Author: Eyal Benvenisti

[Eyal Benvenisti is the Anny and Paul Yanowicz Professor of Human Rights at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and Global Visiting Professor at New York University School of Law.]

I am grateful for the three incisive and insightful comments. Due to space limitations I will not be able to do justice to any of the comments in this response, but they will certainly help in my future work on this subject. I will use this brief response to clarify some parts of my argument and to situate the article in my broader research project.

To clarify my argument and hint at its potential significance I will use the pending case before the International Court of Justice concerning Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening). The dispute focuses on Japan’s discretion to issue “special permits” for killing whales arguably for scientific research as provided by Article 8(1) of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (1946). The said Article allows a member state to issue permits and impose conditions “as the Contracting Government thinks fit.” Japan interprets this obligation as a “good faith” obligation, arguing that neither the International Whaling Commission nor the ICJ “have power to approve or disapprove the issue of a special permit.” (Public seating, 4 July 2013, afternoon, verbatim record, p. 36 paras. 23-24). Australia argues, however, that Japan must demonstrate the scientific value of the permits because “Japan does not ‘own’ the whales it catches.” (Public seating, 10 July 2013, morning, verbatim record, p. 65 para. 23). As stated by Professor James Crawford, arguing for Australia: “In respect of resources in the international public domain, to recognize a wide margin of appreciation is, in effect, to allocate those resources to the exploiting State.” (id., para. 22). Given the global commons problem, continues Crawford, the Convention requires “a proper showing … that [research] proposals are genuinely motivated by scientific considerations and adapted appropriately to achieve scientific goals.” Moreover, Japan must “consider seriously” the views of the IWC and its subsidiary organs, otherwise the conclusion will be “that the project is not being carried out for the purposes of scientific research, but for some other purpose inconsistent with the Convention.” (id. at para. 26).

The trusteeship concept that I develop suggests that states are subject to rigorous accountability requirements not only with respect to their treatment of endangered migratory species, but also when they are using transboundary resources they share with a few other states, and even when they manage their “own” resources. For states do not fully “own” their “own” resources. Stated otherwise, following the German Basic Law concept of ownership (Article 14), “Ownership entails obligations. Its use shall also serve the public good.” As discussed in my article (at pp. 311-12), the same rationale applies with even greater force to states.

To some extent, such accountability obligations are minimal because they do not restrict the scope of sovereign discretion. If Australia is right, Japan would have to provide more data and expert analysis to prove the scientific basis for its decision to permit the killing of whales, and pay serious attention to the views of the IWC and others. But the ultimate decision would stay with Japan. Others may remain skeptical, and their suspicion may even have a stronger basis, but nothing more. This would be an “imperfect” obligation, in the sense that it would be a non-justiciable one; but an imperfect obligation is not necessarily an ineffective one, as anyone exposed to public shaming will appreciate.

The question whether the ICJ may question Japan’s explanation is a different and rather difficult one, which requires further deliberation. In my article I identified this as a question to be addressed at a later stage. Such an inquiry will have to assess the legitimate scope of review of national policymaking by external bodies such as international tribunals, in light of concerns with the impartiality of the judges, their competence to make better judgment calls than the reviewed sovereigns, and the potentially stifling impact of their interventions on domestic democratic processes. It may make sense, for example, for the reasons stated by Crawford, to authorize international tribunals to review national discretion when it applies to the use of migratory species but not to the management of domestic stocks.

This minimalist vision seems insufficient for von Bogdandy and Schmalz who want to “Push[] Benvenisti Further.” The opposite push comes from McCrudden who regards my position as “anything but ‘modest’ or ‘minimal’.”

[Eyal Benvenisti is the Anny and Paul Yanowicz Professor of Human Rights at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and Global Visiting Professor at New York University School of Law.] We live in a shrinking world where interdependence between countries and communities is intensifying. This interdependence tests the limits of the traditional concept of sovereignty which crystallized at a time when distances...