits or leave their homes? It has been suggested that EU citizenship is so fundamental in the European legal order that Scots cannot simply lose the rights stemming from it. Two variations of this argument have been brought forward. The first one is that citizens of an independent Scotland retain EU citizenship regardless of what happens with Scotland’s EU membership and regardless of whether they are also entitled to keep UK nationality. This is problematic because EU citizenship is not an independent concept, it is derived from citizenship of a member state. Taking this problem into account, an even more radical proposal suggests that in order to ensure that EU citizenship rights would not be lost, Scotland automatically stays in the EU. Professor Tierney has rightly called this argument: “simply not tenable”. The idea of a fundamental nature of EU citizenship comes from the CJEU case law dealing with situations that crucially differ from Scotland in law and fact. The Scottish situation is indeed unprecedented. If an independent Scotland does not become an EU member state, EU citizenship simply could not be derived from Scottish nationality. In other words, EU citizenship would be lost. Yet, even this conclusion requires some qualifications.

A similar problem, albeit not in the EU context, has been addressed by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the 2012 case of Kuric v. Slovenia. The case was concerned with residency rights of those aliens who had acquired the right of residency prior to Slovenia’s independence, but afterwards no longer possessed the qualifying nationality to be entitled for residency. The ECtHR reasoned: “[A]n alien lawfully residing in a country may wish to continue living in that country without necessarily acquiring its citizenship.”Following the logic in Kuric, once you have legally established permanent residency, you keep the right of residence, even if the legal status of either your home or your host state changes and, as a result of this change, your new citizenship status alone would no longer give you a right to residence. What matters is that you had the right at the moment of the change of the territorial status. It is notable that the Court established that non-citizen residents enjoy this guarantee under Article 8 ECHR (the right to private and family life) in their own right; it does not depend on, e.g., a family relationship with a citizen of the host state. The ECtHR’s reasoning in Kuric v. Slovenia is broad enough that it should also cover the Scottish situation. It means that even if Scotland leaves the EU on becoming independent, nationals of EU member states will be allowed to retain residency in Scotland and Scottish nationals will be allowed to retain residency in EU member states. However, this would no longer be a benefit of EU citizenship. Rather, the ECHR would extend protection to previously-exercised free movement rights stemming from EU citizenship. This effect of the ECHR would only freeze the already-acquired rights, it would not give the right to start free movement anew.

By becoming independent, Scotland also exits the EU, unless negotiated otherwise. Even EU citizenship will be lost if negotiations on EU membership fail and Scotland does not join the EU at the moment of independence. In this case, the ECHR would extend its protection and the affected individuals would not lose their already-acquired residency rights.

Scottish Independence Insta-Symposium: ‘Negotiated Independence’–Scottish Independence and a New Path to Statehood?

by Stephen Tierney

[Stephen Tierney is a Professor of Constitutional Theory, University of Edinburgh and Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Constitutional Law.]

In the Edinburgh Agreement of 2012 the United Kingdom Government committed itself to respect the outcome of the Scottish independence referendum. This suggests that, in the event of a Yes vote, the transition to independence will be relatively straightforward, as will the pathway to Scotland’s international recognition and membership of the United Nations – see here.

How then would Scotland’s move to statehood be characterised under international law? It is extremely unlikely that the UK will be taken to have dissolved. The international community is generally ill-disposed towards state dissolution. Despite the loss by Pakistan of over half its population in the secession of Bangladesh it continued to be recognised. More recently the Republic of Sudan survived the loss of the significant territory and population of South Sudan. Certainly Scotland constitutes a significant area (almost one third) of the United Kingdom’s land mass, but it contains less than 10 per cent of the population. The territories of England, Wales and Northern Ireland would all still be contained within the United Kingdom and the UK would retain its principal governmental institutions. These factors suggest a strong presumption in favour of the UK’s continuation.

There are also political considerations. The significance of the UK as a member of the EU, NATO and the Security Council of the United Nations would all be important factors in encouraging others to view it as the continuing State. By analogy, the fact that Russia could continue as a permanent member of the Security Council, thereby avoiding the need to revisit how membership of that body is constituted, was without doubt a significant factor in the international community treating Russia as the USSR’s continuation.

Therefore, Scotland would I think clearly be taken to have seceded from the UK (taking secession to be ‘the effort of a group or section of a State to withdraw itself from the political and constitutional authority of that State, with a view to achieving statehood for a new territorial unit on the international plane’. Supreme Court of Canada, Reference re Secession of Quebec, [1998] 2 S.C.R. 217, para 83.). But all the same, the label secession doesn’t seem to fit very well. We tend to think of secession as a unilateral act, denounced as illegal by the remainder state. It is notable that in light of the Edinburgh Agreement, Crawford and Boyle seem to characterize the process almost as a sui generis situation, what they term ‘negotiated independence’. Certainly the consensual negotiation process which would likely follow a Yes vote would surely have a significant bearing in how Scotland would be treated by the international community.

Let me turn then to issues of recognition and succession. Recognition is itself a complex and contested area of international law. There is no institution authorised to determine definitively the legitimacy of claims to recognition as a new State. Indeed, the generally held view is that recognition is a uniquely political act, operating largely if not entirely at the discretion of States. Certainly Scotland would seem to fit the minimalist Montevideo Convention criteria for statehood as well as the criteria for recognition advanced by the  European Communities Guidelines on the Recognition of New States issued in 1991: for example, respect for the rule of law, democracy and minority rights. Notably the Supreme Court of Canada in the Secession Reference referred to the domestic legality of the secessionist act as another possible condition for recognition. If so, then again the UK’s acceptance of Scotland’s independence in the event of a Yes vote and the likelihood of negotiations between the two governments to this end would surely greatly assist an independent Scotland in the search for early international recognition.

How then would Scotland succeed to the rights and responsibilities that currently apply to the United Kingdom? Unlike the situation with state recognition, state succession has been the subject of considerable attention by the International Law Commission of the United Nations – see here and here. Despite this work the area is still subject to considerable confusion and disagreement. It seems certain that an independent Scotland would assume responsibility for the international relations of the territory of Scotland under international law but that does not mean that it would succeed automatically to all of the UK’s rights and responsibilities, to treaties, and in particular to membership of international organisations. For the avoidance of doubt it would probably make sense for an independent Scotland to accede to major multilateral treaties. At the same time, and assuming the continuation model, the UK State would continue to function as before, be recognised as identical to the State as it existed prior to the secession, would continue to enjoy the same rights and owe the same obligations, and retain UK membership of international organisations.

Scottish succession to membership of international organisations is an intense political issue. Regardless of the disagreement surrounding the meaning of Article 34 of the 1978 Convention, we need to treat this as a separate issue from succession to treaty obligations. The same Convention (Art. 4) is clear that succession to constituent instruments of an international organization is: ‘without prejudice to the rules concerning acquisition of membership and without prejudice to any other relevant rules of the organization.’ In other words, international organisations control their own membership and any special rules they set for membership supersede principles of general international law.

I will discuss only the United Nations here. It seems highly likely that the UN will treat the UK as the continuing State and that an independent Scotland would, as a new State, be required to apply for membership. For precedents see India/Pakistan; Malaysia/Singapore; Pakistan/Bangladesh; Serbia/Montenegro; Sudan/South Sudan. Other new States such as the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Eritrea have also had to apply for membership as did the former republics of the SRFY, including the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Although Scotland would be required to apply for membership under Article 4 of the Charter, there do not seem to be any significant obstacles. The conditions for admission are that the candidate territory be a State; be peace-loving; accept the obligations of the Charter; be able to carry out its Charter obligations and be willing to do so. Without going into details it seems clear Scotland would satisfy each of these criteria. Of course, if the United Kingdom were to object to Scottish independence, then Scotland could find it difficult to obtain the required level of support within the General Assembly for admission, and as a continuing permanent member of the UN Security Council the UK could also attempt to use its veto to prevent a recommendation that Scotland be admitted. Each of these scenarios seems highly unlikely. Since we might reasonably anticipate negotiations between the UK and Scottish Governments leading to agreed terms for Scottish independence, and since an independent Scotland would most probably be considered an important ally by the UK, it is realistic to assume UK support for Scotland’s UN membership application.

Another big issue is Scotland’s membership of the EU discussed here and here.

Guest Post: U.N. to negotiate a multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring

by Yanying Li

[Yanying Li is a Ph.D researcher on a legal framework for State insolvency at Leiden University, the Netherlands.]

Following Julian’s post of Argentina’s attempt to sue the United States in the International Court of Justice, I write to share with you the latest (exciting) development in the world of sovereign debt restructuring!

On September 9, 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution entitled “Towards the establishment of a multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring processes” (document A/68/L.57/Rev.1), with 124 votes in favour, 11 votes against (including the United States) and 41 abstentions. The draft resolution was prepared by Bolivia on behalf of the Group of 77 and China. The last two paragraphs of the resolution provide as follows:

5. Decides to elaborate and adopt through a process of intergovernmental negotiations, as a matter of priority during its sixty-ninth session, a multilateral legal framework for sovereign debt restructuring processes with a view, inter alia, to increasing the efficiency, stability and predictability of the international financial system and achieving sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth and sustainable development, in accordance with national circumstances and priorities;

6. Also decides to define the modalities for the intergovernmental negotiations and the adoption of the text of the multilateral legal framework at the main part of its sixty-ninth session, before the end of 2014.

According to the General Assembly’s press release, the U.S. delegate stressed at the meeting “that she could not support a statutory mechanism for sovereign debt restructuring as such a mechanism was likely to create economic uncertainty.”  Moreover, she expressed the view that “[i]n the past, market-oriented approaches had been preferred and work was ongoing in the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and elsewhere.” In response to that, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Argentina stated that “[s]overeign debt held development back and the establishment of a better system could improve global economic security.” The Minister continued that “[t]he clear majority agreed it was time to establish a legal framework for restructuring that respected creditors while allowing debtors to emerge from debt safely. The profits currently made by vulture funds were scandalous and were funnelled into campaigning and lobbying to prevent changes to the situation.”

Needless to say, this is a big step forward in terms of the development of international law on sovereign debt restructuring. Continue Reading…

Guest post: A Response to Kevin Heller on the Nature of Self-Defense

by Michael W. Lewis

[Michael W. Lewis is a Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University where he teaches International Law and the Law of War.] 

Kevin was right that my Just Security post misstated the legal standard for self-defense by stating that Syria could rightfully treat US attacks on ISIS on Syrian soil as aggression if the US had established that it was acting in self-defense.  As he said, such a use of force in self-defense cures any sovereignty violation that the United States might have committed.  This is, of course, how it works in theory.  Reality is somewhat different.

In practice, any state relying on the “unable or unwilling” standard (as the United States did in Pakistan to support the bin Laden raid) will have no way of knowing whether the target state will see things the same way.  By definition a state relying on the “unable or unwilling” standard lacks permission from the host/target state to use force on its territory.  This is why I said that the US would act at its own peril in Syria.  Any state taking such action will do so at its own peril because the host/target state might believe itself to be justified in using force to repel perceived aggression.   That is why the US used its most advanced and stealthiest helicopters for the bin Laden raid because they anticipated that Pakistan might react to an unannounced incursion with force.

Further, in most incidents of anticipatory self-defense (which is what any strike relying on the “unable or unwilling” standard is likely to be based upon) the host/target state claimed that the use of force on its territory was illegal and in many cases did exercise what it maintained were its sovereign rights to respond to the incursion with force.  To use the 1967 War as an example, Israel claimed that its first strike against the Egyptian Air Force was an exercise of self-defense because Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian and Iraqi troops were massing on its borders and Egypt had closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping.  IF Israel’s claim of self-defense was valid this would cure its sovereignty violations, and the Egyptian anti-aircraft batteries would be prohibited from firing on the Israeli planes as they bombed the Egyptian airfields.  Even if theoretically international law contained such a prohibition, would any state in Egypt’s position honor it?  The answer is self-evidently, no.

The reality is that any states relying on the “unable or unwilling” standard to support a claim of self-defense will do so while anticipating and preparing for armed resistance from the host/target state.  And host/target states which have not granted permission for others to use force on their territory will assert a right to defend their sovereignty by treating such uses of force as aggression, and by responding with force if they so choose.   The host/target state’s response, though theoretically unlawful, is very likely to occur and is something that any state relying upon the “unable or unwilling” standard will both anticipate and factor in to its decision to use force.

ISIL Foreign Fighters: You Can’t Take Their Citizenship. Can You Take Their Passports?

by Peter Spiro

The concern over ISIL foreign fighters had ramped up even before President Obama announced that he will preside over a September 24th UN Security Council Meeting on the subject. No surprise that politicians are jumping on the bandwagon. Ted Cruz introduced legislation last week in the Senate that would purport to terminate the citizenship of those associated with terrorist organizations. Michelle Bachmann has done the same over in the House. (Funny how the two chief sponsors of expatriation laws have their own personal experience with the loss of citizenship, Cruz with Canadian, Bachmann with Swiss.)

But Bachmann’s bill goes further in mandating passport revocation.


(a) Ineligibility-

(1) ISSUANCE- Except as provided under subsection (b), the Secretary of State may not issue a passport or passport card to any individual whom the Secretary has determined is a member of an organization the Secretary has designated as a foreign terrorist organization pursuant to section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189) that is engaging in hostilities against the United States or its allies.

(2) REVOCATION- The Secretary of State shall revoke a passport or passport card previously issued to any individual described in paragraph (1).

(b) Exceptions-

(1) EMERGENCY AND HUMANITARIAN SITUATIONS- Notwithstanding subsection (a), the Secretary of State may issue a passport or passport card, in emergency circumstances or for humanitarian reasons, to an individual described in paragraph (1) of such subsection.

(2) LIMITATION FOR RETURN TO UNITED STATES- Notwithstanding subsection (a)(2), the Secretary of State, before revocation, may–

(A) limit a previously issued passport or passport card only for return travel to the United States; or (B) issue a limited passport or passport card that only permits return travel to the United States.

In contrast to citizenship-stripping, this kind of passport-stripping would pass constitutional muster from a rights perspective. In Haig v. Agee, the Supreme Court upheld passport revocation where justified by national security interests (that case involved Philip Agee, notorious for disclosing the names of undercover CIA operatives). No problem doing that in the context of ISIL fighters, one wouldn’t think.

To the extent there’s an issue here, it would involve separation of powers, Congress dictating to the President. The Supreme Court will have something to say about that this term. But the humanitarian exceptions clause undercuts any claim that this trespasses on presidential power, regardless of where the Zivotovksy case ends up.

At the same time, it’s pretty clear that the President could do this on his own (that was the case in Agee). A UNSC resolution (assuming one is adopted) would further legitimize the policy. Insofar as Congress has trouble getting its act together on anything, the Obama Administration might make passport-stripping a subsidiary component of its anti-ISIL strategy.

Scottish Independence Insta-Symposium: The Legal Terrain Following a Yes Vote for Scottish Independence

by Caroline Kaeb and David Scheffer

[David Scheffer is the Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law and Director of the Center for International Human Rights at Northwestern University School of Law.]

If the Scottish people vote in the majority on September 18th to become an independent nation, then a host of legal issues will descend immediately upon Holyrood, where the Scottish Parliament sits in Edinburgh, and Westminster, the legislative center of the United Kingdom Government in London.  Some of these issues can be overcome if there is a willingness to negotiate in good faith.  Otherwise, obstructionist and stubborn negotiating tactics can result in a bitter fight to the end, which will be 24 March 2016 if Holyrood’s schedule stands for Scotland to break away as a newly-minted sovereign state.

The Edinburgh Agreement of 15 October 2012, signed by First Minister Alex Salmond for the Scottish Government and Prime Minister David Cameron for the United Kingdom, provides the legal platform for the September 18th referendum.  Whatever is decided on that day has the legitimacy required under British law to move forward either with the United Kingdom as a unified country (if there is a majority no vote) or with the emergence of an independent Scotland following separation negotiations between Holyrood and Westminster and the necessary parliamentary acts (if there is a majority yes vote).

Section 30 of the Edinburgh Agreement is critical as to the aftermath, stating that the two governments “look forward to a referendum that is legal and fair producing a decisive and respected outcome.  The two governments are committed to continue to work together constructively in the light of the outcome, whatever it is, in the best interests of the people of Scotland and of the rest of the United Kingdom.”  That has long been understood to mean that negotiations between Holyrood and Westminster would commence in the event of a “yes” vote for independence.

Yet for months Westminster and the three main UK political parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal) have waged their “no” campaign with scare tactics premised, it seems, on there being no meaningful negotiations at all.   Their message is that if there is a “yes” vote, then the protectionist shields will rise at Hadrian’s Wall and the remainder of the United Kingdom (rUK) will simply go its own way as the “continuator state,” leaving Scotland to survive or sink on its own.  Nothing could be further from reality, and Westminster knows that.

It will be in the interests of Westminster and the citizens of rUK to work out how to continue prosperous commercial and social relations with the Scottish people and sustain bonds with Scotland as a close ally.  Alienating Scotland with arrogant posturing now—a raw campaign tactic—as well as later during the inevitable negotiations is an irrational game plan for Westminster.  In fact, the tightening polls in Scotland seem to confirm that the bluff is backfiring.

The first legal issue upon which so much else depends centers on the law of state succession—what will be the legal outcome regarding statehood if Scotland and rUK split?  Westminster and many international lawyers insist that the rUK will be the continuator state, thus continuing the status quo in almost all treaty and international organization relations, while Scotland would be cast off as a new state to initiate its own treaty relations, currency, and membership in international organizations—the “clean slate” approach.  Such a punitive view of Scottish self-determination would force Holyrood onto the most arduous pathway towards statehood and presupposes either unnecessarily complex negotiations with no end in sight or no credible negotiations at all.  Westminster’s tactic is built upon a pyramid of presumptions arising from the initial premise of the continuator theory and yet little of which relates to the sui generis character of the Scottish situation, as I have examined elsewhere.

The unique history of the Scottish and English union of 1707 and the fact that since the 1970s we have seen unfold in Scotland a distinctly modern form of self-determination colors this entire exercise.  Nowhere else are the facts even similar regarding this remarkably peaceful and progressively building process of devolution leading to the renewed independence of a once sovereign nation, including the consent of the UK Government to hold such a referendum.  Legal theories on state succession based upon irrelevant practices of decolonization and stale notions of what constitutes customary international law simply do not work here.

Indeed, the modern formulation of state succession framed in the 1978 Vienna Convention on Succession of States in Respect of Treaties for a situation of this character points towards negotiated co-equal successor state status for both Scotland and the rUK during post-referendum negotiations.  If Holyrood and Westminster cooperate in good faith during the negotiations as co-equal successor states, they can create a pathway of mutually agreed and beneficial continuation of various treaty obligations for both states, Scottish membership in the European Union, continued UK membership as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, and a smooth transition for Scotland to join NATO and other international organizations.

Regarding the European Union, if one theoretically were to design the most judicious and EU-compliant path towards internal enlargement, the Scottish experience would set the gold standard.  Scotland is already part of the European Union because it is part of the United Kingdom.  The Scottish people are EU citizens with important rights under EU law.  Given those realities, transitioning to Scotland and the rUK following a “yes” vote on the referendum should be negotiable with Brussels in order to sustain the membership of both nations in the EU.  Surely that would be to the advantage of the European Union.  Caustic and unsubstantiated statements by EU officials and Westminster politicians in the past that relegate Scotland to new applicant status shorn of any existing rights under EU law have been narrow-minded expressions of insecurity.  I recently argued in Brussels, “[Scotland] is truly a sui generis phenomenon within the European Union and efforts to create false symmetries with other sub-state aspirations on the European continent are misleading.”

Of course, much is complicated by Prime Minister Cameron’s intention, expressed on 23 January 2013, to renegotiate parts of the UK’s relations with the European Union and hold a referendum by 2017 to determine continued membership of the UK in the Union. The anti-EU fervor arising from both Conservative and Labour party ranks and manifested in the United Kingdom Independence Party stands in contrast to the Scottish Government’s strong allegiance to the European Union and for sustained EU membership for an independent Scotland.  For rUK negotiators to threaten their Scottish counterparts with outcast status in the European Union while London plots its own withdrawal would be supremely ironic and not easily overlooked.

Each side has a different take on how to proceed with EU membership for Scotland.  The Scottish Government favors amending the Treaty of the European Union (TEU) under Article 48 to create procedures for continued Scottish membership.  This “continuity of effect” assumes transitioning Scotland’s current status as part of the United Kingdom into a newly sovereign status in a fully integrated way within the European Union’s legal, economic, institutional, political and social frameworks.  But this approach requires Westminster to seek such amendments as a willing partner following a yes vote on the referendum.

Westminster and some European Commission officials insist that Scotland would have to apply for membership in the European Union under Article 49 of the TEU just like other new applicants that have never been part of the European Union, like Croatia recently.  There doubtless would result a significant gap in EU membership for Scotland, which might be forced to delay the process until it achieves sovereign statehood status. A legal nightmare may well ensue. If Westminster intends to punish Holyrood following a yes vote, rather than negotiate in good faith, this would do it.

A negotiated formula, however, that essentially melds together procedures of Articles 48 and 49 of the TEU with the support of Westminster in discussions with EU leaders in Brussels and EU member states could provide a reasonable framework for keeping Scotland in the European Union with the least degree of disruption.  This formula would open the way for Holyrood to negotiate what normally would be required under Article 49 for membership, but to do so during the period prior to Scottish statehood with an Article 48 amendment process.  Westminster can facilitate this by joining with Holyrood in such negotiations and thus be the EU member state at the table.  That would reflect the true spirit of Section 30 of the Edinburgh Agreement already agreed to by the two parties.  Westminster’s role is critical, for under the procedures of either Article 48 or Article 49 of the TEU, the unanimous consent of all 28 EU member states would be required to facilitate Scotland’s membership in the European Union.

Perhaps the most divisive issue in recent months has been over the Scottish Government proposal that a currency union be formed between Scotland and rUK to sustain use of the pound sterling by an independent Scotland. There are considerable complexities to any currency option for an independent Scotland, but Westminster has slammed the door on a currency union prior to any negotiations and taunted First Minister Salmond to state his Plan B.

For Salmond to have put forward any Plan B before the referendum would cave into Westminster’s cynical tactic prior to any serious negotiations on currency that could work to the benefit of both nations.  Such bullying by unionists may have chalked up a  few debate points, but it has stirred anti-UK sentiment in Scotland while ignoring the fact that during post-referendum negotiations the Scots have some trump cards of their own.

One of those cards is that if Westminster insists that UK will be the continuator state of the United Kingdom and refuse a currency deal, Scotland can beg off sharing the UK debt and let Westminster shoulder the entire estimated burden of £1.6 trillion by 2016/17. That would comply with the logic of rUK being a continuator state.  Holyrood has offered to accept partial liability on the UK debt but obviously only after negotiations that settle all issues, including division of assets. The markets likely would respect Scotland’s willingness to pay, but also calculate the punitive character of a refusal by Westminster to negotiate currency issues with the result that Scotland’s economy would be unshackled of UK liabilities.  In an effort to reassure the markets, the UK Treasury agreed earlier this year to cover all UK gilts in the event of Scottish independence, but did so assuming that Holyrood still would shoulder a portion of the UK debt.  Not so fast, as Holyrood will have its own demands in such negotiations.

Whatever the outcome on September 18th, the people of Scotland will have acted democratically and peacefully to determine the fate of their nation.  That itself will be a significant achievement under the rule of law.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 15, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

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


Middle East and Northern Africa


  • At least 14 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in US air strikes in Afghanistan, officials have said, sparking condemnation from President Hamid Karzai who has often criticised the conduct of the NATO forces. 
  • China’s President Xi Jinping urged Central Asian states to step up the fight against religious extremism and cyber terrorism, state media said, as Beijing reaches for help across its borders in addressing security concerns in its restive Xinjiang region.
  • As Scotland heads to the polls this week to vote on whether to become independent, one country with restive regions of its own is watching the debate unfold with nervousness and some mystification – China.





  • Disruptions in cross-border trade and marketing in the three West African countries most affected by the Ebola outbreak – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea –have sent food prices soaring, threatening food security in the region, according to an alert issued last week by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. 
  • A flurry of meetings is scheduled for the coming weeks as WTO members – having now returned to Geneva following their annual August break – try to pick up the pieces after missing a key implementation deadline this past July.

Guest Post: The Crimes Against Humanity Initiative and Recent Developments towards a Treaty

by Leila Nadya Sadat and Douglas J. Pivnichny

[Leila Nadya Sadat is the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and Israel Treiman Faculty Fellow at Washington University School of Law and the Director of the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute. Douglas J. Pivnichny is the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute Fellow at Washington University School of Law and a masters candidate in International Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva.]

Last month, the International Law Commission moved the topic of crimes against humanity from its long-term to its active agenda and appointed Professor Sean D. Murphy as Special Rapporteur. This was a crucial step in filling a normative gap that has persisted despite the development of international criminal law during the past decades:  the absence of a comprehensive global treaty on crimes against humanity. Although this post will not rehearse the reasons a treaty is needed, an eloquent case for a treaty can be found in an important 1994 article by Cherif Bassiouni.

Professor Murphy’s charge is to prepare a First Report, which will begin the process of proposing Draft Articles for Commission’s approval. The Commission first included the topic of crimes against humanity on its Long-Term Programme of Work in 2013 on the basis of a report prepared by Professor Murphy.  This report identified four key elements a new convention should have: a definition adopting Article 7 of the Rome Statute; an obligation to criminalize crimes against humanity; robust inter-state cooperation procedures; and a clear obligation to prosecute or extradite offenders (para. 8). The report also emphasized how a new treaty would complement the Rome Statute (paras. 9-13).

The Crimes Against Humanity Intiative
Continue Reading…

Events and Announcements: September 14, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey


  • The Raoul Wallenberg Legacy of Leadership event will take place in New York on September 18th at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law. The event will include a panel discussion about the responsibility to prevent genocide and mass atrocities as well as keynote addresses by Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Irwin Cotler, former Canadian Minister of Justice, and Luis Moreno Ocampo, former Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court. The event will take place September 18, 2014, 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm at the Moot Court Room, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, 55 5th Avenue, New York. Interested persons can register online by clicking here.
  • The American Society of International Law and the New York Law School Panel Discussion on “The Need for a Disability Rights Tribunal in Asia and the Pacific,” Monday, September 29th at 185 West Broadway, New York, New York, 10013. The existence of regional human rights courts and commissions has been an essential element in the enforcement of international human rights for persons with disabilities in those regions of the world where such tribunals exist. The lack of a court or commission in Asia and the Pacific has been a major impediment in the movement to enforce disability rights. The need for such a body has further intensified since the ratification of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The creation of a Disability Rights Tribunal for Asia and the Pacific (DRTAP) would be the first necessary step leading to amelioration of the deprivation of civil rights of people with disabilities. Panel Members include Eva Szeli, former director of European Operations for Mental Disability Rights International, and co-author of International Human Rights Law and Comparative Mental Disability Law: Cases and Materials (Carolina Academic Press 2016); Maya Sabatello, lecturer on human rights and co-author of Human Rights and Disability Advocacy (U. of Pennsylvania Press 2013); Michael Stein, Harvard Law School & William and Mary Law School; co-director, Harvard Law School Project on Disability; and Moderator, Michael L. Perlin, New York Law School, Director, International Mental Disability Law Reform Project. For more information contact Michael Perlin (mperlin [at] nyls [dot] edu).

Calls for Papers

  • The International Organizations Interest Group of the American Society of International Law will hold a works-in-progress workshop on Friday, December 12th, 2014, in New York City.  Authors interested in presenting a paper at the workshop can submit an abstract to David Gartner (David [dot] Gartner [at] asu [dot] edu), Julian Arato (arato [dot] julian [at] gmail [dot] com), and Sarah Dadush (sdadush [at] kinoy [dot] rutgers [dot] edu)  by the end of the day on October 1, 2014. Abstracts should be a couple of paragraphs long but not more than one page. Papers should relate to the topic of international institutions and governance.  Papers should not yet be in print so that authors will have time to make revisions based on the comments from the workshop. 
  • The Utrecht Journal of International and European Law is issuing a call for papers on ‘Privacy under International and European Law’. Relevant issues may have broader implications, including: the responsibility of private actors under international law; privacy as a human right; the conflict between State interests and individual rights; the internet and territorial limits; data protection; diverging national approaches to the protection of privacy and the rise of The Board of Editors will select articles based on quality of research and writing, diversity and relevance of topic. The novelty of the academic contribution is also an essential requirement. Prospective articles should be submitted online via the website and should conform to the journal style guide. Utrecht Journal has a word limit of 15,000 words including footnotes. For further information please consult the website or email the editors at utrechtjournal [at] urios [dot] org. Deadline for Submissions: 30 September 2014.
  • The Board of Editors is pleased to announce Government Procurement as the theme for its next Special Issue (Vol. VII, No. 1). The Plurilateral Agreement on Government Procurement (‘GPA’) aims to promote transparency, integrity and competition in the purchase of goods and services by government agencies. Preferential treatment for domestic goods and services are envisaged as trade barriers. Participating governments are also required to put in place domestic procedures by which aggrieved private bidders can challenge procurement decisions and obtain redress in the event of inconsistency with the GPA. However, States have political and economic interests in promoting their own small and medium scale industries. Therefore, the attempt to harmonize these objectives raises issues with reference to market access and the benefits of “good governance” under the GPA. Existing literature is inadequate to effectively equip policymakers to deal with such issues. The Board of Editors is pleased to invite original and unpublished submissions for the Special Issue on Government Procurement for publication as ‘Articles’, ‘Notes’, ‘Comments’ and ‘Book Reviews’. Manuscripts may be submitted via e-mail, ExpressO, or the TL&D website. For further information and submission guidelines, please visit the Journal’s website: The last date for submission of manuscripts is 15th February, 2015. In case of any queries, please feel free to contact us at: editors[at]tradelawdevelopment[dot]com.


  • The upcoming session of the Leiden University Advocacy and Litigation Training Course is now open for registration. The training will be held in The Hague from 24 November to 28 November 2014. During this 5-day course the participants will be trained in the skills of case theory, opening statements, direct examination (examination-in-chief), cross-examination, re-examination, closing statements and legal submissions skills. Students will be engaged in role play and practical exercises. The course will be concluded with a mock trial at the end of the week.  Apart from the theory and the practical exercises, the course offers visits to the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The training will be given by two experienced defence counsels who have worked on high profile cases before international criminal tribunals. The course fee amounts to €1100. Graduate students and professionals who wish to improve and develop their advocacy skills are invited to register through the Grotius Centre website.

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.

Guest Post: Update on Israel/Palestine and the Revival of International Prize Law

by Eliav Lieblich

[Eliav Lieblich is an Assistant Professor at the Radzyner Law School, Interdisciplinary Center (IDC)]

Back in January, I wrote a guest post  about prize proceedings initiated by the Government of Israel against the Finnish vessel Estelle, intercepted by the Israeli navy while attempting to breach the Gaza blockade in late 2012. As I wrote back then, the proceedings were held before the District Court of Haifa, sitting in its capacity as the Admiralty Court of Israel. The State based its application to condemn the vessel on old pieces of British legislation, which granted prize jurisdiction to courts in Mandatory Palestine (the British Naval Prize Act of 1864 and the British Prize Act of 1939).

As I noted back in January, prize powers have never been exercised by Israel before. Moreover, prize proceedings are extremely rare globally. Indeed, since customary prize law allows belligerents to capture and condemn private vessels – both “enemy” and, in some cases, “neutral” – prize law seems at odds with contemporary human rights norms protecting private property.

In this context, my January post raised several questions for the Haifa Court. Among these, I’ve questioned the continuous relevance of prize law in the human rights era, and whether Israeli administrative law will affect the Court’s understanding of prize law. Well, the wait is over: on August 31, the Court (Judge Ron Sokol), has rendered a 33-page decision in The State of Israel v. The Vessel Estelle.

I will spare the readers from detailing the Court’s finding of jurisdiction, although doubtless interesting to legal historians: the bottom line is that it has found itself to have inherited the jurisdiction from the former British prize courts in Palestine. But the Court had some interesting things to say in terms of substantive prize law. Continue Reading…

So Much for Academic Freedom at the University of Sydney

by Kevin Jon Heller

There’s been much discussion in the blogosphere about the University of Illinois’ decision to “un-hire” (read: fire) a Palestinian-American scholar who resigned a tenured position at Virginia Tech to join its faculty, a decision motivated by a series of anti-Zionist (but not anti-Semitic) tweets that made the University’s wealthy donors uncomfortable. But the rightful revulsion at Illinois’ decision (more than 5,000 academics, including me, have agreed to boycott the University until Steven Salaita’s offer of a tenured position is honoured) shouldn’t obscure the fact that Illinois is far from the only university that does not take academic freedom seriously.

Case in point:  the University of Sydney’s distressing decision — abetted by one of its faculty members — to “un-invite” Sri Lankan NGOs from an international conference on the enforcement of human rights in the Asia-Pacific because of pressure from the Sri Lankan military. Here’s a snippet of the Guardian‘s story, which deserves to be read in full:

The University of Sydney has withdrawn invitations for two Sri Lankan human rights organisations to an international conference at the request of the Sri Lankan military, angering campaigners.

The university is due to host a two-day event in Bangkok from Monday along with the University of Colombo, which will see delegates from around the world discuss the enhancement of human rights in the Asia Pacific region.

Delegations from the Sri Lankan military and the Sri Lankan police are expected to attend the conference. Leaked correspondence, seen by Guardian Australia, shows that these delegations had originally requested that all non-government organisations (NGOs) from Sri Lanka be uninvited, and organisers subsequently rescinded two invitations.

The civil war in Sri Lanka, in which up to 100,000 people were killed, ended in 2009. The Rajapaksa regime stands accused of war crimes for its brutal suppression of civilians in the north of the country, with both sides subject to a UN human rights council inquiry into alleged war crimes.

Australia was one of 12 countries to abstain in a UN vote for the investigation.

Guardian Australia has also seen a letter discussing the reasons for rescinding the invitations to the two NGOs sent by the conference’s director, University of Sydney associate professor Danielle Celermajer.

“With about 130 people from across the region confirmed from the conference, it would be a disaster for all members of the Sri Lankan forces, who have been at the heart of the project, to withdraw,” it states.

As the article’s reference to the UN vote indicates, Tony “Difficult Things Happen” Abbott’s administration has proven to be one of the murderous Sri Lankan government’s staunchest allies. But that’s a right-wing government for you; no surprise there. It’s absolutely appalling, though, that a major Australian university cares so little about academic freedom that it would allow the Sri Lankan military to dictate who can attend a conference it sponsors — a conference about the enforcement of human rights in the region.

Dr. Celermajer says it would be a “disaster” for the academic conference if the Sri Lankan military didn’t attend. You know what an actual disaster is? The Sri Lankan military’s systematic violation of the human rights of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankans — the very acts that make the conference in question so necessary.

I guess it’s more important to discuss human-rights violations among the perpetrators than among those who work to end the violations. Shameful.

NOTE: You can find the powerful open letter the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice sent to participants in the conference — ironically entitled “Enhancing Human Rights and Security in the Asia Pacific” — here. Key line: “By allowing the Sri Lankan Army to dictate who can or cannot attend, the organisers of this conference are, in effect… potentially making themselves complicit in the Sri Lankan government’s systematic attempts to suppress dissent and intimidate critical voices within civil society, and to legitimize that policy internationally. “

Weekend Roundup: September 6 – 12, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, summer vacation is officially over. We hope that all of our readers in the Northern Hemisphere enjoyed a great break – hopefully not quite like the Russian soldiers in Ukraine that Jens commented on. For those of us in the Southern Hemisphere: it’s almost summer!

Kevin followed up on an earlier post arguing that despite the recent release of a White Paper we do not yet know the CIA’s public-authority justification for violating 18 USC 1119, and explained why an argument based on Title 50 does not work in his view. He then posted a two-part response (1, 2) to Bobby Chesney’s reply on this last post over at Lawfare, and analysed their different readings of the AUMF.

The AUMF was also central to commentary on President Obama’s address regarding air strikes against ISIS. In anticipation of President Obama’s speech, Peter had put forward three reasons why President Obama should not seek congressional approval for airstrikes on ISIL. Jens was first out of the blocks after the address, to argue that Obama was walking a thin line, and later on that the AUMF does not cover ISIS. Peter and Deborah agreed with Jens on the applicability of the AUMF and Peter added that Obama could have played a different card. Deborah then followed up with an analysis of the theory that ISIS is Al Qaeda rather than considering it an “associated force”.

In other ISIL- related posts, Peter commented on Ted Cruz’ initiative to strip ISIL fighters from their US citizenship, and Kevin responded to a post by Mike Lewis over at Just Security on the application of the “unwilling or unable” test in the context of article 51 UN Charter.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and I listed events and announcements. We’re running an insta-symposium on the Scottish independence referendum next week, and are still welcoming submissions. If you saw last week’s announcement by Matrix Chambers, you may want to take note that the deadline has been extended.

Have a nice weekend!

Mike Lewis Is Wrong About the Nature of Self-Defence

by Kevin Jon Heller

Mike Lewis has a guest post at Just Security today responding to Ryan Goodman’s recent post exploring what the US’s claimed “unwilling or unable” test for self-defence against non-state actors means in the context of Syria and ISIS. Ryan, careful scholar as always, rightly points out that the test “remains controversial under international law.” Mike doesn’t seem to have any such qualms, but that’s not what I want to respond to here. Instead, it’s important to note that Mike makes a basic error concerning how the “unwilling or unable” test functions — assuming for sake of argument it is a valid approach to self-defence under Art. 51 of the UN Charter (emphasis mine):

It is important to note that this interpretation does not give the US unlimited license to act in violation of the sovereignty of other states as some opponents of the standard claim. There are limits and dangers associated with taking such a course of action. First of all, an intervening state can only take such actions after giving the host/target state a meaningful opportunity to prevent its territory from being used by the non-state actor to launch attacks. In the case of Syria, there is no question that it is unable to control the territory under ISIS control so further delays are unnecessary. Secondly, the intervening state does so at its own peril. Syria can rightfully interpret any strikes as aggression by the US and it is justified in taking steps to prevent such attacks and to destroy the drones/aircraft conducting such attacks.

Um, no. The entire point of arguing self-defence — in any form, including pursuant to the controversial “unwilling or unable” test — is that it cures any violation of state sovereignty under Art. 2(4) of the UN Charter. So if the US attacked ISIS in Syria because Syria was unwilling or unable to prevent ISIS from using its territory as a base for attacks, the US would not violate Art. 2(4) and Syria would have no right whatsoever to act in self-defence against that armed attack. Indeed, any attempt to “prevent such attacks and to destroy the drones/aircraft conducting such attacks” would represent an act of aggression by Syria against the US, thereby opening the door to legitimate acts of self-defence against Syria itself.

Again, I don’t accept that the “unwilling or unable” test reflects current customary international law. But it’s important not to let that debate obscure how self-defence functions under Art. 51 of the UN Charter.

Matrix Chambers Application Deadline Extended

by Kevin Jon Heller

Matrix Chambers has extended the deadline for applying to September 26 — two weeks from today. I hope readers with the appropriate credential will consider applying.

You can find the original post, with details of the Matrix vacancy, here.

On the Theory that ISIL is Al Qaeda

by Deborah Pearlstein

At the prompting of Marty Lederman and Steve Vladeck, let me take a moment to consider another possible reading of the Administration’s novel view that the 2001 AUMF authorizes its incipient campaign in Iraq and Syria. Recall that the AUMF authorizes the use of “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” responsible for 9/11 and those who “harbored such organizations or persons.” The Administration and the lower courts have thus interpreted the AUMF to authorize the use of force against Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and “associated forces.” My earlier post examined the notion that ISIL was an “associated force” of Al Qaeda. Marty and Steve suggest that the Administration isn’t arguing that ISIL is an “associated force” of Al Qaeda, but rather, that ISIL is Al Qaeda. As Marty explains it:

In 2004, ISIL (then known as al Qaeda in Iraq) was part of al Qaeda proper–subject to its direction and control–in which capacity it attacked U.S. persons and was subject to U.S. combat operations. (Indeed, it was engaged in an armed conflict with the United States.) As such, ISIL was then covered by the 2001 AUMF as a component of al Qaeda. More recently, ISIL and al Qaeda “Central”–its “senior leadership”– have split apart. But ISIL has continued to attack U.S. persons, even after the split; and each of these two groups claims the mantle of al Qaeda–indeed, ISIL’s position (“supported by some individual members and factions of AQ-aligned groups”) is that it, not AQ Central, “is the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy.” Accordingly, there are now, in effect, two al Qaedas, each of which was a component of the earlier, consolidated organization, and each of which continues its attacks on the U.S.

In other words, picture an upside-down letter “V” or “Λ.” At the single, sharp point of the Λ is the organization called Al Qaeda, which is responsible for the attacks of 9/11, and which at one point included all of what we now call core al Qaeda (led by Osama bin Laden, now Ayman al-Zawahiri), as well as what was once called al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) (led by Abu Musab al Zarqawi). Over time, the unity at the top of the Λ has given way to a disunity at the bottom – with both core Al Qaeda (Zawahiri’s group) and AQI (now called ISIL, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) seeking to, as Marty puts it, “claim the mantle of al Qaeda.”

While identifying a variety of problems with the notion as a matter of statutory interpretation that the AUMF authorizes the use of force against both groups at the bottom of the Λ, both Marty and Steve argue that in key respects the validity of the theory depends on facts that are still not entirely known to the public. Is it accurate as a matter of fact to suggest that both core Al Qaeda and ISIL are both claiming or should be seen to have equal claims to “the mantle of al Qaeda”? One can imagine several ways of trying to take this theory seriously. One would begin by defining what the “Al Qaeda” at the top of the Λ (the group that attacked us on 9/11) was in the first place. One might define a terrorist group in a variety of terms, and I’m certainly open to definitional criteria. For present purposes, let’s take a handful: the organization’s name, its mission, its capacities and personnel, or any combination thereof. Then one would have to hold up each putative successor organization and see if there were any/sufficient commonality to call both AQ core and ISIL part of the same organization that attacked us on 9/11. Could ISIL in any sense assert a claim to carrying the mantle of Al Qaeda? What do we know? Continue Reading…

Is it Legal? No.

by Deborah Pearlstein

Let’s start with the Administration’s newly minted theory (h/t Marty Lederman for posting the operative statement) that the statutory 2001 AUMF authorizes the President’s announced campaign to use force against ISIL in Iraq and Syria. The AUMF does not plausibly extend to ISIL.

In addition to the reasons my friends Jens Ohlin, Jen Daskal and others have already highlighted, let me add this: ISIL is not an “associated force” of Al Qaeda by the Administration’s own definition. In May 2013, former State Department Legal Adviser Harold Koh gave a speech at Oxford setting forth the Administration’s definition of what counts as an “associated force” under the AUMF. (Let’s ignore all questions for now about whether this is an accurate importation of the concept of co-belligerency from international law and just accept the Administration’s version as a given.) Koh said: “The U.S. Government has made clear that an ‘associated force’ must be (1) an organized, armed group that (2) has actually entered the fight alongside al Qaeda against the United States, thereby becoming (3) a co-belligerent with al Qaeda in its hostilities against America.” Is ISIL organized? Surely. Has it “entered the fight alongside al Qaeda”? Absolutely not. Al Qaeda and ISIL are fighting each other. (See just about everywhere, but e.g., here.) Has it thus become a “co-belligerent with al Qaeda in [al Qaeda’s] hostilities against America”? Please.

So what about the constitutional theory, i.e. that the President has inherent authority under Article II of the Constitution as Commander in Chief to undertake the extended campaign he now contemplates? Here, too, this latest initiative takes the Administration several steps beyond even its own previously announced, already expansive understanding of the President’s constitutional authority – set forth in an Office of Legal Counsel memorandum in 2011 justifying the use of force in Libya without congressional authorization. Under the Obama OLC view, the President’s constitutional power permits him to use force without congressional authorization (1) if its use serves “important national interests,” AND (2) if the use of force doesn’t rise to the level of a “war” (based on the anticipated nature, scope, and duration of the planned operations), such that the power to launch it falls within Congress’ express constitutional power to “declare war.” Let’s set aside the troubling breadth of the first part of that standard (does the need to identify any broad “important national interest” really constrain presidential power?), and the inherent unpredictability of the second part (when was the last time a contemplated use of military force by the United States turned out just how we had “anticipated”). Let’s also assume that the broad standard “important national interests” is met here. At a minimum, the United States has an interest in supporting regional stability and protecting America’s various allies and interests ISIL has threatened.

But the ability to call the current engagement not-war pushes all envelopes. Here, unlike in Libya, the President himself has indicated defeating ISIL will be no short-term matter. Unlike in Libya, there is no pretense that the United States will be providing principally logistical support for an air campaign, with our allies doing the actual bombing. Here, according to the President, we will be leading the way, and we will be, in the administration’s own contemplation, engaged for some time. As for the prospect of not having “boots on the ground,” assurances on that matter already seem belied by the presence already of more than a thousand publicly known U.S. military and other personnel in the country – personnel whose safety has already been invoked to justify the use of escalated force. Call them “advisors” if one must, but they have feet, some of them undoubtedly clad in boots, all of them already on the ground. And more to come. The United States is engaged in an “armed conflict” in international law terms (already a non-international armed conflict in Iraq, and if we undertake bombing in Syria without that country’s consent, an international armed conflict as well). We will be using armed force. Many people will die. In other words, in any constitutional sense, this is war.

All this is before we’ve reached more difficult questions of international law, or questions of the Administration’s intention to comply, sooner or later, with the existing domestic War Powers Act, requiring Congress to authorize, sooner or later, any such prolonged entry of U.S. forces into hostilities. I’ll hope to address those separately. In the meantime, for all the uncertainty and challenge of the threat ISIL poses, the difficulty of the policy decisions that must have been involved here, the politics of the impending elections, the complexity of some legal questions in this field – this legal question is one of the easy ones. As a matter of law, the President needs additional authority from Congress. Asserting he has it already is wrong.

Obama’s Lame Justification for the ISIL Strikes (He Played the Wrong Card)

by Peter Spiro

I’ll pile on in deploring the legal justification for the expanded operation against the Islamic State. No one is buying the AUMF basis. In addition to Jens below, Jack Goldsmith and Jennifer Daskal have devastating critiques here and here.

The justification could have lasting negative consequences for interbranch relations in the war powers context. The 2001 AUMF involved a context in which congressional authorization was necessary, the response to the 9/11 attacks comprising real “war” for constitutional purposes. It has now been deformed beyond all recognition. This will deter future Congresses from authorizing the use of force even where such congressional authorization is necessary.

It’s a little like Tonkin Gulf. That resolution gave the President what he needed to respond to an (alleged) attack by North Vietnamese forces. But the ensuing conflict was beyond anything that Congress could have imagined at the time, and it felt burned for a generation thereafter for having written what turned out to be a blank check. Depending on how the ISIL operation goes, Obama’s justification could result a similar kind of institutional resentment and distrust, which will make cooperation even more difficult than it already is.

Part of the disappointment here is that he had a much better card to play: longstanding historical practice. (This typically comes under an Article II/Commander in Chief label, though I don’t think you need the constitutional text to get there). The ISIL operation would have comfortably fit into the tradition of Presidents undertaking limited uses of force without congressional authorization. There would have been continuity to that argument — many would have disagreed, but I think the critique would have subsided in due course, because it would have enjoyed a strong basis in the practice. I don’t know if the critique of the AUMF justification is going to subside so quickly. The early returns are not promising.

The 9/11 AUMF does not cover ISIS

by Jens David Ohlin

Last night I blogged about Obama’s speech that outlined the administration’s plan to contain and destroy ISIS. I noted that Obama announced his intention to ask for congressional authorization for the plan while steadfastly maintaining that he did not need this authorization. He was vague about why. In my blog last night, I presumed that he was asserting that he had authority under his Article II commander-in-chief power.

Marty Lederman notes in the comments, as well as on Just Security, that this was not a reference to an Article II argument. A senior administration official released a statement last night confirming that Obama is relying on the 9/11 AUMF as an enduring authorization that covers the new military initiative against ISIS.

I find this argument implausible. Here is the relevant text of the AUMF:

IN GENERAL- That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

Since, al-Qaeda launched the 9/11 attacks, the AUMF covers al-Qaeda. It also covers organizations that planned, authorized, committed or aided the attacks, or organizations that harbored those organizations. Consequently, non-al-Qaeda organizations are covered by the AUMF insofar as they are connected to al-Qaeda in the right way.

This is a question of law application to fact, so it is necessarily a fact-dependent analysis. However, there appears to be little evidence that this link exists between ISIS and al-Qaeda. Of course, ISIS was once part of (or closely associated with al-Qaeda), and therefore at that time the AUMF arguably covered ISIS. Before its current manifestation, ISIS was considered an Iraq franchise of al-Qaeda, operating under the banner of Osama bin Laden and ostensibly subordinating itself under his operational control.

That relationship no longer exists. ISIS no longer operates under the banner of al-Qaeda, nor is it operationally subordinate to what is left of al-Qaeda core or any of the other al-Qaeda franchises. And famously, al-Qaeda effectively excommunicated ISIS for not following its central directives regarding target selection. Al-Qaeda officials correctly concluded that ISIS’s strategy was counter-productive because it alienated Muslims, and they promptly disassociated themselves from a group that was too radical even by al-Qaeda’s standards. So the operational link is broken, and has long-since been broken.

So what is the connection that the administration is asserting? They argue that

Based on ISIL’s longstanding relationship with al-Qa’ida (AQ) and Usama bin Laden; its long history of conducting, and continued desire to conduct, attacks against U.S. persons and interests, the extensive history of U.S. combat operations against ISIL dating back to the time the group first affiliated with AQ in 2004; and ISIL’s position – supported by some individual members and factions of AQ-aligned groups – that it is the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy…

This is a weak argument. Yes, ISIS once had a relationship with al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, but that prior relationship no longer governs. What matters is the current relationship. Furthermore, the fact that ISIS is the “true inheritor” of Bin Laden’s legacy is neither here nor there. In what sense is ISIS the “inheritor” of Bin Laden’s legacy? The only one I can think of is that ISIS represents the gravest Jihadist threat to the peaceful world — a position once held by Osama Bin Laden. Also, the fact that they threaten U.S. personnel and interests is an argument that proves way too much — plenty of other groups do that as well, which isn’t terribly relevant. None of this makes ISIS fit into one of the AUMF categories (planning, aiding, haboring, etc). Simply put, ISIS is not al-Qaeda.

Don’t get me wrong. I think ISIS represents the biggest threat to regional and national security since 9/11, and military force is warranted for that reason. Congress should immediately pass a new AUMF authorizing force against ISIS. I just don’t think that the original AUMF can be stretched to cover ISIS today. It’s a weak argument that sounds like a pretext to avoid making an Article II constitutional argument (which Obama presumably disfavors).

Obama Walks a Thin Line on ISIS

by Jens David Ohlin

A few minutes ago, President Obama addressed the nation to explain his new policy to contain and destroy ISIS. He is walking a fine line: more airstrikes but no direct ground invasion. Instead, he will fund, equip, and train foreign troops to engage in the ground fighting themselves. While this is a politically popular view (ground troops are always risky), it has serious operational deficits. The U.S. has a history of training and equipping foreign troops and the results are usually unimpressive. Too often the money gets diverted and the weapons have a longer shelf life than the military organization that receives them. What happens when the political winds in the region shift? The weapons will still be there, used by actors in ways we can’t now imagine. It won’t be a pretty sight.

Obama’s view on Article II was somewhat schizophrenic. He said that he was asking for congressional authorization for the operation, though he took great pains to emphasize that he didn’t technically need congressional assent. So he is trying to have his cake and eat it too: appear sympathetic to congress while at the same time upholding a strong view of the Article II commander-in-chief power.

Of course, he said nothing about the War Powers Resolution and why he feels that he could go ahead with the operation even in the absence of congressional authorization. He has been sending multiple War Powers letters to Congress each time the military engages in a discrete operation — suggesting that he believes that he can segment military operations into small bits and pieces in order to avoid the 60/90-day limit in the War Powers Resolution. That’s a dangerous precedent, since every war is just an aggregation of small military engagements. If the segmentation move works in this case, it will work in every case, and the 60/90-day limit will be meaningless.

As for international authority, he said nothing. Well, almost nothing. He said that ISIS was not a “state” — a fact which implicitly negates the need for international authority. For operations conducted in Iraq, the U.S. will be operating with the consent of the new Iraqi government, so no sovereignty issues will be triggered. In Syria, the situation is more complicated. U.S. forces will be acting with the consent of the opposition there, though whether Assad will give his consent to operations in Syria seems unlikely. But perhaps the U.S. will rely exclusively on proxy forces in Syria. He was vague on this. There was no discussion of Security Council authorization, though he did discuss the need for a coalition to fight ISIS.

My view is that ISIS represents a far greater threat than al-Qaeda ever posed. ISIS currently controls a large swath of territory and they have even larger ambitions. With a radical ideology and the territory to implement it against a domestic population, ISIS could create a home base for international jihad. Combine those ideological commitments with foreign fighters with foreign passports, and you have a recipe for disaster. Beheading a couple of journalists was only the beginning. And western countries aren’t the only ones to fear. ISIS has shown particular contempt and anger towards fellow Muslims who reject their radical vision. So the need for a broad coalition to defeat ISIS, with western and Middle East partners, is clear. Whether the plan outlined today is enough, I don’t know. I sure hope it is. Otherwise we will be staring at the new face of violent jihadism for the next decade.

Is the AUMF Limited to the United States Armed Forces?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Bobby Chesney has responded at Lawfare to my most recent post on the CIA and the public-authority justification. It’s an excellent response from an exceedingly smart scholar. I still disagree, but Bobby’s post really hones in on the differences between us. I’ll leave it to readers to decide who has the better of the argument.

I do, however, want to discuss Bobby’s reading of the AUMF. In his view — echoing John Dehn’s comments — it is possible to read the AUMF to authorise the use of force by both the military and the CIA:

I’m not actually agreeing with [Kevin’s] AUMF reading. Yes, Section 2′s title refers to the armed forces, but the actual text of section 2 is not so limited (in contrast to the similar section of the 2002 Iraq AUMF, for example, which did refer explicitly and only to armed forces). 

I confess that I find this argument baffling. It’s true that Section 2(a) of the AUMF does not mention the Armed Forces, providing only that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those  nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11,  2001.” Read in context, however, I don’t see how it is possible to plausibly maintain that the word “force” in Section 2(a) does not specifically refer to force by the United States Armed Forces.

First, the AUMF is a Joint Resolution whose purpose, according to its very first line, is “[t]o authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.”

Second, Section 1 of the AUMF (“Short Title”) says the joint resolution “may be cited as the “Authorization for Use of  Military Force.” We do not traditionally associate with the CIA, even if the CIA occasionally engages in paramilitary activity. (And the “para” in paramilitary is important in this context.)

Third, Section 2 of the AUMF, which contains the “force” language upon which Bobby (and John) rely, is entitled “Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces.” I know no theory of statutory interpretation nor any canon of statutory construction that would suggest “force” in the first paragraph of a section entitled “Authorization For Use of United States Armed Forces” should be read in context to refer to something other than the use of force by the Armed Forces.

Fourth, Section 2(b)(1) provides that “[c]onsistent with section 8(a)(1) of the War Powers Resolution, the Congress declares that this section is intended to constitute specific statutory authorization within the meaning of section 5(b) of the War Powers Resolution.” Section 8(a)(1) of the WPR provides as follows (emphasis mine)…

Insta-Symposium on Scottish Independence Referendum

by Roger Alford

We have invited several academic luminaries to post here at Opinio Juris beginning early next week about the Scottish independence referendum that will be held next Thursday, September 18th. As we have done in the past with other symposiums, we also welcome other academics to submit guests posts for possible publication. We particularly welcome Scottish, British, EU and state succession experts. We will focus on the international legal aspects of the Scottish referendum, not the political or economic implications of the vote.

We can’t guarantee we will publish every post submitted, but we would love to broaden the discussion to include other voices. So if you want to write a 500 to 1500-word guest post for Opinio Juris about the Scottish independence referendum, please do so in the next few days and send it to Jessica Dorsey and An Hertogen (their emails are linked to the right). Our editorial team will review the posts and publish those selected.

On a personal note, given that the Alford clan hails from the town of Alford in Aberdeenshire, and my wife and I spent several glorious years in Scotland when I earned my LL.M. and she earned her Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh, our family has been following the developments in Scotland closely.

There’s an old Scottish saying: “Scottish by birth, British by law, Highlander by the grace of God.” Next Thursday will put that maxim to the test.

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Russian Edition

by Jens David Ohlin

Russia has skillfully managed to devote military support to the separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Just how much support — and what kind of support — is unclear, since Russia formally denies that they are directly involved in the ongoing hostilities there. Ukrainian officials have insisted that they have specific proof that Russian troops and their equipment have not only crossed the border into Ukraine but have also engaged Ukrainian government troops. It is not unreasonable to speculate that, but-for the Russian assistance, the conflict would have concluded long ago with a Ukrainian government victory over the rebels.

In the face of mounting evidence of Russian involvement, the rebels have claimed that Russian soldiers deployed in Ukraine are there voluntarily while on vacation. This is an obvious attempt to deny Russian liability, under basic rules of state responsibility, for the actions of the troops. The question is whether this argument holds any water.

First, it is unclear whether the statement is accurate. The world community does not have access to the W2s, or the Russian equivalent, for the soldiers — so if the rebel leaders are lying, the world would have no idea. I also find it hard to believe that Russian troops, or any government troops for that matter, would voluntarily place themselves in harms way for no compensation whatsoever.  More likely they are receiving cash payments covertly.

Second, even if the claim is true, and the Russian commanders have officially placed the soldiers on vacation (or furlough), there is the additional issue that they are no doubt using Russian government equipment, as opposed to their private “home” materials. While individual soldiers might own personaI firearms, I find it hard to believe that Russian troops own their own armored personnel carriers that they keep in their backyards for “vacation” purposes.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, it is unclear what the legal consequences of these “vacation deployments” are even if they are true. The standard is whether the troops are under the control (either effective control or overall control depending on which standard applies) of the Russian government. Employment and monetary payments are just one way of exercising control, as is operational control. However, suppose Russia provides the rebels with 50,000 troops who are “volunteering” to fight with the rebels? Would this automatically entail that Russia has no control over the troops? It seems to me that control requires a richer formulation, one that is sensitive to the varying ways that states can engage in covert assistance across borders. Although states may attempt to deny responsibility for this assistance, this does not mean that international law should let them without suffering the consequences.

In Nicaragua, the ICJ concluded that the mere provision of financial or military assistance, standing on its own, is insufficient to generate state responsibility for the actions of the assisted troops (via direct imputation). This was (and is) a sensible precedent, because the basic contours of complicity requires that international law recognize the various ways that assistance can trigger responsibility. Even if Russia only organized and armed the troops, but did not directly pay them a salary, it would seem to me that this constitutes an illegal interference in Ukrainian domestic sovereignty (with regard to both political independence and territorial integrity), in violation of the UN Charter and customary international law (in much the same way as the ICJ concluded in Nicaragua).

Of course, all of this might be moot. It is possible that Russia is engaged in direct operational control over the rebels, with logistical coordination, air support, and satellite imagery, that unquestionably demonstrates their responsibility even under the effective control test. But at this point the facts are very much unknown.

Three Reasons Why Obama Will Not (and Should Not) Seek Congressional Okay for ISIL Strikes

by Peter Spiro

It looks like President Obama learned his lesson. Last summer he decided to seek Congress’s advance approval for a strike against Syria’s chemical weapons capabilities. Political support for the operation evaporated. Obama looked weak and waffly (the decision was taken on a dime after a 45-minute South Lawn stroll with chief of staff Denis McDonough, almost certainly not vetted through the legal chain of command). Even though the ISIS operation will probably be more significant than what he had in mind for Assad, he won’t be looking for a formal nod from Congress.

In the run-up to the decision (which will likely be announced in his speech Wednesday night) there emerged a nearly unanimous chorus of voices — scholars, lawmakers, commentators — arguing in favor of advance congressional authorization. Among law profs, those pressing the case included Jack Goldsmith, Harold Koh, Ilya Somin, Steve Vladeck and Jennifer Daskal. Tim Kaine and Ted Cruz agreed on this one. The Atlantic’s Conor Freidersdorf had this stinging column pressing for a congressional mandate.

Why Obama is better served bucking this consensus:

1. Authorization would not have been easy to get. Most sane people agree that ISIS presents a threat that needs to be addressed. Prospective military action against the entity enjoys high levels of US popular support.

But that doesn’t mean Congress would have handed Obama the authorization he sought, even on a narrowly tailored basis. Remember, Congress is totally dysfunctional. GOP members facing reelection in November may be loath to do anything that supports the President. The tradition of politics stopping at the water’s edge seems quaint.

If an authorization measure were voted down, Obama would have boxed himself into a corner. Either he would have backed down, with US (and global) security taking the hit. Or he could have persisted with the action on a lonely and legally shaky basis. Although he would surely have framed a request for congressional authorization as constitutionally discretionary (as he did with Syria), that line would have rung hollow in the wake of rejection. This is a context in which actions speak louder than words. The legitimacy of any military action following a failed authorization would have been undermined at home.

And what would Congress’s approval have won him, assuming he got it? Politically, not much. Congress’s favorability ratings are at all-time lows (it is less popular than the U.S. going communist). Anything that can get through Congress now must by definition be so popular that Congress’s approval is itself like a single candle on a crowded cake. That small reward wasn’t worth the significant downside risk of a rebuffed request.

2. Seeking congressional okay would have set a terrible precedent for the future. Leaving aside direct attacks on the United States, there won’t be an easier case for military strikes than against the Islamic State, whose brutality has provoked international revulsion. Most future cases will involve adversaries not nearly so scary. The rise of Rand Paul Republicanism will raise the bar for authorizing any military action, however well advised. Imagine a close case arising during a GOP primary season. If President Obama had asked today, his successors would have had to ask tomorrow.

In that respect, he’s lucky that the Syria CW episode mooted out before it developed any further (it almost certainly would have gone badly). As an incomplete episode it didn’t set down a constitutional precedent. It’s a lot easier to walk back from Rose Garden statement than from a closed constitutional case-file.

3. Obama has ample constitutional authority for not securing congressional authorization. There has been a lot of hair splitting on constitutional war powers lately, the unfortunate byproduct perhaps of the AUMF experience. But the basic dividing line (as nicely argued in the OLC Libya opinion) is between real wars (requiring advance congressional authorization) and everything else (not requiring it). Whatever the ISIL operation ends up being, it is unlikely to be of the former description, involving high risk of significant casualties, huge appropriations that Congress can’t refuse, and escalation. It won’t be “war” for constitutional purposes. I don’t need Article II for this. I’ll take 200+ years of history.

There will be inevitable carping about the refusal to seek the congressional okay here. But that has always been the case, even with respect to quick and painless military action. It will be a little louder than usual this time around. There are the contingencies of this particular operation, which is likely to be complicated and drawn out, with no immediate prospects of erasing the problem. There may also be a broader shift against using force in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan. But Obama will weather the denunciations, just as have all of his predecessors, validating the constitutional order in the process.

A Response to Bobby Chesney — Part II (Article II)

by Kevin Jon Heller

In the first part of my response to Bobby, I argued (after meandering around a bit) that Title 50’s “fifth function” provision cannot be used to authorise the CIA to kill Americans overseas — a necessary condition of any argument that the CIA is entitled to a public-authority justification with regard to 18 USC 1119, the foreign-murder statute. (Bobby kindly responds here.) I thus ended that post by asking where else that authority might be found.

Which brings me to the second argument Bobby makes: namely, that the President’s authority to permit the CIA to kill Americans overseas derives from Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which deems him the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces. Here is what Bobby writes:

OK, fine, but aren’t covert action programs bound to comply with federal statutes, including 1119?

They sure are, and it is important to the continuing legitimacy of the covert-action instrument that it be subject to American law in this way. But the question remains: Does the covert drone strike program violate 1119 as applied to al-Aulaqi? Kevin argues that it does because the AUMF should be read to exclude CIA, and thus that section 1119 is violated, and thus that the requirement that covert action programs comply with statutes is violated too. I don’t agree, however, for I don’t think the AUMF is the only possible domestic law explanation for the CIA’s role; Article II likely applies here as well, and performs the same function as the AUMF in this respect.

There are two ways to read Bobby’s argument. The first is that the President’s Article II authority simply empowers him to ignore duly-enacted federal statutes like the foreign-murder statute. That is John Yoo’s position, encapsulated so memorably when he said, with regard to the federal torture statute, that the President could authorise an interrogator to crush the testicles of a detained terrorist’s child if he felt it was necessary to protect the United States. I doubt Bobby shares Yoo’s sentiments.

The second way to read Bobby’s argument is as follows: (1) the President cannot rely on Article II to violate duly-enacted federal statutes; but (2) he can rely on his Article II authority to authorise the CIA to kill Americans overseas, which means (3) the CIA has the same public authority to kill that the military has under the AUMF; therefore, (4) the CIA is no less entitled than the military to the public-authority justification with regard to the foreign-murder statute.

That is a much more sophisticated argument, and no doubt the one that Bobby endorses. Unfortunately, once we understand the nature of the public-authority justification, it’s simply a more sophisticated way of arguing that Article II permits the President to violate a duly-enacted statute…

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 8, 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: September 7, 2014

by An Hertogen

 Call for papers

  • The Faculty of Law of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Columbia Law School invite the submission of written proposals for an international conference on the international law legacies of the Palestine mandate, to be held in Jerusalem on June 21-22, 2015, and for a subsequent publication. The full call for papers can be found here. Researchers interested in addressing these and related questions are invited to respond to this call for papers with a 1-2 page proposal for an article and presentation, along with a brief CV, including a list of publications. Proposals should be submitted by email to Dr. Rotem Giladi of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem no later than September 30, 2014. Written contributions (of 10,000-12,000 words), based on the selected proposals, will be expected no later than April 15, 2015.
  • The Russian-Armenian (Slavonic) University (RAU) in cooperation with the International and Comparative Law Center and the Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Armenia announce the 7th Yerevan International Conference for Young Researchers on International Humanitarian Law, which will be held from October 30 to November 1, 2014 in Yerevan, Republic of Armenia and will be dedicated to the 150th anniversary of adoption  of the First Geneva Convention. Young researchers in the field of IHL under the age of 35 are invited to take part in the Conference participants pre-selection process. In order to apply the applicants should submit a research paper strictly within the scope of the announced conference topics presented in the call for papers. The Conference now also has its Facebook page. The deadline to submit your application is September 14, 2014. The application form is here.
  • PluriCourts – Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order, University of Oslo – together with University of Copenhagen Centre of Excellence for International Courts – iCourts, is organizing a combined workshop and PhD course on the Legitimacy of International Courts and Tribunals in Oslo, November 24-25, 2014. This workshop explores, assesses and applies different perspectives and standards of legitimacy, and brings such considerations to bear on ICs in four different sectors of international law: human rights, investment, trade, and international criminal law. We invite for full or draft papers that address the following aspects of legitimacy of ICs: (1) rule of law standards; (2) accountability; (3) output and effects; (4) societal acceptance and compliance; and (5) conceptual issues of legitimacy within the sectors human rights, investment, trade, and international criminal law. The deadline for abstracts is September 15, 2014. More information is available here.


  • Theater of War is presenting a dramatic reading of Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes, by Adam Driver, Jesse Eisenberg, Frances McDormand and David Strathairn on September 28 at BAM Fisher in New York. For more information about free registration, click 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.

A Response to Bobby Chesney — Part I

by Kevin Jon Heller

My friend Bobby Chesney has responded at Lawfare to my previous post arguing that Title 50 does not provide the CIA with a public-authority justification to kill Americans overseas. He disagrees with both of the limits on presidential authority to authorise covert action I discussed. I will address the Article II question in a separate post; in this post I want to discuss the “traditional military activity” (TMA) exception to Title 50’s definition of “covert action.” Here is what Bobby writes:

CIA Drone Strikes Don’t Qualify as TMA: As an initial matter, I think one part of his argument depends on a mistaken assumption regarding the meaning of TMA, and that drone strikes do indeed constitute covert action within the meaning of Title 50. The TMA exception to covert action has a complicated and often-misunderstood history, which I recount in detail in this paper (pp. 592-601 especially). The concept was the subject of extensive negotiations between the White House and Congress, ultimately resulting in the following agreement. An activity that otherwise would qualify as covert action would instead count as TMA, thus avoiding the requirement of a written presidential finding and reporting to SSCI and HPSCI, if the following conditions were met.

The operation:

1) was commanded and executed by military personnel, and

2) took place in a context in which overt hostilities either were

(a) ongoing, or

(b) “anticipated (meaning approval has been given by the National Command Authorities for [i] the activities and for [ii] operational planning for hostilities).”

The CIA drone strike program as a general matter almost certainly does not satisfy this test, especially the first prong. This is why it has been long considered by both the Bush and Obama administrations to be covert action, not TMA. If the covert-action statute is capable of conferring the benefits of the public-authority justification, then, it does so here.

I think this response elides the difference between two different situations: (1) where the military wants to use force covertly against al-Qaeda; and (2) where the CIA wants to use force covertly against al-Qaeda. As Bobby’s article brilliantly explains, the TMA language was included in Title 50 because neither President Bush nor the military wanted a presidential finding — with its attendant reporting requirements — to be required every time the military engaged in a covert action. They wanted, in other words, the military to have the right to covertly engage in its traditional warfighting activities without having to acknowledge it was doing so. After much negotiation, Congress ultimately agreed to carve out a category of military actions that would not qualify as “covert actions” for purposes of Title 50, even when not acknowledged: namely, actions that satisfied the two requirements Bobby quotes. The TMA exception thus permits the military to use force covertly against al-Qaeda without a presidential finding as long as the action in question is commanded and executed by the military (check) and takes place in the context of ongoing hostilities (check).

The TMA functions very differently in the context of covert action by the CIA. There is no question that the military is authorised to engage in the kind of activities against al-Qaeda that, when done covertly, may fall under 50 USC 3093.  The military is always authorised to use force against enemy combatants in an armed conflict. The AUMF is simply the latest example of such authorisation. The CIA, however, is in a completely different situation. For all the reasons I discussed in an earlier post, the AUMF does not authorise the CIA to use force against al-Qaeda at all. So the primary question is not whether the CIA can use force against al-Qaeda covertly, but where the CIA gets its authority to use force against al-Qaeda in the first place.

The most obvious answer is, of course, 50 USC 3093

Ted Cruz Moves to Strip Citizenship of ISIL Fighters

by Peter Spiro

As predicted last week, it was only a matter of time before someone on the Hill dropped a bill to terminate the citizenship of Americans who are fighting with the Islamic State. Ted Cruz has taken the plunge, so it will probably get a little more attention than if some backbencher had adopted the cause. Press statement here; text of the bill here.

Either Cruz’s staff hasn’t done its homework here or this is counter-terror showboating pure and simple. If enacted thIs bill would have effect in approximately zero cases. The law amends the loss of nationality provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act to add fighting with or giving material support to listed terrorist organization as a ground for expatriation.

The problem: as per the Supreme Court, any expatriating conduct must be undertaken with the specific intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship. To strip an ISIL fighter under this amendment, the government would have to show not just that someone had fought with ISIL, but that he consciously intended to give up his citizenship by so doing. That would be impossible to show in the ordinary case. Al-Qaeda operative Adam Gadahn is the only notable case from the post-9/11 era in which it might work: in a jihadist youTube, he shredded his U.S. passport.

The Cruz bill is a repeat of Joe Lieberman’s stillborn effort in 2010 (name change: Lieberman’s “Terrorist Expatriation Act” is now Cruz’s “Expatriate Terrorist Act”), unpacked here. You can find an elaborated constitutional analysis from a recent Fordham Law Review symposium here.

Why Title 50 Does Not Provide the CIA with a Public Authority Justification

by Kevin Jon Heller

As I noted in my previous post, my co-blogger Deborah Pearlstein has suggested that a covert operation authorised by the President under Title 50 of the US Code could function as the CIA’s equivalent to the AUMF in terms of its authority to kill an American citizen overseas. Here is what she has argued:

Here, even if the AUMF was not meant to authorize the CIA to do anything, the CIA has broad authority under Title 50 of the U.S. Code to engage in operations overseas, provided it has relevant Presidential approval and complies with requirements of congressional notification. In other words, I can imagine a straightforward explanation for why such an exception would apply to the CIA as well. That it is not evident from the memo is, I suspect, far more a function of redaction than absence of legal authority.

With respect to Deborah, I don’t think the Title 50 argument works. There is no question that 50 USC 3093 provides the President with considerable authority to authorise “a covert action by departments, agencies, or entities of the United States Government” that he determines “is necessary to support identifiable foreign policy objectives of the United States and is important to the national security of the United States.” But the President’s authority is not unlimited; indeed, Title 50 contains two important restrictions that very strongly suggest the President could not legally have authorised the CIA to kill an American citizen overseas, and particularly not Anwar al-Awlaki.

The first limit is provided by 50 USC 3093(e), which defines “covert action” for purposes of Title 50 generally (emphasis mine):

As used in this subchapter, the term “covert action” means an activity or activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will not be apparent or acknowledged publicly, but does not include 

(1) activities the primary purpose of which is to acquire intelligence, traditional counterintelligence activities, traditional activities to improve or maintain the operational security of United States Government programs, or administrative activities;

(2) traditional diplomatic or military activities or routine support to such activities;

(3) traditional law enforcement activities conducted by United States Government law enforcement agencies or routine support to such activities; or

(4) activities to provide routine support to the overt activities (other than activities described in paragraph (1), (2), or (3)) of other United States Government agencies abroad.

The US government has consistently argued that its drone program, both in Yemen and elsewhere, only targets combatants who are involved in a non-international armed conflict between the US and al-Qaeda. While serving as the State Department’s Legal Advisor, for example, Harold Koh claimed that “as a matter of international law, the United States is in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda and its associate forces,” and that “in this ongoing armed conflict, the United States has the authority under international law, and the responsibility to its citizens, to use force, including lethal force, to defend itself, including by targeting persons such as high-level al-Qaeda leaders who are planning attacks.” Indeed, the new White Paper, like the previous memorandum, emphasizes (p. 12) that “the frame of reference” for whether the CIA is entitled to the public-authority justification regarding Anwar al-Awlaki “is that the United States is currently in the midst of an armed conflict, and the public-authority justification would encompass an operation such as this one were it conduct by the military consistent with the laws of war.”

There is no question, then, that the US government views the use of lethal force against an American citizen who is “a senior leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces” — such as al-Awlaki — as a “traditional military activity.” But if that’s the case, 50 USC 3093(e)(2) specifically prohibits the President from relying on Title 50 to authorise the CIA to engage in such targeting.

Moreover, even if it could somehow be argued that targeting “a senior leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces” in the “armed conflict” between those forces and the US is not a “traditional military activity,” 50 USC 3093(a)(5) would still prohibit the President from authorising the CIA to kill any such leaders who is an American citizen. Section 3093(a)(5) provides that a Presidential finding “may not authorize any action that would violate the Constitution or any statute of the United States.” The foreign-murder statute, 18 USC 1119, is undeniably a “statute of the United States.” The President thus has no authority whatsoever to authorise the CIA to violate section 1119.

That conclusion, it is important to note, is not affected by whether 18 USC 1119 incorporates the public-authority justification — which I believe it does. In order to claim the justification as a defence to a violation of section 1119, the defendant must obviously have the requisite public authority to kill an American overseas. And 50 USC 3093(e)(2) and 50 USC 3093(a)(5) each independently deny the President the right to bestow that authority on the CIA via a covert-action finding under Title 50.

In short, and contrary to the new White Paper, neither the AUMF nor Title 50 provide the CIA with a get-out-of-jail-free card with regard to 18 USC 1119. So unless there is some other source of the CIA’s supposed public authority to kill Americans overseas — and I can’t imagine what it could be — Anwar al-Awlaki’s killing by the CIA is indeed properly described as murder.

NOTE: Marcy Wheeler offers some similar thoughts here.

We Still Don’t Know Where the CIA’s Public Authority Comes From

by Kevin Jon Heller

In late June, I wrote a long post responding to the notorious memorandum in which the OLC attempted to provide a legal justification for killing Anwar al-Awlaki. I argued that although the AUMF likely provides the US military with a public-authority justification for violating 18 USC 1119, the foreign-murder statute, it does not and cannot provide the CIA with that justification. In defence of that conclusion, I cited the title of the AUMF and the text of the statute, both of which make inordinately clear that the AUMF applies only to the military (emphasis mine):

To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States.


Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This joint resolution may be cited as the “Authorization for Use of Military Force.”


(a) IN GENERAL. — That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

In response to a FOIA request by Vice News‘ inestimable Jason Leopold, who has led the fight for transparency regarding the use of lethal force, the US government has now released a 25 May 2011 White Paper that specifically argues the CIA is also entitled to a public-authority justification. Unfortunately, the White Paper fails to justify its conclusion — at least in its unredacted portions. Like the earlier memorandum, the White Paper is largely devoted to establishing that the public-authority justification applies to the foreign-murder statute and that members of the US military would be entitled to the justification. (Two conclusions I agree with.) It then simply says this (pp. 14-15):

Given the assessment that an analogous operation carried out pursuant to the AUMF would fall within the scope of the public-authority justification, there is no reason to reach a different conclusion for a CIA operation.

That’s it. That’s the sum total of the unredacted argument. But there is a reason to reach a different conclusion “for a CIA operation” — as pointed out above, the AUMF does not apply to the CIA. Which means that the source of the public-authority justification must lie elsewhere.

Now let me be clear: I am not saying the CIA cannot be entitled to the public-authority justification. I am simply pointing out that the AUMF does not provide the CIA with the necessary authority. Perhaps there is another source, such as Title 50 of the US Code, as my co-blogger Deb Pearlstein has suggested. Indeed, the redaction on page 16 of the new White Paper may well refer to that other source of authority, given that five or six lines of redacted text follow this statement:

Thus, just as Congress would not have intended section 1119 to bar a military attack on the sort of individual described above, neither would it have intended the provision to prohibit an attack on the same target, in the same authorized conflict and in similar compliance with the laws of war, carried out by the CIA in accord with _____.

I don’t understand why the OLC would need to redact a reference to Title 50 (or to some other source of authority). The legal source of the CIA’s authorization to kill Americans overseas — if one exists — hardly seems like a state secret. Until the government reveals that source, however, we remain entitled to conclude that the CIA drone-strike that killed Anwar al-Awlaki violated 18 USC 1119.

Weekend Roundup: August 30-September 5, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, we welcomed Jens Ohlin to our masthead.

Kevin asked whether it’s time to reconsider the al-Senussi admissibility decision, linked to a Rolling Stone article about Chevron and the Lago Agrio case, and criticized attempts to assess the proportionality of an attack based on combatant:civilian kill ratios.

There was more on the Gaza Conflict in a guest post by Liron Libman, who examined if the Palestinian Authority’s leadership can be held responsible for the Al Aqsah Martyrs’ Brigade’s actions during the conflict.

In other posts, Kristen discussed the UN Security Council’s response to the demands of the captors of 45 Fijian peacekeepers at the Israel-Syrian border, Chris analysed Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric of an independent Novorossiya, and Roger reported on his research on treaties that supersede statutes under the last-in-time rule.

Finally, Jessica listed events and announcements, and wrapped up the international law headlines. In other announcements, Kevin posted a job vacancy at Matrix Chambers.

Have a nice weekend!

Matrix Chambers Is Hiring!

by Kevin Jon Heller

My friends at Matrix Chambers have asked me to post the following job announcement, for established practitioners in international law:

Founded in 2000 to meet the complex challenges of law in the 21st century, Matrix Chambers has 70 members and 7 associate members supported by a dynamic and modern staff team. We have offices in London and Geneva.

Individual members of Matrix Chambers have experience and expertise in a wide range of international law areas including maritime, humanitarian, environmental, boundary disputes, oil and gas disputes, investment treaty disputes, and disputes between States. Members of Chambers attract an increasing amount of private international law work in addition to the public international law cases for which they are renowned for, along with a commitment to developing non-litigation work, including advisory work on Corporate Social Responsibility, investigatory work, and international mediation.

Members act for a full range of clients including individuals, companies, NGO’s, and States. They appear before the major international courts and tribunals, including the International Court of Justice, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, the WTO dispute settlement bodies, and international criminal courts and tribunals, as well as before domestic courts where issues of international law arise. Members also act in ICSID, PCA and other arbitrations. Members are ranked highly in international law in all the major legal directories.

In accordance with its policy of controlled growth, and given the heavy workload of the team, Matrix wishes to recruit additional members to complement the core International Law team. Matrix invites applications from experienced barristers, lawyers, and academics who have an established and exceptional international law practice, either here in England and Wales, or in other jurisdictions.

The successful candidates will need to demonstrate that they are outstanding International Law practitioners with a strong reputation in the international arena, who support the Core Values of Matrix. You can request an application pack by e-mailing recruitment [at] matrixlaw [dot] co [dot] uk or call +44 (0)20 7404 3447.  The deadline for receipt of applications is Friday 12th September 2014.

Any potential applicants who wish to discuss their application may contact Practice Manager Paul Venables (paulvenables [at] matrixlaw [dot] co [dot] uk) or the International Law group coordinator Professor Zachary Douglas (zacharydouglas [at] matrixlaw [dot] co [dot] uk). All applications will be treated in the strictest confidence.

This is an amazing opportunity for the right candidate. Matrix is obviously one of the UK’s best barrister sets, with a particularly strong international-law group — Prof. James Crawford, Philippe Sands QC, Raza Husain QC, Cherie Booth QC, Ben Emmerson QC, Michelle Butler, and many others.

Note that the deadline for applying is coming up soon — a week from today, September 12. You can download the application pack here.

When Treaties Supersede Statutes

by Roger Alford

Anyone familiar with foreign relations law hears the common refrain that treaties almost never supersede statutes under the last-in-time rule. Until recently, it was certainly my understanding that the ancient Supreme Court case of Cook v. United States was the only significant example in which a self-executing treaty trumped an earlier conflicting statute. But my recent research on the last-in-time rule indicates that there are several examples in which that rule has been applied to give effect to a self-executing treaty that conflicts with an earlier federal statute.

In particular, numerous mutual legal assistance treaties (MLATs) have been adopted to facilitate effective investigation and prosecution of criminal activities. These MLATs streamline the process of letters rogatory and guarantee that the United States will provide greater legal assistance with respect to discovery requests by foreign governments for use in criminal proceedings abroad. These treaties are self-executing and conflict with an earlier statute, 28 U.S.C. 1782, which grants courts significant discretion to deny discovery requests based on substantive protections relating to, inter alia, privileged evidence and foreign discoverability. In other words, pursuant to the MLATs, discovery requests are direct and automatic, not indirect and discretionary as required under Section 1782.

For example, in In re Premises Located at 840 140th Avenue NE, Bellevue Washington, the Ninth Circuit held that “a ratified self-executing treaty generally stands on the same footing as a federal statute, that is, a later in time self-executing treaty has the same effect on an existing federal statute as a later-in-time act of Congress.” Consequently, the Ninth Circuit held that, in light of the US-Russia MLAT, courts do not have the broad discretion conferred by Section 1782 to deny the Russian’s request for legal assistance in gathering evidence in the United States.

Similarly, in In re Commissioner’s Subpoenas, the Eleventh Circuit interpreted the US-Canada MLAT as a self-executing treaty that need not comply with the substantive obligations of Section 1782. “A treaty, when ratified, supersedes prior domestic law to the contrary, and is equivalent to an act of Congress…. [T]he Treaty substantively stands on its own as a law and therefore such MLAT requests need not comply with the substantive restrains associated with requests made solely under 28 U.S.C. 1782.” The foreign discoverability requirements recognized by Section 1782 did not apply and the MLAT required issuance of the subpoenas.

Finally, in In re Erato, an American mother had challenged a Dutch discovery request pursuant to Section 1782’s recognition of foreign privilege laws. If Section 1782 controlled the mother would not have to testify against her son because Dutch law recognizes parent-child privilege. The Second Circuit held that “existing law under Section 1782 does not control this case…. the [US-Netherlands MLAT] Treaty is self-executing and … will amend and supplement preexisting law in several aspects. We are bound to give effect to the Treaty because it is self-executing…. To the extent that the Treaty is inconsistent with a preexisting statutory provision, the Treaty supersedes that provision.” Consequently, the court prevented application of foreign testimonial privilege and required the mother to testify against her son.

These cases do not obviate the general point that the last-in-time rule typically results in the enforcement of subsequent statutes that conflict with earlier treaties. But they should at least put to rest the canard that the last-in-time rule never results in the enforcement of self-executing treaties over earlier federal statutes.

Guest Post: Possible Responsibility of Palestinian Authority’s Leadership for the Al Aqsah Martyrs’ Brigade Actions During the Gaza Conflict

by Liron A. Libman

[Col. (reserve) Liron A. Libman is the former head of the International Law Department in the Israel Defense Forces. He is currently a PhD candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and teaches criminal law at Ono Academic College.]

Recently, there has been extensive discussion regarding a possible Palestinian application to the ICC, and the various complex legal issues that would arise from such a move. Most commentators have cited internal Palestinian politics as the main reason for Abbas’ foot-dragging with regard to approaching the ICC. In essence, the claim is that since Hamas is committing war crimes against Israel, any Palestinian initiative at the ICC would expose Hamas officials to proceedings before the ICC. In fact, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council Ibrahim Khraishi has explicitly stated that Hamas’ launching of missiles at civilian objects constitutes a crime against humanity, warning that this makes an application to the ICC problematic for Palestinians (See here).  What is largely overlooked is the commission of similar acts by armed factions of the Fatah party, particularly the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade. This post will briefly explore evidence of Fatah’s involvement in firing rockets at Israeli civilians, and the possible criminal liability of Palestinian Authority (PA) or PLO officials for those attacks.

The Fatah movement dominates the PA. Palestinian President Abbas is also the political leader of Fatah, which is the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Evidence indicates that the Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsah Martyrs’ Brigade, like Hamas, intentionally directs rocket attacks at Israeli civilians and civilian centers. These attacks are not occasional shootings, attributable to a rogue group of militants – they are regular occurrences. This faction does not try to hide its involvement in these incidents; on the contrary, it takes pride in the attacks and even posts videos of them on its official YouTube channel. See also various reports here and here. For example, on July 25th the Brigades claimed responsibility for targeting Beersheba and Ashdod, two Israeli large cities, with three grad missiles. On July 30th, they claimed responsibility for firing 7 rockets into Israeli cities.

Furthermore, it is interesting to note, that the Fatah Al Aqsah Martyrs’ Brigade was supposedly dismantled following President Abbas’s decree in 2007. Now it has re-emerged, declaring an “open war against the Zionist enemy [Israel]” not just in Gaza but also in the West Bank and Israel within the green line. This declaration was accompanied by a list of attacks carried in the West Bank, mostly against military targets but some against civilian settlements. Until now, no response to this development by President Abbas or the PA leadership was recorded [for more details see: here].

From a criminal law point of view, it is clear that those actually firing rockets towards civilians and into civilian centers, whether they are connected to Hamas, Fatah or other Palestinian factions, are committing war crimes enshrined in article 8(2) of the Rome Statute, inter alia intentionally targeting civilians; since these acts were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population, it is also possible that they were committing crimes against humanity.

A more complex and interesting question is that of other persons who may be held responsible for these crimes, most particularly among senior PA officials.  Both factual and legal issues would have to be explored in this regard. Continue Reading…

Rebels Holding Peacekeepers Demand UN lift Sanctions

by Kristen Boon

Last week, 45 Fijian peacekeepers deployed as part of a 1,200-member U.N. force monitoring a buffer zone between Syria and Israel were captured and are being held by Nusra Front rebels.   (Hat tip to Theodore Christakis here at the ESIL conference in Vienna for raising the issue yesterday in the ESIL / SHARES Peace and Security Interest Group Seminar.)

Rebels have made three demands for their release, according to a WSJ article published yesterday:

1. They want to be dropped from the list of al Qaeda-linked groups under U.N. sanctions;

2. They are demanding monetary compensation for the deaths of the insurgents who were killed in recent fighting along the Syrian-Israeli border; and

3. They want humanitarian aid for a rebel-controlled area near the Syrian capital Damascus that is surrounded by government troops.

The Security Council responded with a press release yesterday, read by Amb. Samantha Power, in which it “condemned in the strongest terms the detention of 45 Fijian peacekeepers by a Security Council-designated terrorist organization.  They reiterated their call for the peacekeepers’ immediate and unconditional release.  There can never be any justification for attacks on or the detention of UN peacekeepers.”

The demand for delisting is particularly striking. On the one hand, it suggests that targeted sanctions are relevant to this group, whether for practical or symbolic reasons.  On the other hand, there continues to be debate about the Security Council’s legal basis for placing demands on or regulating non-state actors.

In the Kosovo Advisory Opinion, the ICJ indicated the Security Council could create obligations for non-state actors, but the conferral of rights, obligations, and status on subjects of law without their participation in the international law making process continues to be controversial as the ILA’s 2014 report on Non-State Actors explores.  Both the Council’s imposition of sanctions and its demand for the peacekeepers’ immediate and unconditional release in the press statement, (and here it is relevant that press statements are considered decisions of the Council) raise interesting and important issues in international law.

Who Knew Al-Qassam Was the Most Moral Army in the World?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Today’s Jerusalem Post features an article discussing testimony by a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan that purports to demonstrate the IDF takes more care in avoiding civilian casualties than any other army in the world. Here is a snippet:

Israel’s ratio of civilian to military casualties in Operation Protective Edge was only one-fourth of the average in warfare around the world, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan Col. (res.) Richard Kemp told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Wednesday.

Kemp pointed out that, during the operation, there was approximately one civilian casualty for ever terrorist killed by the IDF, whereas the average in the world is four civilians for every combatant, and that, when taking into consideration Hamas’s use of human shields, this shows how careful the IDF is.

“No army in the world acts with as much discretion and great care as the IDF in order to minimize damage. The US and the UK are careful, but not as much as Israel,” he told the committee.

Kemp, who has long openly admired the IDF’s military tactics and testified in Israel’s favor to the Goldstone Commission following Operation Cast Lead in 2009, visited Israel during Operation Protective Edge.

If this is the metric we should use to determine how much “care” a military takes in its operations, it’s worth noting that the IDF actually runs a distant second in the care department to Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the Brigades have killed 65 IDF soldiers and four Israeli civilians during Operation Protective Edge — a staggering 16-1 combatant:civilian kill ratio. According to Col. Kemp’s logic, therefore, the al-Qassam Brigades are at least 4X more careful than the IDF regarding collateral damage to civilians — and 16X more careful than the world army average. Amazing!

NOTE: I do not actually believe that al-Qassam is the most moral army in the world. I provide the analysis to illustrate that absolutely nothing can be learned about how much care a military takes by comparing — in an utterly decontextualised way —  the combatant:civilian kill ratio in one of its operations to the combatant:civilian kill ratios in different conflicts fought by different militaries. To begin with, the jus in bello concept of proportionality is operation-specific: we determine whether an attack is proportionate by comparing anticipated military advantage to expected civilian damage. Inter-conflict comparisons are irrelevant. Moreover, the proportionality of an attack tells us very little about whether that attack was indiscriminate: an indiscriminate attack can involve low civilian casualties, or even none at all, because the concept of discrimination focuses on methods, not on outcomes. Indeed, were it otherwise, it would be difficult to condemn Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli civilians as indiscriminate, given that more than 12,000 rockets have killed fewer than 30 Israelis in the past 13 years. Those rocket attacks are indiscriminate because they cannot distinguish between legitimate military objectives and civilians, not because they have led to high civilian casualties.

Rolling Stone on Chevron’s Dirty Tricks in the Lago Agrio Case

by Kevin Jon Heller

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about Chevron’s “Rainforest Chernobyl” — the company’s deliberate dumping of more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste-water into Ecuador’s Lago Agrio region. But I want to call readers’ attention to a blockbuster new article in Rolling Stone that details the wide variety of dirty tricks Chevron has used to avoid paying the multi-billion-dollar judgment against it in Ecuador. (The plaintiffs filed the suit in the US. Chevron demanded that it be moved to Ecuador, where it expected a friendly government to ensure it would win.) Here is my favorite snippet, discussing the $2 million Chevron paid one of its contractors to create fake laboratories the company could use to “test” Lago Agrio field samples:

We don’t know everything about the soil-and-water testing phase of the trial. But we do have hours of recorded conversations between Santiago Escobar, an Ecuadorean living in Toronto, and a Chevron contractor named Diego Borja.

Borja was already part of the Chevron extended family when the company hired him to transport coolers containing the company’s field samples to supposedly independent labs. His uncle, a 30-year Chevron employee, owned the building housing Chevron’s Ecuadorean legal staff. As he carried out his work, Borja collected more than one kind of dirt. In recorded calls to Escobar in 2009, Borja explained how Chevron’s Miami office helped him set up front companies posing as independent laboratories. (Among his Miami bosses was Reis Veiga, one of the lawyers indicted for corruption in the 1997 Texaco remediation settlement with the Ecuadorean government.)

Borja contacted Escobar because he thought his information might be valuable to the other side. “Crime does pay,” he told Escobar. In the calls, Borja suggests Chevron feared exposure and prosecution under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “If [a U.S.] judge finds out that the company did cooked things, he’ll say, ‘Tomorrow we better close them down,’ you get it?” He boasted of possessing correspondence “that talks about things you can’t even imagine … things that can make the Amazons [plaintiffs] win this just like that.” In awe of Chevron’s power, Borja said the company has “all the tools in the world to go after everyone. Because these guys, once the trial is over, they’ll go after everyone who was saying things about it.” Still, the benefits of working with them were great. “Once you’re a partner of the guys,” he told Escobar, “you’ve got it made. It’s a brass ring this big, brother.”

Borja’s brass ring was ultimately worth over $2 million. Sometime around 2010, he was naturalized at Chevron’s expense and moved into a $6,000-a-month gated community near Chevron’s headquarters in San Ramon, California. Why the company finds his loyalty worth so much is hard to say, because Judge Kaplan blocked further discovery. When asked if Borja is still being paid by the company, Chevron spokesman Morgan Crinklaw said, “Not as far as I know.”

“Kaplan gave Chevron unlimited access to our files,” says Donziger, “but allowed them to maintain a complete iron curtain of privilege over everything related to the misconduct of non-attorneys like Borja and its network of espionage operatives.”

I’m skeptical the Lago Agrio plaintiffs will ever receive the justice they deserve — particularly in a US courtroom. But at least articles like this one help illuminate the lengths to which multinationals like Chevron will go to avoid being held responsible for their actions.

It’s Time to Reconsider the Al-Senussi Case. (But How?)

by Kevin Jon Heller

As readers are no doubt aware, Libya has descended into absolute chaos. As of now, there is quite literally no functioning central government:

Libya’s newly elected parliament has reappointed Abdullah al-Thinni as prime minister, asking him to form a “crisis government” within two weeks even as the authorities acknowledged they had lost control of “most” government buildings in Tripoli.

Senior officials and the parliament, known as the Council of Representatives, were forced last month to relocate from the capital to Tubruq in eastern Libya after fighting broke out between the Dawn of Libya coalition, led by brigades from the city of Misurata, and rival militias based at the city’s international airport.

Since then the airport has fallen to the Islamist-affiliated coalition and Tripoli appears to have slipped almost completely out of the government’s grip.

Mr Thinni’s administration said in a statement posted on its Facebook page late on Sunday night that it had lost control of Tripoli and that its officials had been unable to access their offices, which had been occupied by opposition militias.

“We announce that most ministries, state agencies and institutions in Tripoli are out of our control,” said the government. Some state buildings had been occupied by armed groups and staff, including ministers and undersecretaries, had been threatened and prevented from entering, it said.

“It has become difficult for them to go to their offices without facing either arrest or assassination, especially after several armed formations announced threats against them, attacked their homes and terrorised their families,” the statement added.

The collapse of the Libyan government comes less than five weeks after the ICC Appeals Chamber unanimously decided that the case against Abdullah al-Senussi was inadmissible. In its view at the time — to quote the summary of the admissibility decision — “the case against Mr Al-Senussi is being investigated by Libya and… Libya is not unwilling or unable genuinely to carry out the investigation.”

Whatever the merits of the Appeals Chamber’s decision at the time — and they’re limited — the situation on the ground in Libya has obviously rendered it obsolete. It is now impossible to argue that the Libyan government is “able” to effectively prosecute al-Senussi, no matter how willing it might be. The Court thus needs to reconsider the admissibility of his case sooner rather than later.

Fortunately, the drafters of the Rome Statute anticipated just such a situation. Art. 19(10) specifically provides that  “[i]f the Court has decided that a case is inadmissible under article 17, the Prosecutor may submit a request for a review of the decision when he or she is fully satisfied that new facts have arisen which negate the basis on which the case had previously been found inadmissible under article 17.” The OTP should submit such a request as soon as possible; whatever hesitation it once had about forcefully asserting the admissibility of the case, there is now no possible justification for not trying to take control of it.

But what about al-Senussi? Can he challenge the inadmissibility decision? It’s a very complicated issue — but I think the best answer, regrettably, is that he cannot…

Jens Ohlin Joining Opinio Juris

by Kevin Jon Heller

It is my great pleasure to announce that Jens Ohlin, Professor of Law at Cornell, is joining Opinio Juris as its newest masthead member. (Astute readers will have noticed he was added there yesterday!) I doubt Jens needs much introduction, but here is a snippet from his Cornell bio anyway:

Professor Ohlin specializes in international law and all aspects of criminal law, including domestic, comparative, and international criminal law. His latest book, The Assault on International Law, forthcoming from Oxford University Press, challenges the prevailing American hostility towards international law, and offers a novel theory of rationality to explain why nations should comply with international law. 

Ohlin’s research also focuses on the laws of war, in particular the impact of new technology on the regulation of warfare, including remotely piloted drones and the strategy of targeted killings, cyber-warfare, and the role of non-state actors in armed conflicts. His books in this area include Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World (Oxford University Press 2012, with A. Altman & C. Finkelstein); Cyber-War: Law & Ethics for Virtual Conflicts (Oxford University Press forthcoming, with C. Finkelstein & K. Govern); and Defending Humanity: When Force is Justified and Why (Oxford University Press 2008, with George Fletcher). 

We are very lucky to have Jens joining us. In addition to being ridiculously prolific, he is also ridiculously good; I think there is little question that Jens is one of the most important IHL and ICL scholars of his generation. I never fail to learn from his work, even — and perhaps especially — when I disagree with it. I don’t think I’m alone in that; there are very few scholars in IHL and ICL who are so uniformly respected by both the left and the right.

I can’t wait to see what Jens chooses to write about at Opinio Juris. Please join all of us in welcoming him to the blog. And check out his new book!

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 1, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

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




Middle East and Northern Africa