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Does President Obama Need Congress to Lift the Embargo on Cuba? Yes.

by Julian Ku

It looks like a big showdown is brewing between the President and Congress over Cuba policy (Here comes 2016 presidential candidate Rubio!).  Some legal commentators have argued, however, that President Obama already has the legal authority to lift all or most of the Cuba embargo without any further action by Congress.  Robert Muse, a lawyer whose practice is all about Cuba sanctions law, has stated that the President has very broad discretion to lift most of the restrictions on trade with Cuba without further congressional action. Is he right?

I am not Cuba sanctions law expert, so it is possible I am missing something.  Since the bulk of the Cuba sanctions are found in regulations issued by the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control pursuant to the Trading with the Enemy Act, it would seem like President Obama could indeed lift those sanctions by simply withdrawing those regulations.  The TWEA has never been read to require sanctions, and President Carter lifted similar sanctions on China without Congress in 1979.

On the other hand, Congress has also enacted two Cuba-specific statutes: the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (CDA), 22 U.S.C. §§ 6001-6010 and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity (Libertad) Act of 1996, 22 U.S.C. §§ 6021-6091 (“Helms Burton). The latter appears to codify” the OFAC regulations on Cuba that were initially issued under the TWEA. See Section 102(h) (“Codification of Economic Embargo.– The economic embargo of Cuba, as in effect on March 1, 1996, including all restrictions under part 515 of title 31, Code of Federal Regulations, shall be in effect upon the enactment of this Act, and shall remain in effect, subject to section 204 of this Act.”).  Section 204 in turn “authorizes” the President to lift sanctions only after submitting a determination to Congress that a transitional government in Cuba exists and that the lifting of sanctions will contribute “to the stable foundation for democratic government.” There is also the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 (TSRA), 22 U.S.C. §§ 7201-7211, which imposes further limitations on financial transactions with Cuba and allows no Presidential waiver.

It is worth noting that President Clinton expressed some reservations about the impact of Section 102(h) when he signed the Helms-Burton Act, stating that it”could be read to impose overly rigid constraints on the implementation of our foreign policy.” But Clinton didn’t suggest imposing conditions on when the President could lift sanctions actually violated the Constitution.  Since I assume Congress is the source of the authority to impose sanctions in the first place, it seems reasonable that Congress could impose conditions on when those sanctions can be lifted.  Any argument that those conditions themselves are unconstitutional would be a remarkably aggressive legal argument.

So I don’t think the calls from some quarters for a unilateral lifting of the embargo on Cuba is supportable as a legal matter.  In fact, there are good reasons to doubt the legality of the loosening of sanctions already announced by OFAC.  In any event, there will be lots of legal skirmishing over the next few months on this front. It will be interesting to see if President Obama ever pulls out the “presidentialist” card and tries to argue some of these sanctions laws violate his constitutional authority.  I would doubt it, but then again I never thought he would engage in a separate war in Iraq and Syria with ISIS and change US immigration law without Congress either.

 

International Law as Behavior Symposium: An Introduction

by Harlan Cohen

[Harlan Cohen is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law]

This past November, the University of Georgia School of Law and the ASIL International Legal Theory Interest Group convened a book workshop on “International Law as Behavior,” at Tillar House, ASIL’s headquarters in Washington, DC. The workshop brought together scholars working in variety of different fields, including anthropology, behavioral law and economics, constructivist international relations theory, organizations theory, rational choice, social psychology, and sociology, to discuss how these approaches might best be applied to the study of international law, how these approaches can complement each other, the opportunities and challenges of working across these fields, and the development of a common language and tools to study how international actors actually behave. Participants included Anne van Aaken (University of St. Gallen), Elena Baylis (University of Pittsburgh School of Law), Tomer Broude (Hebrew University Faculty of Law), Adam Chilton (University of Chicago School of Law), Sungjoon Cho (IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law), Jean Galbraith (University of Pennsylvania Law School), Ron Levi (University of Toronto Global Affairs and Sociology), Tim Meyer (University of Georgia School of Law), Galit Sarfaty (University of British Columbia Faculty of Law), and Kathryn Sikkink (Harvard Kennedy School). A book based on presentations at the workshop that I will be editing will follow.

The workshop and book arise out of an intuition that there is more international legal scholars can learn from sophisticated work on legal behavior developing in other disciplines and more that scholars drawing on those disciplines can learn from each other. International law and legal scholars have long borrowed from a variety of disciplines to help understand the functioning of the international system. Important work on international law, including work of the New Haven and English Schools, has drawn on Law & Society, Anthropology, Constructivism, Linguistics, and Sociology. Drawing on international relations and economics, scholars have invoked principles of rational design to explain the shape of international agreements and international organizations and the choice between hard and soft law. Economic analysis has helped explain cooperation and compliance. Most recently, international law scholars have begun to draw insights from behavioral law and economics and psychology.

Instead of informing and enriching each other, however, these varied approaches have often developed in parallel and isolation, siloed off from the insights of the others. Drawing from distinct fields with their own languages and methods, scholars pursuing these approaches have often ended up talking past each other – if they spoke to each other at all. (There are obviously exceptions to these trends, including contributors to this project; readers of these posts know who you are.) The goal of this workshop and the edited volume to follow is to begin to bridge those gaps and foster the conversation between methods and approaches that might form the foundation for a study of international law as behavior. How do international actors actually behave and what drives their behavior? How and when is their rationality bounded by psychology? How do they operate as members of groups and recipients of culture? How do they write and follow organizational scripts? Dialogue between these approaches should only help to enrich all of them, suggesting new paths, blindspots, and even wrong-turns for each. Some of these methods will fit together well; others, whether because of initial assumptions or research styles and demands, may not. And, different approaches may have an advantage depending on the specific questions about international behavior being asked. But it is exactly these questions that we hope to explore.

Over the next few days, Galit Sarfaty, Jean Galbraith, Tim Meyer, Elena Baylis, Tomer Broude and I hope to give you a flavor of the presentations and conversations at the November workshop. Thank you to Opinio Juris for allowing us to showcase some of this project here. We look forward to hearing your thoughts and to kicking off Opinio Juris’ tenth year in style!

What Are International Law’s “Must Reads” from the Past Decade?

by Chris Borgen

In a comment to a recent post, Patrick O’Donnell noted a post from the first year of Opinio Juris in which I had taken a crack at starting a list of the “must reads “of international law. I wanted to get a discussion going over what should be the key scholarly texts in our field. Opinio Juris readers made significant contributions and suggestions to the list.

Returning to this discussion, are there any “must reads” that we should add from the last ten years: articles, books, blog posts? What were the any earlier texts that we missed?

As Peter mentioned in his post, international law is constantly expanding breadth and drilling down in depth, such that there are now relatively few generalists. It may be that the moment has passed where one person could have have deep expertise across the whole of the field.

I wonder if the “must reads” on international law will be less and less about “international law” in general, but rather be deep dives into a particular substantive areas. My guess is that as international law itself is flowering, the list of “must read” texts is also growing as there are important texts across an ever-widening spectrum of international legal theory and practice. But now some (perhaps most?) of the “must reads” might not be “must reads” for everybody, but for anybody interested in a certain area of our profession.

If you have any suggestions as to “must reads,” either generalist texts or in a particular sub-field, please let us know in the comments to this post or via Twitter to @Chris_Borgen and @OpinioJuris with the hashtag #OJ10 (we may then post them in the comments section to the post).

I have a few initial (and non-exhaustive) suggestions from the last decade. They are texts that I return to time and again for their perspectives and insights. With the following selections to start things off (as well as the original list from 2005), I look forward to any other suggestions the Opinio Juris community may have!

General Texts or Treatises

James Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law (Oxford 2d ed. 2006)  A remarkable compendium of analysis of the international law of statehood and sovereignty.

James Crawford, The International Law Commission’s Articles on State Responsibility: Introduction, Text and Commentaries (Cambridge 2002). This should have been on the original list back in 2005. A key reference to an important project in international law.

Report of the Study Group of the International Law Commission on Fragmentation of International Law: Difficulties Arising from the Diversification and Expansion of International Law (.pdf) (13 April 2006) UN Doc A/CN.4/L.682 and the accompanying Analytical Study (.pdf). Much the this post is built on the assumption that international law is expanding, becoming more institutionally complex, and deepening. But is the proliferation of law and institutions also leading to legal fragmentation? This has been a much-debated topic since at least the 1990’s. The ILC’s report, finalized by Martti Koskenniemi and the related study, have been much-debated and remain key resources in thinking-through this important topic.

The Oxford Guide to Treaties (Duncan Hollis, ed.) (Oxford 2012) At the risk of being accused of cheering for the home team, I want to note this volume that Duncan edited because it is a particularly significant contribution to the law of treaties, with 25 essays by many of the leading scholars and practitioners in the field as well as a sort of “bird-watcher’s guide” with examples of treaty clauses. (Truth in advertizing, I have a short piece in this book. No, my own chapter is not a “must read.”)

Legal History

The Oxford Handbook of the History of International Law (Bardo Fassbender and Anne Peters, eds) (Oxford 2012). A deep survey of the history of international law in and across countries and cultures. It goes beyond international legal history as European history and widens the focus to encompass comparative legal histories and how different international legal traditions encounter and interact with each other. Plus a section of legal biographies. A fascinating and much-needed resource.

 

From Strawberries to Sony Pictures

by Duncan Hollis

One of my first posts with Opinio Juris remains one of my all time favorites — Strawberries versus Skin Cancer.  Looking back, that post marked a transition point for me as a scholar and an academic; in it, I began to allow myself to think more critically about my former employer, the U.S. State Department, even as I remained loyal to its employees and their mission. Certainly, the post benefited from my work on the Montreal Protocol while I was in the Legal Adviser’s office, but I also began to feel free to call out U.S. non-compliance where I saw it (and to flag the politically motivated rationales that lay behind it).  At the time, I figured this sort of post would typify my new academic self — detailed doctrinal analysis of specific treaty regimes especially in the environmental arena.

As it turns out, my assumption proved only half right.  True, I’ve ended up spending a lot of time thinking about treaties and their alternatives; it remains a core focus for my blogging and scholarship. But along the way, blogging also brought new lessons and served as a catalyst for my career in ways that I could never have anticipated in 2005.  What follows are nine takeaways from my blogging these last nine years:

1) Somehow I became a scholar of cyberspace, particularly questions of how to govern over (and within) this medium.  For those who have known me for a while, this is pretty surprising.  Until 2007, I openly described myself as a Luddite; my only claim to cyber-expertise was my (small) role in negotiating the final clauses of the Cybercrime Convention.  Today, I still can’t code, but I do think the experience of blogging gave me enough self-confidence to take advantage of opportunities that came my way to opine on how international law translates into cyberspace and offer some new ideas for dealing with cyber insecurity.

2) People find cyberspace issues really interesting; I had multiple friends and family ask me if I was going to blog about the Sony Pictures Hack (I didn’t).  In contrast, no one ever asks me to blog about treaties.  This makes me a little sad sometimes.

3) I love treaties; I like blogging about treaties, hosting symposia on treaties and treaty interpretation, drafting lists of the best treaties, and calling out those (e..g, the Supreme Court) that seem willfully ignorant of treaty terminology and processes.

4) International lawyer humor is not a thing, despite my semi-regular efforts to make it a thing.

5) International lawyers love underdog efforts to create a new state, especially if it’s a small pacific island.

6) I can never blog more than once a week, and I remain in awe of those who toss off daily blog posts (cough, Kevin, cough).  At least once each year, I’ve made a resolution to blog more.  But don’t hold your breath; I seem to be slowing down the pace of my blogging rather than speeding it up of late.

7) Major writers and Hollywood producers need international law consultants. For those of them reading this, e-mail me.  We still need to talk.

8) Opinio Juris has helped make the “invisible college” more collegial.  I’ve met so many people through blogging and credit it for starting several friendships that formed here on-line or via some in-person conversation about my blogging.  Meanwhile, Opinio Juris has become a place where we can opine on the state of the profession; celebrate our champions, and mourn the passing of our giants.

9) Blog in haste, regret at leisure.

Being a law professor can be an isolating experience, but Opinio Juris has done so much to make me feel part of a larger community; it’s made me appreciate that, whatever our substantive disagreements, there is among my co-bloggers and so many of our readers a passion for international law (both its potential and its pitfalls).

Let me close with a thank you to those readers that actually care about treaties (or cyberspace for that matter).  It’s your interest and dedication that make this enterprise worthwhile and what keeps me doing it (even if I don’t do it enough — see comment 6).  You’ve helped make this blog what it is and you offer the promise of it continuing to grow and flourish in depth and breadth for years to come.

How the Legal Blogosphere Has Changed After Ten Years of Opinio Juris

by Julian Ku

I want to mark our Opinio Juris anniversary with some musings on how the legal blogosphere has changed in the decade since Chris, Peggy, and I launched this site. When we began, there was already a pretty robust universe of legal blogs.  But law blogs were still pretty much hobbies rather than serious professional publications.  Chris, Peggy and I were writing for each other and our friends,and the blog may have seemed more like a convenient forum for long-distance communication.

In the early days, it was enough to simply link to stories and articles in corners of the internet that most mainstream papers wouldn’t have noticed.  I remember linking to reports of Iraq’s accession to the ICC, way before most news media reported on it.  I developed an early ongoing obsession with the legal battle over Japan’s whaling practices, way before reality TV and the ICJ case made it mainstream news.   Sometimes, we would take random shots at celebrities for their lack of understanding of international legal issues but mostly just to try to get attention.  I challenged Angelina Jolie, for instance, to rethink her support for international criminal justice (and I have some reliable sources tell me she actually read the post at some point). I think Opinio Juris still can serve an important news function for specialized stories most people don’t care about, although much of that has been taken over by our fabulous Twitter account.

Blogs today, especially law blogs, have become much more professional and serious.  The great advantage of law blogs is that they provide a way for detailed legal analysis to reach the public and policy-making worlds directly and immediately.  A judge at the International Court of Justice,an attorney-adviser in the U.S. State or Justice Department, and a journalist can find useful detailed legal analysis with very little effort (and all have at various points).  Journalists in particular can and have used law blogs as a quick and dirty way to canvass expert opinion on whatever legal issue their stories are intersecting. For instance, a recent Vox explainer was able to draw on our blog and others to discuss the legality of military action in Syria.   Law blogs are surprisingly important and influential, and I could not have predicted that in 2005.

For academics like us, Opinio Juris is a way for us to apply our professional analysis to current events in a way that was simply not possible before law blogs.  To be sure, some of our analysis was incorrect or mistaken (I managed to declare various ICJ judges dead when they were very much alive), but much of it became part of the larger public conversation.  For me, the blog has always challenged me to link my academic ideas to real-world events, and I am always grateful for that outlet.

I am also grateful that non-American readers continue to find our musings useful and interesting.  We remain a resolutely Americanist/ America-centered blog, but I think that actually is part of our utility to non-American readers.  We offer a certain perspective of what American academics think about international legal issues, and a particular insight into U.S.-law-heavy topics that impact the world (like the war on terrorism and the Alien Tort Statute).

But at the heart of the blog, and what continues to motivate me to write, is the chance to “talk” with my co-bloggers, guest-bloggers, and readers about things that my neighbors (or even my colleagues) find tedious or boring or over-technical.  I am curious about the world, and I cherish the existence of an online community to share this exploration with. Thanks for reading, and I hope continuing to read, for the next decade (at least!).

Guest Post: 2014 at The African Court on Human and Peoples Rights–a Year in Review

by Oliver Windridge

[Oliver Windridge is a British lawyer specialising in international human rights and international criminal law, currently based in The Hague, Netherlands. He is founder of the blog The ACtHPR Monitor, on twitter @acthpr_monitor. In June 2014 Oliver was one of five non-African lawyers to be appointed to the Court’s inaugural List of Counsel (pro bono). The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organisation affiliated to the author.]

Many readers will be familiar with the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights. For those who are not the Court was established by the African Union to hear cases relating to alleged violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Charter) and other international human rights instruments. The Court is based is in Arusha, Tanzania and is separate to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. What follows is a summary of the Court’s activity in 2014.

March: the Court’s 32nd Ordinary Session

At its 32nd Ordinary Session, the Court conducted the public hearing in Konate v. Burkina Faso. The Applicant, working as editor of the weekly newspaper L’Ouraganin, published two articles which lead to his convicted for defamation, public insult and insulting a magistrate. He was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment and handed large fines. The Applicant argued that his conviction and punishment contravened his right to freedom of expression as protected under Article 9 of the Charter and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Court also rendered three judgments. The first, Zongo and others v. Burkina Faso, related to the alleged assassination of Norbert Zongo an investigative journalist and Director of the weekly paper l’Indépendent and three colleagues in December 1998. The Applicant argued that following the alleged assassination the local authorities had failed to mount a proper investigation and failed to act with due diligence in seeking, trying and judging those involved in the death of Zongo and his companions. In only the second case to be decided on its merits, the Court found that Burkina Faso had indeed failed to take measures to ensure the Applicants right to be heard by a competent national court, therefore violating articles 1, 7, 9(2) of the Charter and Article 66 of the ECOWAS Treaty. Reparations are to be decided after further submissions from the parties.

The second and third cases, Omary and others v. Tanzania involving an application by former East African Commission employees who had not received promised reparations, pension and severance benefits when the then East African Community was disbanded in 1984, and Chacha v. Tanzania, concerning the Applicant’s alleged unlawful arrest, detention, charging and imprisonment contrary to Tanzanian laws, were both declared inadmissible due to the Applicant’s failure to exhaust local remedies.

The Court also considered its first application for interpretation and review of a previous Judgment. In June 2013 the Court had found the case of Mkandawire v. Malawi inadmissible due to the Applicant’s failure to exhaust local remedies. The Applicant made an application to the Court for review and interpretation of the Judgement. The Court ruled that the application for interpretation could not be entertained because “interpretation” as found in the Protocol and rules of the Court can only be sought for the purposes of executing a judgement. Since the case was dismissed due to non-exhaustion of local remedies there was no judgement to interpret. As to the application to review, the Court found the application inaccurately cited key paragraphs of its earlier judgement which were the subject of the review application. In addition evidence provided by the Applicant which he argued was new was known to him at the time the Court handed down its judgement and was therefore neither new or evidence.

June: movement toward the African Court of Justice and Human Rights

The Court, or at least the future guise of the Court, came into the spotlight in June after the African Union met in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea where it adopted the Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. (Incidentally, Equatorial Guinea has not signed the Protocol establishing the existing Court).

This Protocol has been the subject of much comment and debate, in particular for its amendment to Article 46A bis of the Protocol on the Statute of the Court which imparts immunity against criminal charges for acting heads of state or government and other senior state officials. We also learned a little more of the new court’s ambitious proposed structure consisting of a “general” chamber handling trade issues and conflict between states, a “human rights chamber” handling work similar to the current Court and “criminal chamber”. For more comment on the immunity amendment see Paul Bradfield’s piece here, and Mark Kersten’s piece here. A press conference by Legal Counsel for the African Union Vincent Nmehielle on the new court, including the issue of immunity, can be seen here. Please note that the press conference does not start until about 6 minutes in, so best to skip forward.

June: Mtikila ruling on reparations

Also in June, the Court rendered its first ever ruling on reparations in Mtikila v. Tanzania. The case centered on Tanzanian laws that require candidates running for local government, parliamentary and presidential elections to be members of a registered political party, effectively barring independent candidates. In June 2013 the Court delivered its judgment, unanimously finding Tanzania’s ban on independent candidates had violated the Applicant’s Article 10 and 13(1) Charter rights and, by majority, that the same ban violated the Applicant’s Article 2 and 3 Charter rights. The judgment can be read here. My summary and analysis of the case can be seen here.

The issue of reparations was postponed in order that both parties could make additional submissions. In its ruling the Court found there exists a fundamental principle of international law that where a violation of an “international obligation” causes harm, there entails an obligation to provide adequate reparation which the Court should follow and is reflected in Article 27(1) of the Court’s Protocol. The Court found that applying this principle, pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages and legal expenses were capable of being awarded by the Court, but that the Applicant had failed to provide evidence of a link between the damages and expenses claimed and the claim itself.

In addition, the Court also examined Tanzania’a compliance with the June 2013 judgment noting that in Tanzania’s reply to damages it continued to maintain that the judgment was wrong, since the law in Tanzania prohibits independent candidates from running for election. The Court expressed its “concern” at this line of argument which was compounded by Tanzania’s failure to report to the Court on the measures it is taking to comply with the Judgment. Consequently, it ordered that within six months Tanzania should: (i) publish the official English translation translated into Kiswahili at Tanzania’s expense and publish in both English and Kiswahili once in the official gazette and once in a national newspaper; and (ii) publish the Judgment it its entirety in English on an official website and remain available for one year. The Court ordered that nine months from the ruling Tanzania should submit to the Court a report ion the above measures. (more…)

Guest Post: When Should the ICC Call It Quits?

by Rebecca Hamilton

[Rebecca Hamilton is an Associate in Law at Columbia Law School, and author of Fighting for Darfur.]

The close of 2014 continued to bring bleak news for civilians in Darfur. As fighting in Sudan’s beleaguered western region increased, the UN looked to reduce its peacekeeping presence there. And this on the heels of the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, telling the Council that in the absence of any commitment from them to enforce the Darfur warrants, the Court would be suspending its investigative activities.

As Kevin has already noted, Bensouda’s statement is a depressing insight into the moribund state of ICC-Security Council relations (not to mention another blow for survivors of the conflict). Yet as he also observed, it is heartening to see the Prosecutor laying the blame for the lack of arrests squarely where it belongs. For too long the Council has used its Darfur referral to outsource the problem to the ICC in lieu of taking meaningful steps itself.

Beyond the immediate implications for Darfuris, the ICC, or the Security Council however, there is a broader question triggered by Bensouda’s statement, and one that commentators are yet to pay attention to: Under what conditions should the ICC Office of the Prosecutor stop its activities in a given situation?

Both academics and practitioners have spent the first decade of the Court’s existence focused largely on issues related to the OTP’s commencement of activities in new situations. But as I argue in a forthcoming article in N.Y.U. J. Int’l L. & Pol., attention now needs to be directed to the question of what principles might guide the end of its operations. Given that Bensouda’s statement marks the first time an ICC Prosecutor has publicly discussed any halt to the OTP’s activities, it is worth closely scrutinizing the rationale upon which her decision is based, and considering some of the implications should the same rationale be used consistently as the basis for the temporary or permanent cessation of OTP operations in other situations.

Good faith and cooperation

Bensouda’s statement to the Council is worth reading in its entirety as a striking example of straightforward truth-telling in a setting so often filled with obfuscating diplomatic language. But in terms of using the statement to extract criteria the OTP could use to decide whether to stop its activities in other situations, there are a few key excerpts to focus on.

The Prosecutor is clearly frustrated by the lack of arrest warrant enforcement, stating that “What is needed is a dramatic shift in this council’s approach to arresting Darfur suspects.” But her concerns also seem to extend more broadly.

“In the almost 10 years that my Office has been reporting to the Council, no strategic recommendation has ever been provided to my Office, and neither have there been any discussions resulting in concrete solutions to the problems we face in the Darfur situation.”

It seems reasonable to assume that her reference to “the problems we face” includes not only the lack of arrest warrant enforcement, but also the lack of cooperation and denial of access that has plagued the Court’s Darfur investigation. As Sarah Nouwen details in her excellent book on the ICC and complementarity, the Sudanese government has refused all communications with the Court since the first Darfur warrants were issued back in 2007.

Of particular note in the above excerpt is the focus on effort, in addition to results. The Prosecutor is seeking warrant enforcement and “concrete solutions.” Yet in bemoaning the absence of even recommendations by the Council to the Court, she also seems to suggest that a good faith effort by the Council to work with the Court throughout the duration of its Darfur investigation would have gone a long way toward convincing the OTP to continue its activities in the situation. (more…)

New Essay: The Use and Abuse of Analogy in IHL

by Kevin Jon Heller

I have posted a long new essay on SSRN, my contribution to a fantastic collection of essays that OJ’s own Jens Ohlin is editing for Cambridge University Press, The Theoretical Boundaries of Armed Conflict & Human Rights. The essay is entitled “The Use and Abuse of Analogy in IHL,” and here is the abstract:

It is a truism to say that conventional international humanitarian law (IHL) regulates international armed conflict (IAC) far more extensively than non-international armed conflict (NIAC). In IAC, conventional IHL authorizes both targeting and detention and carefully circumscribes their use. In NIAC, by contrast, conventional IHL is silent on the authorization for targeting and detention and imposes only rudimentary limits on when individuals may be targeted or detained.

Like nature, however, international law abhors a vacuum. Many of the gaps in the conventional IHL of NIAC have been slowly filled by custom; the ICRC has concluded that 138 of the 161 customary rules of IHL now apply in both IAC and NIAC – nearly 86%. As a result, it is now common for scholars to claim that, with the notorious exceptions of the combatant’s privilege and POW status, very few critical differences remain between IAC and NIAC concerning the applicable rules of IHL.

From a positivist perspective, the gradual harmonization of IAC and NIAC through convention and custom is unproblematic, because both are formal sources of international law. Since 9/11, however, the United States has consistently taken the position that certain IAC-based rules of IHL can be applied in NIAC via a third method: analogy. The U.S. has argued, for example, that it can target members of any organized armed group that would qualify under IAC rules as a “co-belligerent” of al-Qaeda.

In assessing the legitimacy of such analogies, it is tempting to focus on whether it makes sense to apply a particular IAC rule in NIAC. Is the Haqqani Network’s relationship with al-Qaeda really equivalent to Italy’s relationship with Nazi Germany? Emphasizing the substantive “fit” between IAC and NIAC, however, simply obscures a more fundamental question: where does the U.S.’s authority to analogize between IAC and NIAC come from?

That is a critical question, for two reasons. First, targeting and detention potentially violate the human rights of the individuals they affect. As the International Law Commission has noted, it is not enough for targeting or detention to qualify as a legitimate act of self-defence under Art. 51 of the UN Charter; that targeting or detention must also be consistent with either IHL or international human rights law (IHRL), depending on which legal regime applies. Second, because all of the targeting and detention activities that occur in the NIAC between the U.S. and al-Qaeda take place extraterritorially, each U.S. use of force and each capture operation potentially violates the sovereignty of the state on whose territory it takes place.

Put more simply, by relying on analogized rules of IHL to justify expanded targeting and detention of al-Qaeda, the U.S. potentially runs afoul of a number of prohibitive rules of international law: the principle of non-intervention; the prohibition on the use of force; and IHRL prohibitions on the arbitrary deprivation of life and liberty. What, then, is the legal basis for those analogies?

This chapter’s answer is straightforward: nothing. There is no basis in international law for taking rules of IHL that exist as a matter of convention and custom only in IAC and applying them in NIAC by analogy – which means that the U.S. is systematically violating international law by relying on those analogized rules to target and detain extraterritorially.

I am very rarely happy with essays when I finish them, but I’m quite happy with this one. I’m sure many people will disagree with it, and I’ve likely made plenty of mistakes. But I think the essay addresses a number of difficult issues in IHL/IHRL that deserve further discussion. If I can provoke debate, I’ll be happy.

As always, comments, criticisms, and ad hominem attacks are welcome.

PS:  I should note that the essay was inspired by, and provides a response to, my friend Ryan Goodman’s excellent 2009 article in AJIL, “The Detention of Civilians in Armed Conflict” (pdf here). I highly recommend reading his article before reading my essay.

Guest Post: On Cuban Normalization

by Larry Cata Backer

[Larry Catá Backer is W. Richard and Mary Eshelman Faculty Scholar Professor of Law and International Affairs at Penn State Law.]

On December 17, 2014, the Presidents of the United States of America and of the Republic of Cuba announced an intention to move toward the normalization of relations between their countries. The two statements reflected the quite distinct conceptual frameworks from which they originated, and the aspirations and tastes of the elites whose approvals were a necessary predicate for such action. These frameworks can coexist unchanged only in the abstract, and are well reflected in the Presidential statements. Yet both views are so distorted by their own ideological self-references that each continues to evidence both the self-destructiveness and the irrelevance that has marked the policy of each against the other since the early 1960s.

Cuba remains fixated on the history ending moment of the triumph of its revolution of January 1, 1959, which marked not only the sweeping away of the old order, but also the installation of a new order that required no further improvement. The Revolution required defense and protection, not development or implementation. One can follow the rhetoric and policy of the Cuban Communist Party (CCP) since the 1960s as one long arc of efforts to maintain, protect and sustain a status quo set on that day that marked the moment of the triumph of the Revolution. This “freeze-time” conceptual baseline also characterized certain elements of the Cuban-American community for whom Cuba ceased to exist in time from the moment of the flight of the Batista regime. Cuba, politically at least, never moved from a revolutionary to a post-revolutionary society. Its state and party apparatus, unlike those of China and Vietnam, never transitioned from revolutionary to party in power. This Cuban policy of defensiveness is as much reflected in its state constitution as it is in the subtext of President Raul Castro’s speech announcing normalization. Its cultural, economic and social dimensions are deeply stamped onto Cuban society and governmental policy.

It is here that Cuba has been its own worst enemy. Its culture is tethered to January 1959 (and tourists seem to enjoy this museum experience even as younger generations of Cubans chafe at the institutional manipulations that force them to sterile reproduction especially for the benefit of tourists). Its economic model is tethered as well to the central planning system of Eastern European satellites of the 1970s. The CCP appears to have become no more than the caretakers of an ideological museum; its bureaucracy, still substantially loyal to Fidel Castro’s brand of European Stalinism, now has become a more potent enemy of Cuban reform than anything hurled at Cuba by the U.S. or by U.S. public intellectuals and politicians now arrayed against normalization. This is no idle supposition. The Cuban legal and administrative system appears to be moving toward rules based standards. But it is applied only through the exercise of discretionary authority. Every action requires application, review and permission. Substantial legal reform will be necessary before many of the benefits of normalization may be realized. Cuba’s hostility to global markets, and to the framework of globalization, will continue to hamper efforts to plug into global finance and commerce even without the impediments of the U.S. Embargo. Until the CCP cease fighting their revolution and start governing forward Cuba will continue to face problems that normalization will not solve.

For its part, the US remains fixated on the vapors of an old imperial project from 1898. That old imperial project is augmented by the perversities of a strain of elite Cuban-American policy orientation that is also fixated on January 1, 1959, which has become a part of the ossified mixture of policy premises that have marked U.S. thinking about Cuba since the early 1960s. Like their Cuban counterparts, some influential Cuban American elites have frozen Cuban policy to that revolutionary magic moment. References to the now nearly mythological Cuban Republic before 1959 serve as a touchstone for plans that are grounded in teasing out variations of “what-ifs” all projected from 1959 and on erasing the events between then and now. Even as Cuban American culture, interests, sensibilities and tastes change, the structures of Cuban American policy remain stuck in “restoration” sensibilities. That restoration-centered view dovetails nicely with the ideologically driven foreign policy predilections of the United States, and its cold war era ideological internationalism. For the U.S., that still means regime change. We are told that the reason for the change in policy is that the embargo had not worked. We are not told that the U.S. has abandoned the objective—indeed, President Obama’s statement made the point quite clearly that the opposite is true. American citizens, businesses, and civil society, are now encouraged to descend on the Republic, with the sense that these interactions themselves will produce movement toward change. Yet that is precisely what the Cuban state fears most. That element of control of the internal choices of a nation that the United States has sought to own, control or manage since the mid 19th century, provides a troubling foundation for normalization. But it is not surprising. Still, for the U.S., the benefits of normalization may have little to do with Cuba itself. For the President, it represents another point of confrontation with his Republican Party adversaries. Along with changes to immigration, normalization serves as a provocation to his political rivals and a dare to challenge his actions either by legislation or in the courts. In either case, the differences between the political parties can be more sharply drawn for the upcoming presidential elections and the Republican Party painted as obstructionist. U.S. business may remain wary as long as the 1960s expropriation claims remain unresolved. Yet they will be warier of Cuba’s current inability to finance its transactions than by past business wrongs.

This is not to minimize the importance of the changes to come. The influx of people from the U.S. will restore a balance of interaction cut off in the early 1960s. The influx of goods, brought in the suitcases of thousands of travellers, will effectively create secondary and wholesale markets for goods (though distorted by the technologies of import on a micro scale) that the Cuban bureaucracy had been able to resist even as Raul Castro sought a more vigorous approach to economic reform in 2011. Miami may continue to serve as the thought and culture leader for the greater Cuban community, including those in Cuba, though now that cultural relationship will be more open and may run more effectively in two directions. Cultural exchanges will drive development of the arts in both states in new directions with less connection with a preservationist ideal. Normalization will put U.S. relations with its Latin American neighbors on a sounder footing. It will liberate U.S. policy from the burden of Cuba as the US. seeks to deal with major Latin American states. It might reduce the impact of the socialist regional trading block. For Cuba, normalization brings the possibility of stability during transition. It might stem the tide, now about 1,000 able bodied persons a day, from a nation whose demographic profile looks more like that of Japan than of a developing state. And it will provide hard currency and goods for secondary markets that Cuba needs badly. And it may provide the discipline of markets to Cuba without threatening the core socialist premises on which the state is now organized (this last point to the chagrin of many in the United States). But mostly, perhaps, it will permit Cuba to develop as it chooses, however much that may conflict with the interests of others, without fear of direct U.S. threat.

However, the changes that normalization might bring will come despite rather than because of changes in public policy. Cuba and the U.S. remain their own worst enemies in the process. Powerful internal forces in both states may well derail the move. Normalization threatens, for both, the foundations of their foreign and domestic policies relative to the other. It will require Cuban-U.S. relations to move back into time and beyond the asphyxiating grip of January 1959. Cuba will have to undertake the difficult task of reshaping its political culture so that it becomes forward moving again, even within the parameters of Marxist-Leninist organization. That may require dismantling its antiquated economic system in favor of something more sustainable. The United States will have the equally difficult task of reducing its interference in the internal affairs of its neighbor. The U.S. might do better to pursue the pragmatic business of business rather than the business of regime change in its relations with Cuba. With a maturing architecture of business and human rights, developed out of the U.N. Human Rights Council, conformity to international norms in its economic activities might serve as a better venue for developing human rights based behaviors than the ideologically driven mania for photo-op elections that seems to have fouled U.S. foreign policy these last several decades.   Undertaken slowly, in measured and rational steps, it may be possible to make good the small promise set out in the normalization messages of both Presidents.

Is the “Norm” Against Torture Dying (At Least in the U.S.)?

by Julian Ku

Christopher Kutz, Professor of Law in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program at Berkeley Law School, has a fascinating new essay examining the possibility that “norms” against torture and assassination have died in the United States in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.  Kutz is not writing to support the CIA interrogation program or the US government’s use of assassination, but he does think that, as a descriptive matter, the rules against torture and assassination may be dead or dying in the U.S. He suggests that democracies have a limited ability to maintain commitment to these kinds of norms because of a democracy’s “sensitivity” to public mobilization.  Eric Posner has a typically interesting response to Kutz here.

I don’t know if the norm against torture is dead in the U.S., but I will say that the U.S. public appears completely unmoved by the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s very critical report on the CIA interrogation program.  A raft of new polls shows that the U.S. public’s support for an absolute ban on torture remains relatively low, while a majority, or perhaps a strong plurality, support the actual CIA program and methods that was so harshly criticized by the Senate Report.  See the WSJ/NBC poll here.  See the Pew Research Survey poll here.  We can quibble about the details, but those post-Senate Report polls show almost no change from pre-Senate Report polls.

I emphasize again that the U.S. public’s support for the CIA program does not in any way justify the legality or the morality of the program.  But the public’s failure to support a ban on torture, especially the absolute ban on torture embedded in international law and U.S. law, cannot be ignored either.  It suggests there is little chance of a prosecution over the CIA program, and it really poses a tough challenge for international lawyers. What should the response of international lawyers be when public opinion in a democracy refuses to support a central key rule of international law?  As Kutz’s paper suggests, this whole episode suggests widely accepted international law norms can be fragile, even (or especially) in liberal democracies.

 

Do Attacks on ISIS in Syria Justify the “Unwilling or Unable” Test?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Almost three years ago to the day, I critiqued an article by Ashley Deeks that argued the right of self-defence under Art. 51 of the UN Charter extends to situations in which states are “unwilling or unable” to prevent non-state actors from using their territory to launch armed attacks. As I noted in my post, Deeks herself admitted that she had “found no cases in which states clearly assert that they follow the test out of a sense of legal obligation (i.e., the opinio juris aspect of custom).”

When Deeks wrote her article, ISIS did not yet exist — and the US and other states had not started attacking ISIS in Syria. It is not surprising, therefore, that Deeks is now relying on the international response to ISIS to argue, in the words of a new post at Lawfare, that “the ‘unwilling or unable’ test is starting to seem less controversial and better settled as doctrine.”

There is no question that the US believes the “unwilling or unable” test is consistent with Art. 51. As Jens noted a few months ago, the US officially invoked the test with regard to ISIS and the Khorasan Group in a letter to the Security Council. Moreover, the UK seems to agree with the US: according to Deeks, the UK submitted a similar Art. 51 letter to the Security Council, stating that it supports international efforts to defend Iraq “by striking ISIL sites and military strongholds in Syria” — a position that, in her view,”implicitly adopts the ‘unwilling or unable’ test.”

Deeks does not provide a link to the UK letter, but I have little doubt she is characterizing the UK’s position accurately. I have significant issues, though, with the rest of her post, which argues that three other factors related to the international response to ISIS support the “unwilling or unable” test. Let’s go in order. Here is Deeks’ first argument:

[S]tates such as Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE, which also have undertaken airstrikes in Syria, presumably are relying on the same legal theory as the United States and UK.  (That said, those states have not proffered clear statements about their legal theories.)

There are two problems with this claim. To begin with, even if the four states are relying on “unwilling or unable” to justify their attacks on ISIS in Syria, they have not said so publicly — which means that their actions cannot qualify as opinio juris in support of the test. The publicity requirement is Customary Law 101.

More importantly, though, and pace Deeks, it is actually exceptionally unlikely that these states support the “unwilling or unable” test. All four are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which has consistently rejected the test, most notably in response to Turkey’s cross-border attacks on the PKK in Iraq (see Ruys at p. 431):

We strongly condemn the repeated actions of Turkish armed forces violating the territorial integrity of Iraq under the pretext of fighting guerrilla elements hiding inside Iraqi territory. … We also reject the so-called ‘hot pursuit’ measures adopted by Turkey to justify such actions that are abhorrent to international law and to the norms of practice amongst States.

To be sure, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE have not rejected the “unwilling or unable” test since 9/11 — the statement by NAM above was made in 2000. But there is little reason to believe that their understanding of Art. 51 has fundamentally changed over the past decade. On the contrary, all four are also members of the Arab League, and in 2006 the Arab League formally rejected the “unwilling or unable” test in the context of Israel’s attacks on Hezbollah in Lebanon (see Ruys at p. 453).

Here is Deeks’ second argument:

Iraq vocally has supported strikes within Syria.

This is not surprising, given that ISIS is using Syria as a base for attacks on Iraq. But does Iraq’s support for airstrikes on ISIS in Syria count as opinio juris in favour of the “unwilling or unable” test? I doubt it. After all, not only is Iraq a member of the Arab League, it consistently denounced Turkey’s attacks on PKK bases in its territory between 2007 and 2008 as inconsistent with its sovereignty (see Ruys at p. 461). Iraq’s attitude toward the “unwilling or unable” test thus seems driven exclusively by political opportunism; there is no indication that it considers the test to represent customary international law.

Here is Deeks third argument:

Syria itself has not objected to these intrusions into its territory.

This factor seriously complicates Deeks’ argument. Another word for “not objecting” is “consenting.” And if Syria is consenting to attacks on ISIS in its territory, it is problematic to simply assume — as Deeks does — that all such attacks provide evidence in favour of the “unwilling or unable” test. The US and UK may not want to rely on Syrian consent to justify their attacks. But it seems likely that Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE are relying on Syrian consent rather than Syrian unwillingness or inability to justify their attacks on ISIS in Syria — particularly given their traditional narrow understanding of Art. 51.

Finally, it is important to note what Deeks says immediately after claiming that “[i]In view of these developments, the ‘unwilling or unable’ test is starting to seem less controversial and better settled as doctrine”:

Whether other European states ultimately commit to airstrikes in Syria will be informative; to date, states such as France, Denmark, and Belgium only have provided support to strikes against ISIS within Iraq, not Syria.

This is an important admission, because it means that a member of P-5 and two other important Western states have suggested they are not comfortable with using the “unwilling or unable” test to justify attacks on ISIS in Syria.

So, to recap: the US and UK clearly support the “unwilling or unable” test; Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, and the UAE are likely basing their willingness to attack ISIS in Syria on Syrian consent; Iraq has a completely opportunistic approach to the “unwilling or unable” test; and France, Denmark, and Belgium seem to reject the test, even if they have not done so explicitly.

And yet we are supposed to believe that the “unwilling or unable” test “is starting to seem less controversial and better settled as doctrine”?

Game On with New Player? Vietnam Files Statement Against China at UN Arbitral Tribunal

by Julian Ku

The government of Vietnam appears to have filed a statement of its legal views with the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea arbitral tribunal formed to resolve the Philippines-China dispute in the South China Sea.  It is a little unclear exactly what Vietnam has filed.  According to its Ministry of Foreign Affairs website:

In response to the question on Viet Nam’s position regarding the South China Sea Arbitration case, spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Viet Nam Le Hai Binh affirmed that:
“To protect its legal rights and interests in the East Sea which may be affected in the South China Sea Arbitration case, Viet Nam has expressed its position to the Tribunal regarding this case, and requested the Tribunal to pay due attention to the legal rights and interests of Viet Nam.”/.

According to the South China Morning Post, the Vietnamese submission has three points.

1) It supports the Philippines on the question of the tribunal’s jurisdiction.
2) It asks the tribunal to give due regard to Vietnam’s legal rights and interests
3) It rejects the legality of the Chinese “nine-dash line”.

I think this filing has much more political than legal significance.  As a legal matter, I don’t think there is any procedure in the UNCLOS dispute settlement system for third-party interventions, so I think this is really just like sending a letter to the arbitral tribunal.  It has no legal significance, and the tribunal has no obligation to consider it. But of course, it has the right to do so if it believes it is relevant to the dispute before it.

On the other hand, this is a political victory for the Philippines, since it means that Vietnam has tacitly agreed to join a common front against China.  I remain skeptical (as I wrote yesterday) of the Philippines’ legal strategy, even with this support from Vietnam, because China has the same arguments against Vietnam and it will not likely change course.   The next question: Will Vietnam file its own legal claim and form its own arbitral tribunal? That might push China into a different response, but I would still bet against it.