Special Content

Introducing the Symposium on Harold Hongju Koh’s Washburn Lecture and Article: “The Trump Administration and International Law”

by Craig Martin

[Craig Martin is a Professor of Law at Washburn University School of Law, and is the Co-Director of the International and Comparative Law Center of Washburn Law.]

Over the next few days Opinio Juris will be conducting a virtual symposium to discuss Professor Harold Hongju Koh’s article The Trump Administration and International Law. The article was published in a special Symposium Issue of the Washburn Law Journal, which also includes articles by David Sloss, Peggy McGuiness, and Clare Frances Moran, responding to or picking up on the themes of Harold’s article. The article was in turn based on a wonderful lecture that Harold delivered to an entranced standing-room only crowd at Washburn University School of Law in March 2017. He is expanding the article into a book that is soon to be published by Oxford University Press.

Harold’s article addresses the key question of whether the Trump administration will disrupt America’s relationship with international law and its institutions. It argues that transnational actors both inside and outside the U.S. government are operating to resist such change, and to frustrate or mitigate the Trump administration’s efforts to stretch or break international law. This, Harold argues, is yet another example of transnational legal process, the theory that is of course famously associated with Harold’s name. Transnational legal process theory provides the basis for a counter-strategy to resist the efforts of the Trump Administration.

In broad terms, it suggests the choice of engagement over unilateralism, an emphasis on choosing persuasive legal translation over denying the applicability of international law at all, and the leveraging of “international law as smart power” rather than over-reliance on hard power. All of this, of course, stands in stark contrast to the Trump Administration’s approach to international issues. More specifically, colorfully invoking the metaphor of Mohammad Ali’s “Rope-a-Dope” strategy, Harold explains the process by which transnational actors have and continue to interact with, interpret, and internalize international law, and how this will operate externally to hold the Trump Administration accountable to American international law obligations, and internally to constrain and frustrate the ability of the government to effectively abrogate American commitments and undermine international law and its institutions.

Having thus set out the theoretical account for how transnational legal process may operate, Harold examines a series of specific situations for purposes of illustrating how this process of interaction, interpretation, and internalization, has played out. These case studies run the gamut from the Trump Administration’s approach to immigration and refugees, through the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, North Korea, Russian Hacking, the Ukraine, Al Qaeda and ISIS, to the war in Syria. In each case, Harold explores how various actors both internal and external to the administration have responded in a manner that bears out and illustrates the legal process theory account, and how their actions have constrained and frustrated the efforts of the American government.

While Harold’s analysis and overall argument are optimistic and encouraging, in closing he strikes a darker note in cautioning us on what is ultimately at stake. He warns that this is a struggle “between competing visions of a future world order.” His claim is not only that a counter-strategy informed by transnational legal process is currently operating to curb the Trump Administration’s efforts, but that it is essential to prevent “the slow backsliding of our Kantian postwar system into a more cynical, Orwellian system of global governance far less respectful of democracy, human rights, and the rule of international law.” In this sense, it is yet another contribution to the deepening sense that Western liberal democracy and the international law system are confronting existential threats, and provides a powerful argument for ways in which we can all meaningfully respond.

For the symposium we have a group of distinguished scholars who have all done considerable work in different ways on the theoretical issues at play in this piece, and who will discuss various aspects of Harold’s argument. I expect that some will focus on one or more of Harold’s specific case studies, exploring in more detail his theoretical explanations for what is actually going on in each of them, while others may grapple with the application of transnational legal process theory more generally, and whether it is indeed as well suited to the task as Harold suggests. The line-up will be (though not necessarily in the order that they will appear): Bill Burke-White (Pennsylvania), Laura Dickinson (GW), Bill Dodge (UC Davis), Kevin Jon Heller (Amsterdam), Freddy Sourgens (Washburn), and Melissa Waters (Wash U).

It is my hope that this will help to generate a robust discussion, both here in the comments section and elsewhere, and that the discussion in turn will help to inform the development of Harold’s upcoming and important book on this subject.

http://opiniojuris.org/2018/02/19/introducing-the-symposium-on-harold-hongju-kohs-washburn-lecture-and-article-the-trump-administration-and-international-law/

Symposium: The Trump Administration and International Law

by Jessica Dorsey

Over the next several days we will have an online discussion on a recent article by Harold Koh on The Trump Administration and International Law, 56 Washburn L. J. 413 (2017). The article is based on a lecture Professor Koh gave at Washburn University School of Law last year, and is published in a special issue of the Journal that includes four other articles responding to different aspects of the Trump administration and international law.

For this week’s discussion, we welcome Craig Martin (Washburn University School of Law), who will kick off and wrap up the discussion, and we will post exciting contributions from Bill Burke-White (University of Pennsylvania School of Law); Laura Dickinson (George Washington University Law School); Bill Dodge (UC Davis School of Law); Kevin Jon Heller (University of Amsterdam School of Law); Freddy Sourgens (Washburn University School of Law); and Melissa Waters (Washington University School of Law).

We very much look forward to the conversation!

http://opiniojuris.org/2018/02/19/33440/
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Symposium: Aeyal Gross’s “The Writing on the Wall”

by Kevin Jon Heller

Over the next three days we will be featuring an online discussion of my SOAS colleague and TAU law professor Aeyal Gross‘s new book for Cambridge University Press, The Writing on the Wall: Rethinking the International Law of Occupation (CUP, 2017). The book develops ideas that Aeyal discussed on Opinio Juris — in a symposium on the functional approach to occupation — more than five years ago. So it’s fitting that we discuss his book on the blog now!

We are delighted to welcome a number of commenters, including Eliav Lieblich (TAU), Valentina Azarova (Koç) (who also contributed to the earlier symposium), Diana Buttu (IMEU), and Eugene Kontorovich (Northwestern). Aeyal will respond to the comments at the end of the symposium.

We look forward to the conversation!

http://opiniojuris.org/2017/08/28/symposium-3/

Symposium on Asia and International Law

by Chris Borgen

The forthcoming issue of the European Journal of International Law will feature an article by Professor Simon Chesterman, the Dean of the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law, entitled Asia’s Ambivalence About International Law and Institutions: Past, Present and Futures. This week, Opinio Juris and EJILTalk will hold a joint symposium on the two blogs on Professor Chesterman’s article.

The article’s abstract explains:

Asian states are the least likely of any regional grouping to be party to most international obligations or to have representation reflecting their number and size in international organizations. That is despite the fact that Asian states have arguably benefited most from the security and economic dividends provided by international law and institutions. This article explores the reasons for Asia’s under-participation and under-representation. The first part traces the history of Asia’s engagement with international law. The second part assesses Asia’s current engagement with international law and institutions, examining whether its under-participation and under-representation is in fact significant and how it might be explained. The third part considers possible future developments based on three different scenarios, referred to here as status quo, divergence and convergence. Convergence is held to be the most likely future, indicating adaptation on the part of Asian states as well as on the part of the international legal order.

The symposium will begin on Monday with an opening post by Professor Chesterman, followed by posts on Opinio Juris by Professor Tony Anghie of the National University of Singapore and on EJILTalk by Professor Eyal Benvenisti of Cambridge University.  On Tuesday, Opinio Juris will have commentary by Professor B.S. Chimni of Jawaharlal Nehru University and EJILTalk will have a piece by Professor Robert McCorquodale of the University of Nottingham and the Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law.   Wednesday will have observations and reactions on Opinio Juris by Judge Xue Hanqin  of the International Court of Justice and on EJILTalk by Judge Paik Jin-Hyun of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Finally, there will be a closing post pn both blogs by Professor Chesterman on Thursday.

We hope you will join us on both blogs for the discussion.

http://opiniojuris.org/2017/01/16/32952/

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, November 7, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Here’s your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

http://opiniojuris.org/2016/11/07/weekly-news-wrap-monday-november-7-2016/
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Weekly News Wrap: Monday, October 31, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Here’s your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

http://opiniojuris.org/2016/10/31/32855/
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Weekly News Wrap: Monday, October 24, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Here’s your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

  • The siege and bombing of eastern Aleppo in Syria constitute “crimes of historic proportions” that have caused heavy civilian casualties amounting to “war crimes”, according to the top United Nations human rights official.

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

  • The United States is campaigning hard against proposed U.N. General Assembly resolution banning nuclear weapons, pressuring treaty allies like South Korea, Japan and NATO members to vote against the resolution, a new report said.; the resolution, led by Austria, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, calls for the formal launch of negotiations on a nuclear ban in 2017 and the U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote on the resolution as early as next week and proponents expect it to pass easily, according to the Foreign Policy magazine.
  • More than 600 United Nations staff members have signed an online petition calling on Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a professed feminist, to reconsider the appointment of the fictitious superhero as its ambassador for women’s empowerment.
http://opiniojuris.org/2016/10/24/32847/
This entry was posted in Weekday News Wrap and tagged .

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, September 26, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Here’s your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

http://opiniojuris.org/2016/09/26/32803/
This entry was posted in Weekday News Wrap.

Protection of Civilians Symposium: A Multiplicity of Legal Frameworks and Practical Challenges

by Ralph Mamiya

[Ralph Mamiya is team leader for the Protection of Civilians Team in the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations but writes here in a purely personal capacity, and the views expressed do not represent official positions of his Department or the United Nations. This post is the concluding post of the Protection of Civilians Symposium.]

This week’s symposium on the protection of civilians highlighted the range of legal and practical issues facing UN peacekeepers. Featuring posts from two contributors to the new volume, Protection of Civilians from Oxford University Press, former Senior UN Legal Officer Mona Khalil and University of Ulster law professor Siobhan Wills, as well as responses from distinguished colleagues Professor Ray Murphy, Legal Counsel Marten Zwanenburg and Professor Kjetil Mujezinović Larsen, the symposium has covered both very familiar ground for me and issues that I rarely have the opportunity to wrestle with.

Taken together, Mona’s and Siobhan’s discussions of peacekeepers’ authority and responsibility to use that authority to use force to protect civilians highlight the complexity of the issue. As Marten notes, we can read Mona as putting forward a strong but narrow concept of the protection of civilians mandate, rooted firmly in Security Council resolutions and Chapter VII of the UN Charter. The simplicity of this argument is its strength: the Council provides a strategic directive to protect (not merely an authorization), and this directive creates some form of responsibility. The challenge of this argument is, as those who deal regularly with UN bodies know, that determining the content and intent of Council resolutions is no simple matter, particularly in an era of political divisions in the Council. The “protection mandate” itself is often brief, providing a general direction with little detail. Generating meaningful positive obligations from such basic material is supremely difficult and gives rise, in part, to many of the practical peacekeeping challenges that Mona points out.

Professor Wills, on the other hand, searches beyond the mandate itself for sources of an obligation to protect that are, perhaps, more susceptible to legal analysis, and, also perhaps, more binding. She returns, however, to the UN’s own Human Rights Up Front  initiative, which she interprets as a potential acknowledgement by the UN of its own protection obligation. Whether this is a stronger or weaker foundation than Mona’s implicit presumption that peacekeeping mandates create a responsibility to act is somewhat uncertain in my mind (particularly as elections for the next Secretary-General are upon us). Her approach to filling in the content of the UNPKO’s responsibility to protect, however, seems a practical, procedural approach.

Professor Murphy takes up Siobhan’s appeal to the UN’s own commitment to human rights norms and raises her, proposing a Secretary-General’s bulletin on the application of human rights law to peacekeepers, analogous to the Secretary-General’s bulletin on international humanitarian law. The IHL purist, and the IHRL purist, may not give a great deal of weight to what the Secretary-General thinks about the application of international law to blue-helmeted troops, but such bulletins can be highly influential for the legal and policy architecture of peacekeeping and, ultimately, the way mandates are implemented.

Professor Larsen also follows Professor Wills, but in the direction of “hard law,” looking to treaty law as potential sources for an obligation to protect with regard to de-mining. This is a particularly interesting area. Professor Larsen’s discussion highlights not only how important protection issues are becoming to militaries around the world (not just UN peacekeepers) and further clarifies, in case there was any doubt, that protecting civilians is not only a matter of using force. The obligation that he argues for echoes the human rights-based norms that Professor Murphy raised.

Marten, in addition to providing wonderful summaries of Mona’s and Siobhan’s chapters in the book (going beyond just their posts), raises two points that I find particularly fascinating. First, with regard to the accountability of peacekeepers: despite the importance of UN privileges and immunities for so much of the UN’s work, if the international public perceives those privileges as being abused they may be whittled away. Second, with regard to Mona’s very interesting discussion of consent: the legal concept of consent and what host states permit missions to do at a practical level, particularly when it involves supporting or substituting for state functions (such as protection).

There is a common refrain that protecting civilians is simple in concept but difficult in practice. In one sense this is true—we tend to agree that protecting civilians is a good thing but we, as the international community, seem to disappoint ourselves on a regular basis—but in another sense simplifies what is a complex issue. One thing that I hope that this week’s symposium has highlighted is that practical challenges, and these are legion, are often tied to legal questions that we are still struggling to answer.

Many thanks to the distinguished panelists for contributing, and to Opinio Juris for hosting this symposium for Protection of Civilians, now available, with a foreword from Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, and contributions from Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Andrew Clapham, Hugo Slim, Mona Khalil and Siobhan Wills and many others.

http://opiniojuris.org/2016/09/09/protection-of-civilians-symposium-a-multiplicity-of-legal-frameworks-and-practical-challenges/
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Protection of Civilians Symposium: Protecting Civilians from Explosive Ordnances-An Example of Operational and Legal Challenges

by Kjetil Mujezinovic Larsen

[Kjetil Mujezinović Larsen is Professor of Law, Director of Research, and Deputy Director, at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights at the University of Oslo. He is the author of «The Human Rights Treaty Obligations of Peacekeepers» (Cambridge, 2012). This post is a part of the Protection of Civilians Symposium.]

By way of introduction, let me state that I agree with Marten’s analysis of the legal obligations of peacekeepers. Therefore, rather than rehearsing the arguments raised by the other contributors to this Symposium, I want to address a concrete issue that illustrates many of the challenges, while also being of great practical importance: The removal of anti-personnel landmines, unexploded cluster munitions, and other explosive ordnances in the area of deployment of a peacekeeping operation. Such explosive ordnances represent a considerable and continuous threat to the civilian population in the affected area, and to protect civilians from this threat clearly falls within the «protection of civilians» paradigm. But does there exist any legal obligation to remove any such ordnances?

There exist a range of international treaty provisions concerning removal and destruction of explosive ordnances. For anti-personnel landmines, Article 5 of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty requires each State Party to «destroy or ensure the destruction of all anti-personnel mines in mined areas under its jurisdiction or control, as soon as possible»; for cluster munition remnants, Article 4 of the 2008 Cluster Munitions Convention similarly requires States Parties to «clear and destroy, or ensure the clearance and destruction of, cluster munition remnants located in cluster munition contaminated areas under its jurisdiction or control»; and for (other) explosive remnants of war, Article 3 of the 2003 CCW Explosive Remnants of War Protocol (Protocol no. 5) provides a similar rule. All of these provisions also set out requirements to identify and mark contaminated areas, and to take all feasible measures to protect the civilian population against the threat that these ordnances represent.

In 2006, Norwegian media reported allegations that Norwegian military personnel who were involved with removing and destroying anti-personnel mines in the American-led operation “Enduring Freedom” in Afghanistan had omitted removing mines in order to protect American soldiers against attacks. It was further alleged that Afghan civilians were killed by these mines. This was not a United Nations peacekeeping operation, and the allegations were most vehemently denied by Norwegian authorities. But even without considering the veracity of the allegations or the validity of drawing an analogy to peacekeeping operations, one may ask: If a Troop Contributing Nation in this manner omits removing explosive ordnances in an area under its control, and civilians are killed or injured because of the omission, has there then been committed an internationally wrongful act? Has any de jure obligation been violated, and, if so, by whom? Can anybody be held accountable under international law?

The informed reader will here think about the European Court of Human Rights’ inadmissibility decision in the Behrami case. The case concerned an incident where some children while playing found a number of undetonated cluster bomb units, which had been dropped during the NATO bombardment in 1999. When a cluster bomb unit exploded, one boy was killed and another was seriously injured. It was alleged that UNMIK personnel were aware of the location of the units. The application was brought against concrete Troop Contributing Nations, but the Court declared the application inadmissible because the relevant omission was attributable to the United Nations, which fell outside the Court’s jurisdiction ratione personae. Accordingly, the Court didn’t consider whether the European Convention on Human Rights was applicable, and in any case it wouldn’t have had jurisdiction to consider the other conventions mentioned above.

The International Society for Military Law and the Law of War is presently developing a Manual of the International Law in Peace Operations, where this issue has arisen. After consultations with representatives from the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, it has become clear that the United Nations does not accept any legal obligation to remove explosive ordnances in areas within the control of an operation. The UN insists that the primary responsibility for demining and removal of explosive remnants lies with the host State, and it is necessary for the mandate to stipulate it if a peace operation should have any responsibilities for demining and removal of explosive remnants. It is worth noting in that regard that peacekeeping operations are rarely given a mandate to actively remove explosive remnants, but that mandates instead focus on providing assistance to other actors that perform the actual demining. By way of example, UN Security Council resolution 1244 (1999) gave KFOR the responsibility of «supervising demining until the international civil presence can, as appropriate, take over responsibility for this task», while resolution 1990 (2011) mandated UNISFA to «provide … de-mining assistance and technical advice». But if the mandate of an operation doesn’t specify a duty, what then applies? The conventions refer to the responsibility of States Parties, but if the United Nations is the responsible entity, then the conventions don’t apply. The United Nations position is that there doesn’t exist enough evidence to establish as a rule under customary international law that any actor that exercises jurisdiction or control over a contaminated area has an obligation to clear that area.

Even with regard to the duty to make feasible efforts to clear, remove or destroy anti-personnel mines, cluster munition remnants and other explosive remnants in affected areas under their control, the UN position is that any legal obligation to do so must stem either from the mandate or from the treaty obligations of a Troop Contributing Nation. The applicability of these treaty obligations for Troop Contributing Nations is a contentious issue that has not been authoritatively solved, and it may be argued that current operational practice does not support a claim that legal obligations to this effect exist during peace operations. If not, a responsibility to clear, remove or destroy anti-personnel mines, cluster munition remnants and other explosive remnants only applies to the extent that the mandate of the operation states this as a responsibility, and even then it may not qualify as a legal obligation.

Protection of civilians in peace opertions is a multifaceted issue. It is not only about the legal right or obligation to use force to protect civilians, it is much more. In the case of removal of explosive ordnances, the question is whether anyone has the positive obligation to protect the civilian population from threats. It can quite plausibly be argued that the United Nations has no such obligation since it’s not a party to any convention and since the relevant rules don’t qualify as customary international law, and that Troop Contibuting States can’t be held accountable when it participates in a UN peacekeeping operation, even if they would otherwise be bound by their treaty obligations. The legal challenges with regard to protection of civilians in peacekeeping operations remain considerable.

http://opiniojuris.org/2016/09/08/protection-of-civilans-symposium-protecting-civilians-from-explosive-ordnances-an-example-of-operational-and-legal-challenges/
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Protection of Civilians Symposium: Some Thoughts on the Use of Force by UN Peacekeeping Operations to Protect Civilians

by Marten Zwanenburg

[Marten Zwanenburg is legal counsel at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The views expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.This post is a part of the Protection of Civilians Symposium.]

In this post, I will focus on Mona’s chapter in “Protection of Civilians”, in which she addresses the issue of the use of force by UN peacekeeping operations for the protection of civilians.

Mona’s main point is that the mandate to use force to protect civilians is broad and deeply founded. However, a number of factors may have an inhibiting effect on the use of force by UN peacekeepers beyond self-defence and for the protection of civilians.

She points to a number of legal considerations that may impede carrying out a PoC mandate. While these undoubtedly play a role, I cannot escape the thought that the main obstacle appears to be unwillingness of TCC to put their troops in harm’s way, as well as the limited capabilities and resources available to many missions.

One of the factors Mona argues contributes to peacekeeping operations not fulfilling their PoC mandate is “complacency regarding the legal consequences of failure to fulfil the mandate.” This refers to the ultimate accountability of the Force Commander for both acts of commission and acts of omission when it comes to the use of force by military contingents under the mandate and ROE. This forms an interesting parallel to the question discussed by Siobhan whether the UN mandate imposes a positive obligation on a peacekeeping operation to protect civilians, In this context, Mona states when discussing self-defence that UN forces have not only the right but also the duty, under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to use force where and when necessary and appropriate to pre-empt, prevent, deter and/or respond to targeted or systematic attacks on civilians within the limits of their capabilities and deployment. She thus appears to see the mandate as imposing a duty to use force in certain circumstances. This in contrast to Siobhan, who argues that a Chapter VII mandate authorizing use of force to protect civilians does not create an obligation to use force (although it may create an obligation to provide protection).

Another consideration Mona mentions is an inhibition to use force arising from fear of criminal accountability or loss of protected status (under IHL). Personally I wonder whether fear of loss of protected status plays an important role. This would assume that peacekeepers have an expectation that their opponents will act in accordance with IHL and respect their protected status under IHL as long as they do not directly participate in hostilities. I wonder whether they really do have such an expectation, for example vis-a-vis armed groups in the DRC or in Mali. Fear of criminal prosecution on the other hand seems a plausible factor in the minds of peacekeepers, judging from my own experience talking to military personnel. Although she doesn’t say to explicitly, Mona probably has fear of prosecution for the use of force in mind. Interestingly, the more protection of civilians is propagated as an obligation, the more likely that not using force may lead to prosecution. In this context, an interesting development in recent years was the (unsuccessful) attempt by relatives of men killed by the Bosnian Serbs in Srebrenica to have three members of Dutchbat prosecuted for not protecting those men.

A final consideration that Mona refers to is unwillingness to use force due to perceived contravention of the basic principles of peacekeeping. Her argument, with which I agree, is that the interpretation and application of these principles have evolved, to varying degrees, in a similar and corresponding manner as operations have evolved to become increasingly robust and operate in volatile environments. I find the development of a nuanced interpretation of consent particularly interesting in this regard. Traditionally, consent of the parties was seen as a fundamental principle of peacekeeping. As the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations stated: “In conflict management settings today, where fighting continues and is not confined to two parties, there may be practical obstacles to obtaining consent beyond that of the government. Clearly the consent of the government is fundamental for the deployment of a mission, and this should be reinforced. Obtaining and maintaining the consent of the other parties remains an important objective of any mission and should be pursued to the extent possible.” Even consent of the government is not always as black-and-white as this statement might suggest, however. Such consent may be equivocal and be manifested only to a limited degree in practice. This is illustrated by the recent initial refusal of the government of South Sudan to accept the deployment of additional UNMISS personnel, even though this increase was already part of a resolution adopted by the UN Security Council.

http://opiniojuris.org/2016/09/08/protection-of-civilians-symposium-some-thoughts-on-the-use-of-force-by-un-peacekeeping-operations-to-protect-civilians/
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Protection of Civilians Symposium: Some Thoughts on Legal Obligations for UN Peacekeeping Operations to Protect Civilians

by Marten Zwanenburg

[Marten Zwanenburg is legal counsel at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. The views expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.This post is a part of the Protection of Civilians Symposium.]

Let me start by saying that the publication of “Protection of Civilians” is very timely. As Ralph says in his introductory post, this topic is a well-established topic in international law but controversial in practice. The latter is particularly true in the context of peacekeeping operations.

In this post, I will focus on Siobhan’s chapter in the book. I will return to Mona’s chapter in a separate post.

Siobhan’s main proposition, with which I fully agree, is that relevant to peacekeeping operations are legal obligations to protect that are largely derived from international human rights law (IHRL), International Humanitarian law (IHL), and the law of international responsibility. I also agree with her that these obligations are relatively weak, but have important operational implications for UN missions. Siobhan’s contribution is especially important because it tries to tease out the latter, thus making the issue concrete.

One very interesting question that she raises, is whether the mandate of a UN mission creates obligations for the mission. In other words, if the mission fails to carry out its PoC task, can it be held responsible for failure to carry out the mandate?

UNSC resolutions clearly are not treaties, and thus a “breach” of a resolution is not a non-performance of a treaty obligation. An alternative could be to regard the mandate as a unilateral undertaking by the UN. Siobhan states that the majority view is that mandates provide an authorization to act but do not, in themselves, create any legal obligation to do so. However, she adds that some provisions in peacekeeping mandates do imply that at least those particular paragraphs are intended to be obligatory, such as e.g. an obligation report gross violations of human rights “immediately”. I have some doubts concerning the latter conclusion, however. For one, I would be very surprised if the drafters of the relevant resolutions considered that if e.g. UNMISS does not “immediately” report gross violations of human rights to the UNSC, this would constitute an internationally wrongful act. Another consideration is that the examples Siobhan gives all relate to things that the operations must do vis-a-vis the organization itself. In other words, they say that one part of the UN must do something vis-a-vis another part of the UN.

A very important conclusion that Siobhan draws from this is that, even in the absence of a specific task in its mandate, a UN peace operation has an obligation to protect. She does not pursue this thought further, but it is nevertheless interesting to do so. It makes me wonder whether it can be argued that this would mean that the UNSC must give every peace operation the task of protecting civilians, or that the UNSC must provide a peace operation with sufficient capabilities to enable a peace operation to carry out its PoC mandate/responsibility.

Siobhan discusses IHRL and IHL as possible sources of legal obligations on UN peace operations to protect civilians. In doing so, she focuses mostly on specific rules under these regimes and their interpretation. The legal basis for the UN being bound by these rules in the first place is discussed only very briefly, and almost seems to be taken for granted. This is of course a perfectly legitimate choice, since a book chapter does not lend itself to detailed analysis of every aspect, but it does make me interested in her underlying argumentation. This question will however probably become increasingly theoretical, as the notion that the UN is bound is increasingly accepted and the UN increasingly implicitly or even explicitly says so itself. In this sense the emphasis that Siobhan places on peremptory norms as those norms by which the UN is bound at a minimum, comes across as quite conservative.

Her reliance on articles 14 and 42 of the DARIO, on the other hand, seems somewhat too liberal. My own feeling is that state and organizational practice may not be sufficient to conclude that these articles have a customary law status (yet).

Another important question raised by Siobhan is the relationship between the obligations of the UN and those of the troop contributing states (TCC). Siobhan states that according to a number of courts, human rights violations of a UN Peacekeeping force may be attributable to the TCC, and possibly to both the UN and the contributing state. In discussing this issue, she focuses primarily on the exercise of (extraterritorial) jurisdiction, rather than on attribution issues. The attribution question is however highly interesting. Siobhan refers inter alia to the Nuhanovic and Mustafic cases. In these cases, the Dutch Supreme Court held that in the very specific circumstances of that case, conduct of Dutch peacekeepers could be attributed to the TCC. One may wonder whether courts would be willing to go even further and hold a TCC responsible for conduct that is a priori attributable to the UN. Arguably, the Bosphorus line of case law of the ECtHR could form the basis for such a finding.

The most important part of Siobhan’s contribution to me is the section on accountability. The usefulness of establishing whether or not the UN has legal obligations to protect civilians loses much of its relevance if there is no forum where a breach of those obligations can be invoked, Siobhan points to the extensive immunity of the UN, which as it is practically applied arguably goes beyond what is reasonable and necessary for the independent functioning of the organization. She rightly stresses that it is important that the Organization establishes mechanisms that promote accountability beyond legal and claims processes. This does not take away from the importance of also having adequate claims processes that take into account the human right of access to a judge. A recent statement by a UN spokesman relating to the Haiti cholera crisis might mean that the UN is looking at ways to increase its accountability but it is clear that it has a long way to go.

Without adequate mechanisms, it may be that judges will start chipping away at the immunity of the UN. Although hitherto judges have been very reluctant to set aside the immunity of the UN in particular, it may be that they will become increasingly willing to do so if the situation persists. Alternatively, claimants may try to turn to TCC, which they may perceive as easier to hold responsible than the UN itself. The Dutch Srebrenica cases could be seen as a first manifestation of this. If this would indeed become the trend, it could have precisely the result that then UNSG Kofi Annan invoked for an expansive reading an application of UN immunity and that is cited by Siobhan: “if we allowed our peacekeepers to be brought to courts and tried over matters like this, that would be the end of peacekeeping.”

http://opiniojuris.org/2016/09/07/protection-of-civilians-symposum-some-thoughts-on-legal-obligations-for-un-peacekeeping-operations-to-protect-civilians/
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