Archive of posts for category
Law of the Sea

White House Counsel Announces Syria Strike Would Not Violate International Law, But Doesn’t Explain How

by Julian Ku

In the UK, the government released a brief note which described the legal theory justifying a strike on Syria.  The note may have had flaws, but it certainly offered a basis to evaluate the UK government’s view of international law.  In the United States, the equivalent appears to be conversations between the White House Counsel and Charlie Savage of the NYT

Ms. Ruemmler said that while an attack on Syria “may not fit under a traditionally recognized legal basis under international law,” the administration believed that given the novel factors and circumstances, such an action would nevertheless be “justified and legitimate under international law” and so not prohibited.

Come on, Charlie, you have got to push her to elaborate!  Why would it be “justified and legitimate”? Is it illegal but legitimate, or is it actually legal under a theory yet to be revealed by the administration? Has the State Department been asked for an opinion?

I don’t fault the reporter here since the constitutional issue is plainly more important than the international one, as a practical matter.   But I am curious that the President, who has publicly cited international law as a factor in his decisionmaking, has not bothered to offer anything more than a quote in a NYT article to explain its international legality.  To be sure, Congress is not exactly pushing him to do so, but I am surprised the bureaucracy hasn’t generated anything yet. Leak, please!

Not Even the Brits Can Make the Case Bombing Syria Is Lawful

by Deborah Pearlstein

Good thing nothing much happened while I was away on summer vacation… So as I wrote here last spring, there’s no clear basis under international law for a U.S. use of force in Syria – no UN Security Council resolution, and no apparent claim at this stage that the United States is acting in self-defense. The only theory of legality in play seems to be the one put forward by the British government, right before Parliament voted to reject the use of force in Syria. Namely, that force may be justified as part of an emergent customary norm permitting humanitarian intervention (see, e.g., NATO intervention in Kosovo).

The statement from the UK Prime Minister’s Office says a state may take “exceptional measures in order to alleviate the scale of the overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Syria by deterring and disrupting the further use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. Such a legal basis is available, under the doctrine of humanitarian intervention, provided” a set of conditions hold. Those conditions: (1) “convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief;” (2) it is “objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved;” (3) the force used is “necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need…”

But it just can’t support U.S. action here. Here’s why.
(more…)

Non-Syria News: Update on that Philippines-China Arbitration

by Julian Ku

I’ve been distracted the last few days by all this Syria stuff (and a nasty case of poison ivy), so I neglected to keep up with the latest on that Philippines-China UNCLOS arbitration now seated at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.  Luckily, Luke Petersen of Investment Arbitration Reporter is on the case and has this great post analyzing the information released so far about the arbitration.  Note that the Philippines has until March 2014 to file their memorial.  This seems ridiculously long given that they’ve been preparing their case for at least a year already, and they have an interest in moving this along more quickly.  But that’s another conversation.

I don’t have much to add to Luke’s post except I would point readers to Luke’s interesting discussion of other arbitrations where one party doesn’t participate (like China is refusing to do here).  Those cases, he notes, can go all the way to an award, and even (in one case) to enforcement. Wouldn’t bet on that here, but you never know.

So Why Does the U.S. Need Seven Years to Decide Whether to Sign the Maritime Labor Convention?

by Julian Ku

It is not surprising that the U.S. has not ratified the Maritime Labor Convention, which came into force yesterday seven years after its text was adopted by the ILO. As David Kaye reminds us,  the Senate is not exactly in a ratifying mood these days.

But it is worth remembering that treaty enthusiasts can’t put always blame on the Senate’s “sovereigntists” for treaty ratification problems. This appears to be a case of massive Executive Branch dilatoriness.  Not only has the U.S. State Department failed to submit the text to the Senate, the U.S. government has not even signed the treaty yet. Apparently, the five years of negotiation leading up to the agreement on the MLC’s text, plus the seven years since its adoption has not been enough time for the U.S. government’s various agencies to come up with a position on this treaty. Is there some secret controversy here that I don’t know about? What is the Coast Guard up to?   Did it just get lost in the bureaucracy somewhere?

 

Emerging Voices: Pirates of the Indian Ocean–Enforcement in the Seychelles

by Tamsin Paige

[Tamsin Paige is an M.Phil (Law) Candidate, Australian National University College of Law]

Piracy originating from the coast of Somalia hit its peak in 2011, with 236 attacks occurring in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and the Somali region of the Indian Ocean in that year, according to the IMB’s 2012 piracy report. So far in 2013 the IMB has reported only 9 attacks originating from Somalia, resulting in two hijackings, indicating that significant headway has been made through counter-piracy efforts. As part of my thesis examining the role the law has played in the rise and fall of piracy, in Somalia and throughout history, I had the privilege of being invited by the Seychelles Attorney-General to spend January 2013 observing piracy prosecutions in the Seychelles and conducting confidential interviews with those involved in the investigation, prosecution and incarceration of Somali pirates. This fieldwork yielded a wealth of interesting data, some of which I will share here.

The first thing that struck me about the broader regional prosecution process was the importance that was put on the Seychelles involvement and how it was viewed as key to the continued efforts to engage in regional prosecutions of Somali pirates. The esteem in which the Seychelles government is being held for its efforts in counter piracy is tempered by two of the key issues being faced by the legal enforcement regimes: capacity and the repatriation of convicted pirates to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) established and mentored prisons Somalia.

The repatriation of convicted pirates from Seychellois prisons to UNODC mentored prisons in Somaliland and Puntland are the key to the continued regional prosecutions. In January 2013 it was estimated that convicted and suspected pirates made up 20% of the prison population in the Seychelles. The repatriation program is referred to as the conveyor belt, as the Seychellois government is reluctant to take any more suspected pirates for prosecution unless it can repatriate an equal number of convicted pirates to Somali prisons. However, a number of capturing nations are disinclined to authorise these transfers as the prisons in Somalia did not meet European standards, even though evidence overwhelmingly shows that they more than meet human rights standards. However, more recently there have been indications that the EU has agreed to future repatriation transfers.

The capacity issues that were highlighted by my observations and by the interview participants are in no way restricted to the size of the prisons. The capacity and structure of the court systems in the region, the administrative capacity of the investigatory bodies and the investigatory capacity of the enforcing navies were all raised (along with other issues) as stumbling blocks to the effective prosecution of Somali pirates. Beyond highlighting the need for more nations within the region to engage in prosecuting captured piracy suspects, the issues being faced with the court system were varied.

One participant argued…

Emerging Voices: Piracy vs. Core Crimes–Assessing the Consequences of the Juxtaposition between Transnational and International Crimes

by Marta Bo

[Marta Bo is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Genova, Italy and a member of the Peace and Justice Initiative. She wrote this post while she was a Visiting Fellow at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law]

Over the past few years, several proposals have been made to put an end to the culture of impunity persisting among Somali pirates. The use of international adjudicative mechanisms – such as an international piracy court, or the International Criminal Court with an amendment to its ratione materiae jurisdiction – has been proposed (United Nations Secretary General Report of 26 July 2010) and, also, defended by several scholars. These instruments are typical expressions of a direct system of adjudication that has been conceived exclusively for the prosecution of international crimes stricto sensu (genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and aggression). Although these options seem now to be displaced by more practical avenues for prosecution, such as specialized piracy chambers within national jurisdictions of Regional states (ex plurimis, R. Geiß and A. Petrig, Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea, 2011, 184), they nonetheless deserve consideration in light of the existing fundamental differences between piracy and international crimes stricto sensu, otherwise called core crimes A closer scrutiny of piracy and core crimes, may suggest that, not only practical matters, but also a different logic should underpin the legal discourse concerning possible judicial fora to prosecute piracy.

Piracy and core crimes are a good example of the juxtaposition of transnational crimes and international crimes. Piracy is often referred to as an international crime, and sometimes as the first international crime. However, this is misleading. Piracy is not directly criminalised under international law: customary law and the UNCLOS regime neither provide for individual criminal responsibility for piratical acts nor proscribe the piratical conduct. Article 101 of the UNCLOS merely defines the offence. Notwithstanding the fact that national courts may directly apply the UNCLOS definition when constitutional arrangements allow so, piracy generally needs to be criminalised domestically in order to be adjudicated upon by national courts. The UNCLOS primarily sets out an obligation for states to adopt the necessary national criminal law establishing individual criminal responsibility for the conduct. Therefore, the customary definition of piracy as mirrored in the UNCLOS provision (“This definition is generally, though not universally, accepted as having codified pre-existing customary international law”, see D. Guilfoyle, Piracy off Somalia: UN Security Council Resolution 1816 and IMO regional counter-piracy efforts, 57 I.C.L.Q. 690 (2008), 693) does not ordinarily constitute the basis for piracy prosecutions, but rather it is the municipal legislation which does.  The Harvard Draft Convention, which is the basis for the UNCLOS piracy provisions, lends support to this argument.  The theory behind the Draft Convention was that “piracy is not a crime by the law of nations” (Harvard Research Draft Convention on Piracy, 26 Am. J. Int’l L. Sup 739 1932, 760) and “pirates are not criminals by the law of nations” (Id., 756). The Harvard Researchers adopted the view that piracy constitutes a special ground of jurisdiction, “the basis of an extraordinary jurisdiction ” (Id., 760).

By contrast, core crimes are directly criminalised under international law. International norms directly prohibit these offences by virtue of norms directed at individuals. These norms create universal direct criminal responsibility for individuals under international law.

Crimes that international law directly criminalises and piracy, only indirectly criminalised under international law, differ, in particular, on the following points: i) state involvement as compared to de-nationalisation; and ii) an exceptional gravity that constitute a threat to the most important values of the international community (international element) as compared to a cross-border harm to interests common to all or a number of states (transnational element). From these different characterizations, it follows that…

China and the Philippines Take Their “Battle” Over South China Sea to Military Conference

by Julian Ku

The indefatigable Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare has a short post describing a lively exchange between the Chinese and Filipino representatives at MILSOPS, an invitation-only off-the-record meeting of top military officials from the Asia-Pacific region, about China’s nine-dash-line claim to the South China Sea.

Apparently, this has been an ongoing debate at this annual conference. Last year, the Chinese representative presented this set of powerpoint slides usefully entitled:  “China has indisputable sovereignty over the islands in the South China Sea: Understanding the South China Sea issue from the angle of law”.  (The title says it all). Ben says he is somewhat constrained in his reporting since the conference is off-the-record, but hopefully he can get participants to write more about their exchange.

The one thing that is a constant in these slides and from other articles from China is that Chinese officials are using their claim to sovereignty over the “Nansha” islands as the basis for their claims of “indisputable sovereignty.”  And China does indeed have plausible sovereignty claims to many of the islands in the South China Sea, and those sovereignty claims are of course not subject to UNCLOS arbitration.  But no one in China has really offered a particularly detailed explanation of how the sovereignty claims to the islands can justify the “nine-dash line” (see my earlier post here describing the nine-dash line claim) which goes well beyond a 12 mile territorial sea or the 200 mile exclusive economic zone. Thus, even if China had sovereignty over every random rock in the South China Sea, it can’t quite support the nine-dash line.  I wish Chinese scholars would offer a more comprehensive explanation or defense of the nine-dash line, as oppose to muddying the issue by raising their island sovereignty claims.  It is the nine-dash line that makes China’s claims unusual, and particularly dangerous.  And, oddly, it overshadows and weakens China’s much better and more legally supportable claims to particular South China Sea islands.

Law of the Sea Symposium: Ilias Plakokefalos Comments on Anastasia Telesetsky’s post

by Ilias Plakokefalos

[Dr Ilias Plakokefalos is a post-doctoral researcher at the SHARES Project at the Amsterdam Center of International Law, University of Amsterdam]

Cross-posted at SHARES Blog.

Telesetsky’s highly interesting post highlights the problem of flag state responsibility in the law of the sea. The post identifies two major issues: Illegal Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and structurally unsafe vessels. Both these issues have been hard to resolve and difficult to regulate, at least from a flag state perspective. This comment seeks to further the debate by raising two questions regarding the role of the flag state in terms of its international responsibility.

First, if we assume that articles 91 and 94 of the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC) do in fact impose an obligation on flag states to control registration of their ships, the obligation is still rather vague. Article 94 provides that states ‘shall take measures’ to ensure safety at sea, and that these measures shall conform to ‘ international regulations, procedures and practices’. But which regulations are to be followed and which procedures must be adopted is not evident from the LOSC. Even if regulations and procedures are indeed identified (through the International Maritime Organization for example) then the problem of identifying the flag state’s conduct appears. What is the precise conduct that may lead to responsibility? Telesetsky argues that the flag state must exercise due diligence in its authorization procedure. The contents of due diligence obligations are notoriously hard to define in international law. Some guidance might be found in technical standards adopted by international organizations but the problem persists, especially if the role of the classification societies is taken into account (i.e. another non-state actor-besides the shipowner- involved in the process of ensuring the safety of the vessel).

Second, Telesetsky asks in her conclusion (in reference to the Erika and the Prestige incidents) why flag states should not bear responsibility for damage caused by the vessels. She concludes that flag state responsibility could indeed offer a solution to issues of pollution or IUU. It is a fair question and a reasonable conclusion. The fact is that states have opted to resolve claims for oil pollution damage at the national level, through the Civil Liability and Fund Conventions. They have also concluded similar conventions on other areas, covering for example the problem of hazardous and noxious substances (HNS Convention). But is this approach enough? I would answer in the negative. While the oil pollution system works rather efficiently, although not without problems, it seems that states have managed to deflect the discussion from their own responsibility on most other issues. If states had sought to tackle the problem of pollution or IUU directly, they would have to accept a number of obligations, and they seem unwilling to do so.

In any case, I concur that clarification of the obligations of flag states and consequently their more ready exposure to responsibility claims is a step in the right direction.

Law of the Sea Symposium: State Responsibility and Flag State Duties

by Anastasia Telesetsky

[Anastasia Telesetsky is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of Idaho College of Law]

Cross-Posted at SHARES Blog.

Sovereign nations have the right to extend their nationality to non-state actors who agree to adhere to national laws. But is there any broader international state responsibility associated with the granting of flag state status to known problematic non-state actors? Take the example of the South Korean flagged F/V Premier. This vessel licensed to the Dongwon company, the parent company of Starkist Tuna, was recently accused by Liberia of illegal fishing in the coastal waters of Liberia. In April, the Dongwon company settled with the government of Liberia for somewhere between one million and two million dollars.  An interesting question has arisen over whether the government of Korea now has the obligation to list the F/V Premier as an Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing vessel which would mean that the vessel would not be permitted to operate in regional fishery management areas such as those regulated by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission.  Within the IOTC waters, contracting parties and cooperating non-contracting parties are expected to demonstrate that vessels permitted to fish “have no history of IUU fishing activities or that, if those vessels have such history, the new owners have provided sufficient evidence demonstrating that the previous owners and operators have no legal, beneficial or financial interest in, or control over those vessels…”

Granting the use of the flag and vessel registration are not part of an unconditional sovereign right. While Article 91 permits every State to  “fix the conditions for the grant of its nationality to ships, for the registration of ships in its territory, and for the right to fly its flag”,  this right is conditioned by Article 94 which provides that “[e]very State shall effectively exercise its jurisdiction and control in administrative, technical and social matters over ships flying its flag.” When read together, Article 91 and Article 94 suggest that among the necessary conditions for granting nationality or issuing registration is a State’s demonstration of effective jurisdiction and control over “technical matters” which would include vessel safety and “social matters” which in addition to labor practices might also  include enforcing sustainable fishing practices. Healthy fisheries should be considered today a “social matter” since so many people globally depend on marine fisheries for basic animal protein and employment.  A State is, of course, not required to fix structurally unsound ships or to staff fishing vessels with reliable fishing crews who understand conservation practices—but it is required to exercise control over those who might own unsound ships or practice unsound fishing practices. One easy way to exercise effective control over “problem ships” is simply to refuse to grant such vessels nationality or to allow registration of these ships.

This post argues that States granting their nationality to or providing ship registration for any vessels that are 1) known or suspected IUU fishing vessels or 2) structurally unsafe cargo vessels violate erga omnes customary international legal duties as well as discrete treaty obligations.  (more…)

Law of the Sea Symposium: Ilias Plakokefalos Comments on Yoshinobu Takei’s post

by Ilias Plakokefalos

[Dr Ilias Plakokefalos is a post-doctoral researcher at the SHARES Project at the Amsterdam Center of International Law, University of Amsterdam]

Cross-posted at SHARES Blog.

Takei asks whether there is a role for responsibility in international fisheries management, and he proceeds to reply-correctly so- in the affirmative. The blog eloquently presents all possible scenarios, in terms of the law of fisheries, wherein issues of state responsibility might arise. Therefore the purpose of this comment will be to highlight some questions from the viewpoint of the law of responsibility. Two intertwined points merit closer scrutiny. The first relates to the primary rules and the second to the application of the rules on responsibility.

First, it is clear that the law of responsibility does not operate in a vacuum. In other words its application hinges upon the primary obligations. In the area of fisheries management these obligations are not very well laid out. This can be readily inferred from Takei’s post but also from a cursory reading of the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC). While, for example, flag states seem to have a clear obligation to take measures to control their fishing vessels in the high seas (arts. 62(4), 87(1), 117) the obligation to do the same in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of third states is not as clear. It has to be inferred from a combined reading of articles 56 (1) (a), 56 (1) (b) (iii), 61, 62, 73 that impose conservation obligations on the coastal states and article 58 that posits that third states shall have due regard of the rights and duties of the coastal state. Then the question becomes what is the nature of this obligation. Surely, it is not an obligation of result. The language employed (take appropriate measures, have due regard etc.) point towards an obligation of due diligence. The last step would be to define what amounts to diligent behavior in this case. The scenario where a coastal state invokes the responsibility of a flag state (e.g.for violations either of its laws in the EEZ) may materialize. This is the point where the recent request for an advisory opinion by the Sub-regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) from the ITLOS might offer useful insights.

This scenario brings us to the issue of the obligations of the coastal states in their EEZ. (more…)

Law of the Sea Symposium: Tim Stephens Comments on Yoshinobu Takei’s post

by Tim Stephens

[Dr Tim Stephens is Associate Professor and Co-Director of the Sydney Centre for International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Sydney.]

Cross-posted at SHARES Blog.

Yoshinobu Takei’s interesting post charts recent developments in international fisheries law that have attempted to respond to the ongoing ‘tragedy of the commons’ that flows from the dominance of the Grotian vision of the high seas as a domain of freedom (to fish, and to enjoy the other accepted high seas freedoms). Concerted attention from the 1970s onwards has resulted in an extensive body of international fisheries law, built upon the foundations provided by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS sought to deal with the tragedy of the commons primarily by arrogating to coastal states large swathes of ocean space within the EEZ. That left the problem of shared, straddling, migratory, and high seas fisheries.

None of these have received the same regulatory attention until relatively recently, and since the UN Fish Stocks Agreement was adopted in 1995 there has been many initiatives to strengthen the hand of responsible states in combating unsustainable and irresponsible fishing practices, particularly on the high seas. The main arena of activity (with some notable exceptions, such as the Southern Bluefin Tuna Case) has not been the in the context of state responsibility, but has instead been in the establishment and strengthening of fisheries regimes. These have been sites of considerable international legal innovation, as seen in the adoption of various ‘hard’ (e.g. enhanced port state jurisdiction) and ‘soft’ (e.g. naming and shaming flag of convenience states lending registration to IUU vessels) measures to combat IUU fishing.

The recently requested ITLOS Advisory Opinion may signal a renewed turn to international judicial fora in an effort to enforce international fisheries law. This is a welcome development, given the continued decline in abundance of most major fish-stocks.

Law of the Sea Symposium: Is there a major role for the law of responsibility in international fisheries management?

by Yoshinobu Takei

[Dr Yoshinobu Takei is a Research Associate at the Walther Schücking Institute for International Law, University of Kiel]

Cross-posted at SHARES Blog.

First of all, I wish to thank Opinio Juris and SHARES for inviting me to participate in this highly interesting symposium. In my post, I will analyze the relevance of the law of responsibility in a fisheries context, describe some of the recent developments in this field and highlight some points for discussion.

On 9 May 2013, a Taiwanese fishing boat was shot by a Philippine government vessel and the incident resulted in the death of a crew member onboard the fishing boat as well as serious damage to the boat. The Taiwanese government demanded the Philippine government “to respond to four demands: a formal apology; compensation; an expeditious investigation followed by the severe punishment of the perpetrators, and the speedy arrangement of negotiations on fishery matters” (Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs), although the Philippine government claimed that their law enforcement was obstructed by the attempted attack by the boat in question and they were therefore forced to open fire. This sad incident again testifies that state responsibility plays an important role in a fisheries context.

After several decades of uncertainty over the jurisdictional framework for marine capture fisheries, during which states focused on multilateral treaty negotiations rather than invoking state responsibility with a few notable exceptions such as the Fisheries Jurisdiction cases brought against Iceland before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the issue of state responsibility has gained momentum in contemporary discussions on international fisheries management. (more…)