Archive of posts for category
General

M. Cherif Bassiouni Weighs In on the Amanda Knox Extradition, and Gets It Wrong

by Julian Ku

I have been feeling a little guilty for blogging about the Amanda Knox case since it is more of a People Magazine topic than an Opinio Juris one.  But just today, I realized that even someone as respected in the international law field as M. Cherif Bassiouni has opined on her extraditability in this OUP blog post from last April.  So maybe it’s OK after all, especially since Bassiouni’s view that she is not extraditable is (in my view) flatly wrong.

Bassiouni, a giant in the field of international criminal law and the author of the leading treatise on the international law of extradition, argues that Amanda Knox is not extraditable to Italy because of the admittedly unusual Italian criminal procedure that seems to subject defendants to convictions, acquittals, and then conviction again in violation of the rule of ne bis in idem (double jeopardy).

As I have explained, no US court has held that the double jeopardy protection of the Fifth Amendment would prevent an extradition because no U.S. court has applied that Fifth Amendment protection to actions by a foreign government.  In other words, no U.S. has held that a U.S. citizen can invoke the Fifth Amendment against the prosecution of a foreign government.  It is possible a court might do so, but there has been no signs of that so far.

But what really bothers me is that Bassiouni makes the same mistake that many other (far lesser in stature) legal commentators have made when he suggests that Article VI of the US-Italy Extradition treaty imposes a double-jeopardy requirement on the Italian government.

The 1983 U.S.–Italy Extradition Treaty states in article VI that extradition is not available in cases where the requested person has been acquitted or convicted of the “same acts” (in the English text) and the “same facts” (in the Italian text).

With all due respect to Professor Bassiouni, this is not quite right. I point him and others to my first post on this subject and I re-do the discussion below.   Here is Article VI:

Non Bis in Idem

Extradition shall not be granted when the person sought has been convicted, acquitted or pardoned, or has served the sentence imposed, by the Requested Party for the same acts for which extradition is requested.

(Emphasis added.)

I don’t think it is possible to read this language as imposing a non bis in idem requirement on Italy, since Italy is not the “Requested Party” in the Amanda Knox case.  The only way Amanda Knox could invoke Article VI is if she has been “convicted, acquitted or pardoned,or has served the sentence imposed” by the United States, which is the “Requested Party.”  But Knox has not been charged or punished for this crime in the United States, so she can’t invoke Article VI.

As Bassiouni points out, the complexity of Italy’s criminal procedure could possibly violate the prohibition on non bis in idem contained in the European Convention on Human Rights.  I don’t know enough about Italy’s criminal procedure or the ECHR’s jurisprudence in this area to know if he is right, but I do know that this issue is not something that would be considered in the “extraditability” analysis by a U.S. court.  Knox could (and probably has) raised this argument in Italian courts, or directly before the ECHR. But it should not affect her extraditability.

Because of Bassiouni’s stature, his blogpost will be (and already has been) repeated by media reports for the proposition that Knox has a credible double-jeopardy defense to extradition.  But although they are right to cite Bassiouni as a leading authority on international extradition, he’s wrong on this one.

Is Ted Cruz a “Natural Born Citizen”?

by Peter Spiro

cruz imageShort answer: yes. Ted Cruz is constitutionally eligible to run for President. As he moves to announce his candidacy tomorrow, the question is sure to flare up again. As most will know, Cruz was born in Canada. He had U.S. citizenship at birth through his mother and the forerunner to section 301(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. He also had Canadian citizenship until he formally renounced it only last year.

The constitutional terrain is covered in this 2013 post and an essay of mine in the online Michigan Law Review on the question as presented in the context of John McCain’s Canal Zone birth. This is a terrific case study for demonstrating constitutional evolutions outside the courts. No court will ever touch the question at the same time that particular cases show us where the law is.

One recent addition to the mix: Neil Katyal and Paul Clement have this piece on the Harvard Law Review Forum arguing that Ted Cruz qualifies as “natural born”. If Katyal and Clement say he is natural born, then he is natural born, merits aside. Bipartisan pronouncements from legal policy elites become a source of the law. The Katyal-Clement offering echoes a similar effort by Larry Tribe and Ted Olson with respect to McCain’s eligibility, which was also the subject of a consensus U.S. Senate resolution.

Who can’t love that the question is being raised? Birthers who have challenged Barack Obama’s constitutional eligibility (on the basis of a fictitious birth in Kenya or a lame claim that he is a dual citizen) will have to eat their words now that they have a candidate whose foreign birth/dual citizenship is documented fact. But those ironies shouldn’t distort the answer. There are lots of reasons to oppose a Ted Cruz candidacy, but his citizenship status isn’t one of them.

Events and Announcements: March 15, 2015

by An Hertogen

Calls for Papers

  • TDM is calling for papers for a special issue on Latin-America. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Latin America has sought the proper response to international disputes. That effort has been complicated by the opportunities and realities of globalization and its relation to its effects on local economies and government policy. While new export markets have driven growth in certain sectors, the desire to utilize local resources for internal development has presented significant challenges, both economic and political. We invite submissions for a TDM Special Issue on Latin America that seeks to dive in to these issues and the tension resulting from them, both from a theoretical and practical perspective. The topics to be discussed include the following: * Disputes Involving States and State Parties; * Control of Local Laws and Courts over International Transactions; * Changes in Dispute Resolution Methods; * Implications of Investment by “Multi-Latinas” and Access to Changing Markets; * Regional and National Disputes. Proposals for papers (e.g. abstracts) should be submitted to the editors Dr. Ignacio Torterola (Brown Rudnick LLP) and Quinn Smith  (Gomm & Smith). Intended publication date: final quarter of 2015.
  • Jessie Hohmann (Queen Mary) and Daniel Joyce (UNSW) invite contributions to an edited volume on International Law’s Objects: Emergence, Encounter and Erasure through Object and Image. The project interrogates international law’s material culture and everyday life.   Motivating this project are three questions: First, what might studying international law through objects reveal? What might objects, rather than texts, tell us about sources, recognition of states, construction of territory, law of the sea, or international human rights law? Second, what might this scholarly undertaking reveal about the objects – as aims or projects – of international law? How do objects reveal, or perhaps mask, these aims, and what does this tell us about the reasons some (physical or material) objects are foregrounded, and others hidden or ignored? Third, which objects will be selected? We anticipate a no doubt eclectic but illuminating collection, which points to objects made central, but also objects disclaimed, by international law. Moreover, the project will result in a fascinating artefact (itself an object) of the preoccupations of the profession at this moment in time. Further information, including the timeline for submissions, can be found in the call for papers which closes on April 18, 2015.

Events

  • Registration is now open for the 4th annual conference of the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law (CJICL) to be held at the University of Cambridge on 8 and 9 May 2015. The conference theme is Developing Democracy: Conversations on Democratic Governance in International, European and Comparative Law. You can find the conference programme and the registration form on the conference website.

Our previous events and announcements post can be found here. If you would like to post an announcement on Opinio Juris, please contact us with a one-paragraph description of your announcement along with hyperlinks to more information. 

Dealing with Iran: A Primer on the President’s Options for a Nuclear Agreement

by Duncan Hollis

Without weighing in on the merits of any deal with Iran on nuclear matters, I’ll express some frustration over the rhetoric used in the current firestorm between the White House, 47 Senators (plus Governors Perry and Jindal), Iran’s Foreign Minister, and the 4th Estate on what kind of deal the United States might conclude with Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany).  There seems to be a great deal of confusion and conflation of issues in terms of the legal logistics of concluding any deal.  Now, maybe some of that is willful — obfuscation in service of each side’s political goals.  But, on the chance that some of those weighing in are under-informed on the actual issues and options available, I thought I’d offer a (brief) primer on what the actual options are in this case and how those options may limit/shape U.S. behavior.

For starters, it’s critical to differentiate the question of how nation states can reach agreement from the question of how a domestic legal system authorizes a State to enter into agreements (let alone what effect it gives them).  As such, I think the conversation needs to split off the question of (1) what kind of international deal this will be; from asking (2) what authority does the United States have (or will it need) to conclude such a deal as a matter of U.S. law.  Let’s take each angle separately.

International Commitments

When it comes to nation States entering into an agreement (that is, a mutual commitment of shared expectations as to future behavior), there are actually three basic options States can choose: (a) a treaty; (b) a contract; or (c) a political commitment.

(a) a treaty:  The treaty is a (relatively) well understood vehicle that rests on international law for its authority and effects.  Article 2(a) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) defines a treaty as

an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law, whether embodied in a single instrument or in two or more related instruments and whatever its particular designation

There’s some nuance to this definition, which I’ve explained in the Defining Treaties chapter of my book.  But for our purposes, it suffices to note that the VCLT lays out who has authority to make a treaty (i.e., heads of state and government, foreign ministers and those with full powers) and how they can do so (i.e., by signature, ratification, accession, acceptance, approval or any other agreed means).  Once formed, a treaty is subject to the general (and fundamental) principle of pacta sunt servanda — treaties are “binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.” Domestic legal obligations are not recognized as a basis for breaching treaty commitments, with one exception.  Article 46 provides that

1. A State may not invoke the fact that its consent to be bound by a treaty has been expressed in violation of a provision of its internal law regarding competence to conclude treaties as invalidating its consent unless that violation was manifest and concerned a rule of its internal law of fundamental importance. 2. A violation is manifest if it would be objectively evident to any State conducting itself in the matter in accordance with normal practice and in good faith.

Article 46, however, has proven relatively limited in its availability to States as an exit option; the one time it got raised before the ICJ, the Court suggested that States are not obliged to keep track of other states’ legislative and constitutional regulations on treaty-making and that a violation could not be manifest “unless at least properly publicized.”   Given the varied ways the U.S. authorizes treaties (discussed in more detail below), it’s hard to imagine a later Administration being able to invoke Article 46.  Indeed, if U.S. foreign relations scholars can’t agree on the ground rules for when specific treaty-making procedures are required (or prohibited), I’m hard pressed to say other countries should be able to identify a manifest violation in a case where the Executive branch pursues one specific procedure over others.

(b) a contract:  Interstate commitments can also be contracts instead of treaties. Contracts, like treaties, are considered legally binding, but differ from them in that contracts rely on domestic law as the source of their “bindingness” instead of being governed by international law as treaties are. Still, governments from time to time will do deals (e.g., one State selling helicopters to another) where the agreement specifically indicates its terms are governed by, say, the “law of New York.” This doesn’t seem to be on the table with Iran though, so I’ll reserve to a latter date more detailed analysis of how contracts and treaties differ. 

(c) a political commitment:  The third — and final — option for agreements among States is a “political commitment.”  Some scholars prefer to call it “soft law,” but for reasons Josh Newcomer and I elaborated in our article on political commitments, I think that term is a bit of a misnomer. The basic idea is simple — states can make agreements where the basis of their commitment does not rest on law, but “political” (or perhaps “moral”) forces.  In a political commitment, the fact of the promise itself motivates compliance rather than importing the sanctity of law and its legitimacy to do so. Non-legally binding commitments have now been a feature of international relations for more than a century, and include some pretty high-profile agreements, including the Shanghai Communique, the Helsinki Accords, the recent US-China Deal on Climate Change, and the Comprehensive Joint Plan that started this whole set of negotiations with Iran.  Moreover, as Josh and my article details, these commitments exhibit a tremendous diversity in terms of the form they take, the substantive commitments they contain, the extent to which they establish or implicate institutions, not to mention their varied relationships to other legal and non-legal commitments.

Traditionally, political commitments are seen as distinct from treaties in terms of being (i) more flexible; (ii) less credible because exit options are easier; with (iii) greater opportunities for confidentiality; and (iv) fewer domestic legal hurdles to their formation.  The actual variation in political commitments suggests, however, that these differences may be over-stated — today’s practice suggests that there is some significant overlap in what political commitments and treaties do.  For example, it may have been true at one time that treaties were necessarily less flexible than political commitments, but with the advent of tacit amendment procedures, treaties have gained in flexibility, while some political commitments have become more highly structured and inflexible in terms of the precision or normativity of their contents or the institutional structure in which they operate.  The one area where political commitments appear to hold a distinct advantage (or disadvantage depending on your perspective) is with the relatively weak domestic law attention they receive.  As Josh and I concluded in our article — a point reiterated earlier today by Jack Goldsmith and Marty Lederman, states like the United States have imposed few (if any) legal restrictions on the Executive’s ability to enter into political commitments.

Domestic Authorities to Commit the United States Internationally

In Article II, Section 2, clause 2 of the Constitution, the President has the “power, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur.”  If one were to take up the issue de novo, you might think this text requires that all treaties the United States wishes to conclude under international law have to proceed to the Senate.  In practice, however, Senate Advice and Consent has become one of only four ways the United States may gain authority to enter into a treaty (in the international law sense of that term).  Add in the possibility that the Iran deal might be a political commitment, and there are actually five options for how U.S. law might authorize a deal with Iran: (i) Senate Advice and Consent; (ii) a Congressional-Executive agreement; (iii) via an existing Senate Advice and Consent treaty; (iv) a sole Executive Agreement; or (v) a political commitment.

(i) Senate Advice and Consent Treaty.  If the United States concludes a treaty (in the international law sense of the term) with Iran and the P5+1, President Obama could send that treaty to the Senate for advice and consent, and, assuming the Senate agreed (with or without reservations, understandings or declarations), the President would then clearly have constitutional authority to consent to the deal.  Senate advice and consent is much less used compared to the past (less than 10% of modern treaties go through the Senate), although it should be noted that almost all past arms control agreements have received Senate advice and consent.  Still, given the general stalemate that has pervaded the Senate’s role in treaty-making the last few years, this seems a complete non-starter as a path forward, particularly with 47 Senators on record against virtually any deal involving Iran.

(ii) Congressional-Executive Agreement:  The President could gain authority to conclude a treaty (again, in the international law sense of that term) with Iran and the P5+1 via Congress instead of the Senate alone.  A simply majority vote of both Houses could enact a bill that with the President’s signature would become federal law and thus create legal authority for the United States to conclude (and perform) an Iranian treaty.  As a practical matter, congressional consent can be ex ante or ex post, but again, domestic politics in this case countenances against this being a likely option (even though today the vast, vast majority of U.S. treaty commitments under international law rely on one or more statutory authorities for their formation).

(iii) via an Existing Senate Advice and Consent Treaty:  Article VI of the Constitution treats both statutes and treaties (i.e., those receiving Senate advice and consent) as the “supreme law of the land.” Thus, just as a statute could authorize President Obama to conclude an international agreement with Iran, so too could a pre-existing Senate advice and consent treaty.  So far, I’m not aware of any nominations for an existing U.S. treaty that could do this (but someone might want to carefully parse the 1955 Treaty of Amity and Peace with Iran if it’s still in force (it’s not listed in Treaties in Force)).   Or, this might be a way forward if, as Marty and Jack hint, the Executive branch concluded the deal with Iran as a political commitment, but then had it endorsed by the U.N. Security Council pursuant to its Chapter VII authorities.  In that case, legal authority to conclude the deal might reside in the U.N. Charter itself since the Senate long ago gave consent, subject to a U.S. veto, to Security Council measures to preserve international peace and security.  As such, I don’t think we can dismiss this option as much as it might seem inapplicable at first glance.

(iv) Sole Executive Agreement:  The President may rely on his own Constitutional powers (e.g., as commander in chief) to authorize a U.S. treaty commitment.  In practice, this is rarely done as the State Department will usually try to also locate authority in at least one federal statute (even something as bland as Congress’ authorization of State Department responsibility for foreign affairs).  That said, the Supreme Court has endorsed the President’s ability to conclude certain treaties as sole executive agreements, although often in the face of congressional acquiescence, not outright opposition.  So, one might imagine this option would generate some inter-branch litigation if the Republican-controlled Congress rejects reading the president’s powers to include whatever sort of commitments are contained in any agreement the United States concludes with Iran.  Still, if the deal is to be a treaty under international law, this seems the most likely basis for authorizing it under U.S. law.  As Fred Kaplan noted yesterday, and Secretary Kerry apparently suggested a few hours ago, all the attention on treaties may have been misplaced and an entirely different deal might be at work here, namely a political one.

(v) Political Commitment;  It’s possible that the White House is looking for a political commitment with Iran and the P5+1.  If so, then all the machinations about forming a treaty under international law, and, just as importantly, the relatively robust set of domestic approval options for treaty-making, are inapplicable.  Although Josh and I argued that functional similarities between treaties and political commitments should require a Congressional role in the formation of at least some political commitments, I concede that Marty and Jack are correct that at present it’s hard to say this is the law of the United States.  On the contrary, today, it still appears that political commitments by their very nature do not implicate any of the domestic legal, procedural hurdles associated with treaties and thus may be a path forward for the United States to do a deal with Iran without worrying about the views of either the Senate or Congress as a whole.

That said, if the United States is actually going to argue it is concluding a political commitment with Iran and not a treaty, I want to conclude with two important caveats on the international and domestic aspects of such a deal that I’ve not seen mentioned previously.

First, a political commitment must be a political commitment for all sides, not just one side.  There’s much ambiguity in the U.S. and Iranian statements surrounding some of the negotiations, and it’s possible to read some of yesterday’s press briefing to suggest a deal where the United States would have only a political commitment while Iran was legally bound to perform its promises (see, for example, the carefully worded “verifiable and enforceable commitments” language used). That, however, is not an available option in international law.  Either the agreement is a treaty for all parties or its a political commitment for all participants.  I am unaware of any case where the nature of the agreement varies for the parties to it (that is it was a treaty for one state and a political commitment for everyone else).  Certainly, there have been disputes in the past as to the status of a particular agreement, with the ICJ and international arbiters called upon to weigh in on whether the deal struck gave rise to international legal obligations or not.  And it’s also possible for a treaty to contain not just legally binding commitments but also political ones (see, e.g., Article 1 of the Algiers Accords).  But, a stand-alone political commitment is, by definition, mutually exclusive from the international legal commitment that defines a treaty.  As such, once an agreement contains at least one commitment intended to be governed by international law, it’s a treaty not a political commitment.  Indeed, unlike contracts, treaties do not require consideration.  Thus, a treaty can exist where only one side (e.g., Iran) makes all the promises to do (or not do) certain things. Taken together, this suggests that, unless the United States is making some new, novel move to unsettle the existing forms of international commitment, its suggestion that it is pursuing a political commitment with Iran should mean that none of the commitments will give rise to any international legal obligations in and of themselves (there may be separate estoppel arguments, but let’s save those for another post).

Second, turning to the U.S. domestic context, it may be true that the Constitution does not require any particular approval procedure for political commitments, but it is also true that the Senate retains significant political power to pressure the President to pursue a treaty over a political commitment or even to insist on having a treaty submitted for Senate advice and consent in lieu of simply relying on Executive Power.  For example, before it became the Senate-approved Moscow Treaty, President Bush had apparently considered the possibility of doing the deal with Russia as either a political commitment or a Sole Executive Agreement.  But the Senate objected; and in a bipartisan push succeeded in having the deal submitted for its advice and consent.  Thus, one could imagine that if the Senate (or I suppose Congress as a whole) wanted to deploy their political checks on Executive power (think appropriations or ambassadorial/cabinet approvals), the White House might have to recalculate whether and how it wants to proceed with Iran here.  Nor is this entirely a U.S. problem; reports suggest that when the United States was looking to craft a strategic framework with Iraq a few years back, the Iraqis ended up concluding that the deal had to be done as a treaty (in the international law sense) since their Parliament was insisting on approving it in lieu of going to more streamlined political commitment route.  Simply put, just because there may be no extant constitutional constraints on the President’s ability to conclude a political commitment with Iran does not mean that there won’t be domestic negotiations over whether and how the United States concludes any deal involving Iran and nuclear matters.

So . . . now that I have that all off my chest, I’ll get out of the way and let the various actors continue to negotiate and debate the merits of the appropriate way(s) forward here.  I just hope that folks will do so with more attention to what the existing international and domestic law has to say (or not say) on these questions.

 

GOP Iran Letter Might Be Unconstitutional. Is It Also Criminal?

by Peter Spiro

I’ll one-up Julian’s post below on Tom Cotton’s letter to the leaders of Iran admonishing them that any agreement entered into today could be reversed by Obama’s successor. It appears unprecedented for a group of opposition members of Congress to engage in such a communication.

It may also be criminal. The 1799 Logan Act provides that:

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Most putative Logan Act violations violate the spirit and structural foundations of the Logan Act (John Boehner’s invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu supplying a recent example). This one seems to squarely satisfy its elements. We have:

  • a correspondence with a foreign government (whether direct or indirect, in the form of an “open letter”, matters not),
  • without the authority of the United States (it enjoys no imprimatur from the executive branch nor, for that matter, from Congress as an institution),
  • with the pretty clear intent “to influence the measures or conduct of” the government of Iran in relation to a controversy with the United States.

Some might debate the last prong, but what other motivation could the letter have than to persuade Iranian leaders to back off a deal for fear that it will hardly be worth the paper it’s written on?

Now I know as well as the next guy that there’s been no Logan Act prosecution in the modern era. I also understand that in the wake of globalization national legislators routinely interact with foreign government officials. Iran is probably sophisticated enough about US constitutional law to the point that the letter’s substance isn’t news to them. But an initiative like the Cotton letter seems to cross a line, and perhaps it should be slapped back. How will contested foreign policy initiatives ever get off the ground if whoever’s out of the White House can meddle so brazenly? We have clearly left the era in which politics stopped at the water’s edge.

UPDATE: Steve Vladeck has this post up at Lawfare arguing against the Logan Act’s viability in this context. I take the point on desuetude. A law that lies around unused for a protracted period at some point becomes not-law (think jaywalking). Steve also argues that as a legislator, Cotton may have been acting with the “authority of the United States.” I can’t agree on that point. If anything, Cotton’s status as a senator makes the offense a greater one, because it’s more likely to be taken seriously and do real damage to national foreign relations.

As for the First Amendment, there are certainly First Amendment implications here. The Cotton letter involves speech that would be fully protected in the ordinary domestic context. But the Constitution in general and the First Amendment in particular are seen through different lens when it comes to foreign relations.  Does that mean that the Logan Act would withstand a First Amendment defense? Not necessarily. But the answer is not so clear cut as it would otherwise seem.

None of this is to say that there will or even should be a Logan Act claims against Cotton and his collaborators, and the factors that Steve highlights plainly contribute to non-prosecution as a prudential matter. But the above-the-fold attention given to the Cotton letter shows that there is something out of the ordinary going on here. If he had said the same things on CNN no one would have paid any attention; it would have been business as usual. Not so as addressed to the Iranian leadership.

Iran Nuke Review Act Does Not Actually “Require” a Vote of Congress

by Julian Ku

According to the WSJ,  the “Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act”  that I discussed earlier this week may already have 64 declared supporters in the Senate.  This means that supporters are only 3 votes shy of enough to override President Obama’s veto of this bill.

Since the bill might actually become law, it is worth reminding supporters of the bill that it does NOT guarantee that Congress will vote on the Iran nuke deal.  This might be confusing, but as I argued earlier this week, the proposed law would only suspend the lifting of sanctions for 60 days.  During that 60-day period, Congress could vote on the bill, or it could choose not to do so.  Silence would allow the sanctions to be lifted after the 60 days.  So it is not quite right to say, as the WSJ does, that the proposed law would “require a vote of Congress.”  Still, it is quite likely that Congress would vote, and at least this bill would give them the opportunity to do so.

If the bill passes, and a veto fight breaks out, it will be worth considering whether President Obama invokes any constitutional arguments to justify his position.  I believe that President Obama’s threatened veto reflects a robust and unilateralist conception of the President’s power to make sole executive agreements without Congressional approval.  It will be interesting to see if he defends his veto on constitutional grounds.

President Obama Goes Unilateralist; Threatens to Veto Bill Requiring Congressional Review of Iran Agreement

by Julian Ku

As Washington continues to digest Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s (possibly unconstitutional) address to the U.S. Congress criticizing a pending nuclear arms deal with Iran, a constitutional and political fight is brewing over the scope of the President’s powers to make such an agreement and Congress’s power to limit or overturn his agreement. A group of Senators re-introduced a bill last Friday to require President Obama to submit any agreement with Iran to Congress.  President Obama has already threatened to veto this bill, even though, in my humble opinion, it is a pretty modest effort by Congress to oversee the President’s power to make international agreements since it does not actually force the President to seek their approval of the agreement.  It is thus striking that even this modest law has drawn a veto threat.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 would require the president to submit to Congress the “(1) the text of the agreement, (2) a verification assessment on Iranian compliance, and (3) a certification that the agreement meets U.S. non-proliferation objectives and does not jeopardize U.S. national security, including not allowing Iran to pursue nuclear-related military activities” (according the website of the bill’s sponsor, Senator Bob Corker).

Here’s the key provision: the bill would suspend for 60 days the President’s ability to waive or lift any sanctions on Iran.  Congress would have a chance to permanently suspend his power to waive or lift sanctions via a joint resolution of both houses of Congress.  But if Congress does not act at all, or simply approves the agreement, the President can go forward and lift whatever sanctions he otherwise has the authority to lift.

Crucially, congressional silence would (after 60 days) allow the president to go forward and implement the agreement. In political terms, it is therefore possible that a filibuster of a joint resolution in the Senate could result in the necessary silence needed to allow President Obama to implement any agreement after 60 days.

Gentle as this oversight is, it is still too much for the administration. Not only was there an immediate veto threat, but Secretary Kerry stated, ““I believe this falls squarely within the executive power of the president of the United States in the execution of American foreign policy,”    This might be correct, but it is only correct if you have a pretty robust conception of the President’s powers to make international agreements outside of the Constitution’s Treaty Clause.  While scholars have generally agreed that the President has such independent powers, the type of agreements he can make and the subjects of those agreements remain deeply uncertain and contested.

President Obama may be creating another important precedent here in favor of unilateral presidential power to make non-treaty agreements (to go along with his precedents in favor of unilateral presidential powers to use military force for humanitarian reasons).  Let’s just say he will not go down in history as a president that was deferential or respectful of congressional participation in foreign affairs.

Does Promoting Democracy in Hong Kong Violate the Principle of Non-Interference in Domestic Affairs?

by Julian Ku

A bipartisan group of US lawmakers proposed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act last week.  The proposed law would “would enhance U.S. monitoring of Hong Kong’s autonomy and human rights and ensure that these issues remain a cornerstone of U.S. policy,” according to the bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Chris Smith.

Reactions in Hong Kong and China are already pretty negative.

“We don’t want foreign governments or foreigners to intervene in affairs that can be handled by ourselves,” [Hong Kong Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung] said, adding that the Beijing and Hong Kong governments, Hongkongers themselves and the city’s lawmakers were the only stakeholders in the city’s political reform.”

If the bill gets closer to passage, one can imagine China will invoke the principle of “non-interference” in domestic affairs and sovereignty as an international law argument against the bill.  So this could set up an interesting contrast in views on how this principle is understood and interpreted.

In fact, the proposed bill is quite limited in scope.  All it requires is for the U.S. Secretary of State to annually certify “whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to justify separate treatment different from that accorded the People’s Republic of China in any new laws, agreements, treaties, or arrangements entered into between the United States and Hong Kong after the date of the enactment of such Act.”

It does not even threaten to change existing laws and treaties (such as the visa waiver provision for HK residents or the extradition agreement with HK).  It just threatens to limit “any new laws, agreements..treaties” (emphasis added). Nor does the proposed law actually require “genuine” democratic suffrage or compliance with the UK-China Joint Agreement or any other hard metric that the recent protests in Hong Kong had argued for.  Certification can be made as long as HK remains “sufficiently autonomous” in the opinion of the US Secretary of State and as long as he “considers” the Joint Agreement’s requirements in his certifcation.

Moreover, even this pretty easy requirement can be waived by the Secretary of State is in US national interests.  For this reason, I would be surprised if this bill becomes controversial within Congress or opposed by the State Department.

Nonetheless, it is worth asking: Is it a violation of the principle of non-interference to condition new agreements and arrangements with Hong Kong on the progress of domestic arrangements in China?  I don’t think most US international lawyers would find this gentle prodding to be a credible violation of the non-interference principle (see this useful summary of the principle from Princeton here), but I am fairly sure many Chinese international lawyers would see things differently.  If the bill progresses, we may find out.

One War Begins, Another Ends?

by Jens David Ohlin

Yesterday, as members of Congress continued to debate the need for a new AUMF against ISIS, lawyers for Guantanamo detainee Al Warafi have filed a new habeas petition to the D.C. District Court, arguing that the basis for detaining Warafi evaporated when the war in the Afghanistan ended. Specifically, the petition argues that the administration has conceded in prior litigation that the basis for Warafi’s detention was his membership in the Taliban. In the past, Warafi had argued in that he was a medic for the Taliban and his continued detention violated IHL’s rules on the treatment of medics. That argument was ultimately rejected by a district court which concluded that Warafi’s status was not analogous to that of a medic in a traditional army.

Warafi’s new argument takes as its starting point that last legal conclusion. Since Warafi was deemed detainable as a regular member of the Taliban, the authority for his continued detention evaporated with the conclusion of the war in the Afghanistan.

How do we know that the war in Afghanistan is over? On this point, Warafi’s petiton relies exclusively on Obama’s own statements that the conduct of hostilities in Afghanistan is over:

On December 15, 2014, President Obama stated that “[t]his month, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over,” and “[t]his month, America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end.” Exhibit A, p. 2. Then, in the State of the Union Address on January 20, 2015, the President stated, without any qualifications or conditions, that “our combat mission in Afghanistan is over.” Exhibit B, p. 1.

These pronouncements had been foreshadowed during the preceding two years by repeated presidential statements that the United States’ war in Afghanistan would be ended, and its combat mission would be terminated, by the end of 2014. On February 12, 2013, President Obama declared in the State of the Union Address that “[b]y the end of [2014], our war in Afghanistan will be over.” Exhibit C, p. 5. On May 23, 2013, he stated that “[t]he Afghan war is coming to an end.” Exhibit D, p. 7. On November 25, 2013, he stated that ‘[t]he war in Afghanistan will end next year.” Exhibit E, p. 1. On December 20, 2013, he stated that, “[b]y the end of next year, the war in Afghanistan will be over.” Exhibit F, p. 2. In the State of the Union Address on January 28, 2014, he repeated that “we will complete our mission there [Afghanistan] by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.” Exhibit G, p. 6. The President followed up with a prepared statement on May 27, 2014, that “this year, we will bring America’s longest war to a responsible end,” that “this is the year we will conclude our combat mission in Afghanistan,” and that “America’s combat mission [in Afghanistan] will be over by the end of this year.” Exhibit H, p. 1. On December 28, 2014, the United States Case 1:09-cv-02368-RCL Document 80 Filed 02/26/15 Page 3 of 7- 4 – marked the end of the war in Afghanistan with a ceremony in Kabul.1 Exhibit I. On that date, President Obama released a statement that “the ceremony in Kabul marks a milestone for our country” because “our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.” Id.

The argument relies exclusively on the President’s own statements regarding the conduct of hostilities, rather than engage in an underlying assessment of the actual situation on the ground. This strategy seems designed to appeal to the D.C. Circuit, which might be more inclined (than another court) to view the President’s assessment as dispositive of the issue:

The D.C. Circuit has also stated that the “determination of when hostilities have ceased is a political decision, and we defer to the Executive’s opinion on the matter, at least in the absence of an authoritative congressional declaration purporting to terminate the war.” Al-Bihani v. Obama, 590 F.3d 866, 874 (D.C. Cir. 2010). “Whether an armed conflict has ended is a question left exclusively to the political branches.” Al Maqaleh v. Hagel, 738 F.3d 312, 330 (D.C. Cir. 2013), cert. dismissed sub nom. Al-Maqaleh v. Hagel, 135 S. Ct. 782 (2014). Under these precedents, a conflict is over when the President says it is over.

The argument also suggests an estoppel point which goes unexpressed in the petition: since the administration has conceded that the war is over in public statements, it is estopped from arguing before the judiciary that the war continues (for the purposes of justifying Wafari’s continued detention).

One issue is whether Obama’s multiple statements regarding the conclusion of “our combat mission in Afghanistan” is the same thing as saying that hostilities there are over. Does the former imply the latter? It seems like a viable and legitimate inference to draw, although none of the Obama quotes in the petition include the actual words: “the hostilities are over.” Is that distinction important? Or would it be overly legalistic to insist that the political branch use the phrase “hostilities” in its public pronouncements?

The petition also tees up another important legal issue. Is there a “wind up” period after the conclusion of hostilities when continued status-based detention is still justified, or must law-of-war detainees be released immediately upon the conclusion of hostilities? As this ICRC analysis notes, the Hague Regulations once required that POWs be released as soon as possible after the conclusion of peace, but the Third Geneva Convention requires that “Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities” (article 118). Most legal experts assume that it was significant that the codified law moved from a “conclusion of peace” standard to a “conclusion of hostilities” standard, because the latter requires repatriation of soldiers after fighting ends, even if there is a delay in negotiating a formal state of peace. Also, article 118 of the Third Geneva Convention requires release “without delay” as opposed to the older and looser requirement of “as soon as possible,” which is vague and somewhat indeterminate. So the law has moved over time to require quicker repatriation of captured soldiers. Of course, this assumes that IAC principles of detention are the relevant principles governing Gitmo detention, which is itself a contested and controversial question.

Overall, the Warafi petition highlights that extinguishing or ending an armed conflict is often just as legally complex as declaring or authorizing an armed conflict. Both involve questions of inter-branch allocations of constitutional authority (Article I versus Article II of the US Constitution), as well as the relative value of public statements versus actual events on the ground.

Elders Proposal for Strengthening UN

by Kristen Boon

If you haven’t seen it yet, the Elders Proposal for Strengthening the UN is a must read.  Chaired by Kofi Annan, The Elders is an independent group of global leaders who work together for peace and human rights.

Released earlier this month at a conference in Munich, the four proposals are generating a lot of attention include:

1)  A new category of Security Council membership is needed: non-permanent members but who are immediately eligible for re-election, thus making them de facto permanent members if they secure the confidence of fellow member states.

2)  A pledge for non-use of the veto:  P5 states must also be more responsible in using their veto, especially during a crisis where people are threatened with genocide or other atrocities.

3)  Consultation with civil society:  the Security Council should take care to regularly consult those people who are affected by its decisions, especially in conflict zones.

4)  A new, more transparent and accountable system for choosing the next Secretary-General.

The last proposal, a new process for choosing the Secretary General, is where the Elders really break new ground.  They propose:

At the United Nations, it is the Secretary-General who has to uphold the interests and aspirations of all the world’s peoples. This role requires leadership of the highest calibre. Yet for 70 years the holder of this post has effectively been chosen by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who negotiate among themselves in almost total secrecy. The rest of the world is told little about the process by which candidates are identified, let alone the criteria by which they are judged. This barely follows the letter, and certainly not the spirit, of the UN Charter, which says the Secretary-General should be appointed by the General Assembly, and only on the recommendation of the Security Council.

To remedy this, we call on the General Assembly to insist that the Security Council recommend more than one candidate for appointment as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, after a timely, equitable and transparent search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or regional origin.

We suggest that the next Secretary-General be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years, in order to strengthen his or her independence and avoid the perception that he or she is guided by electoral concerns. She or he must not be under pressure, either before or after being appointed, to give posts in the Secretariat to people of any particular nationality in return for political support, since this is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Charter. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that the United Nations can make full use of it to choose the best person to assume the post in January 2017.

By tradition, the post rotates amongst different geographical areas of the world, and the next Secretary General would, under this system, come from Eastern Europe.  Because of tensions at the UN between Russia and Western States, however, many predict it will be impossible to find a candidate acceptable to all.   The proposal for implementing a merit based search with multiple candidates, and for a non renewable 7 year term therefore comes at an excellent time.  Member states should take up the call and consider updating the SG selection procedure. What will be required to implement it is a new GA resolution.   Ban Ki Moon’s term will be up at the end of 2016:  the time to act is now.

A helpful overview of the UN Charter requirements for the post (Article 97), relevant GA resolutions on the selection process, and recent proposals for reform of the office of the SG can be found here.

3.5 Lecturer/Senior Lecturer Positions at SOAS

by Kevin Jon Heller

Here is the advertisement, which I hope will be of interest to Opinio Juris readers:

3 x full-time posts & 1 x part-time (0.5 fte) post

Lecturer: £33,476-£48,088 p.a / pro rata inclusive of London Allowance

Senior Lecturer: £49,462-£56,975 p.a / pro rata inclusive of London Allowance

The SOAS School of Law invites applications for 3 full-time and 1 part-time (0.5) Lectureships/Senior Lectureships in Law tenable from 1 September 2015.  The successful candidates will be expected to have expertise and interest in teaching in at least one of the following areas, at both undergraduate and post graduate level: International Trade Law; Law & Economics; Refugee & Migration Law; Alternative Dispute Resolution; Legal Systems of Africa & Asia; and Property Law (including the English Law of Land & Trusts but ideally encompassing non UK centric areas such as African Land Rights, Cultural Property, Property Theory, Intellectual Property etc). The School of Law is also keen to recruit scholars with additional & specific expertise in the laws of particular countries within Africa or Asia although applicants without such expertise are also encouraged to apply.

Successful candidates will be expected to have research interests relevant to the mission of the School, including a strong interest in issues of particular importance to law in the developing world. These applicants should have (or be nearing completion of) a PhD in Law (or a related discipline) and a strong record of (or potential for) excellence in research and publications appropriate to a research intensive law school that was ranked fifth, by reference to the proportion of world class publications it produced, in the recent REF.

Prospective applicants seeking further information about SOAS or the School of Law may contact the Head of the School of Law, Paul Kohler (pk3 [at] soas [dot] ac [dot] uk).

To apply for this vacancy or download a job description, please visit www.soas.ac.uk/jobs. No agencies.

This is an exciting time to be at SOAS. We ranked 10th in the UK in the 2015 Guardian law table, we’ve made a number of excellent new hires over the past couple of years, and we will be moving into a beautiful new building — a renovated North Block of Senate House — early in 2016.

Any readers serious about applying should feel free to contact me with questions. The closing date for applications is March 19, and interviews will be held in late April.

U.S. May Let Go of Accidental Americans (Eliminating Tax Hurdle to Renunciation)

by Peter Spiro

It’s finally seeping into the mainstream consciousness that the U.S. tax system works very aggressively against citizens abroad, even those who are citizens in name only. Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, is renouncing his U.S. citizenship after he had to pay a hefty IRS tab on capital gains on the sale of his London home. Johnson was born in the U.S. and spent some of his toddler-hood here before moving back home, permanently, with his parents to the UK.

In the future, shedding U.S. citizenship may be a lot cheaper for those with similarly thin connections to the United States.

Existing tax law treats renunciation as if it were a liquidation event. If you have more than $2 million in assets, you have to pay capital gains on all of your assets as if they were sold as of the date of expatriation — an exit tax, in effect. Prospective renunciants must also show that they have been tax compliant for the past five years on regular income taxes, which all U.S. citizens must file regardless of residence. External Americans who haven’t been filing have to pay hefty back taxes and penalties on the way out the door (including some under the hated FBAR and FATCA regimes relating to foreign accounts that fall heavily on external citizens). Even so, every quarter now we are hearing that record numbers of individuals are renouncing their U.S. citizenship.

The Obama Administration’s 2016 Green Book  includes a proposal under which an individual would not be subject to the exit tax requirements if the individual:

1. became at birth a citizen of the United States and a citizen of another country,
2. at all times, up to and including the individual’s expatriation date, has been a citizen of a country other than the United States,
3. has not been a resident of the United States (as defined in section 7701(b)) since attaining age 18½,
4. has never held a U.S. passport or has held a U.S. passport for the sole purpose of departing from the United States in compliance with 22 CFR §53.1,
5. relinquishes his or her U.S. citizenship within two years after the later of January 1, 2016, or the date on which the individual learns that he or she is a U.S. citizen, and
6. certifies under penalty of perjury his or her compliance with all U.S. Federal tax obligations that would have applied during the five years preceding the year of expatriation if the individual had been a nonresident alien during that period.

This would exempt those whose citizenship really is nominal (or even unknown to them). It may be the smart U.S. citizen parent outside the U.S. who doesn’t register a child’s birth with a U.S. consulate, a trend that is now being reported.

It would still leave covered a lot of folks whose connections are very tenuous (maybe Boris used a U.S. passport here and there). It’s only a proposal, requesting and requiring congressional action. This very informative post from the Canadian law firm Moodys Gartner explains how the Obama Administration might be able to accomplish the same end through a regulatory backdoor allowing it to backdate the expatriation of birthright dual citizens.

In any case, the proposal does evidence some understanding that the imposition of U.S. taxes on accidental Americans is unsustainable. The Moodys Gartner post plausibly suggests that foreign governments (including Canada) may be pushing for the reform as their constituents get caught in FATCA’s net. This is a continuing story.