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Online Symposia

HILJ Online Symposium: The Next Step

by Michael Waterstone

[Michael Waterstone is the Associate Dean for Research and Academic Centers and J. Howard Ziemann Fellow and Professor of Law at Loyola Law School Los Angeles.]

This post is part of the HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1). Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.

I am grateful that the Harvard International Law Journal and Opinio Juris have asked me to write a response to The Democratic Life of the Union: Toward Equal Voting Participation for Europeans with Disabilities, written by Janos Fiala-Butora, Michael Stein, and Janet Lord. This Article seeks to put forward “preliminary legal scholarship on equal political participation by persons with disabilities and what international human rights law requires for its attainment.” Given their various experiences as academics, international human rights lawyers, and academics, the authors are certainly well suited to this task (and I should note that two of the three are former co-authors and friends).

As I see it, this Article makes three significant points: (1) it describes Kiss, a European Court of Human Rights decision holding that Hungary had unjustly and indiscriminately taken voting rights away from someone solely by nature of his being placed under guardianship, and critiques the decision for offering limited standards for what type of individualized inquiry is required to restrict the franchise; (2) argues that under international law, states should not be able to disenfranchise persons on the basis of disability, even in the case where individual assessments are made; and (3) challenges Martha Nussbaum’s suggestion that states should authorize guardians to vote on behalf of individuals who are neither able to form a view on political issues for themselves nor communicate their choices to others (the authors would not have a guardian exercise decisionmaking, meaning that those who cannot vote – properly construed, a small number – do not vote).

There is a lot here, worthy of a response. In this post, I will primarily address the Article’s second point. Most other rights, as the authors explain, are derivative of voting, because participation in the political process is “one of the key avenues through which marginalized groups most effectively seek equality.” Thus, what law – whether domestic or international – has to say about voting is crucial (or in the language of American constitutional law, fundamental). The Article suggests that the disenfranchisement of people with disabilities generally, and people under guardianship specifically, is a failure of law. This is no doubt correct, but I would like to suggest incomplete. Law is an important step in the process, but only a first step. The history of people with disabilities being excluded from the political process demonstrates that full inclusion (something not fully and effectively realized in any state of which I am aware) requires culture change and vigorous efforts by advocates and lawyers to implement whatever changes are able to be made under the formal scriptures of law. In that sense, this Article offers an important and cogent narrative on what the law should be. I want to suggest that future work should move forward to discuss the hard work of implementing that law. (more…)

HILJ Online Symposium: Greg Shill Responds to Christopher Whytock

by Greg Shill

[Greg Shill is a Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.]

This post is part of the HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1). Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.

I thank Professor Christopher Whytock for engaging with the ideas in my article, Ending Judgment Arbitrage: Jurisdictional Competition and the Enforcement of Foreign Money Judgments in the United States, 54 Harv. Int’l L.J. 459 (2013), and the Harvard International Law Journal and Opinio Juris for hosting this symposium. Whytock has published widely on transnational litigation and judgment enforcement. Ultimately, I think his response misreads or overstates the article’s claims in some places (and in others we may simply have a difference of opinion), but the sister-state dimension of transnational judgment enforcement has thus far not attracted much scholarly attention and I am delighted to see his thoughtful and serious commentary in this forum.

I. Judgment Arbitrage & Whytock’s Criticisms

Briefly, the article focuses on the enforcement of foreign-country judgments in the United States. By its nature, this process creates the potential for clashes between domestic and foreign legal systems. In a typical case, a local court, often in the U.S., is asked to order a local defendant to satisfy a judgment rendered by a foreign court, under foreign law. Thus, unsurprisingly, scholars to date have tended to focus on the conflict between foreign sources of law and systems of justice on the one hand and their American counterparts on the other—the international-level conflict. One mission of the article is to explore domestic—i.e., sister-state—conflicts that result from the judgment-enforcement process.

To collect on a foreign judgment in the U.S., a plaintiff must first domesticate it. This entails a two-stage process: the judgment must first be recognized and then enforced. Federalism and the Erie doctrine are key to this process: (1) recognition is governed by state law, specifically forum law, (2) recognition standards differ widely from state to state, and (3) states have an obligation to enforce one another’s judgments. Thus, I argue, plaintiffs can exploit sister state differences in recognition law by first obtaining recognition in a state that is receptive to foreign judgments and then enforcing in a state that might not have recognized the foreign judgment in the first place. My article gives this phenomenon the name “judgment arbitrage,” and closes by proposing a federal statute to address it. The upshot of the statute is to allow states to resist judgment arbitrage by declining to enforce judgments they would not have recognized in the first place. (more…)

HILJ Online Symposium: Is There Really Judgment Arbitrage?

by Christopher A. Whytock

[Christopher A. Whytock is a Professor of Law and Political Science, University of California, Irvine, School of Law.]

This post is part of the HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1). Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.

In Ending Judgment Arbitrage, Professor Shill claims that non-U.S. plaintiffs “routinely” practice a three-step strategy called “judgment arbitrage”: (1) selection of a foreign country to litigate the merits and obtain a favorable judgment; (2) selection of a “receptive” U.S. state to obtain judicial recognition of the foreign judgment; and (3) selection of a more “protective” U.S. state to obtain enforcement against defendant’s assets there (p. 470 & Figure 3). Shill argues that this practice is a problem, and uses law market theory to argue that new federal legislation is needed to solve it.

Shill has written a fascinating article. To the extent judgment arbitrage exists, I agree that it would pose problems for both litigant fairness and interstate competition. In addition, Shill’s extension of law market theory to the law of foreign judgments is a valuable contribution.

But Shill does little to show that judgment arbitrage actually exists, and he clearly fails to demonstrate that the practice is “routine” or otherwise significant enough to require a response from the United States Congress. In fact, the article does not identify a single real-world example of judgment arbitrage. Given that judgment arbitrage is highlighted in the article’s title, the focus of its law market analysis, and the raison d’être of its legislative proposal, this is a significant omission. (more…)

HILJ Online Symposium: Monica Hakimi Responds to Tim Meyer

by Monica Hakimi

[Monica Hakimi is the Associate Dean for Academic Programming and a Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School.]

This post is part of the HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1). Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.

Thanks to Opinio Juris for hosting this symposium and to Tim for his very thoughtful comments. My article examines conduct that I call “unfriendly unilateralism”—where one state decides, outside any structured international process, to act unfriendly toward another. The economic measures that the United States and Europe are now taking against Russia in response to the Crimea situation are good examples. Likewise, before the U.N. Security Council authorized states to take a broad range of measures against Iran for its nuclear program, several states acted unilaterally.

Such conduct is, in my view, undervalued in the legal literature. Most international lawyers either dismiss unfriendly unilateralism as power politics that fall outside the law, or analyze it as a tool for enforcing the law—that is, for pressuring the target state to comply with existing law. In either event, the conduct is widely understood to be regretful or ineffective. To the extent that the conduct is inconsistent with the acting state’s own obligations, it also is unlawful—unless, of course, the acting state is enforcing the law after having been injured by the target’s breach.

My article’s descriptive claim is that unfriendly unilateralism can also play an important role in lawmaking. States variously use unfriendly unilateralism to: (1) preserve legal norms, (2) strengthen legal regimes by instigating stricter substantive standards or more rigorous oversight mechanisms, (3) reconcile competing objectives from different regimes, and (4) recalibrate regimes for changed circumstances. Of course, the idea that unilateral conduct can be juris-generative is not new; unilateral claims and counterclaims are a recognized part of the customary legal process. But when unilateralism is coupled with unfriendliness—that is, when the conduct is targeted at a specific state—international lawyers instinctively put on their enforcement lenses. They focus on how the conduct enforces existing law, not on how it helps make new law. For instance, several scholars have analyzed the unfriendly unilateralism against Iran as enforcement. Yet the acting states were using unfriendly unilateralism to support a broad and coordinated lawmaking effort. Their principal goal was to pressure Iran into accepting stricter substantive standards on nonproliferation and more rigorous oversight mechanisms. As the Iran example also demonstrates, unfriendly unilateralism is a fairly unique mode of lawmaking. Unlike in the ordinary customary process, a state that uses unfriendly unilateralism usually does not model the new norm. Rather, its unfriendly (and sometimes unlawful) conduct pressures the target into accepting or helping to develop an entirely different norm. This makes unfriendly unilateralism a potentially versatile and potent lawmaking tool. (more…)

HILJ Online Symposium: Justifying Unfriendly Unilateralism

by Tim Meyer

[Tim Meyer is an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Georgia School of Law.]

This post is part of the HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1). Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.

Monica Hakimi’s Unfriendly Unilateralism is a very welcome addition to the growing body of literature on international lawmaking. Hakimi’s basic claim is that states often act unilaterally in ways that prompt changes to international law. She defines unilateral action as that which takes place outside the confines of the collective decision-making processes commonly associated with international lawmaking (p. 111). These unilateral actions can also work to the detriment of some states (hence, “unfriendly”). In the enforcement context, Hakimi argues, international law has long recognized a role for unfriendly unilateralism. Rules on countermeasures tell us when one state’s imposition of penalties on another state is excused. Hakimi’s article insightfully describes how the doctrinal focus on enforcement obscures and distorts the role that unilateralism can play in lawmaking. Hakimi makes two key points. First, descriptively, she argues that despite the focus on unilateralism’s role in relation to enforcement issues, states nevertheless use (often noncompliant) unilateral action to prompt changes in the law. Second, Hakimi argues that unilateral action can be good for international law. By overcoming the status quo bias that exists in collective decision-making procedures, unilateralism can allow the law to adapt to changed circumstances.

Hakimi’s descriptive claim is very persuasive. In developing her argument, Hakimi does a wonderful job of exposing one of the central tensions in international law: that states are both international law’s subjects and its authors. International lawyers, scholars, and states must be mindful that states often have mixed motives when acting. Some noncompliant actions are simple cheating and can be addressed as such. States intend other noncompliant acts to be juris-generative, though. Treating these acts as run-of-the-mine noncompliance risks, among other things, underestimating how invested states are in using international law as a tool to enhance cooperation.

Indeed, not only do states take unilateral action to prompt the law’s revision; they also build into international agreements devices that encourage unilateral action. Exit clauses, regime shifting, and soft law are common tools in states’ treaty-making practice that encourage renegotiation by permitting states to unilaterally depart from the legal status quo. As Hakimi very effectively documents, states’ resort to unilateralism—both when designing international agreements and after such agreements exist—can help circumvent the formal difficulties inherent in amending legal rules in a system in which all states must consent to their own legal obligations. (more…)

HILJ Online Symposium: Anthea Roberts Responds to Martins Paparinskis

by Anthea Roberts

[Anthea Roberts is an Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science and a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School.]

This post is part of the HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1). Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.

I want to thank Opinio Juris for hosting this symposium and Martins Paparinskis for taking the time to comment on this article. I highly respect Paparinskis’ work in the field, so I am grateful for his substantive engagement. I have two responses to his post.

1. Why is it important to develop hybrid theories?

As I have argued previously, investment treaty arbitration can be understood through many different paradigms, including traditional public international law, international commercial arbitration, public law, human rights law and trade law. A number of scholars, including Douglas and Paparinskis in two articles, have likewise sought to show that (1) the investment treaty system does not fit neatly into any one mold and (2) the application of different molds often leads to radically different solutions to concrete problems.

For instance, in Analogies and Other Regimes of International Law, Paparinskis recognizes that “investment law partly borrows and partly diverges from pre-existing regimes of international law” so that an interpreter is “required to determine the degree of similarity and difference so as to elaborate the ordinary meaning of both particular terms and broader structures.” Moreover, he continues, “the interpreter may plausibly rely on different approaches, with importantly different implications for the meaning and operation of particular elements of investment law.” (more…)

HILJ Online Symposium: On the Love of Hybrids and Technicalities

by Martins Paparinskis

[Martins Paparinskis, DPhil (Oxon), is a Lecturer in Law at the University College London.]

This post is part of the HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1). Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.

I am grateful to the UCL LLM class of International Law of Foreign Investment for clarifying my thinking on some of these matters.

A natural reaction to such an elegant and erudite article is to offer unqualified praise to its author. While not easily, this reaction should be resisted, as likely to lead to an uninspiring symposium contribution. Therefore, while fully acknowledging the great merit of the argument, I will focus instead on three points where I find the article less than entirely persuasive: (1) the analytical perspective of hybrid theory; (2) the application of law of State responsibility in investment arbitration, as per Italy v Cuba; and (3) the operation of inter-State investment arbitration, as per Ecuador v US. (It is only fair to say that there are very few points on which I actually disagree with Anthea Roberts, therefore I will be mostly clutching at exaggerated straw-mannish arguments.)

I. Depoliticisation, fictions, hybrids, and banks of fog

I will start with a trite, but hopefully not an entirely irrelevant observation. Contemporary international lawyers, unlike the lawyers of previous generations, are in possession of a reasonably complete set of rules and vocabulary on sources and responsibility in international law, which should not easily be thought to be inadequate for articulating and addressing our concerns. The different concepts and perspectives that are sometimes introduced into the legal arguments instead may be helpful, but they can also be superfluous or misleading. In investment arbitration, one example of what I have in mind is ‘depoliticisation’: a concept that (at its best) means everything for everybody, with little independent analytical value, but at its worst may be significantly misleading, erroneously suggesting with significant persuasive force that certain positive rules have or have not been created, or certain legal solutions would or would not fit the existing regime (I have contributed my two pennies here, and it seems to me that Roberts would agree, see pp 11-6). Another example, also referred to in the article (pp 32-3, 38-9), is ‘fiction’ (as ‘the fiction of diplomatic protection’). It may be that I am missing something here, but (even after rereading the leading article on the issue by Annemarieke Vermeer-Künzli) it is not obvious to me that the dutiful citations to ancient writers and cases add much to the most basic of propositions: States can create primary obligations and secondary rules of admissibility with any content whatsoever, that is precisely what they have done with (respectively) rules addressing treatment of their nationals and diplomatic protection, and there is little more to it. (more…)

HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1)

by Harvard International Law Journal

This post is part of the HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1). Other posts in this series can be found in the related posts below.

The HILJ Online Symposium is a week-long discussion by scholars and practitioners on selected print articles from the Harvard International Law Journal. The Symposium takes place on the Opinio Juris website once or twice a year and features responses by scholars and practitioners selected by the Journal and sur-responses by the original authors.

The schedule for HILJ Online Symposium: Volumes 54(2) & 55(1) is as follows*

If you are interested in writing a response in future HILJ Online Symposiums, please contact iljonline [at] mail [dot] law [dot] harvard [dot] edu. For more information about the Harvard International Law Journal, please visit http://www.harvardilj.org/.

*The PDF files for Volume 55 Issue 1 currently available on the HILJ website are not final versions and are still undergoing processing by the publisher. Most of the changes will be cosmetic and will not affect the substance of the articles.

AJIL Symposium: Reply to Comments on “The Travaux of the Travaux”

by Julian Davis Mortenson

[Julian Davis Mortenson is Assistant Professor of Law at Michigan Law.]

I am most grateful for the thoughtful comments offered by Bart, Richard, and Ulf. Their observations are well-informed, generous, and extremely useful in advancing the conversation about treaty interpretation. So first and foremost, sincerest thanks to each of them.

In my response, I hope (1) to clarify the question that seems principally at issue in the discussion so far, and (2) to suggest how the historical evidence helps answer that question. As Ulf rightly points out, the article’s aim is not to march through a unified field theory of treaty interpretation in the exhaustive fashion of a single subject treatise. It is, rather, to debunk a theoretically central misunderstanding about the interpretive role of travaux under the VCLT as a historical document.

The article is thus fundamentally a historical inquiry. But it also has obvious doctrinal implications. While those implications are not the article’s central concern, I will briefly expand their logic as outlined on page 5 of the draft posted on SSRN. I take some time to spell this out because—with the exception of Richard’s kind and detailed approbation of the historical analysis—the commentaries in this symposium understandably engage less with the particulars of the history than with its doctrinal implications for contemporary interpretive practice.

So here is a sketch of the case for those implications:

  • First:  Every mainstream understanding of treaty interpretation contemplates the use of travaux to resolve ambiguity that remains after the methods described in Article 31 are applied. We argue about the use of travaux in other circumstances. But no one seriously contests that they are not just available but potentially decisive in the face of ambiguity. (This is why any perceived doctrinal circularity is illusory. Since all parties to the debate are in agreement on at least this point, for doctrinal and argumentative purposes we can treat the relevance of drafting history in cases of ambiguity as an axiom requiring no proof.)
  • Second:  The complex, multilayered, and rather-quirkily-drafted provisions of Article 31 and 32 are a textbook example of such ambiguity, both in their individual meanings at the subsection level and in their overall structural interrelationship. One might reasonably rely (for example) on the structural separation of Articles 31 and 32 to conclude that they instantiate an interpretive hierarchy that disfavors travaux. But one might also reasonably rely (for example) on the existence of the “special meaning” and “confirm[ation]” provisions to conclude that they do not. This ambiguity is stubborn, and no amount of deductive gymnastics can make it disappear.
  • Third:  Because the treatment of travaux under Articles 31 and 32 is ambiguous, every mainstream theory of treaty interpretation must concede a potentially decisive role for the VCLT’s drafting history in resolving that ambiguity. Putting it as one might in a legal brief:  assuming arguendo with the most conservative commentators that resort to travaux is available only in the case of ambiguity, that condition is easily satisfied here.
  • Fourth:  Careful review of the VCLT travaux—and it is on this point that the article focuses—demonstrates that Articles 31 and 32 were understood to reject a hierarchical or mechanistic view of interpretation. The holistic view of interpretation adopted by the drafters extended in particular to the use of travaux, which were viewed as automatically incorporated among and conceptually equivalent to the many other (potentially contradictory) indicators of legal meaning enumerated in the VCLT.

With the exception of the last bullet point, these statements are obviously asserted rather than demonstrated. But if each of them holds up, then as a matter of modern legal meaning the VCLT instantiates neither an interpretive hierarchy generally nor a hostility (suspicion, inhospitality, etc.) toward drafting history specifically. The Vienna settlement erected neither barriers, nor thresholds, nor negative presumptions regarding the use of travaux. Instead, it incorporated drafting history as a central and indeed crucial tool for identifying correct legal meaning.

Bart puts his finger right on the most important open question about this bottom line doctrinal conclusion. Given the conceded prevalence of learned professions that such a hierarchy does exist, it’s not out of bounds to argue that subsequent practice under the VCLT conflicts with its original meaning. (Note that, as explored in a shorter paper available here, the VCLT does not tell us how to resolve such a conflict. But bracket that for now.)

Partly because of the stark contradiction that Ulf observes between actual interpretive practice and professions of interpretive principle, however, it is my strong instinct that no such practice has in fact arisen among states parties to the VCLT. But the burden here will be on anyone seeking to dislodge the Vienna settlement. They will have to show, in the precise terms of Article 31, that contrary “subsequent practice in the application of the treaty . . . establishes the agreement of the parties regarding its interpretation.” If you can’t make that showing, then it’s hard to avoid the following doctrinal conclusion:  Drafting history is generally and automatically available as a source of meaning in every single case.  And that’s true even if—as Richard so nicely shows with the meaning of “poison” under the Rome Statute—the particular travaux of a particular treaty might not in fact illuminate a particular question facing a particular interpreter at any particular moment.

AJIL Symposium: Szewczyk Comment on “The Travaux of the Travaux”

by Bart Szewczyk

[Dr. Bart Szewczyk is an Associate in Law at Columbia Law]

This excellent article provides an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of the original understanding of Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention of the Law of the Treaties.  Its careful attention to the factual details, articulated in an elegant narrative, provides a vivid picture of the debates and decisions in Vienna.  And its comprehensive analysis of the historical record corrects any modern misperceptions as to what the drafters of the VCLT expected as the rules applicable to treaty interpretation.  The follow-on question, as the article notes, is “whether a regular and uncontested contrary practice has arisen—not just as a matter of what interpreters say, but of what they do—sufficient to undercut that original understanding.” (at 785).

Indeed, alongside the VCLT, there may exist several conventions (in the commonwealth, rather than international, sense of the term) governing interpretation for particular treaties, courts, or jurisdictions.  Such contemporary customs or practice may be as important in interpreting treaties as the rules of the VCLT.  For instance, judgments of the International Court of Justice are formally binding only between the parties to a particular case.  The ordinary meaning of the text of Article 59 of the Court’s Statute—the “decision of the Court has no binding force except between the parties and in respect of that particular case”—allows for no other interpretation.  Yet, any State would be highly remiss—and its advocates would border on malpractice—if it argued that an ICJ judgment on a specific legal question should be disregarded because it is not binding.  On the other hand, judicial decisions of other courts may be granted less weight in the ICJ, even though formally, they have equal status with ICJ judgments under Article 38(1)(d) of the ICJ Statute as “subsidiary means for the determination of rules of law.”

Or take Article 27 of the U.N. Charter:

Decisions of the Security Council on all other matters shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members.

In the Legal Consequences for States of the Continued Presence of South Africa in Namibia (South West Africa), the ICJ held that “concurring,” notwithstanding its apparent textual clarity and travaux to the contrary, included voluntary abstentions from voting.  The Court’s interpretation was based on the “consistent[] and uniform[]” practice of the Security Council.” (para. 22).  As for the U.N. Charter so too for the VCLT, subsequent practice can inform or even transform the original interpretation of a treaty provision.

The article recognizes this tension between the original understanding of the VCLT and subsequent interpretive practice of international courts.  It notes that  (more…)

AJIL Symposium: Comment on “The Travaux of Travaux: Is the Vienna Convention Hostile to Drafting History?”

by Richard Gardiner

[Richard Gardiner is a Visiting Professor at University College London, Faculty of Laws]

The article which this symposium addresses is important, timely, and elegant.

It is an important study because it examines one of the most common misunderstandings about the VCLT provisions on the role of preparatory work in treaty interpretation. It lays to rest the mistaken idea that an interpreter may only consider preparatory work if interpretation of a treaty provision by applying the general rule reveals ambiguity or obscurity, or leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable. As the study shows, these considerations are only prerequisites for use of preparatory work to determine meaning, not for its much wider role of confirming meaning.

This is particularly timely because the ILC may itself have given the misleading impression in its recent (and otherwise very useful) work on subsequent agreements and practice, suggesting that any recourse to preparatory work is limited by preconditions:

Article 32 includes a threshold between the primary means of interpretation according to article 31, all of which are to be taken into account in the process of interpretation, and “supplementary means of interpretation” to which recourse may be had when the interpretation according to article 31 leaves the meaning of the treaty or its terms ambiguous or obscure or leads to a result which is manifestly absurd or unreasonable. (ILC 2013 Report, Chapter IV, A/68/10, p 14, Commentary on Draft Conclusion 1, para (3), footnote omitted.)

This seems to lose the careful distinction in the 1969 ILC/VCLT scheme between general use of preparatory work to confirm and its conditioned use to determine meaning.

The most elegant feature of the study is its use of the preparatory work of the VCLT to confirm the proper meaning of the Vienna provisions themselves. (more…)

AJIL Symposium: Is the Vienna Convention Hostile to Drafting History? A Response to Julian Davis Mortenson, Part 2

by Ulf Linderfalk

[Dr. Ulf Linderfalk is a Professor of International Law at the Faculty of Law at Lund University, Sweden. The first part of his comments can be found here.]

In what sense does the VCLT give a description of the way to understand a treaty?

The way Julian describes prevailing legal doctrine, the presumption against preparatory work is effectuated “by a set of threshold restrictions that relegate drafting history to ‘a carefully bounded and contingent role’, for use only … ‘when the text [of a treaty] cannot, in itself, guide the interpreter’” (pp. 782-783). Julian finds this position to be inconsistent with legal practice. As he says, (p. 783)

the ‘strange thing’ about Articles 31 and 32 ‘is that the one serious limit these rules set, is constantly ignored: I cannot think of a serious lawyer who would not at least have a look at some of the preparatory work to bolster her conclusion or, if necessary, reconsider her conclusion, regardless of whether the interpretation without the preparatory works would lead to ambiguous or absurd results.’

Such statements indicate a failure to distinguish between the scholarly investigation and description of an activity such as the interpretation of treaties in a context of discovery and in a context of justification, respectively.

Investigating the usage of Articles 31-32 of the VCLT in a context of discovery, scholars’ primary interest is with the mental processing of the kinds of material listed in those two provisions. Scholars are interested in knowing the way some given agent or agents, or class of agents (such as international lawyers or judiciaries, for instance) actually use particular means of interpretation in reaching an understanding of a treaty. Investigations ask questions such as the following:

(1)   When lawyers think they have an insufficient understanding of a treaty, do they generally consult preparatory work?

(2)   In any situation described in Question (1), do lawyers generally consult the relevant conventional language or languages, that is, the lexicon, grammar, and pragmatic rules of the language used for the authenticated version or versions of the treaty?

(3)   In any situation described in Question (1), to the extent that lawyers consult preparatory work and conventional language, do they generally consult conventional language before they consult preparatory work, or rather the opposite?

Investigating the usage of Articles 31-32 of the VCLT in a context of justification, scholars’ primary interest is with international law as a reason for action. Scholars are interested in knowing under what particular condition or conditions an understanding of a treaty will be considered legally correct. Investigations ask questions such as the following:

(4)   In a situation where a treaty is in need of clarification, when does an agent have a legally sufficient reason to understand the treaty in accordance with conventional language?

(5)   In any situation described in Question (4), when does an agent have a legally sufficient reason to understand the treaty in accordance with whatever can be inferred from its preparatory work?

(6)   In any situation where the usage of conventional language and preparatory work imply the adoption of different meanings, when does an agent have a legally sufficient reason to understand the treaty in accordance with conventional language rather than in accordance with whatever can be inferred from preparatory work?

(7)   In any situation described in Question (6), when does an agent have a legally sufficient reason to understand the treaty in accordance with whatever can be inferred from preparatory work rather than in accordance with conventional language?

Obviously, like most rules in the VCLT, Articles 31-32 give a description of the proper justification of legal propositions. They do not seek to teach us anything about the mental processing of interpreters of interpretation data such as preparatory work and conventional language. Rather, they seek to teach us something about the conditions under which the understanding of a treaty in accordance with each respective set of data will be considered legally correct. Any failure to see this will quite naturally cause questions like that posed by Julian on page 787:

[The Confirmation Route] allows the use of travaux to check and reassess the provisional hypothesis yielded under Article 31. Unsurprisingly, this inquiry usually validates the interpreter’s hypothesis. But not always. Sometimes, a fair and thorough analysis of the travaux will convince an interpreter that the drafters meant to convey something different from her original understanding. What happens then?

Obviously, if Articles 31-32 gives a description of the interpretation of treaties, not in a context of discovery, but in a context of justification, then nothing in the VCLT prevents an agent from consulting the preparatory work of a treaty before he/she/it engages in serious studies of conventional language, the context of the treaty, or its object and purpose. The order of consultation is immaterial. In a context of justification, the relevant questions are whether or not the meaning that the agent possibly discovers from studying preparatory work can be justifiably inferred; whether Article 31 provides sufficient reason to confer a different meaning on the treaty; and if so, whether there are sufficient reasons to refer to that meaning as manifestly absurd or unreasonable, in the sense of Article 32.

What is the appropriate method for a scholarly analysis of Articles 31-32 of the VCLT?

Julian’s conclusion about the role and significance of preparatory work for the interpretation of treaties builds on an analysis of the meaning of Article 31, paragraph 4, and Article 32 of the VCLT. The methodology used for this analysis implies very little usage of other interpretation data than the preparatory work of the VCLT, including Summary Records and Documents of the Vienna Conference; Reports of the 1966 meetings of the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly; the Final Draft Articles With Commentaries adopted by the International Law Commission in 1966; comments given by governments on the ILC Final Draft Articles; the Draft Articles With Commentaries preliminarily adopted by the International Law Commission in 1964; Summary Records of the ILC meetings held in 1964 and 1966; and the Third and Sixth Reports of the ILC Special Rapporteur on the Law of Treaties. Obviously, this choice of methodology assumes the conclusion. Julian relies primarily on preparatory work to show that preparatory work can be used as a “primary means of interpretation” – on an equal footing with conventional language, context, and the object and purpose of a treaty. To Julian’s defense, it could perhaps be contended that whatever other methodology he would have chosen, he would have appeared as internally inconsistent. This contention, however, builds on a misunderstanding of the role of the international legal scholar.

Treaty interpretation is an activity that engages many different kinds of agents, including, for example, international legal scholars, judiciaries, state organs and representatives, and state counsels. Not all agents are subject to the same societal constraints, of course. Depending on the capacity of a treaty interpreter, consequently, different lines of action are typically expected. So, for example, is a person acting as state counsel expected to choose the line of action that serves the particular interest of his or her employer or client as effectively as possible. One-sidedly advocating a particular meaning of a treaty, without caring too much about other possible meanings or counter-arguments, is standard procedure. If instead the person had acted in the capacity of an international legal scholar, like Julian Mortenson does, this same line of action would be considered improper. A scholar is expected to consider openly the possibility of conferring different meanings on a treaty. He or she is expected to conduct an open-minded assessment of those different possibilities, making allowance for arguments and counter-arguments alike.

Consequently, as I see it, the only appropriate method for Julian to conduct his analysis of the meaning of Articles 31-32 of the VCLT is to assess his preferred interpretation with an open mind to other possible alternatives. Thus, he should have inquired more carefully into (i) the wording of the VCLT, (ii) the organizational structure of Articles 31-32 of the VCLT, and (iii) the general significance and possible ways of reading ILC materials. In so doing, his entire argument would have come out rather differently. For those with a particular interest in issues of treaty interpretation, I have developed this argument in a working paper posted on the SSRN.