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Russia Reminds the World (and International Lawyers) of the Limits of International Law

by Julian Ku

I agree with Peter that the mere breach of the international law governing the use of force does not mean that all international law is useless and meaningless. But I don’t think Eric Posner’s pithy challenge to the international law academy on Ukraine can be so easily dismissed. International lawyers need, especially in this area, to provide a meaningful theory as to why international law affects state behavior, and why (as in this case) it seems to be having very little impact on Russia’s decision to use armed force in Ukraine.  Contra Peter, the fact that sometimes constitutional or corporate law rules are ignored or violated doesn’t really answer the question here.  When those norms are widely ignored (as with constitutional law rules in countries like China), then it is rational for actors in China to ignore those rules in most circumstances and most legal theorists would not call it “law” in any meaningful sense.

Which brings me to the Ukraine crisis.  I agree with Erik Voeten that international law and institutions will be helpful in other ways.  And I think Chris provides very helpful analysis of how international law can shape official state rhetoric.  But the fact remains that the international law restraining the use of armed force has utterly and completely failed to constrain Russia’s actions in  Ukraine.  This is more than simply adhering to the legislative veto. This is a body blow to a foundational piece of the international legal system.

In academic terms, the failure of the Charter  is evidence for both realists (who think international law never matters), but also for rational choice theorists like Posner, as to how international law really works.  Rational choice folks think that international law works best (in fact, works at all only) when states have a rational self-interest to cooperate around certain legal norms and institutions.  But where states no longer have such a rational self interest, states will depart from those legal norms.  Compliance with international law for the sake of complying with international law is naive and unrealistic.

The Russia-Ukraine crisis also impacts real-world policymaking. If international law, or at least the Charter’s rule on the use of force, is very weak or non-existent as a tool for restraining state action, then policymakers should not rely on the Charter rule as meaningful protection against aggression.
A strong military or a network of alliances would probably have been a better idea.  States must not overestimate the impact or force of this species of international law (as Ukraine’s new government seemed to do) when making decisions.  And states like the United States should be careful incorporating this rule into its domestic legal processes, or over-privileging its role in its own domestic public debate.

I may be biased as an American, but the U.S. has about the right balance on this. It does not ignore the Charter, but it does not treat the Charter as having too much independent significance except to the extent it affects the actions of other states (especially its allies).  The key thing to focus on in this crisis are the interests of the different states (and leading groups within states).  State interests are driving actions here, and the Charter violation seems to be doing almost now work.

The fact that the Charter is plainly being violated will not necessarily mean that Charter proponents like France and Germany will get tough with Russia (in fact, both are going the other way by opposing sanctions or any NATO consultations).  The fact that the Charter is plainly being violated will not mean China (another big Charter proponent) will do anything other than closely watch developments and urging “all sides to comply with international law” without naming any country.

International law can be, and often is, a very important tool for facilitating international and transnational cooperation.  But it is not doing much to resolve to Ukraine crisis, and international lawyers need to admit that.

Russia’s Intervention in Ukraine: Legal Rhetoric and Military Tactics

by Chris Borgen

Saturday began with reports that Russia had seemingly used private security contractors to take control of the airport in Simferopol, Crimea. Then reports (like this one from CNN) of President Putin requesting from Russia’s Parliament an authorization to use military force in Ukraine because of “threats to the lives of Russian citizens and Russian military personnel based in the southern Crimean region.” Grigory Karasin, Putin’s official representative in the upper house of the Russian parliament, told the Russian government-funded news outlet Russia Today that The approval, which the president will receive, does not literally mean that this right will be used promptly.”

But, less than a day later it was becoming increasingly clear that those weren’t contractors. And Putin hadn’t been waiting. The New York Times:

Russian troops stripped of identifying insignia but using military vehicles bearing the license plates of Russia’s Black Sea force swarmed the major thoroughfares of Crimea, encircled government buildings, closed the main airport and seized communication hubs, solidifying what began on Friday as a covert effort to control the largely pro-Russian region.

So, why is Russia militarily intervening in Ukraine?  The quasi-legal arguments coming from Russia on Saturday  were the same basic arguments that Russia used in justifying its military intervention in Georgia in 2008. In that case, Russia argued that it was acting as a guarantor of peace in the region and had intervened to protect both South Ossetian civilians, Russian nationals, as well as the defense of its military units that were already in South Ossetia.

As for its actions in Ukraine, the reference to the defense  of the Russian forces in Sevastopol was probably meant to argue that Russia was not in violation of the Budapest Memorandum which states in paragraph 2:

The United States of America, the Russian Federation, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, reaffirm their obligation to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine, and that none of their weapons will ever be used against Ukraine except in self-defense or otherwise in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

[Emphasis added.] I don’t think anything that has occurred in Ukraine rises to the point of Russia have a claim to Article 51 self-defense, but at this point, this isn’t about adjudicating claims, the Russian strategy is about misdirection and wrapping what it does do in a mantle of (seeming) legality. Well, not so much a mantle as a fig leaf.

Consequently, given the centrality of the norm of non-intervention, the self-defense argument sounds weak to my ears. But consider how the situation in Ukraine is being reported by the Russian-government  funded news source, Russia Today:

The move is aimed to settle the turmoil in the split country.

The upper house of the Russian parliament has voted in favor of sending troops to the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which would ensure peace and order in the region “until the socio-political situation in the country is stabilized.

…The common notion was that since the power was seized in Kiev, the situation has only been deteriorating with radical nationalists rapidly coming to power and threatening the lives of those opposing their actions, most notably the Russian citizens living in Ukraine.

The developments follow an appeal by the Prime Minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov, who requested that Russia to help cope with the crisis and ensure “peace and calm” in the region.

Russia as stabilizing force, reacting to a “deteriorating” situation in a “split country” where “radical nationalists” are threatening the lives of Russian citizens.  And this is in response to a request from the Prime Minister of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Keep your eye on increasing references to Crimea’s autonomy.

As in the Georgian intervention, Putin focuses the need to protect Russian nationals and the importance of self-defense of Russian troops. But, as mentioned above, I have seen no credible reports that either the Russian naval base in Sevastopol or the majority ethnic Russian population of Crimea was ever threatened by the Ukrainian government.

So why intervene now? Perhaps more relevant to the actual reason for Russia threatening to act at this point is the February 27 announcement by the new Ukrainian government of its interest in signing the Association Agreement with the EU that President Yanukovich refused to sign at the last minute, triggering the unrest that has convulsed Ukraine. Russia had previously mentioned the issue of secessionism, before there was even any unrest, in the run-up to the EU’s Vilnius summit, when Ukraine was originally supposed to sign the Association Agreement with the EU. At that time, back in September, Russian politicians issued warnings that if Ukraine does not reject the EU association program, it would run the risk of Russia supporting the partitioning of  Ukraine to support Russian nationals there. Civil unrest was not at issue then, only Ukraine agreeing to sign the Association Agreement.  While Yanukovich actively courted Putin, and ultimately set aside signing the Association Agreement, Putin as of this past week was facing an interim government in Kiev with which he had no easy political levers to pull. And they said they wanted to associate with the EU. So, military intervention as an extension of politics.

What we saw on these last couple of days was one more example of Russia actively using legal rhetoric as part of its politico-military strategy. This “law talk” does have two potential effects: (a) it makes arguments to which other countries in the international community attempt to respond,  and (b) it reassures the Russian public of the rightness of their cause.  News cycles on Saturday were focused on the Russian domestic process of Putin seeking an authorization to use force and the international discussions and debates over the legitimacy of Russia using force unilaterally.

Meanwhile, there was some confusion about what was happening “on the ground.” Just who are those camo-wearing armed men? Locals? Contractors?  Oh, no. The Russian military.

This misdirection and confusion may be Russia’s third reason for using legal rhetoric in this case. Putin is allegedly an avid chess player. This was a lesson in using legal rhetoric as a feint, while the real action was elsewhere on the board.  You only grasped the new situation once the pieces were already in place.  But, while this was a tactically deft set-piece using coordinated law talk and military force, international law has a way constraining actions when and where people least expect it.  The efficacy of Putin’s longer-term strategy remains to be seen. Of course, this depends on Russia’s goal.

Putin would doubtlessly most desire Ukraine to turn its back on the EU and join the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union. Given the popular protests of the recent weeks, that is an all but impossible at this point. Short of that, Russia could attempt to impede Ukrainian association with the EU and remain a necessary party in any discussion of Ukraine’s future. So what might be  Russia’s next moves? And what may be the roles of international legal argument and international institutions in the strategies of Russia, Ukraine, the EU, and the U.S.?

I will consider these questions in my next post.

Don’t Panic! The Budapest Memorandum Does Not Require US and UK to Defend Ukraine

by Julian Ku

Lots of reports, including those from the new Ukrainian government at a meeting of the UN Security Council, suggest that Russian military forces have crossed into Ukraine. This has caused a mild panic on Wall Street and some typically overwrought press reporting from, just to give an example, Britain’s Daily Mail.

A treaty signed in 1994 by the US and Britain could pull both countries into a war to protect Ukraine if Putin’s troops intervene.

Bill Clinton, John Major, Boris Yeltsin and Leonid Kuchma – the then-rulers of the USA, UK, Russia and Ukraine – agreed to the The Budapest Memorandum as part of the denuclearization of former Soviet republics after the dissolution of the Soviet Union

Technically it means that if Russia has invaded Ukraine then it would be difficult for the US and Britain to avoid going to war.

Uh…no it doesn’t. At least not from my reading of it.  It might be a good idea for the US to stand up for Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and it is true that the Budapest Memorandum commits Russia to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (I thought Russia’s president wanted to respect international law?).  The UN Charter does that anyway. The Memorandum does not in anyway obligate any country to intervene in order to guarantee Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

In other words, it is not a security guarantee, like the kind that the US has with Japan. It is also not a formal treaty which, at least under US law, would have more binding impact.  So relax, American doves, it’s 2014, not 1914.  International agreements will not lead us blindly to war (sorry, Ukraine!).

 

The Reprieve Drone Strike Communication I — Jurisdiction

by Kevin Jon Heller

Reprieve, the excellent British human-rights organisation, has submitted a communication to the ICC asking it to investigate NATO personnel involved in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. Here is Reprieve’s press release:

Drone victims are today lodging a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing NATO member states of war crimes over their role in facilitating the US’s covert drone programme in Pakistan.

It has been revealed in recent months that the UK, Germany, Australia, and other NATO partners support US drone strikes through intelligence-sharing. Because all these countries are signatories to the Rome Statute, they fall under The ICC’s jurisdiction and can therefore be investigated for war crimes. Kareem Khan - whose civilian brother and son were killed in a 2009 drone strike – is at The Hague with his lawyers from the human rights charity Reprieve and the Foundation for Fundamental Rights who have filed the complaint on his behalf.

The CIA has launched more than 300 missiles at North Waziristan since its covert drone programme began and it is estimated that between 2004 and 2013, thousands of people have been killed, many of them civilians including children.

The US has immunised itself from legal accountability over drone strikes and the UK has closed its domestic courts to foreign drone victims. In a recent decision, the Court of Appeal in London ruled that it would not opine on the legality of British agents’ involvement in the US drone war in Pakistan, for fear of causing embarrassment to its closest ally.

The communication is a fascinating document to read, and it is quite damning concerning the effects of the CIA’s drone strikes. My interest in the communication, however, focuses on two critical legal issues: (1) whether the ICC would have jurisdiction over NATO personnel involved in the CIA’s strikes; and (2) whether it can be persuasively argued that those personnel have been complicit in the strikes. I’ll discuss the jurisdictional issue in this post and the substantive complicity issue in my next post.

As the communication acknowledges, neither Pakistan (where the drone strikes took place) nor the US (which launched the drone strikes) has ratified the Rome Statute. Reprieve nevertheless asserts that the ICC would have jurisdiction over NATO personnel involved in the drone strikes — particularly individuals from the UK, Germany, and Australia — on two different grounds (para. 7):

The Court’s jurisdiction over the crimes committed as a result of drone strikes in Pakistan arises in two ways. The first is (subjective) territorial jurisdiction on grounds that the attacks were launched from a State Party (e.g. Afghanistan), while the second is nationality (on grounds that there is a reasonable basis for concluding that the nationals of States Parties to the Rome Statute may have participated in crimes under the Statute.

It may seem odd that the communication spends time trying to establish that Art. 12(2)(a) of the Rome Statute, the territorial jurisdiction provision, includes subjective territoriality. Why not just invoke nationality jurisdiction, given that Reprieve is only asking the ICC to investigate “nationals of States Parties”? In fact, the communication’s move is actually quite clever — and necessary.

To see why, consider what Art. 25(3) says, in relevant part (emphasis mine): “In accordance with this Statute, a person shall be criminally responsible and liable for punishment for a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court if that person…” The italicized language is critical, because the communication does not claim that the NATO personnel committed the war crimes themselves. On the contrary, Reprieve views those individuals as accessories to war crimes allegedly committed by CIA drone operators (para. 13; emphasis mine):…

The Cossacks: A Legal Primer

by Chris Borgen

The recent altercation between members of Pussy Riot and Cossack militia that was caught on video is a red flag signalling a broader issue in the Russian Federation: the resurgent power of the Cossacks and their relation to the Russian state, especially to keep politically-disfavored groups in check.

But who are the Cossacks?  A paramilitary organization? A political party? An ethnic group? And what are they doing at the Sochi Olympics?  This post will try to explain a little about who the Cossacks are, their role in Russia today, and the legal implications for human rights, minority rights in particular, and the use of state power.

The word “Cossack” summons for many images of mustachioed horsemen with bearskin hats. But, as one CNN report put it, “the Cossacks have long symbolized rebellion and military might in Western and Southern Russia and Ukraine.” Today’s Cossack organizations provide contracted-for security services for Russian regional governments.  Aleksandr Tkachev, the governor of Russia’s Krasnodar region, in which Sochi is located, has been at the forefront of contracting with the Cossacks (although, as I’ll explain below, this has been supported from the Presidency on down). About 400 Cossacks are being used as security in Sochi. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.

As for the utility of  having Cossacks–a non-state (or perhaps quasi-governmental) entity–provide security services, the official line seems to be that Cossacks will have greater leeway for action. CNN again:

“What you cannot do, a Cossack can,” Krasnodar Gov. Aleksandr Tkachev explained to local police.

His comments sparked an outcry from Sochi natives, minorities and migrants. Analysts say it is not a coincidence that the Cossacks’ revival is taking place as nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise in Russia.

[Emphasis added.]

The Pussy Riot incident in Sochi is simply the most obvious example of a larger trend that could have important implications for the rule of law in Russia and in former Soviet republics. But before looking at the current situation in greater detail, some history and context is needed…

(Continue Reading)

Ukraine: Background, Sanctions, and the Sword of Damocles

by Chris Borgen

The BBC is reporting that dozens of people have died today in new fighting between police and protestors in Ukraine.  For a background to what is underlying the protests, see these posts concerning the struggle over the norms that will define Ukraine,  how Ukraine’s domestic disputes interact with Russian and European regional strategies, and the significance of the eastward spread of the protests and Russia’s technique of push-back against the norm-based arguments of the EU.

Some of these themes are echoed in the BBC report:

Ukraine seems be caught in a modern “Great Game”. Vladimir Putin wants to make Russia a global economic player, rivalling China, the US and EU. To that end he is creating a customs union with other countries and sees Ukraine as a vital and natural element in that – not least because of the countries’ deep cultural and historical ties.

The EU says assimilation and eventual membership could be worth billions of euros to Ukraine, modernising its economy and giving it access to the single market. It also wants to reverse what it sees as damaging infringements on democracy and human rights in Ukraine.

Many Ukrainians in the east, working in heavy industry that supplies Russian markets, are fearful of losing their jobs if Kiev throws in its lot with Brussels. But many in the west want the prosperity and the rule of law they believe the EU would bring. They point out that while Ukraine had a bigger GDP than Poland in 1990, Poland’s economy is now nearly three times larger.

While the immediate issue in the streets of Kiev is an end to the violence, the medium-term Western response may be sanctions against Ukraine, particularly targeting the assets of President Yanukovich and his allies.

But, hanging over all of this like the sword of Damocles is the concern over the stability of the Ukrainian state. The previous Opinio Juris posts, the BBC report linked-to above, and others have noted the sharp electoral and linguistic (Ukraine-speaking/ Russian speaking) divide between western Ukraine and eastern Ukraine. Some have voiced concern that Ukraine faces a possible civil war or a break-up of the country.  Edward Lucas of The Economist has written in an op-ed in today’s (February 20) Telegraph:

Perhaps the authorities will decide that they cannot crush the protesters and will draw back, meaning months of tension, jitters and uncertainty. Even then, Ukraine’s territorial integrity has been shattered, perhaps fatally. In the west, government buildings have been set ablaze. The region – the old Austro-Hungarian Galicia – was the site of a decade-long insurrection post-war against Soviet rule. If pro-Moscow authorities in Kiev try to crack down there, civil war looms…

Equally worrying is Crimea – site of the Charge of the Light Brigade 160 years ago – which could now be the flashpoint for another conflict with Russia, with far more devastating effects. The region is on the verge of declaring independence from Kiev (a move likely to prompt Russian intervention to protect the separatist statelet).

The BBC report sounds a more hopeful note:

Some commentators suggest this shows the country is liable to split violently across the middle. But others say this is unlikely – and that many in the east still identify as Ukrainians, even if they speak Russian.

As I mentioned in my previous post on Ukraine, the answer to the question of whether or not there is civil war or secession, depends in part on what the protestors in the eastern part of the country are protesting about.  If they are willing to continue on the path to closer integration with the EU and set aside closer integration with Russia, then the strand of hair keeps the sword suspended. If the Ukrainians in the east just want Yanukovich out, but still want to avert integration with the EU and increase integration with Russia, then the strand doesn’t necessarily break, but it does fray, as the normative conflict over the future of Ukraine will persist.

But while the question of civil war and secession depends in part on the severity of normative friction in Ukraine, that is not the only determinant. Also important is what role Russia will play in either further exacerbating the conflict or finding a peaceful solution. In September, Russia raised the specter of secessionism in Ukraine, specifically linking it to Ukraine’s signing the EU Association Agreement. Russia actively supports secessionist movements in Moldova and Georgia, two other countries seeking closer relations with the EU. Whether President Putin believes that preventing Ukraine from  signing an Association Agreement with the EU is important enough to push that country to war remains to be seen.

The issue for today is ending the violence in the streets of Kiev. But that is the first step in a long road to finding stability in Ukraine.

A Few Thoughts on Eugene Kontorovich’s Response to My Post

by Kevin Jon Heller

Eugene has graciously responded to my earlier post; you can find his new post here. It’s well worth a read. I just want to offer a few  thoughts on Eugene’s response, because I think it fails to address the core of my critique: that it is incorrect to claim, as Eugene did in his first post, that Europe’s opposition to the juvenile death penalty is based on the idea that “minors are not really responsible for their actions.” I argued that, on the contrary, Europe’s opposition to the juvenile death penalty is part and parcel of its opposition to the death penalty itself.

Eugene’s new post provides no support for his original thesis. Here is what he argues, in order:

The EU’s position is that the death penalty is wrong under any circumstances; however, the juvenile death penalty is even wronger. And this distinction could presumably only be due to the reduced decision-making capacity of juveniles.

Thus in their amicus brief in Roper, the EU did not argue that the death penalty was unconstitutional – though they stated their opposition – rather, they argued the juvenile death penalty was unconstitutional even if the death penalty itself were constitutional. (As amici, they were in no way limited to the facts of the case, and could have submitted a much broader argument.) The EU’s opposition to the juvenile death penalty repeatedly points to an “international consensus” against it, reflected in various treaties and U.N. documents. These instruments specifically do not bar the death penalty, but do prohibit the juvenile death penalty. Thus the consensus which the EU pointed to is itself based on a belief in a fundamental distinction between juvenile and adult death penalties.

It is true that there is an international consensus against the juvenile death penalty. And it is highly likely that some of the states that are part of the international consensus oppose the juvenile death penalty because they believe juveniles have a “reduced decision-making capacity.” But nothing in the EU amicus brief suggests that European states oppose the juvenile death penalty because of the diminished moral capacity of juveniles. As I noted in my earlier post, Europe opposes the death penalty for everyone, adult and juvenile, because — in the words of the Council of Europe — “everyone’s right to life is a basic value and that the abolition of the death penalty is essential to the protection of this right and for the full recognition of the inherent dignity of all human beings.” Yes, Europe would be more than willing to argue that “the juvenile death penalty was unconstitutional even if the death penalty itself were constitutional.” But that is because the international consensus against the juvenile death penalty is much stronger, not because Europe believes juveniles “are not really responsible for their actions.” In other words, the EU’s amicus brief does not care why some states permit the adult penalty but permit the juvenile death penalty (which may well reflect a view of juvenile moral capacity); it simply cares that even those states still reject the juvenile death penalty.

To be sure, if the EU thinks the juvenile DP to be even worse, it will not be reflected in its internal policies – but it would be reflected in its external ones. An indeed, in dealing with third countries, the EU makes a fundamental distinction between the juvenile and adult death penalty. As spelled out in the EU Guidelines on the Death Penalty, Europe will provide aid and have good relations with countries that practice the death penalty, Europe’s position is that where the death penalty exists, it should always be subject to certain “minimum standards”:

Where states insist on maintaining the death penalty, the EU considers it important that the following minimum standards should be met: … iii) capital punishment may not be imposed on … Persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of their crime;

Eugene does not quote the EU’s minimum standards in full, and the text he does not quote complicates his argument that Europe views the juvenile death penalty as “worse” than the adult death penalty because of the “reduced decision-making capacity of juveniles.” Here is the paragraph in full, with the omitted text in bold:

Capital punishment may not be imposed on:
• Persons below 18 years of age at the time of the commission of their crime;
• Pregnant women or new mothers;
• Persons who have become insane.

The EU’s suggested ban on executing the insane clearly does reflect the idea that insane persons have a ”reduced decision-making capacity.” But the ban on executing “pregnant women or new mothers” doesn’t. Their decision-making capacity is not reduced — yet the EU insists that death-penalty states not execute them, either. So which category are juveniles closest to — the insane (who should not be executed because they are not responsible for their actions) or pregnant women and new mothers (who shouldn’t be executed because it’s inherently wrong to execute them)? There is no way of knowing from the EU’s Guidelines on the Death Penalty — which means that the Guidelines don’t support Eugene’s argument that Europe views the juvenile death penalty as worse than the adult death penalty because ”minors are not really responsible for their actions.”

Let me add another point of Belgian inconsistency. Allowing minors to take their lives, or have them been taken, necessarily makes assumptions about their capacity that is at odds with many liberal features of international law. International treaties, including the Rome Statute of the ICC, make the recruitment of child soldiers a crime, and European countries have been active in promoting the expansion of these norms.

Being a child soldier (under 15) is not a crime, only enlisting them. Crucially, the consent of the child, her parents or any psychologists is not a defense. Indeed, consent is presumed, as the crime covers accepting voluntary enlistees. As the Special Court for Sierra Leone put it:

The act of enlisting presupposes that the individual in question voluntarily consented to be part of the armed force or group. However, where a child under the age of 15 years is allowed to voluntarily join an armed force or group, his or her consent is not a valid defence.

But is this still a far cry from euthanasia? Not if the underlying issue is one of capacity to make life-imperiling decisions. And it is important to point out 15 year old may join armed conflict in when the defeat of their side would lead to the massacre or oppression of them and their families and the destruction of their way of life. Yet international law still prohibits their recruitment. This does not mean it can never be rational for a child to join armed forces, but rather that we make a categorical judgement that even if it is sometimes rational, they lack the judgement to make decisions that imperil their lives.

The emphasis is mine — because I think Eugene’s argument actually proves my point, not his. Eugene’s claim is that the prohibition on the recruitment of child soldiers, which European states have enthusiastically supported, reflects Europe’s view that juveniles have a ”reduced decision-making capacity.” But the bolded text, which I completely agree with, indicates that, on the contrary, international law prohibits the recruitment of child soldiers because it is wrong to let juveniles engage in combat, even if they are capable of making a rational decision to do so. Differently put, international law presumes that child soldiers consent to recruitment because recruiting child soldiers is wrong even when consensual, not because juveniles can never rationally decide to become child soldiers.

The bottom line is this: there is nothing inconsistent about Belgium’s legalizing juvenile euthanasia while rejecting the juvenile death penalty and opposing the recruitment of child soldiers. Belgium simply believes that executing juveniles and recruiting child soldiers is inherently wrong, while permitting terminally ill children to make an informed decision to end their own lives is not. Those are normative positions, and Eugene is free to think they are unwise. But they are not based on an inconsistent view of whether juveniles are responsible for their actions.

Eugene Kontorovich’s Problematic Attack on Roper v. Simmons

by Kevin Jon Heller

I’m currently in Belgium, teaching an intensive course on international criminal law at Katholieke University Leuven. So I was struck by Eugene Kontorovich’s most recent post at the Volokh Conspiracy, in which he uses a new Belgian law permitting euthanasia for minors to criticize the Supreme Court’s abolition of the juvenile death penalty in Roper v. Simmons. Here is the crux of his argument (emphasis mine):

Aside from its inherent significance, Belgium’s move requires us to revisit Roper v. Simmons, the 2005 Supreme Court case that ruled it inherently unconstitutional to apply the death penalty to anyone under 18. European nations had long waged a moral campaign against America’s allowance of the death penalty for 16-18 year olds, which they called barbaric and savage. After all, minors are not really responsible for their actions. America was labelled a human rights violator, an international outlier.

Finally, in Roper, the Court caved in to this pressure. Indeed, it cited the European position as support for its conclusion – other countries do not allow for such a thing.

Why can a 17 year-old rapist-murderer not face capital punishment? Because, as Justice Kennedy wrote in a 5-4 decision, science has shown that minors, even 17-year-olds, are too immature to truly understand the consequences of their decisions, or the meaning of life and death. Juveniles are prone to “impetuous and ill-considered actions” that they should not be made to lose their life for, even if the action involved taking the life of another.” Moreover, juveniles are susceptible to peer pressure, Kennedy wrote. (Of course, one of the concerns in allowing euthanasia is external pressure from doctors, parents and others.)

Yet now we see Belgium thinks kids are responsible enough; the Netherlands similarly allows euthanasia as young as 12. These countries may be the way of the future, as they have been in other areas of progressive mores. Roper misread their belief system. It is not one of paternalistic concern for youth.

Eugene does not provide a link for his assertion that Europe opposes the juvenile death penalty because “minors are not really responsible for their actions.” But I don’t think that’s surprising, because Europe’s opposition to the juvenile death penalty is not based on that idea. Europe has abolished the juvenile death penalty because it rejects the very idea of the death penalty itself, not because it believe minors are not responsible for their actions. After all, no European state other than Belarus permits the death penalty for anyoneIt is thus irrelevant for Roper‘s purposes that Belgium and the Netherlands believe that minors are capable of making an informed decision to end their own lives; that in no way undermines their opposition to the juvenile death penalty. To sustain Eugene’s argument, he would have to identify a state that (1) permits the death penalty for adults while prohibiting it for juveniles on the ground that juveniles, unlike adults, are not responsible for their actions, but (2) allows juveniles to take their own lives on the ground that they are capable of making an informed decision to do so. Belgium and the Netherlands don’t qualify.

It’s also worth noting that, in his zeal to level a “gotcha” at Roper, Eugene misstates Belgian criminal law. Here is what he says about Belgium’s rejection of the juvenile death penalty (emphasis mine):

It is not one of paternalistic concern for youth. Rather, a system that permits the euthanasia of innocent 12 year-olds but not the punishment of guilty 17-year-olds is one that exalts autonomy without culpability.

Of course, with the juvenile death penalty, only a small fraction of minors who committed capital crimes would be sentenced to death. On a case by case basis, hosts of psychologists, jurors, and judges would have to be convinced that the particular defendant truly knew what they were doing.

So it comes out that the juveniles cannot really make accountable decisions when it comes to killing people, unless it is themselves. Or to put it differently, Belgium will not hold children responsible when they hurt others, but gives them free license to hurt themselves. Perversely, in Belgium, the youths who are considered grown up enough to be euthanized have not done anything wrong at all, unlike Simmons, who tied up his victim and thew him off a bridge.

This is simply false. Belgium most certainly holds juveniles criminally responsible for their actions — it simply doesn’t permit executing them. In Belgium, children between the ages of 12 and 15 can be prosecuted in juvenile court and imprisoned until they are 20. And children who are 16 and 17 — the latter being the age that Eugene singles out — can be prosecuted for murder in the Court of Assize and sentenced to a maximum of 30 years in adult prison. Eugene may think a 30-year sentence for a 17-year-old who commits murder is too lenient, but he cannot seriously contend that Belgian criminal law does not permit “the punishment of guilty 17-year-olds,” that it is based on the idea that “juveniles cannot really make accountable decisions when it comes to killing people,” or that it “will not hold children responsible when they hurt others.”

I often agree with Eugene on issues other than Israel (piracy and universal jurisdiction in particular). But his attempt to use Belgian criminal law to attack Roper is fatally flawed.

OTP Asks for Perisic Reconsideration — On the Basis of Nothing

by Kevin Jon Heller

Fresh from its victory in Sainovic, the ICTY Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) has now asked the Appeals Chamber to reconsider its final judgment in Perisic on the ground that it would be unjust to permit Perisic to remain acquitted. As the legal basis for such reconsideration 11 months after final judgment, the OTP cites…

Precisely nothing.

Which is not surprising, because nothing in the ICTY Statute actually permits such reconsideration. The only provision that deals with reconsideration of Appeals Chamber judgments is Art. 26, which is limited to the discovery of new facts:

Where a new fact has been discovered which was not known at the time of the proceedings before the Trial Chambers or the Appeals Chamber and which could have been a decisive factor in reaching the decision, the convicted person or the Prosecutor may submit to the International Tribunal an application for review of the judgement.

Even more problematic for the OTP, the Appeals Chamber specifically rejected reconsideration of final appeals judgments in Zigic, noting that the victims and the accused “are both entitled to certainty and finality of legal judgments.”

Lacking any legal basis for its request, the OTP does what it always does — invite the Appeals Chamber to engage in what Darryl Robinson has called “victim-centered reasoning” and reconsider Perisic anyway. In the OTP’s words, because Perisic was wrongly decided (according to one iteration of the Appeals Chamber), “the interests of justice for the tens of thousands of victims, substantially outweighs Perisic’s interest in finality of proceedings. Justice must be restored to the victims. Reconsideration is the only way to this end.” Put more simply: forget that inconvenient principle of legality. The demands of justice trump the text of the ICTY Statute.

It’s also worth noting a profound irony at the heart of the OTP’s request. It acknowledges Zigic is against it — so it argues that the Appeals Chamber should disregard Zigic in favour of its earlier decision in Celebici, which held, in another classic example of ignoring the text of the ICTY Statute in favor of its supposed “object and purpose” of combating impunity, that the Appeals Chamber’s “inherent jurisdiction” (of course) empowers it to reconsider any decision, no matter when decided, that “has led to an injustice.” In other words, the OTP is asking the Appeals Chamber to ignore a new decision (Zigic) that rejected an old decision (Celebici) in order to apply a new decision (Sainovic) that rejected an old decision (Perisic). Remarkable.

I would like to predict that the Appeals Chamber will consign this motion to the dustbin where it belongs. But who knows? As Marko Milanovic has pointed out, precedent no longer has much meaning for the Appeals Chamber. The outcome of an appeal now largely turns on which judges are randomly assigned to the panel.

I will be speaking soon on Perisic and Sainovic at a conference on the legacy of the ICTY. With each motion like this one, that legacy becomes a bit more tarnished.

UPDATE: Dov Jacobs adds some important points at Spreading the Jam.

AJIL Symposium this week

by An Hertogen

This week we’re hosting a symposium on both lead articles in the October 2013 edition of the American Journal of International Law.

Today and tomorrow, Kofi Kufuor, Solomon Ebobrah and Horace Adjolohoun discuss “A New International Human Rights Court for West Africa: The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice” by Karen Alter, Larry Helfer and Jacqueline McAllister:

The Court of Justice for the Economic Community of West African States has
been transformed from an interstate tribunal for resolving disputes over
ECOWAS economic rules into a court with far-reaching human rights jurisdiction.
This article identifies political mobilization, rather than judicial lawmaking,
as the catalyst of this transformation, and explains the surprising reality that,
whereas private actors in recent years have been able to pursue legal actions alleging human rights violations, they remain unable to challenge state noncompliance with ECOWAS economic rules.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Ulf Linderfalk, Bart Szewczyk and Richard Gardiner discuss “The Travaux of Travaux: Is the Vienna Convention Hostile to Drafting History?” by Julian Davis Mortenson:

It is often said that the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties relegated drafting history to a subsidiary role in treaty interpretation. This article relies on a
close reading of the Convention’s own drafting history to challenge that view.
Under the settlement actually negotiated by the drafters, reference to travaux
préparatoires was meant to be a regular, central, and indeed indispensable component of the interpretive process.

As always, we welcome your comments too.

So How’s the Media Doing on Amanda Knox Reporting? Much Better Once They Started Quoting Me

by Julian Ku

Last March, I took the world media (and Alan Dershowitz) to task for some pretty poor reporting on the extradition issues raised in the Amanda Knox case.  Based on the reporting from yesterday’s conviction (again) of Amanda Knox in an Italian appeals court in Florence, I’m glad to report that the news coverage of the extradition issue (as well as Dershowitz’s analysis of it) has improved a great deal. I’ll admit I’ve been co-opted by the media a little, since I have given quotes to several publications about the case (click here for obnoxious self promotion).

What bothered me about the reporting last year was the insistence by news outlets and even several legal commentators that Amanda Knox was facing double jeopardy because she was facing a conviction for the same crime for which she was previously acquitted (see this quote here from CNN’s legal analyst Sonny Hostin as an example of this confusion).   There are three problems with this argument:

1) The US Italy Extradition Treaty does not actually bar extradition for double jeopardy in the U.S. Constitutional sense. All it does is bar extradition if the person being extradited has already been charged for the same crime in the state doing the extraditing.  For instance, the treaty would bar extradition to Italy for Knox only if the U.S. had prosecuted her for the Kerchner* murder.  Judge Friendly’s discussion in the 1980 Sindona v. Grant case of a similar provision in an earlier US-Italy Extradition treaty focuses solely on whether the US charges were the same as the Italian charges.  See also Matter of Extradition of Sidali (1995) which interpreted an identical provision of the US-Turkey extradition treaty.

2) The US Constitution’s double jeopardy bar does not apply to prosecutions by the Italian government (or any foreign government).  This seems pretty unobjectionable as a matter of common sense, but many commentators keep talking about the Fifth Amendment as if it constrained Italy somehow.  For obvious reasons, the fact that the Italian trial does not conform in every respect to US constitutionally-required criminal procedure can’t be a bar to extradition because that would pretty much bar every extradition from the U.S.  The U.S. Supreme Court decision in US v. Balsys seems to have settled this question with respect to the Fifth Amendment self-incrimination rule, and it should apply to double jeopardy as well.

3) In any event, the conviction, acquittal, and then conviction again is almost certainly not double jeopardy anyways.  Knox was convicted in the first instance, than that conviction was thrown out on appeal.  That appellate proceeding (unlike a US proceeding) actually re-opened all of the facts and is essentially a new trial.  But it is still an appellate proceeding and in the US we would not treat an appellate proceeding that reversed a conviction as an acquittal for purposes of double jeopardy.  Moreover, it would essentially punish the Italian legal system for giving defendants extraordinary rights of appeal and tons more due process than they would get in the U.S.  If Knox had been convicted in the U.S, she could not have re-opened all of the evidence the way she did in Italy, and probably would have had a harder time getting her original conviction overturned.  So it seems crazy to call “unfair” a legal system which actually gave Knox a completely new chance to challenge her conviction.

Most media coverage seems to get these points (sort of).  I think they have done so because folks like Alan Dershowitz have finally read the treaty and done a little research (he now agrees with this analysis of the treaty above, more or less), and because the magic of the Internet allowed my blog post from last March to be found by reporters doing their Google searches.  So kudos to the Opinio Juris!    Improving media coverage of international legal issues since 2005!

One final note:  the only way this “double jeopardy” argument matters is if this gets to the US Secretary of State, who has final say on whether to extradite.  He might conclude that the trial here was so unfair (because it dragged out so long) that he will exercise his discretion not to extradite.  But this would be a political judgment, not a legal one, more akin to giving Knox a form of clemency than an acquittal.  I would be surprised if the State Department refuses to extradite Knox, given the strong interest the U.S. has in convincing foreign states to cooperate on extradition.  But Knox appears to have lots of popular support in the US. This may matter (even if it shouldn’t).

 *The original post incorrectly called the murder victim “Kirchner”.

Ukraine: Popular Protests, Human Rights Reports, and the Push and Pull of Normative Competition

by Chris Borgen

Following up on my earlier posts on the normative aspects of the struggle concerning Ukraine and other former Soviet countries (1, 2, 3) in the run-up to, and the aftermath of, the EU’s November summit in Vilnius, where Ukraine had been expected to sign an Association Agreement with the EU.  However, the Yanukovich regime backed out at the last minute. I want to focus on recent developments in what analysts are calling the “post-Vilnius” atmosphere and what they reflect about how states and citizens compete over norms.

First, there is the spread of protests from the relatively  pro-EU western Ukraine into the relatively pro-Russia eastern Ukraine.  Electoral maps of Ukraine (1, 2) show the ideological division and why Ukraine is an example of what I’ve called a systemic borderland.  The fact that the anti-government protests moving eastward across the map may be a sign of an increasing tilt towards following the original path of the government in seeking closer association with the EU.  But it also may be nothing more that the populace being tired and angry of the political gridlock and motivated by pictures of anti-protestor violence in the western cities. In this latter scenario, the citizens in eastern Ukraine still want to be more closely tied with Russia, they are just sick of their government brutalizing their own people, for whatever the reason. News reports about protests are one thing, but understanding why people are protesting is very important in situations concerning whether or not domestic norms are in play.

I haven’t seen any significant data on whether there is a deeper normative shift taking place or whether the eastern protests are primarily a reaction to offensive government tactics.

The second development of note is the broadening of the Russia/ EU tensions. The New York Times article on this issue from the January 28 online edition is well worth a full read. Here are a few key points related to the normative aspects of the post-Vilnius tensions:

The future of Ukraine and disagreements over how Russia and EU have approached this are the drivers of the current international bickering. (Keep in mind the domestic tensions are also between the Ukrainian citizens and their government over how the Ukrainian government reacted to protests.)  The international tensions stem from a concern about how Russia perceives its future, vis-à-vis Europe. From the Times:

Russia, [Michael Emerson, the former EU envoy to Moscow] said, needs to show that “all its talk about a ‘common European house’ from Lisbon to Vladivostok is not just a slogan and that Ukraine can be comfortable with both the E.U. and Russia.”

In short: is there one Europe or two?  Will Ukraine be a bridge uniting Europe or a border between two normatively distinct Europes?  A related issue is whether Russia even wants to explore deepening ties with the EU. The Times continues… (Continue Reading)