Archive for
May, 2015

Events and Announcements: May 31, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Events

Announcements

  • The University of Lancaster has announced a conference on Hybrid Warfare and Minorities, taking place 26 June 2015. This conference looks at recent trends in unconventional warfare involving cyberattacks, the media and the use of irregular forces, and their relationship with human and minority rights. Three panels will address 1. Cyberwarfare, Freedom of Expression and Minorities; 2. Hybrid Warfare and Attribution; 3. Hybrid Warfare and the Concept of “Attack”. Keynote speakers are Dr. Thomas D. Grant (University of Cambridge) and Professor Bill Bowring (Birkbeck, University of London). Further details can be found here.

Our previous events and announcements post can be found here. If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us with a one-paragraph description of your announcement along with hyperlinks to more information.

Weekend Roundup: May 17-31, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Over the last two weeks at Opinio Juris, we’ve seen several contributions. Our regular bloggers covered a number of recent developments such as Deborah’s recent post, cross-posted on Just Security, on the D.C. district court’s considering the habeas petition of Guantanamo detainee Mukhtar Yahia Naji al Warafi, and the concept of “active hostilities.” On a related note, Jens covered the nature and scope of the conflict in Afghanistan.

Kristen pointed out that the ILC has now appointed a special rapporteur on jus cogens and also highlighted two recent reports on the ILC website, the first on crimes against humanity and the second on the identification of customary international law.

Julian also weighed in with a couple of posts, the first calling on the world’s media to realize that the US is not challenging China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea (yet) and the second was to point out his new article on Argentina’s sovereign debt crisis at University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, entitled: “Don’t Cry for Sovereign Debtors: Why Argentina’s Defeat in U.S. Courts Does Not Justify a Sovereign Debt Treaty.”

Kevin posted on Regulation 55 of the Rome Statute in the context of the Gbagbo proceedings and what he terms the irrelevance of the confirmation hearing. He also posted on when the left shoots itself in the foot (IHL version).

We had two guest contributions in the last two weeks. The first, from Rick Lines, Damon Barrett and Patrick Gallahue was entitled: The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: ‘Asian Values’ or Drug Treaty Influence? Marina Aksenova posted on Five Questions on the Colombian Sentencing Practice and the Principle of Complementarity under the Rome Statute.

Finally, I wrapped up the news and posted on the events and announcements.

Thanks to our guest contributors and to you for following us on Opinio Juris. Have a great weekend!

al Warafi’s Active Hostilities

by Deborah Pearlstein

Cross-posted at Just Security

As Marty Lederman’s earlier post explains, a D.C. district court is now considering the habeas petition of Guantanamo detainee Mukhtar Yahia Naji al Warafi, found in an earlier habeas case to be a member of the Taliban’s armed forces, who argues that because “hostilities” between the United States and the Taliban have ceased, the domestic statute (the AUMF) on which the United States has relied no longer authorizes his detention. Marty and I are, I believe, in substantial agreement about most aspects of the case. (And thanks to Marty for the link to my article, where I’ve written about the merits of these issues, and the role of the courts in resolving them, at length.)

But because both the briefs and (therefore) Marty’s post devote so much time to parsing the President’s statements about the existence of an armed conflict between the U.S. and the Taliban – statements I think only marginally relevant to the merits of al Warafi’s case – I want to clarify what this case mostly is, or should be, about.

Warafi’s petition is, appropriately, based on Article 118 of the Third Geneva Convention (GCIII), requiring that prisoners “shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities.” By its terms, GCIII only applies to international armed conflicts – that is, conflicts between two or more states. As I think all would agree, the conflict in Afghanistan has for some years been a non-international armed conflict – that is, a conflict between states (Afghanistan and the United States) on one side and several non-state parties (including a Taliban insurgency) on the other. But because Justice O’Connor expressly cited Article 118 in explaining the Court’s understanding of the scope of the AUMF in Hamdi, there has been little dispute since Hamdi that Article 118’s limitation on the duration of detention informs the “necessary and appropriate” scope of AUMF detentions.

Article 118 does not require a court (or anyone else) to determine whether the parties are in fact still in a state of “armed conflict” within the meaning of international law. The existence or not of an “armed conflict” can matter a great deal in some circumstances – most commonly, in the determination whether an individual may be tried for war crimes, a question at issue in our own military commission trials as we speak. It may also ultimately matter in al Warafi, for reasons I discuss below. But “armed conflict” (see GCIII Common Article 2) and “active hostilities” (in Article 118) are separate terms in the treaties, and were deliberately designed to refer to separate concepts, as well. As the Commentary to GCIII makes clear, the drafters of Article 118 were interested in hastening the release of prisoners, requiring their release at an earlier point than previously assumed – i.e., in the current version of the Conventions, as soon as the fighting stops. (In an interstate armed conflict, which is what Article 118 addresses directly, this point can occur before the end of the conflict.) The notion was in part to prevent parties from continuing to hold prisoners on some pretext, as some of the Allies did after World War II, keeping prisoners for purposes of forced labor. (For more on how the United States has ended its detention operations in wars of the past century, see here. Notably, the United States has often released prisoners back into conditions of hostilities far more active than what the U.S. brief now describes in Afghanistan.) The Article 118 rule was equally driven by an interest in letting prisoners return home without having to wait for a formal peace agreement to be concluded (or some other manifestation of often unattainable clarity in the relations between the parties).

Because Article 118 is thus aimed directly at the facts on the ground, as it were, claims based solely on what the President (or the Taliban, for that matter) says about the mission of the United States or the existence of an “armed conflict” can hardly be dispositive of whether “active hostilities” actually continue–and that is the relevant question, as the Government suggests in the back end of its brief (see the end of Marty’s post), but that Al Warafi strangely ignores. So what is actually happening on the ground in Afghanistan? Between the DOD General Counsel’s speech at ASIL some weeks back, and the U.S. brief filed in al Warafi, one might expect that we would have important insights into the answer to that question. Alas, we don’t yet know very much. This is no doubt due in part to some significant redactions in the government’s brief – passages the relevance of which is impossible to evaluate. And some unredacted parts of the government’s brief describe circumstances other than fighting: the presence of U.S. troops, for example, or the presence of a threat from Al Qaeda rather than the Taliban. These facts are of limited significance to the question of whether “active hostilities” between the U.S. and the Taliban continue. The U.S. military maintains a presence in numerous countries; that is hardly enough to constitute “active hostilities.” And the existence of a generalized, chronic “threat” from Al Qaeda or the Taliban – a claim the government brief makes repeatedly – likewise should not suffice. U.S. troops, civilian employees and nationals face threats all over the world. There is a difference between the threat of hostilities and actual, “active” hostilities.

What matters here is the handful of unredacted incidents the government notes on pages 14-15 of its brief – incidents involving actual attacks by the Taliban. Interestingly, however, of the four incidents cited, only one appears to involve a Taliban attack on U.S. military forces as such. One incident involves a Taliban infiltration of Afghan forces, in which three American civilian contractors were killed. Two others involve attacks on NATO forces, in which two U.S. troops were killed. The last involves “an attack by a suicide car bomber” near a U.S. military base, which is not reported to have resulted in any American casualties.

Without for a moment discounting the immeasurable human cost of such incidents, it is here that understanding the meaning of “active hostilities” might be informed with reference to the nature of “armed conflict.” Article 118 uses the term “active hostilities” rather than “armed conflict” not to suggest that prisoners could be held even after the conclusion of full-fledged armed conflict, as long as any low level of hostilities exists. Rather, that article makes the continuation of “active hostilities” the condition for continued detention for the opposite reason – that is, to facilitate the release of prisoners as soon as conditions make it possible, whether or not the parties have succeeded in agreeing to a formal end to armed conflict. It is difficult to imagine that the drafters of this provision imagined a condition of zero violence would be required before prisoners would be entitled to release. That is, it is difficult to imagine the drafters wished to replace one too-practically-difficult condition for the termination of detention with another too-practically-difficult condition, given their express concern for the reality, as the Commentary puts it, “that captivity is a painful situation which must be ended as soon as possible.” The “active hostilities” term is better read as embodying a pragmatic standard, with a finger on the scale of release. Whether the redacted passages of the government’s brief reveal that active hostilities are yet over or not, the legal standard should not require conditions of absolute peace to conclude that they are.

The ILC takes up Jus Cogens

by Kristen Boon

On May 27, 2015 Mr. Dire Tladi of South Africa was appointed Special Rapporteur for a new topic on the International Law Commission’s agenda:  jus cogens.  The progressive development and codification of jus cogens principles marks a significant step forward.  For many years it was considered, as Ian Brownlie once quipped, “like the car that never left the garage.”  The ILC’s syllabus, available here, suggests a bright new future lies ahead.

The scope of the Commission’s inquiry is likely to focus on the following elements:  the nature of jus cogens; requirements for the identification of a norm as jus cogens; an illustrative list of norms which have achieved the status of jus cogens; consequences or effects of jus cogens.

If you are interested in updates on the ILC’s work such as this one, I encourage you to sign up for Arnold Pronto’s new twitter feed. Arnold is a Senior Legal Officer in the Codification Division in the Office of Legal Affairs, and is the new UN Representative for an ILA group that will be preparing a report on international law activities at the UN twice a year.   Arnold will be tweeting out international law related events as they happen here at the UN. If you’re interested, he is at @arnoldpronto 

The Nature and Scope of the War in Afghanistan

by Jens David Ohlin

Two recent court filings bring to light important questions about the scope and nature of the armed conflict in Afghanistan. Who would have thought that so many years after 9/11 we would still be asking important questions about the nature of the hostilities there.

First, on May 20, 1995, counsel for detainee Al Warafi filed a reply brief in his habeas litigation in the D.C. district court. Warafi argues that his law of war detention is illegal under international law because the war in Afghanistan is over. Under applicable international law, detainees held pursuant to the law of armed conflict should be repatriated upon the conclusion of the armed conflict that served as the factual and legal predicate for their detention. As evidence that the war in Afghanistan is over, Warafi points — as he has in previous filings — to declarations made by President Obama that the war in Afghanistan is over. This is a clever argument because it appeals to a pre-existing tenet of the separation-of-powers jurisprudence that federal courts, and especially the D.C. Circuit, have respected before: that the judiciary should defer to executive branch judgments about matters pertaining to national security and armed conflict. If the President believes that the war in Afghanistan is over, why should a federal judge decide differently? See Ludecke v. Watkins (1948).

In the government’s opposition brief filed in April, the Justice Department makes a distinction between the existence of an armed conflict and the existence of ongoing hostilities. If I understand the government’s position correctly, the Justice Department is arguing that irrespective of what President Obama has said publicly about the end of the “war” in Afghanistan, executive branch officials have consistently noted that there are ongoing hostilities in Afghanistan and that U.S. DoD personnel continue to be engaged in military operations there. (Indeed, the Defense Department General Counsel gave a major policy address at the American Society of International Law Annual Meeting in April 2015, which many OJ readers attended, where he specifically noted that the U.S. military continues to operate in Afghanistan in offensive military operations).

This argument can be interpreted in multiple ways. First, it could mean that the foundation for law-of-war detention is not the existence of a state of armed conflict between the parties but rather the existence of ongoing hostilities; these two factors usually coincide but at their margins they might diverge, especially before and after an armed conflict. Second, it could mean that the President was talking about war in a political or even constitutional sense, but was not making a statement regarding the formal existence of an armed conflict in the sense that it is meaningful for IHL lawyers.

In his reply brief, Al Warafi argues that “war”, “combat mission”, and “hostilities” are co-extensive terms, so that the President’s announcement of the end of the combat mission is logically the same as announcing the end of the armed conflict in Afghanistan. Also, Al Warafi argues that the ASIL policy address by DoD is irrelevant to the analysis because it came after Al Warafi filed his petition. Indeed, the reply brief refers to the ASIL speech as “self-serving” — implying that the DoD was motivated to make those statements by a legal need to justify Al Warafi’s continued detention (and any others who are similarly situated).

Now for the second litigation. Hamidullin was a Taliban commander in Afghanistan who engaged in military action against US forces. He was captured, brought to the US, and then indicted in federal court in Virginia for providing material support to terrorism and other charges. On May 4, 2015, he filed a motion to have the indictment dismissed, arguing among other things that he was protected by combatant immunity while engaged in hostilities in Afghanistan. His motion will require the court to pass judgment on the nature of the armed conflict in Afghanistan at the time he engaged in his acts of belligerency (2009).

Clearly, the armed conflict between the US and Afghanistan began as an international armed conflict (IAC). Everyone agrees on that. However, I think the US government position is that once the Taliban were defeated and removed from power, the conflict transformed into a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) between the new government of Afghanistan and the Taliban acting as a non-state actor. The U.S. is a party to this conflict as a co-belligerent fighting alongside the “new” government of Afghanistan, helping them to fight their NIAC against the Taliban.

However, Hamidullin has an innovative argument. He contends that the Geneva Conventions extend combatant immunity to deposed government forces who were protected by the privilege before they were removed from power. Here is the bulk of the argument:

Given the ongoing protracted conflict in Afghanistan, the displacement of the Taliban government in December 2001 did not fundamentally alter the fact that the conflict began as an international armed conflict between two contracting parties to the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, article 4(A)(3) of the GPW was designed to encompass the armed forces of a government that was deposed by an invading state. Specifically, the language defines prisoners of war to include
“members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.” GPW, art. 4(A)(3), 6 U.S.T. at 3320, 75 U.N.T.S. at 138. This provision was an innovation over previous international treaties, and was specifically drafted to cover “members of regular armed forces, like the Free French in the Second World War.” George Aldrich, Symposium: the Hague Peace Conferences: the Laws of War on Land, 94 Am. J. Int’l L. 42, 43 (Jan. 2000). In other words, the GPW was intentionally crafted to
include the armed forces of a deposed government as prisoners of war, even when a successor government (i.e., the Vichy regime or the government of Hamid Karzai) is recognized by the detaining power (i.e., Germany or the United States) as the legitimate government of the territory.

The Commentary to the GPW likewise explains that this provision “covers armed forces which continue to fight in a ‘national redoubt’, under the orders of an authority or Government which has its headquarters in that part of the country while the occupying authorities may have recognized a Government, which may or may not support them, in that part of the country occupied by their troops.” Commentary on III Geneva Convention at 63-64 (Jean Pictet ed. 1960). Article 4(A)(3) thus applies in the context of a “partial or total occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party,” GPW art. 2, 6 U.S.T. at 3318, 75 U.N.T.S. at 136, a condition under which the provisions of the Third Geneva Convention “shall apply.” Id

Does this argument work? As readers now, I am very interested in arguments regarding the extension of the combatant’s privilege to non-state actors in some very limited circumstances. (In general, I believe that the current literature over-simplifies the dichotomy between IAC and NIAC and falsely assumes that the privilege is never available outside full-blown IACs). It seems intuitively correct to me that it would be absurd for IHL to withdraw the privilege of combatancy the minute the government forces are forced from power and are rebranded–by their opponents–as rebels and non-state actors. On the other hand, does this grace period last forever? Say what you will about this argument, but the Taliban were forced from power a long time ago in Afghanistan.

I would note that the Pictet Commentary also includes the following passages, not quoted in the brief above:

It is not expressly stated that this Government or authority must, as a minimum requirement, be recognized by third States, but this condition is consistent with the spirit of the provision, which was founded on the specific case of the forces of General de Gaulle. It is also necessary that this authority, which is not recognized by the adversary, should either consider itself as representing one of the High Contracting Parties, or declare that it accepts the obligations stipulated in the Convention and wishes to apply them.

This latter paragraph raises two important questions that I direct to OJ readers. First, has the Taliban formally declared that it accepts the obligations of the Geneva Convention and wishes to apply them? Second, and more importantly, is the Taliban recognized as the legitimate authority of Afghanistan by third parties? I honestly do not know the answer to that question and would like to hear from readers on this point. I think the Pictet Commentary is suggesting here that this Geneva provision should not apply in the case of non-recognized forces whose lack of recognition flows not just from their adversary in the armed conflict but is, rather, universal non-recognition from everyone. This would seem to be an important qualification to prevent the provision from being manipulated.

Don’t Cry for Sovereign Debtors: Why Argentina’s Defeat in U.S. Courts Does Not Justify a Sovereign Debt Treaty

by Julian Ku

The Argentina sovereign debt mess is still not resolved, but already folks are debating its larger consequences for international economic governance. In particular, there continue to be calls for a new international sovereign debt mechanism to prevent another Argentina-style U.S. litigation. But although I agree that there are decent arguments for some sort of international treaty-based mechanism for sovereign debt restructuring, I disagree that the Argentina-debt litigation in the U.S. is one of them.  You can read a fuller (much longer) version of this argument in  the just posted issue of the University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law.  

Dear World Media: The U.S. is NOT Challenging China’s Territorial Claims in the South China Sea (Yet)

by Julian Ku

I have been following closely the U.S. Navy’s plans to use military ships and aircraft to challenge China’s aggressive land reclamation activities in the South China Sea, and China’s not very positive reaction to these plans.  But although there is a real dispute brewing here that could escalate into a sovereignty fight, I think media reports are making this dispute more serious than it actually is.

Contrary to some media reports, the U.S. Navy plans do NOT intend to challenge China’s “sovereignty” claims in the South China Sea. Instead, the U.S. Navy is asserting its rights to freedom of navigation under international law. If we understand the U.S. Navy plans in this context, it may help us defuse (at least somewhat) the growing tensions between the U.S. and China in this region, if only the media would help us out with better reporting.

From CNN, here is an example of how media reporting is making this dispute seem worse than it is.

Above the South China Sea (CNN)The Chinese navy issued warnings eight times as a U.S. surveillance plane on Wednesday swooped over islands that Beijing is using to extend its zone of influence.

The series of man-made islands and the massive Chinese military build-up on them have alarmed the Pentagon, which is carrying out the surveillance flights in order to make clear the U.S. does not recognize China’s territorial claims.

(Emphasis added). This report feeds into the (accurate) narrative about growing tensions between the US and Chinese navies.  In this story, the US Navy is flying “over” the Chinese islands in order to challenge or reject China’s territorial claims.  But later in that same report, CNN says that U.S. Navy is considering “flying such surveillance missions even closer over the islands, as well as sailing U.S. warships within miles of them, as part of the new, more robust U.S. military posture in the area.” (emphasis added).

Here’s the problem.  If the U.S. Navy aircraft featured in the CNN video (a military surveillance plane and “sub hunter”) actually flew “over” the Chinese artificial islands, then why would they consider flying even closer “over” the islands and what would be the significance of sending naval ships?

In fact, the US Navy has tried to make it clear to reporters that they are merely conducting freedom of navigation operations and “that U.S. military aircraft do not fly directly over areas claimed by China in the Spratly Islands.” (in the washington post).  It’s my guess that the Navy hasn’t even flown within 12 nautical miles of the artificial islands.

Why? Because as far as I can tell, this is a standard US Navy “freedom of navigation” operation that it uses to assert international law rights of navigation against numerous countries around the world.  It is NOT, as the CNN and other reports suggest, a challenge to China’s territorial claims.

Freedom of Navigation” operations involve sending US Navy warships into both the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone and the 12 nautical mile territorial seas recognized under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  In the view of  the U.S., military warships and aircraft are free to conduct surveillance operations (e.g. spying) in any country’s 200 nm EEZ and surface warships (but not military aircraft or submarines) have the right to “innocent passage” through a country’s 12 nautical mile territorial waters.

The U.S. Navy has been conducting  “freedom of navigation” operations for decades to enforce these views of international law, and it even has a “Freedom of Navigation” website making public where it has been operating. The point of these operations it to publicly challenge a country which is making (in the U.S. view) unjustified legal rights under UNCLOS.  China has a longstanding disagreement with this U.S. interpretation of UNCLOS. So they always make protests, and China has sometimes sent its fighter jets out to harass or challenge US spy aircraft.

But the bottom line: pace CNN, freedom of navigation operations are not challenges to “territorial claims” or “sovereignty.” The US Navy operations assume that the other nation has “sovereignty” over the relevant coastline or island.  So the US Navy operations near China’s artificial islands can assume that China has sovereignty but still demand China allow US military aircraft and ships  transit rights etc. under UNCLOS.

It is worth noting that the U.S. could escalate the dispute with China.  The U.S. might take the view that China is building artificial islands on top  of reefs or submerged features which do not entitle China to any legal rights at all (See UNCLOS, Art.60(8): “Artificial islands, installations and structures do not possess the status of islands. They have no territorial sea of their own, and their presence does not affect the delimitation of the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone or the continental shelf.”).  If so, then the US would fly within 12 nm miles or even directly “over” the artificial islands. Such operations would effectively be a direct challenge  to a China’s territorial claims, because the U.S. would be taking the view that China has no territorial basis at all for claims in the South China Sea.

“Challenging legal rights under UNCLOS” doesn’t make for very sexy headlines or get many clicks as compared to “challenging China’s territorial claims”. But it is worth parsing media reports about US Navy activities in the South China Sea very carefully, and it would be nice of those well-sourced reporters would clarify just how close the US Navy is going to fly/sail to China’s reclaimed islands.

Maybe the U.S. government should directly challenge China’s territorial claims and sovereignty claims.  I am not sure in my own mind whether the U.S. should take that next step.   But for now, the U.S. hasn’t challenged China’s territorial claims yet, and I wish reporters would stop making it seem like it is doing so.

Guest Post: Five Questions on the Colombian Sentencing Practice and the Principle of Complementarity under the Rome Statue

by Marina Aksenova

[Marina Aksenova is a post-doc in the Centre for Excellence for International Courts, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.]

The ICC prosecution team has been conducting preliminary examinations in Colombia for over ten years and has yet to decide whether to move to the stage of formal investigations. In doing so, it must assess, among other things, whether reduced or suspended sentences rendered to senior perpetrators by the local judiciary are adequate in light of the gravity of the crimes committed during the continuing civil war. The ICC prosecution noted in its 2012 report on Colombia that some paramilitaries may benefit from the sentences of 5 to 8 years imprisonment if convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes provided they demobilize. The matter is further complicated by the ICC’s capacity to frustrate the ongoing peace negotiations between the government and the FARC guerrillas. These talks aim at ending a conflict disrupting the country for over fifty years.

The issue of sentencing in Colombia illustrates the difficulties the Court faces in applying the principle of complementarity in practice. What are the exact criteria of assessing the state’s willingness to undertake genuine prosecutions? The ICC will evaluate domestic penalties with the reference to two different legal regimes provided by the Rome Statute – admissibility and sentencing. Up until now, the Court has not treated these two issues in conjunction with each other. The post discusses five specific concerns that this exercise may produce. This working paper elaborates on the context surrounding the questions presented below.

  1. Proportionality of sentences

The idea that a penalty must be in proportion to the gravity of the crime is widely accepted in international criminal law. In the Lubanga sentencing decision (para. 36), the ICC held that the ‘gravity of the crime’ is one of the principal factors to be considered in the determination of sentence, which should be in proportion to the offence and reflect the culpability of the convicted person. How will this consideration play out in the complementarity analysis? Will a sentence of 5 to 8 years of imprisonment for crimes against humanity and war crimes be considered grossly disproportionate?

The principle of complementarity presupposes the primacy of states in handling cases domestically. Thus, according to Article 17 of the Rome Statute, a case comes within the purview of the Court only if the crimes are of sufficient gravity and the country in question is unable or unwilling to address them via its national criminal justice system. Article 17(2) specifies that the state is ‘unwilling’ if it initiates the proceedings with an unjustified delay or with the purpose of shielding the person concerned from criminal responsibility or fails to conduct the proceedings independently or impartially – all of which signals lack of intent to bring the person concerned to justice. It is important that the offences allegedly prosecuted and investigated on a national level cover substantially the same conduct as those charged by the ICC, while legal characterization of the underlying incidents matters less.

Consequently, even if domestic prosecutions cover the ‘same conduct’ but result in disproportionately light penalties, this may evidence the state’s intent to shield some persons from responsibility, and, thus, render the case admissible to the ICC. There are three caveats to this argument. First, the ICC’s own sentencing practice so far has been rather lenient: Thomas Lubanga received a sentence of 14 years of imprisonment and Germain Katanga received a sentence of 12 years. The Lubanga analysis of proportionality suggests that no rigid guidelines are available for measuring the correlation between the gravity of the offence and the sentence. The Chamber in its sentencing decision (paras. 92-93) rejected the strict numerical approach suggested by the OTP and upheld its own discretion to assess the totality of factors when deciding on the ultimate number of years of imprisonment. The deficiencies in Mr. Lunbanga’s mens rea and his cooperation with the Court played an important role in the determination of his sentence.

Secondly, in the Al Senussi admissibility decision (paras. 218-219), the ICC dealt with the reverse situation  – the Defence argued that the threat of a death penalty, which the accused faced in Libya, rendered the case admissible because of the adverse effect on the accused. The ICC rejected this plea and granted local authorities a wide margin of appreciation when it comes to punishment, claiming it is not a human rights court. One might expect similar flexibility in cases on the other side of the spectrum.

Finally, Article 53(1)(c) of the Rome Statute allows some room for a manoeuvre granting the prosecution the power not to commence an investigation even where the situation is formally admissible if it serves the ‘interests of justice’. The ‘interests of justice’ is a broad category open to various interpretations, but ultimately it leaves the door open for a political compromise. The fragility of the Colombian peace talks is likely to fall within this category because arguably it provides for a valid reason not to proceed to the official investigations by the ICC.

  1. Participation of the convicted persons in political life

Participation of convicted persons in political life is a burning issue in the peace talks in Colombia. Many senior perpetrators have links to the government or the FARC and hope to remain in power after a deal has been reached. Even if certain leaders from both sides receive formal punishment, the question still remains whether these people will be allowed to form part of a future government. Is it possible to conceive of suspended or lenient sentences as sufficiently reflecting public censure if the convicted person re-enters politics? Can such punishment deter future violations by senior perpetrators?

The Rome Statute does not give any guidance as to whether convicted persons may participate in political life; it restricts the types of punishment to a maximum sentence of 30 years of imprisonment, fine and forfeiture of assets. If one looks at the broader picture, Article 27 renders the official capacity as is generally irrelevant to the ICC prosecutions. This provision is not directly relevant to sentencing, but it reflects the spirit of the Rome Statute. One might argue that for this reason alone the ICC may criticize participation of the convicted person’s in political life.

In its complementarity analysis, the ICC may also refer to the general sentencing practice of the respective state. The Colombian Criminal Code appears rather flexible in this regard; it leaves it up to the judges to decide whether to ban the offender from political life. The law provides for the suspension of rights and public functions as well as the loss of public office as an additional punishment for various offences, such as, murder of certain persons. Loss of public office can last up to 5 years, while suspension of other rights can vary from 5 to 20 years. In certain circumstances, rights can be restored at an earlier date (Articles 43(1), 43(2), 92, 135 of the Colombian Criminal Code).

The ICC is unlikely to be guided solely by the provisions of Colombian law, however. Instead, it is may look at the standards applicable in other states in an attempt to discern generally recognized principles of law deriving from the multitude of domestic legal systems. This is one of the sources of international law along with treaty and custom. It seems that in some jurisdictions there is a blanket prohibition to occupy public posts for those convicted of serious offences. For example, Article 45 of the German Criminal Code reads as follows: ‘Whoever is sentenced for a serious criminal offense to imprisonment for at least one year shall lose for a period of five years the capacity to hold public office and attain public electoral rights.’ This provision reflects an understanding that the public censure element of punishment is severely compromised if someone convicted of a grave offence is allowed to re-enter public life.

  1. Relevance of domestic law for the ICC complementarity analysis

The Rome Statute does not suggest that the ICC should consider the scale of penalties of the relevant state. Its determination of sentences shall solely be guided by the gravity of the crime, individual circumstances of the accused, and mitigating and aggravating factors. It is in contrast to the statutes of the ad hoc tribunals, which allow recourse to domestic law; although, it has rarely been seen in practice.

The ICC will assess Colombian criminal law in its complementarity analysis in the light of the principles enshrined in the Rome Statute and international law. The general principle is that the person cannot invoke domestic law to avoid responsibility under international criminal law. When it comes to the admissibility test, it is essential that the penalty imposed at the national level is not intended to shield the person from criminal responsibility.

  1. Disparity of sentences

The sentencing practice of the Colombian courts shows some disparity in sentences meted out to various parties to the conflict. Colombia attempts to bring to justice different responsible actors, but their penalties are significantly different. How will this aspect play out in the complementarity analysis of the ICC? The question of disparate sentences is tightly linked with the idea of individualized punishments and judicial discretion widely accepted at the ICC. There are a number of factors that might support Colombia’s claim for lenient (and, to a lesser extent, suspended) and/or disparate sentences.

Firstly, it seems that the ICC prosecution already pointed to broad discretion of the Colombian judiciary in its 2012 report (para. 206), when it confirmed that the ICC would examine local sentences individually on the basis of particular factors, such as, the intent to bring perpetrators to justice, the gravity of the crimes and the efforts to establish the truth. Secondly, the ICC practice itself shows relative leniency in its two available sentencing rulings. Thirdly, the reasoning in the Katanga sentencing decision (para. 38) exhibits a trend of integrating reconciliatory aims in sentencing considerations. Fourthly, the Rome Statute upholds the power of the prosecution to halt investigations if it is not in the ‘interests of justice’ in light of the gravity of the crimes and the interests of victims.

  1. Remedy to the victims

When combining two legal frameworks for the purposes of complementarity analysis, the ICC might have to decide where it stands on the issue of enforcement of human rights and victims’ rights. In the recent complementarity decision in the Al Senussi case (paras. 218-219), the ICC refused to act as a human rights court and rendered the case inadmissible, notwithstanding the death penalty threatening the accused. The Court’s view might be altered when victims’ rights are at stake, as is the case in Colombia. Both the Colombian national legislation and the Rome Statute contain provisions upholding victims’ rights in the process of criminal adjudication. Reduced sentences for war crimes and crimes against humanity may be at odds with the victims’ quest for justice. One way to resolve this contradiction is to ensure that victims receive adequate reparations for their suffering. It will not ‘offset’ the perceived impunity of senior perpetrators entirely, but it will help in mitigating the concern.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, May 25, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

Events and Announcements: May 24, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Events

  • The University of Essex is hosting the Spring Conference of the International Law Association (British Branch) on 29th – 30th May 2015, on the theme of ‘International Law as a Mechanism for Justice’. The keynote speakers will be Howard Morrison CBE QC, Judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Professor Francesco Francioni, European University Institute. The programme and information on registration and accommodation are available here. Should you have any queries about the conference, please feel free to get in touch at the following address: ilaconference2015 [at] essex [dot] ac [dot] uk.
  • On 28 May 2015, the British Institute of International and Comparative Law (BIICL) will host a seminar entitled ‘Ethics in the “International Bar”: Rules, Gaps and Improvements in the Regulation of the Professional Ethics before International Courts and Tribunals’. This event is part of the Temple Garden Chambers Seminar Series in International Adjudication. While there is no universally accepted code on ethical requirements in proceedings before international courts and tribunals, ethical conduct in the “International Bar” is one of the most important issues in contemporary international adjudication. Many international courts (such as the ECHR, the ICC, the ICTY and ICTR) have adopted rules that regulate the behaviour of prosecutors, counsels and judges. Similarly, several professional associations (such as the IBA, the ILA and the Council of Bars and Law Societies of Europe) have adopted non-binding codes of conduct for litigants and judges. This seminar will focus on the need to uphold the highest ethical standards in international adjudication. In addition, it will identify gaps in the existing documents and mechanisms for the maintenance of professional integrity in the “International Bar” and suggest improvements. This event will be chaired by Karim Khan QC with keynote speaker, Judge Jean-Pierre Cot (ITLOS). Discussants include Dr Arman Sarvarian (University of Surrey) and José María Alonso (Baker & McKenzie – Madrid). Download the Event Flyer here.

Calls for Papers

  • Call for Papers – International Organisations and the Rule of Law: Perils and Promise, Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Law, New Zealand, 7-8 December 2015. This workshop will take a fresh look at the resources that international law possesses to ensure that international organisations (IOs) are held accountable for their errors and excesses, while remaining relevant and effective in the face of ever growing global challenges. How can international law develop in a way that preserves and enhances the dynamic possibilities of IOs while making sure that they comply with the rule of law? Can international law offer solutions, or is it part of the problem? The workshop organisers welcome papers that present original legal or empirical research; theoretical reflections; case studies from practice; and critical and historical perspectives. For more details see the call for papers.
  • Call for Papers: Development and the Rule of Law: from Research to Practice. The Global Rule of Law Exchange, a new project at the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, seeks to address key challenges posed by global development and its relationship to the rule of law. It will consider the challenges in respect of developing the rule of law in emerging economies, with regard to issues such as access to justice, corruption, legal certainty, government decision-making and the measurement of success in rule of law interventions. Other issues include – but are not limited to – growth, investment and the effects on national economies and local communities; the relationship between formal and informal legal systems; and the extent to which access to justice is or could be an instrument of empowerment and of more equal distribution of resources. Among its work, the Exchange is keen to foster empirical and comparative knowledge on what works and what does not in rule of law interventions, encourage discussions on their impact, as well as to identify good practice, research gaps, and ways forward. To this end, the Exchange will compile a list of short papers (such as think pieces, practice notes, policy documents, etc.) of around 1,500 – 3,000 words presenting research, case-studies and evidence from the field. Multidisciplinary analyses are encouraged, as are quantitative and qualitative studies. Conferences will be organised in London and in the United States in late 2015 and early 2016 to discuss the papers (date TBA). Shortlisted papers will feature in an edited publication, but the Exchange is also exploring opportunities of publishing a collection of these articles in a peer-reviewed journal. A 150-300 word abstract of the paper should be submitted by 30 June 2015, with final papers by 30 September 2015. (more information here.)

Announcements

  • The American Society of International Law (ASIL) and its Women in International Law Interest Group (WILIG) are now launching the third year of the Women in International Law Mentoring Program. Since 2013, over 240 women have participated in ASIL’s mentoring program as both mentors and mentees in 17 cities from Tucson to Singapore. The feedback has been extremely positive, and with the enthusiasm of our current participants, we have built a strong, inter-connected, and global network. We hope to reach more women for the 2015-16 program! The Women in International Law Mentoring Program is the first of its kind in international law and is designed to foster the next generation of female international lawyers. The program connects experienced female international law professionals with female law students and new attorneys interested in professional development in the field of international law. Mentoring takes place locally, in a group setting, with a maximum of four mentees for every mentor. Mentors and mentees meet in person every other month during the course of an academic year to discuss topics and engage in activities designed to help junior women enter and be successful in the field of international law. Mentors will be provided with optional pre-planned meeting topics to structure meetings for their groups. Upon finishing the requirements of the one-year program, all participants receive a certificate of completion.

Our previous events and announcements post can be found here. If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us with a one-paragraph description of your announcement along with hyperlinks to more information.

When the Left Shoots Itself in the Foot (IHL Version)

by Kevin Jon Heller

Last week, I made the mistake of relying on an article in Electronic Intifada about a recent speech by Moshe Ya’alon, the Israeli Defense Minister. Here are the relevant paragraphs in the article:

Israeli defense minister Moshe Yaalon on Tuesday said Israel would attack entire civilian neighborhoods during any future assault on Gaza or Lebanon.

Speaking at a conference in Jerusalem, Yaalon threatened that “we are going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of the family. We went through a very long deep discussion … we did it then, we did it in [the] Gaza Strip, we are going to do it in any round of hostilities in the future.”

I probably should have known better than to rely on an article entitled, in relevant part, “Israeli defense minister promises to kill more civilians.” Prompted by a skeptical commenter, I watched the video of Ya’alon’s speech. And the video makes clear that the author of the article, Asa Winstanley, selectively quoted what Ya’alon said in order to make it seem like Ya’alon was advocating deliberately attacking civilians. In fact, Ya’alon was discussing a possible attack on a rocket launcher located in a civilian house and acknowledging that, if the IDF launched the attack, it was clear they were “going to hurt Lebanese civilians to include kids of the family.” The IDF launched the attack anyway, believing that the military advantage outweighed the certain civilian damage.

Bothered by being suckered into making such a significant mistake, I tweeted Winstanley about his selective quotation. Perhaps he had not actually seen the video? His response was disappointing, to put it mildly. Instead of acknowledging his mistake, he repeated the selective quote. I replied that the video made clear Ya’alon was talking about Israel’s proportionality calculation, not deliberate attacks on civilians, and pointed out that civilian damage is permissible under IHL unless the anticipated civilian damage caused by an attack is excessive in relation to the expected military advantage. I also noted that I thought the attack Ya’alon was discussing was still illegal, because in my view killing a number of civilians in order to take out one rocket launcher was disproportionate.

At that point, it’s safe to say, Winstanley simply lost it. Here are some of his tweets, with my thoughts in the parentheticals…

Guest Post: The Death Penalty for Drug Offences: ‘Asian Values’ or Drug Treaty Influence?

by Rick Lines, Damon Barrett and Patrick Gallahue

[Dr Rick Lines is Executive Director of Harm Reduction International, and a Visiting Fellow at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex. Damon Barrett is the Director of the International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy at the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Law, Stockholm University. Patrick Gallahue is the Communications Director at the ACLU-Connecticut, and former Coordinator of the Death Penalty Project at Harm Reduction International. He is a doctoral candidate in the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex.]

Recent mass executions by the Government of Indonesia have thrown the international spotlight on the death penalty for drug offences, and ignited debates between abolitionist and retentionist States on the legality and efficacy of this sanction. This international attention is to be welcomed.

When we established the death penalty for drugs project in 2007 at the NGO Harm Reduction International, it was the first and only project specifically dedicated to research, analysis and advocacy on what at the time was a little understood issue. Our reports tracked State practice, estimating that up to 1,000 people a year were executed for drug offences worldwide, promoted the case that the death penalty for drugs constitutes a violation of international human rights law and documented direct links between UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) country assistance programmes and executions for drug offences.

But despite the clear evidence of the illegal nature of the sanction, and the growing chorus of voices calling for its abolition, a small and increasingly isolated group of countries continues to kill people for drug offences. In executing fourteen people in a matter of months, the Government of Indonesia has aligned itself with the extreme fringe of even this isolated group, joining just four other States (China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam) that execute people for drug offences with regularity and/or in great numbers.

Political leaders and commentators often try to excuse or explain the death penalty for drug offences in Asian or Middle Eastern countries on the basis that the practice reflects unique values and traditions of the regions, or that the application of international human rights law represents a foreign intervention into domestic matters. However, like so many defenses of this indefensible practice, this one crumbles under scrutiny.

For the majority of States actively executing drug offenders, the practice is about as ‘traditional’ in legal or historical legal terms as the microwave oven is in cooking terms, and in most cases even less so. Most of the dozen States that actively execute drug offenders adopted these laws from the 1980s onwards, suggesting that rather than reflecting traditional ‘values’ of the region these policies are instead a response to the anti-drugs climate of the period, and the drafting and adoption of the 1988 United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, the third UN drug treaty that established State obligations in international law to enact harsh penal provisions for drug offences at domestic level.

Consider some of those States actively executing drug offenders, and compare the dates of enacting these laws against their signing or ratification of the 1988 drug treaty.

State Treaty Signed Treaty Ratified Capital Drug Law
Indonesia 1989 1999 1995
Viet Nam 1997 1999
Saudi Arabia 1992 1987
Kuwait 1989 2000 1995
Thailand 2002 1979
Pakistan 1989 1991 1997
Egypt 1988 1991 1989
Yemen 1988 1996 1993
Singapore 1997 1975
Malaysia 1988 1993 1975

With the exception of China and Iran, which have had capital punishment for drug offences since the 1940s and 1950s respectively, only Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand have capital drug laws that predate the drafting process of the 1988 drug treaty. Even then, those 1970s laws fall squarely with the era of the modern international drug control treaty regime, in which penal approaches to drug suppression were increasingly prioritised. More specifically, they fall within the period of the global ‘war on drugs’, launched by the U.S. in the early 1970s, which formed the international political backdrop for the drafting of the 1988 treaty.

Indonesia is actually a case that neatly proves the fallacy of this argument. Far from being a longstanding ‘traditional’ part of the domestic criminal justice system, the first person executed for drug offences in Indonesia was in 1995, six years after the State signed the 1988 convention. Indonesia executed five people in total for all offences between 2009 and 2014, all in the year 2013. In the other five years, the Government executed no one at all. Yet now in the first few months of 2015, the Government has executed fourteen people, all for drug offences. How to we explain this pattern? Did Indonesian ‘traditions’ or ‘values’ change between 1995 and 2009, then change again in 2009, and again in 2015? Or did the Government, and Government policy, change in response to domestic political considerations and the perceived political weakness of its leader?

A 2001 UN report recorded a more than 50% increase in the number of countries prescribing the death penalty for drugs into domestic law between 1985 and 2000. Surely this dramatic shift in State practice in a relatively short span of fifteen years did not reflect changes in national traditions or cultures.   Rather, the use of the death penalty for drug offences reflected developments in international drug control law, and the increasingly punitive nature of the regime throughout the 1970s, as codified in the 1988 drug convention. As we have pointed out elsewhere, this dramatic increase in States prescribing the death penalty for drug offences runs exactly opposite to the overall international trend towards the abolition of capital punishment documented during that same period. The irony here is obvious, as many death penalty States are all-too-happy to amend domestic laws based on UN drug control treaties, while at the same time claiming that UN human rights treaties represent an inappropriate infringement on domestic affairs.

Perhaps the most obvious fact exposing these arguments as baseless is that the vast majority of countries in the region do not execute people for drug crimes. There are 49 countries in the huge region of Asia and the Middle East. Of these, only a dozen actively execute people of drug offences, and only four or five execute people with any regularity or in any great number. Rather than capital punishment being a ‘shared’ regional approach to drugs, the countries executing drug offenders are a minority, and those executing with regularity represent a tiny minority of only one in ten.

If we take State practice as a guide, the true regional approach to drug enforcement is the non-use of capital punishment. Placed in this broader context, the tiny group of high-executing States can be seen as the extreme fringe their policies actually represent.

Regulation 55 and the Irrelevance of the Confirmation Hearing

by Kevin Jon Heller

It’s becoming an old story: the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) rejects a charged mode of liability after a confirmation hearing, so the OTP simply asks the Trial Chamber (TC) to give the defendant notice that it will consider convicting him on the basis of the rejected mode anyway. This time, the defendant is Laurent Gbagbo. The OTP initially alleged that Gbagbo is responsible for various crimes against humanity on the basis of Art. 25 in the Rome Statute — indirect co-perpetration; ordering, soliciting or inducing; and otherwise contributing to the commission of crimes — as well as command responsibility and superior responsibility. Following the confirmation hearing, the PTC confirmed all of the modes of liability in Art. 25, but declined to confirm command and superior responsibility, because those modes “would require the Chamber to depart significantly from its understanding of how events unfolded in Cote d’Ivoire during the post-electoral crisis and Laurent Gbagbo’s involvement therein.” Undeterred, the OTP then asked the TC to invoke Regulation 55:

The Office of the Prosecutor (“Prosecution”) requests that Trial Chamber I (“Chamber”) give notice to the Parties and participants pursuant to regulation 55(2) of the Regulations of the Court (“RoC”) that the legal characterisation of the facts confirmed by Pre-Trial Chamber I (“Pre-Trial Chamber”) may be subject to change to accord with a further alternative form of participation of the Accused Laurent Gbagbo (“Gbagbo”): superior responsibility under article 28(a) and (b) of the Rome Statute (“Statute”) for all crimes (“Request”).

I have explained at length in this article why the Rome Statute — Art. 61 in particular — does not permit the Trial Chamber to convict a defendant on the basis of an unconfirmed mode of liability, so there is no need to repeat the argument here. Suffice it to say that the OTP’s request, which will almost certainly be granted by the TC (if past practice is any guide), continues the confirmation hearing’s long, slow slide into irrelevance. Given how the TC and Appeals Chamber have (wrongly) interpreted Regulation 55, the confirmation hearing actually “confirms” nothing; it just provides suggestions to the TC concerning how it might choose to convict the defendant. If the TC wants to go a different direction and convict the defendant on the basis of an unconfirmed mode of participation, no problem. It can simply “recharacterize” the facts and circumstances proven at trial.

Discerning readers might wonder how a defendant is supposed to prepare his defence in such a situation. Isn’t the entire point of the confirmation hearing to inform the defendant of the crimes and modes of liability he will have to rebut during trial? Yes — which is the fundamental problem with Regulation 55 as the judges have interpreted it. Because of their interpretation, defendants now have only two potential strategies at trial: (1) prepare a defence to every possible legal characterization of the facts and circumstances in the charge sheet — all possible crimes and all possible modes of liability; or (2) ignore the law entirely and focus solely on rebutting the facts and circumstances themselves. The first strategy is effectively impossible — and it’s very unlikely the TC would even let a defendant do it. (“Sorry, you have to pick one or two theories of the case — even though we can pick any theory we want down the track.”) And the second strategy is inconsistent with the nature of the adversarial trial contemplated by the Rome Statute. Defendants are (supposed to be) charged with specific crimes on the basis of specific modes of liability; they are not charged with bare facts and circumstances.

It’s a shame that the ICC’s judges have allowed Regulation 55 to metastasise into the ultimate judicial hammer — a one-size-fits-all tool for saving the OTP from its own poor charging decisions and ineffective trial advocacy. (See, e.g., Katanga.) But, of course, it’s not a surprise. After all, the judges wrote the Regulation themselves.

Two Interesting New Reports on ILC Website

by Kristen Boon

There are two important new reports up on the International Law Commission’s website.

First, Sean Murphy’s First Report on Crimes Against Humanity is now available.  The UN Doc symbol is A/CN.4/680; link to the report here.

The report is a terrific overview of the current gaps in the international legal architecture, and maps out steps towards a future convention.   The report also proposes two draft articles: one on prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity and the other on the definition of such crimes.   For background, see Leila Sadat’s Crimes Against Humanity Initiative here.

Hat tip to James Stewart for flagging this report.

Second, Sir Michael Wood’s Third Report on the Identification of Customary International Law is available now as well. The UN Doc symbol is A/CN.4/682, and the link is available here.    Readers may recall that last summer I asked whether Security Council acts are relevant to Customary International Law, and noted that the ILC’s treatment of the topic to date had not included a discussion of IOs.   This report remedies this lacuna in part in that it specifically addresses the acts of IOs.  However, its conclusion is that acts of IOs are generally irrelevant to the formation of custom.  Instead, the Report’s guiding assumption is that the practice of IOs is to be attributed to the states themselves, not to the IOs. As the report notes:

if one were not to equate the practice of such international organizations with that of States, this would mean not only that the organization’s practice would not be taken into account, but also that its Member States would themselves be deprived of or reduced in their ability to contribute to State practice.

This conclusion will be controversial:  even the report’s footnotes cite numerous scholars and states that express opposing views.

Both of these reports are likely to spur important scholarly debates.

Events and Announcements: May 17, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Events

  • Today and tomorrow, at the Cardozo School of Law, New York, New York, the conference, Constitutional Conflicts and the Judicial Role in Comparative Perspective will be held. This conference, which marks the launch of the Israeli Supreme Court Project at Cardozo Law, will explore the Court’s jurisprudence on complex and challenging questions facing open and multi-cultural societies everywhere. Because these issues are salient in, but by no means peculiar to, Israel, a comparative perspective will enrich our understanding of how such issues are, and might be, dealt with in other democratic societies. Panels will address the general question of the value and challenges of comparative legal study, differing conceptions of the role of the judiciary and doctrines of justiciability, and substantive areas of current controversy, including the role of the courts in overseeing national security and intelligence gathering; immigration, asylum, and treatment and status of refugees; and religion in the modern nation-state. The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Please email ISCP [at] yu [dot] edu with your name, affiliation, and contact information. For more information, see here.
  • Delegates are now able to reserve places for The Chagos Litigation: A Socio-Legal conference, which takes place on 29th June 2015 at the University of Greenwich. The keynote speaker is Professor Philippe Sands QC (University College London), who recently represented Mauritius in its proceedings against the United Kingdom at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. The conference is free to attend and is open to academics, legal practitioners and postgraduate students. Delegates can reserve their place by emailing: lawevents [at] gre [dot] ac [dot] uk. Further information can be found here.

Calls for Papers

  • The TAU Buchmann Faculty of Law is pleased to invite submissions to its third annual  workshop for junior scholars in law, which will take place in October 26-27, 2015. Through law, theory comes into our daily lives in many ways. The workshop will explore the connection between theory and life: how different theories are applied through legal doctrines, how theory comes to life through its application and how theory influences society and our lives. Relevant papers could, for example, discuss more specific questions like: How does theory come into life in different fields of law, such as criminal law, public law, corporate law, civil law, international law, cyber law, environmental law and others? What is the connection between human rights theories and their acceptance or rejection by different actors? How does legal theory deal with rapid changes in science and technology? What are the potential theoretical justifications to recognize obligations of states towards foreign individuals or communities? How can different actors, such as governments, philanthropists, public litigators and human rights organizations use theory to further their cause? How do lessons learned from historical events affect the formation of theory and practice? For details regarding submission and funding possibilities please see the call for papers

Announcements

  • The South China Sea Institute of Xiamen University, and Center for Polar and Deep Ocean Development of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, announce their annual summer program – Marco Polo- ZHENG He Academy of International Oceans Law and Policy, to be held from July 5 – July 31, 2015. These centers are leading interdisciplinary research institutes in China in the area of Oceans Law and Policy. This is the 10th anniversary of the summer academy which has been attended in past by the scholars, practitioners, diplomats and students from -: Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Colombia, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, DPR Korea, Rep. of Korea, Malaysia, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland, U.S., and others. The four week intensive summer program is divided into two sessions to be held in Chinese cities of Xiamen and Shanghai. The participants have an option to attend either or both the sessions. The program offers a unique chance to learn about the Chinese perspectives on Law of the Sea and its policies. The structure of the program is such that the class lectures are held in morning sessions and in the afternoon sessions trips to Chinese courts, law firms, and governmental agencies related to oceanic administration, museums, etc., are planned. Participants also have the option of taking tests and getting credits transferred to their own schools. Limited number of scholarships is offered to outstanding candidates upon application and subsequent review. Please find more information about Xiamen Session here and Shanghai Session here.

Our previous events and announcements post can be found here. If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us with a one-paragraph description of your announcement along with hyperlinks to more information.

Weekend Roundup: May 10-16, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

This week on Opinio Juris, Duncan posted his thoughts on the fog of technology and international law with respect to drone strikes and Kevin defended (!) Jeb Bush for his somewhat botched answer to Fox News’ Megyn Kelly about the Iraq war.

We had three great guest posts. The first, garnering a large amount of discussion, was from Eugene Kontorovich on Iran’s relief ship and the blockade of Yemen. Our second came from Emma Irving, highlighting the news this week that Mathieu Ngudjolo Chiu, acquitted by the ICC, was sent packing from the Netherlands back to the DRC without asylum, despite the risk he claims he faces in the DRC. Finally, Rishi Gulati weighed in on the recent case of Anders Kompass, the senior UN official who leaked an internal UN report on sexual abuse by UN staff in the Central African Republic to the French authorities, and gave some insights into the UN’s internal justice system.

We’ve announced our third annual Emerging Voices symposium–abstracts are due by 31 May 2015 and I rounded up the news here and the events of the week here.

Thanks for following us and have a great weekend!

Guest Post: The Anders Kompass Case–A Moment of Opportunity for the UN Internal Justice System

by Rishi Gulati

[Rishi Gulati practices as a barrister in Melbourne. The author has not had any involvement with the Kompass case; and this post should not be construed as legal advice in any form whatsoever.]
Highlighting Mr Anders Kompass’s suspension from duties as a senior official at the UN, the Guardian recently reported that Mr Anders Kompass, a senior UN staff member:

“leaked an internal UN report on the alleged sexual abuse of children by French troops in Central African Republic to French prosecutors last summer. The French immediately mounted an investigation and revealed…they were investigating up to 14 soldiers for alleged abuse. The French authorities wrote to thank Kompass for passing on the internal report detailing the abuse”.

Notably, the UN suspended Mr Kompass from his job at the UN, arguing that Mr Kompass engaged in misconduct warranting his suspension from duties. It is apparent that the “misconduct” in question concerns allegations that Mr Kompass breached confidentiality by sharing with French authorities “confidential un-redacted preliminary investigative notes” about allegations of sexual abuse of children in the Central African Republic.

As is reported in the article in the Guardian cited above:

The confidential internal report leaked by Kompass contained interviews by a UN official and a member of Unicef with a number of children, aged between eight and 15, who say they were sexually abused at a camp for internally displaced people in Bangui, the capital of CAR, by French troops last year. The interim report identified about 10 children effected but the UN said it was possible many more children had been abused.

A procedural background to Mr Kompass’s suspension

The key facts are contained at paragraphs 1-12 of the judgment of the United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT) in Kompass v Secretary General of the United Nations, Order on an Application for Suspension of Action, 5 May 2015. In summary (footnotes omitted):

  • Mr Kompass is employed at the Director level at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Geneva,
  • In July 2014, another senior OHCHR official provided Mr Kompass a copy of a report containing serious allegations of paedophilia allegedly committed in the Central African Republic by French military. Mr Kompas says that “he brought the content of the report to the attention of the Deputy Ambassador of France”. Mr Kompass states that “he informed the Deputy High Commissioner (his supervisor at the OHCHR) that he had seen the report and had discussed the allegations with the Deputy Ambassador of France.
  • Mr Kompass said that in response to a request from the French Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva, he shared the report with the Permanent Mission. Mr Kompass said that he shared this information with his supervisor at the OHCHR, the Deputy High Commissioner (a disputed fact).
  • On 6 March 2015, the High Commissioner for Human Rights (High Commissioner) became aware that Mr Kompass allegedly leaked confidential investigative notes concerning allegations of sexual abuse.
  • It is uncontested that on 12 March 2015 Mr Kompass was asked to resign by the Deputy High Commissioner who was ultimately relaying the request of the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations. Mr Kompass refused to resign.
  • Upon a request by the High Commissioner, the body at the UN that conducts investigations of internal staff misconduct, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) was then asked to conduct an investigation into Mr Kompass’s actions.
  • Whilst the OIOS investigation was on foot, on 17 April 2015, Mr Kompass, under the internal rules of the UN, was placed on administrative leave with pay (ALWP).

ALWP, as the name suggest disallows the affected staff member from continuing in his or her duties. Being placed on ALWP obviously can cause professional and reputational damage, leaving aside the emotional distress it may cause to a staff member.

On 29 April 2015, Mr Kompass accessed the UNDT requesting relief that the ALWP be suspended, meaning that if Mr Kompass succeeded in his application, then he could return to his duties. To obtain relief, Mr Komposs amongst other things, needed to show that the decision to place him on ALWP was prima facie unlawful, and the decision would cause Mr Kompass irreparable damage.

Why did Mr Kompass have to access the UNDT as opposed to a domestic employment tribunal?

As the UN enjoys immunities before domestic courts, an aggrieved UN staff member cannot approach a domestic court. Employment disputes between the UN and its staff are heard by a tribunal set up by the UN, the United Nations Dispute Tribunal (UNDT), and an appeals tribunal, known as the United Nations Appeals Tribunal (UNAT). These tribunals apply a specialised body of law known as international administrative law (IAL). IAL governs the employment relationship between the UN and its staff. IAL is a specialised body of law that includes aspects of administrative, contract and international law. It is based on both, the common and civil law traditions. While links are discernible, strictly speaking, IAL should be distinguished from the broader notion of Global Administrative Law (GAL), which is an emerging body of law focusing on the “increasing use of administrative law-type mechanisms, in particular those related to transparency, participation, accountability and review, within the regulatory institutions of global governance.” See here for information on the GAL movement.

It is worth noting that in the past, serious criticisms have been levelled at the UN concerning the deficiencies in its internal justice system where cases often took years to resolve. In 2009, after decades of effort, the UN comprehensively redesigned its internal justice system, creating the UNDT and the UNAT. For a discussion, see an earlier article by the author here.

So, is the redesigned system working? The Kompass case is a prime example that while much more needs to be done, progress has been made.

What did the UNDT decide in the Kompass case?

Bearing in mind that the merits of the case have not yet been determined, on the issue of prima facie unlawfulness, the UNDT concluded at para 34 that the UN official who placed Mr Kompass on ALWP did not have the authority to do so; and critically, the decision did not comply with the internal rules of the UN:

39. The Tribunal finds that neither the interest of the Organization, nor the avoidance of any interference with the investigation are reasons in the exhaustive list …of the respective administrative instruction. Therefore, as such, they cannot be accepted as valid reasons for placing the Applicant on administrative leave.

On the issue of irreparable damage, the UNDT said:

49. Therefore, and since the Applicant is currently being prevented from carrying out his functions as a result of being on administrative leave, which is of public knowledge, the Tribunal finds that if the suspension is not granted, the harm done to the Applicant’s reputation will be irreparable and could not be adequately compensated at a later stage.

Mr Kompass has now been reinstated to his position. This decision of the UNDT is undoubtedly a decision consistent with the maintenance of UN accountability to its very own staff members: ensuring that UN management acts within the purview of its internal rules and procedures. This is especially critical as UN staff cannot approach domestic courts for remedies for breach of their terms of employment. Most critically, the fact that Ms Kompass could seek justice within a few days of being placed on ALWP is a testament to the initial success of the new internal justice system. Undoubtedly significant issues with whistle-blower protection exist at the UN, but the Kompass case provides an example that there is reason for cautious optimism regarding access to justice for aggrieved UN staff members.

It bears noting that as per the information in the UNDT’s judgment, Mr Kompass’s appointment at the UN expires on 8 July 2015. It can only be hoped that any renewal of Mr Kompass’s employment does not attract retaliatory action. This case could yet be subject to several more twists, and it is crucial to maintain a close watch.

Guest Post: The End of the Road for Ngudjolo and the Stacked Odds Against ICC Acquitted

by Emma Irving

[Emma Irving is a PhD Researcher at the University of Amsterdam School of Law, and a visiting researcher at Cornell University.]

Earlier this week was the final instalment of the story of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) first acquittal, with the removal of Mathieu Ngjudjolo Chui from the Netherlands back to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

It was not altogether surprising when the Appeals Chamber of the ICC upheld the Ngjudjolo’s acquittal on the 27th February this year. What was surprising was the events that followed. Immediately following the judgment, Ngudjolo was escorted by Dutch police to Schiphol International Airport to be deported back to the Democratic Republic of Congo. The plane made it all the way to the runway before being dramatically called back: Ngudjolo was to have his asylum application heard a second time.

Ngudjolo first applied for asylum in the Netherlands in 2012 after he was acquitted by the ICC Trial Chamber. In this case too he made it all the way to Schiphol Airport, but not quite onto a plane, before the Dutch authorities halted the deportation. Ngudjolo contended, and still does, that he would be at risk if returned to the DRC. The Dutch authorities responded to these claims by stating that Ngudjolo had not provided enough evidence of the risks he faced, and that in any event he was excluded from refugee protection as a suspected war criminal. The issue was appealed all the way to the Council of State, the highest administrative body in the Netherlands, which ultimately sided with the Dutch government. It held that Article 1F of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which disqualifies an individual from refugee status if they are suspected of having committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, could be applied despite an acquittal by the ICC. The Council deemed that the evidentiary standard for exclusion was lower than in criminal cases, and that Ngudjolo’s acquittal did not remove suspicion of his involvement in other crimes. The asylum application was denied.

Such is how matters stood up until the appeal judgment. Ngudjolo’s legal team secured a second asylum hearing after he was acquitted on appeal, stopping his immediate deportation. However, on the 23rd of April 2015, this application was also refused. While Ngudjolo can appeal this decision, an appeal will not have suspensive effect, and his deportation was scheduled for the 1st May. For a more detailed procedural history see here and here.

After an application for residence in Switzerland on humanitarian grounds was turned down, Ngudjolo reached the end of the road in terms of preventing his return to the DRC. And that road seemed to be a dead-end all along. The odds were stacked against Ngudjolo from the beginning: 1) he was in a catch-22 position as regards acting as a witness in his own defence, 2) the ICC did not act to assist him, and 3) he could not cast his asylum seeking net beyond the Netherlands.

To begin with Ngudjolo’s role as a witness, he was caught in a no-win situation. Although important in securing his acquittal, the content of Ngudjolo’s testimony prejudiced his position on release. It both prevented him from returning home, and prevented him from remaining in the Netherlands. As regards returning home, Ngudjolo made statements against the DRC government, and in particular, provided a letter that incriminated the DRC government in the attack on the village of Bogoro, for which he himself was standing trial. Speaking out against the powers-that-be in the DRC, Ngudjolo claims, has placed him at great risk. As to remaining in the Netherlands as a refugee, Ngudjolo’s testimony handed the Dutch authorities the evidence they needed to exclude him from refugee protection. In order to prove that he was not involved in the Bogoro attack, Ngudjolo provided details as to his position in the militia hierarchy. The Dutch authorities then used this information, combined with other reports about the conflict, to invoke Article 1F. For reasons that the ICC has kept confidential, Ngudjolo was also excluded from ICC witness protection. He was therefore stuck in a lose-lose situation: give evidence in his own defence but have nowhere to go if acquitted, or do not give evidence and increase the chance of conviction.

Then there was the inaction on the part of the ICC. The dilemma of acquitted persons who cannot return to their home countries is by no means new. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) has been dealing with this thorny issue for years, and still has no firm resolution – while the Tribunal may have wrapped up at the end of last year, there are still acquitted persons living in a safehouse in Arusha. It is perhaps this legacy that has prompted the ICC to act the way it has: to simply open its doors and allow acquitted persons to walk out (and be arrested). Granted, when a person is cleared of all charges, the right to liberty requires their release, as does the Rome Statute (Article 81(3)(c)). However, as Ngudjolo’s case demonstrates, this is not always ideal. When it comes to acquitted persons, the Rules of Procedure and Evidence also have something to say. Rule 185 obliges the Court to make such arrangements as it considers appropriate for the transfer of an acquitted person, taking into account the person’s views, to a State. This can be a State that is obliged to receive the acquitted person, a State that has agreed to receive the person, or a State that has sought the acquitted person’s extradition.

From a reading of the text of Rule 185 alone, it would seem that the ICC can order a transfer to any State willing or obliged to receive the individual. But then there is Article 21(3) Rome Statute. This Article requires that all law applicable to the ICC be interpreted and applied in accordance with internationally recognised human rights norms, of which non-refoulement is one. It is argued that when Rule 185 is read with Article 21(3), it must mean that the ICC cannot order a transfer to a State where the individual would be at risk. This application of Rule 185 would require the creation of a procedure to decide where the acquitted person is to go before they are released. A comparable process is undertaken when an accused is considered eligible for interim release; a hearing must be held in which a State willing to host the accused is identified. Neither this approach to Rule 185, nor apparently any other, was taken in Ngudjolo’s case. His release and hand over to the Dutch police seems to have been done with no formal decision on where he would be taken, at least none that is transparent and publicly available.

The final obstacle facing Ngudjolo was the fact that the Netherlands was his only option for seeking asylum. The construction of the Refugee Convention is such that no other State is obliged to hear an asylum application from him, as he is neither on their territory nor at their border. For this reason he is only able to make applications for humanitarian residence, or variations of, which are entirely discretionary (this limitation is what led to the chronic problem of acquitted persons at the ICTR). The consequence is the overburdening of The Netherlands with asylum claims from not only acquitted, but also witnesses. It is perhaps not surprising that the Netherlands has fought hard against such applications, for fear of establishing a precedent.

In the end it was May 11th, rather than May 1st, that saw Ngudjolo deported from the Netherlands. Interestingly, the website for the 1533 Sanctions Committee still lists Ngudjolo as being subject to a UN travel ban, although this does not seemed to have proven a hindrance. The Ngudjolo case is another instalment in the story of the ICC’s growing pains, and in The Netherlands’ fight to minimise the impact of it hosting the Court. This story will go on as the ICC continues its operations and more judgments are rendered, and it is hoped that in future the odds become a bit more evenly distributed.

The Fog of Technology and International Law

by Duncan Hollis

[Note: This piece is cross-posted to the SIDIblog, the blog of the Italian Society of International Law, which was kind enough to ask for my views on these topics; for those interested in their other posts (in multiple languages), see here.]

 

  • War is the realm of uncertainty; three quarters of the factors on which action in war is based are wrapped in a fog of greater or lesser uncertainty.

Carl von Clausewitz, Vom Kriege (1832), Bk. 1, Ch. 3.

  • It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur.  But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes. 

U.S. President Barack Obama, April 23, 2015

I arrived in Rome for a month-long visit at LUISS Universita Guido Carli to find a country wrestling with the tragic news of the death of one of its own – Giovanni Lo Porto.  As President Obama himself announced, the United States inadvertently killed Lo Porto and Warren Weinstein, a USAID contractor, as part of a January drone strike targeting an al Qaeda compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.   Both aid workers were Al Qaeda hostages; Lo Porto had been kidnapped in 2012, while Weinstein was abducted in 2011.

The story made global headlines for Obama’s apology that the United States had not realized these hostages were hidden on-site, and thus their deaths were a tragic mistake:

As President and as Commander-in-Chief, I take full responsibility for all our counterterrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni.  I profoundly regret what happened.  On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.

President Obama directed a “full review” of the strike, and there are calls for other investigations as well, including here in Italy.

Amidst this tragedy – and some of the apparent missteps by the U.S. (not to mention Pakistani) governments (painfully noted by Mr. Weinstein’s family) — there is something remarkable in the Obama statement.  Unlike so many other reports of U.S. errors or controversial programs in recent years (think Wikileaks or this guy), here was the U.S. Government, on its own, declassifying and disclosing the facts surrounding a drone strike that by all accounts appears to have included a major mistake in its execution.  For lawyers, moreover, such disclosures are critical – without them we are left with what I’d call the “fog of technology” which precludes the application of the rule of law in an open and transparent way.

Clausewitz’s concept of the “fog of war” is simple, and well known:  it describes the situational uncertainty that military actors face, their lack of perfect information about an adversaries’ intentions and capabilities (not to mention incomplete knowledge of their allies’ intentions and capabilities).   What looks good on paper before an armed conflict may prove unworkable as the conditions of war – physical hardship, the need for immediate decision-making, emotional strains, etc. – complicate decision-making, and with it, the achievement of military objectives.

I use the term “fog of technology” to identify a similar situational uncertainty that lawyers face when confronting the deployment of new technology.  Simply put, new technology can cloud how lawyers understand the content of law.  Of course, lawyers can assess new technology and find it analogous to prior cases, allowing for what I call “law by analogy”, where the nature or function of a new technology is regulated according to how an analogous technology or function has been regulated in the past.  But the more novel the technology – the more it can function in non-analogous ways, or with effects previously unimagined – the more lawyers may (or at least should) struggle with interpreting and applying the law to it.

Now, the fog of technology can emerge in all sorts of legal systems and all sorts of contexts from 3D printing to nanotechnology to driverless cars.  But President Obama’s explicit reference to Clausewitz makes me think about it in the particular context of warfare itself.  We are very much in a fog of technology when it comes to applying law to modern conflicts, whether it’s the remotely-piloted drone that killed Lo Porto and Weinstein, Stuxnet, or rumors of truly autonomous weapon systems (or “killer robots”).  Which domestic and international legal frameworks regulate the deployment of these technologies?  Does international humanitarian law (IHL) govern these operations, and, if so, does it do so exclusively, or do other regimes like international human rights apply as well?  To the extent a specific regime applies – IHL – how do its rules on things like distinction or neutrality apply to technologies and operations that may have no prior analogues?  More specifically, how does the law treat specific cases – was the killing of Lo Porto and Weinstein, tragic but legal, or was it an internationally wrongful act?

Of course, technology is not the only reason we have such questions.  Indeed, several scholars (most notably Michael Glennon) have identified the idea of a “fog of law.”  The rise of new types of non-state actors such as Al Qaeda continue to generate legal uncertainty; more than a decade after September 11, debates persist over whether and when U.S. counter-terrorism operations fall within a criminal law framework, or, as the U.S. insists, within the laws of armed conflict.   Similarly, when the United States targets and kills a U.S. citizen abroad (such as Ahmed Farouq, the American affiliated with Al Qaeda, who died in the same strike that killed Lo Porto and Weinstein), the question is not so much how the technology did this, but whether the U.S. Constitution regulates such killing.

Still, I think there are features of technology itself that make lawyering in this context significantly more difficult.  My co-blogger Ken Anderson recently summarized a few of the most important aspects in a recent post at the Hoover Institution.  He identifies several commonalities among cyberweapons, drones, and killer robots:  (i) their ability to operate remotely; (ii) their capacity for extreme precision (at least when compared to earlier weapons); and (iii) the diminished ease of attribution.  Of these, I think the problem of attribution is foundational; law will have little to say if legal interpreters and decision-makers do not know how the technology has been deployed, let alone how it functions or even that it exists in the first place.   In such cases, the fog of technology is tangible.

Consider the story of drones and international law. Continue Reading…

Emerging Voices 2015: Call for Abstracts

by Jessica Dorsey

This summer we will host our Third Annual Emerging Voices symposium, where we invite doctoral students and early-career academics or practicing attorneys to tell Opinio Juris readers about a research project or other international law topic of interest.

If you are a doctoral student or in the early stages of your career (e.g., post-docs, junior academics or early career practitioners within the first five years of finishing your final degree) and would like to participate in the symposium, please send a 200-word summary of your suggested post and your CV to opiniojurisblog [at] gmail [dot] com by May 31, 2015.

We’ll let you know by mid-June if you are invited to submit a full post. Submitted posts should be  between 1000-1500 words will then be reviewed by our editors. Final essays will be posted on Opinio Juris in July and August.

If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments or send us an e-mail at the address above.

Wherein I Defend Jeb Bush (Really!)

by Kevin Jon Heller

Both the liberal media and the conservative media are pulling out the fainting couches over something Jeb Bush said to Megyn Kelly during an interview on Fox News. In response to a question about whether he would have invaded Iraq in 2003 if he knew what we know now about WMDs and the like, Jeb supposedly said yes — he would still invade. That’s how both Josh Marshall and Byron York (polar opposites, they!) read Jeb’s answer. (And Kevin Drum. And Ed Kilgore.)

But that’s not what Jeb said. Here is the exchange, taken from York’s post:

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked Bush a straightforward, concise question: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” Bush’s answer was an unhesitating yes.

“I would have, and so would have Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody,” Bush said, “and so would have almost everybody that was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

“You don’t think it was a mistake?” asked Kelly.

“In retrospect, the intelligence that everybody saw, that the world saw, not just the United States, was faulty,” Bush answered.

Jeb now says that he misunderstood the question. And that does, in fact, seem to be the case. Note the verb tenses in his first answer: he “would have” invaded Iraq, as “would have” Hillary Clinton and anyone else who had seen the intelligence “they got.” He didn’t say he or Hillary or anyone else “would” invade Iraq given the intelligence “they have now.” The tenses thus clearly indicate that Jeb was answering a different question — namely, whether he would have invaded Iraq given what decision-makers knew at the time. That reading is then confirmed by his second answer, in which he acknowledges that “in retrospect” — ie, based on what we now know — the invasion was a mistake.

To be sure, Jeb deserves some criticism for his answer. A number of important people opposed the invasion of Iraq even in the face of the faulty intelligence George Bush and Hillary Clinton received. And, of course, if Jeb wants to be president, he should probably pay attention to the questions journalists ask him in televised interviews.

But Jeb didn’t say he would have invaded Iraq knowing what we know now. He just didn’t.

Guest Post: Iran’s Relief Ship and the Blockade of Yemen 

by Eugene Kontorovich

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

Iran has announced that it will be sending a ship with humanitarian supplies to Yemen, departing the evening of May 10th. Many parts of the Yemeni conflict raise law of war questions, from the legality of the pan-Arab intervention to questions about the use of force and civilian casualties. The Iranian relief ship puts into focus the blockade maintained by Saudi Arabia and its allies, with logistical and intelligence support from the United States.

Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade of Yemen’s ports from the start of the campaign. Since then, the humanitarian situation has become dire, according to many reports, with significant shortages of medicine, food and water.  (Saudi Arabia also bombed the Sanaa airport to prevent Iranian relief planes from landing.) According to Oxfam, “there is no exit” for Yemen’s 10 million people, half of whom are already going hungry.

Blockade is an entirely valid military tactic, which necessarily puts pressure on the civilian economy and well-being. However, there is a theory, which in recent years has attracted considerable support, that international law prohibits blockades in a non-international armed conflict (NIAC). This limitation on blockade has been discussed almost exclusively in connection with Israel’s blockade of Gaza. Assuming that the Yemeni conflict is a NIAC, as most observers seem to view it (a civil war with foreign assistance to both sides), the Saudi blockade raises the same questions as the Gaza blockade, as Tehran has gleefully noted.

To be sure, considerable authority concludes that blockade is entirely permitted in NIACs. The Saudi blockade gives a good occasion to revisit the debate, which has thus far proceeded with an incomplete account of state practice.

Israel’s blockade of Gaza appears to be the first one where said to be illegal because of the nature of the conflict. In the Gaza context, the illegality argument was based largely on what was said to be scanty affirmative precedent for such actions in such contexts, though a lack of precedents does not normally create a prohibition in international law.

Though it was not mentioned in the extensive discussions of Israel’s Gaza policy, there is not only historical precedent, but also contemporary practice supporting NIAC blockades. In particular, Georgia’s blockade of the separatist Abkhazia region, which has been in effect since 2008. The details of the blockade are murky, in part because it has generated not only no international protest, but also no international interest. It is clear that the blockade has been used to interdict neutral vessels carrying non-military supplies. Indeed, the blockade is so well accepted, that the commentators on the legality of the Gaza blockade appear to have been entirely unaware of it.

Then there is Sri Lanka’s blockade of Tamil-held areas during their decades-long civil war. Douglas Guilfoyle, the author of one of the major analyses of the legality of the Gaza blockade, dismissed the relevance of the Sri Lankan precedent:

Most reported maritime interceptions appear to have occurred with Sri Lanka’s territorial sea or contiguous zone, ostensibly on suspicion the vessels were engaged in smuggling weapons or supplies… The practice certainly involved no assertion of rights against neutral vessels on the high seas.

Unfortunately, this account appears to be mistaken on all major points. The blockade certainly applied to neutral ships carrying food and relief supplies, even under Red Cross emblem. Indeed, the blockade resulted in major shortages of basic necessities. The seizure Guilfoyle points to as being within the contiguous zone was, according to all other news accounts, well outside it (and was in any case after the cessation of hostilities and defeat of the Tamils). Nonetheless, the international community does not appear to even have questioned the legality of this blockade.

In another precedent that has not factored into the NIAC-blockade discussion, Indonesia imposed a naval blockade on East Timor when it invaded the territory in 1975, according to accounts of the conflict. Despite fairly strong international condemnation of the invasion itself, I have not found specific criticism of the legality of the blockade.

Incidentally, in 1992, a  “peace ship” carrying activists, Western politicians, and a slew of journalists was turned back by the Indonesian navy after attempting to symbolically challenge that blockade. In that incident, the ship turned back of its own accord after Indonesian threats to open fire; despite the strong international focus on the incident at the time, no one suggested the illegality of such actions in a NIAC.

There may be other recent state practice that has gone unnoticed as well. The episodes discussed here generated relatively little legal controversy – ironically, permissive precedent is most likely to go unnoticed. (The discussion’s of Israel’s blockade dwelt mostly on the United States blockade of Confederate ports in the Civil War and the France’s blockade of Algeria, rather than more current ones, no doubt because they attracted more attention, and better sourced in English and French publications than the Indonesian, Georgian and Sri Lankan measures.)

The blockades discussed here, including the Saudi one, all appear to proceed without all of the formality of the a traditional international armed conflict blockade; for example, it is not clear that there were formal declarations, and the blockaded enemy does not seem to have been always been recognized as a belligerent. This suggests state practice supports a less legally restrictive blockade regime for NIACs.

Thus if Riyadh and its allies are inclined to maintain the blockade, and intercept the Iranian relief ship, it has a strong legal basis. Of course, the Saudi blockade itself becomes part of the state practice on this issue, and on other blockade issues such as proportionality.  One may have thought that, prior state practice to the contrary, Gaza suggested an interest by some states in changing the rules about blockade in NIACs. The Yemen blockade, in force since late March, has not been denounced as illegal, suggesting that no new rule is taking shape.

In regards to the conduct of the blockade, it is interesting to note that Human Rights Watch today criticized the coalitions conduct of the blockade, in particular urging for allowing in fuel. The report, which is well worth reading for more detail on the naval blockade, paints an absolutely catastrophic picture of the situation in Yemen, with much of the population facing death by hunger, water shortage and associated diseases.

Interestingly, HRW does not challenge the legality of the blockade, or its apparently very narrow list of “free goods” (those permitted to pass the blockade after being subject to inspection). In particular, HRW does not call for the US or the UN to condemn the operation, as it has for other blockades. While HRW interestingly reports that the Saudi’s contraband list is not public (generally a legal problem for blockade), it also does not protest what appear to be its fairly comprehensive scope.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, May 11, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

  • The United States on Friday described as horrifying accusations of sexual abuse of children by French and African troops in Central African Republic, and called for a separate inquiry into how the United Nations handled the allegations.
  • The European Union and the United States are close to completing negotiations on a deal protecting personal data shared for law enforcement purposes such as terrorism investigations, three people familiar with the matter said.
  • Omar Khadr, a Canadian who was once the youngest prisoner held on terror charges at Guantanamo Bay, was released on bail from an Alberta prison Thursday while he appeals a murder conviction by a U.S. military tribunal.

Oceania

  • Australian police said on Saturday they had thwarted an imminent terror attack after discovering explosives at a Melbourne home and arresting a 17-year-old boy, in the latest example of the threat posed by radicalized teenagers in the country.

UN/World

Events and Announcements: May 10, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Events

  • On May 14, 2014, the British Institute of International and Comparative Law is hosting: Interpretation in International Law: The Object, the Players, the Rules, and the Strategies. Interpretation in international law is usually referred to as an art or a science. These perspectives imply that interpretation is a static exercise, tied to the rules in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT). However, in today’s international legal reality, characterised by the proliferation of international judicial bodies and a variety of participants before them, such understandings have become too narrow. Although the VCLT remains the primary legal source, there is no doubt that interpretation in international law has become a complex and purposeful process, which involves numerous players (litigators, judges, academics, NGO counsels, legal advisers) who devise various strategies to bring a case to a persuasive conclusion. This event will explore the dynamic understanding of interpretation of international law before international and English courts. A drinks reception will follow. Please register here.
  • On May 17-18, 2015, the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law is hosting Constitutional Conflicts and the Judicial Role in Comparative Perspective. This conference, which marks the launch of the Israeli Supreme Court Project at Cardozo Law, will explore the Court’s jurisprudence on complex and challenging questions facing open and multi-cultural societies everywhere. Because these issues are salient in, but by no means peculiar to, Israel, a comparative perspective will enrich our understanding of how such issues are, and might be, dealt with in other democratic societies. Panels will address the general question of the value and challenges of comparative legal study, differing conceptions of the role of the judiciary and doctrines of justiciability, and substantive areas of current controversy, including the role of the courts in overseeing national security and intelligence gathering; immigration, asylum, and treatment and status of refugees; and religion in the modern nation-state. The conference is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Please email ISCP [at] yu [dot] edu with your name, affiliation, and contact information. More information found here.

Announcements

Our previous events and announcements post can be found here. If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us with a one-paragraph description of your announcement along with hyperlinks to more information.

Weekend Roundup: April 25-May 9, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

The blog saw quite some discussion over the last two weeks.

As Julian was avoiding grading exams, he posted about Helmerich & Payne v. Venezuela, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit held that “domestic takings” can violate international law. He also covered the Sea Shepherd petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court and how Russia, in lecturing the EU in international law, threatened to veto the EU’s attempt for authorization of force against traffickers in Libya from the Security Council. Additionally, Julian posed the question of whether investor-State arbitration weakens the rule of law in reference to the ongoing discussion about the TPP and TTIP and urged us to listen to President Obama rather than candidate Obama when it comes to unilateral presidential war powers, in light of a panel on which he was recently a speaker.

Kevin pointed out Darryl Robinson’s must-read new article on the ICC–“Inescapable Dyads: Why the ICC Cannot Win,” which Cambridge University Press has made available to our readers for free until the end of October 2015. He also continued the discussion on Harold Koh’s appointment at NYU by highlighting Human Rights First’s Elisa Massimino’s position (with which he agrees) defending Koh and highlighted Breaking the Silence’s recent report on Operation Protective Edge.

We had three guest posts. The first, from Sondre Torp Helmersen and Niccolò Ridi, discussed whether there was a case for destroying the smugglers’ boats in the crisis in the Mediterranean and the second, from Elisa Freiburg, analyzed Stephen Preston’s recent speech on “The Legal Framework for the United States’ Use of Military Force since 9/11” at the ASIL Annual Meeting, calling it old wine in new bottles. Finally, Stuart Ford made the case that the complexity of international trials is necessary.

To round it all off, I wrapped up the news here and here, and listed a few events and announcements here. Have a great weekend!

Whale Wars Seeks a New Forum: The U.S. Supreme Court

by Julian Ku

Sea Shepherd, the activist group that has been aggressively protesting Japanese whaling practices, has filed a very interesting petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court.  Readers may recall that Sea Shepherd was sued by a group representing Japanese whalers under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS).  The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held that Sea Shepherd’s actions of boarding the Japanese whalers and obstructing them could fall within the definition of “piracy” for the purposes of jurisdiction under the ATS.

The best argument for Sea Shepherd is that the definition of piracy adopted by the Ninth Circuit cannot meet the Supreme Court’s “Sosa” standard for requiring ATS claims to be “universal” and “specific” under international law.  I think there is some force to this argument, although I find their disparagement of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea’s definition of piracy a little odd.  In any event, the question may turn on the definition of “private ends” that UNCLOS requires as an element of piracy.  I don’t have a strong view on this, but I refer our readers to Kevin’s critique of the Ninth Circuit conclusion that private ends can include political activism, and Eugene Kontorovich’s contrary view in support of the Ninth Circuit. The petition for certiorari smartly frames this as a “Sosa” issue, which would ordinarily mean that the uncertainty as to the applicability of “private ends” here should defeat ATS jurisdiction.  I am not sure the petitioners will get much traction, given the unusual and narrow facts of this case, but no doubt this case is worth watching.

U.S. Appeals Court Holds that “Domestic Takings” Can Violate International Law

by Julian Ku

As I continue to avoid grading my exams, I ran across this interesting recent case (Helmerich & Payne v. Venezuela) from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit which considered whether Venezuela’s expropriation of a Venezuelan subsidiary of a U.S. corporation is a “taking in violation of international law” under Section 1605(a)(3) of the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act. Helmerich & Payne, a U.S. based company, alleges that the government of Venezuela expropriated its Venezuelan subsidiary and sued Venezuela in U.S. court.  Ven

Helmerich & Payne, a U.S. based company, alleges that the government of Venezuela expropriated its Venezuelan subsidiary and sued Venezuela in U.S. court.  Venezuela argued that it is immune under the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act because, among other reasons, its expropriation fo the subsidiary is not a “taking in violation of international law” for the purposes of the FSIA.  The FSIA does contain an exception for such claims in the so-called “Hickenlooper Amendment” to the FSIA enacted in the wake of the well-known Sabbatino case from the early 1960s.

What I find fascinating is the Court’s rejection of Venezuela’s argument that as a “domestic takings”, its expropriation of a Venezuelan company cannot violate international law, even if (as in this case) the sole shareholder of that Venezuelan company was a U.S. national and that there is plenty of evidence of anti-U.S. animus motivating the expropriation.      This is indeed a difficult question, and I am struck that the D.C. Circuit held that such a taking “could” violate international law but it relied solely on other U.S. court precedents (the 1962 Second Circuit decision in Sabbatino) and Section 712 of the Restatement of U.S. Foreign Relations Law.  This is pretty thin precedent, as the dissenting judge in this case points out.  I am not ordinarily one to yell for citation of international and foreign sources, but given the clear language of the FSIA (a “taking in violation of international law”), it is odd that no international or foreign sources were consulted.

In any event, I am curious whether any of our readers could help out by pointing to other precedents on the question of “domestic takings” under international law.  I have a feeling the DC Circuit reached the right conclusion here, but I am troubled by the lack of authority for its holding.

 

Must Read: Darryl Robinson on the ICC’s “Inescapable Dyads”

by Kevin Jon Heller

Darryl is one of my very favourite international criminal law scholars. Indeed, I think he is the leading purveyor of what we might call “meta” ICL scholarship — scholarship that is concerned less with doctrine than with the nature of ICL reasoning and rhetoric itself. His article “The Identity Crisis of International Criminal Law” is a genuine classic, and I learn from everything he writes. So it is with great pleasure that I call readers’ attention to Darryl’s brilliant new article, just published in the Leiden Journal of International Law. It’s entitled “Inescapable Dyads: Why the ICC Cannot Win,” and here is the abstract:

The International Criminal Court (ICC) is surrounded by controversies and criticisms. This article highlights some patterns in the arguments, showing that many plausible criticisms reflect inescapable dyads. For any position that Court could take, one or more powerful criticisms can inevitably be advanced. The tension can be obscured because shared terms are often recruited for opposite meanings. Awareness of these patterns can (i) provide a framework to better situate arguments, (ii) reveal the deeper complexity of the problems, and (iii) help us to evaluate and improve upon the arguments. Awareness of dyadic structures can lead to a debate that is more generous, as we acknowledge the difficulty and uncertainty of choosing among flawed options, yet also more rigorous, as we attempt to articulate and improve upon our frameworks of evaluation. The goal of this article is to encourage a better conversation that can generate better insights.

The article is a must-read for anyone interested in ICL. You can find the published version here (free until end of October 2015) and an earlier SSRN draft here.

Russia Lectures EU on International Law, Threatens to Veto Proposal to Attack Human Traffickers in Libya

by Julian Ku

Apropos of our guest post earlier this week, it looks like the EU will be stymied in its effort to seek authorization from the UN Security Council to use military force against ships used to traffic desperate migrants out of North Africa (h/t Walter Russell Mead).

“Apprehending human traffickers and arresting these vessels is one thing,” said Vladimir Chizhov, Russia’s ambassador to the EU. “But destroying them would be going too far.”He added that the destruction of ships without a court order and the consent of the host country would amount “to a contravention of the existing norms of international law”.

As Helmersen and Ridi argued, there is little if no legal basis for the EU to use military force without UNSC authorization. So Amb. Chizhov is quite right on the law.  But there is something striking about being lectured on this subject by Russia, especially in a context where military force seems much more justified than, say, in eastern Ukraine.

Guest Post: Stephen W. Preston on ‘The Legal Framework for the United States’ Use of Military Force since 9/11’ (ASIL Annual Meeting 2015)–Old Wine in New Bottles

by Elisa Freiburg

[Elisa Freiburg, LL.M. (LSE), is research associate for international law at the University of Potsdam and a doctoral candidate at the University of Heidelberg. Her research focuses on international human rights, development, international criminal law, and the use of force.]

On April 10, 2015, Stephen W. Preston, General Counsel at the United States Department of Defense, delivered a keynote speech at the ASIL Annual Meeting. This speech addressed a vast number of US policy issues and describes the current state of the US understanding of international law on the use of force – an understanding that should worry the international community.

A central issue and starting point of Preston’s speech was the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), which had been passed by the US Congress in the aftermath of 9/11 on September 14, 2001, and still, as of today almost 14 years later, continues to authorizes the US President under domestic law to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons” responsible for 9/11  (or those who harbored such organizations or persons), “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States”. In 2009, the Obama Administration filed a memorandum in the Guantánamo habeas litigation, arguing that the President’s authority to detain “persons who were part of, or substantially supported, Taliban or al Qaida forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners” could be derived from the 2001 AUMF (thereby actually abandoning the “enemy combatant” argument of the Bush administration). By the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, US Congress endorsed this new formula which meant that the initial definition of the 2001 AUMF had been significantly expanded.

Certainly, the term “or associated forces” in that definition offers endless possibility to expand the scope of alleged detention authorities. Preston reiterated the interpretation by his predecessor, Jeh Johnson, who had held in 2012 that an associated force must be both (1) an organized, armed group that has entered the fight alongside al-Qa’ida (no mere alignment), and (2) a co-belligerent with al-Qa’ida in hostilities against the US or its coalition partners. Preston also referred to a public hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in May 2014, during which he had listed the groups and individuals against which the US were taking military action (in the sense of capture or lethal operations) under the 2001 AUMF, namely: al-Qa’ida, the Taliban and certain other terrorist or insurgent groups in Afghanistan; al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) Yemen; individuals who are part of al-Qa’ida in Somalia and Libya; (since 2014) the Nusrah Front and the Khorasan Group in Syria; and “the group we fought in Iraq when it was known as al-Qa’ida in Iraq”, the Islamic State. This list already shows how the understanding of the original scope of the AUMF (applicable to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks) has been expanded since 2001. Though Preston tried to differentiate between the Islamic State and its ties with al-Qa’ida, and (theoretically) a totally new group arising “fully formed from the head of Zeus”, in practice one might wonder whether a new group in the region without any links to al-Qa’ida would not rather constitute an abnormality than the rule (at least for the foreseeable future), thereby allegedly allowing the US to include every terrorist group in the region into the AUMF scope if they wanted to. The inclusion of the Islamic State, which does not consider itself as forming part of al-Qa’ida, but as a new group, demonstrates that this line of association might last, from the US perspective if not forever, then for quite a while. Continue Reading…

Does Investor-State Arbitration “Weaken[] the Rule of Law”? Judith Resnik and Larry Tribe Seem to Think So

by Julian Ku

I have not been surprised by the swelling opposition in the U.S. (mostly from the progressive left) against proposed trade agreements with Pacific and European nations (TPP and TTIP).  But I am mildly surprised by the way in which TPP and TTIP opponents have zeroed in on the inclusion of investor-state arbitration mechanisms as a rallying point for their opposition.  Not only has former Harvard lawprof (and now U.S. Senator) Elizabeth Warren come out against the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement (or ISDS), but yesterday, Yale law prof Judith Resnik and Harvard lawprof Lawrence Tribe, along with Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and a few others released a letter outlining their concerns with (really, their opposition to)  ISDS.  This letter is much more sophisticated and persuasive than an earlier lawprof letter Roger criticized here.  Indeed, its critique is far broader and echoes “sovereigntist” critiques that many on the political right have often applied to international tribunals.  Here is one snippet of their argument.

ISDS weakens the rule of law by removing the procedural protections of the legal system and using a system of adjudication with limited accountability and review. It is antithetical to the fair, public, and effective legal system that all Americans expect and deserve.

The letter valorizes U.S. courts and Article III judges, as well as the importance of democracy, and contrasts those institutions and values with the secretive ISDS process.  The main complaint, which is quite true, is that ISDS gives foreign investors a “separate legal system” to which others, including US citizens and corporations, cannot access. ISDS is not subject to any serious review by either courts or other arbitral tribunals.

None of the statements in the letter are inaccurate or incorrect. But they do leave out the basic assumption and rationale behind ISDS provisions. Foreign investors are presumed to be more likely to face disadvantages in a foreign legal system, which is why they are presumed to need “extra” protections from ISDS.  I think the rationale for ISDS is weaker for trade agreements between the US and Europe or the US and other developed industrialized countries.  But it is still probably true that there is a greater risk of discrimination against foreigners from a local legal system than against local companies.

I am not convinced of the necessity of ISDS in these trade agreements, but I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing to include them either. I do recognize that these systems of dispute settlement do create non-trivial tensions with the domestic legal systems of member countries. In other contexts (law of the sea, ICJ/death penalty, etc), raising concerns about these tensions has been associated with the political right. So it is interesting to see progressives borrow sovereigntist arguments in their campaign against ISDS.

 

Why We Should Listen to President Obama Rather than Candidate Obama on Unilateral Presidential War Powers

by Julian Ku

I had the pleasure of participating on a panel a couple of weeks ago on Presidential War Powers, in light of the recent proposal to authorize the use of force against ISIS.  The panel was hosted by the New York City Bar Association and chaired by Prof.Jonathan Hafetz of Seton Hall. It included Prof. Ryan Goodman of NYU and Prof. (Lt. Col.) Walter Narramore of West Point.  C-Span aired it last night and the video can be found here.

To give you a sense of my talk (which starts at 36:00), here is a brief summary.

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama stated that he believed the President cannot constitutionally use military force absent congressional authorization except in response to an imminent attack or threat.  But since he has taken office, the President has abandoned this view, most notably in a legal memo from his Justice Department justifying military intervention into Libya.   In my view, this shift provides strong evidence that the strict congressionalist view of presidential war powers is untenable.   I concede that there may be other limits on unilateral presidential use of force (e.g. congressional prohibitions, long-term interventions amounting to a “war”, etc.) but we should no longer take seriously the strict congressionalist position articulated by Candidate Obama in 2008.  

 

Guest Post: The Mediterranean Migrants Crisis and the Use of Force–Is There a Case for Destroying Smugglers’ Boats?

by Sondre Torp Helmersen and Niccolo Ridi

[Sondre Torp Helmersen is a PhD Candidate at the University of Oslo and Niccolò Ridi is a PhD Candidate at King’s College London and SNSF Research Assistant, The Graduate Institute, Geneva.]

1. Introduction

The recent disasters off the coasts of Italy have been the deadliest documented incidents in the troubled history of migration in the Mediterranean sea. The unprecedented number of lives lost at sea has prompted outrage in a number of countries and brought the Mediterranean migrants Crisis at the top of the European political agenda. After more than 1000 people drowned in ten days, a summit was finally called by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk.

The outcome of the meeting has been met with disappointment: outside of southern European Countries, plans for a more equitable distribution of migrants within the European Union states do not seem a priority, and the measures agreed upon focus merely on preventing departure. States have agreed on a number of measures comprising the tripling of the funding allocated to Europe’s Operation Triton (which had previously been called ‘woefully inadequate’ by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres), improved cooperation against smugglers networks, a generic pledge to do more for refugee protection and resettlement on a voluntary basis and, more controversially, actions directed to identify, capture and destroy vessels used by smugglers before they can be used.

The idea of targeting smugglers’ vessels was originally included in a 10-point action plan relying on the precedent of Operation Atalanta, which focuses on protecting on preventing piracy acts off the coast of Somalia. The adoption of such a strategy as a means of dealing with a migrants crisis, however, calls for careful consideration.

European leaders have asked EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini “to propose actions in order to capture and destroy the smugglers’ vessels before they can be used”. However, aside from rumours on the possible use of Apache helicopters targeting vessels from a range of 2 km, proposals on the use of force have so far been quite vague, and their wording careful enough to suggest that any action would have to be consistent with international law. Angela Merkel is reported to have suggested that either a Security Council resolution or the cooperation of a Libyan unity government would be prerequisite for these operations. French President François Hollande has said that France and the United Kingdom will push for a Security Council resolution. But how do these proposed operations fit in the traditional paradigms on the use of force?

2. The Legality of Using Force

The force envisaged by European leaders would apparently be used to destroy boats docked in African harbours or internal or territorial waters. This would violate the prohibition of using force in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, unless one of its exceptions apply. Attacking the boats may alternatively be classified as ‘law enforcement’ rather than ‘use of force’ (e.g. Guyana v Suriname para 445), but such enforcement would be equally illegal in another State’s territory or internal or territorial waters in the absence of the same exceptions.

The exception for self-defence is not applicable, since there has been no “armed attack” against European countries from African States or people smugglers (the latter would be relevant if one recognises a right to self-defence against non-State actors). There may also be a right for States to use force to protect their nationals abroad, but European nationals are generally neither threatened by nor involved in the smuggling. The more or less debunked doctrine of ‘humanitarian intervention’ would also not be applicable, since, even if one could argue that parts of Africa and/or the Middle East are suffering humanitarian crises, destroying people smugglers’ ships would not help alleviate those crises.

The simplest approach would be to have the consent of the relevant African States. In most cases this would mean Libya. A complicating factor is the current split between the two governments that claim to represent the State of Libya. One is based in Tripoli, the other in Tobruk. This raises the question of which of these, if any, that may give valid consent to the use of force in Libyan harbours and waters. The Tobruk government controls the majority of Libya’s territory, and is recognised by most other States as Libya’s government. However the Tripoli government controls the country’s traditional capital as well a substantial part of its territory. Some territory is also controlled by other groups, including the (so-called) Islamic State. In short, the situation is murky. After having repeatedly offered its cooperation to help fight the smuggling operations, the Tripoli government has said it will not give consent to using force against people smugglers. The Tobruk government has apparently not yet taken an official position.

The second option is to get authorisation from the UN Security Council, under the UN Charter Chapter VII. Such authorisation was given for the EU’s anti-piracy ‘Operation Atalanta’ off the coast of Somalia. However in that case the authorisation was made conditional on the consent of the Somali government. A similar condition could be set now. Authorisation would also require the consent of the UNSC’s five permanent members. Relations are currently frosty between Russia and the West, and one reason is how the Western powers used and possibly abused the 2011 authorisation to use force in Libya. Indeed, President Hollande has conceded that some convincing might be necessary to overcome Russian reluctance. Another basic condition for the UNSC to authorise the use of force is that the force is necessary to “maintain or restore international peace and security” (Article 42), in the presence of either a “threat to” or “breach of” international peace or an “act of aggression” (Article 39). The most plausible route would be to argue that the situation in the Mediterranean constitutes a “threat to the peace”. This is not obvious from the text of Article 39, but the UNSC has interpreted the provision highly flexibly in the past, and may well do so again. For example, in Resolution 668 (on Iraq’s treatment of its Kurdish population), the UNSC held that “a massive flow of refugees towards and across international frontiers … threaten[s] international peace and security”.

Other legal issues may also arise. African countries’ failure to clamp down on people smugglers’ activities may constitute a violation of the ‘duty of vigilance’ (Armed Activities para 246-250), but such a violation does not in itself authorise other States to respond with armed force. Further, if we concede that international humanitarian law applies, smugglers’ boats would be entitled to protection as civilian objects. The smugglers’ activities should not qualify as ‘piracy’ under the UNCLOS Article 101. That would in any case only make them liable to seizure by force by any State on the high seas (Article 105). To argue that the provision allows to destroy their ships when docked in a harbour seems too much of a stretch.

3. Conclusion: Another Problem that Cannot be Solved by Force

While there are legal avenues open for using force against African people smugglers, a wholly different question is whether this would actually contribute to solving the problem. The former head of operations of Atalanta has recently stated that to destroy smugglers’ boats would not be effective, as the boats used tend to be cheap and easy to replace. In a broader perspective, it would help solve neither the underlying causes of migration, which include conflict and misrule in Africa, nor the causes of the EU’s attempts to restrict migration, which include its social and economic costs.

The EU does seem to envisage the destruction of boats as one element in a broader set of tools. What is lacking, though, is an attempt to improve the current European asylum framework and a more equitable distribution of migrants among the members of the Union. This remains one of the most controversial and polarising issues in the EU. It therefore comes as no surprise that states less concerned by the refugee flows, such as the UK, would lend their support to operations at sea but avoid committing to any plans for a new resettlement system.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, the construction of a narrative that places emphasis on the criminal nature of smuggling activities is conspicuous. There is clearly no question that smugglers are criminals. The idea of a “war on smugglers” seems to fit the policy goal of avoiding to give the Triton operation a clear search and rescue mandate – indeed, one of the most significant concerns voiced by human rights groups. As Kenneth Roth has suggested, to reduce the problem to the “false pretext of criminality” is to ignore the gravity of the situations from which many migrants are fleeing, and the resulting readiness to go to any lengths to seek better opportunities on European soil.

Breaking the Silence — About Israel’s Assault on Gaza

by Kevin Jon Heller

The irreplaceable Breaking the Silence has released a new report on Operation Protective Edge — and it’s a doozy. Here are some particularly disturbing snippets from the Guardian‘s article on the report, which contains dozens of testimonials by past and present IDF soldiers:

“[The commander] said: ‘We don’t take risks. We do not spare ammo. We unload, we use as much as possible.’”

“The rules of engagement [were] pretty identical,” added another sergeant who served in a mechanised infantry unit in Deir al-Balah. “Anything inside [the Gaza Strip] is a threat. The area has to be ‘sterilised,’ empty of people – and if we don’t see someone waving a white flag, screaming: “I give up” or something – then he’s a threat and there’s authorisation to open fire … The saying was: ‘There’s no such thing there as a person who is uninvolved.’ In that situation, anyone there is involved.”

“The rules of engagement for soldiers advancing on the ground were: open fire, open fire everywhere, first thing when you go in,” recalled another soldier who served during the ground operation in Gaza City. The assumption being that the moment we went in [to the Gaza Strip], anyone who dared poke his head out was a terrorist.”

Soldiers were also encouraged to treat individuals who came too close or watched from windows or other vantage points as “scouts” who could be killed regardless of whether there was hard evidence they were spotting for Hamas or other militant groups. “If it looks like a man, shoot. It was simple: you’re in a motherfucking combat zone,” said a sergeant who served in an infantry unit in the northern Gaza strip.

“A few hours before you went in the whole area was bombed, if there’s anyone there who doesn’t clearly look innocent, you apparently need to shoot that person.” Defining ‘innocent’ he added: “If you see the person is less than 1.40 metres tall or if you see it’s a lady … If it’s a man you shoot.”

In at least one instance described by soldiers, being female did not help two women who were killed because one had a mobile phone. A soldier described the incident: “After the commander told the tank commander to go scan that place, and three tanks went to check [the bodies] … it was two women, over the age of 30 … unarmed. They were listed as terrorists. They were fired at. So of course they must have been terrorists.”

The soldiers’ descriptions are disturbingly reminiscent of the notorious “free fire” zones in Vietnam and the US government’s well-documented (and erroneous) belief that signature strikes directed against “military-age men in an area of known terrorist activity” comply with IHL’s principle of distinction. The testimonials are, in a word, stunning — and put the lie to oft-repeated shibboleths about the IDF being “the most moral army in the world.” As ever, the stories told by the IDF and the Israeli government are contradicted by the soldiers who actually have to do the killing and dying.

You can find the report here. And if you’re interested in a predictable right-wing attempt to discredit the report — which basically just complains that Breaking the Silence doesn’t release the identity of the soldiers who gave testimony (gee, can’t imagine why not…) — see here.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, May 4, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

  • Key infrastructure in war-torn Yemen, including water supplies, health services and telecommunications, are on the verge of breaking down due to a major fuel shortage, a United Nations humanitarian official has warned.

Guest Post: The Complexity of International Trials Is Necessary

by Stuart Ford

[Stuart Ford is an Assistant Professor at The John Marshall Law School.]

International criminal trials are extremely complex. The average trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) takes 176 trial days and involves more than 120 witnesses and 2,000 exhibits. See here at table 2. In comparison, the average criminal trial in the United States takes less than one day, and even the average murder trial takes only three or four days. Id. at 53-55. As a result, there is a widespread belief that international criminal trials are too complex, and international tribunals have come under enormous pressure to reduce that complexity. See here at Part I.

The ICTY, for example, made a number of changes to the Rules of Evidence and Procedure that were intended to reduce trial complexity. See, for example, here. Professors Langer and Doherty found that those changes failed to reduce the complexity of the ICTY’s trials, but why? The answer is important because if we understood what drove the complexity of international trials, perhaps we could find ways to reduce their complexity (and the associated cost) without undermining the purposes of international criminal justice.

My latest project attempts to answer that question by taking the complexity data I collected for my earlier work on the efficiency of international criminal courts and using it to build a model of trial complexity. Trial complexity is the response variable in the model, while the explanatory variables were based on a number of hypotheses about what might cause trial complexity. The hypotheses are summarized below:

Hypotheses
H1 Complexity increases as the number of accused tried together increases
H2 Complexity increases as the seniority of the accused in the political and military hierarchy increases
H3 Complexity increases as the total number of counts in the indictment increases
H4 Complexity increases as the number of crime sites in the indictment increases
H5 Complexity increases if the accused are charged with genocide
H6 Complexity increases is the accused are charged as members of a joint criminal enterprise (JCE)
H7 Complexity increases if the accused are charged under a theory of superior responsibility
H8 Complexity decreases if the accused are charged as a direct perpetrators

The association between the hypotheses and trial complexity was then tested using a multiple regression model. The results of the regression are presented below:

Model Results
Variable Effect Size Significant
Total Accused   0.077 Yes
Seniority   0.065 Yes
Total Counts   0.0061 Yes
Crime Sites   0.0006 No
Genocide   0.066 No
JCE   0.048 No
Superior Responsibility -0.088 No
Direct Perpetrator -0.20 Yes

The results suggest that international tribunals will have a very hard time reducing the complexity of their trials. First of all, the number of crime sites is not significant in the model. Thus simply permitting the judge to impose limits on the number of crime sites in the indictment will probably not be successful. The number of counts in the indictment is statistically significant, but the magnitude of the effect is very small, indicating that any reduction in the overall complexity from imposing limits on the number of counts would also be small. Neither the mode of liability used to prosecute the accused or the legal qualification of the charge had a statistically significant effect on trial complexity either.

In contrast, two factors are both statistically significant and have a large impact on the resulting trial complexity. The most important factor is the accused’s seniority within their respective military or political hierarchies. The complexity that resulted from increasing the accused’s seniority by one level was approximately equivalent to adding an additional ten counts to the indictment. Direct perpetration also had a large impact on overall complexity. Accused who were alleged to be direct perpetrators of violence (i.e., they carried it out themselves), had significantly shorter trials.

The figure below shows the relative contributions of the various factors to the complexity of the median ICTY case. The seniority of the accused and whether the accused was a direct perpetrator account for the majority of the resulting trial complexity.

sford

So, what does this all mean? The results suggest that the key factor driving the complexity of international criminal trials is the geographic and organizational distance of the accused from the crimes they are alleged to be responsible for. Indirect perpetration, where the accused is alleged to be legally responsible for crimes that were physically carried out by others, is a hallmark of international criminal trials. Such individuals tend to be distant, both organizationally and geographically, from the violence that results. (In the model, this distance is captured by the seniority and direct perpetration variables.) As a result, proving that they are criminally responsible for the acts of the direct perpetrators is very difficult and accounts for the bulk of the trial’s complexity.

This has implications for the future of international trials. For at least the last ten years, international tribunals have sought to reduce trial complexity by tinkering with the rules of procedure and evidence. This is unlikely to ever be successful because changes in the procedure cannot change the accused’s seniority or whether that person is a direct perpetrator.

There are some ways that trial complexity could be reduced, but they all come with fairly serious drawbacks. For example, courts could significantly reduce complexity by trying only low-level direct perpetrators. For policy reasons, however, international courts have been encouraged to focus on the most senior leaders. See, for example, here at 71-74. The result is very complex and expensive trials.

Making international criminal law a strict liability regime would also probably reduce complexity significantly by reducing the difficulty of linking accused to crimes from which they are organizationally and geographically distant. The cost, however, would be too high. Strict liability crimes are only appropriate when the violation is not associated with strong moral condemnation and the penalties are small. Serious violations of international criminal law, however, involve both stiff penalties and strong moral condemnation. Importing strict liability into international criminal law would be extremely undesirable, even if it did dramatically reduce trial complexity.

Another possibility would be to embrace symbolic charging at international tribunals. My calculations (see here at 38-42) indicate that using symbolic charging rather than representative charging would have reduced trial complexity at the ICTY by, at best, about a quarter. At the same time, it would have made it significantly harder for the court to achieve its goals by limiting its ability to inform the historical record, promote post-conflict reconciliation, and help victims find closure. These are important goals of international criminal justice and they are probably not worth compromising for a relatively modest reduction in trial complexity.

Finally, an increased use of plea bargaining might be another way to reduce overall trial complexity by simply avoiding the need to have some trials. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to have a significant impact because the cases involving the most senior leaders are the cases least likely to be resolved through a plea bargain and simultaneously the largest source of trial complexity. Prosecutors, for instance, are probably reluctant to enter into a plea deal with the individuals they believe masterminded the crimes. At the same time, senior accused are more likely to see their prosecutions in political terms and thus less likely to accept a plea deal. Indeed, the majority of plea bargains at the ICTY were accepted by low to mid-level accused.

The last ten years have seen most international tribunals focus their efforts on the most senior leaders, almost none of whom are direct perpetrators of violence.   The unsurprising result is trials of enormous complexity. Moreover, this complexity is largely out of the hands of individual judges and prosecutors. It arises from the policy decision to focus on senior leaders, and the model suggests it cannot be meaningfully changed by tinkering with the rules of procedure and evidence. The cost and complexity of international criminal trials is a necessary consequence of that policy decision.

Elisa Massimino Defends Harold Koh (And So Do I)

by Kevin Jon Heller

Massimino is the head of Human Rights First, one of the leading human-rights organisations in the US. Here is a snippet from her editorial today in the Washington Post, with which I almost completely agree:

As a close observer of the U.S. government’s national security policy, I know it is better for Koh’s involvement.

That’s not to say that I agreed with all the positions he took and defended. Two years ago at our annual human rights summit, Koh gave a speech defending the Obama administration’s use of drone strikes. He made the best case anyone could, but it left a lot to be desired. Throughout his tenure at State, we called on the administration to ensure that its targeted killing program was consistent with the laws of war. We’re still not satisfied that it is.

But on a range of issues — military commissions, treaties, Guantanamo Bay, detention, and transparency on drones — Koh forged progress behind the scenes. This wasn’t the kind of work that made headlines, but it strengthened respect for human rights and reduced suffering. If that makes Koh a sellout, we need more of them.

I hope that the students who signed the anti-Koh petition — who by doing so have demonstrated a concern for human rights — will spend their lives trying to advance them. They would, I’m confident, find such work fulfilling. But they will discover that victories are seldom, if ever, absolute, and that we in the movement simply can’t afford to mistake allies for enemies.

In a better world, the views of knowledgeable (and progressive) national-security experts like Massimino would carry some weight with Koh’s critics. I’d also like to think I have at least some credibility regarding the situation — after all, it was my blog post arguing that the killing of al-Aulaqi was murder under US criminal law that seemingly led the OLC to greatly expand its notorious memo justifying the attack, and I wrote the first substantial (and deeply critical) legal analysis of signature strikes. Moreover, although I don’t think having a been a student or colleague of Koh’s disqualifies someone from defending him, I have no such ties — although I have always admired Koh’s scholarship, I had never even met him until about a year ago, when he gave a lecture at Melbourne (which I disagreed with!) about his time at State.

Alas, many of Koh’s most vociferous critics — though certainly not all — have little interest in reasoned debate. My posts defending Koh are “laughable” and nothing more than “the academic equivalent of the ‘I’m not a racist, but….’ argument” — because it apparently makes no difference how critical you are of the US government’s drone program; if you defend Koh, you’re just an apologist for the program. I have taken “a careerist and opportunity [sic] approach when it suits” me — even though I am a professor in the UK and shudder in horror at the thought of ever having a position in the US government (or any government, for that matter). I am a “hitman” for Koh and an agent “in the market of favors (rather than ideas)” — this part of a bizarre ad hominem attack (with bonus points for working in the word “Zionist”) on Koh for alleged venality. I’m “bullying” the students by defending Koh on the blog instead of letting their accusations of murder go unchallenged. And I’m “elitist’ and “insular” because I believe students have no right to demand “standards” from their professors — a claim based on precisely nothing other than my disagreement with the petition. This is the kind of rhetoric that people use when they have nothing substantive to argue.

Let me be clear: I have no problem with students, faculty, or anyone else criticising Koh. I’ve done that myself. I also fully support the First Amendment right of students, faculty, and anyone else to circulate a petition calling for NYU to rescind its offer to Koh to teach human rights at the law school. But it is not “bullying” for those who respect Koh to respond to irresponsible claims that he is a murderer and war criminal. Nor is it an “attack on the students” to meet their speech with counter-speech. Indeed, if Koh’s critics are “drowned out” by the response to their petition — by the fact that more than 750 people of every political persuasion imaginable believe that the petitioners are, in Massimino’s words, “mistaking allies for enemies” — perhaps the problem isn’t the response.

Perhaps the problem is that the petition’s claims are wrong.