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UN Ombudsperson Kimberly Prost to Leave Post in July

by Kristen Boon

Kimberly Prost, the current UN Ombudsperson, will be leaving her post in mid-July when her term expires.   However, no replacement has been appointed, nor has the UN implemented a transition plan for her eventual successor.   The issue of what will happen to the current cases before the office, or to individuals who are unlucky enough to apply for delisting after July 14 is significant.   It highlights the fragility of this important institution at the UN, and suggests that not all member states wish it to function effectively.

Despite the considerable progress the UN has made in developing the institution of the Ombudsperson, which addresses review and delisting requests for individuals on the Al Qaida sanctions regime, it has become apparent that the institution may soon be synonymous with its first occupant: Ms. Prost.   The institution has not been streamlined into the UN system, and despite its important work, her status has been that of a consultant.  While some UN Member States initiated demarches to try to have her term extended, they were unsuccessful. It is unclear what the future will hold for the institution now that she is departing, which is significant rule of law problem.

The issue was extensively discussed at a recent conference on UN Sanctions at Leiden University in the Netherlands.   The program is available under the committee documents tab here.    In addition to the fragility of this institution, its exclusivity was discussed in detail.   The Ombudsperson’s Office has jurisdiction to review and delist individuals on the Al Qaida sanctions lists, but individuals and entities on the 15 other sanctions lists do not have access to this process. Instead, they may request a review from the Focal Point, which has a far less developed procedure and does not have the characteristics of an independent institution.   A number of countries have argued that the Ombudsperson’s jurisdiction should be extended to other regimes, although politically, it is clear that that if that happens, it would be the various sanctions regimes involving situations in Africa that would benefit, but not in the short or medium term, those involving WMD sanctions.  Information on the focal point is available here. A helpful overview of the differences between the Focal Point and Ombudsperson and links to other documents is available here.

Reading and Learning from Mike Lewis

by Jens David Ohlin

I met Mike Lewis during my first year of law teaching at Cornell Law School. Mike was scheduled to give a lecture at the law school about torture and I was invited to give a commentary on his presentation. Mike had pre-circulated the paper that the presentation was based on. I disagreed with his thesis and pressed him sharply on its details during the event. His thesis had the virtue of proposing a very workable standard for defining torture, but I felt it yielded counter-intuitive results for particular reasons that I articulated during the event. Afterwards, I was worried that I might have offended Mike, but it was not the case. Immediately after he got home, he wrote me a lovely note saying how much he appreciated our substantive exchange and was grateful that I taken the time and energy to respond to his scholarship. He was a true scholar and intellectual.

In the ensuing five years, I spent much time reading and learning from Mike’s other articles on IHL. This came at a crucial time for me as I was broadening my research agenda from exclusively ICL to include a wider range of IHL and law of war issues as well. I became heavily involved in debates about drones, targeted killings, targeting in general, and the relationship between IHL and human rights law. In all of these areas, I was heavily influenced by Mike’s explanations and positions that he articulated in his many law review articles. And I should hasten to add that on most of these crucial questions I was in agreement with Mike. Although I disagree with the Obama Administration’s legal positions on a few issues (definition of imminence, over-reliance on covert action and its consequences, use of the vague and indeterminate “associated forces” moniker, etc.), the general tenor of my scholarship has been to recognize that the deep architecture of IHL continues to be fundamentally Lieberian. I came to this view of IHL by reading a great many sources, but I would rank Mike’s articles near the top of that list. Simply put, I would not hold the views that I hold today if I had not been so richly educated by reading Mike’s work.

I spent some time with Mike at the ethics and law of war conference that Kevin Heller mentions in his remembrance. Mike was full of plans and we discussed the possibility of collaborating on future projects on the subject of the privilege of combatancy–a common interest for both of us. We hosted him at Cornell University last year as part of our university-wide Lund Critical debates series, where he debated Mary Ellen O’Connell on the use of drones. The video of the event can be found here; Mike’s presentation to the packed auditorium was both insightful and extremely clear. He had the ability to translate complex legal material to a wide audience, and Mary Ellen’s thoughtful critique on U.S. policies made for a lively debate between the two of them.

As I set about working on a new collected volume on remote warfare, I emailed him in October to commission a chapter from him; he enthusiastically responded in the affirmative. When just a few days ago I sent him a contributor agreement for him to sign on June 5, he informed me of his illness and said he could not definitively commit to the project anymore but was hopeful that he might still produce a chapter for it. Though he was still optimistic and making important plans for the future, I understood the nature of the diagnosis and prognosis because he gave me the name of his illness, but I labored under the illusion that we had more time. I was shocked when I learned that the end had come so quickly; I was unprepared for the news even though in the back of my mind I inferred the seriousness of the situation. I am devastated that we have been denied his voice for what should have been another 50 years. It highlights for me the fragility of life and our time on this earth and the ultimate unfairness by which some people are denied the privilege of a long life. But I take some comfort in knowing that he loved being a law professor and that we will be reading his work in the years and decades to come.

A Sad Farewell to Michael Lewis

by Kevin Jon Heller

As regular readers know, Mike and I often sparred on the virtual pages of Opinio Juris. By and large, we did so civilly. But on occasion — such as when we were debating whether the Bush admininstration’s “enhanced interrogation” regime qualified as torture — things became heated. I made him mad. He made me mad. I doubt either of us expected to like each other if we ever met in the brick-and-mortar world.

But like each other we did. Mike and I met only once, on the first day of a fascinating conference on ethics and the laws of war. We recognised each other from across the room as we were getting settled, and he quickly stomped toward me. I was a bit hesitant — but then Mike gave me a big hug and said how great it was to meet me and how much he had enjoyed our debates. It was a really wonderful moment.

It fills me with sadness to know there will be no such similar moments again. But I am very glad I had the opportunity to meet Mike — and I will remember our discussions, both virtual and real, for a long time.

Requiescat in pace, Mike.

Remembering Mike Lewis

by Chris Borgen

We are very sorry to mark the passing of Professor Michael W. Lewis of Ohio Northern University.

Mike spoke and wrote with rare authority as someone who was not only a leading international law and national security scholar who engaged in broader public discourse (see his many debates, presentations, and interviews), but also as a former Naval aviator and TOPGUN graduate, who had flown F-14’s in Desert Shield and enforced no-fly zones over Iraq.

More than most, Mike appreciated how international law was actually operationalized.

We at Opinio Juris benefited from Mike’s frequent contributions to the discussion, with posts and comments on issues such as the relationship between Additional Protocols I and II,  on various aspects of drone warfare (see, for example, 1, 2, and 3), and on  “elongated imminence” and self-defenseBobby Chesney and Peter Margulies have also posted remembrances about Mike Lewis at Lawfare.

On a more personal note, I remember the first time I met Mike in person, perhaps ten years ago, at a dinner at a national security law conference. He was a great conversationalist, speaking about the need to crystallize key principles of international law in a manner that would be immediately usable by the pilots and flight crews who were actually flying sorties.

His voice was unique and it will be missed.

More thoughts on al-Bashir, Sudan, and South Africa

by Jens David Ohlin

I wanted to follow up on my previous post about the inter-branch dispute in the South African government over executing an international arrest warrant against President al-Bashir of Sudan. A South African court issued an order preventing al-Bashir from leaving South Africa, but notwithstanding this decision, the South Africa government appears to have let him escape anyway. It appears to be a case of executive branch defiance of a binding judicial order.

Several readers have suggested that South Africa is not under a legal obligation to arrest al-Bashir because doing so would violate their obligations to Sudan to respect either head of state or diplomatic immunity under either customary international law or the Vienna Convention. Furthermore, article 98 of the Rome Statute specifically says that a party to the Statute need not arrest someone if doing so would conflict with its other international obligations. Some have suggested that either South Africa or the ICC can request a waiver from Sudan, but if no waiver is forthcoming, then South Africa need not execute the arrest warrant pursuant to article 98, which reads:

Article 98: Cooperation with respect to waiver of immunity and consent to surrender
1. The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender or assistance which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international law with respect to the State or diplomatic immunity of a person or property of a third State, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of that third State for the waiver of the immunity.
2. The Court may not proceed with a request for surrender which would require the requested State to act inconsistently with its obligations under international agreements pursuant to which the consent of a sending State is required to surrender a person of that State to the Court, unless the Court can first obtain the cooperation of the sending State for the giving of consent for the surrender.

This is an old debate, with important and excellent contributions from scholars such as Paola Gaeta and Dapo Akande. I want to make a quick point here and just broadly sketch out my view on this matter.

Regardless of the correct view on this matter in general, there are specific aspects to this particular dispute with Sudan that are relevant to the legal analysis. It is not just a question of analyzing the Rome Statute, customary international law, and the Vienna Convention. There are other sources of law to consider.

The charges against al-Bashir include genocide. Although the legal obligations regarding the prevention and punishment of genocide originally emerged from the Genocide Convention, they have now risen to customary international law and represent erga omnes obligations. Furthermore, one of those obligations is the duty to prosecute or extradite any individual accused of genocide. This is a jus cogens obligation that prevails over any supposed legal obligation under the law of diplomatic relations. In this case, then, Sudan is under a legal obligation to either prosecute al-Bashir or turn him over to a competent court for trial. Because of this obligation, South Africa would not be violating any duty to Sudan by arresting al-Bashir and sending him to The Hague.

Even if one does not accept this argument, there is a second reason why Sudan is under a legal obligation to turn over al-Bashir, and by extension why South Africa owes no legal obligation to Sudan in this regard. The UN Security Council, in referring the case to the ICC, invoked its Chapter VII powers and directed Sudan to cooperate with the court. As such, Sudan is under an international legal obligation to cooperate with the court. Since this legal obligation is binding and stems from the Security Council’s Chapter VII authority, it prevails over any conflicting legal obligation. This principle is embodied in Article 103 of the Charter but is also customary law and part of the necessary architecture of our modern Charter-based collective security regime.

(Just to be clear, the details of this analysis need to be flushed out; for purposes of blogging brevity, this was the outline of the argument.)

Bashir Leaves South Africa

by Jens David Ohlin

I’m not one to get hysterical over ICC news, but this recent development today strikes me as deeply problematic, and perhaps a tipping point. But perhaps not the tipping point that the ICC detractors have in mind.

Sudanese President al-Bashir was attending a conference in South Africa this weekend with other heads of state and officials from several African nations. The government of South Africa took the position that Bashir was entitled to immunity and could not be arrested; apparently, this was Bashir’s assumption as well, otherwise I doubt he would have traveled to South Africa in the first place.

However, a South African court ruled that Bashir should be arrested, since South Africa voluntarily signed the Rome Statute and has a legal obligation as a member of the court to execute its arrest warrants. You will recall that the Sudan case began as a Chapter VII referral from the UN Security Council.

In response, the South African government whisked Bashir out of the country, apparently in open defiance of a judicial order preventing them from letting him leave, and just hours before the Supreme Court of South Africa ruled that the government was under a legal obligation to arrest him and explicitly finding that the government’s failure to arrest him would be contrary to the South African Constitution.

From the outside looking in, this looks awfully close to being on the precipice of a constitutional crisis in South Africa. Although one would expect inter-branch disputes in any divided government, such open defiance of a binding judicial order strikes me as deeply harmful to the rule of law. From news reports, I see no evidence that the original judicial order was suspended or otherwise not operative in the hours preceding the Supreme Court’s decision. (But if a reader from South Africa knows the specifics on this question, and the news reports are wrong, please educate us in the comments section.)

What will the ICC do? It strikes me that this level of open defiance — not just of the ICC but also of one’s own judiciary — takes the failure to arrest Bashir to a whole new level. Some will no doubt suggest that this entails that the ICC is a sham with no real power or authority. I take the opposite conclusion. I wonder if this brazenness will now force either the ICC Assembly of State Parties or the Security Council to finally engage in some enforcement actions against states who are not cooperating with the ICC on this matter. Indeed, I would think that the Assembly of State Parties is the appropriate body to take decisive action on this matter. Not only has the ICC concluded that Bashir must be arrested, head of state immunity notwithstanding, but apparently the South African Supreme Court agreed as well. So what excuse can the South African government muster? It would seem that neither international nor even domestic law supports their position, thus weakening the rhetorical power of their arguments. They cannot even suggest that they were caught between their international and domestic obligations.

Of course, I am not an expert on South African law. In the US it is very difficult to get a court to issue an order demanding that the executive arrest someone. (A writ of mandamus in that context would be highly unusual.) Usually the judiciary does the opposite: tells the executive to release someone they have arrested. But South African law might be different in that respect, as indeed are civil law jurisdictions that allow for the triggering of the criminal process in ways other than the discretionary arrest of the suspect by the police. Again, I’d appreciate any information on South African procedure that readers might have.

UPDATE: The name of the court that issued the ruling was the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

Will Al-Bahlul’s Appeal of his Conspiracy Conviction go to the Supreme Court?

by Jens David Ohlin

On Friday, the DC Circuit vacated al-Bahlul’s military commission conviction for conspiracy. There has been, and will be, much coverage of this decision, especially since the decision is a great candidate for a successful Supreme Court cert petition. Assuming that the federal government wants to appeal, which I can’t imagine it would not, the case would allow the Supreme Court to return to an issue — conspiracy as a substantive offense — that it has not addressed since Hamdan (which left many crucial questions unanswered due to the fractured nature of the majority opinion and Justice Kennedy’s unwillingness to take a position on the conspiracy issue). So Bahlul is ripe for SCOTUS consideration.

There are many aspects of the lengthy DC circuit opinion, and others have discussed the Article III issues in greater depth and detail, including Steve Vladeck, Peter Margulies, Steve Vladeck again, and others.  Some are more interested in the constitutional question about what constraints exist on military commission jurisdiction as an exception to the usual constitutional requirements of an Article III court (a judge with life tenure, etc.).

But what interests me more is the government’s argument that although conspiracy is not a violation of the international law of war, there is still sufficient evidence that conspiracy is triable before military commissions as a matter of domestic “common law of war,” something akin to the precedent of military commissions.  In the past I have wondered aloud about the details of this bizarre argument. So what I found most interesting in the DC Circuit’s opinion is that they do not push back as strongly as I would have liked on the government’s methodological framing of this argument, and instead push back on the paucity of evidence for its conclusion. Here is the specific paragraph that interests me:

The history of inchoate conspiracy being tried by law of war military tribunals is thin by comparison and equivocal at best. The government has identified only a handful of ambiguous examples, and none in which an inchoate conspiracy conviction was affirmed by the Judicial Branch. The examples are unpersuasive in themselves and insufficient to establish a longstanding historical practice (page 18).

The opinion then goes on to note the problematic precedent of the Lincoln assassination case, which was prosecuted before a military commission. Although conspiracy was one of the charges, the decision notes that the relationship between conspiracy and the completed offense was totally unclear in the case. (Whatever one thinks of the Lincoln assassination case as a precedent, it was clearly not a case of pure inchoate conspiracy, since the conspiracy was not frustrated and it succeeded in killing Lincoln).) Furthermore, while the Quirin conspirators during World War II were charged with conspiracy, the Supreme Court made no mention of the conspiracy charges when it upheld their convictions from the military commission, preferring instead to rest its analysis on the sabotage charge.

Finally, the majority notes that although Thomas’ dissent in Hamdan clearly relied on inchoate conspiracy as a part of the domestic common law of war, the majority contends that at most there were only three votes for this position at the time of Hamdan. To the extent that other justices referred to the common law of war in Hamdan (the Stevens opinion), it was used as a source of constraint, rather than expansion, for the jurisdiction of the military commissions.

(One problem I noted in reading the opinion is that on page 37 of the opinion the majority refers to JCE and aiding and abetting as “offenses against the law of war,” instead of referring to them as modes of liability or legal doctrines. Not sure why they would say that.)

Of course, I’ve left out  a host of other constitutional issues that are important in this case, in part because what concerns me is the fate of conspiracy under the law of war, and how courts should understand the “law of war” as a body of law. Part of what makes this case so fascinating is that the government and the defense have radically different ideas of what the law of war is. Although the majority opinion in Bahlul does not explicitly resolve this question, it does say on multiple occasions that both the Quirin and Hamdan holdings were based on the international law of war.

Will the Supreme Court grant cert in this case? I am inclined to say yes, simply because hearing this case will help clarify the jurisdiction of military commissions in both a general and specific sense. The general element is that the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to clarify how and why military commissions operate as exceptions to the Article III requirement. The specific element is that the Supreme Court can clarify its position on the crime of conspiracy, which continues to be at issue in terrorism prosecutions.

New app facilitates evidence collection for atrocity crimes

by Kristen Boon

Eyewitness.org has released a new app that creates a secure “digital locker” for those who seek to record digital evidence of atrocity crimes for eventual use in by courts. The app has been produced by the International Bar Association and the legal services division of Lexis Nexis.   Information is available here.    The app was developed after controversies regarding the veracity of videos in other contexts.

By using metadata, the recordings can verify the location via GPS coordinates, and date / time of the collection, and confirm no editing has taken place.  The app also contains a “destruct” feature if the user wishes to delete it and the material in an emergency.

What will eyewitness do with the footage?   Their webpage reports:

eyeWitness will use the footage to promote accountability for international atrocity crimes, specifically war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, and torture. When eyeWitness receives the images, a copy is transferred to a specialised database for analysis by the eyeWitness expert legal team. The team will analyse the videos to determine if they may show that an atrocity crime was committed. The eyeWitness legal team becomes the advocate for the footage, working continuously with legal authorities in relevant international, regional, and national jurisdictions to ensure the image is used to bring to justice those who have committed international atrocity crimes. In some cases, particularly when an atrocity is brought to light that has not received international attention, eyeWitness may provide a copy of the footage to media to raise awareness of the situation and advocate for investigation.

The development of apps such as this one may revolutionize the investigation of international atrocities.  They provide potentially very crucial streams of evidence, and facilitate “citizen policing.”   In the domestic context, there are analogies to a police accountability app released by the ACLU last week.

This app is a significant development in the field of atrocity investigations for the many “citizen journalists” willing to risk injury, arrest and maybe even death to document crimes.  Yet it still raises some important questions.  Traditional investigative authorities, for example, are subject to investigation protocols that are intended to yield highly probative evidence.   Given the unstable situation in Syria, Ukraine, Iraq the DRC (where the IBA hopes the app will be used) and the limited jurisdiction of international courts, traditional authorities have not been able to perform their role of documenting and investigating ongoing atrocities. Nonetheless, the absence of trained professionals and the lack of protocols, means that certain safeguards will not be available.

In addition, if lawyers tried to to gain access to the stored material, there may be battles over rights of confidentiality.   Indeed, given the massive amount of evidence apps like this could produce, this may be no small challenge for Lexis Nexis.

Although eyewitness does not commission any particular investigations, this technology is linked, in  a broader sense, to the work of private organizations like the Commission for Justice and Accountability (CIJA), which has conducted independent investigations in conflict situations, often before staff from international criminal tribunals are on the ground.   This article by Mark Kersten in the Washington Post lays out the pros and cons.   On the one hand, privately funded investigations may speed up the investigation of international crimes, and ensure that crucial evidence is not lost.   The individuals who work for these organizations also have a self-described higher risk tolerance than public bodies. On the other hand, impartiality and chain of evidence are key concerns: prosecutors fear the evidence collected by these organizations may not stand up in courts of law.

The development of this technology, and the parallel trend towards privately funded investigations, suggests that a profound change in the way international crimes are investigated is underway.

 

Thank You, An Hertogen

by Chris Borgen

In March 2012 An Hertogen and Jessica Dorsey joined Opinio Juris as our first two Assistant Editors. Over the years, both have contributed immensely to Opinio Juris. Today, we bid An farewell as she enters a new phase in her career.

You may be most familiar with An’s work writing our Weekly Round-Ups and well as the Events and Announcements posts. But that was only the most public part of a great deal of work she has put into the site, including organizing symposia, proofing and editing submissions, and troubleshooting technical issues. An and Jessica were also the team that began our (now yearly) “Emerging Voices” symposium, highlighting the work of early career academics and practitioners (the next iteration of which will begin next month).

In short, An has been a great colleague and we will miss her. We are, however, excited about what is next for her: An has recently accepted a position as a lecturer at the University of Auckland Faculty of Law and she has also been awarded a research grant for a multi-year project on good neighborliness in international law. We hope that once she gets settled into her teaching schedule, An will guest blog with us.

On behalf of all of us, An, thank you for all your diligent work and the long hours that you have put into Opinio Juris. We wish you the best and we look forward to working together again soon.

Notes on Zivotofsky

by Deborah Pearlstein

A fascinating ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court this morning in Zivotofsky v. Kerry, the case presenting the question whether Congress can mandate that U.S. citizens born (to American parents) in Jerusalem may have Israel listed on their passports as their place of birth. Since 1948, every U.S. president has carefully avoided opining in any context on the status of Jerusalem as falling within Israeli or any other nation’s sovereignty. The U.S. State Department has thus always issued passports listing “Jerusalem,” and not Israel as the place of birth for citizens born there. In 2002, Congress enacted a law mandating that citizens so desiring could have “Israel” listed as their place of birth. President Bush, then Obama, objected, arguing that such a law infringed on the President’s power to recognize foreign sovereign governments – a power both administrations maintained is held exclusively by the executive. The case marks the first time the Court has ever recognized a ‘preclusive’ power of the executive branch – that is, a power the President not only holds under the Constitution, but holds even if Congress enacts a law otherwise.

Two brief initial notes as I continue to digest. First, the majority’s opinion is workmanlike and narrow. The Court applies the well known framework for analyzing questions of executive power established in Justice Jackson’s concurrence in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, relies on a host of earlier Court opinions, and concludes that the Reception Clause (the Article II provision giving the President the power to receive ambassadors) necessarily “encompasses the authority to acknowledge, in a formal sense, the legitimacy of other states and governments, including their territorial bounds.” The Court’s opinion – which transcends typical political divisions (Justice Thomas joins (in part) the majority of Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan) – expressly disclaims any reliance on Article II’s Vesting Clause, the broad and undefined vesting in the President of “the executive power.” A holding based on that clause would have had potentially much more significant implications; the Vesting Clause has been regularly invoked by those advocating the most capacious understandings of executive power as a catch-all provision for affording the President sweeping powers in national security and foreign affairs. This decision offers no support for that theory.

Second, the majority’s opinion sensibly relies repeatedly on the nature and practice of recognition at international law as informing the framers’ understanding of the import of affording the President the power to receive ambassadors. As the Court puts it on one of several occasions: “[I]nternational scholars [citing Grotius and Vattel] suggested that receiving an ambassador was tantamount to recognizing the sovereignty of the sending state.” This is and should be seen as yet another unremarkable example of reliance by the Court on international law in understanding the scope of contemporary executive power under the U.S. Constitution. Not even Thomas in concurrence (much) protests. Whether the Supreme Court’s relative comfort with such analysis trickles down to the lower courts as questions of executive power arise in other contexts – the D.C. Circuit, among others, remains chronically allergic to international law in any form – will be among the more interesting consequences of this otherwise limited ruling to watch.

Three Quick Thoughts on Zivotofsky

by Peter Spiro

Long-awaited decision here finding the President to have exclusive recognition power, trumping Congress’ attempt to require birthplace of US citizens born in Jerusalem to be recorded as “Israel” on US passports issued to them.

1. Phew. Who knows what the response would have been in the Middle East if the Court had come out the other way. Maybe nothing, but it’s obviously still a tinderbox in which little sparks can lead to firestorms.

2. Though the President wins, Kennedy’s opinion cuts back on Curtiss-Wright, dismissing its broad characterization of executive power as dicta.

In a world that is ever more compressed and interdependent, it is essential the congressional role in foreign affairs be understood and respected. For it is Congress that makes laws, and in countless ways its laws will and should shape the Nation’s course. The Executive is not free from the ordinary controls and checks of Congress merely because foreign affairs are at issue. See, e.g., Medellín v. Texas, 552 U. S. 491, 523–532 (2008); Youngstown, 343 U. S., at 589; Little v. Barreme, 2 Cranch 170, 177–179 (1804); Glennon, Two Views of Presidential Foreign Affairs Power: Little v. Barreme or Curtiss-Wright? 13 Yale J. Int’l L. 5, 19–20 (1988); cf. Dames & Moore v. Regan, 453 U. S. 654, 680–681 (1981). It is not for the President alone to determine the whole content of the Nation’s foreign policy.

The era of government lawyers playing the “Curtiss-Wright, so I’m right” card is officially over.

3. There’s a lot of “one voice” talk in Kennedy’s opinion, trumpeting the functional virtues of presidential control (see especially the bottom of p. 11). That’s disappointing to those of us looking for a move away from exceptional approaches to resolving foreign affairs disputes. Together with last year’s flame out in the big Treaty Power case, maybe the Court is having second thoughts about the normalization project. This was a bad vehicle for advancing that agenda (see thought #1), but now that the decision is on the books, it will retard it in more favorable ones.

But there are developments beyond the Court’s control at work on the ground. Remember the huge flap over the Tom Cotton letter to Iranian leaders earlier this spring. So much for “one voice.” Things are anything but normal when it comes to separation of powers respecting foreign affairs. Zivotofsky notwithstanding, we’re not going back to an old world in which Presidents had centralized control of the nation’s engagement with the world.

Appeal Launched in Haiti Cholera Case

by Kristen Boon

Plaintiffs have appealed the January 9, 2015 decision of the Southern District of New York, that the United Nations is immune in the case Delama Georges et al. The appeal brief, filed by the International Institute for Justice in Haiti, is available here: Georges v UN – Principal Appellate Brief 5.28 Final.

The contentions on appeal are as follows:

1.  Whether the District Court erred in ruling that Defendants UN and MINUSTAH are entitled to immunity despite having violated their treaty obligation to provide a mode to settle private law claims

2. Whether the District Court erred in ruling that Defendants Ban and Mulet are entitled to immunity in this case simply because they “hold diplomatic positions”

3.  Whether the District Court erred in failing to address the U.S. Plaintiffs’ argument that granting immunity in this instance violates their constitutional rights to access the federal courts.

These arguments hew closely to the position espoused in the SDNY, while emphasizing the UN’s failure to provide reasons and a remedy for what plaintiffs persuasively contend is a private law claim. The plaintiffs focus on Sections 2 and 29 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN (CPIUN). The first sections grants immunity to the United Nations from all forms of legal process, while the latter provision requires the UN to settle private law disputes by alternative means. As argued at the October 2014 hearing, the plaintiffs contend that the United Nations and MINUSTAH have violated article 29 in failing to provide the plaintiffs with an alternative forum, and that this failure constitutes a material breach of the treaty.  One issue that is not fully explored is whether private litigants can benefit from an alleged breach and request suspension, if that treaty was concluded between states.

The Plaintiffs also argue that the District Court erred when relying on the Brzak case, because it does not mention a breach of section 29 of the CPIUN. The Plaintiffs also contend that granting immunity in this case violates the constitutional right of a U.S. citizen plaintiff to have access to the courts. The plaintiff’s brief states that “granting immunity in this case impermissibly infringes on the right [of the plaintiff], which includes the right to bring a well-pleaded civil lawsuit for recognizing causes of action”.

One important development is that six amicus briefs were filed in support of the plaintiffs appeal, with 54 signatures in total.   These briefs represent a range of different interests and flag a diverse set of issues for the court.    Here are links and summaries of the main arguments:

  • ConLawScholarsAmicus focuses on the constitutional right held by the plaintiff to gain access to the courts.
  • EuroLaw Amicus Brief[3] brief focuses on when UN immunity should be limited, and discusses the reasonable alternative means test. It also highlights cases that have drawn a distinction between acts that are essential to the IO and those that are supplementary. Finally, it refers to due process requirements and highlights cases challenging UN sanctions like Kadi.
  • Haitian-AmericanAmicus: This brief was filed by members and family members of the cholera affected population. This brief presents a three-tiered argument for why the district court erred in upholding the UN’s immunity. First, the harm from the cholera epidemic is ongoing and worsening; Second, the UN is not entitled to immunity when it breaches its obligations to provide remedies; Third, the UN should be required to abide by the same Rule-of-law Principles that is espouses as central to its mission in Haiti.
  • HumanRightsGroupsAmicus: This brief focuses on the idea that the UN is bound by substantive international law, and obligated to give a remedy. It argues that the United Nations cannot seek to avoid the substantive obligations of international law which reject the possibility of the broad immunity claimed by the United Nations. Moreover, it suggests that there is a duty to provide a remedy when the UN caused the “arbitrary deprivation of life.”
  • IntlLawScholars Amicus: This brief focuses on the UN Charter and the SOFA between Haiti and the UN, and argues that the relationship between Articles 105 of the Charter and Articles 2 and 29 of the CPIUN is such that given the private nature of the injury, a remedy is required. This brief also cites to Beer and Regan for the idea that lack of effective alternative for private claims is grounds to waive immunity, and notes in Brzak alternative process was available.
  • UNOfficialsAmicus: This is a brief written by six former UN officials and has three main arguments to it: (1) Immunity was never meant to provide a mechanism for the UN to act with impunity, (2) Allowing the claims to go forward will enhance the UN’s legitimacy and its ability to fulfill its mission, (3) Allowing the claims to go forward will not open the flood gates because this is an unprecedented situation.

Moving forward, the defense has 14 days to respond to propose a briefing schedule. As a non-party, it is not clear whether the US will agree to that timeframe however.

 

Thanks to my Research Assistant Dan Hewitt for his help in reviewing the filings.