Author Archive for
Julian Ku

Can the U.S. Legally Deny Iran’s New U.N. Ambassador a Visa to New York? Nope.

by Julian Ku

According to Reuters, the U.S. is thinking hard about denying a visa to Iran’s new U.N. Ambassador, thus preventing him from taking up his post in New York. The new ambassador, Hamid Abutalebi, apparently participated in the Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran back in 1979. Although nothing is official yet, it looks like the U.S. is going to invoke its “security exception” to the U.N. Headquarters Agreement to deny Abutalebi a visa.   As in the case involving President Bashir of Sudan, denying a visa to Iran’s ambassador would almost certainly violate the Headquarters Agreement.  Let’s take a look at Section 11:

The federal, state or local authorities of the United States shall not impose any impediments to transit to or from the headquarters district of (1) representatives of Members or officials of the United Nations…

Iran’s ambassador is clearly covered by this language. The only U.S. argument flows from the “security” exception attached to the Headquarters Agreement upon its approval by the U.S. Congress.

Nothing in the agreement shall be construed as in any way diminishing, abridging, or weakening the right of the United States to safeguard its own security and completely to control the entrance of aliens into any territory of the United States….

As a matter of international law, I do not think the United Nations ever officially accepted this amendment to the original Headquarters Agreement, and certainly it has never accepted the rather broad U.S. interpretation of this provision.  A deal was struck in the past to allow the U.S. to give very limited visas that kept visitors within 15 miles of UN Headquarters.

In any event, the U.N. has battled with the U.S. several times in the past over the use of this clause to deny visas to the PLO, or even to close down PLO observer missions at the U.N.  The U.N. even sought arbitration (as provided by the Headquarters Agreement) as well as an advisory opinion from the ICJ when the US went after the PLO back in the late 1980s.

Does this mean the U.S. cannot deny the visa? I think under domestic U.S. law, there is certainly a plausible basis for denial given Abutalebi’s past connections and U.S. practice in this area.  But the U.N. would be well within its rights to claim a violation of the Headquarters Agreement and to demand an arbitration that it would have a good chance of winning.   I don’t get why the U.S. wants to pick this fight at this time. I’d prefer it hang tough on its demand that Iran eliminate its nuclear weapons program rather than deny a visa over actions taken by a guy 35 years ago.  But it looks like we are going to have this fight, so stay tuned.

Should the U.S. Use “Lawfare” Against Russia?

by Julian Ku

Back in 2007, Messrs David Rivkin and Lee Casey’s Wall Street Journal op-ed helped popularize the term “lawfare” among U.S. conservatives, who have used the term to decry legal tactics that challenged US policy in the war on terrorism.   As they defined it then:

The term “lawfare” describes the growing use of international law claims, usually factually or legally meritless, as a tool of war. The goal is to gain a moral advantage over your enemy in the court of world opinion, and potentially a legal advantage in national and international tribunals.

So it is somewhat surprising that the duo, both very influential commentators among U.S. conservatives, is advocating a lawfareish approach to combatting Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its threats against Ukraine. Here is some of their advice in today’s WSJ.

As a start, the Obama administration should seek a U.N. General Assembly resolution requesting the International Court of Justice’s opinion on the legality of the Russian annexation of Crimea.

The U.S. and its allies should also challenge the legality of Russia’s actions in every conceivable legal venue, whether domestic or international.

Nongovernmental organizations, which cast themselves as guardians of the international order, have a role to play in condemning and challenging in courts of law and in public opinion Russia’s actions against Ukraine

In other words, the authors want to use “lawfare” against Russia.  I agree that the US has good legal arguments against Russia on this issue, and that the US also had good (but not unassailable) legal arguments for its war on terrorism policies. But I don’t think that the US invocation of international law, nor its employment of “lawfare” to highlight international law, will be very successful against Russia.  Lawfare’s main impact against the U.S. was to tie up many of its policies in domestic U.S. litigation. I don’t see that as an avenue against Russia.

Moreover, the employment of lawfareish pressure tactics could easily be used as an excuse to avoid taking more strenuous or effective actions (e.g. tougher sanctions, increased military aid, etc.).  I am not sure US conservatives should be eager to jump on this lawfare bandwagon, no matter how good the cause.

So How is China Reacting to the Philippines Arbitration Submission? Not Very Well

by Julian Ku

China has not been quiet in reacting to the Philippines filing Sunday of its memorial in the UNCLOS South China Sea arbitration.  In addition to the foreign ministry’s remarks, the People’s Daily has released a full-scale defense of China’s legal and policy position (recently translated here). It is the longest official (well, close-to-official) statement of China’s legal position on the arbitration as I’ve seen anywhere. The heart of China’s argument is that this whole Philippines dispute is about sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, parts of which the Philippines is illegally occupying.  Because this is about sovereignty, and because China excluded maritime and territorial disputes from UNCLOS arbitral jurisdiction in its 2006 declaration, it is the Philippines (and not China) that is violating international law by filing the arbitration claim. Here are a couple of legal arguments or claims in the commentary that jumped out at me. (Read more after the jump)

Whale Wars Day of Judgment: ICJ Rules Against Japan

by Julian Ku

Here is the ICJ’s decision in “Whaling in the Antarctic” (Australia v. Japan, New Zealand intervening).  Here is the Registry’s summary. The vote was unanimous on jurisdiction, and then 12-4 on the rest in Australia’s favor with judges Owada, Abraham, Bennouna, Yusuf dissenting.  There was one aspect of the decision that went in favor of Japan (13-3) but that aspect of the decision shouldn’t affect the overall outcome significantly.

I won’t pretend to have digested this judgment in any rigorous way. I will note that the judgment calls on Japan to “revoke any extant authorization, permit or licence granted in relation to JARPA II, and refrain from granting any further permits in pursuance of that programme.”  Japan’s implementation (or non-implementation) of this remedy will be worth watching going forward.

Game On! Philippines Files (4000 page) Memorial in China UNCLOS Arbitration

by Julian Ku

Just in time for the odd Sunday filing deadline, the government of the Philippines announced that it had submitted its memorial in its arbitration with China under UNCLOS.

Ignoring a possible backlash from China, the Philippine government transmitted the document, called a “memorial” in international arbitration parlance, on Sunday to the Netherlands-based Permanent Court of Arbitration where a five-member tribunal operating under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will hear Manila’s complaint.

“Today, the Philippines submitted its memorial to the arbitral tribunal that is hearing the case its brought against the People’s Republic of China under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario told a news conference.

“With firm conviction, the ultimate purpose of our memorial is our national interest.”

Manila declined to release a copy of the memorial as it has yet to be reviewed by the court.

But Del Rosario said the Philippine “memorial” consists of “ten volumes with maps,” “nearly 4,000 pages” and will fortify the Philippine case which seeks to declare China’s exaggerated claim illegal. A hard copy will be forwarded to the tribunal on Monday.

I hope and trust that at least volume I of the memorial (containing the 270-pages of actual legal argument and analysis) is released publicly soon.  I do think the additional 3700-plus pages of annexes is overkill in a case where the other side is highly unlikely to bother answering.  Still, it will be an interesting public statement of the Philippines’ best legal arguments.  I have grown increasingly skeptical of this Philippines argument, both from a legal and a strategic standpoint.  But I would like to see their arguments.

Whale Wars: Is This The End?

by Julian Ku

On Monday, the International Court of Justice will announce its long-awaited judgment in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan). The judgment (scheduled for 10 a.m. Hague time) comes almost four years after Australia first filed its application way back in May 2010 (here is one of many prior posts where I complained about the length of time this judgment has taken).

This case will be the first time (I believe) that Japan has participated in an ICJ proceeding as a respondent and facing a binding judgment.  Both Japan and Australia had no shortage of legal talent on their teams in this case.  Australia is claiming that Japan is violating its obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling by using the cover of “scientific research” to actually conduct commercial whaling.  Japan disagrees, and my impression is that this will end up being more of a factual than legal determination by the ICJ here, but I haven’t been following the legal arguments very closely.

In any event, it will also be interesting to see how and if Japan complies with the ICJ’s ruling if it loses.  I find it hard to imagine that the Japanese government will immediately comply, but it is hard to imagine Japan simply ignoring the judgment either.  Since there is evidence the commercial viability of whaling in Japan is collapsing anyway, perhaps this is the excuse the Japanese government needs to end its whaling programs? In any event, if Japan wants to leave open international adjudication as a mechanism for resolving disputes with Korea or China, it needs to be careful in how it reacts to any adverse ruling here.

Did the U.S. Infiltration of Chinese Company Huawei Violate International Law?

by Julian Ku

Just in time for Michelle Obama’s speech in Beijing extolling the benefits of free speech and a President Obama/President Xi summit, the NY Times published an article detailing how the U.S National Security Agency infiltrated the systems of Chinese telecom infrastructure giant Huawei.  According to documents the Times obtained from the Edward Snowden leak, the NSA “obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.”

From a legal perspective, there is no doubt that this is a violation of Chinese laws and an example of how the U.S. government is doing what it is alleging the Chinese government is doing to U.S. companies. There also seems little doubt that this action is clearly legal under U.S. laws, as the U.S. government has broad and largely unchecked authority to conduct surveillance of foreign nationals in foreign countries.  But is the action illegal under any international laws?

I am doubtful that such snooping could violate any international right to privacy, even if such a right existed.  The ICCPR might provide such a right, but it may or may not apply extraterritorially, and even if it did, it probably doesn’t restrict this kind of activity.

This essay in the Global Times, a hawkish Chinese-state-affiliated newspaper, suggests that such activity could also constitute an attack for the purposes of the law of war.  The author, a U.S.-based writer, argues that “launching attacks under another nation’s flag has long been seen as illegal under both codified law and international custom. In such a case, Chinese nationals would face financial and possibly physical risk, especially if US involvement remained undetected.”

I think this would be a stretch under the laws of war. Is snooping around in Huawei’s servers an “act of violence” within the meaning of the Geneva Convention? I don’t think walking into Huawei’s offices and ruffling through their papers is an act of violence. Taking down their servers, or planting viruses to disable those servers or related activities might be an act of violence, but even that seems a bit of  stretch under current international laws.

So the U.S. may have spied, but it cannot be said to have “attacked” China, in its reported Huawei infiltration.  As a matter of international law, the reported actions appear to be legal, even if they were unwise or hypocritical.

Even More on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Hearing: Why International Law Won’t Matter Much for NSA Spying

by Julian Ku

I was fortunate to participate in a discussion held at a hearing of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board today in Washington D.C. I say “participate in a discussion” because it was not like giving testimony to a congressional hearing where the congressman make speeches and ask questions unrelated to your testimony.  Rather, it was closer to a mini-oral argument with five judges asking you questions about difficult legal issues (luckily, there were three other panelists though to field most of the questions).  The members of the PCLOB are all engaged and asked tough questions of me and of my fellow panelists. (I think C-SPAN will have video of our panel posted here)

The written testimony that was submitted (as well as  comments from the general public) can all be found here at the Regulations.Gov website. I want to flag for this blog’s readership the day’s last panel, which focused on international and transnational legal issues related to the NSA’s Section 702  surveillance program.  Three members of that panel (former State Dept. Legal Adviser John Bellinger, Human Rights Watch’s Laura Pitter, and the Max Planck Institute’s Ulrich Sieber) tackled the ICCPR’s applicability to overseas surveillance as well as the applicability of rules of customary international law.  (Video can be viewed here).  For those who don’t have the patience to watch the video or view the transcript, I live-tweeted the panel here).

Let me just add my two cents on the issues in this panel: Based on the questions, I don’t think the majority of the members of the PCLOB are convinced that international law does, or even should, constrain U.S. surveillance under Section 702.  They are also unimpressed with the complaints of foreign governments, most of whom have similar overseas surveillance schemes but with fewer oversight mechanisms.  The only concern that seemed to bother the Board was the fact that U.S. companies selling information technology overseas are being tarred with the NSA label, making it harder for them to compete in foreign markets.  These are just my impressions, mind you, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the final PCLOB report on Section 702 gives short shrift to international law issues.  (By the way, I would expect the opposite in their treatment of the Fourth Amendment, however).

Anyway, something to keep an eye on….

Wondering About the Legality of U.S. Overseas Spying? Tune Into Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Hearing

by Julian Ku

For those readers who are interested in the legal aspects of the U.S. government’s wide-ranging overseas intelligence gathering program, C-Span 2 will be broadcasting portions of today’s oversight hearing of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.  The PCLOB is a federal watchdog agency charged with reviewing the U.S. government’s intelligence efforts in light of privacy and civil liberties concerns (a preview of witness testimony can be found here).  Lawyers from the key federal agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA), as well as legal scholars and NGOs will be participating.  I will be speaking on the second panel focusing on constitutional and statutory issues related to Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which creates procedures for limiting the targeting of U.S. citizens overseas’ communications. (Spoiler Alert: I’m pretty OK with the constitutionality of U.S. overseas electronic surveillance).  In the afternoon, friends of the blog like Eric Posner and John Bellinger will be discussing international aspects of these programs. Should be interesting.

 

Is the Crimea Crisis a Factual or Legal Disagreement?

by Julian Ku

University of Memphis law professor Boris Mamlyuk criticizes most U.S. international law commentary on the Crimea/Ukraine crisis for failing to take seriously the Russian point of view. I’ve noticed several commenters here have also complained about our pro-Western bias.  Part of the problem is that there is a dearth of international law commentators writing in English in favor of the Russian legal position. Even Prof. Mamlyuk’s short essay doesn’t try to defend or explain Russia’s legal position, except to point out that Ukraine may have committed some minor violations of its own.  But let me try to at least explore Russia’s position in more detail. The best defense I can come up with is that Russia is arguing the “facts” and not the “law.”

During today’s Security Council debate, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin appears to have given a fuller defense of Russia’s legal position, at least vis-a-vis the upcoming Crimea referendum.

“Some dispute the legality of such a referendum, but it is unacceptable to manipulate individual principles and norms of international law, randomly pulling them out of context not only of the international law, but the specific political circumstances and historical aspects,” Churkin said.

In each case, the envoy believes, one should “balance between the principles of territorial integrity and the right for self-determination.”

“It is clear that the implementation of the right of self-determination in the form of separation from the existing state is an extraordinary measure. In Crimea such a case apparently arose as a result of a legal vacuum, which emerged as a result of unconstitutional, violent coup d’état carried out in Kiev by radical nationalists, as well as direct threats by the latter to impose their order on the whole territory of Ukraine.”

I am pretty surprised that Russia is  endorsing this expansive view of self-determination, which I think could be fairly invoked by certain parts of Russia itself (Hello, Chechnya!).  But I suppose the dispute here with the West could be understood as factual rather than legal.  Most scholars would accept the idea that self-determination is appropriate in certain exceptional circumstances, such as decolonization or when facing the threat of genocide or other mass killings. No one west of the Ukraine border seems to think Crimea qualifies (except the good folks at RT) because none of us think that the new Ukrainian government has threatened Crimea in any tangible way.  But Russia could be understood to be arguing the facts (see, Crimea really is threatened by the fascists in Kiev) rather than the law.  I think it is a pretty ludicrous factual argument, but there it is.

Russia’s position on the use of military force is also factual rather than legal.  It argues that there are no Russian forces in Crimea other than the naval forces that are stationed there by treaty right. It simply denies that the forces in control in Crimea are official Russian troops.  This appears to be an even more ludicrous factual claim, but it also would mean that Russia accepts that open displays of military force would be a violation of the Charter.

Russia’s shift to factual rather than legal arguments is smart because it parries US and EU criticisms about the “violation of international law.”  It doesn’t rebut those charges terribly well, mind you, but perhaps the argument is just strong enough to convince those who want to find ways to accept the legality of Russia’s actions.

Does It Really Violate International Law for Crimea to Hold a Referendum on Secession?

by Julian Ku

I am looking forward to the contributions to our “insta-symposium” on Ukraine and international law. I don’t have a tremendous amount to add at this point, except to point out that President Obama has been aggressive about accusing Russia of violating international law and about the importance of international law generally.  This has gone beyond merely charging Russia with violation of the prohibitions on aggression and the use of force contained in the U.N. Charter.  In his statement today, he took aim at the proposed referendum in Crimea on joining Russia:

He also said that a proposed referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region — one that, as proposed by proposed by pro-Russian Crimean lawmakers, would ask residents whether Crimea should be part of Ukraine or Russia — would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law.”

Any discussion about a referendum must include Ukraine’s legitimate government, Obama said. Washington considers Ukraine’s legitimate government to be the one installed by Parliament after last month’s ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych following months of protests.

Putting aside the Ukrainian law question, it is interesting that the U.S. government is specifically condemning the proposed referendum as a violation of international law.  Why exactly would the mere referendum (as opposed to the act of secession) violate international law?

I look forward to the views of our contributors and my fellow co-bloggers on this point, but on my first reading, the claim that the referendum would violate international law is undercut by the ICJ’s Advisory Opinion on Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence.  In that opinion, the ICJ found (among other things) that general international law does not prohibit unilateral declarations of independence. I don’t see how the proposed referendum is really any different from a unilateral declaration of independence, at least from the perspective of international law.  The authors of the “unilateral” declaration of independence did not consult Serbian authorities (much less get its consent). Like the declaration of independence, the referendum does not by itself “secede” Crimea from Ukraine under international law.  And unlike the declaration of independence, the referendum could find support (if other conditions are met) in the law of self-determination.

I am personally sympathetic to the Ukrainian government here. But I am not sure President Obama is right about this legal point, and even if he is, I am not sure the U.S. ought to be committing itself to the position that this referendum is illegal.   If there is a deal to be made here (as Henry Kissinger recommends here), this statement seems to make it harder to get to that deal.

I have one final thought on why this statement might make sense. There is one country who is probably more opposed to a referendum on secession than the U.S: that would be Russia, which can’t exactly be ready to endorse this possibility for Chechnya or other restive Russian regions. Nor are the Chinese going to be excited by this referendum (think what a referendum in Tibet or Xinjiang would look like).  The President may be counting on the Russians to put a stop to the referendum, and maybe this statement would help them do that.  I hope that is the strategy, anyway.

Why Won’t the United States Call China Killings a Terrorist Attack?

by Julian Ku

While Russia was stealing all the attention over the weekend, a small group of assailants wielding knives killed at least 33 people and injured over a hundred in the main railway station of Kunming, China.  China’s government has called these “terrorist attacks,” and has hinted it is linked with Uighur separatists in China’s northwestern Xinjiang province.  But the failure of the U.S. State Department to use the term “terrorist” has drawn outrage in Chinese social media.

I understand the U.S. government’s reluctance to endorse the Chinese government’s description of these attacks, but I still think the term “terrorist” is perfectly appropriate for this situation.  The attackers indiscriminately killed and injured civilians in a train station, and there seems plenty of evidence that it is motivated by politics and ideology.  To be sure, the international definition of terrorism remains contested, but the US law definition seems applicable.

the term “international terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State;(B) appear to be intended—

(i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
(ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
(iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping;
Look, I get that this definition is quite broad, and is controversial in many countries. And I get that the Uighurs have real grievances. But the US government is already on the record in favor of the broad definition. So why hold back from using the term for an act the US already calls unjustifiable?