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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.

Is Law Losing Cyberspace?

by Duncan Hollis

The ALL CAPS headline of the last few hours involves news that social security and other identifying information for some 4 million U.S. federal workers was compromised in a cyber exploitation that, if one believes the unofficial finger pointing, came at the behest of the Chinese government.  Of course, it was just yesterday, that the Council on Foreign Relations’ Adam Segal was reporting how China was crying foul over “OceanLotus” a cyber exploitation that counted various Chinese governmental agencies and research institutes among its victims (and where the fingers were pointed back at the United States). And that’s to say nothing of the Snowden disclosures or the tens of millions of people whose personal data has been compromised via data breaches of an ever-expanding list of private companies (e.g., in February 2015 the U.S. health insurer Anthem admitted that up to 80 million people in its databases had their personal data compromised).  Now, maybe such data breach stories are hyperbolic, offering big numbers of potential losses that do not necessarily mean actual data compromises, let alone consequences for the associated individuals.  Nonetheless, the current zeitgeist seems to be the normalization of cyber insecurity.

As someone who believes international law has an (imperfect) role to play in preserving international peace and stability, I find the current scenario increasingly worrisome.  The level and breadth of cyber exploitations suggests a world in which actors are engaged in a race to the bottom of every data well they think might be useful for their own purposes, on the theory that their adversaries (and their allies) are all doing the same.  In such a world, law seems to be playing a diminishing role.

To be clear, domestic law certainly may constrain (or facilitate) a State’s cyber operations, as all the anxiety associated with the expiration of the PATRIOT Act and this week’s passage of the USA FREEDOM Act suggest. For those of us who care about international law, however, it seems increasingly marginalized in the current environment.  We’ve spent much of the last several years, focused on how international law applies to cyber-operations with huge efforts devoted to questions of line-drawing in what constitutes a prohibited use of force in cyberspace under the jus ad bellum or where the lines are for an attack under the jus in bello.  The Tallinn Manual is the paradigmatic example of this (often quite good) work.  More recently, States and scholars have moved on to cyber operations below these lines, with attention shifting in Tallinn and elsewhere to which cyber operations may generate counter-measures and defining when cyber operations violate the duty of non-intervention.

Such efforts have (so far) had relatively little to say on the question of a cyber exploitation that is best characterized as espionage.  With the exception of U.S. efforts to decry “economic” cyber espionage (as opposed to national security cyber espionage), most international lawyers have shrugged their shoulders on the legality of governments (or their proxies) stealing data from other governments or their nationals.  The conventional wisdom suggests intelligence agencies will be intelligence agencies and we should let this play out via diplomacy or power politics.  To the extent international law has long failed to prohibit espionage, the thinking goes, by analogy it should also leave cyber espionage alone.  And if that’s true, international law has little to say about China taking whatever data it can on employees of the U.S. federal government.

Of course, conventional wisdom is often conventional for good reasons.  From a national security perspective, there are important interests that militate against regulating or constraining data collection from abroad.  Yet, I worry that we’re reaching a tipping point where in conceding international law can do little to nothing for the problem of cyber exploitations, we are effectively conceding the rule of law in cyberspace.  It’s understandable that, from a rational perspective, States will want to do as much of this activity as their technical capacity allows.  But, such self-centered policies have generated a dramatic collective action problem.  The current cyber system is certainly sub-optimal, whether you consider it in economic, humanitarian, or national security terms. The economic costs of the status quo are by all accounts growing, whether in terms of losses of data and IP, or the costs of cleaning up after exploits occur.  Similarly, the ability of individuals to preserve their privacy is rapidly diminishing, and the right to privacy along with it.  And, of course, national governments are fighting, and losing, the battle to keep their own data (and secrets) secure.

All of this leads me to ask whether it’s time to revisit the question of how international law deals with data breaches?  I recognize some may say “no” or that after long and careful thought the answer may remain the same.  But, the rising importance and success rates of data breaches across the globe suggests it’s high time for international law to at least engage these questions more closely.

What do others think?  Is international law losing in cyberspace or is there still a chance that it can play a regulatory role over modern cyberthreats, even if only an imperfect one?

 

China Defends Itself on South China Sea: “We are against the arbitrary distortion of the international law.”

by Julian Ku

There is no shortage of commentary on the growing US-China tensions over China’s land reclamation activities in the South China Sea. I’ve already added my two cents on the legal aspects here, but it’s worth trying to understand China’s defense of its actions.  Here is China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman at a press conference responding to comments from US and Japanese leaders that China should abide by international law.

The international law has been constantly brought up by some countries when it comes to the South China Sea issue. If they did read closely the international law, then please tell us which article in the international law forbids China to carry out justified construction on its own islands and reefs? Which article allows the vessels and aircraft of one country to monitor the islands and reefs of another country at a close distance? Which article gives the green light to one country’s infringement upon another country’s sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests with the excuse of navigation freedom? We are against the arbitrary distortion of the international law. If it is not a practice of double standard, then it must be driven by some hidden motives.

Let me take the two (rhetorical) questions in order:

1) “[W]hich article in the international law forbids China to carry out justified construction on its own islands and reefs?

China has a point here. There is no explicit prohibition under international law on construction on a country’s own “islands and reefs.”  That is why the US calls on China to stop land reclamation don’t have a strong legal basis, especially since it appears most of the other South China Sea claimants have also engaged in some (smaller scale) land reclamation.

On the other hand, it is far from clear China is building out on “islands”. It is likely that it has possession only of “rocks” or maybe even just “reefs.” And it is far from clear that China has title to whatever land features it is using.  But land reclamation alone isn’t a violation of any international law that I am aware of.

2) “Which article allows the vessels and aircraft of one country to monitor the islands and reefs of another country at a close distance? Which article gives the green light to one country’s infringement upon another country’s sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests with the excuse of navigation freedom?”

Here, China is on much shakier ground. As I explained at too much length here, UNCLOS is probably best interpreted to allow surveillance and monitoring by foreign military vessels and aircraft up to 12 nautical miles of a country’s territories, and within those 12 nm if the territory is only a rock or a reef.  China doesn’t agree with this interpretation, and this is the crux of the dispute with the U.S.

Overall, I think China has a strong legal point on land reclamation, but a weak legal point on surveillance and freedom of navigation.  The obvious “compromise”  (or maybe the word is “standoff”) here is for the US to tacitly accede to China’s land reclamation, and for China to tacitly accede to US military surveillance up to and perhaps within 12 nautical miles.  Since the US can’t actually stop China from continuing its land reclamation, and China can’t stop US surveillance, this “compromise” seems like a safe bet. I will note, however, that China’s actions have unleashed the hawkish wing of the China-watching establishment in the U.S. and, over the long term, this may be the most important outcome of this standoff.  The US is taking off the gloves against China and a containment strategy with our new best friends in Vietnam and India  is becoming increasingly likely.

New Edited Collection on the ICC

by Kevin Jon Heller

Oxford University Press has just published a massive new book on the ICC, “The Law and Practice of the International Criminal Court,” edited by Leiden’s Carsten Stahn. Here is the publisher’s description:

The International Criminal Court is a controversial and important body within international law; one that is significantly growing in importance, particularly as other international criminal tribunals close down. After a decade of Court practice, this book takes stock of the activities of the International Criminal Court, identifying the key issues in need of re-thinking or potential reform. It provides a systematic and in-depth thematic account of the law and practice of the Court, including its changes context, the challenges it faces, and its overall contribution to international criminal law. The book is written by over forty leading practitioners and scholars from both inside and outside the Court. They provide an unparallelled insight into the Court as an institution, its jurisprudence, the impact of its activities, and its future development.

The work addresses the ways in which the practice of the International Criminal Court has emerged, and identifies ways in which this practice could be refined or improved in future cases. The book is organised along six key themes: (i) the context of International Criminal Court investigations and prosecutions; (ii) the relationship of the Court to domestic jurisdictions; (iii) prosecutorial policy and practice; (iv) the applicable law; (v) fairness and expeditiousness of proceedings; and (vi) its impact and lessons learned. It shows the ways in which the Court has offered fresh perspectives on the theorization and conception of crimes, charges and individual criminal responsibility. It examines the procedural framework of the Court, including the functioning of different stages of proceedings. The Court’s decisions have significant repercussions: on domestic law, criminal theory, and the law of other international courts and tribunals. In this context, the book assesses the extent to which specific approaches and assumptions, both positive and negative, regarding the potential impact of the Court are in need of re-thinking. This book will be essential reading for practitioners, scholars, and students of international criminal law.

The book includes my essay on Regulation 55 and an essay on co-perpetration by Jens. At £195, most people won’t be able to buy a copy. But four chapters are available for free download and most libraries are sure to acquire it.

Congratulations to Carsten on a tremendous accomplishment!