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Europe

Russia, Moldova, and the EU: Realpolitik as Normative Competition

by Chris Borgen

Today’s New York Times has an overview of Russia’s power politics towards its “near abroad,” countries that used to be part of the USSR.  Some of these countries, such as Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine, have been debating internally whether to become more integrated with the EU or to rebuild close ties with Russia. Armenia made the news recently for setting aside years of negotiations with the EU and, under considerable pressure from Moscow, announcing that it would join the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union. While the New York Times article focuses on the foreign policy and economic issues involved, these situations also exemplify the importance of law (both domestic and international) in international relations, because high politics in the “near abroad” is not about the formal acquisition of territory, but the adoption of norms. (For more on this theme see, also, this.)

The New York Times article uses the case of Moldova as an example of how Russia pressures its neighbors: threatening energy cut offs, banning key exports from Moldova, even bringing religion into play. In the case of Moldova, Russia also supports a separatist group that has seized control of Transnistria, the eastern-most section of the country. (As readers of this blog may know, I was part of a group of lawyers from the NY City Bar who wrote a report on the legal issues related to the Transnistrian conflict and, last year, part of an Open Society Foundations supported study comparing the conflicts in Moldova and Cyprus.)

But the heart of the matter is whether Moldova will become more fully integrated into “European” institutions (the EU, first and foremost) or reintegrate with revamped “Russian” institutions (the Eurasia Customs Union, for example). At times a state can be on one side or another of a normative border: Poland is part of the European normative order, Belarus is in Russia’s. In such cases, when normative boundaries coincide with national boundaries the situation is relatively clear. But the issue of which way Moldova will face is still being contested, somewhat within Moldova (particularly by the Transnistrian separatists) and more so by Russia. Thus, Moldova and certain other states in Russia’s near abroad (such as Ukraine) are borderlands between two normative systems, each state containing aspects of both.

When normative systems overlap and jostle within a country, the result can be normative friction. This can relate to domestic laws, such as whether a particular conception of property rights or of human rights will be adopted. It can also concern international legal norms, such as to which treaties a state will become a signatory, which international organizations a state may join, the recognition of national borders, and issues of non-intervention. Any issue that seems to favor one set of normative system over another can become symbolic of a larger struggle. Even when you put up and take down Christmas decorations can turn into a political crisis.

Although this has been the case in Moldova, Armenia, and Ukraine for years, Russia is increasing its pressure now because… (Continue Reading)

Fish Fight! Faroe Islands Will Take the European Union to UNCLOS Arbitration

by Julian Ku

The Faroe Islands has announced it has filed a referred the European Union to arbitration under the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea.  Apparently, it is a dispute over herring.

“The Faroe Islands have today referred the use of threats of coercive economic measures by the European Union, in relation to the Atlanto-Scandian herring, to an arbitral tribunal under Annex VII of [UNCLOS],” the Faroese prime minister’s office said on Friday.

On July 31, the EU’s fisheries and aquaculture committee approved a proposal to use trade sanctions against the Faroe Islands over their unilateral decision to triple their quota of Atlanto-Scandic herring for 2013.

OK, so this is not exactly Philippines-China, and much as I enjoy my herring, I can probably survive without it.  Still, to an international lawyer, this arbitration it is an unusual example of non-state entities invoking international dispute resolution mechanisms.  The Faroe Islands are a self-governing entity within the “Realm of Denmark”. So they are not a fully sovereign state, but apparently they are not just a part of Denmark either.  Still, it is Denmark, and not the Faroe Islands, that is a signatory to UNCLOS.

Similarly, the EU (or the European Communities) is not a state but it is a signatory to UNCLOS for certain competences that EU members have transferred to it. Oddly enough, Denmark has transferred its competence for these matters to the EU, but not for the Faroes.

Confused? I certainly am. In any event, the result is that a non-state subnational entity is seeking arbitration against a non-state supranational entity before an international arbitral tribunal created under the auspices of an international organization (the UN).  Why the Faroes didn’t seek some internal European mechanism to resolve this is beyond my understanding  It would be like Puerto Rico bringing a case against the U.S. in an international court. Sounds like a messy fight is brewing.

Treaties on Espionage — A Strange Pairing?

by Duncan Hollis

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about treaties. And I’ve read lots and lots of them over the years. From time to time, however, I encounter something I find truly novel on the treaty front. A case in point, was this story in IT World yesterday.  It refers to pending negotiations between the United States and Germany on an agreement not to spy on each other:

The U.S. has verbally committed to enter into a no-spying agreement with Germany in the wake of disclosures about the U.S. National Security Agency’s secret surveillance programs.

The verbal commitment was given in talks with the German Federal Intelligence Service (Bundesnachrichtendienst, BND), the sole foreign intelligence service of Germany, the German government said in a news release on Wednesday. This means that there must be no governmental or industrial espionage between the two countries, it said . . . No further details about the agreement were given. The German Federal Ministry of the Interior reached on Monday could not immediately respond to a request for comment.

I’ve never encountered such a treaty commitment before and I wonder what the proposed agreement will look like (and even if it’ll be a treaty at all — perhaps a political commitment is more likely?).  Have astute readers encountered similar types of “no-spying” arrangements in the past?  If so, I’d love to hear about them, not to mention any comments or expectations for compliance if the United States and Germany do conclude a non-spying treaty. For my part, I’ve always assumed spying is by its very nature the sort of thing you do after promising not to do it, but I also assume the United States generally tries to honor its treaty commitments too, suggesting any future deal won’t end well one way or another.

Emerging Voices: Does International Law Forbid Complicity in the Death Penalty?

by Bharat Malkani

[Bharat Malkani is a lecturer at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham, where he also runs the Birmingham Law School Pro Bono Group. You can also follow him on Twitter at @bharatmalkani]

Recently, Ali Babitu Kololo was sentenced to death by a Kenyan court for his role in the murder of David Tebbutt, and the kidnapping of David’s wife, Judith, in September 2011. David and Judith were British holidaymakers in Kenya at the time of their ordeal, and British police were heavily involved in the investigation into these crimes. Officers from the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command (SO15) travelled to Kenya and played a major role in securing the arrest and conviction of Kololo. The officers provided forensic expertise, assistance with preparing the prosecution’s case, and also provided support to the victims’ family. Commander Richard Walton, the Head of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “The investigation team, led by Detective Superintendent Neil Hibberd, have… shown great skill and tenacity in assisting this Kenyan investigation.”

It is only right that British authorities should help to bring the killers and kidnappers of British citizens to justice, and Kololo should be punished severely for the crimes he committed. But it is questionable whether the British authorities should contribute to the imposition of the death penalty. The UK has long rejected capital punishment for even the most serious of crimes, and the UK currently plays a leading role in promoting abolition of the death penalty in other countries. At the very least, it is starkly hypocritical for the UK to condemn other countries for using the death penalty on the one hand, while on the other hand actually assisting those countries like Kenya impose the death penalty.

Moreover, though, it might actually be illegal for British authorities to be complicit in the death penalty. It is arguable that, under international law, a norm is emerging that prohibits states that have abolished the death penalty from assisting its use elsewhere, comparable to the prohibition on complicity in torture and the prohibition on complicity in other internationally wrongful acts (Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts) .

The starting point for this claim can be found in extradition law. Both the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations have made it clear that abolitionist states are forbidden from extraditing individuals to states where there is a real risk that they will face the death penalty. The principle behind this prohibition is simple: to do otherwise would be tantamount to aiding and assisting a practice that is forbidden.

Wider obligations to refrain from being complicit in the death penalty can be extrapolated from this principle…

Emerging Voices: Voting Rights of Expatriates in the European Court of Human Rights

by Ruvi Ziegler

[Reuven (Ruvi) Ziegler is a lecturer in law at the University of Reading School of Law.]

The European Court of Human Rights has consistently held that the undertaking in Article 3 of Protocol I of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)  to hold ‘free elections’ which ‘will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature’ entails an individual right to vote (see e.g. in Hirst (no .2). [57]). While the Strasbourg court pronounced that ‘the presumption in a democratic state must be in favour of inclusion’ and that ‘any departure from the principle of universal suffrage risks undermining the democratic validity of the legislature thus elected and the laws it promulgates’ (Hirst (no .2), [59]), the court has hitherto failed to develop a principled approach regarding the circumstances in which such ‘departure’ may be justified. Instead, it has emphasised that ‘[a]s regards, in particular, the choice of electoral system, the Court reiterates that the Contracting States enjoy a wide margin of appreciation in this sphere’ (Sitaropoulos, [65-66]), as ‘[t]here are numerous ways of organising and running electoral systems’ (Id; also Shindler, [102]).

The margin of appreciation doctrine has received both scorn and praise. This post does not concern its general application; rather, it is contended that the court’s voting rights jurisprudence has conflated questions relating to choice of electoral systems (‘First-Past-The-Post’, Alternative Vote, Proportional Representation, Single Transferrable Vote, and the like) with questions relating to voting eligibility. Even if states should enjoy a margin of appreciation which takes into account the ‘historical development, cultural diversity and political thought within Europe’ (Hirst (no .2), [61]) when their choice of system of government is appraised, according states a ‘wide [but] not all-embracing’ (Hirst (no .2), [82]) margin of appreciation in determining voting eligibility detrimentally affects fundamental democratic rights of individual Europeans, as Strasbourg’s jurisprudence concerning voting rights of non-resident citizens (expatriates) exhibits.

All democratic states set eligibility criteria for elections of their institutions of government. Alongside the ubiquitous exclusion of non-citizen residents (at least from) national elections of their state of residence, some states – including members of the Council of Europe – impose residency requirements which disqualify expatriates during (part or all) of their period of absence. Consequently, otherwise eligible citizens of one member state of the Council of Europe residing in another member state can be excluded from elections of their state of citizenship and from elections of their state of residence.

(more…)

Meanwhile, Back to Important Policy Debates Over … EVOO

by Kenneth Anderson

Though I’m as much caught up in the drones debate du jour as anyone here at OJ, there are other pressing matters internationally, and one of them is olive oil.  I’ve blogged about EVOO adulteration in the past year, but the current contretemps is different.  EU regulators want to require that restaurants serve olive oil at the table in sealed individual servings (I guess a little bit like the little sealed catsup bottles one sometimes sees in restaurants in the USA) rather than the common practice of serving olive oil, for dipping bread or what-have-you, in little decanters.  The concern is partly health and food safety, but it also appears to be a press by agricultural interests to force the use of labeled olive oil, which will presumably have the effect of pushing up consumer awareness (yes, if – big if – what’s on the label is true), price (definitely), and quality (maybe, maybe not). So, as reported in the New York Times a few days ago (it appears the rule has been shelved for now):

The measure, which would have required that restaurants serve olive oil in sealed, clearly labeled and nonreusable containers, was meant to guarantee hygiene, according to the European Commission, the union’s executive body, which originally drafted the rules. It said the labeling would ensure the quality and authenticity of olive oils and also offer suppliers an opportunity to promote brand awareness, backers said. And the measure stood to benefit European olive growers, mostly clustered around the Mediterranean, in some of the countries hardest hit by the crisis in the euro zone. Fifteen of the union’s 27 governments supported the rule, including the major producers, Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Portugal has had similar measures in place since 2005. But governments in the non-olive-producing north, including Germany, were opposed. Britain abstained.

The pushback was on classic EU terms, I guess we could say: Complaints that this sort of thing should never reach the level of the EU, and that individual states could deal with this kind of thing on their own:

The reaction was severe. Prime Minister Mark Rutte of the Netherlands condemned the measure, calling it “too bizarre for words” and not at all green. Criticism was particularly harsh in Britain, often the first among critics of the European Union’s reach. The olive oil rule was “exactly the sort of area that the European Union needs to get right out of, in my view,” Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain said Wednesday after a meeting of the bloc’s leaders in Brussels. “It shouldn’t even be on the table,” he said, immediately begging forgiveness for the wordplay.

Food safety is only partly the issue; from the standpoint of Europe’s olive oil producers, the much bigger issue is brand recognition and quality assurance – assuring quality and authenticity of olive oils served, which is also to say, raising the price.  But here the EU runs into a quite different problem; restaurants refilling olive oil bottles with oils of lesser quality is the least of the concerns about EVOO authenticity and quality.  I’ve blogged in the past about the surprising (at least to me as an international business transactions professor) fact of massive adulteration of “extra virgin olive oil” both inside the EU and in the global export market.  It’s adulterated with either lower grade olive oil, or else the oil itself is mostly low grade olive oil heated to take out the bad flavors (heated oil is essentially flavorless), or else different plant oils altogether (such as cottonseed oil.  It overwhelmingly happens at the producer, wholesaler, or distributor level, before it leaves the EU; it’s pretty clear that the supermarkets, even specialty store chains such as Whole Foods, whether in the US or Europe, have no idea that the product is not what it says.   (more…)

Lots of Media Coverage of Amanda Knox, But Almost No One has Bothered Reading the U.S. Italy Extradition Treaty

by Julian Ku

A depressingly large number of U.S. media outlets are covering the Italian Supreme Court’s decision to order a new trial in the case against Amanda Knox, the American exchange student charged with murdering her British roommate in Italy. Knox was convicted in trial court, but that conviction was overturned on appeal.

I say depressing because this is hardly the most significant international criminal trial going on these days. It is also depressing because most of the U.S. media coverage, and even the “expert” legal commentary, can’t seem to understand that if Italy requests Knox’ extradition, Knox has no double jeopardy defense.

The biggest mistake made by most of the media commentary (I’m looking at you Alan Dershowitz and various law prof types here) is that almost no one seems to have read the U.S. Italy Extradition Treaty.  Article VI reads:

Extradition shall not be granted when the person sought has been convicted, acquitted, or pardoned, or has served the sentence imposed, by the Requested Party for the same acts for which extradition is requested

(Emphasis added.) The Requested Party in this scenario would be the United States (Italy would be the “Requesting Party”).  The U.S. has never charged Knox with anything, much less with the murder of her UK roommate.  So Article VI does not bar Knox’ extradition to Italy. Period.

What about the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment prohibition on Double Jeopardy? Well, the short answer is that the Fifth Amendment’s Double Jeopardy Protection doesn’t apply in an extradition proceeding since the U.S. is not the one trying Knox (they are just handing her over).  The long answer is that even if the Fifth Amendment did apply, under US law, an appeal that overturns a lower court conviction is not an acquittal for purposes of the Fifth Amendment.  That is basically what happened here.  Knox was convicted, then her conviction was overturned on appeal, and then the appellate court judgment was reversed, and a new trial ordered (albeit at the appellate level). This is not double jeopardy, either under Italian law or US law.

So Knox had better get ready to be extradited, or she better get ready to move to Brazil. She has no serious double jeopardy defense here that I can see.  Now, if only someone would tell Alan Dershowitz.

Dutch Court Issues Mixed Ruling on Shell’s Liability for Nigerian Environmental Claim

by Roger Alford

As we wait with bated breath for the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel, it is worth remembering that there are viable alternatives to ATS litigation. That was particularly evident last week when The Hague District Court in the case of Akpan/Royal Dutch Shell. Here’s the Judicial Press Release (translated by Pieter Bekker):

Four Nigerian farmers and fishermen, together with Milieudefensie, commenced the lawsuits in The Netherlands, because they hold four entities within the Shell group, with its headquarters in The Hague, accountable for the damage resulting from four specific oil spills near their villages in Nigeria. The district court has found that the four oil spills were not the result of poor maintenance by Shell, but were caused by sabotage by third parties. Based on the applicable Nigerian law, an oil company in principle is not liable for oil spills resulting from sabotage. On this principal ground, all claims in four out of the five cases have been dismissed. With regard to the four lawsuits regarding an oil spill near the village of Goi in 2004 and an oil spill near the village of Oruma in 2005, the district court is of the view that Shell Nigeria took sufficient measures to prevent sabotage of its submerged oil pipelines. For this reason, and applying the general rule of Nigerian law, the Hague district court has dismissed the claims of plaintiffs Oguru, Efanga and Dooh in those four lawsuits.

In the lawsuit concerning two oil spills near the village of Ikot Ada Udo, the district court has ruled that Shell Nigeria has violated its ‘duty of care’ under applicable Nigerian law and has committed the ‘tort of negligence.’ In 2006 and 2007, an act of sabotage was committed in a very simple way near that village by using an English wrench to remove above-ground heads of an oil well abandoned by Shell Nigeria. Shell Nigeria could and should have easily prevented the sabotage by installing a concrete plug prior to 2006, whereas it only did so in 2010 while the lawsuit was pending. Consequently, the district court has ordered Shell Nigeria (i.e., Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd, the Nigerian subsidiary of the Shell group) in that case to pay compensation to the Nigerian plaintiff, Mr. Akpan. The amount of compensation will need to be determined in a separate procedure, because to date the parties have only litigated the issue of liability, and the level of damages has not been addressed. Milieudefensie has brought the lawsuits together with the Nigerian plaintiffs. In the view of the district court, Milieudefensie has standing to defend environmental interests in Nigeria before the courts in The Netherlands. However, according to Nigerian law the oil spills in Nigeria are not unlawful vis-à-vis Milieudefensie and for this reason the claims of Milieudefensie have been dismissed.

Dutch courts and the parent companies of Shell The cases have been adjudicated by the Dutch court, because the claims are not only directed at Shell Nigeria, but also target the current British parent company of Shell, which has its headquarters in The Hague. The former parent companies of the Shell group in London and The Hague have also been sued. In interim rulings issued in 2009 and 2010, the district court ruled that it is justified to adjudicate the lawsuits against all Shell entities in The Netherlands, because those lawsuits are all closely connected.

In its final rulings of 30 January 2013, the district court has dismissed all claims against the parent companies, because (in short) under Nigerian law a parent company in principle is not obligated to prevent its subsidiaries from injuring third parties abroad and in the present case there are no special reasons to deviate from the general rule.

Here is a portion of Bekker’s commentary on the ruling (reprinted from OGEMID listserve with Pieter Bekker’s permission):

On January 30, 2013, the district court in The Hague, The Netherlands, announced in a press release that it has ruled that Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Ltd. (SPDC or “Shell Nigeria”), a member of the Royal Dutch Shell group of companies, is liable to pay compensation to plaintiff Friday Alfred Akpan, a resident of the Nigerian village of Ikot Ada Udo situated in Akwa Ibom State in the Niger Delta. Applying Nigerian law, the Dutch court found that Shell Nigeria had breached its duty of care and had committed the tort of negligence by failing to take sufficient measures to prevent sabotage by third persons to Shell Nigeria’s submerged pipelines near the Nigerian village in 2006 and 2007. The amount of compensation will be determined in a subsequent phase of the proceeding. The full text of the ruling (in Dutch) is yet to be released.

The lawsuit against Shell constitutes the first time that a Dutch multinational has been sued before a civil court in The Netherlands in connection with allegations of damage caused abroad by a subsidiary and appears to be part of a trend of plaintiffs from the developing world turning to the courts in developed countries for redress against multinationals.

Four Nigerian farmers and fishermen, along with Milieudefensie, the Dutch branch of the environmental group Friends of the Earth, had brought five separate lawsuits against four Shell entities and their parent company before the District Court in The Hague, claiming compensation for oil pollution damage suffered locally by the Nigerian plaintiffs in four incidents between 2004 and 2007, and allegedly caused by poor maintenance on the part of the Shell defendants.

The Hague court dismissed all claims in all but one proceeding after finding that the oil contamination was caused by sabotage by third persons as opposed to Shell’s poor maintenance of its local oil installations and that there was no evidence of Shell’s negligence in those cases. Under Nigerian law, an oil company in principle is not liable for oil pollution damage caused by third-party sabotage.

Importantly, the court dismissed all claims against Shell Nigeria’s co-defendant and parent company, Royal Dutch Shell plc, which has its headquarters in The Hague, referring to the general rule of Nigerian law according to which a parent company is not obligated to prevent foreign subsidiaries from injuring third parties abroad and finding no special reasons to deviate from the general rule. The court had found in interim rulings that it had jurisdiction over the claims against all of the Shell defendants because those claims were closely connected.

While the court accepted the Dutch environmental group’s standing to defend environmental interests in Nigeria before the courts in The Netherlands alongside the Nigerian plaintiffs, it rejected the NGO’s claims because oil pollution in Nigeria is not unlawful vis-à-vis the Dutch-based group under Nigerian law.

All plaintiffs have announced that they will appeal the district court’s ruling insofar as it concerns the court’s dismissal of the four other lawsuits and its rejection of the claims against the parent company.

The full text of the opinion (in Dutch) is available here. For more on Dutch human rights and environmental rulings similar to Akpan, see this amicus brief.

As I will discuss in greater detail later, such cases strongly suggest that domestic tort laws may be a viable alternative solution to ATS litigation. There is a wealth of cases (including US cases) applying tort law and conflict of laws that address many of the same factual scenarios that are presented in ATS litigation. Such cases will be particularly important if, as I suspect, the Supreme Court narrowly construes the ATS in Kiobel.

UPDATE: An English translation of the decision is available here.

Weak and Strong International Judicial Review: Legal Policy Implications

by Başak Çalı

[Başak Çalı is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Human Rights at the University College London]

This post is the third in a series of three.

In my previous post, I reviewed the Von Hannover (2) and Fatullayev cases to illustrate my argument that the standard of judicial review used by the European Court of Human Rights is variable. Notably, the Strasbourg Court chooses to employ a weaker form of judicial review when interacting with domestic courts it deems to be ‘responsible’ and a stronger form of judicial review when interacting with those it deems are not.

I term a ‘responsible’ domestic court to be one that, 1), takes Strasbourg’s interpretive principles seriously when interpreting fundamental rights and, 2), gives full-bodied reasoning when applying these principles to facts. Once a domestic court meets these criteria ‘strong reasons’ must be shown for Strasbourg to interfere with the outcome of the domestic judgment, be this violation or non-violation of rights. In contrast to this, a domestic court that fails to meet the threshold of Strasbourg-defined responsibility loses its legitimacy as a final domestic judicial authority. The European Court of Human Rights, therefore, sees itself as justified in demanding the annulment of a prison sentence confirmed by a supreme court.

What legal policy implications follow on from this? Is a variable standard of judicial review desirable? An obvious objection to this is the potential to alienate courts and political institutions in countries that are subject to harsher standards. As research on the perception of the legitimacy of the European Court of Human Rights shows, countries that are subject to stronger standards of review are also those that accuse the Strasbourg Court with employing ‘double standards’.  This has the potential of discouraging human rights compliance in countries where it is needed the most. The light touch approach also has the danger of alienating individuals in countries with responsible courts. Whilst it is easier to propose that identification of the correct procedure is distinct from the identification of the correct outcome, this is harder to distinguish in practice. In addition, applicants are primarily concerned with correct outcomes, and not with procedures.

The move away from a variable standard of judicial review may also have harmful consequences for the legitimacy and the authority of the European Court of Human Rights. Domestic courts that have made serious efforts to harmonise their acts with Strasbourg case law do so on the basis that mutual respect exists between their courts and the European Court of Human Rights. Stronger intrusion into all domestic courts for the sake of creating a level playing field would lead to a backlash from all domestic courts – regardless of their level of protection of human rights. Strong of judicial review is also what individuals demand in countries like Azerbaijan. As my research on this subject shows, domestic elites in countries such as Turkey and Bulgaria view the lack of intrusion into domestic sovereignty as a legitimacy deficit. In Germany and the United Kingdom, however, the exact opposite case was made.

On balance, a variable standard of international judicial review, I would argue, is the best strategy for an international court that looks over the shoulders of a variety of domestic legal systems with varying degrees of domestic protection of human rights. Whilst strong judicial review of courts with weak human rights protections may lead to a backlash from some judges, it may also offer an incentive for others who want to be seen as responsible internationally. The challenge for the European Court of Human Rights is to further clarify its ‘strong reasons’ test and ensure that its judgments -  whether concerning countries it deems ‘responsible’ or ‘irresponsible’ – are immune from any charges of politicization.

Standards of International Judicial Review: Von Hannover and Fatullayev Compared

by Başak Çalı

[Başak Çalı is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Human Rights at the University College London]

This post is the second in a series of three.

Last week I suggested that comparing the Von Hannover (2) Case of 2012 and the Fatullayev Case of 2010, both of which concern reviews of freedom of expression decisions given by supreme domestic courts, is a good way of understanding the variable standard of judicial review developed by the European Court of Human Rights.

The Von Hannover Cases (1) and (2)

The Von Hannover (2) Case was the second appearance of Princess Caroline of Monaco before the Strasbourg Court, arguing that the German press had violated her right to privacy. In the first Von Hannover Case of 2004, Princess Caroline advanced the argument that given that she does not hold a public office or have any public functions, the continuous publication of pictures depicting her private life in the German press violated her right to privacy, and the German Courts had failed to protect her. In the first case, the Strasbourg Court found a violation. In the second case it did not. From Princess Caroline’s perspective, this outcome is odd. The explanation lies in how the Strasbourg Court defines its standard of judicial review of domestic courts.  (more…)

Domestic Courts and the European Court of Human Rights: Towards Developing Standards of Weak International Judicial Review?

by Başak Çalı

[Başak Çalı is Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Human Rights at the University College London]

This post is the first in a series of three.

The relationship between the highest domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights has been subject to much debate in the past ten years in Europe. Some of this debate focuses on the backlash against the dynamic interpretation of the European Convention of Human Rights by the European Court of Human Rights. The interpretive principles such as the living instrument doctrine, and positive obligations are often thought to upset a wide variety of values including the original consent of states, democratic governance, and integrity and predictability of domestic legal systems. Some readers on the other side of the Atlantic view these debates as a good reason for remaining outside of international adjudication of human rights. Overly strong international human rights courts involved in exercises of ‘virtue ethics’ are not regarded as a good development for integrity of constitutional systems and democratic politics. Much of these debates assume that international human rights bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights, act as a Court of fourth instance, exercise their own opinions on the interpretation of facts on the ground or that they micro-manage domestic legal orders.

I would like to suggest a different framework here. Much criticism of the European Court of Human Rights and the international human rights law in general relies on the assumption that international bodies are engaged in strong judicial review. I suggest that this is a descriptive error. Much of what the European Court of Human Rights does is best understood as weak international judicial review or, at least, the development of standards of weak international judicial review in the making. Weak judicial review involves leaving an interpretive discretion to domestic courts that take into account the broader interpretive principles of the Court and admitting that where there is more than one reasonable interpretation, the Strasbourg Court will defer to the interpretation favoured by domestic high courts. This makes many of the concerns regarding micro-management of domestic systems by the Strasbourg Court ill-founded.  The most recent example of this is the Von Hannover case of 2012. In this case the Strasbourg Court is embracing this careful approach to its relationship with Constitutional and Supreme Courts, and going through special pains to signal that it wants to work with strong Supreme Courts rather than compete with them. Admittedly, for weak international judicial review to be in place the domestic court 1) has to be a strong rule of law court, and 2) must take international human rights protections seriously.  The development of the standard of weak international judicial review in the human rights field has parallels with the doctrine of  ‘responsible representative governments’ in the WTO Hormones case and points to an important emerging theme for future debate: should international courts treat different domestic courts differently as a matter of doctrine?  Do we need an explicit doctrine of ‘responsible domestic courts’ for international judicial review?

In the forthcoming post, I will review two cases from opposite ends of the Council of Europe terrain: the Von Hannover v. Germany No. 2 case of 2012 and the Fatullayev v. Azerbaijan case of 2010 to show that the European Court of Human Rights is signalling restraint when faced with a responsible domestic court and is willing to signal activism when faced with the opposite.

Texas v. the OSCE Election Observers: The Kerfuffle About Nothing

by Julian Ku

The agonizing close presidential race in the U.S. has made everyone on edge about election day problems at the polls.  This may explain why the State of Texas has decided to pick a fight with the election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), threatening to arrest election observers who interfere with the upcoming November 6 elections.

Texas authorities have threatened to arrest international election observers, prompting a furious response from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

“The threat of criminal sanctions against [international] observers is unacceptable,” Janez Lenarčič, the Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), said in a statement. “The United States, like all countries in the OSCE, has an obligation to invite ODIHR observers to observe its elections.”

Lawmakers from the group of 56 European and Central Asian nations have been observing U.S. elections since 2002, without incident. Their presence has become a flashpoint this year, however, as Republicans accuse Democrats of voter fraud while Democrats counter that GOP-inspired voter ID laws aim to disenfranchise minority voters.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott further fueled the controversy on Tuesday when he sent a letter to the OSCE warning the organization that its representatives “are not authorized by Texas law to enter a polling place” and that it “may be a criminal offense for OSCE’s representatives to maintain a presence within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance.”

As the blog post at the Hill goes on to note, this is a big kerfuffle about nothing. The OSCE observers do not have any special legal status and they have already agreed to follow Texas election law (or any other state’s election law). I should note that Texas is free to do whatever they want with the OSCE monitors, and there is no federal authority that can push them to do anything in particular about the OSCE.   I am not sure why Texas has gotten all hot and bothered by this.

To be sure, Texas authorities might be confused by reports like this one from ABC, which calls the OSCE a “UN affiliate” and links their mission to calls by the NAACP on the U.N. to block voter ID rules (uh, that’s totally wrong).  But while the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR) [gotta love that acronym] is here to “assess these elections for compliance with international obligations and standards for democratic elections…” This sounds ominous, until you realize that U.S. commitments to OSCE self-consciously political, and not legal.  That is part of the point of the OSCE. It is a political forum, not a formal legal one.

It is true that the OSCE (which includes very undemocratic states like Kazakstan as members) is hardly in a position to complain too aggressively about U.S. election standards. I suppose it could get ugly in a close election if the OSCE tries to influence the political fight over a recount.  But there are so many existing domestic laws that regulate elections in the U.S. (and forums for litigation) that I am doubtful that the OSCE could add much to what is already going to be a crazy election season here in the U.S.