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Individual Compensatory Claims for WWII Atrocities in the Final Report of the Hellenic Parliamentary Committee on Reparations: Anything New Under the Sun? Part II

by Dimitrios Kourtis

[Dimitrios Kourtis is a PhD cand. at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece and former national expert to the Hellenic Parliamentary Committee on WWII Reparations. This is the second part of a two-part posting. The first part can be found here.] 

Having completed a preliminary debate on the FR’s arguments regarding ICCs [Part I], in this second part we examine the legal validity of the Parliamentary Committee’s proposals concerning the vindication of ICCs against Germany for atrocities committed during Greece’s WWII Occupation. Afterwards, we refer briefly to the controversial issue of statutory limitations and conclude with an overall assessment of the Committee’s work vis-à-vis ICCs.

The Judicial Remedies’ Dead-End

Despite its noteworthy contributions, the FR remains highly inconclusive regarding more practical matters, such as the appropriate judicial forum for the adjudication of ICCs. Firstly, it makes reference [p. 81] to the possibility of bringing such claims before the Arbitral Tribunal envisaged by Article 28 of the 1953 London Agreement on German External Debts. However, this argument fails to understand that such claims fall outside the subject matter of the London Agreement, as provided by Article 5(2), excluding ‘claims arising out of the WWII by countries which were at war with or were occupied by Germany during that war, and by nationals of such countries, against the Reich and agencies of the Reich’.

Secondly, the FR [pp. 81-82] examines the possibility of instituting proceedings before the ICJ. We must observe that the FR remains silent to the obvious precondition, namely that such an option can only be considered possible if (and if only) the Hellenic Republic espouses the ICCs through diplomatic protection, which remains a highly improbable choice. Even so, the FR rightly concludes that the temporal clauses attached to the declarations of both Greece and Germany pursuant to Article 36(2) of the ICJ’s Statute regarding the acceptance of the ICJ’s compulsory jurisdiction would certainly bar the World Court from hearing the merits of such a case. It is a mere truism that the ICJ’s power to administer justice is limited ratione temporis to acts and omissions creating the dispute in question that took place subsequent to the conclusion of the international instrument forming the basis of the Court’s jurisdiction. Both the PCIJ’s doctrine in the Phosphates in Morocco Case (1938) and the ICJ’s preliminary ruling in the Certain Property Case (2005) support the exclusion of the World Court’s jurisdiction vis-à-vis the Greco-German ICCs.

Furthermore, these findings endorse our previous hypothesis, according to which the FR’s authors suggested that the adoption of the Italian Constitutional Court’s line of thinking remains the only viable solution for the safeguarding of the interested individuals’ right to an effective remedy and the adjudication of their claims’ merits. To that aim, the Committee supported the abolition of the judicial stamp fee (8‰ of the claim’s monetary value) for all civil actions concerning ICCs against the former WWII Occupying Powers seeking declaratory relief (i.e. the judicial recognition of the legal existence and the precise amount of the claim), submitting a draft amendment.

The controversial issue of statutory limitations

The FR [p. 83] also suggests the adoption of a norm regarding the inalienable nature of both the criminal action and the civil claims arising from WWII atrocities through the ratification of either the 1968 UN Convention or the 1974 European Convention. It is important to highlight that in the past certain local prosecutors have declined to investigate criminal complaints against alleged war criminals considering the offences nullified due to the lapse of the 20-years limitation period prescribed for common felonies by Article 111(2) of the Hellenic Criminal Code. This is a highly disturbing development, since according to the lex fori, not distinguishing between international and domestic delicts, tort claims are also subject either to an exclusive 5-years limitation period, or –if the tort is also a criminal offence– to the limitation period prescribed by the penal legislation, which is usually much longer.

Some Conclusive Remarks

Eventually, the said fee was abolished for all relevant declaratory remedies with just a brief and quite vague reference to the Committee’s contribution in the explanatory memorandum of the repealing Law 4446/2016, while the issue of statutory limitations is still pending, despite a non-binding policy declaration of the governing coalition’s MPs (see here for an unofficial translation) supporting the inalienability of such claims. Given these developments, serious doubts can be expressed regarding the possibility of domestic courts getting the hint and adapting their jurisprudence to the Italian Constitutional Court’s line of argumentation. This option seems fairly unlikely given that –until something actually changes in the international juridical arena– the Margellos judgment will retain its erga omnes binding force (see here for the opinion of the Hellenic Government).

Ultimately, whether the Hellenic judicial authorities will produce something of a Sentenza 238/2014 à la greca remains to be seen. What we can admit, even prior to the judicial scrutiny of the FR’s proposed course of action, is that the report –however commendable in its aims and arguments– fails to spill out the simple, yet solid in terms of law, truth — namely that (unless something really changes in the international or municipal jurisprudence) no international or domestic tribunal will adjudicate such ICCs, based solely on the authority of a parliamentary organ and its legally non-binding suggestions.

[Author’s Note]

The ideas expressed in this post are not to be attributed, linked or otherwise associated with the Parliamentary Committee or any other public authority.

Individual Compensatory Claims for WWII Atrocities in the Final Report of the Hellenic Parliamentary Committee on Reparations: Anything New Under the Sun? Part I

by Dimitrios Kourtis

[Dimitrios Kourtis is a PhD cand. at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece and former national expert to the Hellenic Parliamentary Committee on WWII Reparations. This is the first part of a two-part posting.] 

As already known, between the Hellenic Republic and Germany there is a long standing and unresolved dispute regarding WWII reparations arising –among others– from individual compensatory claims [ICCs] belonging to private persons (civilians) targeted with belligerent reprisals perpetrated within the forum’s jurisdiction and by the Reich’s military forces. Some seventy years after the war, the Final Report [FR] (see the official Greek version here) of a Parliamentary Committee with a mandate to investigate–inter alia– the legal basis and substance of the said ICCs came to pass. In the present post we will try to assess the Committee’s findings regarding the legal significance of ICCs and its attempt to utilize the FR to promote a solution of the dead-end caused by the ICJ’s 2012 ruling [Part I]. Finally, we will discuss the judicial remedies proposed by the FR and their legal pertinence [Part II].

Understanding the Role of the Committee

The Inter-party Parliamentary Committee for the Vindication of German Arrears [the Committee] is considered an intra-parliamentary ad hoc ancillary organ entrusted with the examination of a serious national issue of general interest on points of history, law, and policy. The Committee was constituted on December 4, 2015 and –unlike its predecessors, the 2014 and 2015 Reparation Committees– it finally managed to submit a report on July 27, 2016. The FR is considered legally non-binding and possesses an advisory status (Article 44(2) of the Standing Orders of the Hellenic Parliament) concerning the issues addressed by the majority and the dissenting opinion. It must be noted that all further references to the FR correspond to the majority opinion.

The FR’s Contribution to ICCs’ Vindication

The importance of the Committee’s FR for the clarification of Greece’s position vis-à-vis ICCs against Germany for atrocities committed during the Axis Occupation is paramount, given that the FR is the only policy document containing legal arguments and drafted by Hellenic authorities subsequent to the delivery of ICJ’s judgment in the 2012 Jurisdictional Immunities of the State Case, to which Greece successfully intervened.

Surprisingly enough, the FR [pp. 74-75] avoids all criticism against the Hellenic Special Supreme Court’s ruling in the Margellos Case (Judgment 6/2002). The said court is entrusted with the competence to solve erga omnes major disputes on points of law between the ordinary supreme courts or their chambers. In the aforementioned judgment the Special Court upheld the jurisdictional immunity of Germany, while overriding the normative hierarchy theory adopted by the plenary session of the Areios Pagos, the Supreme Court of Civil Cassation, in its Judgment 11/2000 concerning the Distomo Case. In a likewise manner, the FR approaches quite descriptively the ICJ’s majority opinion in the Jurisdictional Immunities Case, without reference to the merits of the judgment.

However, this conspicuous silence should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. It is fairly evident that the Committee tried to instrumentalize its FR in order to provide the other constitutional authorities (the Government and –most certainly– the Judiciary) with somewhat of a saving (or escaping) clause in order to overcome the stagnation caused by the Margellos doctrine and the ICJ’s authoritative distinction between procedural conditions, such as the jurisdictional immunity of the defendant State, and the merits of the case, even if the contested affair involves grave violations of jus cogens norms.

The Sentenza 238/2014 à la greca Proposal and Hellenic Monism

To elaborate, the majority opinion took great pains [see FR, pp. 75-76] to highlight the similarities between the Hellenic and the Italian legal order, while endorsing unconditionally the position adopted by the Constitutional Court of Italy in its celebrated Sentenza 238/2014 (nullifying as unconstitutional a municipal law binding domestic courts to follow the ICJ’s ruling in the Jurisdictional Immunities Case). The FR seems to encourage the national courts to follow in the footsteps of the Italian Constitutional Court by urging the judiciary to play a certain part in the enforcement of Germany’s obligation to provide reparation; according to the FR’s own wording [p. 76]:

[a]fter more than seventy years since the perpetration of the Nazi-fascist atrocities in our country, the need for substantive justice remains topical. […] the Hellenic legal order should […] act as an enforcement branch of the fundamental rules of the international legal order.

It is important to point out that the FR adopts a monistic and Kelsenian approach towards the relationship between international and municipal law. Although doubtlessly supportive of the (strictly dualistic) arguments of the Italian Constitutional Court, the Committee understands the vindication of ICCs through domestic judicial mechanisms as a decentralized enforcement procedure upholding fundamental international norms. Implicitly, the Committee seems to embrace the so-called ‘theory of consubstantiality’, which advocates that even if nominally the domestic tribunals assert the application of municipal law, the only thing that actually matters is whether the content of the applicable norm effectuates a solution in accordance with international law.

The FR and jus cogens beyond Treaty Law

Additionally, the FR contributes greatly to the process of clarification of the Hellenic Republic’s position on the function of peremptory norms beyond treaty law. To the author’s knowledge, the Committee’s report appears to be the only Greek authoritative statement defining peremptory norms within the context of restorative justice and mass atrocity law. To the FR [p. 74, citing the author’s expert opinion], international peremptory law, on which the ICCs are founded, consists of

substantive principles and norms, which –by their nature, position, and function– are of primary importance for the survival of the international system, while their application, possessing an overruling effect against all contrary legal acts, is so fundamental that it cannot be simply entrusted to the goodwill of the interested States.

To sum up the FR deems the relevant ICCs existent on points of law and fact, recognizes as their legal basis norms of jus cogens beyond treaty law, and promotes the idea that some kind of Sentenza 238/2014 à la greca is highly needed in order to overcome the Jurisdictional Immunities and Margellos doctrines of judicial inertia. Even so, the Committee was mandated to compose and present a ‘roadmap’, i.e. a plan for action, regarding the claims falling within its investigatory competence. These roadmap proposals will be addressed next [Part II].

The European Convention on Human Rights: the Draft Copenhagen Declaration and the Threat to the European Court

by Roisin Pillay

[Róisín Pillay is Director of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Europe Programme.] 

The European Court of Human Rights is once more facing a political challenge to its role, in proposals for a new political declaration put forward by the Danish Presidency of the Council of Europe. 
That the Court’s extraordinary success in advancing human rights protection in Europe provokes the dissent of certain governments is nothing new. Neither is this the first time that the eight year long reform process – instigated by the Interlaken Declaration of 2010  in order to deal with the overwhelming caseload of the Court – has been the forum for political resistance to the Court’s perceived intrusion into national affairs.  The reform process has constantly navigated delicate questions of the respective powers of the Court and the Council of Europe Member States.   
Notably, the UK government’s initial proposals for the 2012 Brighton Declaration posed serious threats to the independence and role of the Court, and to the right of individuals to petition it. Ultimately, under pressure from some States as well as civil society, the most damaging of these proposals were not pursued. However they did result in, amongst other things, the enshrining of a reference to the principles of subsidiarity and the “margin of appreciation” that states are considered to enjoy in protecting certain of the Convention rights, in the preamble to Protocol 15  to the Convention. Since then, the Brussels Declaration of 2015 commendably re-directed attention to the problem that is the real root of the Convention system’s struggles: failings in effective national implementation of the Convention rights, which leave victims of human rights violations with no other recourse but to take their case to Strasbourg.
The Danish Government, which took on the rotating Presidency of the Council of Europe in 2017, has now proposed a new political declaration  on the Convention system, to be agreed at a high-level conference of Council of Europe Member States in Copenhagen in April. A draft of the Copenhagen Declaration was published in February. The text, while including some welcome re-affirmations of the need for enhanced national implementation measures and better execution of Court judgments, as well as strengthened selection processes for judges of the Court, also contains proposals that carry significant risks for the independence and role of the Court, and for the consistent protection of Convention rights across the Council of Europe region.  To assure the continued credibility and health of the Convention system, it needs to be significantly amended.
The draft Declaration has already faced sharp criticism, including from a coalition of  international NGOs (including the ICJ) which made detailed proposals for amendments; from Danish NGOs and from academic commentators.  The Court itself has responded cautiously refraining from strong criticism, but drawing attention to the governing framework for the role of the Court under the ECHR and to principles of judicial independence which it notes must be respected by the Declaration.

Three main elements in the Declaration are of particular concern.

First, the draft Declaration emphasises the need for “better balance” between the respective roles of the Court and Member States, based on “shared responsibility” for the protection of the Convention rights (para.11).  The Convention certainly envisages complementary roles and responsibilities for national authorities and the Court within the Convention system: it is the obligation of Member States to respect and protect the Convention rights (Article 1 ECHR) and the role of the Court to supervise this obligation. The Court’s role is clearly set out in Article 19 of the Convention, as “to ensure the observance of the engagements undertaken” by States under the Convention.  Article 32 establishes that the Court’s jurisdiction in doing so extends to “all matters concerning the interpretation and application” of the Convention rights.  The much contested doctrine of the “margin of appreciation” developed in the Court’s jurisprudence applied by the Court in respect of certain rights or aspects of rights only, does not in any way displace or diminish this jurisdiction.

The draft Declaration however, seems to allow for more qualified role, based on an unduly wide interpretation of principles of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation. The draft emphasises that the Convention rights should not only be secured at national level, but also “determined” there (para.10) and that rights should be protected “predominantly at national level by State authorities in accordance with their constitutional traditions and in light of national circumstances,”  a proposition that appears to leave room for varying standards in the protection of the Convention rights, contrary to the principle of universality. Startlingly, given the only too evident, continuing occurrence of sometimes grave and systematic human rights violations within the Council of Europe region, the draft Declaration confidently asserts that this new emphasis on national adjudication is a “natural step in the evolution of the Convention system” given that the Convention is now well embedded in national legal systems (para.10).

The second aspect of the draft Declaration worthy of particular scrutiny is proposals addressing the “subsidiary rule of the Court”. The principle of the subsidiary nature of the Convention system is long established in the jurisprudence of the Court. It recognises that national authorities are best placed to evaluate local needs and conditions in the implementation of human rights, but also that such implementation must always be subject to the Court’s review. The draft Declaration posits a notion of subsidiarity that appears to restrict the Court’s role, however, stating (without qualification as to the nature of the rights or aspects of rights concerned) that: “the Court … should not take on the role of States Parties whose responsibility it is to ensure that Convention rights and freedoms are respected and protected at national level.” (para.22) Singling out asylum and migration cases, it asserts that where national procedures in these cases operate fairly and in respect for human rights, the court should only intervene “in the most exceptional circumstances”. (para.26) In the context of a political declaration, such language appears to question the scope of the Court’s role under Article 19 of the Convention.  It is all the more concerning because it is followed by direct calls on the Court to apply more “robustly” the principles of subsidiarity and the margin of appreciation.  These are principles of judicial interpretation, whose application should be a matter for the Court alone; in seeking to direct the Court as to their nature and scope, the draft Declaration fundamentally misconstrues the role of the judiciary under the rule of law.

Finally, the most disturbing passages of the draft Declaration are those that promote the idea of a “dialogue” between Member States and the Court. The draft declaration proposes “an ongoing constructive dialogue between States Parties and the Court on their respective roles in applying and developing the Convention” (para.31) and “an ongoing dialogue in which states and their populations are actively involved” (para.32).  Such dialogue would “give a clearer picture of the general views and positions of governments and other stakeholders, thereby solving some of the challenges of developing the Convention over time [and…] anchor the development of human rights more solidly in European democracies.” Although the draft also stipulates that such dialogue should take place “with respect for the independence of the Court and the binding character of its judgments”, this qualification rings hollow against the background of the proposals made; the risk that that they could facilitate inappropriate political pressure on the Court regarding specific cases, principles or standards, is clear, and is difficult to avoid.  

Of course, the Convention system already allows space for the views of Member States on regional human rights standards to be expressed – a “dialogue” of sorts – within the bounds of constitutionalism. First, Member States can continuously shape and develop Council of Europe human rights standards through standard setting in the Committee of Ministers.  In individual cases before the Court, they also have wide powers to put forward their views through third party interventions. “Dialogue” between governments and an independent court outside of these spheres is however no more appropriate than it would be within a national system.   The court’s proper interlocutors in any exchange of views between the national and regional levels are national courts, with which it has already established fruitful dialogues.

It is disappointing to see basic principles of the rule of law such as the independence of the judiciary being called into question within a regional human rights system designed precisely to defend such standards – and which has been so effective in upholding these standards in the region.  It is a cause for continuing concern that regional human rights systems – not only the European Convention system but also notably the Inter-American Court and Commission – increasingly face such challenges arising from the hyper-nationalist politics of their Member States.  

The draft of the Declaration is of course still in its early stages and it is to be hoped that the Member States will heed the warning voices and substantially amend the Declaration.  How should they transform it? The European Convention system undoubtedly needs the political support that a high level political declaration could bring.  First and foremost, it needs a Declaration that would contain clear, specific and practical commitments from the Member States on national implementation and on execution of judgements (drawing on the language in the Brussels declaration). This, combined with better national processes for the often complex exercises involved in executing European Court judgments, would considerably lessen the caseload of the Court.

Second, the Declaration should provide the elements the court needs to be effective in exercising its supervisory role: strong political re-affirmation of support for its role and independence; commitments for sufficient additional resources to deal with its caseload effectively, and improved judicial selection procedures that will ensure that the best candidates can be appointed to the Court and can carry forward its vital work.  It is this last point, as ICJ and OSJI have argued in a recent report on selection of judges for regional human rights courts, can truly ensure that future of the system is strengthened from within. 

These issues are already addressed by the Copenhagen Declaration – they should be placed at its heart, and the text that threatens the independence and role of the Court should be discarded.  As negotiations on the Declaration continue, there is still time for it to make a positive contribution to the future of the Convention system.

International Law Pays No Homage to Catalonia’s Declaration of Independence

by Julian Ku

International law is famously mushy and subject to a variety of interpretations.  But there are some issues upon which there is more consensus under international law, such as the illegality of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.  But is there any reasonable argument favoring the legality of the Catalan Parliament’s recent declaration of independence from Spain?  I don’t think so.

At the outset, it is worth reminding ourselves, as Chris does in this post on Crimea, that there is no right to secede under international law. Chris argues that secession is a factual question: it has either occurred or it has not occurred.  But he says that legality of secession remains contested by international lawyers.

I agree with Chris that there is no right to secede under international law (see my post on Calexit here), but I would add that secession is generally only legal under international law when the parent state gives consent to secession.  Such consent might occur after a civil war or rebellion, but it seems a necessary formality to legalize a secession.  On the flip side, as is the case in both Spain or the United States, the domestic law of a parent country usually prohibits secession absent such consent.  Section 2 of the Spanish Constitution of 1978 begins by declaring that is based on “on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards.” Similarly, the U.S. Supreme Court decided in the 1869 Texas v. White decision that “[w]hen Texas became one of the United States, she entered into an indissoluble relation,”

Thus, there is no international legal right to secede, and it is usually (and appears clearly) illegal for Catalonia to do so under Spanish constitutional law.  It is for this reason that I do not think there is any reasonable argument that the Catalan declaration of independence is lawful or protected by international law.

The Catalans might (and do) fall back on invocations of the international right of self-determination.  Such a right does indeed exist under international law, but it is highly doubtful that such a right justifies secession in the case of Catalan. The right of self-determination does not guarantee the right of secession.  Moreover, as the Supreme Court of Canada rightly held in the case of Quebec:

A state whose government represents the whole of the people or peoples resident within its territory, on a basis of equality and without discrimination, and respects the principles of self-determination in its own internal arrangements, is entitled to the protection under international law of its territorial integrity.

Unlike Serbia under Milosevic with respect to Kosovars, Spain is a state which has granted Catalonians representation on the basis of equality and without discrimination. It is also not a situation of decolonization, as Professor Sterio explained on OJ here.   I just don’t see a credible argument here that the situation of the Catalonians triggers some kind of “external” right of self-determination.

Does this matter? At the margins, the lack of legality for the Catalans’ declaration of independence probably bolsters the unwillingness of any foreign state to recognize Catalonia as an independent state. I am doubtful legality is decisive here, but it certainly weakens what is already a pretty weak Catalan case for independence.

New Essay: Specially-Affected States and the Formation of Custom

by Kevin Jon Heller

I have just posted on SSRN a draft of a (very) long article entitled “Specially-Affected States and the Formation of Custom.” It represents my first real foray into both “classic” public international law and postcolonial critique. Here is the abstract:

Although the US has consistently relied on the ICJ’s doctrine of specially-affected states to claim that it and other powerful states in the Global North play a privileged role in the formation of customary international law, the doctrine itself has been almost completely ignored both by legal scholars and by the ICJ itself. This article attempts to fill that lacuna. In particular, by focusing on debates in a variety of areas of international law – with particular emphasis on the jus ad bellum and jus in bello – it addresses two questions: (1) what makes a state “specially affected”? and (2) what exactly is the importance of a state qualifying as “specially affected” for custom formation? The article concludes not only that the US approach to the doctrine of specially-affected states is fatally flawed, but also that a more theoretically coherent understanding of the doctrine would give states in the Global South power over the development of custom that the US and other Global North states would never find acceptable.

You can download the article here. As always, comments most welcome!

MH17 Downing Suspects to be Prosecuted Before Dutch Domestic Courts – An Obstacle or an Advantage for International Justice?

by Aaron Matta

[Dr. Aaron Matta is an expert in international law with working experience at International Courts. He also recently co-founded The Hague Council on Advancing International Justice, a network for and with practitioners, academics, and policymakers in the area of international justice. I would like to thank Dr. Philip Ambach and Anda Scarlat for their feedback on earlier drafts of this commentary.The views expressed here are of the authors alone]

After nearly three years since the downing of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 flight, the countries comprising the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) – namely Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine – announced on 5 July their decision to initiate domestic investigations and prosecutions in the Netherlands in relation to the incident. To facilitate these procedures, a bilateral treaty on international legal cooperation between Ukraine and the Netherlands was signed on July 7. The treaty provides that those suspected of downing flight MH17 can be prosecuted in the Netherlands in respect of all 298 victims, which originate from 17 different countries. This means that all next of kin will have the same rights in the Dutch criminal proceedings regardless of their nationality.

These new developments are not surprising given that most of the victims were Dutch and the Netherlands has led the investigation and coordinated the international team of investigators thus far. This move also shows the determination of the JIT states to bring to justice those responsible, particularly after failed attempts to establish an ad hoc international MH17 Court had failed due to Russia’s veto in the United Nations Security Council. However, the recent decision to prosecute suspects in a Dutch domestic court raises challenges, particularly in view of the ongoing preliminary examination in Ukraine by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). While international law provides several legal avenues for redress for this incident, in both criminal and civil proceedings, – which I extensively analyzed in an earlier blog post – the avenues analyzed here fall under the category of individual criminal responsibility.

So why can the Netherlands exercise its criminal jurisdiction in this case, if the incident occurred in Ukraine? In principle, Ukraine would retain the primary right to investigate and prosecute those responsible according to the legal principle of territorial jurisdiction – based on where the crime was committed. The Ukrainian leadership determined, however, that it would be very difficult to carry out the investigations and prosecutions due to the ongoing conflict in the Donbass region, where the MH17 incident took place. As a result, Ukraine triggered the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed on its territory from 20 February 2014 onwards via two declarations under the ICC Statute, requesting the ICC Prosecutor to investigate the matter. Currently, following these requests, the ICC Prosecutor is undertaking a preliminary examination that could lead to the opening of a criminal investigation. Such investigation could potentially include the downing of the MH17 flight as an alleged war crime.

Nonetheless, the other JIT states, including the Netherlands, can also assert their domestic jurisdictions over this matter based on the legal principle of passive personality jurisdiction, due to the fact that their citizens were killed in this incident. In light of last week’s decision, the Dutch domestic criminal specialized courts will now be able to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the downing of MH17 on the basis of four main legal sources: first, as domestic crimes under the Dutch penal code, such as murder or manslaughter; second, as an international crime under the Dutch International Crimes Act of 2003; thirdly, as a crime on the basis of the 1971 Montreal Convention, which allows the domestic prosecution of any person committing unlawful acts against the safety of civil aviation; and finally, the bilateral judicial cooperation agreement recently signed with Ukraine.

However, the concurrent use of multiple criminal prosecution mechanisms, namely the Dutch domestic courts and the ICC, may cause difficulties. First, issues may arise under the basic principle of ‘ne bis in idem’, which states that no person can be tried twice for the same crime. Thus, if a Dutch court prosecutes an individual, this may prevent the ICC from prosecuting the same individual for the same crime. It is therefore essential for the JIT states to coordinate and cooperate with each other, and more importantly with the ICC, when it comes to gathering evidence, selection of suspects and conducting fair trials, to avoid duplication and wasting resources.

In addition, an investigation by the Dutch national authorities will most likely block any investigation by the ICC by virtue of the latter’s complementarity to national courts of its States Parties. According to this principle, states are primarily responsible for investigating and prosecuting international crimes. The ICC only intervenes if states parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC are unable or unwilling to prosecute individuals’ suspected/accused of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community. With this in mind, a division of labor between the different jurisdictions, and among the different actors involved, could be arranged. For example, the Netherlands could focus in prosecuting those most responsible for the MH17 incident, while the ICC concentrates its efforts and limited resources to investigating other crimes committed in the Ukrainian territory.

Other challenges that will be faced by all of the jurisdictions involved are, for example, meeting the high standards of proof required for establishing the suspects’ guilt beyond reasonable doubt. This includes notably the requirement to prove the alleged perpetrator’s ‘knowledge and intent’ to commit a war crime. Additionally, there will be several procedural obstacles when it comes to judicial cooperation and the sharing of crucial potential evidence. Clear examples of this are the thousands of intercepted telephone calls gathered by Ukrainian law enforcement and intelligence agencies. While some of this evidence can easily be shared with the JIT investigators, as well as with the Dutch and ICC prosecutors, in several instances much of this data cannot be shared due to some restrictions in the Ukrainian legal system. This is the case, for example, with evidence that may have been acquired or intercepted following special legal procedures into the downing of the MH17, such as investigations carried out in the interest of state security and the fight against terrorism.

The bilateral agreement between the Netherlands and Ukraine addresses some of these issues by reducing or simplifying some procedural hurdles. For example, the agreement tackles the issue of examination of Ukrainian defendants via video link or the transferring of enforcement of prison sentences that may be imposed, due to extradition restrictions in the Ukrainian legal system.

Finally, a major obstacle will prove to be obtaining custody of the potential suspects, particularly if they are Russian nationals and/or located on Russian territory. The Russian Federation will most likely not be willing to extradite potential Russian suspects, in spite of international pressure, in light of the current geopolitical tensions prevailing in the region. In this respect, trials in absentia (where the suspect is absent from the legal proceedings), which are provided for in the Dutch criminal code could prove to be a limited yet practical solution.

Regardless of these numerous challenges, the decision to initiate judicial proceedings in the Netherlands providing a solid avenue for legal redress for the incident should be welcomed. Such an initiative would further show that the JIT states are serious about seeking justice for the victims of this tragic incident and their relatives.

Actually, President Trump CAN Unilaterally Withdraw the U.S. From NATO

by Julian Ku

The estimable professor-pundit Daniel Drezner has a typically smart blogpost on President Trump’s refusal to affirm the U.S. commitment to Article 5’s collective defense provision of the North Atlantic Treaty.  I don’t have a problem with his views here, but I can’t help jumping in to correct this paragraph from his post:

So why is this such a big deal of a story? The United States is a member of NATO, which means that Article 5 is legally binding whether Trump says so out loud or not. Unlike NAFTA or the Paris climate treaty, I’ve been assured by smart lawyer types that Trump cannot unilaterally withdraw.

[Emphasis added].

Actually, as a matter of U.S. constitutional law, Drezner and his smart lawyer friends have things kind of backwards here, at least with respect to NAFTA and NATO. The broad consensus view is that the President has the unilateral authority to terminate a treaty pursuant to that treaty’s termination provisions or consistent with international law.  This means that as long as the President follows Article 13 of the North Atlantic Treaty — which requires the U.S. provide one year’s notice before termination — President Trump can terminate US membership in NATO without first getting consent from the Senate or the Congress as a whole.

The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on this question definitively, but it strongly hinted that the President has this power in its seminal 1979 Goldwater v. Carter decision refusing to require senatorial consent before President Carter’s termination of the U.S.-Republic of China (Taiwan) Mutual Defense Treaty.  The American Law Institute’s newly approved section on Treaties in the forthcoming Restatement (Fourth) on U.S. Foreign Relations Law explicitly endorses the President’s unilateral treaty termination power, and this was not even a change from the earlier Third Restatement.

Terminating NAFTA is the more complex problem, as John Yoo and I have argued here.  Although the President also has the power to terminate NAFTA’s international agreement status, he has to separately nullify the domestic legal effect of NAFTA. Some of that might be done via executive action, but it is our view that he will need another statute to completely eliminate all domestic legal effects of NAFTA.

It is also worth noting that the President’s unilateral termination power calls into question those who criticized President Obama for failing to submit the Paris Agreement to the Senate on the theory that this would have somehow insulated Paris from a unilateral President Trump termination.  In fact, President Trump could have terminated the Paris Agreement unilaterally, whether or not it was approved by the Senate.

None of this is meant to encourage or endorse any of President Trump’s actual or threatened treaty terminations.  But as a matter of U.S. constitutional law, there is no reason to doubt he can take the U.S. out of NATO, Paris, and many other international agreements.

Why Unilateral Humanitarian Intervention Is Illegal and Potentially Criminal

by Kevin Jon Heller

I read Jennifer Trahan’s post yesterday with great interest — but not surprisingly I disagree with it. Before I get to my disagreements, though, I think it’s bizarre that we are all debating the legality of unilateral humanitarian intervention in the context of the recent US missile attack on Syria. It simply beggars belief to think that the attack was in any way motivated by humanitarian concerns. Chemical weapons, which have killed perhaps 2,000 civilians, are not the problem in Syria; conventional weapons, which have killed hundreds of thousands, are the real threat. And the US has done absolutely nothing to protect Syrians from conventional weapons — it has simply funnelled even more into the country to support various rebel groups (including some that are allied with al-Qaeda) in their struggle against Assad. The US cares about protecting its own interests in Syria, such as preventing chemical weapons from being used against Americans. (The real message of the completely ineffectual attack.) It does not care about the lives of ordinary Syrians, as the ever mounting death-toll indicates.

But let’s put aside the context of the missile attack and focus on Trahan’s legal claims. The first is that unilateral humanitarian intervention (UHI) — the qualifier, of course, is critical — can be legal in the right circumstances. The post, however, doesn’t even come close to establishing that claim. Just consider what Trahan cites in defence of it:

[1] NATO’s intervention in Kosovo, in which “all NATO members supported the intervention designed to stave off ethnic cleansing.” Trahan openly acknowledges that “many did not defend it as ‘humanitarian intervention’ per se, except Belgium” — but that gives away the ballgame. If the 26 other NATO states did not invoke UHI, the attack does not help establish UHI’s legality. As the ICJ pointed out in the Nicaragua case (para. 207), not even the Court itself has the “authority to ascribe to States legal views which they do not themselves advance.” So it doesn’t matter whether Trahan and other scholars would like to describe Kosovo as an example of UHI. All that matters is that NATO states could have invoked UHI but chose not to.

It is also telling that Trahan fails to point out that the Kosovo intervention met with significant international criticism. Here are Vaughan Lowe and Antonios Tzanakopoulos in the Max Planck Encyclopedia:

33  The response of other, non-NATO, States to arguments that there was a legal basis for the Kosovo bombing campaign and for a right of humanitarian intervention was overwhelmingly negative. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), numbering well over half of the Member States of the UN, unequivocally condemned the use of force against the (then) FRY, as did many other States, some of which are nuclear powers. In these circumstances, no right of unilateral forcible humanitarian intervention can be said to have emerged as a rule of customary international law.

[2] UK and US no-fly zones in Iraq. Once again opinio juris is lacking: the coalition initially provided no legal justification for the no-fly zones, and the US later justified them as self-defence (against threats to coalition aircraft, a wonderfully circular argument).

[3] ECOWAS’s interventions in Liberia in 1990 and Sierra Leone in 1998. Same problem: as Adam Roberts has pointed out, ECOWAS never invoked UHI to justify its actions. It relied instead on provisions in its own founding treaty.

[4] The UK’s endorsement of UHI in Syria, particularly in the context of the 2013 sarin gas attack that killed hundreds if not thousands. Unlike the other examples, this endorsement does, in fact, contribute opinio juris in favour of UHI.

So, there we have it: one state that explicitly and regularly endorses a right of UHI.  And against that, we have the unequivocal rejection of UHI by the 120 states that are part of the Non-Aligned Movement and the 134 states that are part of the Group of 77, which includes major powers like China, India, and South Africa. (The two groups obviously overlap.) How any scholar could conclude that customary international law nevertheless recognises a right of UHI, however limited, is simply beyond me.

For similar reasons, I also reject Trahan’s confident claim that UHI could never be criminal. Here is what she says:

Humanitarian intervention, narrowly construed, then clearly also would not constitute the crime of aggression, which is poised to activate this December 2017 before the International Criminal Court. (Anything in a legal “grey area” is excluded from that definition—and, at minimum, humanitarian intervention (sometimes supported and sometimes invoked) is within that legal grey area. The U.S., a non-State Party to the ICC’s Rome Statute, would be exempt from the crime’s jurisdictional reach, even if it does activate.)

I disagree. To begin with, during the Kampala Review Conference in 2010, states soundly rejected the US’s attempt to specifically exclude UHI from the crime of aggression. Here is the text of the US’s failed Understanding:

It is understood that, for purposes of the Statute, an act cannot be considered to be a manifest violation of the United Nations Charter unless it would be objectively evident to any State conducting itself in the matter in accordance with normal practice and in good faith, and thus an act undertaken in connection with an effort to prevent the commission of any of the crimes contained in Articles 6, 7 or 8 of the Statute would not constitute an act of aggression.

More importantly, the fact that scholars insist UHI can be legal does not make the legality of UHI fall into a “grey area.” On the contrary, it is difficult to imagine any issue that is more black and white given state practice. Article 2(4) of the UN Charter is clear: force is legal only when authorised by the Security Council or in self-defence. UHI does not involve the former by its very definition, and there is no argument de lege lata that UHI can be justified as a form of self-defence, because it does not involve an armed attack on the intervening state. Adil Haque made that point in response to Jens’s recent post, and here are Lowe and Tzanakopoulos again:

23  Humanitarian intervention in order to alleviate the suffering of a local population cannot, without more, be justified as self-defence. Self-defence under Art. 51 UN Charter requires that an armed attack occur against a State. In most cases, widespread violations of human rights will not reach the gravity threshold of an armed attack. Even if the oppression does reach the threshold of an armed attack, however, there will be no armed attack against a State, but at most an armed attack against the population of the State by or with the support or inaction of State authorities. The right to self-defence under international law vests in States and not in sub-State entities such as the local population. Moreover, the oppression will, ex hypothesi, not emanate from another State, but will be by the government upon its own people.

The illegality of UHI under Art. 2(4) is, of course, not set in stone. As Lowe and Tzanakopoulos rightly note, UHI could become legal through subsequent state practice that results in a new interpretation of the provision or (possibly) through the emergence of a supervening customary rule. But that has clearly not happened, given G77 and NAM’s ongoing and unwavering opposition to UHI.

It is unlikely, of course, that the ICC will ever prosecute a government official who is responsible for preparing, planning, initiating, or executing a UHI — and not simply because of the new crime of aggression’s crimped jurisdictional regime. But that does not mean UHI does not manifestly violate the UN Charter. It most certainly does.

NATO, in Nine Tweets

by Chris Borgen

This morning President Trump tweeted that “Germany owes vast sums of money to NATO & the United States must be paid more for the powerful, and very expensive, defense it provides to Germany!”

But that’s not how NATO commitments work. And so this afternoon, former US Ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder gave President Trump a tutorial in nine tweets.

Maybe we can get someone to read the tweets aloud on Fox & Friends.

 

Brexit Symposium: UK Trade Negotiations Outside the EU

by Roger Alford

As discussed in my previous post, last month I was privileged to organize a conference at Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway on the topic of UK trade and Brexit. I discussed the first session in my previous post, which addressed UK trade negotiations with the EU.

In our second session, we discussed the topic of UK trade negotiations outside the EU. The second session featured Jennifer Hillman from Georgetown, Rob Howse from NYU, Simon Lester from CATO, and myself. Jennifer Hillman (beginning at 01:23) focused on possible arguments that, following Brexit, the UK will still remain a member of the existing EU FTAs. Rob Howse (beginning at 25:40) focused on the timing of possible negotiations with non-EU trading partners in the context of the prevailing anti-trade and anti-globalization climate around the world. Simon Lester (beginning at 41:50) focused on the timing and terms of possible negotiations with non-EU trading partners, suggesting that the UK should focus on quickly negotiating simple FTA agreements with key trading partners, and defer to future negotiations deep FTAs. I focused (beginning at 1:00:00) on the EU as the most important FTA partner in the world, and discussed how, after the UK leaves the EU, it will take decades for the UK to simply return to its current status as a major FTA partner. I also discuss the possibility that following Brexit, foreign investors may sue the UK for violating bilateral investment treaties by fundamentally altering its regulatory framework.

Brexit Symposium: UK Trade Negotiations with the EU

by Roger Alford

On November 7, 2016 I was privileged to organize a conference at the University of Notre Dame’s London Global Gateway on the topic of UK trade and Brexit. The conference had three sessions: (1) UK trade negotiations with the EU; (2) UK trade negotiations outside the EU; and (3) UK’s post-Brexit status within the WTO. The participants were all trade experts, including Lorand Bartels at Cambridge, Meredith Crowley at Cambridge, Piet Eeckhout at UCL, Jennifer Hillman at Georgetown, Rob Howse at NYU, Simon Lester of the CATO Institute, Sophie Robin-Olivier at Paris II Sorbonne, and yours truly.

Today I am linking to the first session that features Piet Eeckhout, Simon Lester, and Sophie Robin-Olivier. Piet Eeckhout focused on the High Court of Justice decision regarding Parliamentary oversight of the Prime Minister’s Article 50 withdrawal from the EU. Simon Lester focused on the possible meanings of the referendum and the likelihood of a “hard” or “soft” Brexit. Sophie Robin-Olivier focused on the linkage between the free movement of goods and persons, and the EU’s likely response to the UK’s attempts to decouple the issues. The discussion then addressed expert predictions of the likely result of UK trade negotiations with the EU. The consensus was that the EU has the stronger negotiating position and will not accept any free trade deal without free movement of persons. If the UK does not accept those terms, then the most likely result will be the UK trading with the EU under WTO rules.

UPDATE: Summary of Session Two on UK Trade negotiations outside the EU is available here.

Addressing the Urban Future

by Chris Borgen

Urbanization is our present and it is our future. Between the recently completed UN Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, and Iraqi Special Operations entering Mosul, starting what may be a complex urban battle, we face constant reminders that  much of the world’s population now lives in cities. How we protect rights, foster development, interact with the environment, organize politically, and fight wars is increasingly an urban story.

Consider the bleak picture of megacities and the future of combat in this leaked Pentagon video (at the link and also embedded above). Some key take-aways from the video:

  • By 2030 60% of world’s population will be in cities. Most of the urban growth will be in the developing world.
  • Illicit networks will fill the gaps left by overextended and undercapitalized governments.
  • Growth will magnify the increasing economic separation between rich and poor, even thought they may be in close proximity. Uneven growth means that slums and shantytowns will rapidly expand alongside ever increasing levels of prosperity.
  • Moreover, religious and ethnic tensions will be a defining element of these urban environments
  • Megacities are complex systems where people and structures are compressed together in ways that defy both our understanding of city planning and military doctrines.
  • Living habitats will extend from the high-rise to the ground level cottage to subterranean labyrinths, each defined by its own social code and rule of law.
  • Social structures will also be stressed. Criminal networks will offer opportunity for the growing class of unemployed  and will be part of the nervous system of non-nation state, unaligned, individuals and organizations that live and work in the shadow of national rule.
  • There will be increasing complexity of human targeting as proportionally smaller number of adversaries mix with an increasingly large population of citizens.
  • The interactions of governmental failure, illicit economies,  economic growth and spreading poverty, informal networks, environmental degradation, and other factors leads to an environment of convergence hidden within the enormous scale and complexity of megacities, which become the source of adversaries and hybrid threats.
  • Classic military strategy counsels either (a) avoiding the cities or establishing a cordon to wait out the adversary  or (b) draining the swamp of non-combatants and then engaging the adversary in high-intensity conflict. But megacities are too large to isolate or cordon in their entirety.  The U.S. military will need to operate within the urban environment and current counterinsurgency  doctrine is  inadequate to address the sheer scale of megacities
  • “This is the world of our future. It is one we are not prepared to effectively operate within and it is unavoidable.”

According to FoxtrotAlpha, this video was produced for a course at the Joint Special Operations University on “Advanced Special Operations Combating Terrorism,” it is focused on urbanization from the perspective of military planning. A 2010 issue of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s journal was devoted to humanitarian law and conflict in built-up urban areas. The ICRC also had recommendations for the UN’s Habitat III conference that just ended.

The topics covered, though, are very much the province of law and lawyers, including the needs of the urban poor, the operations of criminal networks, environmental degradation and climate change, the law of armed conflict and targeting in built-up areas, informal rulemaking in communities (“order without law”), informal markets and economies,  and the role of non-state actors, to name only some of the topics that crop up. While this video is (understandably) focused on the implications on combat operations, what I also see is the need for sustained  engagement in the protection of human rights, the distribution of public goods, the fostering of inter-communal dispute resolution, and the spurring of bottom-up economic development in megacities.

The video emphasizes that the future is urban. But, as the writer William Gibson has said, “The future is already here; it’s just not very evenly distributed.”