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The Parochialism of Western Cosmopolitanism in a Competitive World Order

by Anthea Roberts

[Professor Anthea Roberts of Australian National University is the author of numerous publications, including the topic of our joint symposium this week: Is International Law International? This is the first of several posts over the next two days on the argument in her book and reactions to it.]

We are familiar with the question: Is international law law? In my new book, I ask instead: Is international law international? Not particularly, is my answer—at least, not in the way that it tends to be conceptualized by international law academics in different states and in the international law textbooks and casebooks that they use.

When asked to reflect on the professional community of international lawyers, Oscar Schachter memorably called it an “invisible college” whose members were “dispersed throughout the world” yet “engaged in a continuous process of communication and collaboration.” But in rendering that college visible, I find that international lawyers may be better understood as constituting a “divisible college” whose members hail from different states and regions and who often form separate (though overlapping) communities with their own understandings and approaches.

In tracing these divisions and considering their consequences, I make three arguments. First, international lawyers are often subject to differences in their incoming influences and outgoing spheres of influence in ways that affect how they understand and approach international law. Second, actors, materials and approaches from some states and regions have come to dominate certain transnational flows and forums in ways that make them disproportionately instrumental in constructing the “international.” Third, existing understandings of the field are likely to be disrupted by factors such as changes in geopolitical power, making it increasingly important for international lawyers to understand the perspectives of those from unlike-minded states.

My book invites international lawyers to look in the mirror to discern and become more reflective about their blind spots and parochialism. It encourages international lawyers to recognize and speak openly about some of the socializing factors, incentives and power dynamics that shape their divisible college. It suggests that they try to see the field through the eyes of others and to diversify their sources, networks and perspectives. This call is particularly appropriate for Western international lawyers—myself included—who often study, work and publish in a Western bubble, which makes it harder for us to understand and adjust to the newly emerging competitive world order.

From National to Western Parochialism 

In an earlier blogpost titled “With Blinders On?” on Just Security, I argued that US international law often gives the impression of being US foreign relations law under a different name. By way of example, I pointed to how unusually nationalized US international law casebooks were in terms of how heavily they relied upon US cases, executive practice, legislation, academics and publications. This national focus both reflects and reinforces what Samuel Moyn has insightfully described as the “Parochialism of American Cosmopolitanism.” US insularity has many causes and consequences, from American power and exceptionalism to the locations where US international law academics typically study, work and publish.

It is common for other Western international lawyers to see such reports and feel a slight sense of glee or superiority. “Those crazy Americans,” many would say, with a knowing smile and a roll of the eyes, safe in the knowledge that they could not be accused of similar parochialism. Yet one thing that really struck home for me in this study was that though I and many of my Western colleagues were not guilty of national parochialism, we were exceedingly guilty of Western parochialism. This issue seemed to be a fitting one to raise on the European Journal of International Law’s blog and the US blog Opinio Juris.

Let me give you an example that follows from my case citation analysis on Just Security. In that piece, I pointed to how US international law casebooks were the only ones that contained a higher—and, indeed, significantly higher—percentage of cases from their own domestic courts (64%) than from international courts and tribunals (31%). To international lawyers from many other Western states, these results seem ridiculous. But what if one instead asks what percentage of all of the domestic cases cited—whether from a state’s own courts or from foreign courts—come from Western states, by which I mean states in the Western Europe and Others Group? Suddenly, the US books are no longer outliers.


Between 96% and 99.6% of the domestic cases cited in the most commonly used international law textbooks in these three Western states (France, the United Kingdom and the United States) come from—you guessed it—Western states. Like most international lawyers, I was aware of a level of Western bias in my field. Nevertheless, I was surprised by how stark it was when I started looking at the numbers. This pattern didn’t seem to deserve the moniker “international.”

Of course, one could leap to argue that perhaps this pattern just reflects the facts on the ground. The vast majority of domestic decisions on international law may actually have been issued in Western states, so this depiction simply reflects reality. I suspect that this is not the whole story. But even if it were, this circumstance should make us consider in more detail the biases built into the very metrics that we use when seeking to understand international law. To what extent do our metrics reflect the approaches to law we are used to dealing with domestically? And to what extent do they give us a skewed understanding of the world by focusing on some states over others?

As an English-speaking, common-law-trained lawyer, I never thought it odd when I first studied international law that an important way to understand the field was through case law, both domestic and international. This study made me much more conscious of the fact that when one applies this metric, it results in outsized emphasis on the practice of Western, democratic states in general, and English-speaking, common-law ones in particular. At the same time, this metric renders almost invisible the practice of non-Western, non-democratic, civil law states. China and Russia have made important contributions to international law practice, but you won’t usually find it in their domestic courts.

Analyzing this issue among others helped me to realize that some of the approaches to international law that seem so natural to certain international lawyers can produce an effect equivalent to looking at the field through blinders. As with the US example above, this parochialism has causes and consequences, from Western power and exceptionalism to the locations where Western international law academics study, work and publish. That many Western international lawyers are trapped in a Western bubble will not surprise anyone from outside the West or those who have read or adopted Third World Approaches to International Law. But it is an uncomfortable reality that few in the West sufficiently acknowledge, let alone contemplate its possible consequences.

From Dominance to Disruption

The ideal of international law suggests that it is constructed by drawing equally on people, materials and ideas from all national and regional traditions. In reality, some national and regional actors, materials and approaches have come to dominate much of the transnational field and international lawyers’ understandings of the “international.” This point holds true for Western actors, materials and approaches in general, and Anglo-American ones in particular. The case law cited above represents a stark example of this pattern, but many others characterize the field as well, ranging from who appears before international courts and tribunals to which sources and practice these courts typically invoke.

Recognizing this situation made me wonder about how some of these patterns might be disrupted by forces such as changing geopolitical power. After the relative hegemony of Western international law approaches in the post–Cold War period, the world is entering into what I refer to as a “competitive world order” in which power is diffusing from West to East and from North to South.  In the coming decades, the international order is unlikely to be dominated by Western, liberal democratic states to the same extent as before. A significant standoff is also emerging between Western, liberal democratic states and non-Western authoritarian ones, most notably China and Russia, across multiple domains.

Three things have become clearer since I completed this book in late 2016. First, the United States and the United Kingdom have seriously stepped back from their position as global leaders following Donald Trump’s election and the Brexit vote. Anglo-American approaches that have featured so prominently in defining international fields in the last few decades seem to be quickly receding in importance. On many issues, from trade to climate change, the West is divided and weakened. American global leadership is in question and its prestige is tarnished.

Second, several non-Western states are more actively seeking to assert themselves on the international stage. China is a prime candidate, exemplified by President Xi’s endorsement of economic globalization and expansive Belt and Road project. But these aspirations underlie many other developments, such as the battle in the recent ICJ elections between India and its former colonial master, the United Kingdom, which led for the first time to a British judge not sitting on the Court. This vote represented a sea change, breaking the traditions of granting the P5 informal permanent seats on the Court and casting votes according to informal regional group quotas.

Third, states are more openly acknowledging the emergence of a new era of great-power politics and ideological competition. Specifically, the December 2017 US National Security Strategy describes a newly emerged “Competitive World” in which great-power competition has returned and it characterizes China and Russia as “revisionist powers” seeking to “challenge American power, influence, and interests” and to “shape a world antithetical to U.S. values and interests.”

In this new competitive global order, international lawyers of all stripes will need to develop a greater awareness of the diverse frameworks and narratives through which international law events are understood and arguments are made around the world. The first step in building this understanding is for international lawyers to diversify their sources and networks in an effort to see the world from different perspectives and through other eyes. The motivation for taking this step can be founded in cosmopolitan idealism (thinking international law should be more inclusive) or hard-bitten realism (along the lines of “know thy enemy”). Either way, knowledge is key, whether one ultimately accepts the alternative approaches as valid or not.

Developing such an understanding can be hard for Western international lawyers because often where we study, work and publish adds little to diversifying our perspectives. Just as those sitting in the United States often find it hard to look beyond their national standpoint, so many Western international lawyers find it hard to look beyond their geopolitical perspective. Our networks and sources are typically not national, but neither are they fully international. Yet, as power becomes more disaggregated among a larger number of more diverse states, international lawyers will experience a heightened need to adopt a “comparative international law” approach to come to grips with these differences.

In seeking to develop such an understanding, international lawyers must also be aware that some transnational flows are likely to be asymmetrical, leading to different patterns of diffusion and knowledge. For instance, elite Chinese international lawyers are far more likely to study in Western states than vice versa. Thus, Western materials and approaches are more likely to be found in China than the reverse (the power of diffusion), but Chinese international law academics are more likely to exhibit broad comprehension of Western perspectives on international law than the reverse (the power of knowledge). As China becomes an increasingly significant international player, it will want to disseminate its own approaches to international law more widely, whereas international lawyers in the West will need to deepen their knowledge of China’s interests, interpretations and approaches.


International law aspires to be universal; but it is also, and inevitably, a deeply human product. No international lawyer can understand all aspects of the field from all viewpoints, myself included. We are all prisoners of our own networks, languages, education, histories and trajectories. For this reason, this book should be understood as a conversation starter rather than the final word on the subject. It seeks to render into words, and provide a framework for understanding and analyzing, experiences that many international lawyers have had and yet are often not spoken about or are confined to conversations over cocktails rather than deemed worthy of scholarly treatment.

It is this sort of dialogue that I am grateful to be starting with this thought-provoking collection of international lawyers. This book raises many questions and offers only some answers. I am not yet sure what it all means or where we go from here. As the very definition of a parochial English-speaking, Western international lawyer, I have much to learn and I look forward to seeing my book—and the transnational field of international law—through the eyes of my interlocutors.

The PTC’s Bizarre Request for Additional Information About Afghanistan

by Kevin Jon Heller

As Patryk Labuda noted earlier today on twitter, the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) has ordered the OTP to provide it with additional information concerning the investigation in Afghanistan. Here are the key paragraphs of the order:

3. The Chamber observes that the Prosecutor seeks authorisation to initiate an investigation for crimes committed on the territory of Afghanistan from 1 May 2003 onwards, as well as crimes committed within the context of the situation in other States Parties from 1 July 2002 onwards.2 However, the supporting material provided, particularly in relation to the structure, organisation, and conduct of the Afghan Forces – collectively referred to by the Prosecutor as Afghan National Security Forces or Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (“ANSF”) – mostly falls within the time period 2011 to 2014. Further, little to no information has been provided regarding the structure and organisation of the Islamic State operating in Afghanistan, also refer red to as “Daesh” or “Islamic State Khorasan Province”3. Similarly, the information provided with respect to the structure of the United States of America (“US”) forces falls mainly within the period of 2001-2008, with regard to interrogation policies of the US forces within the period of 2001-2006 and with regard to the conduct of US forces within the period of 2003-2011.

4. The Chamber is of the view that further information is required for the Chamber’s determination under article 15(4) of the Statute. Accordingly, it orders the Prosecutor to submit to the Chamber the following:

a. Any publicly available report from the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (“UNAMA”) on the treatment of detainees, apart from the reports from 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2017 already submitted;

b. Any publicly available report from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (“AIHRC”) on torture, apart from the report from 2012 already submitted;

c. The United Nations (“UN”) Secretary-General reports to the General Assembly on the topic: “The situation in Afghanistan and its implications for international peace and security”, from the years 2003, 2004, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017;

d. Any publicly available report from the UN Secretary-General to the General Assembly on the topic “Children and armed conflict in Afghanistan”, apart from the report from 2008 already submitted;

e. Further clarification and information, to the extent possible, about the structure and organisation of the Islamic State operating in Afghanistan; and

f. Further clarification and information, to the extent possible, about the structure of the US forces for the time period after 2008; for the interrogation policies of the US forces for the time period after 2006; as well as for the conduct of the US forces for the time period after 2011.

This is actually the second time that the PTC has asked for more information. On 5 December 2017, it ordered the OTP to provide it with “media reports and article 15 communications concerning allegations attributed to special forces of a number of international forces operating in Afghanistan,” as well as as a list of incidents where, in the OTP’s view, “there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes falling within the jurisdiction of the Court were committed during military operations conducted by international military forces.”

The first request made some sense, given that the PTC generally asked for information either possessed only by the OTP (the communications) or reflecting of the OTP’s internal analysis of the situation in Afghanistan (the list of incidents). The new request, however, is bizarre. To begin with, there is no reason that the PTC could not obtain the information in the first four categories itself, given that it specifically wants the OTP to provide it with “publicly available” information. I know for a fact that the judges have legal officers and access to google. Any reasonably competent researcher could obtain the relevant reports in an hour or so.

A similar criticism could be offered of category five — assuming that the request is not based on the PTC’s belief that the OTP has non-public information about the structure of IS — as well as of the first two requests in category 6. After all, the OTP’s information about interrogation policies comes largely from publicly available sources such as the summary of the Senate Torture Report.

The final request in category 6 — about the conduct of US forces after 2011 — makes some sense, given that the PTC is basically asking the OTP to justify its conclusion that there is a reasonable basis to believe US forces are responsible for mistreating detainees. But I share Patryk’s confusion about why the PTC thinks it needs that information to decide whether to authorize the Afghanistan investigation. Art. 15(4)’s “reasonable basis to proceed” standard is anything but onerous. Such a basis exists, according to Art. 53, as long as the available information (1) “provides a reasonable basis to believe that a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court has been or is being committed”; (2) admissibility is not an issue; and (3) there are no “substantial reasons to believe that an investigation would not serve the interests of justice.” There is no question that the OTP’s request for authorization satisfies requirements 1 and 3, and it cannot seriously be argued that complementarity — the first aspect of the admissibility requirement — counsels against opening the Afghanistan investigation. As the request itself notes, none of the relevant parties (the Afghan government, the US government, and the armed groups) have have investigated or prosecuted those most responsible for international crimes in Afghanistan.

Which leaves gravity, the other aspect of admissibility. The only plausible interpretation of the PTC’s order is that it does not think it can assess the gravity of the situation in Afghanistan without the requested information. But that makes little sense. Can it be seriously maintained that the collective actions of the Afghan military between 2011 and 2014, the actions of the Taliban and IS since 2003, and the actions of US forces and the CIA between 2003 and 2011 are not sufficiently grave to warrant a proprio motu investigation? I dare anyone to read the OTP’s superbly argued and documented 181-page request for authorization and reach that conclusion. (Especially when Afghanistan is compared to, say, the Burundi investigation, which the PTC had no trouble authorizing.)

To be sure, that does not mean the OTP has provided sufficient information concerning the actions of all of the parties at all of the relevant times. But that is where the final clause of Art. 15(4) comes in (emphasis mine):

 If the Pre-Trial Chamber, upon examination of the request and the supporting material, considers that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation, and that the case appears to fall within the jurisdiction of the Court, it shall authorize the commencement of the investigation, without prejudice to subsequent determinations by the Court with regard to the jurisdiction and admissibility of a case.

If the OTP brings a case against an individual whose criminal responsibility cannot be properly assessed without additional information of the kind the PTC wants, it can demand that information when the defendant challenges admissibility or the OTP seeks confirmation of charges. There is no reason why the PTC should demand that information now.

I have little doubt that the OTP will quickly comply with the PTC’s order. But there is no legal or evidentiary reason why it should have to. The PTC already has more than enough information at its disposable to authorize the Afghanistan investigation.

Yes, the Rule of Law Must Remain Central to the Debate on Trumpism

by Ian Seiderman

[Ian Seiderman is the Legal and Policy Director, International Commission of Jurists]

Andrew O’Hehir, an ordinarily astute analyst of US political skullduggery, adopts a contrarian posture when it comes to Trump, Trumpism and the rule of law. He thinks that all the brouhaha about trampling on cherished rule of law traditions misses the point. What’s so precious anyway, he suggests, about mutable law written by corrupt, unprincipled or ideologically charged politicians? Writing in Salon recently, O’Hehir characterizes the rule of law as “a poorly defined principle”:

It seems ludicrous to claim that anyone, of any party or any ideology, actually sees the law as a neutral or abstract force rather than a naked instrument of power.

Nothing has traditionally been more central to Americans’ quasi-religious understanding of their democracy than the importance of the rule of law, which can be broadly defined as the notion that laws should govern people rather than the other way around. (Spoiler alert: There’s an enormous paradox baked into that from the beginning, since it’s always people with power who make the laws in the first place.) That was essentially the basis for the constitutional separation of powers laid out by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, which was meant to ensure that the law itself would remain independent of those who enacted it, enforced it or interpreted it.

O’Hehir goes on to point out the obvious: that certain long discredited tenets like the absolute sacrosanctity of property rights and the natural order of slavery were once grounded in principles of law in the United States. He adds that it is in fact the contested political terrain of liberal democracies with their market economies that “produce [a] vision of the law as a neutral, independent and almost mystical force that stands outside the control of any person or any party.”

For those of us who consider the rule of law to be a near-universal principle that can operate comfortably within a broad – though hardly infinite – range of political and economic arrangements, O’Hehir’s arguments do not sit well. He is hardly the first commentator to assume that the “rule of law” is tantamount to “rule by law”: indeed there are advocates of this “thin” notion of the rule of law, epitomized by the writings of 19th century British jurist A.V. Dicey and the “Singapore model”. But this line of thinking ignores the now more dominant conception of the rule of law as not simply a value neutral construct addressed to forms and procedures, but a norm-laden overarching governance framework. (In fairness to O’Hehir, his point is ultimately that the rule of law is an elusive concept, not that it must mean rule by laws imposed by the powerful.)

While the normative concept of the rule of law has long antecedents, a watershed moment for its entrenchment in international law discourse was the Nuremberg and other legislation that emerged during the Third Reich. Thus the Justice Case (United States v- Alstoetter) before Military Tribunal III, the defendants that included judges, prosecutors and officials of the German Ministry of Justice could be held responsible for a criminal enterprise by the very fact that they enacted or enforced legal statutes and decrees, such as the Night and Fog decree. Respecting those perverse laws necessarily meant not respecting the rule of law.

The organization which I serve, the International Commission of Jurists, devoted the first 15 years of its existence during the 1950s and 60s, to defining what we then called the “dynamic” conception of the rule of law. The idea was that the rule of law is not an abstract notion, but necessarily tied to other legal and normative content, especially human rights principles. Rule of law was a broad organizing concept under which a range of correlatives principles could be grouped. And to O’Hehir’s point, those normative principles are quite apart from the underlying subject matter of particular statutory legislation or administrative rules at issue. This view has over time gained widespread international currency, promoted by leading judges, like the late Lord Tom Bingham, endorsed at the political level and serving the basis for major work from UN agencies such as UNDP and OHCHR.

A definitive enumeration of rule of law principles may have so far eluded universally accepted codification, but building on the historic work of the ICJ there have at least been attempts at enumeration. One example, where most of the elements are more or less uncontroversial, has the imprimatur of the States of the UN Rights Council. Its Resolution on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law, adopted in 2012, highlights, among many other elements, the principles of the separation of powers; legality; equal protection before courts and under the law; non-discrimination; accountability, including criminal accountability for human rights and IHL violations; the independence and impartiality of the judiciary; the subordination of the military to civilian authorities; access to justice; gender equality; and the right to effective remedies for rights violations.

Whether adherence to rule of law in this kind of progressive framing is by itself sufficient to address the myriad transgressions by Trump and his acolytes, is questionable, but it is certainly part of the equation. For instance, the idea that a State’s prosecution services must be functionally independent of the political arms of the executive is a well entrenched rule of law principle which Trump and his subordinates have certainly run over rough shod, especially in respect of the FBI and Special Counsel investigations on “collusion” and obstruction of justice. The fact that some administered laws could themselves theoretically run afoul of the rule of law or constitute poor policy is a critical but distinct issue that should not blind one to the indispensability of the rule of law itself.

Activating the Crime of Aggression: A Response to Stürchler

by Kevin Jon Heller

Nikolas Stürchler, the Head of International Humanitarian Law and International Criminal Justice Section at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, has a new post at EJIL: Talk! discussing the ASP’s decision to completely exclude states parties from the crime of aggression unless they ratify the aggression amendments — the “opt-in” position advocated by a number of states, most notably the UK, Japan, and Canada. The post is very long and quite technical, so I won’t try to summarise it. Basically, Stürchler argues that the judges are still free to adopt the “opt-out” position, because the Resolution “confirming” the opt-in position, despite being adopted by consensus, conflicts with Art. 15bis(4) of the Rome Statute, which reflects the opt-out position. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

What remains is an operative paragraph 2 that, like the second sentence of paragraph 5 of article 121 of the Rome Statute which it seeks to leverage, stands in contradiction to paragraph 4 of article 15bis of the Rome Statute. Paragraph 4 of article 15bis literally asserts that the Court has jurisdiction over a crime of aggression “arising from an act of aggression by a State Party, unless that State Party has previously declared that it does not accept such jurisdiction by lodging a declaration with the Registrar.” In this sense, it is somewhat difficult to argue that operative paragraph 2 is simply a case of interpreting or clarifying the crime of aggression amendments. If the intended point of operative paragraph 2 is to revise paragraph 4 of article 15bis, the problem is that it was not passed pursuant to the Statute’s amendment provisions. One could argue that the Assembly did no more than clarify that the second sentence of paragraph 5 of article 121 fully applies, thus conditioning the application of article 15bis on a State Party’s ratification or acceptance, but this nonetheless would seem to imply a revision of the plain reading of article 15bis.

Be it as it may, with the Assembly having achieved activation, it is now up to the Court to determine the extent of its jurisdiction over acts of aggression committed by nationals or on the territory of non-ratifying States Parties. It is for this reason that the reference to the independence of the judges in operative paragraph 3 is so important. Pending a clear pronouncement by the Court, the only way for any State Party to legally ensure that its nationals fall outside the remit of the ICC’s jurisdiction continues to be to file an opt-out declaration in accordance with paragraph 4 of article 15bis of the Rome Statute.

I want to make three quick points here. The first is that, in fact, Operative Paragraph 3 (OP3) of the Resolution is completely irrelevant to the jurisdictional question. The judges are independent because of Art. 40 of the Rome Statute; OP3 simply reiterates their independence. So the judges would have the right to decide on the jurisdictional question even if OP3 was not included in the Resolution. (In that regard, I’m not sure why the states promoting the opt-in position were so opposed to OP3. A paragraph that tried to take away judicial independence concerning the interpretation of the new crime of aggression would have been patently ultra vires.)

The second — and more important — point is that Stürchler’s argument about the conflict between Operative Paragraph 2 (OP2) and Art. 15bis(4) is remarkably selective. The underlying principle is that the ASP cannot adopt a provision that conflicts with an article in the Rome Statute unless it formally amends the Rome Statute itself. As he writes, “[i]f the intended point of operative paragraph 2 is to revise paragraph 4 of article 15bis, the problem is that it was not passed pursuant to the Statute’s amendment provisions.” I agree with the principle! But here is the problem: Art. 15bis(4) was also not adopted pursuant to the Rome Statute’s amendment provisions. Art. 121(5)’s second sentence “literally asserts” that, “[i]n respect of a State Party which has not accepted the amendment, the Court shall not exercise its jurisdiction regarding a crime covered by the amendment when committed by that State Party’s nationals or on its territory.” Art. 15bis(4)’s requirement of an opt-out thus can only apply to a state that has ratified the aggression amendments. If a state does not ratify the amendments, Art. 121(5) — which pre-existed Art. 15bis(4) — controls, the unamended Rome Statute applies to that state, and the Court has no jurisdiction over an act of aggression committed by that state’s nationals or on its territory.

This is not — or should not be — a controversial point. Not even the opt-out positions’s most fervent defenders claim that the adoption of Art 15bis(4) was consistent with the amendment provisions in Art. 121(5). Instead, they argue that the ASP agreed by consensus to apply only the first sentence of Art. 121(5), excluding the inconvenient second sentence. Stürchler’s own principle, therefore, means that the judges are perfectly free to ignore Art. 15bis(4) and apply Art. 121(5) as written — thus ending up with the same opt-in provision that OP2 is designed to confirm. Stürchler and the other opt-out proponents cannot have it both ways: either both OP2 and Art. 15bis(4) are valid (in which case opt-in applies) or neither of them are (in which case opt-in applies).

The third and final point is that Stürchler’s principle — that the ASP cannot adopt a provision that conflicts with an article in the Rome Statute unless it formally amends the Rome Statute itself — supports what I argued a few weeks ago: that the new weapons amendments adopted by the ASP apply to non-states parties even though the ASP declared that they do not. As I noted in that post, the ASP did not amend the Rome Statute to exclude non-states parties, as it did with the crime of aggression. Instead, the ASP simply confirmed its understanding that the new war crimes (covering the use of biological, fragmenting, and blinding weapons) would not apply to non-states parties. According to Stürchler’s principle, therefore, the judges are free to ignore the ASP’s declaration and apply the Court’s normal jurisdictional regime in Art. 12(2) to the new war crimes — which means that the Court has every right to prosecute the national of a non-state party who uses a prohibited weapon on the territory of a state party.

The Constitutional Conflict in Turkey: Is There Still an Effective Remedy for Human Rights Violations?

by Massimo Frigo

[Massimo Frigo is the Senior Legal Advisor of the International Commission of Jurists, Europe Programme.]

A legal dispute between first instance ordinary courts and the Constitutional Court in Turkey is leading the country into a major constitutional conflict and severely limiting the chance of people in Turkey to access effective remedies for human rights violations.

On 11 January, two criminal courts in Istanbul refused to apply the rulings of the Constitutional Court ordering a remedy for breaches of the right to liberty and freedom of expression of two journalists, Mehmet Altan and Şahin Alpay, detained on remand while under trial for terrorism offences and alleged links to the attempted coup of 15 July 2016.

As reported by Professor Başak Çalı, the lower courts based their decisions on their finding that the Constitutional Court had exceeded its scope of competence when assessing the reasons for the pre-trial detention of the journalists. They held that the Constitutional Court “has not been given powers to review and assess evidence in an ongoing trial”; that “review of the reasons for detention was contrary to the law that established the right to individual petition”; and that “first instance courts do not have to write all the reasons for continuing detention in an ongoing trial, as this may constitute evidence of judicial bias as to the outcome of the case.”(Başak Çalı, Will Legalism be the End of Constitutionalism in Turkey, Verfassungsblog). In addition, they refused to execute the rulings of the Court because they had not been published on the Official Gazette yet. This ground is now moot following publication on 19 January.

The soundness of the main ground of challenge, the lack of competence of the Constitutional Court, that closely tracks the prior statement by the Deputy Prime Minister, Bekir Bozdağ, must be seriously questioned.

As affirmed by article 148.1 of the Turkish Constitution:

The Constitutional Court shall examine the constitutionality, in respect of both form and substance, of laws, decrees having the force of law and the Rules of Procedure of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, and decide on individual applications.

The Constitutional Court has the power to annul laws on grounds of unconstitutionality when so requested by the President of the Republic, parliamentary groups of the ruling party or of the main opposition party, or one-fifth of the members of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, within 60 days from the publication of the law (articles 150-151 of the Turkish Constitution). Additionally, any Turkish courts may request the Constitutional Court to declare the unconstitutionality of a legal provision at stake in the case before it (article 152, Turkish Constitution).

Finally, in 2010, the Constitution was amended by popular vote to introduce a system of individual applications before the Constitutional Court for human rights violations. This reform enjoyed the political support of then Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. According the article 148.3 of the Turkish Constitution:

Everyone may apply to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that one of the fundamental rights and freedoms within the scope of the European Convention on Human Rights which are guaranteed by the Constitution has been violated by public authorities. In order to make an application, ordinary legal remedies must be exhausted.

By its plain language, this provisions means that if any individual in Turkey considers that his or her rights have been violated, she or he may bring this case to the Constitutional Court if no other effective remedy is available in the country.

If the Constitutional Court, in an individual application case, finds that a violation of human rights comes from a court’s decision, it must remand its decision to the lower court that must rule again in accordance with the ruling of the Constitutional Court (see, article 50 of the Law on the Constitutional Court).

This system was introduced to meet Turkey’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and to resolve human rights disputes domestically before bringing cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The European Court has faced severe stresses arising from a case overload particularly from Turkey.

The individual application remedy started to function in 2012. The European Court of Human Rights has considered that, at least as formally designed, it fulfills the procedural requirements of an effective remedy for human rights violations for the last years and has been dismissing a considerable amount of cases on the basis that this remedy offered by the Constitutional Court must be resorted to first (see, among others, Uzun v. Turkey).

Some of these dismissed cases were brought by former judges and public servants contesting alleged violations of the Convention arising under the current state of emergency instated following the attempted coup d’Etat of 15 July 2016 (see, among others, Mercan v. Turkey). They arose from the thousands of dismissals and detentions that followed the coup attempt.

Secondly, and exactly because this is a remedy of individual application or amparo on the constitutionality of a concrete situation and not only an abstract point of law, the Constitutional Court needs to review the assessment of evidence by lower courts in the same way as the European Court of Human Rights does. For example, in the cases of the detained journalists that have been at the heart of the current constitutional dispute, the Court had to assess whether their right to liberty was violated.

Pre-trial detention, under article 5 of the ECHR and article 19 of the Turkish Constitution, may be ordered only if there is strong suspicion of the persons having committed the offence, among other criteria. For example, in Stepuleac v. Moldova, the European Court went into this level of detail to assess the existence of “reasonable suspicion”:

  1. … the only ground cited by the prosecuting authority when arresting the applicant and when requesting the court to order his pre-trial detention was that the victim (G.N.) had directly identified him as the perpetrator of a crime … . However, it also notes that the complaint lodged by G.N. did not directly indicate the applicant’s name, nor did it imply that all the employees of the applicant’s company were involved … . Indeed, only T.G. and the applicant were arrested and not all the employees. …. It is to be noted that the applicant was never accused of condoning illegal activities on the premises of his company, which might have explained his arrest as Tantal’s director, but of personal participation in blackmail.

  2. Moreover, the Court notes that the domestic court, when examining the request for a detention order … , established that at least one of the aspects of G.N.’s complaint was abusive. In particular, his complaint of unlawful detention contradicted the official detention order issued by the deputy prosecutor of Chişinău. This should have cast doubt on G.N.’s credibility. The conflict he had with the company’s administration … gives further reasons to doubt his motives…..

How indeed could a court determine whether the right to liberty has been respected without reviewing the assessment of whether there was “strong suspicion” according to the evidence reviewed at first instance?

Thirdly, judgments of the Constitutional Court are final and “binding on the legislative, executive, and judicial organs, on the administrative authorities, and on persons and corporate bodies” (article 153, Turkish Constitution).

In countries that have constitutional courts, their judgments are always binding on all State powers and cannot be challenged, apart from bringing the case to a competent international authority, for example in respect of human rights violations.

It is far out of bounds for a lower court to tell a Constitutional Court what its scope of competency is. If lower courts are able to challenge the binding nature of the Constitutional Court’s decision – as happened in the Istanbul courts in January – a dangerous level of uncertainty runs throughout the legal system without any clear lines of legal authority. It means that no person may rely on a final judicial decision establishing what the law is in any domain regulated by law. The Turkish legal system in all its tenets, from criminal, civil, administrative and commercial law, becomes unpredictable, and open to arbitrariness in its functioning.

The Constitutional Court and its individual application system had represented a major advancement in terms of human rights protection in the Turkish legal system. Trusting its effectiveness, the European Court of Human Rights has since dismissed countless applications for violations of the European Convention on Human Rights for not resorting to this remedy first.

If lower judges in Turkey begin to disregard or distance themselves from the rulings of their Constitutional Court, the European is not likely to continue to regard the remedy as presumptively effective and there will be nowhere else for victims in Turkey to go to bring cases of allegations of human rights violations. Nowhere but Strasbourg …

No, There Is No International Legal Basis for the “Bloody Nose” Strategy

by Kevin Jon Heller

At Lawfare yesterday, two law professors at West Point defended the US’s right to attack North Korea if it tests another nuclear weapon or fires another missile into Japanese waters:

North Korea is extraordinarily close to becoming a . This very real possibility has reportedly resulted in the United States debating a limited military strike dubbed the “bloody nose” strategy. In effect,  would allow for a timely and proportional response against North Korean sites in the event of another nuclear test or missile launch. For , such a strike might include using force to target a North Korean missile site or a military base. The hope would be that such a strike would “” and “illustrate the high price the regime could pay for its behavior” without “igniting an all-out-war on the Korean Peninsula.”

In the authors’ view, “[t]here is a strong argument such a strike would be lawful” either as collective self-defense of Japan or as individual self-defense by the US.

I disagree.

The fundamental problem is that “another nuclear test or missile launch” would not qualify as an armed attack sufficient to give rise to the right of either collective or individual self-defense. The authors make no attempt to explain how another nuclear test would be an armed attack — which is not surprising, given that previous tests have all been on North Korean territory (with terrible consequences for North Koreans). And here is their argument concerning another conventional missile launch:

More difficult is determining whether North Korea’s current behavior justifies the limited military strike proposed in the “bloody nose” strategy. Consider, for example, another North Korean test in which it launches an unarmed missile into Japanese sovereign territory. Arguably, a test rocket without armed explosives is merely a delivery system, not a “weapon.” On the other hand, such a rocket is capable of causing “” and thus could be construed as a “weapon.” According to the and the , a “[b]ombardment by the armed forces of a State against the territory of another State, or the use of any weapons by a State against the territory of another State” is an act of aggression. Such a North Korean missile launch would seem to fall within this definition and could  as an armed attack.

On the contrary, such an interpretation would not be reasonable — even if we accept the idea that an unarmed missile is a weapon. Tom Ruys has carefully analysed state practice concerning when a de minimis attack qualifies as an armed attack for purposes of self-defense. Here is his conclusion (p. 155; emphasis mine):

In the end, customary practice suggests that, subject to the necessity and proportionality criteria, even small-scale bombings, artillery, naval or aerial attacks qualify as ‘armed attacks’ activating Article 51 UN Charter, as long as they result in, or are capable of resulting in destruction of property or loss of lives. By contrast, the firing of a single missile into some uninhabited wasteland as a mere display of force, in contravention of Article 2(4) UN Charter, would arguably not reach the gravity threshold.

The attack that the authors imagine — an unarmed missile fired into Japan’s territorial sea — is precisely the kind of attack that is not “capable of resulting in destruction of property or loss of lives.” That attack thus cannot give rise to the right of self-defense. Indeed, even the source that the authors cite, Karl Zemanek’s entry “Armed Attack” in the Max Planck Encyclopedia of International Law, rejects their insistence that an unarmed missile fired into Japan’s territorial sea could “reasonably be interpreted as an armed attack.” Here is what Zemanek says about de minimis attacks (emphasis mine):

In sum, it is submitted that regardless of the dispute over degrees in the use of force, or over the quantifiability of victims and damage, or over harmful intentions, an armed attack even when it consists of a single incident, which leads to a considerable loss of life and extensive destruction of property, is of sufficient gravity to be considered an ‘armed attack’ in the sense of Art. 51 UN Charter.

The authors’ claim that the US would be entitled to act in “collective self-defense” in response to an “armed attack” in the form of an unarmed missile fired into Japan’s territorial waters is also problematic. Here is their argument:

The 1960  of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan states “[e]ach Party recognizes that an armed attack against either Party in the territories under the administration of Japan would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional provisions and processes.” This treaty may provide a basis for the United States’ to engage in a limited retaliatory strike. One could argue that, pursuant to the 1986  out of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United States would have to obtain Japan’s affirmative consent before engaging in a strike against North Korea in collective self-defense. However, Article 51 certainly does not refer to any such prerequisite, and the ICJ’s conclusion in Nicaragua is . On a more practical note, it is highly unlikely  a collective self-defense strike by the United States.

It is not clear why the authors believe that Japan would not need need to specifically consent to “collective self-defense.” There are two possible interpretations of their argument: (1) the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation automatically provides the US with the consent it needs to “defend” Japan in case of an armed attack; (2) collective self-defense never requires the consent of the attacked state. The authors’ criticism of the Nicaragua judgment implies that they take position (2). As Ruys explains, however, state practice — from Jordan in 1958 to South Vietnam in 1965 to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 — indicates that collective self-defense is lawful only when the state with the right of individual self-defense requests it (pp. 88-89):

This brings us to the third and decisive reason why the conception of collective ‘defence of the other’, endorsed by the ICJ and a majority of legal scholars, holds the upper hand over the ‘defence of the self’ approach: customary practice provides virtually no support either for the requirement that a proximity relationship should exist, or for the idea that collective self-defence may be exercised absent the approval of the actual victim State. On the contrary, practice convincingly shows that a State which is the subject of an attack has a legal right to ask for military assistance.


In sum, in each case, what was deemed crucial was whether the actual victim State had a right of individual self-defence, and whether it approved of the actions of the assisting State. Of course, the assisting State will most often have some sort of interest in responding to the victim’s request; States seldom engage in military action out of pure altruism. Yet, practice makes clear that a proximate relationship is not a legal criterion; only the victim State’s approval is.

The stronger argument, then, is that the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation would automatically provide the necessary consent for US to engage in “collective self-defense.” Aurel Sari raised this possibility on Twitter last night. I am not convinced that the Treaty eliminates the need for Japan’s consent to armed force being used on its behalf. In particular, Art. IV provides that “[t]he Parties will consult together… at the request of either Party, whenever the security of Japan or international peace and security in the Far East is threatened,” which seems to contemplate acts of self-defense being undertaken only with the specific agreement of both Japan and the US. But Aurel’s argument must still be taken seriously, and it provides the only coherent basis for the authors’ position on collective self-defense.

(As an aside, I find very unconvincing the author’s casual assertion that “it is highly unlikely  a collective self-defense strike by the United States.” On the contrary, I think Japan would be quite likely to oppose the US responding to a unarmed missile attack by using force — even relatively restrained force — directly against North Korea. A North Korean response would be more likely to target Japan than the US. So Japan would have every incentive not to consent to “collective self-defense” in such a situation.)

Finally, I find very unconvincing the author’s insistence that the US is close to having an individual right of self-defense against North Korea:

Even without another missile targeting Japan, the United States could arguably rely on its own Article 51 individual right of self-defense to justify a “bloody nose” strike. While somewhat controversial, the United States interprets the individual right of self-defense to allow for a preemptive-but-proportional  when the need to do so is . In other words, if the United States determines North Korea’s behavior indicates a forthcoming attack it can act in self-defense before absorbing the first blow.

North Korea’s recent activities help support a preemptive self-defense argument. Despite extensive efforts by the international community, including through , and , North Korea continues to defiantly test powerful nuclear weapons and launch ballistic missiles. Furthermore, it has gone to great lengths to conceal its nuclear testing program by creating underground facilities and intricate . This behavior, coupled with North Korea’s pattern of  and  against the United States and other nations, makes a preemptive use of force seem more and more . As the North Korean threat increases and non-military measures are exhausted, it becomes reasonable to believe that the last opportunity for the United States to act is fast approaching.

There is no question that the US would have the right to act in self-defense to prevent an imminent attack by North Korea — anticipatory self-defense. But the authors seem to adopt an understanding of self-defence’s necessity requirement that goes well beyond the traditional Caroline standard of imminence, according to which the need to act must be “instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” They specifically argue for preemptive self-defense, a term that the US traditionally uses to describe self-defense against attacks that are not imminent.(The Bush doctrine is an example.) And they invoke the “last opportunity to act” test, which is not necessarily inconsistent with anticipatory self-defense, but can easily be interpreted to allow for preemptive self-defense, as Adil Haque nicely explains here.

If the authors are endorsing a view of self-defense that does not require an imminent attack, their position is clearly wrong. Here is Ruys again (pp. 336-38):

[T]here can be no doubt that even among States adhering to the “counter-restrictionist” view, support for self-defence against non-imminent threats is virtually non-existent. Apart from the fact that the sponsors of Operation “Iraqi Freedom” avoided this justification, it may be observed that many States, such as Germany, Japan, Switzerland, Uganda, Singapore or Liechtenstein, which professed support for anticipatory self-defence after 2002, nonetheless placed great weight on the imminence requirement. Germany, for instance, expressly denounced an erosion of the Charter framework and State practice via the notion of “preventive self-defence.” Likewise, the French politique de defense unequivocally “rejects… the notion of preventive self-defence.”

What is more, even the “traditional” adherents of the counter-restrictionist interpretation of Article 51 generally appear to uphold the imminence requirement. Despite bold statements by its Prime Minister on the need to adapt the UN Charter, Australia’s response to “In Larger Freedom” was rather cautious: it simply “[supported] reaffirmation by the Secretary-General that Article 51 of the Charter adequately covers the inherent right to self-defence against actual and imminent attack.” Israel called for an explicit recognition in the World Summit Outcome that States may use force in self-defence “in the event of both actual and imminent attacks.” As far as the British position is concerned, Attorney- General Lord Goldsmith in 2004 declared before the House of Lords that: “It is… the Government’s view that international law permits the use of force in self-defence against an imminent attack but does not authorize the use of force to mount a pre-emptive strike against a threat that is more remote.”…

[W]e may therefore conclude that the trend in State practice has been broadly similar to that in legal doctrine: support for anticipatory self-defence has increased, but has by and large restricted this concept to imminent threats.

By contrast, if the authors believe that an imminent attack is required but want to define “imminent” to include the “last opportunity to act” test,” they are not necessarily arguing for an unlawful version of self-defense. It depends on how broadly they interpret “last opportunity to act.” An acceptably narrow definition of the test does, however, seem inconsistent with the authors’ insistence that “[a]s the North Korean threat increases and non-military measures are exhausted, it becomes reasonable to believe that the last opportunity for the United States to act is fast approaching.” To begin with, although there is certainly cause for concern, North Korea does not seem particularly close to having the technology necessary to attack the US mainland with a nuclear missile. Moreover — and more importantly — despite its belligerence and bluster, there is little evidence that North Korea actually wants to attack the US, much less intends to do so as soon as possible. North Korea has long had the ability to launch a conventional attack against numerous US installations overseas — and probably now has the ability to reach the US mainland with a conventional missile. Yet no such attack has ever taken place.

Is it possible that, at some point, the US will have the legal right to attack North Korea in self-defense? Absolutely. But that time is not now — even if North Korea fires another unarmed missile into Japanese territorial waters. And there is little reason to believe that the “last opportunity for the United States to act is fast approaching.” Any argument at present for the “bloody nose” strategy, therefore, is both legally unsound and profoundly counterproductive.

A Problematic Take on the Lubanga Trial

by Kevin Jon Heller

Justice in Conflict has a guest post today from a scholar who has written a book about the Lubanga trial. I think the post makes some excellent points about the problems with the trial. But I have serious reservations — acknowledging that I have not read the book — about the author’s take on why the trial did not focus on sexual violence:

Another [serious flaw] was the Chamber’s embargo on sexual violence. The matter of sexual violence loomed large in the trial not by its presence but by its absence. It became the trial’s trademark shame, a conspicuous token of the Chamber’s failure to place the substance of the Ituri province’s tragedy above the Chamber’s perpetual legal jousting. For most of the trial the Chamber did what it could to hear as little as possible about how frequently young women were raped and enslaved.

This is both unfair and mistaken. There is one reason, and one reason only, that sexual violence did not figure more prominently in the trial: Luis Moreno-Ocampo decided not to charge Lubanga with the relevant war crimes or crimes against humanity, choosing instead to focus exclusively on the war crime of conscripting or enlisting child soldiers. Here, for example, is what Patricia Viseur Sellers, a former Legal Advisor for Gender and prosecutor at the ICTY has to say:

Crimes of sexual violence were not charged. Such accusations were certainly within the purview of the Prosecutor. The Prosecutor could have brought charges related to sexual violence. Under the ICC Statute, enslavement, rape, torture, sexual slavery and inhuman acts are defined as crimes against humanity. In the Lubanga case, charges were brought under Article 8, war crimes, and as such could have included charges of torture, rape, sexual slavery or outrages upon personal dignity.

The Trial Chamber noted that they chose not to amend the charges. The Prosecutor could have amended the indictment at anytime prior to trial or even at a reasonable moment during the presentation of the prosecution case [to include charges for crimes of sexual violence]. The Prosecutor has suggested that to do so would have been detrimental to the due process rights of the accused. However, in the event of granting the Prosecutor’s move to amend, the Trial Chamber could have allowed the accused whatever time he needed to prepare his case in light of additional charges. That is a fairly standard procedure at other international tribunals.

Given Moreno-Ocampo’s decision to charge Lubanga solely with conscripting or enlisting child soldiers, the Trial Chamber had no choice but to limit the amount of testimony the prosecution could introduce regarding sexual violence. The Chamber explained why in paras. 629 and 630 of its judgment:

629. Notwithstanding the conclusions set out above, and given the submissions made at various stages of the proceedings, the Chamber needs finally to address how the issue of sexual violence is to be treated in the context of Article 8(2)(e)(vii) of the Statute. It is to be noted that although the prosecution referred to sexual violence in its opening and closing submissions, it has not requested any relevant amendment to the charges. During the trial the legal representatives of victims requested the Chamber to include this conduct in its consideration of the charges, and their joint request led to Decisions on the issue by the Trial Chamber and the Appeals Chamber (viz. whether it was permissible the change the legal characterisation of the facts to include crimes associated with sexual violence). Not only did the prosecution fail to apply to include rape and sexual enslavement at the relevant procedural stages, in essence it opposed this step. It submitted that it would cause unfairness to the accused if he was tried and convicted on this basis.

630. In accordance with the jurisprudence of the Appeals Chamber, the Trial Chamber’s Article 74 Decision shall not exceed the facts and circumstances (i.e. the factual allegations) described in the charges and any amendments to them. The Trial Chamber has earlier pointed out that “[f]actual allegations potentially supporting sexual slavery are simply not referred to at any stage in the Decision on the Confirmation of Charges”.1810 Regardless of whether sexual violence may properly be included within the scope of “using [children under the age of 15] to participate actively in hostilities” as a matter of law,1811 because facts relating to sexual violence were not included in the Decision on the Confirmation of Charges, it would be impermissible for the Chamber to base its Decision pursuant to Article 74(2) on the evidence introduced during the trial that is relevant to this issue.

Moreover, I think the author’s claim that “[t]he matter of sexual violence loomed large in the trial not by its presence but by its absence” is considerably overstated. Not only did sexual violence figure prominently in both the prosecution’s opening and closing arguments, as the Trial Chamber notes in its judgment, there was also considerable testimony concerning sexual violence during trial. The judgment points out in a footnote (n. 54) that 30 different witnesses, 18 female, 12 male, “referred to acts of sexual violence which they either suffered or witnessed.” And it discusses testimony given by one witness, P-0046, at length. Here is just a snippet of P-0046’s testimony:

890. According to the evidence of P-0046, all the girls she met at the demobilisation centres, except for a few who had been protected by certain women in the camps, told the witness that they had been sexually abused, most frequently by their commanders but also by other soldiers. Some fell pregnant, resulting in abortions; and there were instances of multiple abortions. The witness gave evidence that the psychological and physical state of some of these young girls was catastrophic.

891. The youngest victim of this sexual abuse interviewed by P-0046 was 12 years old. The witness stated that some of those who became pregnant were thrown out of the armed group and ended up on the streets of Bunia. Others went to join their relatives, and although they may have felt they remained part of the UPC, the latter failed to provide them with support. It was difficult to reintegrate them into their families because the girls were stigmatised, and significant mediation was necessary. The witness stated that the children provided her with a clear account of systematic sexual violence in the camps.

Should the Lubanga trial have included specific crimes of sexual violence? Absolutely. But the absence of those charges and the (relatively) limited testimony concerning sexual violence cannot be attributed to the Trial Chamber. If you are looking for someone to blame — and you should be — blame Luis Moreno-Ocampo.

NOTE: I have not addressed the victims’ efforts to add sexual-violence charges in the middle of trial. If you want to blame the Chamber for rejecting that request, fair enough. But I have already explained why I think the Chamber was correct.

Trump’s Threat of Destruction of North Korea and Proportionate Defensive Force: An Assessment of Similar Observations in Legal Scholarship and US Practice

by Sina Etezazian

[Sina Etezazian serves as Digest of State Practice Regional Coordinator for the Journal on the Use of Force and International Law. He recently completed his PhD at Monash University. His doctoral thesis was titled “Ambiguities Regarding the Necessity and Proportionality Criteria for the Exercise of Self-Defense in International Law”. In 2017, he won the 2016 Monash Law School Students’ Publication Prize for his article providing a detailed reappraisal of proportionate self-defense].

On 19 September 2017, President Donald Trump stated in the UN General Assembly that if the US is “forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”. This assertion appears to have constituted one of the most expansive positions the United States has taken during the UN era with regard to the scope of the right of self-defense in international law. The predominant academic view (see footnotes 84–5 and accompanying text) is that, like physical acts, individual statements that can be attributed to states may amount to evidence of state practice for the purpose of identifying and modifying a rule of customary international law. Trump’s threat of force against North Korea can thus be understood to provide evidence of US practice concerning the right of self-defense.

Of course, it is difficult to argue that Trump’s statement only applies to North Korea’s army. In contrast, this statement appears to extend to the whole country, including the North Korean civilian population, while it is clear that the law governing the use of force does not underpin such a broad reading of proportionate self-defense. However, Let us suppose for the sake of argument that President Trump only meant the destruction of North Korea’s army, rather than that of the whole country. This post clarifies why even this possible interpretation of Trump’s statement would run counter to the nature of the self-defense proportionality requirement.

It is worth emphasizing at the outset that – setting aside domestic criminal and constitutional law – the conduct of targeted killing and US officials’ legal arguments, as will be discussed in this post under the section “Drone strikes and non-compliance with proportionality since 2002”, implicate three distinct regimes in international law: international humanitarian law (IHL), international human rights law (IHRL) and international law on the use of force (the jus ad bellum regime) (see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. See also here and here). However, this post will focus only on the last; it does not entail a discussion of IHL and IHRL. Similarly, as this post aims to discuss the relevant practice exclusively in the context of the proportionality requirement, it does not address the content of the two other principal requirements for taking forcible self-defensive measures: “necessity” and “armed attack”. Nor does it aim to consider the concepts of “consent” and “intervention by invitation” and their applicability to the given situation.

Trump’s statement and Dinstein’s formula

Trump’s reliance on possible annihilation of North Korea’s army as being lawful defensive force, when examined through the lens of jus ad bellum proportionality, appears consonant with Yoram Dinstein’s observation that, in the event of a “war of self-defense”, the victim state not only is allowed to halt the large-scale attack that provoked the response but is permitted to engage in forceful measures to seek the “the destruction of the enemy’s army” (p 262). It is, however, noteworthy that Dinstein distinguishes small-scale armed attacks from an unlawful forcible action that prompted a “war of self-defense”. Accordingly, in relation to a minor forceful action, which typically occasions an “on-the-spot-reaction”, proportionality requires that the responding state must use force such that it causes harm only to the same degree as the initial attack. Yet, when a “war of self-defence” begins as a lawful response to an “all-out” aggression, Dinstein argues, the victim state is entitled to pursue the absolute military defeat of the attacker – that is, “the destruction of the enemy’s army”. This is because, in Dinstein’s view, there is no foundation in state practice for the idea that jus ad bellum proportionality continues to exist in a situation involving war, and that it has to be monitored constantly throughout the entire conflict. For this reason, Dinstein reiterates that, once a “war of self-defense” lawfully commences, given that a state is responding to a large-scale armed attack, that response need not be halted before the attacker is defeated except when the Security Council issues a binding resolution calling for the termination of hostilities (p 262). Dinstein’s characterisation of the destruction of the attacker’s army as being proportionate defensive force may thus be equated with Trump’s statement on 19 September 2017 with respect to the annihilation of North Korea’s army and the US’s right of individual and collective self-defense.

The nature of the self-defense proportionality requirement and Trump’s statement

As I have argued elsewhere, despite arguments to the contrary (see, for example, here p 235, 237, 240, 258, 262, 282; see also here), a detailed analysis of state practice concerning the self-defense proportionality requirement makes it possible to identify that states have mostly discussed this requirement in the context of the defensive aim of halting and repelling an attack. In other words, while in many instances of claimed self-defense actions, such as the 1964 UK aerial raid against Yemen, the 1965 US intervention in the Dominican Republic, Israel’s 1972 incursion of Lebanon and Russia’s 2008 action against Georgia, the reacting states have found the extent of the response and the level of casualties to be a relevant factor in measuring proportionality (see, for example, UN Doc S/PV.1108 (6 April 1964) pp 7–8, 10; “The Situation in the Dominican Republic”, Yearbook of the United Nations (1965) p 142; UN Doc S/PV.1644 (27/28 February 1972) p 19; UN Doc S/PV.1643 (26 February 1972) pp 3, 15; UN Doc S/PV.5953 (10 August 2008)), it appears that they have, to a certain degree, done so in the context of the purpose of halting the initial attack. This is demonstrated – at least to some extent – by the reaction of several states to the Israeli measures allegedly aimed at Hezbollah bases in Lebanon in 2006. Most of the states rejecting Israel’s assertion of self-defense highlighted the disproportionate nature of the action by reference to the extent of the harm inflicted on the infrastructure of the Lebanese state and the number of civilian victims. However, when the matter was addressed more thoroughly, it became clear that some states were underscoring the gravity of Israel’s action to argue that it had been disproportionate to the objective of self-defense, being the mere repelling of the initial attack (and possibly the impending attacks). Thus, the Russian representative expressed the view that “the scale of the use of force, the casualties and the destruction demonstrate that the actions stated for achieving this purpose go far beyond a counterterrorist operation” (UN Doc S/PV.5493 (Resumption 1) (21 July 2006)). Qatar took a similar stance, stating:

Everyone is fully aware of the grave situation in the Middle East; it has suddenly deteriorated as a result of the excessive use of military force by Israel against Lebanon on the pretext of self-defence. However, the greatest majority of the targets of the Israeli military aggression have been civilian targets, including the international airport, residential buildings, factories, power plants, bridges, highways and even grain silos and houses of worship. This leaves no doubt that the aim of this war goes beyond its stated objective (UN Doc S/PV.5493 (21 July 2006) 14).

Moreover, when reflecting on the definition of aggression during 1970–71, many states likewise clarified that jus ad bellum proportionality requires an action undertaken in self-defense to be weighed against the purpose sought by that action (See, for example, UN Doc A/AC. 134/SR. 67–78 (19 October 1970) pp 88, 89, 90, 89; UN Doc A/AC.134/SR. 79–91, (7 June 1971) pp 43–44). Similarly, Uganda, in the Armed Activities case in 2005, evaluated the proportionality of its response with respect to the objective of defense in the circumstances (Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v Uganda) rejoinder submitted by the Republic of Uganda, pp 121, 124–25. See also ibid, memorial of the Democratic Republic of Congo, para 5.26; ibid, reply of the Democratic of Republic of Congo, para 3.159). It is worth noting that this position was shared by the states parties in the Oil Platforms case (Oil Platforms (Iran v US) counter-memorial submitted by the United States of America, p 141; ibid, rejoinder submitted by the United States of America, para 174–76), although Iran ultimately shifted to a more quantitative approach. Furthermore, in 2008, Panama employed the same reasoning when contending that Russia’s response against Georgia was “disproportionate” to what had been stated as the legitimate aim of self-defense in the given case, namely “protecting Russian citizens” from the initial attack by Georgian troops (UN Doc S/PV.5953 (10 August 2008) p 15). It therefore appears that, based on an assessment of customary international law, a precise equivalence between the magnitude of the attack and the harm done is a not a necessary aspect of the proportionality criterion for defensive force. Nevertheless, a response that has brought about much greater loss and damage than the initial attack is unlikely to be viewed as proportionate self-defense, as it has clearly gone beyond the mere halting of the attack.

Returning to Trump’s threat of force against North Korea and his self-defense justification in the General Assembly, it thus seems clear that the overthrowing of the attacker’s regime or defeating its army would not constitute a proportionate response unless it could be demonstrated that, under the exceptional circumstances of the case, this was the only way to achieve the objective of halting the forceful activities that accounted for the necessity of defense. However, while the destruction of a state’s army might be proportionate to the aim of repelling a nuclear attack by that state, as Kevin Jon Heller observes, it is clear that Trump has threatened to destroy North Korea in response to “any attack” by this country against the US or its partner nations; any such possible forcible action by the US would clearly be disproportionate under the law governing self-defense.

Drone strikes and non-compliance with proportionality since 2002

President Trump explicitly clarified – at least concerning response to a possible attack by North Korea – that the US’s version of proportionate defensive action is predicated upon the notion of the destruction of the attacker’s army. An examination of its recent practice relating to the exercise of the right of self-defense against both states and non-state actors, however, reveals that the US has engaged in disproportionate forcible measures since 2002, when it initiated its first drone strikes beyond the Afghan combat zone.

This can be seen – at least in part – from the position taken by then-Legal Advisor for the US Department of State Harold Koh, who claimed in 2010 that the United States was permitted to carry out drone attacks outside Afghanistan because it was still involved in self-defense operations against the al-Qaeda and Taliban groups in a continuation of Operation Enduring Freedom, which had begun on 7 October 2001. In a similar vein, then-Deputy National Security Advisor for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan argued in 2012 that because the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, “it takes the legal position that – in accordance with international law – we have the authority to take action against al-Qa’ida and its associated forces without doing a separate self-defense analysis each time”.

However, the US managed to overthrow the Taliban regime and install an interim government, soon after it claimed defensive force in October 2001 to intervene in Afghanistan. Thus, even assuming that the removal of the Taliban government of Afghanistan could be regarded as proportionate self-defense, because it was necessary to effectively respond to al-Qaeda (for support of this view, see Lindsay Moir, Reappraising the Resort to Force: International Law, Jus ad Bellum and the War on Terror (Hart Publishing, 2010)), the aim of the defensive action had been achieved in the circumstances; this suggests that a separate series of unilateral forcible measures at least against the Taliban had required a separate justification based on Article 51 of the UN Charter. Despite this, the United States has extended its self-defense operations against the Taliban militants based in Pakistan since 2004, without providing a renewed self-defense assertion. It has continued to do so under the Trump administration.

Like Trump’s threat of force against North Korea, Koh’s and Brennan’s reasoning would appear to be based upon Dinstein’s formula of a “war of self-defense”, which maintains that “[t]here is no support in the practice of States for the notion that proportionality remains relevant – and has to be constantly assessed – throughout the hostilities in the course of war”. (For a similar viewpoint concerning John Brennan’s argument and its resemblance to Dinstein’s theory of the “war of self-defense”, see Kevin Jon Heller, “The Use and Abuse of Analogy in International Humanitarian Law” in Jens D Ohlin (ed), Theoretical Boundaries of Armed Conflict & Human Rights (Cambridge University Press, 2016) pp 252–4.) As regards the proportionality requirement in the exercise of self-defense, Trump’s statement cannot therefore be regarded as a total departure from the manner in which the US has invoked Article 51 to explain its drone strikes targeting alleged terrorists outside Afghanistan.


Trump’s reference to the possible destruction of North Korea’s army as permissible defensive action, coupled with the self-defense justifications advanced for the US’s wide-scale extraterritorial drone program since 2010, may reflect serious attempts to reinterpret and loosen the well-accepted rules on the principle of proportionality to the point of irrelevance. These expansive readings of self-defense, however, have never been endorsed by the rest of the international community or even the majority of them. On the contrary, the requirement of halting and repelling an armed attack still represents the only primary benchmark for the application of jus ad bellum proportionality. As noted above, this position is underpinned by an extensive reexamination of customary international law concerning proportionate defensive force, and such a reexamination provides a convincing rebuttal to the doctrine of a “war of self-defense”.

Some Thoughts on Negotiating a Treaty on Autonomous Weapon Systems

by Maziar Homayounnejad

[Maziar Homayounnejad is currently a PhD researcher at the Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London. His research primarily focuses on law of armed conflict aspects of autonomous weapon systems, with a secondary focus on arms control and non-proliferation.]

On November 13-17, 2017, the UN, acting under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW), convened its first Group of Governmental Experts meeting (GGE) on lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). After three detailed but informal meetings in 2014, 2015, and 2016, there were strong sentiments that mere informative discussion had run its course, and that the time was right to proceed with a more formal mandate, to “explore and agree on possible recommendations on options related to emerging technologies in the area of LAWS”.

Once confirmed, this raised expectations amongst some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that a ban on ‘killer robots’ may follow. However, as other commentators noted at the time, the formal mandate made no reference to negotiating a LAWS treaty, and this was clearly a result of divergent views within the CCW’s membership over how best to deal with LAWS. So, it may have been over-optimistic to expect anything other than continued talks, as a result of this move.

Fast-forward to the first GGE last November, and it remains clear that sharp divisions between States still bedevil the diplomatic process. As Denise Garcia explained in a recent piece, there are at least three groups of States with divergent positions.

  • Those, like China, Russia, and the US, which oppose a ban or any specific regulation in the near-term, but instead want continued talks on more basic issues, like arriving at a proper definition of LAWS.
  • A group consisting mainly of EU States, which advocates a path towards a politically binding agreement where the concepts of ‘autonomy’ and ‘human control’ serve as a foundation for future discussion.
  • The so-called Non-Aligned Movement, which consists of a large number of diverse States, and which tends towards either a ban treaty, or at least moratoria on the production and use of LAWS.

With significant States taking one position, and a group of smaller but much more numerous States going the opposite way, it is difficult to imagine any binding solution in the near-future.

Making matters worse is the rapid and unpredictable pace of technological change, which makes conventional attempts to regulate weapons particularly problematic when applied to LAWS; akin to trying to pin down a moving target. As Paul Scharre writes, much of the technology of AI and autonomy has gone from science-fiction to viable concept, just in the three years since the CCW began informal talks. On the one hand, this should not be a complete surprise, as the “perfect storm of parallel computation, bigger data, and deeper algorithms”, which is giving rise to stronger AI, was apparent even in 2014. Yet, the precise level of success and its sheer speed of arrival was not easily foreseeable back then. Now, neural networks can beat humans at poker and Go, and a genetic algorithm has triumphed over a human fighter pilot in a simulated aerial dogfight. The Report of the GGE also acknowledged this instability (see paragraph 16e of the main Report, and paragraph 29 of Annex II), which formed part of its reasoning for extending formal talks into 2018 (paragraph 17a).

Looking ahead, there are still some significant weaknesses in AI, but the pace and unpredictability of technological progress will very likely accelerate, and this may or may not resolve these shortcomings. In particular, developments in neuroevolution and newer applications of quantum physics in the defense and national security sphere seem set to create major technological disruption. Not surprisingly, this has raised legitimate questions on how best to approach a lagging (and somewhat divided) diplomatic process for regulating LAWS. The question is all the more important, now that the first week of the 2018 GGE has been confirmed and brought forward to February.

One solution – suggested by Scharre, and also several State delegations at the November GGE – is to move the focus away from the technology, and back to the one constant in war: the human. Namely, even if the technology was able to perform every task in the targeting process, what decisions do we believe still require uniquely human judgment, and why? Hence, what role would we still want humans to play in the application of lethal force? This argument is not necessarily new, but was advanced in various forms throughout the earlier informal meetings, not least by London-based NGO Article 36 in its ‘meaningful human control’ concept. The difference now is that it carries greater weight and urgency because of the bewildering pace of technological change, which will likely render any tech-specific instrument obsolete by the time it comes to be ratified.

On the other hand, Rebecca Crootof is less sanguine about a purely tech-neutral approach to LAWS regulation. In a recent Twitter discussion, she noted there are pros and cons to both tech-specific and tech-neutral approaches, and that a robust regime should incorporate both, to address known and unknown issues alike. Conversely, Crootof argued, if we restrict our focus to tech-neutral questions, we lose the opportunity to address the specific known problems.

Accordingly, the dual LAWS problem at the CCW would seem to be a) a deeply divided membership, and b) rapid technological change, which causes uncertainty over the continued viability of any negotiations, and over the extent to which there should be a tech-focus. This arguably calls for a departure from the standard CCW approach to weapons regulation.

In a recent paper published by the Transnational Law Institute at King’s College London, I examine various ways to ensure that LAWS can be developed, deployed and used in compliance with international humanitarian law. Specifically in relation to development (at pages 40-48), I argue in favor of an approach modelled on the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM). This imposes a strict and unambiguous ban in Article 1, with a very wide scope of application that appears to spell the death knell for ‘cluster munitions’. Interestingly, the CCM proceeds in Article 2(2)(c) to allow for technical developments, which the chapeau to the Sub-Paragraph presumes will “avoid indiscriminate area effects and the risks posed by unexploded submunitions”. This it does by excluding from the definition of the (prohibited) ‘cluster munition’ weapons that cumulatively possess five specific technical characteristics aimed at improving their reliability and accuracy (see technical criteria). According to the CCM Commentary, these criteria should avoid or sufficiently reduce the likelihood that (sub)munitions will create significant humanitarian problems.

The dual humanitarian problem of cluster munitions (as also gleaned from the second preambular clause) is understood to be “indiscriminate area effects” at the time of use; as well as the “risks posed by unexploded submunitions” when they fail to function as intended, or when they are left abandoned. By articulating these two problems that the subsequent technical characteristics are intended to avoid, the chapeau to Sub-Paragraph (c) serves an important dual role. It provides:

  • A justification for the exclusion of weapons that meet the five technical criteria; and
  • A potential mechanism for determining if these technical criteria function as intended (paragraph 2.120, CCM Commentary).

Namely, the chapeau links the definition of what is prohibited to the humanitarian effects that are the basis for prohibition and, as such, is an important legal innovation. While cluster munitions are not designed to create these humanitarian problems, Paragraph (2)(c) stipulates that (sub)munitions must be deliberately designed to avoid such effects if they are to escape prohibition. Accordingly, the Sub-Paragraph as a whole takes both a design-led and an effects-based approach, via inclusion of the technical criteria and the chapeau, respectively.

Importantly for the 2018 GGE, this turns out to be the most ‘LAWS-relevant’ part of the CCM. To transplant it into a LAWS treaty would enable lawyers to define the legal and humanitarian standards that autonomous technologies must reach to fully comply with IHL, leaving the programmers and engineers to try to build those systems. Should the state of technology fail to reach the prevailing legal standards, there will be a de facto ban on LAWS. Conversely, if and when the relevant technologies are able to perform to those standard, they will potentially be lawful. Accordingly, this approach may also help to allay some of the fears of the ban proponents, while also affording the more hesitant States an opportunity to demonstrate what specific technologies may be consistent with humanitarian standards, while offering genuine military utility; consistent with the well-established precautionary principle.

Thus, by drafting a rule similar to Article 2(2)(c), CCM, a LAWS regulation treaty could bring clarity in several ways.

  • Firstly, it can articulate the humanitarian risks posed by LAWS that are poorly designed, or otherwise not fit for purpose (similar to the CCM’s chapeau). These might include, for example, the ‘risk of indiscriminate attack’, ‘distinction failure’ and ‘insufficient civilian risk mitigation’, amongst others. In turn, this would provide a legal basis for the presumed permissibility of LAWS that are deliberately designed not to pose such risks.
  • Secondly, the rule can set specific technical criteria. Mainly, these will consist of baseline technical requirements for sensory, processing and computational capabilities, which are deemed necessary to obviate the humanitarian risks identified (similar to the CCM’s technical design criteria). However, it can also lay down specific context-based programming requirements (such as ‘conservative use of lethal force’); stipulate appropriate shut-off capabilities; and it can mandate intelligent reversion to remote piloting, where appropriate.
  • Finally, as LAWS are yet to be used in battle, the technical requirements and capabilities can be periodically compared with the statement of humanitarian risks, to ensure that they function as intended (similar to the second role of the Article 2(2)(c) chapeau). If they do not, it may be possible to amend the technical criteria at regular intervals, for example, using evidence-based data presented to a Meeting of State Parties or Review Conference (paragraph 2.38, CCM Commentary). Arguably, even in the intervening periods, there can be a duty on State Parties to do everything feasible to gauge the humanitarian effects of a given LAWS (using onboard sensors), and to refrain from continuing deployments in the face of clear evidence of humanitarian harm.

Of course, another compelling reason for periodic review and amendment of the technical criteria is the rapid and unpredictable rate of change of technical progress, outlined above. It is not inconceivable that the current state-of-the-art in LAWS-relevant technologies might appear relatively basic in five years’ time. Thus, it would be beneficial for the continuous improvement of humanitarian standards to keep the state of technology under review, and to update the technical criteria accordingly; notwithstanding the possibility that extant criteria may already meet the chapeau’s humanitarian standards.

Why the New Weapons Amendments (Should) Apply to Non-States Parties

by Kevin Jon Heller

Although aggression received most of the attention at the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) last month, the ASP also adopted a series of amendments to Art. 8 of the Rome Statute, the war-crimes provision, prohibiting the use of three kinds of weapons in both international armed conflict (IAC) and non-international armed conflict (NIAC):

[W]eapons, which use microbial or other biological agents, or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production.

[W]eapons the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays.

[L]aser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices.

Because the weapons amendments were adopted pursuant to Art. 121(5) of the Rome Statute, they will only apply to state parties that ratify the amendments. This is, of course, the effect of the second sentence of Art. 121(5), which caused so much controversy in the context of aggression: “In respect of a State Party which has not accepted the amendment, the Court shall not exercise its jurisdiction regarding a crime covered by the amendment when committed by that State Party’s nationals or on its territory.”

Art. 121(5), however, applies only to states parties. It does not apply to states that have not ratified the Rome Statute. In the context of aggression, that limitation raised the possibility of the Court prosecuting an act of aggression committed by a non-state party on the territory of a state party — something the Court’s normal jurisdictional regime permits for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. To avoid that possibility, the ASP amended the Rome Statute to include a new provision, Art. 15bis(5), that specifically (and also controversially) completely excludes non-states parties from the crime of aggression:

In respect of a State that is not a party to this Statute, the Court shall not exercise its jurisdiction over the crime of aggression when committed by that State’s nationals or on its territory.

I had assumed that no such jurisdictional limitation applied to the new weapons amendments. As Patryk Labuda recently pointed out on twitter, however, the ASP appears to believe otherwise. Here is the second preambular paragraph to the amendments (emphasis mine):

Noting also article 121, paragraph 5, of the Statute which states that any amendment to articles 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the Statute shall enter into force for those States Parties which have accepted the amendment one year after the deposit of their instruments of ratification or acceptance and that in respect of a State Party which has not accepted the amendment, the Court shall not exercise its jurisdiction regarding the crime covered by the amendment when committed by that State Party’s nationals or on its territory, and confirming its understanding that in respect to this amendment the same principle that applies in respect of a State Party which has not accepted this amendment applies also in respect of States that are not parties to the Statute.

The bolded language is intended to exempt non-states parties from the normal jurisdictional regime of the Court. Clause 2 states that if a state party does not ratify the weapons amendments, the Court cannot prosecute the use of a prohibited weapon either when committed by a national of that state or on the territory of that state. Clause 3 then puts non-states parties in the same position as a state party who has not ratified the amendments.

This limitation regarding non-states parties is very odd, because the ASP had every right to make the new weapons amendments applicable to non-states parties. Non-states parties are currently prohibited from using certain weapons on the territory of a state party — those that are criminalized by the Rome Statute as adopted in 1998. The new weapons amendments thus fragment the Court’s jurisdiction over non-states parties: although they cannot use poisoned weapons, asphyxiating gases, and expanding/flattening bullets on the territory of a state party, they are still permitted to use biological, fragmentation, and blinding laser weapons — even on the territory of a state party that has ratified the new weapons amendments.

I see no persuasive rationale for this asymmetry. Exempting non-states parties from the crime of aggression is one thing: aggression is a sui generis crime and was not previously within the Court’s (active) jurisdiction. But the drafters of the Rome Statute had no problem making non-states parties subject to the original war crimes involving prohibited weapons, nor did the 124 states who ratified the Rome Statute have a problem accepting the potential criminal liability of non-states parties. So why should things be any different for the new war crimes? If Russia cannot use napalm (an asphyxiating gas) on Georgian territory, why should it be able to use ricin (a biological weapon) on it?

To be sure, the same exclusion of non-states parties was included in the war-crimes amendments adopted at Kampala in 2010, which criminalized the use of poisoned weapons, asphyxiating gases, and expanding or flattening bullets in NIAC. But that limitation was largely superfluous regarding non-states parties, because the Rome Statute already criminalized the use of those weapons in IAC, the primary type of conflict in which a non-state party can be subject to the Court’s war-crimes jurisdiction. (Transnational NIACs aside.) The limitation is anything but superfluous for the new weapons amendments, because they are specifically designed, inter alia, to criminalize the use of certain weapons in IAC.

I also believe — and this is the reason I have written this post — that the exclusion for non-states parties included in the preamble to the new weapons amendments has no legal effect. The argument is a complicated one, and I have made aspects of it at length in a JICJ article on the legal status of the aggression “Understandings” that were adopted at Kampala in 2010. The basic problem is this: nothing in the amended Rome Statute excludes non-states parties from the new war crimes. That limitation exists solely in the preamble. So it is difficult to see why or even how the judges could enforce it, given that Art. 21(1)(a) of the Rome Statute specifically provides that “[t]he Court shall apply… [i]n the first place, this Statute, Elements of Crimes and its Rules of Procedure and Evidence.” If the judges simply apply the Rome Statute, the Court has jurisdiction over every war crime in Art. 8 that is committed by a non-state party on the territory of a state party — including the new ones.

To be sure, one could fashion a fancy argument for applying the limitation based on Art. 31 of the VCLT, which provides that “[a] treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose” and deems a preamble to be part of a treaty’s context. I would be sympathetic to such an argument, because I think the point of treaty interpretation is to give effect to the intent of the drafters. But that is by no means the dominant approach to treaty interpretation. Most international-law scholars favour a “plain meaning” approach — and the Court seems to, as well. (At least when doing so expands the ambit of criminal responsibility. When it doesn’t, object and purpose tend to take over.)

Moreover, all of the other parts of the Rome Statute also qualify as “context” under Art. 31. And here the aggression amendments are, in my view, not only relevant but dispositive: if non-states parties could be excluded from the normal jurisdictional regime of the Court simply by saying as much in a preamble to an amendment, why did the ASP specifically amend the Rome Statute to exclude non-states parties from the crime of aggression? Perhaps the ASP was just being overly cautious, but that seems unlikely given how carefully almost every word of the aggression amendments was negotiated and drafted. It seems far more likely that the ASP realized — correctly, in my view — that the exclusion had to be included in the text of the Rome Statute to be given force by the judges.

In short, despite what the preamble to the new weapons amendments says, I believe that the OTP now has have every right to charge a national of a non-state party who uses (say) a biological weapon on the territory of a state party that has ratified the amendments — and the judges would have every right to convict the perpetrator of the relevant war crime. The ASP exclusion of non-states parties from the amendments has no legal effect.

NOTE: Dapo Akande has posted at EJIL: Talk! an excellent analysis of the relationship between the new war crimes and customary international law. I completely agree with him — including with his statement that, in practice, excluding non-states parties from the crimes will solve some tricky immunity problems.

Cyber Operations and GCII Obligations to “Respect and Protect”

by Jeffrey Biller

[Jeffrey Biller, Lt Col, USAF, is the Associate Director for the Law of Air, Space and Cyber Operations at the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, US Naval War College.]

The use of hospital ships in wartime has always been a contentious issue. Although serving a humanitarian need recognized by most parties, profound suspicion of their misuse led to many attacks against these protected vessels, particularly during the First and Second World Wars. Although some attacks resulted from misidentification, many were quite intentionally targeted. Unrestricted submarine warfare campaigns often included deliberate attacks on hospital ships. One such example was the Soviet hospital ship, the Armenia. On 7 November 1941, a German torpedo bomber attacked the Armenia, sinking her without warning. All but 8 of the 7,000 on board died in the attack.

Although a tragedy by any measure, there were several questions as to her status as a hospital ship. The Armenia was clearly marked with large Red Cross symbols and was certainly being used appropriately at the time. However, she also had light anti-aircraft weapons on board, was under armed escort, and had been previously used in the conflict to transport military supplies. This incident, and many others like it, demonstrated the need to clarify and progress the rules related to the protection of hospital ships in the Second Geneva Convention (GCII). This post, the fourth in a series (see here, here, and here) examining the impact of cyber on the law of naval warfare through the lens of the updated commentary to GCII, analyzes the obligation to “respect and protect” hospital ships and coastal rescue craft, found in Articles 22, 24 and 27, in the light of cyber operations.

First, it should be stated that Article 22’s obligation to respect and protect includes the more specific language that protected vessels “in no circumstances be attacked or captured.” Although the obligation to respect and protect is broader than these specific terms, it is helpful nonetheless as “attack” is an IHL term of art that has been frequently analyzed in the cyber context. Para 1985 explicitly states that the prohibition on attack includes “the use of means and methods that, by whatever mechanisms or effects, severely interfere with the functioning of the equipment necessary for the operation of a military hospital ship, such as so-called ‘cyber-attacks’.” Given that the commentary references the Tallinn Manual’s Rule 70 here, it is helpful to follow the reference for further analysis.

The black letter rule in the Tallinn Manual states that medical personnel and transports, including those vessels identified in GCII, “may not be made the object of a cyber attack.” Recall, cyber attack is the exact phrase used in para 1985. Although not defined in the commentary, Tallinn’s Rule 30 defines cyber attack as “a cyber operation, whether offensive or defensive, that is reasonably expected to cause injury or death to persons or damage or destruction of objects.” It is well understood that the Tallinn Manual is only the opinion of a group of experts and therefore not primary law. However, Rule 30’s definition tracks with the Additional Protocol (I) definition of attack, requiring “acts of violence against the adversary.” Thus, the commentary and the Tallinn Manual appear to agree that cyber operations resulting in injury or death, and (at least) physical damage and destruction, to a protected crew or vessel are prohibited. The logical follow-on question is whether “damage” to a network system includes the pure loss or degradation of functionality. The law here is unsettled and thus the loss of functionality, on its own, cannot be read definitively to qualify as an attack.

However, both the updated commentary and the Tallinn Manual agree the requirement to respect and protect goes beyond attacks. The commentary summarizes the extended obligation to respect and protect in para 1996 as the obligation “to refrain from all actions that interfere with or prevent such ships from performing their humanitarian tasks.” Therefore, cyber operations are prohibited that result in loss or degradation of network functionality necessary to a protected vessel’s performance of its humanitarian function.

Para 1996 does include a qualifier to that protection, referencing the Article 31 allowance for parties to the conflict to “control and search the vessels mentioned in Articles 22, 24, 25 and 27.” This includes the right to “control the use of their wireless and other means of communication” and “put on board their ships neutral observers who shall verify the strict observation of the provisions contained in the present Convention.” These “control and search” provisions are in place “to verify whether their employment conforms to the provisions of Articles 30 and 34 and to the other provisions of the Convention,” as para 2276 puts it. Recognizing that a physical presence in no longer required to verify compliance, para 2277 suggests “innocent employment of these vessels can often be ascertained by other means, at least to some extent, in particular by satellites and other means of reconnaissance.” This could indicate that cyber intelligence operations are appropriate that, while not affecting the functionality of the vessel, are used to verify its compliance with the convention. Indeed, this was the conclusion drawn by the Tallinn Manual’s group of experts in the commentary to Rule 71, governing the requirement to respect and protect computer systems related to medical units and transports.

This analysis leaves open questions regarding several potential categories of cyber operations. For example, cyber intelligence operations not for the purpose of compliance verification, but rather the collection of intelligence regarding associated forces. Another potential is the use of protected naval vessels as a pass through to levy cyber effects against non-protected enemy systems. These and other examples may not explicitly violate the terms of protection in GCII, but nevertheless open the possibility of protected vessels becoming a cyber-battleground. This could divert protected vessels from focus on their missions and raise the likelihood of unintentional damage to network systems vital to the performance of their humanitarian mission. Given the ambiguity present in this aspect of the law, and the importance of protecting humanitarian missions, perhaps the obligation to respect and protect is an area where nations can work together to develop ever-elusive cyber norms.

Article 18 Mechanism

by Mohammad Hadi Zakerhossein

[Dr. Mohammad Hadi Zakerhossein is a Lecturer at Tilburg University.]

On 9th November 2017, the Judges at PTC III of the International Criminal Court sprung a great surprise by unsealing an unexpected decision, thereby authorizing the Prosecutor to open a full investigation into the situation in the Republic of Burundi. The Chamber’s decision sparked off a lively debate on Article 18 of the Rome Statute. This apparently uncontroversial article obliges the Prosecutor to notify all States Parties and those States which would normally exercise jurisdiction over the crimes concerned within a situation of her decision to open an investigation (paragraph 1), and to defer to the State’s investigation if within one month of receipt of the notification a State informs the Court that it is investigating or has investigated crimes referred to in the notification (paragraph 2). According to Article 18 (1), when the Prosecutor activates the Court’s jurisdiction over a situation based on her proprio motu power, this notification should be made when the Prosecutor ‘initiates’ an investigation pursuant to articles 13 (c) and 15.

Some believe that Article 18 applies to ‘investigation stage’ that commences upon concluding a preliminary examination, and after issuing an authorization by the PTC. According to this reading of Article 18, during the preliminary examination there is no need for notifying States in order to enable them to challenge the Prosecutor’s determination on the admissibility of a situation. In addition, in the authorization process, States ,contrary to victims, lack a ‘participatory right’. The Prosecutor concurs with this interpretation. In all Prosecutors’ requests seeking authorization of an investigation into the situations in Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire and Georgia, it has been explicitly mentioned that only upon an a judicial authorization, the Office of the Prosecutor would notify States under Article 18. In the Burundi situation, the Prosecutor filed a request under seal and ex parte on 5 September 2017, and, inter alia, requested the PTC III to issue its decision in an ex parte procedure, namely, a procedure without participation of States and victims. As to the participation of States, the Chamber concurred with the Prosecutor that Article 15 of the Rome Statute “does not confer any rights of participation on the States which would normally exercise jurisdiction over the alleged crimes”. Indeed, the Chamber believed that pursuant to Article 18, States “acquire rights of participation only once the Prosecutor initiate an investigation following authorization by a Pre-Trial Chamber”.

Upon uncovering the decision, Heller wrote a piece casting doubt of the mainstream understanding of Article 18. He argues that the Article 18 notification should be made during the preliminary examination not after initiating an investigation following a judicial authorization. He asserts that the current Court’s approach stands Article 18 on its head. Dov Jacobs reacted to Heller’s piece by rejecting his position. According to him, all procedural steps of Article 16 need to have been followed before the notification obligation of Article 18 kicks it.

Here, I would like to elaborate on Heller’s arguments and add more reasoning to enhance the interpretation that understands the Article 18 mechanism as a component of Article 15.

To figure out the correct position of the Article 18 notification, we need to understand the meaning of the concept of ‘investigation’ in the Rome Statute. Generally speaking, it is possible that a single term in a legal text carries different meanings. For this reason, provisions should be understood contextually, and the Rome Statute should be read as a whole. The term ‘case’ is an example here. The meaning of the term ‘case’ in the situation phase ( as referred to in Article 53 (1)) differs from its meaning in the case stage (as referred to in Article 53(2)). ‘Investigation’, as referred to in the chapeau of Article 53 of the Rome Statute, is a pre-trial phase that links the preliminary examination stage to the case stage; “The Prosecutor shall, having evaluated the information made available to him or her, initiate an investigation”. The dividing line between the investigation stage and the case phase is the issuance of an arrest warrant or a summons to appear. So, the investigation phase is distinct from the preliminary examination. A preliminary examination is a process within which the Prosecutor finds out if there is a reasonable basis to initiate an investigation. If a situation is brought to the Prosecutor’s attention through ‘communications’, the Prosecutor shall obtain a judicial authorization if she believes that the statutory requirements to initiate an investigation are met. Only by issuing an authorization, the Prosecutor initiates the ‘investigation’ phase. Taking into account this procedure, at first sight, it seems that Article 18 is a mechanism within the investigation phase; i.e. after conducting the preliminary examination and the automation process, because Article 18(1) obliges the prosecutor to notify States when she initiates an ‘investigation’.

However, Article 18 includes a hint for interpretation. It refers to initiation of an investigation under Article 15. It means that this provision should be interpreted in the context of Article 15. Article 15 (1) uses the term ‘investigation’. “The Prosecutor may initiate investigations proprio motu on the basis of information of crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court”. According to the common interpretation, this provision refers to the ‘investigation phase’, that might be initiated by the Prosecution on her proprio motu, namely, in the absence of referrals. However, reading this paragraph in light of paragraph 6 of Article 15 that states “after the preliminary examination referred to in paragraphs 1 and 2” makes it clear that the term ‘investigation’ referred to in Article 15(1) differs from the term ‘investigation’ referred to in Article 53 and paragraph 4 of Article 15. Indeed, paragraph 1 of Article 15 employs the word ‘investigation’ to refers to the preliminary examination as a pre-investigation phase. Paragraph 1 uses word ‘investigation’ because a preliminary examination is an investigation in nature but in a narrower scope. According to the first paragraph of Article 15, the Prosecutor ‘may’ initiate a preliminary examination (investigation). This possibility refers to the fact that all communications received by the Prosecutor do not lead to identifying a situation that undergoes a preliminary examination. Here, proprio motu power of the Prosecutor does not refer to her power to initiate the investigation phase, but refers to her power to open a preliminary examination in the absence of referrals and State’s demands. Indeed, the drafters of the Rome Statute have authorized the Prosecutor to open a preliminary examination on her own discretion and based on information she receives.

‘Complementarity principle’ is also helpful here to enhancing this contextual interpretation. Article 18 is meant to bolster the complementarity principle. During the preliminary examination, the Prosecutor, according to Article 53, should examine the admissibility of a situation by taking into account the complementarity requirement, in addition to the gravity of the situation. Adopting a teleological interpretation by giving considerations to the complementarity principle as a cornerstone of the Court enhances the approach that sees the Article 18 mechanism as a part of the ‘phase three’ of the preliminary examination, i.e. when the prosecutor begins examining the admissibility of a situation. In this phase of the preliminary examination, the Prosecutor shall take into account the domestic proceedings and the position of national jurisdictions. Following her examination, the Prosecutor shall be satisfied that there is no concurrent jurisdiction at the domestic level over the same situation. The Court functions selectively due to its broad inabilities. So, when there are proceedings in parallel over the same situation, the Court shall refrain spending time and money on the same situation whose impunity has already been ended at the domestic level. There is no justification to postpone discharging the notification obligation under Article 18. Without notifying the States concerned and Stets that have normally jurisdiction over a situation, the Prosecutor is unable to effectively examine the complementarity requirement to believe that there are no proceedings at the domestic level. In addition, the positive complementarity endorses this interpretation. Under positive approach to complementarity, the Prosecutor shall not be passive during the preliminary examination and should engage with States to encourage and assist them to activate their own jurisdictions. Notifying States of the Prosecutor activities and intent is a necessary condition for such an engagement.

Defining the Article 18 mechanism as a part of investigation stage, instead of preliminary examination, premises on the belief that preliminary examination is a marginal and instrumental stage that should be passed as soon as possible. A lengthy preliminary examination, from this perspective, is a deficit for the Court. However, it is a misunderstanding of the preliminary examination. This pre-investigation phase has some expressive mandates. It is a platform for positive complementarity activities. The Court is much more effective if it manages to activate the domestic jurisdiction during the preliminary examination. The preliminary examination is a bridge that should be passed, provided that it does not result in activating the States’ jurisdiction. The ICC is not a rival to States. It should not be eager to seize situations which are primarily objects for States’ actions. Primary in prosecution is with States. The Court should assume a more managerial and supervisory role. Conducting preliminary examination behind closed doors and in ex parte procedures in order to facilitate the Court to reach the investigation phase is in contradiction with the soul of the complementarity principle. The ICC, sooner or later, should notify states who has primary jurisdiction over the ICC crimes. What does justify postponing such a notification? According to Article 18, if a State requests a deferral, the Prosecutor ‘shall’ defer to the requesting State. It is something that should happen during the preliminary examination when the Prosecutor examines the complementarity requirement under Article 17. Based on this interpretation, if a State request a deferral but the Prosecutor objects, then the Prosecutor may request a judicial authorization under Article 18.