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Law of the Sea

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)

Why the U.S. is Not Invoking International Law to Oppose China’s ADIZ

by Julian Ku

China’s East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) has spawned tons of media commentary, so much so that I have had little to add and can barely keep up with all the coverage. Still, there is one small legal point that bears some further discussion.  While I think the U.S. is correct as a matter of policy to push back against China’s ADIZ, the legal framework underlying the U.S. position is awkward and borderline incoherent.  In fact, the confusing U.S. legal position may explain why the U.S. is not sympatico with Japan on China’s ADIZ.  Let me explain.

It is worth noting that U.S. has not condemned China’s ADIZ as a violation of international law. Instead, the U.S. has called it “unacceptable” and a change in the “status quo”.  Meanwhile, the Chinese have wielded international law as a rhetorical weapon on their side, by citing the U.N. Charter from the outset.  This may seem odd, but in fact, the Chinese are sort of right about this.

As Peter Dutton notes in his AJIL article, establishing an ADIZ is not in itself a violation of international law,  Indeed, it is usually justified by a need to create an early warning system to protect national airspace.  China’s ADIZ seems pretty large (map can be found here), and the U.S has rightly complained that aircraft just transiting the ADIZ should not be subject to China’s requirements if those airlines are not planning to enter (or even come near to) Chinese national airspace.

But China’s ADIZ is carefully drawn to include two sets of islands/rocks that it claims as sovereign territory: the Senkakus/Diaoyu (also claimed by Japan) and the Ieodo/Suyan Rock (also claimed by South Korea).  To the extent those territories are “national airspace”, China can argue that it should be allowed to draw an ADIZ around them to ensure any airplanes coming near them will not enter that airspace, etc.  As Zachary Keck suggests, China is using the ADIZ to subtly build its legal claim to sovereignty over the Senkakus/Diaoyu Islands. Hence, China is probably invoking the UN Charter’s self-defense provision to justify its ADIZ and its need for all foreign aircraft to report flight info/etc. when entering the ADIZ.  (Some commenters to my first post have suggested China can’t invoke self-defense over a disputed territory, or uninhabited islands that don’t otherwise threaten its national airspace.  I am not sure the customary practice is clear on this, since Japan’s ADIZ, which also covers the Senkakus/Diaoyu, couldn’t be justified either under this view. Also, for the purposes of this post, I am assuming China has a plausible claim to the islands).

Seen from this perspective (at least vis-a-vis the U.S.), China’s ADIZ is not inconsistent with any existing international agreement or customary legal rule.  This is largely because of the strange and confusing U.S. position on the sovereignty over the Senkakus/Diaoyu Islands.  The U.S. does not take any official position on which country (China, Taiwan, or Japan) has sovereignty over these islands.  But it recognizes that Japan has administration over them (indeed, it was the U.S. that turned them over to Japan back in 1972) and the U.S. has repeatedly declared that such islands fall within the scope of the U.S.-Japan Defense Treaty.But since the U.S. does not recognize Japanese sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, why should it complain when China draws an ADIZ intended to protect airspace over those islands?

This wrinkle in the U.S. position also explains Japan’s harsher reaction to the Chinese ADIZ. To Japan, China is literally demanding Japanese airlines report to its military before crossing airspace into or near Japan’s own national airspace.  It would be like China demanding information from US airlines flying between San Francisco and Hawaii (Congress would explode with indignation).  But from the U.S. perspective, China is just demanding information about airlines flying near disputed airspace that may or may not be part of China anyway.  This is a threat to freedom of international air navigation, but it is not anything like the same kind of affront to sovereignty that it is to the Japanese.

The U.S. position would be more legally coherent if it would simply recognize Japan’s sovereignty over the Senkakus/Diaoyu.  After all, if the U.S. Navy is willing to fight and die for these islands, the U.S. should at least decide whose owns these islands. (If China creates an ADIZ in the South China Sea, the U.S. will also have the same dilemma. See Michael Kelly’s recent essay on the strategic implications of such an ADIZ).  China is subtly probing the U.S. position here, and it has opened up a slight wedge between the U.S. and Japan.  But this wedge is a result of contradictions in the U.S. legal position, not China’s clever diplomacy.

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?

The OTP’s Remarkable Slow-Walking of the Afghanistan Examination

by Kevin Jon Heller

The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) at the ICC just released its 2013 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities. There is much to chew over in the report, but what is most striking is the OTP’s slow-walking of its preliminary examination into crimes committed in Afghanistan.

The OTP divides preliminary examinations into four phases: (1) initial assessment, which filters out requests for investigation over which the ICC cannot have jurisdiction; (2) jurisdiction, which asks “whether there is a reasonable basis to believe that the alleged crimes fall within the subject-matter jurisdiction of the Court”; (3) admissibility, which focuses on gravity and complementarity; and (4) interests of justice, whether the OTP should decline to proceed despite jurisdiction and admissibility.

The OTP opened its investigation into the situation in Afghanistan in January 2007. Yet only now – nearly seven years later – has the OTP concluded that there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes were committed there. And what are those crimes? Here is a snippet from the report:

23. Killings: According to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (“UNAMA”), over 14,300 civilians have been killed in the conflict in Afghanistan in the period between January 2007 and June 2013. Members of anti-government armed groups were responsible for at least 9,778 civilian deaths, while the pro-government forces were responsible for at least 3,210 civilian deaths. A number of reported killings remain unattributed.

24. According to UNAMA, more civilians were killed by members of anti- government armed groups in the first half of 2013 than in 2012. Members of the Taliban and affiliated armed groups are allegedly responsible for deliberately killing specific categories of civilians perceived to support the Afghan government and/or foreign entities present in Afghanistan. These categories of civilians, identified as such in the Taliban Code of Conduct (Layha) and in public statements issued by the Taliban leadership, include former police and military personnel, private security contractors, construction workers, interpreters, truck drivers, UN personnel, NGO employees, journalists, doctors, health workers, teachers, students, tribal and religious elders, as well as high profile individuals such as members of parliament, governors and mullahs, district governors, provincial council members, government employees at all levels, and individuals who joined the Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Program and their relatives. The UNAMA 2013 mid-year report, in particular, indicated a pattern of targeted killings of mullahs who were mainly attacked while performing funeral ceremonies for members of Afghan government forces.

You can see why it took the OTP nearly seven years to determine (para. 35) “that there is a reasonable basis to believe that crimes within the Court’s jurisdiction have been committed within the situation of Afghanistan.” The crimes are so minor and so isolated that they could only be uncovered by years of diligent investigation.

The OTP obviously could have moved to Phase 3 — admissibility — years ago. So why didn’t it — especially given the pressing need for a non-African investigation? See below…

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.

ITLOS Orders Russia to Release ARCTIC SUNRISE and its Greenpeace Protestors

by Craig H. Allen

[Craig H. Allen is the Judson Falknor Professor of Law at the University of Washington in Seattle.]

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) dealt a blow to the Russian Federation on November 22nd, when it ordered Moscow to release the Arctic Sunrise and the remainder of the Greenpeace protestors who were on the vessel when Russia seized it on September 19, 2013.  Shortly after the tribunal’s decision was announced, however, the Voice of Russia reported that the Russian government does not intend to comply with the order.

The case is the Arctic Sunrise (Kingdom of the Netherlands v. Russian Federation), ITLOS Case No. 22, Provisional Measures, Order of Nov. 22, 2013. The tribunal’s order, which is conditioned upon the Dutch government posting a €3.6 million bond or bank guarantee, was signed by Shunji Yanai, president of ITLOS, on behalf of 19 ITLOS judges. Two judges dissented: Vladimir Golitsyn of Russia and Markiyan Kulyk of Ukraine. In addition, separate opinions were issued by Judges Jesus and Paik individually, along with an important joint separate opinion by Judges Wolfrum and Kelly. …(Continue Reading)

Meanwhile, China Draws a Provocative, Dangerous, But Perfectly Legal Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea

by Julian Ku

£¨Í¼±í£©[¶«º£·À¿Õʶ±ðÇø]¶«º£·À¿Õʶ±ðÇø»®ÉèʾÒâͼI don’t have any insights to offer on the big news this weekend, that legally-non binding-UNSC-resolution-violating agreement in Geneva.  But I did want to note one other big sort-of-law news item from the other side of the world: China’s announcement that it is drawing an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea, including over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.

China’s announcement has riled up both Japan (which has declared it “totally unacceptable”) and the United States (which has expressed “deep concerns.”)

Why all the fuss? China’s new ADIZ appears to overlap with Japan’s own ADIZ in some crucial places (like the Senkakus/Diaoyu) as well as South Korea’s and Taiwan’s.  China has declared that aircraft entering its ADIZ must report flight information to Chinese authorities (actually, its military) and (here’s the scary part), “China’s armed forces will adopt defensive emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in the identification or refuse to follow the instructions.”  The U.S. is already hinting that it will test this resolve by flying aircraft through the ADIZ.  (Wonder which lucky US pilot draws that mission!)

Although provocative and dangerous, it seem clear to me that China’s ADIZ does not violate international law.  Indeed, China’s Foreign Ministry was perfectly correct today in its claim that its ADIZ is consistent with “the U.N. Charter and related state practice.”  Countries (led by the U.S.) have long drawn ADIZs beyond their national sovereign airspace as a measure to protect their national airspace.  This practice, although not exactly blessed by any treaty, does not appear to violate either the Chicago Convention or UNCLOS.  (See Peter Dutton’s very solid review of ADIZs here in the American Journal of International Law for a good discussion on this point).

If China has sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands, then it is perfectly legal for it to declare an ADIZ beyond those islands to protect the airspace above those islands.  It is a little less clear why China needs the rest of the ADIZ, but it is presumably aimed at protecting its national airspace.  The U.S. State Department has already offered China an interpretive out of creating unnecessary conflict:

The United States does not apply its ADIZ procedures to foreign aircraft not intending to enter U.S. national airspace. We urge China not to implement its threat to take action against aircraft that do not identify themselves or obey orders from Beijing.

Now the accuracy of this description of US practice could be questioned, but it is probably right. In recent years, the U.S. has allowed Russian bombers to fly through its ADIZ over Alaska.  If China follows this practice, this could help a great deal to diffuse tensions. One can only hope. Early signs are not promising,as China has essentially told the U.S. to shut up and butt out of this issue.

China’s ICJ Judge Xue Hanqin Publicly Defends China’s Non-Participation in UNCLOS Arbitration [Updated]

by Julian Ku

xue

[This Post has been updated]. One of the main benefits of attending a conference (rather than just reading descriptions of its proceedings), is the chance to have face-to-face exchanges with individuals you normally never get a chance to meet.  One of the unusual aspects of the Asian Society of International Law is that it draws lawyers from many different Asian countries, even Asian countries locked into disputes with each other.  Like the Philippines…and China.

Which is why I was so pleased to witness a frank exchange last week at AsianSIL’s biennial conference in New Delhi, India between two unofficial but influential representatives of each country’s legal positions in the upcoming Philippines-China UNCLOS arbitration. In one corner, Prof. Harry Roque from the University of the Philippines presented a relatively even description of the Philippines’ claim against China during a panel on the Law of the Sea in Asia (click here for his blogging on this same event).  In the other corner, was Judge Xue Hanqin, China’s member of the International Court of Justice.  Although she was not listed as a panel participant, she stood up after Prof. Roque’s presentation to offer a 15-minute extemporaneous defense of China’s position.

Judge Xue is no longer officially affiliated with the Chinese government, but she has served in high diplomatic positions before her current post.  One of her prior positions, indeed, was as China’s Ambassador to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) where she was involved in negotiations with Vietnam over maritime rights.  Moreover, she has served a general legal adviser to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including on its submission to the ICJ in the Kosovo advisory proceeding.  Her views are likely to be close or the same as the views of the Chinese government on these issues.  Since the Chinese government has offered almost no official explanation of its legal position, her statement may be the best we will get from China in the near future.[*UPDATE: On the other hand, Judge Xue wants to make clear she is not representing China in any official or unofficial capacity and that she does not endorse the summary of her views below. See below for her full disclaimer].

The following is based on my notes of her presentation. They are necessarily incomplete, but hopefully a fair summary of her views.

 

U.S. Treaty Practice Does Not Have to Be a Zero-Sum Game!

by Duncan Hollis

November 5, 2013 is U.S. National Treaty Day.  Well, not really, but it might as well be given how much treaties are going to be in the news tomorrow.  For starters, the United States Supreme Court hears oral argument in the case of Bond v. United States (for the pleadings, see SCOTUS blog’s as-always-excellent round-up).  As we’ve blogged previously (a lot), the case challenges the scope of the U.S. treaty power as the basis for implementing legislation in areas where Congress otherwise could not legislate.  In this case, there’s some salacious facts leading to a rather unlikely prosecution under the implementing legislation for the Chemical Weapons Convention (let’s just say the case is a far cry from the scenario that won the OPCW this year’s Nobel Peace Prize).  In the process, Bond questions the continued precedential value of one of the most discussed (and read) cases in U.S. foreign relations law — Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ opinion in Missouri v. Holland.

Then, in the afternoon, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee takes up the UN Disabilities Convention . . .  again (here’s the line-up for those testifying).  The Convention got a lot of attention the last time it reached the Senate floor, with Senate Republicans voting it down despite the poignant appearance of former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, who came to support advice and consent to the treaty. U.S. Senators John McCain and Robert Menendez have an op-ed in USA Today taking their case for Senate advice and consent to the general public.

Of course, the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Disabilities Convention are not the only two treaties to have garnered media attention in recent weeks.  U.S. Secretary of State Kerry’s signature of the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty promoted a rather furious domestic back-lash about whether the United States should join that treaty (At present, it sure looks like there’s easily enough Senate votes to oppose it).  And, that’s not to mention the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  It continues to be supported by a large majority of business and national security interests but remains stymied by Senate opposition from a very vocal minority who fear the loss of “sovereignty” that would come with U.S. consent.

I could easily write one (or more posts) on each of these treaty issues.  For now, though, I want to call attention to a common theme that runs through all the on-going debates.  In each case, the treaty fight ends up being framed as a fight between those who would situate U.S. treaties (and with them, U.S. law) within a larger community — international communitarians if you will — versus those I’d call autonomists — who seek autonomy from any international regulation whether in defense of national law, states’ rights, or individual liberties.  Thus, opponents to UNCLOS want the U.S. to be able to regulate its own maritime environment just as those who oppose the Disabilities Convention oppose its potential to go beyond the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Of course, the Disabilities Convention also raises the specter of further intrusions into U.S. state regulations akin to the fears of internationally-based prosecutions that lie at the heart of the Bond case.  And all of this is not to mention the NRA and their (rather unrealistic) charges that the Arms Trade Treaty would require the United States to violate the Second Amendment and the constitutional liberties individuals enjoy to bear arms.

This division between communitarians and autonomists helps explain how treaty debates are now almost always framed in all-or-nothing terms. The decisions on whether to join or enforce U.S. treaty commitments become zero-sum games; only one side can win and the other must lose. That narrative certainly makes for good media stories.  But, I wonder if playing the game this way is truly in the nation’s interests.  It seems we end up with some examples where communitarians can claim complete victory (see, e.g., the new START treaty or the gold standard of an international engagement — the Montreal Protocol) while autonomists have equally compelling winning claims on their side (see, e.g., Medellin). Citing such divergent results, however, only seems to inflame the passions of the “losing” side and risk entrenching no-compromise strategies that seem a recipe for disaster (see, e.g., this October in Washington).

So as the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Disabilities Convention take center stage, I’d like to flag a simple point: U.S. treaty-making and implementation is a much more flexible and nuanced practice than the existing debates suggest.  There are not just some, but many, potential outcomes in these cases that would not require the definitive death of the treaty power OR states’ rights.  Indeed, as Peter’s most recent post suggests and as I’ve written previously, looking at the history of U.S. treaty-making post Missouri v. Holland, it’s pretty clear that the United States regularly accommodates state interests/rights in entering and implementing U.S. treaty commitments.  Thus, a win for the United States in Bond is unlikely to mean states rights get overridden by all future treaty-making.  Similarly, there are ways for Ms. Bond to win this case (think, creative statutory interpretation) that don’t necessarily mean we all get to stop reading Holmes’ opinion.  One could make a similar point about the Disabilities Convention.  The Senate doesn’t have to give unconditional advice and consent — it has a long history of RUDs (reservations, understandings, and declarations) that might be used to mitigate the scope of U.S. commitments to that treaty regime.  Even federalism interests writ large can be protected (see, e.g., the RUDs included in U.S. ratification of the Organized Crime Convention or the UN Corruption Convention).

Now, there will be those who say RUDs are inadmissible and run counter to the object and purpose of one or more of these treaties, just as there will be those who say joining any treaty will lead to some impermissible sacrifice of U.S. “sovereignty.”  My point (hope) is that Senators (and Supreme Court Justices) don’t have to always accept these cases as they are characterized at the poles. There are plenty of precedents that may be brought to bear balancing competing interests such as federalism and international engagements at the same time.  We’ll see if any such hybrid results appear possible in the coming days.  I’d hope so, but given current trends in American politics, I’m not sure I’d bet on it.

Why Is Britain Intentionally Using Weapons of Mass Destruction?

by Kevin Jon Heller

I refer, of course, to the British Navy’s use of the music of Britney Spears to scare off Somali pirates:

In an excellent case of “here’s a sentence you won’t read every day”, Britney Spears has emerged as an unlikely figurehead in the fight against Somali pirates.

According to reports, Britney’s hits, including Oops! I Did It Again and Baby One More Time, are being employed by British naval officers in an attempt to scare off pirates along the east coast of Africa. Perhaps nothing else – not guns, not harpoons – is quite as intimidating as the sound of Ms Spears singing “Ooh baby baby!”

Merchant naval officer Rachel Owens explained the tactics to Metro: “Her songs were chosen by the security team because they thought the pirates would hate them most. These guys can’t stand western culture or music, making Britney’s hits perfect. As soon as the pirates get a blast of Britney, they move on as quickly as they can.”

This is an unconscionable tactic, one that does not befit a country that considers itself civilized. Need I remind the British Navy that torture is illegal under both international and UK law?

The British Navy should also be aware that international law does not completely forbid belligerent reprisals. If the Somali pirates begin to fight back by blaring One Direction at oncoming British ships, the Navy will have no one but themselves to blame.

Hat-Tip: the BBC’s Kate Vandy.

Did the U.S. Set a Precedent for the China/Russia Boycott of UNCLOS Arbitration? Sure! But So What?

by Julian Ku

Wim Muller, an associate fellow in international law at Chatham House, takes issue with my observation that China’s rejection of Annex VII UNCLOS Arbitration may have influenced Russia’s similar rejection of UNCLOS proceedings in the Greenpeace arbitration.  Other commenters take issue with my further claim that Russia’s rejection is another “body blow” to ITLOS dispute settlement. I offer my (“typically tendentious”) response below.

Muller’s criticism, I believe, is mostly just a misunderstanding of my position.  I don’t disagree that the U.S. and other countries have walked away from binding international dispute settlement and this could have set a precedent here.  But my point is narrower:  China and Russia are, as far as I know, the first states ever to reject participation in UNCLOS dispute settlement, and their actions are a serious challenge to the future of UNCLOS dispute settlement, which is supposed to be a key and integral part of the UNCLOS system. Thus, although UNCLOS dispute settlement is not exactly a model of success, it has never before suffered the spectacle of two member states rejecting its tribunals’ jurisdictions (within the same calendar year no less).  I would be surprised if the U.S. example from 1984  was more relevant to Russia’s decision than China’s decision from February of this year.  I don’t think any UNCLOS state has ever rejected the jurisdiction of the ITLOS with respect to provisional measures or “prompt release” procedures.  Indeed, it is worth noting that Russia has not only availed itself of the “prompt release” procedure on one occasion, but it has also submitted to ITLOS “prompt release” jurisdiction in two prior cases.  To be sure, it did not contest jurisdiction in those cases and neither involved similar facts.  But it is striking that Russia has gone from active UNCLOS dispute settlement player to effective boycotter.

UNCLOS dispute settlement is not “voluntary.” It is a system of compulsory  and binding dispute settlement.  Indeed, UNCLOS itself makes clear in Art. 288(4) that UNCLOS tribunals have the power to determine their own jurisdiction.  By refusing to participate in UNCLOS dispute settlement based on their own unilateral claims about jurisdiction, China and Russia are essentially telling the tribunal that they will not accept jurisdiction, no matter what the tribunal determines about jurisdiction, and despite the plain authority those tribunals hold under Art. 288(4).  It may not be a “body blow” but it is not exactly a resounding vote of confidence in UNCLOS dispute settlement either.

Now, Muller seems to be arguing

Shocker! Russia Walks Away from UNCLOS Arbitration and Will Ignore Netherlands Petition Over Greenpeace Detentions*

by Julian Ku

[Update below] It looks like China has started a trend. In a surprising statement (at least to me), Russia has announced it will not participate in the ITLOS arbitration brought by the Netherlands related to the detention of Greenpeace activists last month.

“The Russian side has informed the Netherlands and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea that it does not accept the arbitration procedure in the Arctic Sunrise case, and is not planning to take part in the tribunals,” the ministry said in a statement Wednesday, adding Moscow is still “open to the settlement” of the case. The statement did not elaborate.

The ministry insisted Russia is not obliged to recognize the authority of the maritime tribunal, saying the Russian government does not have to participate in disputes that concern “sovereign rights” and “jurisdiction.”

Hmm. This formulation sounds familiar somehow.  Actually, Russia is citing its UNCLOS declaration, which excludes dispute settlement under UNCLOS “concerning law-enforcement activities in regard to the exercise of sovereign rights or jurisdiction.” But it echoes the Chinese objection as well.

I had written a post on the Netherlands memorial in support of its action against Russia in the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea seeking “provisional measures”, but I forgot to publish it. Which is just as well.  Because it looks like Russia is going to ignore whatever arbitration proceedings are constituted under Annex VII (following the Chinese example).  I can’t tell from this report, but it may be that Russia may ignore the ITLOS “provisional measures” hearing that is likely to be scheduled soon as well.

As Greenpeace’s attorneys rightly point out, ““If the Russian Federation believes the Tribunal lacks jurisdiction, the normal and proper thing to do would be to raise this at the hearing,”  This would apply to China and the Philippines as well.  If Russia does simply walk away, this is another body blow to the dispute settlement under the UNCLOS system, especially considering that Russia has accepted the jurisdiction of the ITLOS in past disputes.

*After this post went up, I noticed that Russia has also dropped the piracy charges against the Greenpeace activists, charging them now with hooliganism. This doesn’t seem to affect their position on ITLOS arbitration, though. But perhaps settlement will be easier?