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Law of War

Emerging Voices: The Rights of Women in Armed Conflict

by Jens Iverson

[Jens Iverson is a researcher at the Law Faculty of the University of Leiden.]

Imagine there is a potential peace agreement that would end a civil war, but only at the cost of leaving portions of the country in question in the hands of a group that systematically violates the human rights women and girls.  The government is backed by a foreign state who, in the past, effectively occupied the country.  Some policy considerations are obvious – continued armed conflict can be devastating to most involved, but resolving the armed conflict with a solution that denies at least half of the population their rights is deplorable.  But is this a purely pragmatic, policy question?

In this post, I assert that foreign states may be obliged to push for peace agreements that protect the rights necessary for a modern democracy, not only on the basis of a general concern for human rights but also based on a more ancient legal and ethical tradition.  The obligation emerges from a source one might not expect—the logic behind the exception to the prohibition of transformative occupation, and ultimately on self-interest.

Traditionally, radical transformation of the laws of occupied territory was prohibited.  There is, however, an exception to this rule, dating at least back to Immanuel Kant.  An occupying power is not obliged to protect a legal system that is itself geared towards war—it is acceptable to create a less war-like constitution for an occupied nation.  This is not a human rights argument, nor an argument based on sparing a civilian population, nor a purely pragmatic public policy argument.  Rather, the legitimate transformative role of an occupying power responds to the traditional justifications for going to war (satisfying the justa causa of the war).  If the war is being fought in response to aggression that has disrupted international peace, then the justa causa may be to restore a system of international peace.  But what does that have to do with the rights of women that would be protected in a modern democracy?

The general modern form of the hypothesis that democracy, including non-discrimination, is important for peace is the “democratic peace hypothesis.”  This hypothesis states that as the democratic nature of the two states increases, the probability for substantial armed conflict between those states during a given year decreases.  If this hypothesis is accurate, and should protecting and promoting the rights of women be an important component of the democratic nature of the state, then promoting and protecting the rights of women is not only important for its own sake but also because of the positive correlation with the sustainability of the peace.

Considered under this analysis, protecting the rights of women is not a side-issue or epiphenomenon that can be considered once the “primary” issues of national security and inter-state relations are resolved—rather such protection can be determinative as to whether the war was justified in the first place.

There are, of course, strong reasons to protect the rights of women based purely on a human rights analysis, and powerful points to be made in favor of protecting women’s interests purely on ethical and humanitarian grounds.  The argument in this post is not intended in any way to undermine such arguments or impugn their moral force.  It does suggest that there is a supplementary analysis that should be helpful in addressing the gap between the ideal of respect and promotion of women’s human rights in the transition to peace and the reality.  This supplementary analysis requires an analysis of the moral and legal justification of the foreign military intervention as a whole.  It is essentially rooted in a traditional framework for public international law-the legal relationship between sovereign states.

Protecting the rights of women during the transition out of armed conflict is critical for establishing a just and sustainable peace.  This is not a new insight.  The UN Security Council has passed several resolutions on women, peace, and security (UNSC Res. 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008), 1888 (2009), 1889 (2009), and 1960 (2010)). These resolutions provide evidence of the seriousness of the issue, and provide but have proven unsuccessful in fully addressing the problem.  Women are frequently victimized during armed conflict, underrepresented at the peace table, and disserved by the peace.

So why is this need not being fully addressed?  One difficulty may be the foundations upon which efforts to protect the rights and interests of women are typically built.  During conflict, the main foundation is International Humanitarian Law.  During early peace, there is an increasing role for human rights law and public policy.  International Humanitarian Law has numerous protections for civilians generally and in certain cases for women in particular, but many of those interests are short-term, often simply avoiding death or damage.  Human rights concerns and public policy concerns may be at their weakest when the terms of the new peace are being resolved.  There is a need for an additional rationale that would align the long-term self-interest of powerful actors (such as foreign states) with the self-interest of those placed in an unequal situation by systematic discrimination.

This logic does not, of course, limit itself to women.  Protecting the human rights of children, religious minorities, ethnic minorities, and other minorities is important if the armed intervention is to be justified, and the peace is to be democratic and durable.

Sometimes grasping an immediate, imperfect peace will be ethically and legally preferable to ongoing armed conflict, even if continued conflict comes with the hope of a better peace later.  There is a rationale to say that a foreign state should be reluctant to get in the way should local elites desire peace.  But too often, the foreign state has been too ready to consolidate a peace around a new government that does not respect human rights.  Foreign states, if they continue to have any role, should weigh the obligations they have based on their prior acts, and not jump too quickly to compromise the rights of women.

What is The Common Law of War?  

by Jens David Ohlin

Since the recent al Bahlul en banc decision before the D.C. Circuit, I have been thinking a lot about the Common Law of War. As others have already analyzed in detail (Steve, Peter, JonathanMarty & Steve), the D.C. Circuit upheld Bahlul’s conviction for conspiracy but threw out his conviction for material support for terrorism and solicitation. Material support and solicitation are unavailable for pre-2006 conduct because they are neither international crimes nor historically charged before military commissions. Conspiracy, on the other hand, is a different story. While it seems pretty clear that conspiracy is not a stand-alone offense under international law, the government has relied on the argument that conspiracy is historically chargeable before a military commission as part of the “common law of war.”

The exact status of the common law of war theory remains unknown because the court’s majority applied “plain error” review and not de novo review on the merits. Some judges concluded that Bahlul waived his objections by not raising them at trial (when Bahlul was declining legal assistance). For his part, Judge Kavanaugh appeared sympathetic to the common law of war argument, which arguably departs from his previous notes of skepticism regarding the theory in Hamdan II.

Since the common law of war idea is still wide open, I’ve been trying to come to terms with it and articulate precisely why I’ve been uncomfortable with it in the past. Indeed, when I first heard the government’s assertion of this theory, I was deeply skeptical and found it almost outrageous. The law of war is international by definition—it is the same for everyone and that’s the whole point of it. The law of war is based on reciprocity and it makes no sense to think of it as a creature of domestic law.

That being said, I think the issue is more complicated than I initially assumed.  In particular, it is important to note that Lieber himself makes reference to the common law of war in article 13 of the Lieber Code. Also, Richard Baxter, in his famous article on spies and unprivileged belligerency, concludes that acts of belligerency by an unprivileged belligerent simply aren’t violations of international law at all – they are violations of domestic criminal law. That’s absolutely correct. The absence of the privilege means that the unprivileged belligerent cannot exempt himself from the demands of domestic law. That’s something far different from an international crime. Unfortunately, Baxter also says in the preceding sentence that the saboteurs in Ex Parte Quirin were “no doubt” triable under the statutes and “military common law of the captors” – though he never explains what he means by this. Presumably he felt that the saboteurs in Quirin were subject to military commission jurisdiction despite the fact that their crimes were domestic violations, though he never articulates his reasoning. Of course, I don’t want to parse Baxter’s article like it’s gospel; I find there’s too much of that already with people treating semi-authoritative Commentaries like treaties. But I still find it interesting that both Baxter and Lieber used the phrase or something close to it.

So why is it so difficult to understand the common law of war? Here are four possible reasons:

1. We no longer live a common law world. Well not exactly. The U.S. is still part of the common law, in the historical sense, but really the common law doesn’t play the role it once did. It has substantially evolved. Statutes and regulations play a much larger role now – and this applies in almost every field of law. This certainly applies in the criminal law, where even the idea of a common law crime sounds just bizarre to today’s students. It’s just so far removed from how the law operates today.

2. Although state courts in the U.S. continue to evolve the common law in each jurisdiction in subject areas that are not covered by a particular statute (say tort law), this endeavor is temporally removed from its historical roots in common law England. Although the law in each jurisdiction can all be traced back to a common source, the doctrines have been developed in unique and different ways in each court. The common law – as something truly common across jurisdictions – has receded into history.

3. The law of war in general, and the jurisdiction of military commissions in particular, were woefully under-theorized in previous generations. This was certainly true in the Civil War, when other than Ex Parte Milligan as an enduring constraint on military jurisdiction, there was insufficient attention paid to developing a deep theory of military jurisdiction. Famously, Ex Parte Quirin was a rush decision, arguably fast-tracked because the Supreme Court was concerned that the administration might execute the prisoners before a decision was reached – which would have dealt a near-fatal blow to the Supreme Court’s institutional legitimacy and its self-asserted purview, announced in Madison v. Marbury, to say what the law is. It is no surprise that we now look back on Quirin as “not this Court’s finest hour” (Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, Scalia J. dissenting). One way of putting the point is to follow Steve Vladeck and say that the Court has never fully rationalized why military commissions are exempt from the Article III requirement of trial before a regular court. Another way of putting the point is that during the Civil War the concept of military jurisdiction was under-theorized and we are only now playing catch-up.

4. There is something that unites our use of the terms “international law” today with how the term “common law” might have been used in previous generations. This might help explain why there is an international law of war today and a common law of war in the past.  Although they are different, what unites them is a shared participation in a larger legal culture. For international law, the larger legal culture is the international order, with its unique sources for lawmaking (treaties, custom, etc.) and international organizations. For the common law, the larger legal culture is the law that is “common” to many jurisdictions who are all participating in a common legal culture and apply its law together – the “common law.” Although the common law is not the same as international law, it is something larger than pure domestic law, and as such it could, in theory, and historically as well, fulfill some of the demands of reciprocity that the laws of war demand. The problem, of course, is that the common law doesn’t function that way in today’s world. The whole point of the law of war is that it has to be bigger than just domestic law. And maybe the common law in the past was just big enough to support the law of war in some limited sense. Whether that’s enough in today’s world, I really don’t know.

Can Israel Cut Off Water and Power to Gaza?

by Kevin Jon Heller

That’s the question at the heart of a complicated debate between a variety of IHL scholars. The debate began with a legal opinion that Avi Bell submitted to the Knesset, in which he argued that nothing in international law prohibits Israel from cutting off the water and power it provides to Gaza. Although the opinion is dense — and has been updated in response to a document criticising an earlier published version — the bottom line is that Bell rejects the idea that Gaza is still occupied and believes it is thus impossible to find a positive obligation on Israel to continue to provide water and power (p. 5):

Some have argued that Israel is required to supply the Gaza Strip because Israel allegedly maintains control over Gaza. There are two versions of this claim: one version claims that Israel belligerently occupies the Gaza Strip; the other claims that Israel “controls” the Gaza Strip for purposes of human rights treaties or “post-occupation” duties even though it neither occupies nor exercises sovereignty over the Gaza Strip. When it controls territory through belligerent occupation, a state may have the duty supply certain goods to a civilian population if there is no other way to ensure access to the goods. Similarly, when it controls territory over which it has lawful sovereignty, a state may have the duty to supply certain goods when human rights treaties demand their provision to the civilian population. However, Israel does not control the Gaza Strip for purposes of the law of belligerent occupation or human rights  duties. Thus, Israel cannot be held to a duty to supply.

Bell’s legal opinion led a group of leading Israeli international-law scholars, including Eyal Benvenisti, Aeyal Gross (also at SOAS), David Kretzmer, and Yuval Shany, to submit a response to the Knesset. The essence of the response is that even if Israel is no longer occupying Gaza (on which the experts do not take an opinion), its ongoing control over basic features of Gazan life means that it is not free to completely ignore basic Palestinian humanitarian needs. Here is the key paragraph (pp. 10-11):

Israel and Gaza are not equal sovereign entities. Israel has controlled Gaza for decades, which resulted in significant dependence on Israeli infrastructure. Even after the disengagement, it still holds certain powers over the population in Gaza – including by its control over essential infrastructure. Since Israel does not allow, de facto, the development of independent infrastructure in Gaza, it cannot completely deny the responsibility to provide these essential supplies. Therefore, the interpretation suggested in the Opinion does not reflect a proper balance between the different objectives of IHL – even when considering the special challenges of asymmetric warfare. Chiefly, this is because it results in a legal “black hole” which deprives the civilian population of the effective protection of international law.

The debate between Bell and the other experts led Diakonia, a Swedish NGO, to commission a third report from Michael Bothe, one of the world’s foremost IHL experts. Bothe concludes, like the group of experts, that cutting off water and power to Gaza could (in certain circumstances) violate IHL. But he offers two independent bases for that conclusion…

Guest Post: Henderson & Cavanagh on Self-Defense During Armed Conflict

by Charles Kels

[Charles Kels is a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and an attorney for the Department of Homeland Security. He is writing in his personal capacity and his contribution is not meant to represent the views of the Department of Homeland Security, Air Force or Defense.]

Group Captain Henderson and Squadron Leader Cavanagh’s series of posts comparing and contrasting the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and self-defense under criminal law (first, second, third, and fourth parts, along with the responses to posts one and four) provides an excellent analysis of how the legal basis for the application of force impacts the conditions upon its lawful use.

It is hard to argue with the central premise of the discussion: simply put, self-defense is not a part of LOAC. As the authors note, it is a term applicable to specific scenarios—namely, as a defense under criminal law and as a justification for the resort to force by states—and has different meanings depending upon the context in which it is invoked. This, by the way, is why I think the concept of “naked self-defense” as a standard for targeted killings is misplaced: it impermissibly (and I would argue counterproductively) conflates the jus ad bellum with the jus in bello.

The same can be said about the related issue of imminence. It has one meaning under a state’s right of self-defense, and another meaning under the law enforcement “force continuum,” but I’m unaware of any relevance to status-based targeting under LOAC. This is why some of the Obama administration’s pronouncements regarding imminent threats in the midst of what it deems an armed conflict have at times been so confusing.

The inapplicability of self-defense to LOAC is aptly encapsulated by Professor Ohlin vis-à-vis its interplay with the combatant’s privilege: the latter trumps the former, thereby rendering reliance upon it both unnecessary and self-defeating. Claiming self-defense in the face of criminal or disciplinary proceedings is essentially an excuse, but a privileged combatant who has exercised lethal force in compliance with LOAC has no need for vindication. In fact, he or she may be in line for a medal.

Yet, I am left wondering whether the discussion thus far elides a larger issue, rooted not in LOAC per se, but in the moral framework that undergirds it. That is, to what extent does the internal logic of LOAC as a coherent legal regime rest upon a generalized notion of individual self-defense? To the extent this insight has merit, I of course can’t take credit for it, although I have tried to flesh out its implications for remotely-waged warfare. It stems from Walzer’s famous formulation  (p. 34) of the “moral equality of soldiers,” and has found perhaps its most eloquent expression in the writing of legal philosopher Paul Kahn.

Essentially, Walzer’s notion is that “the capacity to injure” is what makes combatants legitimate targets in war. Kahn takes that argument to its logical conclusion, claiming that “the internal morality of warfare” is based upon the principle of “self-defense within conditions of reciprocal imposition of risk.” As such, what we lawyers call the combatant’s privilege is at heart “the soldier’s privilege of self-defense.”

Of course, given the irrelevance of imminence to LOAC, the risk posed by the identified enemy need not be immediate—hence another of Walzer’s well-known examples, the “naked soldier” (p. 138). Presumably, however, when that soldier gets dressed, he just may try and kill you (and may even be obligated to do so). This is what differentiates him from those who are hors de combat. So better to shoot him now, while you have the chance. What Michael Ignatieff calls the “tacit contract” of “kill or be killed” (p. 161) is still intact, even if attenuated.

One way to respond to Walzer, Kahn, and Ignatieff, et al. is simply to say that they’re wrong. Mutual risk has nothing to do with LOAC. To the extent that LOAC is concerned with promoting reciprocity, it’s a reciprocity of compliance, not physical peril. The jus in bello principle of proportionality, of course, imposes no requirement whatsoever with respect to parity in casualty rates among opposing forces.

Even so, it’s hard to deny that the reductive notion of combat as self-defense has intrinsic appeal, if nothing else than for providing a conceptually digestible précis of LOAC for those who actually have to implement its tenets in less than ideal circumstances. After all, the true value of LOAC is not just that it forbids some inhumane practices, but also that it legitimates certain acts of violence so that soldiers can do their jobs “without resorting to their own personal moral codes” or becoming paralyzed by principled indecision. This is especially so where, as in today’s conflicts, exhortations to abide by LOAC in order to incentivize compliance by the enemy are likely to fall on deaf ears (not to mention fail the straight-face test). At the end of the day, adhering to LOAC is about preserving our own humanity, not performing a risk-benefit analysis.

None of this detracts from the cogency of Henderson and Cavanagh’s observations, nor does it obviate the importance of avoiding confusion with respect to both the different contextual meanings of self-defense and their divergence from wartime targeting rules. However, I’m not sure that it’s possible to get away completely from accounting for permutations of self-defense when we talk about war-fighting. Otherwise, we risk being legally correct in the technical sense, while losing sight of the larger discussion over what it means to fight honorably.

The al-Senussi Admissibility Decision in Two Quotes

by Kevin Jon Heller

Libya’s Foreign Minister, 21 May 2014:

There is a complete absence of the army and the police [in Libya], which are responsible for the security of the state. Armed groups are not under control…. State-building needs to build security institutions first and foremost because with no security there can be no investments, building a real state, nor an effective criminal justice system to protect rights and freedoms.

ICC Appeals Chamber, 24 July 2014:

The Appeals Chamber concluded that there were no errors in the findings of the Pre-Trial Chamber that Libya is not unwilling or unable to genuinely prosecute Mr Al-Senussi.

Control Matters: Ukraine & Russia and the Downing of Flight 17

by Jens David Ohlin

The recent downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, apparently by an anti-aircraft missile fired from within rebel-controlled territory in the Ukraine, has raised the specter that Russia is covertly (or not so covertly) supplying arms and assistance to the pro-Russian separatists operating within eastern Ukraine. Obviously, the facts here are somewhat contested and I have no insider or independent information about the firing of the missiles. What I say here is based on news reports in The New York Times and elsewhere, and our understanding of the situation is rapidly evolving.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this story (or something similar) turns out to be true. Let’s assume that the “BUK” anti-aircraft missile system was either provided to the Ukrainian rebels by Russian operatives, or that it was stolen by the rebels from the Ukrainian military, and then operated with assistance from Russian operatives and military advisors. It seems more likely that the missile system was provided directly by Russia, but even if the rebels stole it from the Ukrainian military, it seems unlikely that the untrained militia-members would have been capable of deploying it without Russian assistance. (Again, let’s just take this as an assumption, because alternate hypotheses exist, including the contention that the militia members are trained in anti-aircraft missile deployment because they are local defectors from the Ukrainian military).

If this story is true, it reveals how important the debate is, in international jurisprudence, between competing theories of control. This might seem like an obvious point, but the current situation in the Ukraine (vis-à-vis Russian influence) may stand at precisely the fault line between “effective control” and “overall control” – the two competing doctrines of attribution in international law.

As most readers already know, the effective control test was articulated in the ICJ’s Nicaragua judgment and offers a fairly robust set of standards for attributing the actions of an armed group to a particular state, essentially requiring that the armed units are operating on the instruction, or at the direction of, the foreign state. In these circumstances, the actions of the armed group can be attributed to the foreign state.

In contrast, the ICTY in Tadic declined to follow the ICJ’s Effective Control Test, and instead formulated and applied the broader Overall Control Test. The test was originally designed to determine in Tadic whether the armed conflict was an international armed conflict or a non-international armed conflict. If the conduct was attributable to a foreign state, then the armed conflict was international in nature. Subsequently, Cassese argued (correctly) that the test was, in fact, a general test for state responsibility. The test allowed for state responsibility in situations where a foreign power helped to coordinate the actions of an organized and hierarchically structured armed group by equipping, financing, or training the paramilitary force.

The dispute between these two tests is crucial because they really do give different answers in important cases. It seems to me that the Ukrainian situation falls directly on the fault line between the overall and effective control tests. If the Effective Control test applies, then it is not clear whether the shooting down of the airliner can be directly attributed to the Russian government (although that conclusion depends on which facts are unearthed in the investigation). On the other hand, if the Overall Control test applies, then there is a plausible argument that the shooting of Flight 17 can be attributed to Russia because their operatives probably helped train and equip, and coordinate, the activities of the pro-Russian militia. The Overall Control test supports the attribution of responsibility to Russia, while the Effective Control test probably does not.

Either way, one important insight about both tests is their black-and-white nature. Instead of a spectrum of control yielding different degrees of responsibility, the tests act as an on-off switch. Either there is state responsibility or there is not; either the acts are attributed or they are not. There is no sliding scale of responsibility based on the degree of foreign involvement or entanglement in the local affairs of the militia or paramilitary organization.

A final note on a related but distinct topic. It also seems pretty clear that pro-Russian militia were acting incompetently in shooting down the plane, assuming incorrectly that they were shooting down a military aircraft. How should one understand their level of culpability here? Recklessness comes to mind as the appropriate mental state since they probably did not engage in the appropriate due diligence to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft.

Although it is unclear whether this should be treated as an international crime (killing of civilians during an armed conflict) or a domestic crime (murder), I have to say that I have never found international criminal law’s treatment of crimes of recklessness particularly satisfying. Under domestic law, reckless killings are either classified as manslaughter or as the lowest degree of murder (such as depraved indifference to human life) depending on the jurisdiction and depending on the severity of the recklessness. Domestic law therefore produces a grading of the offense based on the lower mental state. In contrast, international criminal law has no lower offense for crimes of recklessness. Unlike the distinction between murder and manslaughter, a defendant is either convicted or acquitted of the war crime of killing civilians (with nothing in between).

Feiglin Is Advocating Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes, Not Genocide

by Kevin Jon Heller

Twitter is abuzz with claims that Moshe Feiglin, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset in Israel, has called for the commission of genocide against the Palestinians. Here is what he said, in relevant part:

Conquer – After the IDF completes the “softening” of the targets with its fire-power, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations.

Elimination- The GSS and IDF will thoroughly eliminate all armed enemies from Gaza. The enemy population that is innocent of wrong-doing and separated itself from the armed terrorists will be treated in accordance with international law and will be allowed to leave. Israel will generously aid those who wish to leave.

Feiglin’s comments are vile, horrifying, and unfortunately all too common in Israel’s increasingly toxic right-wing political culture. As awful as they are, though, they do not amount to incitement to genocide, because Feiglin is advocating the forcible transfer or deportation of the Palestinians — commonly referred to as ethnic cleansing — not genocide. There are five types of genocidal acts: (1) killing members of a group; (2) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of a group; (3) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (4) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and (5) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. The actions Feiglin advocates come closest to (3), but he makes clear that he is not advocating displacing Palestinians into a location where they could not physically survive, which would be genocide. (A pre-Genocide Convention example is the Armenian genocide, in which the Ottoman empire not only ethnically cleansed the Armenians, but drove them into the Syrian desert to die.) In short, Feiglin is advocating that Israel commit not genocide but crimes against humanity.

Feiglin is also, it’s worth noting, urging Israel to commit war crimes against the Palestinians. Here is another one of his suggestions:

Defense – Any place from which Israel or Israel’s forces were attacked will be immediately attacked with full force and no consideration for ‘human shields’ or ‘environmental damage’.

It is ICL 101 that it is a war crime to intentionally launch an attack knowing that it will — in the words of the Rome Statute — “cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians… which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated.” In making that determination, an attacker must take into account any civilian who will be incidentally killed in an attack, even one who is serving as a human shield. Two wrongs do not make a right in ICL. By urging Israel to ignore the presence of civilians, therefore, Feiglin is urging Israel to launch attacks that are highly likely to be disproportionate.

Guest Post: Remarks on Henderson & Cavanagh Guest Post on Unit Self-Defence–Perspectives from the Courtroom

by Kinga Tibori-Szabó

[Kinga Tibori-Szabó currently works for the Legal Representative of Victims at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. She is also a New York attorney. In 2012, she won the ASIL Lieber Prize for her book Anticipatory Action in Self-Defence.]

What could be more straightforward than a unit commander’s right to defend his unit, or other specified units against hostile acts and hostile intent? But as obvious this right may seem in the military sense, as eclectic and elusive its legal nature can be.

Ian Henderson and Bryan Cavanagh rightly point out that unit self-defence, in the legal realm, can be thought of both as a unit-level derivate of states’ inherent right of national self-defence and as a form of the criminal law concept of personal self-defence. It is also viewed as a corollary of the fundamental human right to life.

Indeed, as pointed out by the authors, if the defensive action taken at the unit level ends up being litigated at the International Court of Justice, it will be the responsibility of the state that will be in question and the legal issue will be whether the right of national self-defence applies.

Equally, Article 31(c) of the ICC Statute and ICTY jurisprudence have approached the question of unit-level action from the perspective of personal self-defence, as a ground excluding criminal liability. The ICTY stated that the “notion of self-defence may be broadly defined as providing a defence to a person who acts to defend or protect himself or his property (or another person or person’s property) against attack” and applied that definition to questions regarding the legality of forceful action taken by military units (Kordic and Cerkez, Judgment, 2001, para. 449).

Add to that the fact that many domestic jurisdictions do not recognize unit self-defence as an independent legal concept, albeit its substance is acknowledged, usually in the form of collective personal self-defence, as a right of a unit commander (have a look at the General Report 19th Congress ISMLLW, Quebec). Even in jurisdictions where unit self-defence is explicitly acknowledged, its content might not be identical. For instance, the US SROE define hostile acts to include force used directly to preclude or impede the mission and/or duties of US forces, including the recovery of US personnel and vital US government property, while other states define the term more narrowly.

Against this background, it seems sensible to aver that unit self-defence should be viewed as a ROE concept that has underlying law and legal consequences, but is not a legal term of itself. Or as Kalshoven and Fontein noted, “the true significance of the right of unit self-defence may lie in its cohesive power”.

Then again, as a lawyer trapped in the courtroom most of the time, I cannot help thinking of that odd situation, at the international judicial level, when none of the mantles we just bestowed on unit self-defence would fit. Every operational term, if it ends up playing a role in (international) courts, will have to be associated with a legal term or drawn from a legal basis. Take, for instance, one of those quintessential on-the-spot-reaction scenarios of a naval vessel under sail, being attacked while transiting between the harbours of allied nations. If the attack, because of its nature and scale, reaches the threshold of an armed attack, the inherent right of national self-defence can be invoked and force may be used within the limits of that right. In such a case, unit self-defence would be absorbed within the jus ad bellum concept. If the use of force triggers an armed conflict, the law of armed conflict will become applicable, in which case, as discussed by Henderson & Cavanagh as well as Jens David Ohlin, the concept of self-defence (unit or personal) becomes arguably redundant. But what if the attack on the vessel does not reach the threshold of an armed attack and the response does not trigger an armed conflict? In that nebulous territory, where neither jus ad bellum nor the law of armed conflict applies, we are left with personal self-defence, in its collective form. Obviously, if the operational term on which the unit’s action is based can be easily linked with provisions similar to those contained in Article 31(c) of the ICC Statute, then the problem is solved. But such provisions might not be readily available (the ICTY, ICTR and STL statutes do not expressly assert an exception of personal self-defence), and the court will have to rely on its case-law or develop relevant jurisprudence. But what if the ROE of the vessel’s nation state allows for a unit self-defence that is more permissive than the personal defence case-law of the international court? Or what if the definition of a unit in the domestic operational term is different from how the court’s jurisprudence defines defence of others or defence of property? Or what if there is no such definition in the case-law? Or what if other gaps, stemming from the different nature of the two terms (unit self-defence as a permissive rule authorising the use military force v. personal self-defence as a narrowly interpreted exception to criminal responsibility) would make it cumbersome to convert the operational term into the legal? Wouldn’t these situations warrant the acknowledgment of an independent legal term of unit self-defence, with its own elements and limits, rather than fiddling with personal self-defence, to fit a purpose it was not primarily meant to fulfil?

The odd situation, however, may never arise. It may as well be that unit self-defence will make more sense as an operational term, capable of being morphed into various, related legal terms. In any case, the debate should be kept alive and, if pertinent, room should be left for an independent legal term of unit self-defence to develop.

Guest Post: Unit Self-Defence

by Ian Henderson and Bryan Cavanagh

[Ian Henderson is a group captain in the Royal Australian Air Force and is currently posted as the Director Military Law Centre and Deputy-Director Asia-Pacific Centre for Military Law. Bryan Cavanagh is a squadron leader in the Royal Australian Air Force and is currently posted as a legal training officer at the Military Law Centre and Asia-Pacific Centre for Military Law. This note was written in their personal capacities and does not necessarily represent the views of the Australian Government or the Australian Department of Defence. This is the third in a four-part series. The first post can be found here (along with a response here), the second here and the third here.]

In this final post, we briefly discuss the concept of unit self-defence. Unit self-defence is a term used in rules of engagement (ROE) and can be defined as ‘the right of unit commanders to defend their unit, or others units of their nation, and other specified units against hostile acts or hostile intent’ (see the annex D of the San Remo ROE Handbook). In some militaries, along with being described as a right, it is also described as an obligation (see CJCSI 3131.01B, U.S Standing Rules of Engagement). In other words, a commander is positively required to act in unit self-defence and can be held accountable for not doing so.

In our view, and with due respect to those who have argued that unit self-defence has an independent legal basis, the better approach is to view unit self-defence purely as an ROE concept (much like the terms observed indirect fire and unobserved indirect fire) that has underlying law and legal consequences but is not a legal term in and of itself. Considered that way, unit self-defence can be thought of as:

a) a form of delegated authority from the national command chain of a State to exercise a State’s right of national self-defence in limited circumstances and in a constrained fashion;

b) a reminder of the criminal law authority to act in self-defence to protect oneself and protect others, (recalling that the criminal law concept of self-defence allows a person to not only defend his or herself, but also to defend another person where the person to be aided is in a situation where the law would allow that person to act in self-defence); and

c) an order or command to use military force when certain ‘triggers’ are present.

We believe deconstructing unit self-defence in this way is helpful as it focuses on the legal basis for any given use force (or non-use of force if a commander failed to act in unit self-defence) based on the jurisdiction in which the issue would be litigated. For example, if the matter is being litigated in the International Court of Justice, it will be the State that is the party. As such, the legal issue is likely to be whether the State had a right to use force. Conversely, in a criminal proceeding in a domestic court or international tribunal, it will be individual military members who are being prosecuted; and so, combatant’s privilege aside, the issue is more likely to be whether the individual had the right to use force. And finally, through ROE a commander (or for that matter, any other military member) can be ordered to use force (and held accountable for not doing so) where the circumstances are such that under the law of self-defence they would be legally permitted but not compelled to use force in defence of another.

We are very thankful to the editors of OpinioJuris for giving us this opportunity, as well as for the useful comments and discussion from the readers.

Guest Post: Self-Defence – Weapons, Lawful Commands, Duty to Retreat and Summary

by Ian Henderson and Bryan Cavanagh

[Ian Henderson is a group captain in the Royal Australian Air Force and is currently posted as the Director Military Law Centre and Deputy-Director Asia-Pacific Centre for Military Law. Bryan Cavanagh is a squadron leader in the Royal Australian Air Force and is currently posted as a legal training officer at the Military Law Centre and Asia-Pacific Centre for Military Law. This note was written in their personal capacities and does not necessarily represent the views of the Australian Government or the Australian Department of Defence. This is the third in a four-part series. The first post can be found here (along with a response here) and the second post here.]

This is the third in a series of four posts that address the relationship between self-defence and LOAC.  In this post we compare how LOAC and the law of self-defence deal with a number of discrete issues like use of prohibited weapons, obedience to lawful commands, and a ‘duty’ to retreat. It also provides a table which summarises the main points in the first three posts.

Can you use a poisoned bullet to protect yourself in self-defence?

The Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) prohibits the use of certain weapons. Under the Rome Statute and the Australian Commonwealth Criminal Code, it is a war crime to employ poison or poisoned weapons, prohibited gases, or prohibited bullets.In contrast, the law of self-defence does not specifically address the means of response to a threat, but rather merely requires the response to be necessary, reasonable and proportional.

Under the Australian Criminal Code and the Rome Statute, there is no limitation on pleading self-defence only to crimes relating to the use of force. Therefore, the use of a prohibited weapon would be consistent with self-defence analysed under the Australian Criminal Code and the Rome Statute provided that a person’s actions were a necessary, reasonable and proportionate response to the threat.

In some jurisdictions, for example New Zealand, self-defence operates to exclude criminal responsibility for use of force. It is possible in these jurisdictions a combatant could not successfully plead self-defence in relation to weapons offences which are separate and distinct to offences relating to the actual use of force. We did not come to any conclusion on this issue.

Nowhere to run

Under LOAC, not unsurprisingly there is no requirement to retreat from an attack. The position under self-defence varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. We found Leverick’s categorisation of the different approaches useful:

a) An absolute retreat rule. The accused must make an attempt to retreat before using force in self-defence regardless of the circumstances.

b) A strong retreat rule. The accused must make an attempt to retreat before using force in self-defence only if an opportunity to do so actually exists.

c) A weak retreat rule. Retreat is not treated as an independent variable, but rather as one factor that is taken into account in deciding whether the accused’s actions were necessary or reasonable.

d) No retreat rule. There is no duty on the accused to take an opportunity to retreat. The victim of an attack has the right to stand their ground and meet force with force.

(more…)

Meanwhile, over at ABC News…

by Kevin Jon Heller

BsJXdWkCYAEhdi_Diane Sawyer had a hard-hitting report tonight at ABC News on the recent hostilities between Israel and Palestine. The segment opens with her saying, “We take you overseas now to the rockets raining down on Israel today as Israel tried to shoot them out of the sky.” As she speaks, a video box next to her shows explosions on an urban landscape. Sawyer then shows a still photo of two haggard men carrying clothes in front of a destroyed building and says, “here is an Israeli family trying to salvage what they can.”

There’s only one problem with Sawyer’s report: the explosions are in Gaza, the result of IDF airstrikes, and the men are Palestinian, not Israeli.

Welcome to the mainstream media’s even-handed coverage of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Name That Pinko!

by Kevin Jon Heller

What Israel-hating, Hamas-loving lefty said the following on Facebook?

Dear friends: Take a few moments to read the following words and share them with others. I see the severe and rapid deterioration of the security situation in the territories, Jerusalem and the Triangle and I’m not surprised. Don’t be confused for a moment. This is the result of the policy conducted by the current government, whose essence is: Let’s frighten the public over everything that’s happening around us in the Middle East, let’s prove that there’s no Palestinian partner, let’s build more and more settlements and create a reality that can’t be changed, let’s continue not dealing with the severe problems of the Arab sector in Israel, let’s continue not solving the severe social gaps in Israeli society. This illusion worked wonderfully as long as the security establishment was able to provide impressive calm on the security front over the last few years as a result of the high-quality, dedicated work of the people of the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Israel Police as well as the Palestinians whose significant contribution to the relative calm in the West Bank should not be taken lightly.

However, the rapid deterioration we’re experiencing in the security situation did not come because of the vile murder of Naftali, Eyal and Gil-Ad, may their memories be blessed. The deterioration is first and foremost a result of the illusion that the government’s inaction on every front can actually freeze the situation in place, the illusion that “price tag” is simply a few slogans on the wall and not pure racism, the illusion that everything can be solved with a little more force, the illusion that the Palestinians will accept everything that’s done in the West Bank and won’t respond despite the rage and frustration and the worsening economic situation, the illusion that the international community won’t impose sanctions on us, that the Arab citizens of Israel won’t take to the streets at the end of the day because of the lack of care for their problems, and that the Israeli public will continue submissively to accept the government’s helplessness in dealing with the social gaps that its policies have created and are worsening, while corruption continues to poison everything good, and so on and so on.

But anyone who thinks the situation can tread water over the long run is making a mistake, and a big one. What’s been happening in the last few days can get much worse — even if things calm down momentarily. Don’t be fooled for a moment, because the enormous internal pressure will still be there, the combustible fumes in the air won’t diminish and if we don’t learn to lessen them the situation will get much worse.

The pinko in question would be Yuval Diskin, the director of Israel’s Shin Bet from 2005 to 2011. Further proof that being outside of government is conducive to honesty — especially when the government in question is overseen by someone like Netanyahu.