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South America

Guest Post: Argentina and the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, Round 2

by Michael Ramsey

[Michael D. Ramsey is the Hugh and Hazel Darling Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Diego Law School. Professor Ramsey previously prepared an analysis of this case for the Judicial Education Project supporting the bondholders, for which he was compensated.]

In a new claim in the long-running battle between Argentina and holders of its defaulted bonds (see here), the question is whether a U.S. court can order Argentina not to pay some bondholders unless it also pays others.  Again, Argentina says the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) protects it, and again it tries to make the Act’s text say something it does not.

To recap, a decade ago Argentina stopped making payments on some of its bonds, and the private bondholders (including NML Capital) sued Argentina in federal court in New York (as the FSIA and the contracts governing the bonds allowed them to do).  Argentina refused to pay the resulting judgments against it, so the bondholders are seeking enforcement.  One approach is to seek discovery of Argentina’s worldwide assets; whether a U.S. court can make such an order is the subject of the first Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital case, argued to the U.S. Supreme Court in April.

The bondholders’ second strategy involves a clause in the bond contracts known as the equal treatment or pari passu clause.  To oversimplify, after Argentina initially failed to make payments on the bonds, it persuaded many of the bondholders to accept new bonds, with substantially reduced payments (but some hope of salvaging part of their investment).  NML Capital (and a few others) refused to take the deal, and sued for full payment of the original bonds instead.  Argentina now wants to pay the new bondholders (that is, those who agreed to the refinancing) while refusing to pay the holders of the old bonds.

But that sort of discrimination among bondholders, the U.S. court held, violates the “equal treatment” clause in the original bond contracts: the clause says that the old bonds have to be treated equally to any new bonds, and clearly they aren’t.    Argentina had already said it wouldn’t obey a court order to pay on the old bonds.  So the holders of the old bonds asked the court for an injunction barring payment on the new bonds unless the old bonds receive equal treatment.  The district court granted the order and the Second Circuit affirmed.

Now Argentina is bringing this claim to the U.S. Supreme Court on petition for certiorari (scheduled to be considered at the June 12 conference).  As with the case involving the discovery order, its supposed shield is the FSIA.  But again, Argentina is trying to make the FSIA do something it does not.  Argentina concedes that the FSIA allows the bondholders’ suit: Argentina waived its sovereign immunity in the bond contracts, and the FSIA allows suit where immunity is waived (Section 1605(a)(1)).  The FSIA further says (Section 1606) that non-immune sovereigns are (subject to specific exceptions) liable to the same extent as private litigants.

The only plausible exception (and the only one Argentina argues) (more…)

Pari Passu Clauses: An Alternative Interpretation

by Hayk Kupelyants

[Hayk Kupelyants is a PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge]

Pari passu clauses remain perhaps the most nebulous clauses found in sovereign bonds. Among varying wordings, the clause in its simplest form provides that the bonds will rank pari passu (i.e., on equal footing). The clause puzzled many academics and has given rise to legal battles before national courts, for it is undeniable that the state is not subject to a bankruptcy regime where the pari passu treatment is naturally well-fitted.

Two interpretations have been offered to demystify the function of the pari passu in sovereign debt bonds. The first and the most controversial of these constructions argues that the clause requires equal payment to all, even holdout, bondholders. Recently, the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in NML v Argentina has endorsed this interpretation of the pari passu clause. Under this construction of the clause, a sovereign debtor is obliged to pay to all bondholders, even those who held out from the sovereign debt restructuring. The pari passu clause can thus become a powerful tool in the hands of holdout creditors which seek to reclaim the full value of the bonds they hold by claiming that the state is in breach of the pari passu clause by the mere fact of refusing to pay up.

Many academics have argued that this interpretation of the pari passu clause is too far-fetched (at least for the pari passu clauses that do not expressly refer to ‘payment’ in their wording). On its face, pari passu clauses simply require equal (legal) ranking, whereas the payment under bonds is a question of factual performance of the contract and not a question of priorities or ranking.

The second and the conventional interpretation of the pari passu clause argues that the clause merely ensures equal legal ranking and no factual equality in terms of payment. By this, the sovereign debtor would be under no obligation to pay to all bondholders.

Two counter-arguments spring to mind. (more…)

Colombia’s Constitutional Court Says ICJ Rulings Are Not Self-Executing; Medellin v. Texas in Bogota?

by Julian Ku

In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court held in Medellin v. Texas that rulings of the International Court of Justice are not “self-executing” under U.S. law.  For this reason, the Supreme Court refused to require Texas to stop executions that the ICJ had held in violation of U.S. treaty obligations.  It looks like Colombia’s Constitutional Court has followed that same approach with respect to Colombia’s Constitution:

Colombia’s constitutional court ruled on Friday that applying a decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that granted Nicaragua a disputed area of Caribbean waters could not take effect without a treaty between the countries.

The court’s verdict upholds the position taken by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who said the Hague-based ICJ’s decision was not applicable according to Colombia’s constitution without such a treaty, ratified by the Andean nation’s congress.

Colombia’s government has been pretty consistent in its public statements. It does not dispute the legal obligation represented by the ICJ’s ruling, but it does not believe the ruling can override domestic Colombian constitutional law either.  This court decision appears to endorse this dualist approach.   Of course, I have not read the ruling (anyone have a link?) and even if I had the ruling, I can’t read Spanish (anyone have a link and a translation?).  So I might be overstating things here. But it is worth looking into.

NETmundial, Borders in Cyberspace, and a Duty to Hack

by Duncan Hollis

Last week’s NETmundial conference serves as a reminder of just how much the nature of cyberspace remains (at least theoretically) undetermined.  We still can’t agree on what kind of resource cyberspace “is”:  Is it a global public good as Sir Tim Berners Lee proclaimed (i.e., a res communis) or just a collection of technology subject to sovereignty regulation like so many other resources?  This theoretical divide may help explain the continuing back and forth between multi-stakeholder governance (which includes, but does not privilege, a role for States) versus the multilateral governance project (which most certainly does).  NETmundial may have been a net plus for multi-stakeholder proponents, but I’m much less sanguine that it represents an end to claims that cyberspace can — and should — be regulated primarily by government controls over internet resources (for more on the details of NETmundial and its final statement see Milton Mueller’s take-away here).

My skepticism about how international law will draw borders for cyberspace governance leads me to think about other roles borders can play in cyberspace — that is, using international law to draw lines separating acceptable from unacceptable behavior, permitted conduct from required conduct, etc.  I’ve drafted a new chapter that, in the context of cyber war, examines both the ways we draw law from borders and borders from law in cyberspace.  I critique the status quo on both theoretical and functional grounds, concluding that we should seek to start a new process not just for constructing governance regimes, but normative ones as well.  Consistent with the book’s central focus on cyber war, I proffer a case-study for such an approach with respect to armed conflicts, arguing international humanitarian law should adopt a Duty to Hack.  My idea is that, even though it does so only occasionally now, international law should regularly require States to use cyber-operations in their military operations whenever they are the least harmful means available for achieving military objectives.  You can download a copy of the paper here on SSRN.

For those looking for more details, here’s the abstract:

Warfare and boundaries have a symbiotic relationship. Whether as its cause or effect, States historically used war to delineate the borders that divided them. Laws and borders have a similar relationship. Sometimes laws are the product of borders as when national boundaries delineate the reach of States’ authorities. But borders may also be the product of law; laws regularly draw lines between permitted and prohibited conduct or bound off required acts from permissible ones. Both logics are on display in debates over international law in cyberspace. Some characterize cyberspace as a unique, self-governing ‘space’ that requires its own borders and the drawing of tailor-made rules therein. For others, cyberspace is merely a technological medium that States can govern via traditional territorial borders with rules drawn ‘by analogy’ from pre-existing legal regimes.

This chapter critiques current formulations drawing law from boundaries and boundaries from law in cyberspace with respect to (a) its governance; (b) the use of force; and (c) international humanitarian law (IHL). In each area, I identify theoretical problems that exist in the absence of any uniform theory for why cyberspace needs boundaries. At the same time, I elaborate functional problems with existing boundary claims – particularly by analogy – in terms of their (i) accuracy, (ii) effectiveness and (iii) completeness. These prevailing difficulties on whether, where, and why borders are needed in cyberspace suggests the time is ripe for re-appraising the landscape.

This chapter seeks to launch such a re-thinking project by proposing a new rule of IHL – a Duty to Hack. The Duty to Hack would require States to use cyber-operations in their military operations whenever they are the least harmful means available for achieving military objectives. Thus, if a State can achieve the same military objective by bombing a factory or using a cyber-operation to take it off-line temporarily, the Duty to Hack requires that State to pursue the latter course. Although novel, I submit the Duty to Hack more accurately and effectively accounts for IHL’s fundamental principles and cyberspace’s unique attributes than existing efforts to foist legal boundaries upon State cyber-operations by analogy. Moreover, adopting the Duty to Hack could constitute a necessary first step to resolving the larger theoretical and functional challenges currently associated with law’s boundaries in cyberspace.

 

Guest Post: Argentina v. NML Capital – Does the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act Mean More Than It Says?

by Michael Ramsey

[Michael D. Ramsey is the Hugh and Hazel Darling Foundation Professor of Law at the University of San Diego Law School. Professor Ramsey previously prepared an analysis of this case for the Judicial Education Project, for which he was compensated.]

The Supreme Court considered on Monday whether a U.S. court can order disclosure of Argentina’s worldwide assets.  Perhaps surprisingly, the answer should be yes.

The underlying facts of Republic of Argentina v. NML Capital are straightforward.  Argentina issued bonds, which were bought by private investors including NML, and then defaulted.  In the bond contracts, Argentina waived its sovereign immunity and consented to jurisdiction in New York.  After the default, NML sued Argentina in New York, as the bond contracts contemplated.

The Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA) says that foreign governments can be sued in the U.S. only in circumstances listed in the statute.  One of those circumstances is when the sovereign waives its immunity by contract.  So there’s no question that NML could sue Argentina.

The question, rather, is what NML could do once it won (as it did) and Argentina still refused to pay (as it did).  The FSIA also says that creditors cannot execute on (seize) foreign sovereign assets in the United States to satisfy a judgment unless the assets are being used in a commercial capacity.  NML asked the trial court to order two New York banks that handle Argentina’s finances to disclose what they knew about Argentina’s assets (commercial or otherwise).  Argentina, supported by the U.S. executive branch, claims this violates the “spirit” of the FSIA.

It doesn’t.  The FSIA (Section 1609) specifically protects non-commercial sovereign assets only against “arrest attachment and execution.”  It does not say assets are immune from disclosure.  There’s a good reason it doesn’t: to figure out which assets are used for commercial purposes, and thus subject to execution, first one needs to know what assets exist.  It obviously won’t do to have Argentina – or Argentina’s bankers – make an unreviewable judgment as to which assets are commercial and not disclose the others.  And in other respects, the FSIA (Section 1606) says, a non-immune sovereign shall (subject to exceptions not relevant here) “be liable in the same manner and to the same extent as a private individual under like circumstances.”

Thus, as a number of Justices appeared to recognize at oral argument, the key law isn’t the FSIA but Rule 69 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which govern ordinary litigation in federal court.  Rule 69 allows a federal court to order discovery in support of execution, which is what the trial judge did here.  The rule doesn’t have any limits on the type of property or the geographic limits – rather, its leaves the matter to the discretion of the court.  In private litigation, courts acting under Rule 69 routinely require disclosure of assets outside the jurisdiction or arguably not subject to execution.

At oral argument, some Justices seemed troubled that Argentina (or other sovereigns) might have to disclose the location of sensitive diplomatic or military assets.  It’s a fair concern, but no reason to make the FSIA say something it clearly does not.  First, district courts are adept at balancing all sorts of competing interests that arise in discovery disputes and in allowing only discovery appropriate under the circumstances; Rule 69 gives them plenty of discretion to do so.  Second, the only disclosures the trial court required here are of financial transactions (and the order isn’t even directed to Argentina, but rather to third-party banks); no one is asking Argentina to disclose the location of, for example, specific military assets.  And third, presumably disclosures could be made confidentially to the court as needed for particular assets.

Moreover, NML claims that Argentina has shown its willingness to abuse institutions like the Bank of International Settlements to shield its assets from creditor judgments.  That’s what NML’s attorney Ted Olson was speaking of when he said at one point during Monday’s proceeding that Argentina could slap an air-force label on a commercial airplane in order to shield that asset.  He wasn’t talking about NML attaching non-executable assets, he was simply pointing out the danger of creating loopholes in the discovery process that would allow Argentina to deny discovery on assets that creditors would be entitled to.

This goes to the heart of why NML has a need for the disclosures.  Argentina has openly refused to pay the judgment against it.  NML is entitled to execute on Argentina’s commercial assets in the United States, and may be able to execute on some non-commercial assets elsewhere (in jurisdictions that lack the U.S.’s commercial limit).  To do so, it needs to know what assets exist, and it cannot rely on Argentina’s self-reporting of which assets are commercial.

Ultimately the rule of law, especially in international transactions, depends on courts holding parties to their promises and providing a way to enforce judgments.  If Argentina didn’t want to be subject to U.S. court enforcement, then it should not have waived its immunity and consented to jurisdiction (but, of course, then it would have had much more difficulty selling its bonds).  Argentina could still avoid unwanted disclosures by doing what it is supposed to do anyway: pay the entirely valid judgment against it.

The rule of law also depends on courts reading statutes to mean what they say, and not more than they say.  Argentina is asking the Court to find an immunity in the FSIA that simply isn’t there.  Argentina’s protection instead comes from Rule 69 – but it’s a protection that rests largely with the lower court, which knows the case better and is better able to balance competing equities on an on-going basis than the Supreme Court.  It may be helpful for the Court to ask district courts to use careful discretion in managing disclosure requests directed at a foreign sovereign under Rule 69. For instance, the Justices could recommend that district court judges ask the sovereign to create a privilege log (or a similar mechanism) for those assets, such as military property, that are extra-sensitive. This would balance the interests of the sovereign and the creditors. But creating a blanket protection against disclosure of assets under the FSIA is contrary to both the statute and the needs of the international rule of law.

Bolivia´s Reasonably Strong ICJ Case against Chile

by Andrés Guzmán Escobari

[Andrés Guzmán Escobari is a former Bolivian diplomat, a Professor at Universidad del Valle and Universidad de los Andes and an associate researcher for the German Foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. The opinions expressed are strictly personal.]

A few days after Bolivia instituted proceedings against Chile before the International Court of Justice, Julian Ku wrote a post here on Opinio Juris entitled “Bolivia´s Ridiculously Weak ICJ Case against Chile”.  His main claim?  “This case looks like a sure loser on admissibility; it looks like it is going to be a major waste of time for the ICJ”.

In this post, I would like to offer a rebuttal to Mr Ku’s comments and to explain why Bolivia’s case is not only not a ‘sure loser’ but is reasonably strong.  The case concerns Bolivia’s request that the Court declare and adjudge that “Chile has the obligation to negotiate with Bolivia in order to reach an agreement granting Bolivia a fully sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean” because “Chile has breached the said obligation”. Specifically, for that reason, “Chile must perform the said obligation with good faith, promptly, formally, within a reasonable time and effectively, to grant Bolivia a fully sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean”.

Mr Ku develops two mains arguments to support his opinion: (1) that there is no compulsory ICJ jurisdiction under the Bogota Treaty; and (2) that there is no specific obligation on Chile to negotiate an agreement granting Bolivia an access to the Pacific Ocean because the language of the declarations made by Chilean authorities with the purpose of giving Bolivia back sovereign access to the sea were “non-obligatory”.

(more…)

Lozano v. Montoya Alvarez: The Latest Supreme Court Treaty Interpretation Case

by Duncan Hollis

I’m a bit pressed for time, but wanted to offer a brief post calling readers’ attention to a US Supreme Court case that came down today – Lozano v. Montoya Alvarez.  In it, a unanimous Court interprets the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction to not allow equitable tolling of the requirement that a child be automatically returned to the country from which s/he was abducted in the one year period after the child is taken.  The case involved two Colombian nationals living in England in 2008 when the mother leaves with her child for France and then New York (via a shelter for victims of domestic violence).  The father was unaware where his child had been abducted to, and thus could not file for the return remedy provided for by Article 12 of the treaty.  After much searching, he located her in the United States in November 2010.  At that point, however, the near automatic-right of return for one year provided via Article 12 no longer applied and the Convention imposes a different standard – wherein courts must order the return of the child ‘unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment’ (emphasis added).  Lower courts found that the child had become settled and thus she remained in the United States pending the outcome of this litigation.

In its opinion, the Court interpreted Article 12 not to contain any equitable tolling possibility with respect to the one year period for the automatic right of return.  In doing so, it declined to apply the equitable tolling doctrine available for federal statutes to treaties, offering in the process some general statements on its approach to treaty interpretation:

For treaties, which are primarily “‘compact[s] between independent nations,’” Medellín v. Texas,  552 U. S. 491, 505 (2008), our “duty [i]s to ascertain the intent of the parties” by looking to the document’s text and context, United States v. Choctaw Nation, 179 U. S. 494, 535 (1900); see also BG Group plc v. Republic of Argentina, post, at 10. We conclude that the parties to the Hague Convention did not intend equitable tolling to apply to the 1-year period in Article 12.

It is our “responsibility to read the treaty in a manner ‘consistent with the shared expectations of the contracting parties.’” Olympic Airways v. Husain, 540 U. S. 644, 650 (2004) (quoting Air France v. Saks, 470 U. S. 392, 399 (1985); emphasis added). Even if a background principle is relevant to the interpretation of federal statutes, it has no proper role in the interpretation of treaties unless that principle is shared by the parties to “an agreement among sovereign powers,” Zicherman v. Korean Air Lines Co., 516 U. S. 217, 226 (1996). Lozano has not identified a background principle of equitable tolling that is shared by the signatories to the Hague Convention. To the contrary, Lozano concedes that in the context of the Convention, “foreign courts have failed to adopt equitable tolling . . . because they lac[k] the presumption that we [have].” Tr. of Oral Arg. 19–20. While no signatory state’s court of last resort has resolved the question, intermediate courts of appeals in several states have rejected equitable tolling….

I don’t see anything too dramatically different in this reasoning than the Court’s earlier pronouncements.  More interesting, perhaps, is the Court’s unwillingness to let the existence of implementing legislation via federal statute impact its interpretative analysis:

It does not matter to this conclusion that Congress enacted a statute to implement the Hague Convention. See ICARA, 42 U. S. C. §§11601–11610. ICARA does not address the availability of equitable tolling. Nor does it purport to alter the Convention. See §11601(b)(2) (“The provisions of [ICARA] are in addition to and not in lieu of the provisions of the Convention”). In fact, Congress explicitly recognized “the need for uniform international interpretation of the Convention.” §11601(b)(3)(B). Congress’ mere enactment of implementing legislation did not somehow import background principles of American law into the treaty interpretation process, thereby altering our understanding of the treaty itself.

There’s more later in the opinion offering views on the negotiators’ intent as well as the object and purpose of the Hague Convention itself.  But, I’ll leave that for readers to comment on if anyone is inclined to do so.

Exploring International Law with Opinio Juris in 2013: Highways, Back Roads, and Uncharted Territories…

by Chris Borgen

There’s never a boring year in international law and 2013 turned out to be particularly eventful: Syria, major cases in front of national and international courts, a possible nuclear deal with Iran, and turmoil in Eastern Europe, Egypt, and South Sudan, to name but a few reasons.

This post is not an attempt to log all that we have written about on Opinio Juris this year. There’s just too much.  If any of these topics (or others) are of particular interest to you, you can use our search function to find the posts related to them.  Rather, this post is an idiosyncratic tour of some of the highways, back roads, and other territory that we traversed in 2013… (Continue Reading)

Discussing Argentina’s Debt Litigation and Sovereign Immunity at the Cato Institute

by Julian Ku


I had the pleasure of participating in a very interesting discussion yesterday of Argentina’s debt litigation at the Cato Institute in Washington D.C. Richard Samp offered a useful overview of this litigation, and my own talk focused on the strange (and in my view inappropriate) way that the U.S. legal system allows sovereigns to waive immunity from courts, but continues to protect them against most judgments.  Other panelists, including an economist from Moody’s, offered a very interesting set of slides explaining why Argentina’s treatment of its creditors is substantially harsher than almost all other sovereign defaulters in recent decades.I also would recommend watching the video from about the 57th minute to see Arturo Porzecanski of American University criticize the overall policies of the Kirchner government.

I think Argentina is in a bad spot right now and it is possible they will end up losing their final appeals in the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, it is possible the Court will not even hear their petition (although hiring former U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement will no doubt help Argentina).  Still, I doubt the Court will rush to hear this case and if they do, any final resolution might have to wait quite a bit longer. This case has quite a ways to go.

The Dangers of Hobnobbing with Supreme Court Justices; They Might Have to Recuse Themselves in Your Cert Petition

by Julian Ku

I’ve been following Argentina’s travails in the U.S. courts with great interest, even penning an oped on the subject back in January on their standoff with sovereign debt creditors in Ghana.  Argentina and the so-called “holdout” creditors have been battling out their dispute in the federal courts of New York for years.  So it is interesting to note that Argentina is finally facing its last stand. As Washington Legal Foundation’s Rich Samp notes in his oped, Argentina is highly unlikely to win its last-ditch cert petition to block a lower court order in favor of the holdout creditors. I agree for all the reasons he lists (e,g. no federal law issues, no circuit split, etc) that the Court will not review the case, but I was particularly struck by his observation that Justice Sonya Sotomayor will almost certainly have to recuse herself from the petition. First of all, as a court of appeals judge, she heard several Argentina-debt-related cases.  And second of all, she appears to have a personal acquaintance with Argentina President Cristina Kirchner.

Separately, Justice Sotomayor may also decide to recuse herself because over the years she has met on a number of occasions with Argentina’s president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and other high-ranking Argentine officials. Indeed, the Argentine government seems to have made a concerted effort to forge close relations with the Justice. It would be ironic if those efforts resulted in a decision by Justice Sotomayor to disqualify herself from hearing Argentina’s certiorari petitions.

Justice Sotomayor made an official visit to Argentina on August 27-29, 2012. According to U.S. State Department press releases, while in the country she met one-on-one with President Kirchner. The two also had a meeting when Kirchner was in Washington, D.C. in April 2010. Kirchner has taken an extremely active role in the Second Circuit litigation and has repeatedly and publicly denounced the “hold-outs” who are suing Argentina for payment on their bonds. This may provide Justice Sotomayor with an additional reason to disqualify herself from considering Argentina’s certiorari petitions.

As Rich notes, she doesn’t have to recuse herself and doesn’t have to give reasons when she does.  But I think this is a plausible (additional) reason for her to avoid sitting on this case.  In fact, given that the visit was so recent (just over one year ago), and that the litigation was already plainly heading for the Supreme Court even then, it is hard not to spot the problem here.

Venezuela Formally Withdraws from American Convention on Human Rights, Blames the U.S.

by Julian Ku

In other Latin American news, Venezuela’s withdrawal from the American Convention of Human Rights went into effect this week, drawing the condemnations of various human rights groups. The withdrawal was one of the Hugo Chavez’s last decisions as President, however, and seems to have been sparked by dissatisfaction with decisions by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Venezuela’s withdrawal from the American Convention, along with its decision to withdraw from the World Bank’s ICSID system of resolving investor-state disputes last year, suggests that international judicial institutions of all types are losing a bit of ground in Latin America. Colombia has denounced its membership in the Bogota Pact, and Bolivia and Ecuador have also left ICSID.

Of course, Venezuela is a different case and it is only the third country ever to withdraw from the American Convention.  I don’t know enough about the region to opine on the reasons for Venezuela’s withdrawal, but I do find the reflexive Yankee-bashing a curious justification.

Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro, reiterated Chavez’s charge that the Inter-American system was a U.S. pawn.

“[T]he U.S. is not part of the human rights system, does not acknowledge the court’s jurisdiction or the commission, but … the commission headquarters is in Washington,” President Maduro said at a news conference, according to media reports. “Almost all participants and bureaucracy that are part of the IACHR are captured by the interests of the State Department of the United States.”

My experience with the OAS and the Inter-American Commission is admittedly quite limited, but I’ve never gotten the impression that IACHR in particular was controlled by the U.S., or indeed, that the U.S. paid the IACHR any serious attention whatsoever. The only shred of truth here is that the IACHR is indeed headquartered in Washington D.C., but that can’t be enough to prove bias.  After all, the U.N. is in New York and it proves (pretty much every day) that the U.S. is powerless to get it to do anything it wants.

Medellin v. Texas Goes Abroad? Colombia Says It Will Not Abide By ICJ Ruling

by Julian Ku

I’m a little late to this, but it is worth noting that President Santos of Colombia has announced that Colombia will “not abide” by an ICJ ruling awarding certain territorial and maritime rights to Nicaragua.  Colombia is not exactly going to simply ignore the ICJ ruling, its Foreign Minister says, but it sure sounds like it is going to do exactly that.

“At no time are we disregarding the jurisdiction of the court at The Hague,” Foreign Minister María Ángela Holguín told Caracol Radio on Tuesday. “We’re not disregarding the ruling either. We’re saying that our constitution does not permit its applicability.” Santos said that it is going to sue the Pact of Bogota at the country’s Constitutional Court, and that in the meantime the government will try to secure a new treaty with Nicaragua that satisfies both countries.

I think the Colombian FM is saying that the Pact of Bogota which gave compulsory jurisdiction to the ICJ is unconstitutional under the Colombia Constitution. And, presumably, that the Colombian Constitution is supreme to the Pact of Bogata within Colombia. And therefore, Colombia won’t carry out the ICJ judgment.  It’s Medellin v. Texas all over again!

None of this analysis would explain why Colombia is not in plain violation of its obligations under the Pact of Bogata and the UN Charter’s general obligation to abide by ICJ judgments. President Santos further announced that Colombia will “subscribe in a letter of protest along with other neighboring nations [Jamaica, Costa Rica, and Panama] that I will personally deliver to the United Nations’ Secretary General.” Gee, that will show them!

I think what is really happening here is that Colombia is refusing to comply with the ICJ ruling, but it is not going to admit it is doing so.  In the meantime, Colombia will pretend that there is some litigation or appeal going on somewhere that is delaying its obligation to comply (there is none) until Nicaragua gives up and makes a deal.  Since I seriously doubt Nicaragua has enough leverage to push Colombia to comply, this strategy just might work!

The larger lesson is that we often forget just how hard it is to get countries to carry out international court rulings, even when they have voluntarily agreed to the jurisdiction of those international courts.  It is really, really, hard, and it is more surprising when countries do comply than when they don’t.

Of course, it is entirely possible I’m misreading this somehow. I don’t speak Spanish, and I don’t exactly trust Google Translate.  But a video of the President Santos address is here.  Spanish-speaking readers should feel free to add their views to the comments.