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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.

Supreme Court Takes Jerusalem Passport Case on the Merits

by Peter Spiro

NY Times dispatch here. The Supreme Court will now confront the question of whether Congress can force the Secretary of State to include the birthplace “Jerusalem, Israel” at a U.S. citizen’s option. This could be a huge case or a not-so-huge case. If the Court affirms the D.C. Circuit’s ruling below and strikes down legislation purporting to constrain the Secretary of State’s passport authority, the ruling would be important but hardly epochal. That would protect the president’s authority over foreign relations, and fit neatly into a doctrinal tradition dating back at least a century. It is something new for the Court to get to the merits of the question — that’s why the decision in Zivotofsky I itself marked something of a watershed. If the Court accepts expansive executive branch powers, the jurisprudential gun remains loaded but no shots get fired.

But if the Court upholds the law, it will be a major departure from that tradition. The passport case implicates a genuinely sensitive issue of foreign relations. If the Court forces the State Department into something like formal acknowledgement of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, who knows what would follow on the ground. This isn’t a case like Medellin, which predictably upset Mexico at the same time that our relations predictably weathered any such upset. Nor would it play out like Bond, which even if it restricts the Treaty Power will hardly be noticed by foreign audiences. To use the vocabulary of the foreign relations canon, a Supreme Court ruling against the executive branch in Zivotofsky could severely “embarrass” the President in the conduct of foreign relations. Think unruly crowds outside U.S. embassies.

That would have been inconceivable 20 years ago. But foreign relations law is being normalized. (For an excellent take on the shift, see Harlan Cohen’s piece here.) Foreign affairs has long been immune to judicial activism; maybe no longer. The Court may still hesitate to the extent it sees some real, even uncabinable, damage to the Middle East peace process in siding with Congress on the question. The easier path would have been to duck the case altogether. By accepting review, it may already have tipped its hand in a new direction.

On Steve Vladeck’s Post-AUMF Detention

by Deborah Pearlstein

Nothing like spring break (yes, we break right before semester’s end) to do a little catch-up reading – starting this week with Steve Vladeck’s new essay grappling with one of the nation’s most intractable problems: closing Guantanamo. Among the many challenges associated with the prison’s continued existence, Steve highlights its role in preventing serious consideration of repealing the AUMF (the federal statute authorizing the use of military force against Al Qaeda and associated groups). The Gitmo detainees are held under the domestic authority of the AUMF; as long as the government wishes to continue to hold at least some of the Gitmo prisoners (as it does), Congress can’t repeal the law without risking their potential release. Despite the winding down of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, the serious weakening of core Al Qaeda, and the President’s announced desire to move the nation away from a permanent wartime footing – AUMF repeal is essentially impossible as long as we are concerned with maintaining the legality of the Gitmo prisoners’ detention under domestic law.

So how to keep Gitmo from becoming the detention tail that wags the wartime dog? Steve proposes that even without an AUMF, we could continue to hold the approximately 45 Gitmo detainees the executive sees as the intractable core (those the administration has designated unprosecutable but too dangerous to release) under the authority of another federal law: Section 412 of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001. Section 412 – which Steve notes has not been used once since its enactment in 2001 – requires the Attorney General to take into custody any alien he has reasonable grounds to believe is (for example) a member of a terrorist organization, or endorses or espouses terrorist activity, or “is engaged in any other activity that endangers the national security of the United States.” The alien may be detained for up to a week until the commencement of immigration removal proceedings or criminal prosecution, or for “additional periods of up to six months” if his “removal is unlikely in the reasonably foreseeable future,” and if release “will threaten the national security of the United States or the safety of the community or any person.”

Steve’s diagnosis of the relationship between Guantanamo Bay and the AUMF is spot on in some critical respects. The uniquely problematic nature of the Guantanamo detention program skews the current debate about the need for continuing use-of-force authority, just as surely as it has skewed broader debates about U.S. counterterrorism detention, trial, and interrogation policies for the past dozen years. For a host of reasons, the Gitmo population is singularly unrepresentative of the challenges that would be posed by counterterrorism detention or trial following the arrest of any terrorism suspect today: Gitmo detainees were denied basic Geneva protections (including any initial hearing about who these men actually were); some detainees were transferred there following periods of unlawful (even torturous) detention elsewhere; criminal counterterrorism laws that are today used for prosecution were much narrower extrajudicial scope in 2001; Congress maintains unprecedented restrictions on the transfer of detainees to the United States for any purpose; and so on. Indeed, as Steve recognizes, given all that has gone before, closing Gitmo now involves only bad options; the policy task is to choose which among these bad options is least worst under the circumstances.

Despite the low bar, I have to admit I’m still unconvinced that Section 412 is the least worst way to go. (more…)

The Case That Won’t Die: U.S. Court Revives South Africa Apartheid Alien Tort Statute Lawsuit

by Julian Ku

So maybe the use of the Alien Tort Statute against corporations for overseas activities isn’t fully dead. Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has revived In re South Africa Apartheid Litigation, a twelve-year-old litigation that just won’t die. A copy of the opinion can be found here.

Most of the opinion deals with whether a corporation may be sued under the Alien Tort Statute, an issue most thought was settled within the Second Circuit (the federal appeals circuit that includes New York). As a lower court within that circuit, the district court should have been bound to follow that court’s 2010 opinion Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell, which held that corporations cannot be sued under the ATS.  The lower court judge, Shira Scheindlin, decided that since the Supreme Court had ended up dismissing the Kiobel plaintiffs on other grounds (e.g. extraterritoriality), the Court had sub silentio reversed the original Kiobel decision’s ruling on corporate liability.  That is quite a stretch, and appears based almost solely on the Supreme Court’s reference to “mere corporate presence” as being insufficient to overcome the statutory presumption against extraterritoriality.  This language, and the Supreme Court’s decision not to otherwise mention the corporate liability issue, was enough for Judge Scheindlin to revisit the corporate liability issue.  I don’t really buy this sub silentio interpretation of Kiobel, but to give credit where credit is due, this argument was previewed in our Kiobel insta-symposium by Jordan Wells, a third year law student.  Let’s just say Judge Scheindlin really went out of her way to re-open this question.  

My views on the corporate liability issue haven’t changed since I published my full length attack on it back in 2010.  In my view, the Supreme Court’s decision in Mohamad v. Palestinian Authority, finding that the Torture Victim Protection Act does not allow torture claims against corporate defendants, provides an unappreciated boost to the policy rationale for limiting these kinds of lawsuits to natural persons.  But other circuits, and apparently Judge Scheindlin, refuse to agree with me (I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true).

Putting aside the corporate liability issue, it is perhaps more surprising that Judge Scheindlin did not simply dismiss all of the defendants on Kiobel extraterritoriality grounds.  The Second Circuit appeals panel in this case held that all of the defendants (U.S. and foreign) should be dismissed because all of the alleged relevant conduct occurred in South Africa.  The U.S. corporate defendants (Ford and IBM) did not overcome the Kiobel presumption because the complaints only allege vicarious liability as parent corporations to their South African subsidiaries.   Yet Judge Scheindlin only dismissed the foreign defendants and will allow the plaintiffs to re-file their complaints against the US defendants to overcome the new Kiobel extraterritoriality presumption.  This means that she is willing to explore in greater detail the Kiobel requirement that plaintiffs’ claims “touch and concern” the territory of the U.S. with sufficient force to displace the presumption against extraterritoriality.  Will knowledge by the US parent of the subsidiaries’ activities in South Africa be enough? Will receiving profits from the subsidiaries be enough? I assume that is the best the plaintiffs will be able to plead is knowledge by the U.S. parent.

I assume this is going back to the appeals panel in this case, and we should expect some rather testy reactions. Judge Jose Cabranes (the author of the appeals court panel decision) and Judge Scheindlin have recently tangled over a local NY case against aggressive police tactics resulting in the controversial removal of Judge Scheindlin from that case (Judge Cabranes was one of three judges involved in that removal order).  This latest Scheindlin order seems a double-insult at Judge Cabranes.  It “reverses” his earlier Kiobel decision on corporate liability (from a lower court no less!), and then it ignores his subsequent opinion holding that all defendants should be dismissed via a motion for judgment on the pleadings.   A little tension brewing at 40 Foley Square, perhaps?

Engaging the Writings of Martti Koskenniemi

by Duncan Hollis

MK2r_hollis (2)

Last Spring, Temple Law School was pleased to host a two day workshop on the scholarship of one of international law’s true giants – Martti Koskenniemi (simply put, I’m a big fan). Organized by my colleague, Jeff Dunoff, it was a great event with a wide-ranging conversation launching off Martti’s works in international legal theory, international legal history, fragmentation, interdisciplinary scholarship, ethics and the future of international law.  

Given how great the workshop was, I could not be more pleased to note that the accompanying papers have now been compiled and published in a single volume of the Temple International and Comparative Law Journal (vol. 27, no. 2). The full table of contents for the Symposium Issue can be found here

The papers include Jeff Dunoff’s framing introduction, a fascinating paper by Martti on the historiography of international law, and a slew of papers by renowned scholars, including Kim Scheppele, Tomer Broude, Sean Murphy, Mark Pollack, Rob Howse and Ruti Teitel, Samuel Moyn, Jan Klabbers, Andrew Lang and Susan Marks, Frédéric Mégret, and Ralf Michaels.  These papers address a number of themes that run through Koskenniemi’s work, including international law and empire; the fragmentation of international law; interdisciplinary approaches to international law; reading – and misreading – the tradition; and the international lawyer as ethical agent.  Both individually and collectively, the papers represent a significant effort to engage, explore, and extend the ideas found in Koskenniemi’s writings.

The special symposium issue is the first of what will be a tradition of yearly Symposia that will be organized by Temple faculty and published in the Journal.  As such, the Symposia marks a new form of collaboration between Temple faculty and students, and represent an experiment in academic publishing designed to provide students the experience of editing papers on cutting-edge research, and at the same time injecting faculty expertise into the selection and substantive editing of papers.

Disaster Displacement: Gaps in International Norms

by Kristen Boon

There is an interesting interview with Professor Walter Kahlin, former Representative of the UN Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons, on disaster displacement over at the IPI’s Global Observatory.

He discusses why the current international law regime on refugees is incomplete when it comes to displacement.  He explains:

Back in 2010, Haiti was hit by one of the most devastating earthquakes, and hundreds of thousands who were displaced within the country immediately found refuge in makeshift camps. But many showed up already during the very first night—the first few days after the earthquake—at the border of the neighboring Dominican Republic. The question for the president was: should he open the borders or should he keep them closed? And he couldn’t get any guidance from any kind of international law because these people, even though they didn’t have any opportunity at that time for their wounded family members to access medical assistance (this came only later), they were not protected as refugees or in any other kind of quality by international law. A gap.

The IMO concurs, stating:  “climate refugees fall through the cracks of asylum law.”   This is clearly an area ripe for reflection.    Do climate refugees have a right of access to neighboring countries?   What should the definition of “climate refugee” be?    More importantly, given the problem of differentiating between climate disasters and natural disasters, it makes it very difficult to determine the different obligations of the international community.    There appears to be little appetite to revise the 1951 convention on the status of refugees to include climate refugees, which would afford them protections akin to political refugees.  Interestingly, the UNHCR has spoken out against this approach, claiming that while environmental degradation can contribute to forced, cross-border migration, this should not translate into more grounds for granting refugee status.

There are some interesting initiatives afoot to fill the gap.   The Nansen initiative, a self-described  “bottom-up” initiative is starting to canvas the norms that might apply.   Information is available here.   The ILC is studying the related question of protection of persons in the event of natural disasters here.   Academics have entered the debate.  Professor Katrina Wyman at NYU has canvassed the current models and proposed a “rights model” in an article here, which would boost the levels of migrants from developing to developed countries to begin with.  She writes:

How might immigration policy be changed to increase resilience in developing countries vulnerable to the effects of climate change? One option would be to make it easier for citizens of developing countries that are vulnerable to climate change to move to destination countries temporarily or permanently, for example, by boosting allowable immigration levels from these countries.

Do our readers have any other suggestions on important sources or approaches to this important new international issue?

Now in Paperback: The Oxford Guide to Treaties

by Duncan Hollis

Just a quick note to flag for interested readers that Oxford has released a paperback version of my book, The Oxford Guide to Treaties.  Happily, it is significantly cheaper than the hardback version — it’s listed for under $60 on Amazon right now.  I hope that this edition will interest non-institutional buyers for whom the earlier price tag was a bit steep. See here and here for additional links.

Events and announcements: April 6, 2014

by An Hertogen

Event

  • The United Nations Law Committee of the International Law Association, American Branch, along with The George Washington University Law School, invite you to a brownbag lunch panel on Treaty Survival on Wednesday, April 9, 2014, 1:00 – 2:15 PM in the Moot Court Room, The George Washington University Law School, 2000 H St. NW, Washington DC, 20052. This panel will address the effectiveness of treaties over time, with particular emphasis on the adaptability of treaties to present-day challenges. Can existing treaties, including those of fundamental doctrinal significance, such as the Geneva Conventions or the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, remain effective in an era of rapid change? Can contemplated or future agreements that seek to address evolving areas about which incomplete information exists, such as nanotechnology, geoengineering, synthetic biology, cyberspace and weapons systems, remain relevant and responsive over time? What tools enable international lawyers to assist the international community in addressing these questions? Panellists are our own Duncan Hollis, as well as Sean Murphy, Georg Nolte and Arnold Pronto.

Calls for Papers

  • TDM is calling for a special issue on dispute resolution from a corporate perspective that seeks to widen and deepen the debate on issues that are central to the efficient management of disputes from a corporate perspective. They seek contributions related to dispute management, commercial dispute resolution, managing the cost of dispute resolution, and the future of commercial dispute resolution, but welcome other relevant contributions as well. The editors of the special are: Kai-Uwe Karl (General Electric), Abhijit Mukhopadhyay (Hinduja Group), Michael Wheeler (Harvard Business School) and Heba Hazzaa (Cairo University). Publication is expected in October 2014. Proposals for papers should be submitted to the editors by July 31, 2014. Contact details are available on the TDM website.

Announcements

  • The ICRC has launched its first Research & Debate Cycle on New Technologies and the Modern Battlespace. In recent years, a wide array of new technologies has entered the modern battlefield, giving rise to new methods and means of warfare, such as cyber attacks, armed drones and robots.  While there can be no doubt that IHL applies to them, applying pre-existing legal rules to new technologies may raise the question of whether the rules are sufficiently clear in light of the new technologies’ specific characteristics and foreseeable humanitarian impact. Each of these new technologies raises a host of issues, which the first Research & Debate Cycle proposes to discuss. From March to June 2014, several public events will be organized around the globe, with a view to answering several objectives: connecting academics and researchers on international humanitarian law, scientists, military representatives, human rights lawyers, policy-makers and practitioners;  facilitating discussion, exchange of knowledge and new ideas in relation to the theme of the cycle; ensuring a global outreach, through the involvement of relevant ICRC delegations and contacts in the field; proposing multi-disciplinary solutions to the questions identified. On March 25, the inaugural panel presented the various ethical, legal, scientific, and military issues that new technologies raise for humanitarian law and action, and which the subsequent events will strive to answer. The recording of the panel, as well as several interviews with the speakers, is now available here.
  • The EIUC Venice School of Human Rights will run from June 27 to July 5, 2014 and is accepting applications until May 15, 2014. The EIUC Venice School of Human Rights will update participants on the state of the art debate on human rights issues and stimulate their reflection on the current challenges faced by human rights actors worldwide. After an introduction on current challenges, participants will have the opportunity to learn more about one of these 3 selected topics “Business and Human Rights”, “The Internationalisation of Migration Law and the Role of the EU” and “Freedom of Expression and Assembly Online”. The EIUC Venice School combines theory and practice and its faculty involves internationally recognised academics and practitioners. Prof. Martin Scheinin, former UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, and Prof. William Schabas from the University of Middlesex will open the Venice School 2014. Check herefor the full programme details.

Last week’s events and announcements can be found here. If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us.

So How is China Reacting to the Philippines Arbitration Submission? Not Very Well

by Julian Ku

China has not been quiet in reacting to the Philippines filing Sunday of its memorial in the UNCLOS South China Sea arbitration.  In addition to the foreign ministry’s remarks, the People’s Daily has released a full-scale defense of China’s legal and policy position (recently translated here). It is the longest official (well, close-to-official) statement of China’s legal position on the arbitration as I’ve seen anywhere. The heart of China’s argument is that this whole Philippines dispute is about sovereignty over the Nansha Islands, parts of which the Philippines is illegally occupying.  Because this is about sovereignty, and because China excluded maritime and territorial disputes from UNCLOS arbitral jurisdiction in its 2006 declaration, it is the Philippines (and not China) that is violating international law by filing the arbitration claim. Here are a couple of legal arguments or claims in the commentary that jumped out at me. (Read more after the jump)

Kosovo, South Ossetia, and Crimea: the Legal Rhetoric of Intervention, Recognition, and Annexation

by Chris Borgen

Following up on my previous post, I want to look at Russia’s rhetoric regarding Crimea and how it relates to its rhetoric regarding intervention and recognition in Kosovo and South Ossetia. While countries may use arguments that start to seem inconsistent, Russia’s use of “law talk” is especially striking because it uses legal rhetoric so often, even when it has rather weak arguments. While Russia deploys legal language, increasingly they are not the concepts of international law as generally accepted. Rather, Russia is building a revisionist conception of international law to serve its foreign policy needs regarding the states of the former Soviet Union.

But, first, let’s take a few steps back. For President Putin, the situation in Crimea has its roots in Kosovo. Kremlin watchers have argued that the loss of Kosovo was a traumatic experience for President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. (For some background on the run-up to Kosovo’s declaring independence, please see this post.)

In his speech of March 18, President Putin revisited the disagreements Kosovo declaration of independence, even quoting the U.S.’s argument before the ICJ:

I do not like to resort to quotes, but in this case, I cannot help it. Here is a quote from another official document: the Written Statement of the United States America of April 17, 2009, submitted to the same UN International Court in connection with the hearings on Kosovo. Again, I quote: “Declarations of independence may, and often do, violate domestic legislation. However, this does not make them violations of international law.” End of quote. They wrote this, disseminated it all over the world, had everyone agree and now they are outraged. Over what? The actions of Crimean people completely fit in with these instructions, as it were. For some reason, things that Kosovo Albanians (and we have full respect for them) were permitted to do, Russians, Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars in Crimea are not allowed. Again, one wonders why.

This idea that the residents of Crimea just want the same ability to become a country that those in Kosovo had is rhetorically appealing. (And keep in mind the combination of legal rhetoric with ethnic grievance in his quote, I want to come back to that.) But wanting to be a country does not mean you have the right to become a country. As discussed before, there is no general right to secession, regardless of referendum results.

However, there are many differences between the two cases: Kosovo had been under international administration for close to a decade, its final status was left open in the UN Security Council Resolutions, it was the site of significant ethnic violence. None of that is true in Crimea.

But what is especially interesting is how Russia has changed what it is describing as the lesson of Kosovo. In 2008, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov called Kosovo’s potential separation from Serbia a “subversion of all the foundations of international law, . . . [a] subversion of those principles which, at huge effort, and at the cost of Europe’s pain, sacrifice and bloodletting have been earned and laid down as a basis of its existence.”

In his March 18 speech, though, President Putin took a different tack. While (Serbia’s) sovereignty and territorial integrity were the focus of Russian diplomacy concerning Kosovo, there is little talk now about protecting Ukraine’s sovereignty. Rather, President Putin spent the opening sections of his speech decrying the historical mistake of handing Crimea over to Ukraine “like a sack of potatoes.” And what of agreements, such as the Budapest Memorandum, recognizing the “existing borders of Ukraine,” respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity, and reaffirming the obligation not to use or threaten to use force? President Putin explained “Russia seemed to have recognized Crimea as part of Ukraine, but there were no negotiations to limit borders.” (Emphasis added.) That is contradicted by the text they actually signed. What about sovereignty? “It is also obvious that there is no legitimate executive authority in Ukraine now, nobody to talk to.” (Perhaps he was confusing change of government with dissolution of a state.) And then “the residents of Crimea and Sevastopol turned to Russia for help in defending their rights and their lives…”

Once again, this is an argument based on irredentism and a sense that borders and sovereignty can become rather wispy and insubstantial when you hear the call of people of the same ethnicity or who speak the same language as you do. (Not necessarily the same citizenship, mind you: ethnicity and/or language.)

From here, he opens his view to the state of international law… (Continue Reading)

Welcome to the Blogosphere “Internationally Wrongful Memes” (!?)

by Chris Borgen

A tumblr of international law humor. No, not “International law is a joke.” Jokes about international law. Seriously.

Did the U.S. Infiltration of Chinese Company Huawei Violate International Law?

by Julian Ku

Just in time for Michelle Obama’s speech in Beijing extolling the benefits of free speech and a President Obama/President Xi summit, the NY Times published an article detailing how the U.S National Security Agency infiltrated the systems of Chinese telecom infrastructure giant Huawei.  According to documents the Times obtained from the Edward Snowden leak, the NSA “obtained information about the workings of the giant routers and complex digital switches that Huawei boasts connect a third of the world’s population, and monitored communications of the company’s top executives.”

From a legal perspective, there is no doubt that this is a violation of Chinese laws and an example of how the U.S. government is doing what it is alleging the Chinese government is doing to U.S. companies. There also seems little doubt that this action is clearly legal under U.S. laws, as the U.S. government has broad and largely unchecked authority to conduct surveillance of foreign nationals in foreign countries.  But is the action illegal under any international laws?

I am doubtful that such snooping could violate any international right to privacy, even if such a right existed.  The ICCPR might provide such a right, but it may or may not apply extraterritorially, and even if it did, it probably doesn’t restrict this kind of activity.

This essay in the Global Times, a hawkish Chinese-state-affiliated newspaper, suggests that such activity could also constitute an attack for the purposes of the law of war.  The author, a U.S.-based writer, argues that “launching attacks under another nation’s flag has long been seen as illegal under both codified law and international custom. In such a case, Chinese nationals would face financial and possibly physical risk, especially if US involvement remained undetected.”

I think this would be a stretch under the laws of war. Is snooping around in Huawei’s servers an “act of violence” within the meaning of the Geneva Convention? I don’t think walking into Huawei’s offices and ruffling through their papers is an act of violence. Taking down their servers, or planting viruses to disable those servers or related activities might be an act of violence, but even that seems a bit of  stretch under current international laws.

So the U.S. may have spied, but it cannot be said to have “attacked” China, in its reported Huawei infiltration.  As a matter of international law, the reported actions appear to be legal, even if they were unwise or hypocritical.