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International Courts and Dispute Resolution

No, the ASP Didn’t Hoodwink Kenya and the AU Concerning RPE 134quater

by Kevin Jon Heller

Standard Digital News, the online platform of The Standard, one of Kenya’s leading newspapers, published a long article yesterday entitled “Did State Parties Hoodwink Kenya, African Union on ICC Attendence?” Here are the opening paragraphs:

KENYA: Did the Rome Statute Assembly of State Parties hoodwink Kenya that the country’s chief executives would be excused from physical presence at their trials? This is the legal question some experts are raising after International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda unveiled a shocker that Deputy President William Ruto must still show up at the ICC and face his accusers in the courtroom.

The Gambian-born prosecutor maintained that Ruto should not be tried in absentia despite recent amendments by the Assembly of State Parties (ASP) that were lauded by African Union as a major diplomatic victory for Kenya’s indicted leaders.

“The state parties amended the rules out of political pressure but in the end totally hoodwinked Kenya by handing over the discretion to the judges to decide only in exceptional circumstances,” said James Aggrey Mwamu, President of East Africa Law Society.

There is a grain of truth to this complaint: with its obsequious desire to placate Kenya, the ASP certainly didn’t go out of its way to highlight the fact that amending the Rules of Procedure and Evidence (RPE) instead of the Rome Statute left the new rules on presence subject to judicial review. That said, it’s not like the difference between amending the Rome Statute and amending the RPE is some kind of secret; after all, Art. 51(4) of the Rome Statue explicitly provides that “[t]he Rules of Procedure and Evidence, amendments thereto, and any provisional Rule shall be consistent with this Statute,” while Art. 51(5) provides that “[i]n the event of conflict between the Statute and the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, the Statute shall prevail.” Presumably, Kenya and the AU have lawyers capable of reading the Rome Statute — so if they believed that the OTP simply had to accept the new rules, they really have no one but themselves to blame.

And, of course, the OTP is challenging Rule 134quater. The motion is here – and it’s one of the best motions to come out of the OTP in quite some time. Two aspects are particularly worth mentioning…

Two Thoughts on Manuel Ventura’s Critique of Specific Direction

by Kevin Jon Heller

Manuel Ventura, the director of the Peace and Justice Initiative, has published two excellent posts at Spreading the Jam (here and here) that criticize the specific-direction requirement — and my defence of it. I cannot possibly address all of the points that Manuel makes, but I do want to respond to his understanding of the role that customary international law plays at the ICTY and his defence of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon’s (STL) analysis of the general definition of terrorism under customary international law.

Custom at the ICTY

As Manuel notes, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) rejected Perisic‘s specific-direction requirement because it concluded that the requirement lacked an adequate foundation in customary international law. I criticized the SCSL’s position in a recent post, pointing out that the ICTY did not need to find a customary foundation for the specific-direction requirement:

Ad hoc tribunals are limited to applying customary international law because of the nullem crimen sine lege principle: relying on non-customary principles to convict a defendant would convict a defendant of acts that were not criminal at the time they were committed. The specific-direction requirement, however does not expand criminal liability beyond custom; it narrows it. There is thus no reason why the requirement has to have a customary foundation.

Manuel takes issue with my argument in an interesting way — by insisting that the ICTY can only apply legal principles that have a customary foundation, because customary international law is the only source of law that the Tribunal is empowered to apply:

But, says Kevin Jon Heller here and here, this is all irrelevant, as specific direction need not have a customary law basis since it only serves to narrow criminal responsibility rather than expand it. In his view only in the latter is nullum crimen engaged – the reason why the ICTY was mandated to apply customary international law. However, this view misses an important and very basic point. As he acknowledges, the mandate of the ICTY is to apply custom, and while it is true that nullum crimen is not engaged when criminal liability is contracted rather than expanded, it is also true that in not applying custom the ICTY is not applying the law it was specifically mandated and empowered by the UN Security Council to apply. If specific direction is not custom, then it is still applying something, but it cannot be called customary international law. In other words, it went beyond applying its governing law, and into a realm that is was not expressly empowered to go. In short, if specific direction is not customary, then it acted ultra vires and that is as problematic as a nullum crimen violation. It is not simply a bad policy decision that only engages ‘criminal law theory’.

There are two basic problems with Manuel’s argument. First, it is based on a misunderstanding of the ICTY’s mandate. Manuel claims that the Tribunal is empowered to apply one source of law and only one source of law: custom. But the Secretary-General’s report on SC Res. 808 does not say that. Here is the relevant paragraph about custom (para. 34)…

Why the Muslim Brotherhood (Wrongly) Believes the ICC Can Investigate

by Kevin Jon Heller

Gidon Shaviv called it. The Muslim Brotherhood does indeed believe that it can accept the ICC’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis because it is still the legitimate government of Egypt:

Just how successful the ICC action will be is unclear. Egypt is one of the few countries that have not accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction. However, Mr. Dixon and other members of the legal team said the court can act if it receives a declaration from the government accepting the court’s jurisdiction in a particular case. They argued that Mr. Morsi’s government is the still only legitimate ruler in Egypt and it has issued that declaration to the ICC.

“We hope, and we have good reason to believe, that the court will take this declaration seriously,” said John Dugard, a human rights lawyer from South Africa who is involved with the case and who has also worked with the United Nations.

With respect to Dugard, I think the Brotherhood’s efforts are doomed to fail. Had the Morsi government filed its declaration while it was still in power (as in the Cote d’Ivoire situation), that would have been one thing. But it didn’t — and although there are interesting political questions about the legitimacy of the military-led coup/revolution, I don’t think there is much question that the Brotherhood is no longer the government of Egypt. A number of states have condemned the Egyptian military’s actions (see Wikipedia here for a nice rundown pro and con), but none to my knowledge have refused to recognize the Mansour government. And just as importantly, representatives of the Mansour government have continued to represent Egypt at the UN.

Readers who know more about the recognition of governments after coups/revolutions should feel free to weigh in. But even if I’ve understated the legal strength of the Brotherhood’s position, I still find it inconceivable that the OTP will conclude that it has jurisdiction over the situation in Egypt. At the very least, the OTP will likely do what it did with Palestine’s ad hoc declaration — say that the issue is for the Assembly of States Parties, not the Office of the Prosecutor, to resolve.

Good Luck with the ICC, Muslim Brotherhood (Updated)

by Kevin Jon Heller

So this is baffling:

The international legal team representing the Muslim Brotherhood has filed a complaint to the International Criminal Court, reported state-owned media agency MENA.

The team has previously said on 16 August and on 15 November that, following their investigations, they have gathered evidence showing that members of the “military, police and political members of the military regime have committed crimes against humanity”.

[snip]

The Brotherhood’s legal team includes former Director of Public Prosecutions of England and Wales Lord Ken MacDonald, South African International Lawyer and former UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur Professor John Dugard and human rights specialist Michael Mansfield.

A press conference will be held in London on Monday to detail further information concerning the complaint.

I hope the press conference will explain how the ICC has jurisdiction over the situation, given that Egypt has not ratified the Rome Statute. Doesn’t the Brotherhood’s capable legal team know that?

UPDATE: Gidon Shaviv suggests on Twitter that perhaps the Brotherhood will argue that it can accept the ICC’s jurisdiction on an ad hoc basis, because it remains the legitimate government of Egypt. That’s clever, but I would be shocked if the OTP would be willing to wade into that particular political thicket. If it refused to accept Palestine’s ad hoc acceptance, which I think would have been legally more straightforward (Shaviv disagrees), I think there is no chance it would accept the Brotherhood’s.

Exploring International Law with Opinio Juris in 2013: Highways, Back Roads, and Uncharted Territories…

by Chris Borgen

There’s never a boring year in international law and 2013 turned out to be particularly eventful: Syria, major cases in front of national and international courts, a possible nuclear deal with Iran, and turmoil in Eastern Europe, Egypt, and South Sudan, to name but a few reasons.

This post is not an attempt to log all that we have written about on Opinio Juris this year. There’s just too much.  If any of these topics (or others) are of particular interest to you, you can use our search function to find the posts related to them.  Rather, this post is an idiosyncratic tour of some of the highways, back roads, and other territory that we traversed in 2013… (Continue Reading)

Guest Post: W(h)ither now the reputation of the ICTY?

by Megan Fairlie

[Dr. Megan Fairlie is Associate Professor of Law at Florida International University]

A brief consideration of the history of replacement judges at the ICTY reveals an increasing disregard for the rights of the accused in favor of avoiding costly and time-consuming re-hearings. Initially, part-heard cases could not continue with a replacement judge without the accused’s consent. Then, as “consent was only a safeguard,” the rules were amended to permit the two remaining judges to independently decide when continuing a part-heard case “would serve the interests of justice.”

Now, the Tribunal’s mismanagement of its first ever judicial disqualification has taken the matter to a new low, with Vojislav Šešelj’s responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity set to be decided  by three judges, one of whom joined the case nearly two years after closing arguments were heard.

Although apparently united in their aim to see that the case continues no matter what, neither the Tribunal’s Acting President nor Šešelj’s newly constituted Trial Chamber can plausibly explain why allowing a new judge to enter the picture part-way through deliberations is in any way tenable under the ICTY Rules or compatible with Šešelj’s statutory guarantee of a fair trial.

Back in September, the Acting President decided that when a new judge replaces a disqualified one pursuant to Rule 15, Rule 15 bis should govern the procedures to be followed post-replacement. The latter rule permits ongoing proceedings to continue with a replacement judge pursuant to the accused’s consent or by judicial fiat. Problematically, however, 15 bis is limited to part-heard cases, a description that hardly pertains to the “more advanced stage” of Šešelj’s proceedings. As a result, the September order concluded that the provision ought to be applied mutatis mutandis.

The Šešelj facts, however, illustrate why this proposal was deeply flawed. (more…)

Could the India-US Diplomatic Incident Be Resolved in the ICJ?

by Julian Ku

I’ve been working hard this break teaching in Hofstra’s winter program in Curacao. But I couldn’t resist stepping away from the beach and posting on the India-US flap over the arrest of an Indian diplomat in New York. Dapo Akande at EJIL Talk! has two great posts on the consular and diplomatic immunity legal issues.  I have nothing to add, but wanted to focus on how the ICJ could actually play a role in resolving (or not resolving) this dispute.

As those following the incident may know, Devyani Khobragade, India’s deputy consul-general in New York, was arrested and charged with lying on her visa applications about the salary she was paying the maid she had brought from India.  As a consular official, Khobragade could only assert functional rather than absolute immunity. Most of the outrage in India is about her treatment after arrest (which does seem excessive to me as well), but the legal issues mostly have to do with her immunity from arrest.

As Dapo points out, India may now be asserting that at the time of the arrest, Khobragade had already been transferred to India’s U.N. Mission.  This might entitle her to the broader protections of U.N. diplomatic immunity as oppose to mere consular immunity. According to Dapo, Section 11(a) of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations may grant her absolute immunity from arrest (but not from prosecution).  India may also argue shifting her to the UN mission now gives her immunity from arrest going forward, even if she wasn’t a UN diplomat at the time of her arrest. Thus, on this theory, Khobragade could at least leave the U.S., or even wander New York free from the possibility of arrest or detention, even though the criminal prosecution would go forward.

Much of this would turn on whether Khobragade would need U.S. consent to acquire diplomatic status within the U.N.  Again, I am far from expert on this but it seems a murky legal issue at best with plausible arguments for both sides based on  the U.S./UN Headquarters Agreement and the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.

Sounds like a case for international dispute settlement! It turns out there are mandatory dispute settlement procedures under both agreements.  The U.S./UN Headquarters Agreement allows the U.N. to take the U.S. to compulsory arbitration pursuant to Section 21. This would require the U.N. to side with India’s view on Khobrogade’s diplomatic status, but this is hardly impossible or even improbable that they would support a broad view of UN diplomatic rights and immunities.

Interestingly, India could also take the U.S. to the ICJ under Article VIII, Section 30 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.

SECTION 30. All differences arising out of the interpretation or application of the present convention shall be referred to the International Court of Justice, unless in any case it is agreed by the parties to have recourse to another mode of settlement.

Somewhat surprisingly, both India and the U.S. have signed on to the Convention without trying to limit the effect of this provision through a reservation (as China and others have done).  Such a reservation may be of little effect anyway, but at least it would be an argument against ICJ jurisdiction.   So I think that India could bring an ICJ case seeking a provisional measure guaranteeing Khobragade’s immunity from arrest under Article 11(a).

It is possible the U.S. would simply ignore any ICJ order, but this is not quite the same as the Medellin cases.  First of all, it is the federal government rather than the state governments involved here, and the President probably has authority to order federal agents NOT to arrest Khobragade.  Furthermore, the U.S. interest here is far weaker than in the Medellin case, which involved individuals who had been convicted of murder.  In this case, the U.S. may be upset over allowing an alleged visa-fraudster to walk, but it is of a completely different magnitude than giving a new hearing to a convicted murderer.

In my view, it would be a perfectly legitimate exercise of presidential power to order executive branch officials to refrain from further action in this case. An ICJ provisional measures might provide a clearer justification for the President’s decision, although I think he probably has the authority right now to stop all of this.  But the ICJ might provide a face-saving way for both sides to resolve this deeply fractious incident.

In any event, it will be interesting to see if India chooses the ICJ route. Or if the US even invites an ICJ resolution of this conflict. Indeed, if India goes to far in its retaliations against US diplomats, the U.S. might take India to the ICJ under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations!

The current ICJ even has one Indian judge, and one U.S. judge. One problem for India is that its legal position is hardly flawless, and it could very well fail in the ICJ.  But if India thinks it has strong legal arguments (and they do look fairly strong to me), it seems like a textbook case for the ICJ. Indeed, since neither side shows any sign of backing down, I think the ICJ might actually be useful here.

Another Round in the Amnesty-Goodman-Heller Debate over Universal Jurisdiction

by Kevin Jon Heller

At long last, Amnesty has weighed in on the debate between me and Ryan about its methodology for determining whether a state exercises universal jurisdiction over at least one international crime. As I expected, and contrary to Ryan’s claim, Amnesty does not consider it sufficient for a state to have incorporated the Rome Statute into its domestic legislation. On the contrary, it requires the existence of domestic legislation that extends universal jurisdiction over an international crime, whether specifically (“this legislation provides universal jurisdiction over international crime X”) or generically (“this legislation provides universal jurisdiciton over all international crimes defined in ratified treaties”). Here is the key statement from Amnesty’s response:

[T]he above mentioned conclusions are not based on counting “[s]tates as having enacted universal jurisdiction if the state is a party to the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court or, more precisely, if the state has adopted a form of implementing legislation along with ratification of the treaty”. That would be a mistake. For example: Chad, Gabon, Maldivas, Nauru, and Zambia – which are states party to the Rome Statute are enlisted in the report as not providing for universal jurisdiction for any of the crimes defined in the Rome Statute. And Ireland and Liechtenstein – which have ratified the Rome Statute and enacted legislation implementing it into national law — are also both considered as not providing for universal jurisdiction with regard to crimes against humanity and genocide. In sum, Amnesty International considers that the domestic law in these countries has the effect of conferring universal jurisdiction over crimes defined in, for example, the Rome Statute. Therefore Amnesty International are not basing the claim that such countries have universal jurisdiction on the fact of their ratification of the Rome Statute alone but rather on domestic legislation that enacts universal jurisdiction for all crimes in treaties (including for example the Rome Statute) that they have ratified.

Unfortunately, Ryan still insists that Amnesty is overcounting the number of universal jurisdiction states. Here is his response, in relevant part:

In other words, the problem with the coding procedure is that it appears to involve the following two steps:

Step 1: the proposition that the Rome Statute obligates state parties to enact universal jurisdiction for ICC crimes

Step 2: the decision to code a state as having enacted universal jurisdiction if it (a) is a party to the Rome Statute and (b) its domestic law provides for jurisdiction over crimes obligated by international treaty

As I explained in my original post, Step 1 is flawed. The Rome Statute does not include universal jurisdiction, and has no obligation whatsoever for state parties to provide (extraterritorial) jurisdiction for ICC crimes.

I suspect that the reason Amnesty sets forth the two steps as a part of its coding procedure is because it is meaningful – i.e., that it makes a difference in their results. It is difficult to discern, from the Annexes of the study, which particular states might be affected, because the relevant information is not provided.

There are a number of problems with this response. To begin with, there is no “Step 1″ in Amnesty’s analysis…

The Final Nail in the ICTY’s Coffin

by Kevin Jon Heller

So, it’s official: the ICTY Trial Chamber has decided to let Judge Niang replace Judge Harhoff on the Seselj case:

The Trial Chamber on Friday issued a decision on the continuation of the proceedings in the case of Vojislav Šešelj, following the disqualification of Judge Frederik Harhoff and appointment of Judge Mandiaye Niang to the Bench.

The Chamber unanimously ordered that the proceedings would resume from the point after the closing arguments, and move into the deliberations phase as soon as Judge Niang has familiarized himself with the file. The Trial Chamber will issue a decision once this has been completed.

The Chamber agreed that a new judge is able to assess witness testimony given in his absence through other means, including video recordings. Consequently, the Chamber concluded that Judge Niang will be thus able to evaluate the credibility of witnesses heard during the proceedings in the Šešelj case, and familiarise himself with the record of the proceedings to a satisfactory degree.

[snip]

The Prosecution argued that that the trial should continue at the deliberation stage, after Judge Niang familiarises himself with the existing case record. The Prosecution claimed that such a solution would not be unprecedented in the Tribunal’s practice, pointing to the trial of Slobodan Milosevic where Judge Bonomy replaced Judge May.

The ICTY has yet to release an English translation of the decision, but Dov Jacobs notes on twitter that the Trial Chamber claims allowing Judge Niang to participate in deliberations, despite not hearing a single witness or item of evidence, is “in the interest of justice.” By “in the interests of justice,” of course, the Trial Chamber means “in the interests of conviction,” because there is nothing remotely just about permitting a judge to decide the fate of an individual whose trial he did not attend for even a single day.

Alas, that is only one of many absurdities in the case. As I have pointed out before, the Tribunal is appointing Judge Niang pursuant to a rule of procedure, Rule 15bis, that applies only to “part heard” cases. But applying the rule as written would prevent Seselj from being convicted, so the Tribunal is simply ignoring what it says. And, of course, the OTP is playing its part by invoking the dreaded Milosevic case as precedent, conveniently ignoring the fact that Judge Bonomy was appointed to replace Judge May before the defence began its case in chief, a situation that — unlike Seselj’s — is actually covered by Rule 15bis.

But don’t worry, Judge Niang is supposedly going to spend the next six months “assess[ing] witness testimony given in his absence through other means, including video recordings,” and will thus be able to “familiarise himself with the record of the proceedings to a satisfactory degree.” Of course he will: it’s not like the trial lasted 175 days, involved 81 witnesses, included 1,380 exhibits, and generated more than 18,000 pages of trial transcript (a mere 100 pages of transcript per day, assuming Judge Niang never takes a day off and fits his reading in around the hundreds of hours of witness testimony he will need to watch).

I’ve always defended the legitimacy of the ICTY — even after experiencing first-hand in the Karadzic case how unfair the Tribunal can be at times. But no longer. Unless the Appeals Chamber does the right thing, this latest decision will forever tarnish both the ICTY’s legacy and international criminal justice more generally.

Russia Ignores ITLOS, Formally Violates its UNCLOS Obligations, and No One Cares

by Julian Ku

I’ve been so distracted with my own projects and with China’s ADIZ that I forgot to note that Russia has been in violation of its obligations under UNCLOS since at least December 2.  But that’s OK, it seems that everyone else has forgotten this fact as well.

December 2 was the date set by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea for compliance with its order that Russia “immediately release the vessel Arctic Sunrise  and all persons who have been detained, upon the posting of a bond or other financial security by the Netherlands….”  The Netherlands has posted that bond, and as far as I can tell, the Arctic Sunrise has not been released, and none of the detainees have been allowed to leave the “territory and maritime areas under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation.”  (All have been granted bail, though.)

Russia has no obligation to participate in the ITLOS proceeding, but it has a clear obligation under Article 290(5) to “comply promptly with any provisional measures prescribed…” by the ITLOS.  So Russia is now in plain violation with a lawful judgment of the ITLOS.

What is amazing about this violation in plain sight is that the media appears to have forgotten about this lingering ITLOS order. Russia ignores the ITLOS, and….nothing.  Even the reliable Greenpeace Blog is fairly quiet since their folks are out on bail.  So it turns out no one really cares all that much that the ITLOS has been essentially rendered a nullity in this case as a result of the unilateral action of one of UNCLOS’s member states. I suppose that the Dutch are working out some sort of diplomatic settlement. But this doesn’t change the formal legal violation.

Why do I bring this up? Because if Russia takes no reputational hit from its defiance of ITLOS here, then it seems less likely that other states will worry about the reputational hit from defying ITLOS or other international courts.  Hence, Paul Reichler (the Philippines U.S. attorney in its arbitration) is almost certainly wrong when he said recently:

….[T]here is a heavy price to pay for a state that defies an international court order, or a judgment of an arbitral tribunal that is seen, that is recognized, in the international community as legitimate, as fair, as correct, as appropriate,” Reichler said in a forum hosted by the US-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on Tuesday evening, Philippine time.

“There’s a price to be paid for branding yourself as an international outlaw, as a state that doesn’t respect, that doesn’t comply with international law,” said the topnotch lawyer, who has defended sovereign states for over 25 years.

Hmm…Iran in 1980 (Hostages), the U.S. in 1984 (Nicaragua) and 2008 (Mexico), Colombia in 2013 (Nicaragua)…uh, sorry Paul, I’m not seeing any heavy prices being paid.   So far, Russia is offering a real-life empirical counter-example to Reichler’s claim. Indeed, I don’t see that Russia is paying much of a price at all, so far.  Maybe this is because Russia’s international reputation is not exactly at an all time high, right now. Stlll, China is watching.  If Russia can ignore ITLOS in a case where they actually have detained 30 foreign nationals (mostly from the U.S., Australia, and Europe), then do we really think China will suffer much damage from ignoring an arcane ruling about a bunch of rock/islands where no actual human beings are actually affected?

Does the WTO need a New Agreement to Save its Dispute Settlement System?

by Julian Ku

The WTO’s new Director-General Roberto Azevedo is celebrating a rare event:  The WTO’s entire 159-country membership has finally reached  a new multilateral agreement.  This is the first time that the WTO’s membership as a whole (as opposed to smaller groups of its member states) has reached an agreement since it was formed in 1994 and the first set of agreements under the so-called “Doha” round of negotiations that has been going on since 2001.  Most commentary in the United States and elsewhere describe this as a pretty small-bore agreement on trade facilitation and agriculture (especially given the scope of the original agenda under Doha).

I am intrigued by some commentary coming out of Bali to the effect that a new agreement is needed to keep the WTO relevant and legitimate in the eyes of its members.  The WSJ has this unattributed comment:

Some negotiators said the limited pact gives the WTO credibility to continue its other main role: as an arbiter of trade disputes.

The WTO works by consensus and the breakdown of the talks could also have hurt the organization’s dispute-settling mechanism, they said.

I guess I am skeptical that the lack of progress on  new agreements will have any serious impact on the ability of the WTO’s famous dispute settlement body to stay relevant.  With or without the new agreement, the WTO is already an immensely deep and complex web of legal obligations for a larger and larger set of members. Interpreting these obligations, and managing disputes, is probably significant enough to most members that they don’t feel like they need a new agreement to stay engaged.

Anyway, the Bali agreement is only a “draft ministerial declaration” which needs to be formalized next year.  Then, the U.S. Congress will have a chance to vote on it (and probably the Asian and European regional trade deals).  This ought to be loads of fun in a congressional election year.  At least they don’t have to get two-thirds of the U.S. Senate on board.

Will Russia Comply with the ITLOS Ruling? Probably Not.

by Julian Ku

It looks like Russia is not going to comply with last week’s ITLOS ruling, ordering it to release the Arctic Sunrise and its passengers upon payment of a bond.

Russia is not going to comply with the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea’s Friday ruling regarding the Arctic Sunrise vessel operated by Greenpeace, Russian presidential chief of staff Sergei Ivanov said.

“It will not, because we said at the very start that we are not going to take part in these proceedings,” Ivanov said on Saturday when asked by journalists how Russia will react to the Tribunal’s ruling.

Russia ratified the convention based on which this Tribunal acts with a number of reservations, which prevented it from entering these particular proceedings, Ivanov said.

“The issue will be handled not politically but legally, based on Russian law rather than someone’s political wishes,” he added.

Russia will probably stick to its legal position, which is contained in its note verbale to the Netherlands, arguing that this matter lies beyond the jurisdiction of UNCLOS dispute settlement since it is an exercise of Russia’s criminal jurisdiction in its law enforcement capacity.

Of course, as Prof. Craig Allen noted here, the ITLOS rejected Russia’s view of jurisdiction holding that an Annex VII Arbitral Tribunal would have at least prima facie jurisdiction.  This seems to be enough to justify ITLOS’s provisional measures jurisdiction.  Since such a tribunal has the power to determine its own jurisdiction (pursuant to UNCLOS Art. 288(4)), Russia’s jurisdictional position is hard to support.  It’s also annoying because just a few months ago, the world was treated to a lecture from President Putin on how “the law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not” in the midst of the Syria crisis.

Russia will not technically violate its UNCLOS obligations until Monday, December 2, the deadline for compliance with the ITLOS order.  And it is already releasing most of the Greenpeace folks on bail (leaving the country is another matter).  So it will probably work out some sort of diplomatic settlement with the Netherlands here, but it looks like complying with the ITLOS order is not in the cards.  As this Russian law professor explains,

“If Russia refuses to fulfill the requirements of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea regarding the Greenpeace case, it will not entail any sanctions. International law does not provide punishment for insubordination,” Labin said.

I don’t want to overstate the significance of this incident, but if Russia fails to comply (unlike Ghana earlier this year) and does not participate in the Annex VII arbitration (per the China example) either, this is another serious problem for the future effectiveness of UNCLOS dispute settlement.