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International Legal Theory and Teaching

The Protests in Ukraine and Normative Geopolitics

by Chris Borgen

One hundred and ten years ago next month, British geographer Halford Mackinder presented a paper at the Royal Geographical Society in London entitled “The Geographical Pivot of History,” setting out the basic tenets of what we now call “geopolitics.”  Strategic thinking during the Cold War was in part framed by geopolitical ideas such as the struggle over key territory in the “global heartland,” namely, Eurasia. But geopolitics today has evolved. It is no longer primarily a military stuggle to take or hold territory. It is now defined by competition over ideas and institutions in relation to strategic goals. Geopolitics has become normative.  Witness Ukraine.

Tens of thousands people are in the streets of Kiev because Ukraine’s political leadership announced two weeks ago that it would not sign an Association Agreement and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU at the EU summit in Vilnius at the end of November. Rather, the government announced that Ukraine would join the Moscow-led Eurasian Customs Union.  The relationship of foreign policy strategy to norms and laws, of high politics to people in the streets, is the stuff of normative geopolitics.

I had recently written a post about the struggle to define the normative futures of countries in Russia’s “near abroad,” particularly Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia.  (And written about these topics at greater length in various articles and essays.) At issue is whether these countries will become more fully integrated into “European” institutions (especially the EU) or reintegrate with revamped “Russian” institutions (such as the Eurasian Customs Union). When a state is on one side or another of a normative border (Lithuania is part of the European normative order, Belarus is in Russia’s), normative boundaries coincide with national boundaries and the situation is relatively clear. But some states, such as Ukraine, are what I have called “systemic borderlands” that contain aspects of two or more normative systems. When normative systems overlap and jostle within a country, the result can be normative friction.  This can relate to domestic laws, such as whether a particular conception of property rights or of human rights will be adopted. It can also concern international legal norms, such as to which treaties a state will become a signatory or which international organizations a state may join.

Ukraine is a particularly stark example of a systemic borderland; its electoral map shows the normative division of the country between further integration with the EU or  with Russia.  The NY Times reported on November 21 that Ukraine’s decision not to sign the Association Agreement:

…largely scuttles what had been the European Union’s most important foreign policy initiative: an ambitious effort to draw in former Soviet republics and lock them on a trajectory of changes based on Western political and economic sensibilities. The project, called the Eastern Partnership program, began more than four years ago.

[This] a victory for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. He had maneuvered forcefully to derail the plans, which he regarded as a serious threat, an economic version of the West’s effort to build military power by expanding NATO eastward. In September, similar pressure by Russia forced Armenia to abandon its talks with the Europeans.

The EU issued a memorandum reiterating its (at least official) view that the signing of DCFTAs and Association Agreements with the EU is not normative competition, but rather normative bridge-building between east and west:

While being aware of the external pressure that Ukraine is experiencing, we believe that short term considerations should not override the long term benefits that this partnership would bring. However the European Union will not force Ukraine, or any other partner, to choose between the European Union or any other regional entity. It is up to Ukraine to freely decide what kind of engagement they seek with the European Union…

We therefore strongly disapprove of the Russian position and actions in this respect. The Association Agreement and a DCFTA are opportunities to accompany our common neighbours towards modern, prosperous and rule-based democracies. Stronger relations with the European Union do not come at the expense of relations between our Eastern partners and their other neighbours, such as Russia. The Eastern Partnership is conceived as a win-win where we all stand to gain.

This attempt at framing increasing integration with the EU as a “win-win” for the EU, Russia, and Ukraine, has not persuaded Vladimir Putin…(Continue Reading)

Guest Post: Behavioral International Law and Economics: Benchmark and Applications

by Anne van Aaken

[Prof. Dr. Anne van Aaken is Professor of Law and Economics, Legal Theory, Public International Law and European Law at the University of Sankt Gallen, Switzerland.]

I am delighted that Tomer Broude commented on Opinio Juris on the potential and the pitfalls of the use of behavioral economics in international law and am equally happy that I am able to follow up on this. I will do so in two steps: the first part will address the benchmark against which Behavioral International Law and Economics (BIntLE) should be measured in my view. The second mentions some of the applications I suggest in my paper and in an earlier article. Tomer and I are currently planning a book together, bringing together the insights of both of our papers and extending them considerably.

In his introduction to the topic, Tomer comments on the relationship of “Behavioral International Law” to rational choice approaches in international law and international relations.

Behavioral Economics is an empirically validated theory about human behavior. There are of course competing theories in social science. The psychological research is not free-floating and it is not used as such in the field of international law and international relations. Tomer suggests as a basis from which to depart sociological approaches. Sociology as such does not have a unified behavioral model, thus one would need to clarify which sociological theories are drawn upon (e.g. the homo sociologicus as advanced by Ralf Dahrendorf (micro theory of individual behavior), system theory (macro theory), etc.). I suggest as a benchmark rational choice theory, for two reasons.  First, the psychological insights we use are commonly named behavioral economics, given that this research tests and challenges the rational choice hypothesis to a hitherto unknown extent (and the psychologist Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel prize in economics). But behavioral economics is not yet at a stage where it has a unified behavioral theory replacing rational choice: many heuristics and biases depend on the decision-making context (those have to be studied carefully). Rational choice is still the benchmark against which the insights are measured. Second, the parsimony of rational choice makes it a natural starting point. Since behavioral research adds complexity (something which every academic should try to avoid if a simpler explanation is possible for answering a certain research question), it has to show that it generates better insights and is able to explain phenomena which cannot be explained drawing on the rational choice approach alone. To use a coin minted by Einstein: “Everything should be as simple as it can be, but not simpler.” A rational choice approach might sometimes be too simple. Tomer and I share the belief that behavioral economics is able to generate more and better insights to the functioning of international law and we share also the deliberations on the methodological problems this might generate. Because of the weight I put on parsimony, I shift the burden of proof on BintLE to show that it might generate better insights than a rational choice approach to international law. This has to be done step by step, analyzing different fields of general and special international law. After all, it will be the empirics which will validate (or not) the research hypotheses advanced by any theory: the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Having said that, let me turn to some promising insights, adding to Tomer´s suggestions in his paper and his post. (more…)

The International Law Commission’s 65th Session (2013)

by Sean D. Murphy

[Sean D. Murphy is the Patricia Roberts Harris Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School. He is a member of the United Nations' International Law Commission.]

For the next two weeks, the Sixth Committee of the U.N. General Assembly will be debating the Annual Report of the International Law Commission, covering its 65th session in Geneva held during the summer of 2013, as well as the Commission’s Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties (which could not be debated last year due to Hurricane Sandy). Both the 2013 Annual Report and the Guide to Practice may be found at http://www.un.org/law/ilc. Further, those interested in watching the debate live can do so on U.N. TV at http://webtv.un.org/ .  Finally, in due course, summary and some verbatim records should be available at the U.N. PaperSmart portal, which is at http://papersmart.unmeetings.org. This posting will focus on the issues discussed in the 2013 Annual Report.

First, the Commission made progress in addressing the immunity of state officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction by adopting preliminarily three draft articles in what is expected to be a series of draft articles. Draft article 1 indicates the basic scope of the project (immunity of state officials from the criminal jurisdiction of another state) and makes clear that the articles are “without prejudice to the immunity from criminal jurisdiction enjoyed under special rules of international law, in particular by persons connected with diplomatic missions, consular posts, special missions, international organizations and military forces of a State.” Draft Article 2 on definitions is being held in abeyance until further along in the project, but Draft Article 3 indicates that:  “Heads of State, Heads of Government and Ministers for Foreign Affairs enjoy immunity ratione personae from the exercise of foreign criminal jurisdiction.” By identifying these three persons (sometimes referred to as “the Troika”) as entitled to status-based immunity, the Commission is differing from dicta of the International Court of Justice in the Arrest Warrant (D.R.C. v. Belgium) case, where the Court suggested a potentially broader sweep for the immunity. There the Court asserted in paragraph 51 of the 2002 judgment that “it is firmly established that, as also diplomatic and consular agents, certain holders of high-ranking office in a State, such as the Head of State, Head of Government and Minister for Foreign Affairs, enjoy immunities from jurisdiction in other States, both civil and criminal.” Draft article 4 asserts that immunity ratione personaes is enjoyed only during those three officials’ term of office, that it covers all acts performed (whether in a private or official capacity), and that the cessation of the immunity thereafter is without prejudice to the application of the rules of international law concerning immunity ratione materiae. The Commission will now await the special rapporteur’s subsequent reports, in which she will explore immunity ratione materiae, possible exceptions to immunity, and procedural matters, with associated draft articles and commentary.

Second, the Commission adopted five draft “conclusions” in what is expected to be a series of conclusions on the topic “subsequent agreements and subsequent practice in relation to the interpretation of treaties.” Draft conclusion 1 basically situates the topic within the rules on treaty interpretation set forth in Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), and stresses that the “interpretation of a treaty consists of a single combined operation, which places appropriate emphasis on the various means of interpretation indicated, respectively, in articles 31 and 32.”  Where the subsequent agreements and practice establish agreement among all the parties to the treaty, it “shall be taken into account” under VCLT Article 31(3), whereas “recourse may be had” to other subsequent practice in the application of the treaty as a “supplementary means “of interpretation under VCLT Article 32. Notably, draft conclusion 1 confirms the status of Articles 31 and 32 as customary international law.

Draft conclusion 2 indicates that… (Continue Reading)

Behavioral International Law: What Is It Good For?

by Tomer Broude

[Tomer Broude is Vice-Dean and Sylvan M. Cohen Chair in Law at the Faculty of Law and Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.]

Having set out general considerations and a research methodology framework for “Behavioral International Law” in previous posts, some readers might be wondering how this all cashes out for international law as a discipline?

In their path-breaking 1999 YJIL article on economic analysis of international law, Jeffrey Dunoff and Joel Trachtman noted that “almost every international law research subject could be illuminated, to some degree, by these research methods” [referring to economic analysis]. With similar caveats, it is tempting to say something similar and related about behavioral analysis and international law. Behavioral international law is not a ‘theory of everything’. Neither is it a normative framework of analysis, as such. But properly constructed behavioral research selectively employing the methodologies I describe here can significantly increase our knowledge in all areas of international law, with respect to many problems and puzzles.

In my article, I developed three examples that cover the entire spectrum of levels of analysis as well as research methodologies. In all of them, a mere theoretical application is sufficient to stimulate discussion by posing alternative hypotheses and explanations, but if one is concerned with empirical accuracy, field studies and experimental work is necessary. Moreover, the examples – essentially three mini-articles – cover diverse areas of international law (treaty law, WTO dispute settlement and international humanitarian law). I will briefly summarize two examples.  (more…)

Behavioral International Law: A Methodological Framework

by Tomer Broude

[Tomer Broude is Vice-Dean and Sylvan M. Cohen Chair in Law at the Faculty of Law and Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.]

In my previous post, I tried to briefly introduce the merits of “Behavioral International Law”. Experimental research has shown that in many cases human behavior diverges from theoretical assumptions about rationality. Prospect theory, loss aversion, endowment effects, anchoring, hindsight bias, availability bias, conformity effects, framing effects – the list of experimentally proven, systematic diversions from perfect rationality in human behavior is long. The confines of a blog post preclude detailed discussion of any of these biases and heuristics; the literature in cognitive psychology is vast. The important point, pursued by scholars over the last decade or so, is that this knowledge of actual, rather than hypothesized or assumed, human behavior, can have significant implications for legal regulation. Why should this not be the case with respect to public international law?

A number of objections may arise, and I will mention two of them briefly here. The first would be that cognitive psychology and behavioral economics relate primarily to the conduct of individuals as (obviously) unitary actors, while the main subjects of international law are collective entities, primarily states. This presents a type of external validity problem: can the knowledge we have on human behavior, carry over to other actors? (more…)

Behavioral International Law: An Introduction

by Tomer Broude

[Tomer Broude is Vice-Dean and Sylvan M. Cohen Chair in Law at the Faculty of Law and Department of International Relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.]

I’d like first to thank the Opinio Juris team, and particularly Prof. Chris Borgen, for inviting me to present my article manuscript, “Behavioral International Law”, in this online forum. Today I will devote my post to general observations on this project. In my second post I will discuss the range of available research methodologies in this area. A third post will discuss some concrete examples of behavioral research in international law.

Behavioral science has in recent years been applied successfully to many legal issues. A field that just a decade ago was entirely new now merits its own research handbooks (one forthcoming with OUP in 2014, edited by my Hebrew University colleagues Doron Teichman and Eyal Zamir). Behavioral research is now embedded in national and regulatory policy-making that clearly interacts with international affairs (see Cass Sunstein’s article on “Nudges.gov” here; the UK’s Behavioural Insights Team; and this conference in December on EU law and behavioral science). No less importantly, the groundbreaking work of cognitive psychologists such as Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos Tversky has been greatly popularized in a series of popular science books (see here, here, and here), making it more accessible to lawyers and policy-makers (for better or for worse).

Simplified, the central concept underlying research in this field is the recognition that human cognitive capabilities are not perfect or infinite; our rationality is ‘bounded’. The human brain makes shortcuts in judgment and decision-making that diverge from expected utility theory. Limiting aspects of bounded rationality and the shortcuts taken to overcome them – generally known as biases and heuristics – inevitably cause human decisions that would be regarded as erroneous if compared with theoretically/perfectly rational outcomes. As I explain in the article, this should at least give pause to standard rational choice approaches to law in general and international law in particular, whose assumptions about the rationality of states and other actors are often distant from behavioral realities.

Having said this, it is important to understand that behavioral economics does not aspire to replace one ideal-type decision maker (a perfectly rational one) with another (rationally imperfect) one. (more…)

Interpretation isn’t just Meaning! The Existential Function of Interpretation in International Law

by Duncan Hollis

Looking back at all the debates over whether the United States could have legal authority to use force in Syria, I was struck by the presence of two very different types of arguments about the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).  For some, the R2P questions were interpretative in nature — what did R2P mean (i.e., does it require Security Council authorization) and how does its meaning apply in the Syrian context?  Obviously, different interpretative methods and techniques could generate different answers to what R2P meant, and, with them, different outcomes for the Syrian intervention question. Many others, however, never made it to this interpretative stage.  For them, the R2P questions were existential — did it even exist within the corpus of international law in the first place?

Looking at R2P in Syria provides a paradigmatic example of how international legal interpretation can do more than simply explain what a legal concept “means”.  It shows that the interpretative project is not just an expository process but an existential one. The very act of interpreting validates the legal existence of that which is being interpreted. Interpretations of R2P with respect to the legality of a Syrian intervention necessarily accepted the existence of R2P within international law.  At the same time, deciding whether or not R2P exists itself constitutes a particular form of interpretative process, or what I call an existential interpretation.  I’ve written a paper about these existential aspects of international legal interpretation that’s now available on SSRN (I also presented it at this fabulous conference on interpretation in Cambridge).  Here’s the abstract:

For most international lawyers, interpretation involves acts giving meaning to a particular legal rule. Interpretative studies center largely on questions of method and technique – by what process should (or must) meaning be given to an international legal rule and how does a given meaning accord with the interpretative method employed. In recent years, increasing methodological awareness of interpretative theory has broadened – or, in the case of critical scholarship, challenged – the capacity of interpretation to give meaning to international law.

Notwithstanding the value in focusing on interpretative methods and techniques, the concept of interpretation they produce remains incomplete. International law’s interpretative processes are like an iceberg – the meaning arrived at by an interpreter is not simply a function of the method and technique employed (the visible tip) but rests on an array of earlier choices about what “exists” to be interpreted in the first place (the iceberg’s hidden, critical mass). A familiar example involves the question of what evidence counts as “State practice” for purposes of identifying customary international law. Interpreters who only count what States “do” may generate different content for a claimed rule than those who also consider what States “say” about the rule, even holding constant the method and technique employed. Similar existential questions arise throughout the international legal order. Before a treaty can be interpreted according to the 1969 Vienna Convention, for example, the interpreter must conclude the treaty actually exists. Indeed, interpretative choices lie at the core of international law’s sources doctrine, since what qualifies as international law (or not) can privilege or foreclose specific interpretative methods and outcomes.

This paper seeks to uncover the “existential function” of interpretation in international law. It explains how all interpretations have existential effects as they create, confirm, or deny the existence of the subject of interpretation. At the same time, I identify a particular structure of interpretative argument – what I call “existential interpretation” – by which interpreters ascertain the existence of their subjects. I review examples of this phenomenon in questions about the existence of interpretative authority, evidence, international law, and its sources.

Existential interpretations and the functions they serve have significant implications for international legal (a) discourse, (b) doctrine, and (c) theories of international law. Existential interpretations delineate the boundaries for interpretative discourse, narrowing it in cases of consensus on the existence of the interpreted subject, and broadening it in cases of dispute. Where interpretative resolutions of existential questions are possible, they may impact the content of international law doctrine, either directly or indirectly. And, where resolution is not possible, existential interpretations may operate as proxies for theoretical disagreement about the nature or purpose of international law (e.g., positivists may insist interpreters exclude from their toolbox the same soft law sources that naturalists insist require effectiveness as a matter of right). The paper concludes with a call for further study of existential interpretation given its importance to practice as well as its potential to provide a new lens for mapping the unity and fragmentation of the international legal order itself.

I’d welcome feedback if any of you find the paper is worth a read.

What’s Wrong with International Human Rights Law?

by Duncan Hollis

I’ve long admired Oscar Schachter’s idea that there is an ‘invisible college’ of international lawyers operating across the globe, all of whom share a common culture of professionalism and purpose in advancing international law.  Of course, with fragmentation the unity of that profession is more overtly stressed now than in the past (which, I suppose, should not be all that surprising since anyone who’s spent time within a “college” can attest to the occasionally sharp divisions that emerge among faculty and/or their students).

There is one area, however, where the unity of the international legal profession has, to date, appeared unchallenged — international human rights law.  To be sure, there are frequent debates over what this law contains, who has a voice in its interpretation and application, and how effective these rights may be in practice.  But, it’s almost taboo to challenge the concept of international human rights itself.  After all, since we’re all humans, who could oppose the idea that we all have (and are entitled to) certain universal rights?  Well, my colleague Jaya Ramji-Nogales has actually launched just such a challenge as part of a new research agenda, seeking to examine critically the concept of international human rights.  Her first step is a new draft article, ‘Undocumented Migrants and the Failures of Universal Individualism‘.  In it, she actually does something I don’t think I’ve seen an international lawyer do before — identify multiple conceptual problems with the very idea of a universal, international law of human rights.  It’s sure to be a controversial thesis.  But I also think it’s not one to be shouted down, but rather engaged with openly, especially by those who identify themselves as international human rights lawyers.  Here’s her argument in abstract form:

In recent years, advocates and scholars have made increasing efforts to situate undocumented migrants within the human rights framework. Few have examined international human rights law closely enough to discover just how limited it is in its protections of the undocumented. This article takes that failure as a starting point to launch a critique of the universal individualist project that characterizes the current human rights system. It then catalogues in detail the protections available to undocumented migrants international human rights law, which are far fewer than often assumed. The article demonstrates through a careful analysis of relevant law that the human rights framework contains significant conceptual gaps when it comes to the undocumented. It concludes by stepping away from human rights law and offering a radically innovative approach to protecting undocumented migrants and other vulnerable populations.

 

For those interested in reading further, the paper is up on SSRN here.

TEDxHagueAcademy: September 9

by Chris Borgen

For a number of years now, I’ve enjoyed watching TED talks  and TEDx events on a variety of subjects in the realms of science, design, and society. TED may be an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, but TED talks already go well beyond those topics and tomorrow, September 9, there will be a TEDx event on issues of international justice.

TEDxHagueAcademy will bring together a wide range of speakers on issues of international justice, including  former Acting Solicitor General (and, lead counsel for Guantanamo detainees in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) Neal Katyal and President of the ICTY Theodor Meron. Other speakers will include activists and artists who are engaged in questions of peace, justice, and reconciliation. For example, Michael Liu, a lawyer from mainland China representing victims before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, will speak on China and international justice, journalist and human rights activist Iduvina Hernandez will talk about the struggle for justice in Guatemala, and filmmaker Faisal Attrache will talk about his documentary on Syrian refugee barbers.

Two of the organizers of this event were also involved in bringing the group of bloggers over to the Hague for the Peace Palace meetings last week, so I got to hear a bit about TEDxHagueAcademy and it sounds like it will be a very interesting and wide-ranging event.

Videos of the TEDxHagueAcademy talks will be available (and archived for later viewing) on its webpage.

More information is available via TEDxHagueAcademy’s Facebook page and there is a Twitter feed, where you can also send questions to the speakers.

Syria Insta-Symposium: Ezequiel Heffes and Brian E. Frenkel–The Decision-Making Process of the R2P Doctrine: Towards New (Old) Paths in the Use of Force in International Law

by Ezequiel Heffes

[Ezequiel Heffes and Brian E. Frenkel are LL.M. candidates at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights and Teaching Assistants of Public International Law at the University of Buenos Aires, School of Law. This post reflects partial conclusions of our ongoing research at the University of Buenos Aires’s Law School as members of the project “Beyond the Jus In Bello? The Regulation of Armed Conflicts in the History of Jus Gentium and the Limits of IHL as an Autonomous Regime Before other Branches of a ‘Fragmented’ Public International Law.”]

In the last few years the general prohibition on the use of force enshrined in Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter has been approached differently from the classical view. In situations of mass violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, the responsibility to protect (R2P) and humanitarian intervention have begun to emerge as possible exceptions. As Jennifer Trahan correctly points out, from a legalistic point of view the UN Charter only allows intervention in two scenarios: UN Security Council authorized action, and the exercise of the “inherent right of individual or collective self–defence if an armed attack occurs” by one State against another State (Article 51 of the UN Charter).

In consequence both, R2P and humanitarian intervention, would be outside any legal framework. But perhaps, and only perhaps, by analyzing the use of force in international law from a different perspective, new proposals could be taken into account. In an earlier post on this blog, André Nollkaemper has presented the possibility that strikes could be part of a process of reconstruction of the law on the use of force, but what does this mean? An alternative view of the existence of the prohibition of the use of force in international law has to be approached.

Rosalyn Higgins has postulated in the past that international law is a legal decision–making process, i.e., it is a continuing process of authoritative decisions. This idea considers that rights and obligations of entities are created by participants –and not by subjects of international law, a notion that according to her has no functional purpose– and determined not by reference to the trend of past decisions, which she calls ‘rules’, but through a continuous and dynamic process of decisions made by authorized persons or organs. This participation, however, would depend in the end on their factual power to do so in order to be accepted by other established participants of that same system. Higgins affirmed in the same sense that if international law was only a set of rules, then it would be unable to contribute to a changing political world. This rejection means that “those who have to make decisions on the basis of international law –judges, but also legal advisers and others– are not really simply ‘finding the rule’ and then applying it. This is because the determination of what is the relevant rule is part of the decision – makers’ function; and because the accumulated trend of past decisions should never be applied oblivious in the context”. Precisely, Julian Ku raised a similar matter when he posted here that President Obama affirmed that international law is a “factor in the decisionmaking process in the U.S.” since U.S. officials were looking at Kosovo as a precedent for an intervention. The main issue therefore seems to be concerning the prohibition of aggression, is it possible to consider that it is only a set of rules? Could it be changed through the abovementioned process? Higgins answered these questions affirming that even when its prescription is a necessary rule of coexistence, it still must be taken into account the fact that it is “the practice of the vast majority of states that is critical, both in the formation of new norms and in their development and change and possible death”. This means that the foresaid prohibition could change without necessarily loosing its strength, and R2P and humanitarian intervention could be allowed only with the States’ consent. From a theoretical perspective this seems difficult, but not impossible.

Higgins’s theory is certainly susceptible to objections. Roland Portmann for instance affirms that there is a confirmed tendency today that supports the idea of having general rules of international law. Even though this could be taken into account, new paradigms shall be explored including other notions of the above–mentioned use of force regime having in mind that today the law created to maintain international order is not working, or it is working but only in a limited sense since it is not persuading some States to not use the force.

In the context of R2P, by adopting the World Summit Outcome Document, the UN instead of participating in this decision–making process decided to enclose possible new paths within the Charter (Secretary General Report “Implementing the responsibility to protect”; General Assembly Resolution 63/308; SC Resolutions 1674, 1894, among others). It decided then to incorporate all of these legal constructions but nonetheless expressly included the intervention and approval of the Security Council as a requirement. At that time none of the P–5 criticized this. On the contrary, they reaffirmed it (Resolution 1674/2006 unanimously adopted) perhaps as a way of legitimizing their delegitimized position. Nowadays, facing situations where SC action is blocked because of the veto of one or more P–5 members, the others are looking to go back to an alternative view outside Article 2 (4). This would be supported by Higgins’s design, which seems to be the most suitable guideline for the dynamic processes of the international community. It could be said therefore that certain States are continuously contributing in the creation of new international rights and obligations in order to develop new paradigms, either because they understand that the 1945´s does no longer solve current issues, or because it does not serves their interests. In any case, the struggle on the decision-making process cannot be denied. The changes on the UN conception about the R2P doctrine, the division within the Security Council and the veto possibility, the returning to old arguments, they all prove that the Article 2 (4) is no longer considered “sacred” and that there are some intentions to make a change.

AJIL Symposium: Benvenisti response to Klabbers, McCrudden, Von Bogdandy and Schmalz

by Eyal Benvenisti

[Eyal Benvenisti is the Anny and Paul Yanowicz Professor of Human Rights at Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law and Global Visiting Professor at New York University School of Law.]

I am grateful for the three incisive and insightful comments. Due to space limitations I will not be able to do justice to any of the comments in this response, but they will certainly help in my future work on this subject. I will use this brief response to clarify some parts of my argument and to situate the article in my broader research project.

To clarify my argument and hint at its potential significance I will use the pending case before the International Court of Justice concerning Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening). The dispute focuses on Japan’s discretion to issue “special permits” for killing whales arguably for scientific research as provided by Article 8(1) of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (1946). The said Article allows a member state to issue permits and impose conditions “as the Contracting Government thinks fit.” Japan interprets this obligation as a “good faith” obligation, arguing that neither the International Whaling Commission nor the ICJ “have power to approve or disapprove the issue of a special permit.” (Public seating, 4 July 2013, afternoon, verbatim record, p. 36 paras. 23-24). Australia argues, however, that Japan must demonstrate the scientific value of the permits because “Japan does not ‘own’ the whales it catches.” (Public seating, 10 July 2013, morning, verbatim record, p. 65 para. 23). As stated by Professor James Crawford, arguing for Australia: “In respect of resources in the international public domain, to recognize a wide margin of appreciation is, in effect, to allocate those resources to the exploiting State.” (id., para. 22). Given the global commons problem, continues Crawford, the Convention requires “a proper showing … that [research] proposals are genuinely motivated by scientific considerations and adapted appropriately to achieve scientific goals.” Moreover, Japan must “consider seriously” the views of the IWC and its subsidiary organs, otherwise the conclusion will be “that the project is not being carried out for the purposes of scientific research, but for some other purpose inconsistent with the Convention.” (id. at para. 26).

The trusteeship concept that I develop suggests that states are subject to rigorous accountability requirements not only with respect to their treatment of endangered migratory species, but also when they are using transboundary resources they share with a few other states, and even when they manage their “own” resources. For states do not fully “own” their “own” resources. Stated otherwise, following the German Basic Law concept of ownership (Article 14), “Ownership entails obligations. Its use shall also serve the public good.” As discussed in my article (at pp. 311-12), the same rationale applies with even greater force to states.

To some extent, such accountability obligations are minimal because they do not restrict the scope of sovereign discretion. If Australia is right, Japan would have to provide more data and expert analysis to prove the scientific basis for its decision to permit the killing of whales, and pay serious attention to the views of the IWC and others. But the ultimate decision would stay with Japan. Others may remain skeptical, and their suspicion may even have a stronger basis, but nothing more. This would be an “imperfect” obligation, in the sense that it would be a non-justiciable one; but an imperfect obligation is not necessarily an ineffective one, as anyone exposed to public shaming will appreciate.

The question whether the ICJ may question Japan’s explanation is a different and rather difficult one, which requires further deliberation. In my article I identified this as a question to be addressed at a later stage. Such an inquiry will have to assess the legitimate scope of review of national policymaking by external bodies such as international tribunals, in light of concerns with the impartiality of the judges, their competence to make better judgment calls than the reviewed sovereigns, and the potentially stifling impact of their interventions on domestic democratic processes. It may make sense, for example, for the reasons stated by Crawford, to authorize international tribunals to review national discretion when it applies to the use of migratory species but not to the management of domestic stocks.

This minimalist vision seems insufficient for von Bogdandy and Schmalz who want to “Push[] Benvenisti Further.” The opposite push comes from McCrudden who regards my position as “anything but ‘modest’ or ‘minimal’.” (more…)

AJIL Symposium: Comment on Eyal Benvenisti, Sovereigns as Trustees of Humanity

by Christopher McCrudden

[Christopher McCrudden FBA is Professor of Human Rights and Equality Law, Queen’s University, Belfast, William W Cook Global Professor of Law, University of Michigan Law School, and Leverhulme Major Research Fellow (2011-2014). I am particularly grateful to Kathleen McCrudden who provided helpful comments on an earlier draft.]

Eyal Benvenisti asks how far, if at all, national sovereign states are under an obligation to take into account the effects of their internal decisions on those outside the boundaries of the state. We can consider his argument either at a very high level of abstraction, or test his (and our) intuitions by using a worked example of a practical problem that raises the issue he discusses. I prefer the latter approach.

An example

Over the past couple of years, there has been an intense debate in the United Kingdom over whether the UK should leave the European Convention on Human Rights; as part of this larger debate, there has also been a narrower debate over whether (and if so how) the UK should implement the decisions of the European Court of Human Rights on prisoner voting (an issue on which I have blogged earlier elsewhere).  The way in which both the broader and narrower debates are conducted have potentially adverse effects well beyond the UK. The sight of the House of Commons defying the Court on prisoner voting, or high-ranking members of the Government arguing that the UK should leave the Convention, has potentially damaging effects on the authority and legitimacy of the Court and the Convention in other states.

It is one thing for the robust UK debate to be picked up in other stable constitutional democracies with good human rights records.  It is another thing entirely where the British debate is transmitted to barely democratic European states with a debatable human rights record, and a weak commitment to constitutionalism. In the latter states, the British ‘defiance’ gives aid and comfort to altogether darker forces, which see the British resistance as legitimizing their own visceral resistance to the cosmopolitan liberal vision that the Court and the Convention embody.  Is the UK under an obligation to take into account the adverse effects that the British debate, and any decisions flowing from it, may have elsewhere?

There is, of course, both an empirical as well as a normative issue in play here.  For the purposes of this post, I don’t want to get embroiled in the empirical question of whether the UK debates do have such effects externally (although I’m quite prepare to believe that they have). The question I’m interested in is whether, assuming that there are such external effects, the UK ought to take these into account. It is at this point that Eyal Benvenisti’s article is powerfully relevant, since it addresses directly the morality (as well as the legality) of ignoring what economists call ‘externalities’ in domestic decision-making.  On what might we base an obligation (whether moral or legal) to ‘internalise’ these externalities, for example in the debate over the UK’s continuing membership of the ECHR, or whether to implement the ECtHR’s decisions?

Benvenisti’s argument

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