Author Archive for
Peggy McGuinness

Bellinger on Avena Implementing Legislation

by Peggy McGuinness

Almost three years have passed since the Supreme Court’s decision in Medellin v. Texas. The only remaining avenue to overturn Medellin and make the ICJ’s decision in Avena (holding that the US violated its obligations under the Consular Convention and ordering review of the cases) binding as domestic law — a federal statute — has not been passed.  Former State Department Legal Advisor John Bellinger has again made the case for Congress to pass an implementing statute in this op-ed in the Washington Post last week. Bellinger lays out the politics of getting a law passed to review the death row convictions at issue in Avena:

In contrast to the Bush administration, the Obama administration has made less visible efforts to comply with the World Court rulings. The White House has not asked Congress for legislation authorizing the president to order a review of the convictions of the remaining Mexican nationals, presumably because it is not popular to side with an international tribunal in favor of a group of convicted murderers. The next execution is scheduled for July.

Although Republicans might not be eager to cooperate with President Obama, legislators should craft a narrow law authorizing the president to comply with the World Court ruling. Even if they are skeptical of vague principles of international law, House Republicans should recognize that U.S. compliance with the Vienna Convention is vital. Members of Congress condemn other countries that fail to comply with their treaty obligations to the United States in cases of consular access and diplomatic immunity. But lawmakers cannot expect other countries to comply with their treaty obligations to us unless the United States observes its treaty obligations to them. Congress and the president must ensure that the United States observes the Vienna Convention not as a favor to foreigners but because it serves a “plainly compelling” national interest in protecting Americans who travel and American companies that operate in foreign countries.

To me this should be an easy call for Republicans and Democrats alike: an effective foreign policy requires the protection of the Consular Convention (not to mention the Diplomatic Convention — see, e.g., the Davis case in Pakistan.)  The recent evacuations of American citizens from Egypt and Libya demonstrate the importance of our consular presence oversees and the protection our consular work receives under international law.  We should be doing everything we can to ensure that we comply with the Convention as a way to underscore our commitment to consular protection.  But I don’t sense a whole lot of momentum here.  Do our readers have any additional insights into the current state of play?

Covington and Burling and the Cote d’Ivoire

by Peggy McGuinness

According to the Washington Post, Covington and Burling has filed with the Department of Justice to represent Alassane Ouattara, the recognized winner of the presidential election in Cote d’Ivoire.  Why would a U.S. law firm be representing (pro bono no less!) a foreign politician? According to Covington’s international policy advisor, Alan Larson, the purpose was to make sure that ousted president Gbagbo — who, until recently, was represented (at top fees!) by Lanny Davis — did not improperly capture moneys to be paid to the government of Cote d’Ivoire:

“Our highest and best use is to be providing legal and strategic advice on the steps that need to be taken to make sure that he [Ouattara] is recognized for what he is, which is the elected, legitimate president of Cote d’Ivoire,” Larson said, using the French name for the country. “It’s very important in the big scheme of things to have the situation in Cote d’Ivoire come out right.”

No doubt Covington will be in a competitive position to get fee-based work from Ouattara’s government after it has been properly installed.

The papers filed with DoJ are required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act:

The rush to represent both sides in Ivory Coast underscores the lucrative but little-noticed world of overseas lobbying, in which U.S. firms sign contracts with foreign governments, leaders or companies to represent their interests. Under a long-standing law called the Foreign Agents Registration Act, U.S. firms are required to disclose the details of such contracts to the Justice Department, including payment schedules.

But such arrangements can prove uncomfortable if the clients become the focus of international controversy. Last week, for example, the Washington Media Group announced that it had severed ties with the collapsing regime in Tunisia amid reports of human rights abuses.

The process of Foreign Agent registration (i.e., becoming a lobbyist for foreign interests) is quite transparent.  You can search the DoJ database here.  Many of the registrants are lawyers, but a surprising number of names associated with some of the larger law and lobbying firms are former U.S. diplomats.

International Law Weekend 2010: Oct 21-23

by Peggy McGuinness

The American Branch of the International Law Association will be hosting its annual International Law Weekend in New York City, October 21-23.  The full program can be found here, and includes some great panels on a range of topics under the theme “International Law and Institutions: Advancing Justice, Security and Prosperity.”  (You might even see an OJ blogger or two!)  In addition to the scholarly discussion, the organizers have put together what looks to be a really terrific career program for students:

On Saturday, October 23rd, beginning at 2:00 pm, the American Branch will launch a half-day program of speakers, break-out sessions, and other events designed to help law students gather information about career paths in different areas of international law and to gauge the future demand for lawyers with expertise in different aspects of private and public international law. In addition to the American Branch, the following organizations are participating in this career program: the American Bar Association Section of International Law, the American Society of International Law, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, EarthRights International, the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center at Case Western Reserve University, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Human Rights Watch, the International Law Students Association, Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, New York Law School, the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, Wayne State University Law School, and Willkie, Farr & Gallagher. For more information, click here.

You can register online here.

Call for Papers from Greg Gordon: Central States Law Schools Association

by Peggy McGuinness

Our friend and OJ guest contributor Professor Greg Gordon passes along the following call for papers — for international law scholars and other subject areas for the Central Law Schools Association 2010 meeting. Full announcement after the jump:

Life Sentences for Two Genocide Convictions at ICTY

by Peggy McGuinness

The news out of The Hague today is the genocide convictions of Popovic and Beara, both of whom the ICTY trial chamber found to be key leaders of the Srbrenica massacre of 1995.  Each was sentenced to life imprisonment, among the longest sentences for the ICTY. Lesser convictions and sentences were handed down to five other former Bosnian Serb officials. Here’s the AP story and an excerpt from the ICTY news release:

Seven former high-ranking Bosnian Serb military and police officials were today convicted by Trial Chamber II of a range of crimes committed in 1995 in relation to the fall of the enclaves of Srebrenica and Žepa, eastern Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Vujadin Popović, the Chief of Security of the Drina Corps of the Bosnian Serb Army (VRS) and Ljubiša Beara, Chief of Security in the VRS Main staff were found guilty of genocide, extermination, murder and persecution and sentenced to life imprisonment. Drago Nikolić, the Chief of Security in the Zvornik Brigade, was found guilty of aiding and abetting genocide, extermination, murder and persecution and sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment. Ljubomir Borovčanin, Deputy Commander of the Special Police Brigade of the police forces was convicted of aiding and abetting extermination, murder, persecution and forcible transfer (Judge Kwon dissenting) under Article 7(1) of the Statute and, as a superior, of murder as a crime against humanity and as a violation of the laws of customs of war under Article (3). He was sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment. Radivoje Miletić, the Chief of the Administration for Operations and Training at the VRS Main Staff was found guilty of murder by majority, persecution and inhumane acts (forcible transfer). He was sentenced to 19 years’ imprisonment. Milan Gvero, the Assistant Commander for Moral, Legal and Religious Affairs of the VRS Main Staff, was found guilty of persecution and inhumane acts and acquitted of the two counts of murder and that of deportation. He was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment. Vinko Pandurević, Commander of the Zvornik Brigade, was found guilty of aiding and abetting murder (Judge Kwon dissenting), persecution and inhumane acts. He was acquitted of charges of genocide, extermination and deportation. He was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment.


Today’s judgement concerns the largest trial to date held before the Tribunal and deals with a wide range of crimes committed by the Bosnian Serb forces against Bosnian Muslims during and following the fall of the former UN protected zones of Srebrenica and Žepa in July 1995.

The full text of the court’s summary of the judgment is here.

ILA Biennial Conference in The Hague, August 15-20, 2010

by Peggy McGuinness

The International Law Association’s 2010 Biennial Conference, “De Iure Humanitatis: Peace, Justice, and International Law” takes place August 15-20 in The Hague.  Early reduced-fee registration ends tomorrow, May 15. It looks to be great a program, hosted by the Dutch Branch of ILA, with some fun side events in and around The Hague.  (You may even see a couple of the OJ regulars in attendance!)  Here is a full description via Professor John Noyes, President of the American Branch of ILA:

New International Organizations Blog: Eye on IOs

by Peggy McGuinness

Professor David Bosco has started a new blog focusing on international organizations, “Eye on IOs.” I like his subtitle — “A blog on the progress and pitfalls of international organizations.”  It reminds me of a chapter I wrote addressing “progress and paradox” in international security cooperation. (It is nice to have company as a moderate on questions of international institution building!)

Professor Bosco has  posted a comment on the Beth Simmons/Allison Danner study of ICC membership (“Credible Commitments”) published in the recent International Organization, in which they try to sort out the puzzle of why ICC membership is high among both peaceful “rule of law” states and conflict-prone states that lack strong rule of law. Bosco notes:

[Simmons and Danner’s] explanation is that states that have experienced recent conflict are using ICC ratification as a way of signaling (mainly to a domestic audience) their commitment to ratchet down violence by, in essence, tying their own hands:

This exposure to prosecution by an independent international institution acts as an implicit promise by governments that they will foreswear particularly heinous military options, and it endows that promise with a credibility that such governments would otherwise lack.

It’s a fascinating conclusion and their argument is well supported. But I wonder if there isn’t an alternative explanation in many cases: that states at high-risk for ICC scrutiny have chosen to “appease” the ICC by joining and, in some cases, even referring themselves to the court (as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda have done) rather than “confront” it by refusing to join. After all, as these countries well know, refusing to ratify the Rome Statute doesn’t immunize them; the Security Council can always expand the ICC’s jurisdiction to cover states not party to the statute, as it has done in the case of Sudan.

Professor Bosco’s alternative explanation sounds right — perhaps more so if measured against the relatively low short-term domestic political cost for conflict-prone states for joining an untested and slow (in comparison with alternative actions that could be taken) international institution.

Check out the full blog. And welcome to the blogosphere “Eye on IOs”!

Opinio Juris Book Discussion: “The Art and Craft of International Environmental Law,” by Daniel Bodansky

by Peggy McGuinness

International Law Weekend 2010: Call for Panels

by Peggy McGuinness

The American Branch of the International Law Association has posted a call for panels for the 2010 International Law Weekend, which will take place in New York October 21-23. This year’s theme is “International Law and Institutions: Advancing Justice, Security and Prosperity.” ILW is always a fun event — with lots of student and NGO, IO and private practitioner participation.  Full call for proposals after the jump.

Is the U.S. Public Both “Realist” and “Uninformed?”

by Peggy McGuinness

Dan Drezner’s take at Foreign Policy on the latest Pew Research Poll on U.S. foreign policy attitudes uses a more provocative term than “uninformed,” but the point is the same.  Can the public be “realist” in its attitudes to the world when those attitudes are based on factual assumptions that don’t exactly align with reality? Lots of interesting comments over at Drezner’s post.

Also at FP, check out the survey of their “top 100 thinkers” for a different take on world events than the Pew “wisdom of the crowd” approach.

Council on Foreign Relations Publishes “Public Opinion on Global Issues”

by Peggy McGuinness

The just-released CFR web publication “Public Opinion on Global Issues” offers one-stop shopping for those looking for public opinion surveys across a range of transnational policy issues.  The overview explains how CFR and the Univ. of Maryland consolidated all publicly available opinion polls and provides a few significant findings:

The international community confronts a daunting array of transnational threats and challenges that no country can hope to resolve alone. As political leaders in the United States and abroad grapple with this global agenda and seek to forge international partnerships in addressing it, for a variety of reasons they must consider the opinions of those from whom they represent. But what, precisely, do citizens in the United States and abroad think about such matters?

To answer this question, the International Institutions and Global Governance program has produced Public Opinion on Global Issues, a comprehensive digest of existing polling data on U.S. and global public attitudes on the world’s most pressing challenges — and the institutions designed to address them. Developed in partnership with the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, the digest consolidates global and U.S. public opinion across ten major issue areas: elements of world order, international institutions, violent conflict, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, energy security, the global economy, economic development, and human rights.

[snip]

What We Found

[snip]

Views on World Order: Publics around the world — including in the United States — are strongly internationalist in orientation. They believe that global challenges are simply too complex and daunting to be addressed by unilateral or even regional means. In every country polled, most people support a global system based on the rule of law, international treaties, and robust multilateral institutions. They believe their own government is obliged to abide by international law, even when doing so is at odds with its perceived national interest. Large majorities, including among Americans, reject a hegemonic role for the United States, but do want the United States to participate in multilateral efforts to address international issues.

The United Nations: Globally, national publics believe that the United Nations plays a positive international role, although they are often disappointed by the UN’s actual performance and support its reform. Majorities in most countries — including the United States — regard the UN Security Council as the premier institution for conferring legitimacy on the use of armed force. Publics around the world believe the UN Security Council has not only the right but also the responsibility to prevent or end gross human rights abuses such as genocide. Majorities or pluralities in all nations polled want the UN to actively promote human rights — and they reject the argument that this would be improper interference in sovereign affairs. There is strong popular support for adding new permanent members to the Security Council and (even among publics of most permanent members) for giving the Council the power to override a veto by a permanent member.

I have been a past user and fan of the U Maryland PIPA data sets, and this comprehensive digest is very useful indeed (and the kind of thing CFR should be doing more of to reach out to students and academics).  Click here, for example, to see a summary of global opinion on climate change, and here, to see U.S. public opinion on climate change.

Remembering the Other 9/11: Nov. 11, 1989 and “Walls Come Tumbling Down”

by Peggy McGuinness

Like many of you over a certain age, I have been thinking a lot about where I was when the Berlin Wall fell:  driving with a friend from Montreal to my parents house in New Jersey, listening to dispatches from Berlin over the radio.  My father was glued to the television set when we finally pulled in sometime in the late evening.  It seemed so surreal at that moment to see history unfolding live.  The feeling that is hard to replicate, with 20/20 hindsight, is how unlikely it had seemed to me — to us all, really — in early 1989 that the Cold War would end in my lifetime. And here we are, twenty years later.

Only two years before the wall fell, I had taken a study trip to Berlin and done all the requisite American student exploration of the wall and East Berlin: transiting through Checkpoint Charlie, trying in vain to spend the East German marks that we had been required to exchange (and finally succeeding at the Communist Party bookshop on Friedrichstrasse where we picked up copies of Das Kapital and the writings of Lenin in German), chatting with the VoPo officers in front of the Soviet embassy on Unter den Linden, taking pictures in front of the Marx statute at the Volkspalast, and having one of the world’s worst lunches (with service to match) in a depressing East Berlin coffee shop. Little did I know that day that in 24 months the wall would be gone and just seven years later I would be serving as a U.S. diplomat in a reunited Berlin and Germany.

My friends and I capped off that day in 1987 spray painting some “profound” words on the west side of the wall, a quote from one of our favorite bands of the time, Style Council (hey, I still like Paul Weller):

You see things can change –
Yes an’ walls can come tumbling down!

Governments crack and systems fall
’cause unity is powerful –
Lights go out – walls come tumbling down!

Full video of the song here. Boy, does it bring back the 80s and memories of the twilight of the Cold War.  For those of you celebrating in Berlin tonight, enjoy!