Archive of posts for category

Final Compendium of High-Level Review of UN Sanctions Proposes Reforms to System

by Kristen Boon

The Compendium of the 2014 UN High Level Review of Sanctions, including its 150 recommendations, is now available here on the UN Website.  The Document number is A/69/941 – S/2015/432.  The review, sponsored by Australia, Finland, Germany, Greece and Sweden, took place from May –  November 2014, and involved a series of meetings between Member States, the Secretariat as well as other UN bodies.

The starting point of the review was to look at the 16 regimes in place, and discuss how to improve the existing sanctions system from there.  The compendium has many useful recommendations and observations.  Here are a few:

  • It emphasizes the move towards using sanctions to address trafficking in wildlife products and natural resources;
  • It highlights the importance of using sanctions to address transnational threats and new technologies; (Recommendation 146)
  • It recommends using sanctions to better address existing and emerging threats on, for example, incitement to genocide, sexual violence in conflict, and gross violations of women’s rights; (Recommendation 132)
  • It advocates the establishment of a Trust Fund for sanctions implementation assistance, a proposal originating from Jordan. (Recommendation 126).  While not going so far as to reference Article 50 of the UN Charter (special economic problems), together with recommendations 123 – 125 on assessments for assistance, it charts a future path towards better coordination and provision of assistance.
  • The Compendium also proposes better coordination between the ICC and the UN, highlighting the absence of clear processes in the past, and the possibility of future synergies.  For example, the compendium makes the very sensible recommendation of automatically listing individuals (where a relevant sanctions regime applies) after an arrest warrant has been issues by the Pre-Trial Chamber.  (Recommendation 100).

The compendium is a useful and current document, that gives a current state-of-play of UN sanctions while adding onto the Interlaken, Bonn and Stockholm and Greek initiatives of prior years.  Nonetheless, it must be noted that an attempt to pass a Security Council resolution last November on some of these same issues failed.   See the Security Council report assessment here of a draft resolution that was debated but never brought to a vote.   Attempts to strengthen capacity building, assistance and implementation for UN sanctions remain controversial – whether because of ongoing hesitation about the robustness of the tool, or because of opposition to strengthening the Secretariat’s policy making capacities.

What impact this document will have remains to be seen, but as the race heats up for the next Secretary General, one hopes that the recommendations will form part of the campaign, and further that future Secretary Generals will play a greater role in sanctions implementation, by for example, including substantive reports on sanctions in their briefings to the Security Council.  (See recommendation 50).

Open Letter from International Lawyers to EU States, the European Union and European Publics on the Refugee Crisis in Europe

by Başak Çalı

[Dr. Başak Çalı is Director for the Center of Global Public Law and Associate Professor of International Law at Koç University, Turkey. She the secretary general of the European Society of International Law. The following is written in her personal capacity.]

It is a rare event for international lawyers to overwhelmingly agree on the content, scope and interpretation of international law. This open letter (.pdf) from 674 international lawyers and practitioners from across the globe, including leading experts in international refugee law, concerning international law obligations to those seeking refuge is one example of this. The letter emerged from a session on ‘Refugee Crisis and Europe’ that took place at the 11th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law in Oslo on 12th September 2015. It was open for signature for just two days, from 21st September until midnight on 22nd September 2015. The letter has been sent to EU leaders ahead of their informal meeting on migration. Due to overwhelming demands from international lawyers and EU’s ongoing discussion of the issue, the letter has been re-opened for signature until 28 September 2015 Midnight CET.

The text of 22 September states:

We, the undersigned international lawyers, gathered at the European Society of International Law 11th Annual Meeting in Oslo on 12th September 2015, and other international law scholars and experts, condemn the failure to offer protection to people seeking refuge in Europe, and the lack of respect for the human rights of those seeking refuge.

In particular, we express our horror at the human rights violations being perpetrated against those seeking refuge, in particular the acts of violence, unjustified coercion and arbitrary detention.

We note that European states have obligations not only to refugees and migrants on their territories, but that international refugee law rests on international responsibility sharing. The world’s refugees are disproportionately outside Europe. We note that over nine-tenths of Syrian refugees are in five countries, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. We note that around one quarter of Lebanon’s population comprises refugees.

We note that all European states have obligations not only to refugees as defined under the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees, but also to those protected against return under international human rights law and customary international law. We note that this broad duty of non-refoulement protects all those at real risk of serious human rights violations if returned. They should be afforded international protection. EU Member States have further obligations under EU law.

We urge European states and the EU to alleviate the humanitarian crisis, prevent further loss of life in dangerous journeys to Europe by providing safe passage, and live up to their obligations in international and EU law.

We recall the legacy of Fridtjof Nansen, the first League of Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the initiator of the Nansen passport, created to facilitate the safe passage and legal migration opportunities for refugees and stateless persons.

We urge European states and the EU to:

– meet their obligations of international responsibility-sharing, to resettle significant numbers of refugees and provide aid to countries hosting large numbers of refugees.

– as regards those seeking protection in Europe, abandon those policies which prevent safe and legal access to protection. The UNHCR estimates over 2,860 people have died at sea trying to get to Europe this year alone. Suspending carrier sanctions and issuing humanitarian visas would largely prevent the need for those seeking refuge to make dangerous journeys.

– respect and protect the human rights of those seeking refuge once they are in Europe, including by enabling them to access asylum procedures or ensuring safe passage to countries where they wish to seek international protection.

– immediately suspend Dublin returns of asylum-seekers to their first point of entry, but ensure that its rules on family reunification are implemented fully and swiftly.

– relocate asylum-seekers and refugees in a manner that respects the dignity and agency of those relocated, and increases Europe’s capacity to offer protection.

– replace the Dublin System with one which accords with international human rights law and respects the dignity and autonomy of asylum-seekers, and supports international and intra-European responsibility-sharing.

– implement fair and swift procedures to recognize all those in need of international protection.

– while claims are being examined, afford those in need of international protection, at a minimum, the reception conditions to which they are entitled in international human rights and EU law.

– respect the right to family life, including positive obligations with regard to family unity, facilitation of swift family reunification and family tracing.

– treat all refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants with dignity and respect, respecting and protecting their human rights, irrespective of status.

For the current list of signatures, please see this page.

Book Symposium: Cyber War and the Question of Causation

by Jens David Ohlin

Thanks to Kevin Govern and Duncan Hollis for providing the two previous posts (here and here) in this book symposium on Cyber War: Law and Ethics for Virtual Conflicts.

In my post, I want to explore the difficulties arising from causal investigations in cyber attacks.

Everyone knows that the increasing threat of cyber attacks will place immense pressure on the operational capacities for various intelligence and defense agencies. Speak with anyone in military operations (from several countries), and their lists of security concerns are remarkably similar: Russia, ISIS, and cyber (in no particular order). What is more controversial is whether the current legal regime regarding jus ad bellum and jus in bello is sufficient to adequately regulate cyber-attacks and cyberwar, or whether new legal norms should be developed to specifically address these issues.

My own view, which is the focus of my chapter on Cyber-Causation, is that there is insufficient clarity right now regarding the required causal connection between a cyber attack and its kinetic consequences, especially with regard to what counts as an armed attack for purposes of triggering the right to self-defense under Article 51, and what counts as an attack for purposes of jus in bello. I argue that the lacuna is not terribly surprising since the law of war has generally avoided issues of causation because, unlike tort and criminal law, issues of causation are usually (with some notable exceptions) fairly uncontroversial in wartime. Cyber might change that.

Let me explain in greater depth why I think that the increasing threat and deployment of cyber-weapons will force (or should force) the law of war to develop a sophisticated and nuanced account of causation. Causation is largely irrelevant (or at the very least uncontroversial) to the basic structure of the law of war. If you drop a bomb on a village, the results are fairly obvious. The one area (or one of the few) where causation is controversial is dual-use infrastructure targets that have some relationship to both civilian and military operations. Under the law of war, a target is only a permissible military target if, among other things, its destruction will make an effective contribution to the military campaign.

According to Article 52(2) of Additional Protocol I:

attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. Insofar as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.

The problem is that destroying almost any civilian target will create some military advantage, if only because it might demoralize the civilian population and spur them to pressure their civilian leaders to sue for peace. But that is clearly overbroad. The difference between permissible and impermissible attacks has to do, in part, with the nature of the causal connection between the attack and the military advantage that it confers. Something about the causal relationship between the terror-killing of non-combatants and the resulting military advantage is impermissible and dangerous. So that is one area where IHL needs a good account of causation. But I think this is a rare case.

I believe that cyber-attack scenarios will trigger immense pressure on IHL to develop an account of causation that is consistent with the unique ways that IHL is adjudicated. I place less emphasis on which account of causation is abstractly correct and instead support the more modest claim that cyber-attacks implicate the concept of causation in previously unseen ways. The result is the emergence of a primary research agenda for IHL at both levels: theory (scholarship) and codification (via state practice and potential treaty provisions). The Tallinn Manual was an excellent start to this process, but I also encourage scholars of causation in other fields to join the conversation.

One reason why this question is so difficult to answer is that traditional theories of causation cannot be reflexively and uncritically grafted into the law of war. Simply put, IHL demands a level of publicity and transparency that generates a significant asymmetry as compared to other fields of domestic law, where the fact-finding machinery of domestic courts is more suited to parsing complex causal phenomena. George Fletcher (in Rethinking Criminal Law) famously distinguished between the pattern of subjective criminality and the pattern of manifest criminality. While the former is appropriate for the criminal law’s extensive fact-finding system, IHL is burdened by the lack of fact-finding resources, and must necessarily rely on the pattern of manifest criminality. Of course, there are international tribunals to adjudicate violations of IHL that constitute war crimes, but let’s remember: (i) only the worst violations of IHL will be adjudicated at an international tribunal; and more importantly (ii) tribunal adjudications are always ex post, never contemporaneous decisions within the moment. The law of war needs a theory of causation that allows all participants to clearly and quickly evaluate the legality of the conduct without needing a courtroom and a fact-finder to make complex factual (and even normative) assessments that may take months to finalize.

Cyberwar presents an especially acute case of this general phenomenon within IHL; the causal processes of a cyber-attack and its downstream consequences are difficult to chart, thus suggesting that the law governing cyberwar should place a premium on transparent rules that, like the pattern of manifest criminality, can be applied by a reasonable third-party observer.

If these issues interest you, feel free to check out the rest of the book here.

Book Symposium: Cyber War – A Duty to Hack and the Boundaries of Analogical Reasoning

by Duncan Hollis

Back in 2012, I was pleased to receive an invitation to a conference that Jens, Kevin Govern, and Claire Finkelstein were hosting on the law and ethics of cyberwar.  It was a great conversation; so great, in fact, that Jens and his colleagues were inspired to use it as the launching pad for this volume — Cyberwar: Law and Ethics for Virtual Conflicts.  They asked me to write a chapter on an idea I’d had been thinking about since my first foray into the cyber arena back in 2007 — whether and when IHL (international humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict for those of you trained in the United States) might involve a duty to hack?  The basic idea was straightforward — if a cyber-operation could achieve a military objective (say disabling a power grid or a war-supporting factory’s operations) without killing anyone or causing any lasting damage to the facility, shouldn’t IHL require States to employ it in lieu of kinetic operations that might cause civilian casualties or property damage?

Looking at the law today, the answer to this question is (largely) a negative one. Certainly, IHL contains a requirement for States to take precautionary measures (see Additional Protocol I, Art. 57) such as (i) choosing a means and method of warfare that minimizes ‘incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, and damage to civilian objects’ and (ii) selecting military objectives ‘expected to cause the least danger to civilian lives and to civilian objects’ in cases where ‘a choice is possible between several military objectives for obtaining a similar military advantage.’  And these requirements could require a cyber-operation over a kinetic one in specific cases akin to the arguments for using available precision weaponry.  But, there’s nothing in IHL that has ever said States have to use a particular type of weapon first, as my duty to hack might suggest.

More importantly, some cyber-operations might not even fall within IHL’s current ambit.  Although there’s continuing debate, the majority view is that IHL’s principles of precaution, discrimination, and proportionality only apply in cases of an “attack.”  IHL does not prohibit targeting or even harming civilians or civilian objects in a cyber-operation so long as the effects are not analogous to those previously crossing the attack threshold (i.e., those with violent consequences involving injury, death, destruction or damage). The scope of IHL’s precautions are similarly qualified; where a cyber operation does not qualify as an attack (i.e., it doesn’t physically damage anything), it does not need to be among the range of options military planners are required to consider in deciding what and how to attack.  IHL thus appears to authorize attacks – kinetic or otherwise – that cause physical damage and loss or injury of human life so long as they compare favorably to potential losses from other types of ‘attacks’ even if the same objective could be achieved without any attack at all.  That result may be incongruous with the humanity values that motivate much of IHL, but it represents the law as it stands today.

My chapter, therefore, undertakes a normative argument for a Duty to Hack, recognizing that the idea is clearly lex ferenda.  I argue that IHL should require states to use cyber-operations in their military operations when they are expected to be the least harmful means available for achieving military objectives. This duty departs from the current law in two key respects.  First, it would remove the “attack” threshold for precautionary measures since the novel and wide-ranging capacities of cyber-operations unsettle the idea that only attacks can achieve military objectives.  A cyber-operation may be able to achieve a military objective (e.g., shutting down a factory for some desired period of time) without causing any physical harm.  Rather than leave such cyber-operations outside the requirements of precaution because they do not meet the definition of an ‘attack’, a Duty to Hack would require that they be part of any choice in means, methods and objectives.  A cyber-operation that can achieve a particular military objective without an attack should be required in lieu of any ‘attack’ on that same objective by other means or methods, whether cyber, kinetic, or non-kinetic in nature.  In other words, so long as the military objective is achievable (and nothing in my idea would require hacking if it can’t achieve lawful military objectives), the Duty to Hack requires employing cyber-operations generating no physical harm over those means and methods of warfare that, by definition, must generate some physical harm (similarly, it would prioritize cases involving some harm in comparison to means and methods that would generate more harm).

Second, the Duty to Hack would addresses all forms of physical harm from cyber-operations, not just those of a civilian character. Existing IHL – distinction, proportionality, and precautions – only require efforts to avoid, limit, or minimize civilian harm. Absent the harmful civilian impacts protected by these and other IHL rules, militaries are free to employ destructive and lethal force against military objects and belligerents.  This approach furthers military necessity – complete submission of the enemy as soon as possible – and made sense where military objectives were usually military in character and dual-use objects qualified as military objects only on occasion. But, as is well known, information communication technologies are regularly dual-use (that is, they are used by both civilian and military actors).  I question whether this default treatment of dual-use objects as military objects should continue where all these cyber-related dual-use objects may be attacked (and damaged or destroyed) without regard to any questions of distinction, proportionality or precautions vis-à-vis the objects themselves.  Of course, one solution would be to require more careful segregation of military objects in cases where they are situated within or among civilian objects. My Duty to Hack, however, takes a different, and simpler, approach.  It would require using cyber-operations that cause the least harm to achieve a military objective in military operations. For example, assuming disruption of Iran’s nuclear processing plant was a lawful military objective, the prospect of deploying Stuxnet to achieve that objective would take priority over doing so by an airstrike if that airstrike – even a precise one – would foreseeably involve greater risks of injury, death, damage or destruction than spinning centrifuges out of control periodically.

Ultimately, my Duty to Hack idea is designed to preserve the principles of distinction and proportionality; IHL would continue to prohibit direct attacks on civilians and their objects by cyber-operations or otherwise, just as any military operation that does constitute an attack must not generate excessive civilian harm.  Nor would my Duty to Hack override the requirement to comply with the principles of discrimination and avoidance of unnecessary suffering when it comes to developing or deploying cyber-operations.

My chapter offers a longer examination of the Duty to Hack concept than space permits here (including a discussion of how it differs from the “duty to capture” concept that has caused much controversy in IHL circles).  I explore the trade offs involved in adopting it (including the potential for it to incentivize greater military cyber surveillance to solidify the reliability of various cyber capabilities).  In doing this analysis, however, I was struck by the larger challenges of using analogies to carve out the existing lines of IHL in cyberspace (not to mention the contours of any new lines that I propose). As a result, I ended up framing my chapter around a larger, introductory analysis of the role of boundaries in legal discourse over cyberspace.

Readers may be familiar with debates over whether cyberspace is subject to physical, territorial boundaries, most notable in on-going debates about which governance models best serve cyberspace (the traditional sovereign territorial model, a multistakeholder model where cyberspace is a res communis, or some sort of hybrid approach).  But, I notice similar sorts of conceptual boundary disputes in questions over what rules of international law apply in cyberspace, with much of the existing analyses resting on analogies to pre-existing regulatory regimes.  I find this “law-by-analogy” approach problematic, particularly when it comes to IHL and rules on the use of force. My chapter explains the problems such line-drawing poses in terms of their (i) accuracy, (ii) effectiveness and (iii) completeness.  Law-by-analogy works well where analogies hold (i.e., defining a use of force in cyberspace where the effects of a cyber operation analogize to the effects of prior activities treated as uses of force in the past; or, defining a non-use of force where the effects analogize to activities not treated as uses of force in the past).  But analogies break down where the technology includes previously-unseen capacities, which have no prior analogues.  In such cases, default presumptions may simply regard the behavoir as automatically prohibited or permitted in ways that create tensions with the law’s underlying nature and purpose.  For example, I find it problematic that cyber-operations do not qualify as attacks simply because they do not involve violent consequence even if they can achieve the very same military objective as an attack.  My Duty to Hack idea serves as a response to such difficulties by thinking more carefully about the rules for cyber operations and the values they serve when there are no analogues to earlier operations defined as attacks.

In the end, I had two overarching goals for this chapter.  First, I wanted to highlight the role of boundaries in governing cyberspace, and problematize the reasoning it generates as a result, particularly when done under the heading of law-by-analogy.  Second, I offer a critique of how existing boundaries operate with respect to contrasting cyber operations with other forms of attack, leading me to call for IHL to include a Duty to Hack.  Although such a duty would not come without costs, I believe it would more accurately and effectively account for IHL’s fundamental principles and cyberspace’s unique attributes than existing efforts to foist legal boundaries upon State cyber-operations by analogy. It could, moreover, offer a necessary first step to resolving the larger theoretical and functional challenges currently associated with law’s boundaries in cyberspace.

Interested in more?  You could always buy the book.

How Broad is the UN’s Immunity? More on The Haiti Cholera Case

by Kristen Boon

If you haven’t seen it yet, the US recently filed its amicus brief in the Haiti Cholera appeal – it is available here: Haiti US amicus 2nd Circ. Predictably, the brief makes the case for absolute external UN immunity, and advances largely the same arguments put forward in prior filings.

And yet, there are a number of powerful counterarguments to the position put forward by the US government.

  • At the time the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN (CPIUN) was drafted, the whole field of privileges and immunities of IOs was largely “uncharted territory,” and founding States projected what immunities they thought the UN would need with little information from practice;
  • The legislative history of the CPIUN confirms that the biggest fear of UN founding states was the threat of a member state trying to control the UN, not classes of private plaintiffs bringing torts cases against the Organization;
  • Article 105 of the UN Charter limits the Organization’s immunities before national courts to what are functionally necessary, and under Article 103, the Charter trumps conflicting treaties, arguably including the broader language of the CPIUN.
  • Although settling claims might place a considerable financial burden on the Organization, the UN could purchase liability insurance to cover itself against large claims;
  • The concern that Troop Contributing Countries will be deterred from cooperating with the UN if it has anything less than absolute immunity has no empirical support. In fact, what appears to be of far more concern to TCCs is the expansion of “robust” peacekeeping missions in which peacekeepers have an offensive mandate.

As a result, although the UN’s external immunities are clearly very broad, there is a very strong argument they are not absolute.  These arguments are advanced in my forthcoming article on the Haiti Cholera case (see bottom of post for more information).

In another important development, earlier this year the UN attempted to redefine the scope of its internal immunities, under Art. 29 of the CPIUN.

In a February 19, 2015 letter to Members of Congress, the Secretary General wrote:

“In the practice of the Organization, disputes of a private law character have been understood to be disputes of the type that arise between private parties, such as, claims arising under contracts, claims relating to the use of private property in peacekeeping contexts or claims arising from motor vehicle accidents. . . . The claims in question were not receivable pursuant to Section 29 of the General Convention [as they] raised broad issues of policy that arose out of the functions of the United Nations as an international organization, they could not form the basis of a claim of a private law character [….] For the same reason, it was determined that these claims were not of the type for which a claims commission is provided under the SOFA, since the relevant provision of the SOFA also relates to claims of a private law character.”

A November 2014 letter from the UN’s Senior Cholera Coordinator to several Human Rights Special Rapporteurs reinforces the UN’s restrictive new interpretation of private law claims:

In the Practice of the Organization, disputes of a private law character have been understood to be disputes of the type that arise between two private parties. Section 29(a) has most frequently been applied to claims arising under contracts between the United Nations and a private party, to those relating to the use of property in the context of a mission away from Headquarters, and to claims arising from vehicle accidents.

What is striking about these letters is that torts—other than those arising from motor vehicle accidents—have been eliminated from the scope of the UN’s duty to compensate for private injury.  In prior documents, the UN had included identified two much broader types of private law claims: commercial agreements that the UN has entered into, and claims by third parties for personal injury, death or property loss or damage, specifically as caused by actions of UN peacekeepers.           This recent categorical elimination of torts other than those arising from motor vehicle accidents is significant: injuries are predictable aspects of any peacekeeping operation, and they should not be designated as public simply because they affect the UN’s potential liability.

In parallel, the Secretary General suggested an enlarged category of public law claims for which the UN would be internally immune. The 2014 letter to the Human Rights Special Rapporteurs on the Haiti case states:

“Claims under Section 29(a) are distinct from public law claims, which are understood as claims that would arise between an individual and a public authority such as a State.” The letter goes to suggest that “on the international level, these claims may be addressed in various ways, such as through political, diplomatic or other means, including a body established for that specific purpose.”

For the full text click here:  Haiti Nov14 explanation to SRs

This wording is deeply troubling in that it largely eliminates the UN’s duty towards third-parties, despite the recognition in General Assembly resolution 52/547 that such duties exist.  In my article, I take issue with the UN’s attempt to redefine the scope of its internal immunities, and argue that member states should join the conversation about what immunities mean to the UN today.

For an early copy of “The United Nations as Good Samaritan: Immunity and Responsibility” forthcoming in the Chicago Journal of International Law (2015) please contact me at kristen [dot] boon [at] shu [dot] edu.

The Power of the Security Council

by Jens David Ohlin

I want to thank Alexandre Skander Galand for his interesting post last week on the continuing controversy over President al-Bashir’s non-arrest during his recent visit to South Africa. The post reignited a long-standing debate in the comments section. My own views are too long for posting in the comments section.

I write now to expand a bit on my previous arguments regarding the role of the Security Council in imposing a binding obligation on Sudan (and other states) to cooperate with the ICC and execute its arrest warrant. If the obligation to Sudan vitiated its putative immunity, then South Africa had no basis to refuse to comply with the ICC arrest warrant, especially since it is a party to the Rome Statute.

First, before I get to that issue, I want to briefly mention the other argument for imposing a duty on Sudan to cooperate, which is a jus cogens obligation stemming from the investigate/prosecute-or-extradite norm that applies in genocide cases. Goran Sluiter wrote an important article on this subject, which was published in the Journal of International Criminal Justice in 2010. This is a different argument (albeit a good one), and it is best to keep them separate.

Now back to the issue of the Security Council. Some commentators (including Asad Kiyani here) doubt that the Security Council has the authority under Chapter VII to impose a binding obligation on Sudan to cooperate to such an extent that it requires waiving their rights under head of state or diplomatic immunity. I understand the claim. But I think it is clear that the Security Council has this authority and that implicitly other scholars should be committed to this conclusion as well, since this power is far less grave than the other powers that the Security Council clearly has. Indeed, the power to abrogate Sudan’s head of state immunity is downright trivial compared to the Security Council’s other powers.

One should recall that the Security Council has the authority, under the UN Charter, to authorize military action against the sovereignty of a state. This authority is taken pursuant to the Security Council’s power under Chapter VII to determine the existence of a threat to, or breach of, international peace and security, and to make binding resolutions that include, among other possible remedies, the authorization of military measures taken against an offending state in order to repair the breach to international peace and security.

This is an awesome power. It effectively allows the Security Council to bless a military incursion that might otherwise violate the UN Charter prohibition on the use of military force to solve international disputes–a prohibition codified in Article 2(4) of the Charter (and also arguably a jus cogens norm). However, if the military action is supported by a binding resolution of the Security Council, the military action is not illegal–it is a lawful enforcement action undertaken under the auspices of Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

This power of the Security Council is explicitly outlined in the UN Charter. It is rarely invoked, in part because military remedies are extremely serious, but also because the veto power among the permanent members limits the number of binding resolutions that the council will pass. However, few scholars (if any), deny that the Security Council has the power to: “take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such action may include demonstrations, blockade, and other operations by air, sea, or land forces of Members of the United Nations.”

So I find it strange that some scholars have trouble with the idea that the Security Council has the authority to abrogate the sovereign or diplomatic immunity of state officials in cases such as the Darfur situation. Indeed, the Security Council had the authority–which it declined to exercise–to declare the Darfur crisis a threat to international peace and security (in part because it caused regional instability and included massive violations of IHL and human rights, possibly including crimes against humanity and perhaps even genocide) and authorize a collective military intervention to breach Sudan’s sovereignty, occupy the entire country, and remove Bashir from power. But for some reason, the Council does not have the power to do the smallest thing imaginable: refer the case to the ICC and implicitly remove any immunity arrangements that conflict with that referral? I find that hard to believe. In this case, the greater includes the lesser.

Of course, there is a separate issue regarding whether the Security Council actually abrogated that immunity when it directed states to comply with the ICC in the Darfur investigation. That is a separate point. I think they did so, and there is no other way of interpreting the relevant resolutions. But that’s not the point I am defending here. I am simply asserting that if they displaced Sudan’s diplomatic and sovereign immunity, they certainly had the authority under international law to do so.

Why Professors Ackerman and Golove Are Still Wrong About the Iran Deal

by Julian Ku

I thank Professors Ackerman and Golove for taking the time to respond to my earlier post on whether a future President could unilaterally withdraw from the Iran Nuclear Deal.  But I remain unconvinced by the claims they made in their original Atlantic essay that a future President’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran Deal would be “lawless”. Here’s why I still think they are wrong:

1)  Ackerman and Golove argue that the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act “authorizes” President Obama to enter into binding congressional-executive agreement with Iran.  In their sur-reply, Professors Ackerman and Golove cite two pieces of statutory text from the Iran Nuclear Agreement Act which they say is congressional authorization for the President to conclude the Iran Deal (the JCPOA).  They point out that the act “specifically defines ‘agreement’ to include any accord with Iran ‘regardless of whether it is legally binding or not.’ § 2610e(h)(1).” They then point out that the Act “authorizes the President to implement sanctions relief unless Congress enacts ‘a joint resolution stating in substance that the Congress does not favor the agreement.’ 42 U.S.C. § 2610e(c)(2)(B).”

For the purpose of this argument, it doesn’t really matter whether the agreement is legally binding or not.  The real problem is that Professors Ackerman and Golove do not (and cannot) cite statutory text “authorizing” the President to enter into an agreement with Iran.  They can’t cite this text because that language does not exist in the Act.  The Act defines an “agreement” broadly because Congress wants the President transmit everything, including supporting materials and annexes, to Congress.  The Act suspends the President’s pre-existing power to suspend or terminate sanctions on Iran while Congress “reviews” the agreement.  Congress may vote a resolution of disapproval, which would prevent the President from lifting or waiving sanctions, but it doesn’t say he can’t enter into the Agreement.  But Congress may also simply do nothing (which is what it has done), which would also allow the President to lift the sanctions after 90 days.  Nothing in the Act says the President can’t enter into the Agreement. It just says, once he does so, he has to disclose that agreement to Congress and hold off on implementation.*

Professors Ackerman and Golove somehow read this framework as an authorization of the President’s power to conclude an agreement, but a more plausible reading of the Act as a whole sees it as a suspension of the President’s pre-existing power to implement an agreement.  If you think (as I do) that the President has broad powers to conclude international agreements (especially nonbinding ones) without Congress, then this law makes a lot of sense since it requires the President to suspend implementation of the agreement for 60 or 90 days and disclose all information about the agreement.

Under the Ackerman/Golove reading of this language, Congress has authorized the President to enter into whatever agreement with Iran he wants, and the only condition it places on it is that Congress gets 90 days to review it before it automatically goes into effect. Why would  Congress bother to give the President the power to enter into an agreement without reserving for itself the power to approve it?

It is worth noting that Congress knows how to specifically authorize an executive agreement, and require its approval before going into effect.  In Section 103(b) of the Trade Promotion Authority Act (enacted about the same time as the Review Act), Congress states that:

“[w]henever the President determines that one or more existing duties or other import restrictions of any foreign country or the United States are unduly burdening and restricting the foreign trade of the United States and that the purposes, policies, priorities, and objectives of this title will be promoted thereby, the President

(A) may enter into trade agreements with foreign countries before— (i) July 1, 2018…

[Emphasis added].

Moreover, the trade agreements require approval by a separate Act of Congress.  As the TPA bill makes clear in Section 106, no agreement “entered into under section 103(b) shall enter into force with respect to the United States if (and only if)—” among other requirements — “(F) the implementing bill is enacted into law.” [Emphasis added).  Again, Congress is making clear that it ( and not the President) is the one who has authorized the agreement and that the agreement cannot have any force until Congress acts to approve and implement it.

It bears repeating: there is no language even remotely like this in Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act. There is no language saying the President can enter into an agreement, nor is there language explaining when that agreement has “entered into force.”  Congress knows how to authorize an international agreement, and the most natural reading of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act is that it didn’t do so there.

2) Professors Ackerman and Golove also argue that a future President cannot legally (under U.S. law) terminate this agreement without either approval from Congress or without undermining U.S. credibility in trade agreements like NAFTA or the WTO.

I find this argument lacking for at least two reasons.

First, as I stated above, the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act doesn’t follow the pattern of trade promotion authority laws  in any way so it is highly unlikely that any trading partners will worry about a President Rubio pulling out of the WTO because he pulled out of the JCPOA. (Simon Lester makes that point here)

Moreover, the Review Act does not in any way prohibit a future President from withdrawing from the JCPOA, nor does it prohibit the President from reimposing sanctions on Iran. He is perfectly free to put them back on without violating the Review Act or any other U.S. statutory law.

The contrast with trade agreements is again instructive because Congress knows how to reserve to itself the power to terminate an agreement.  Under Section 125 of the Uruguay Agreements Implementation Act, Congress can vote every five years on whether to pull out of the WTO. This suggests that Congress has reserved for itself some power to terminate the WTO agreement. And because the laws implementing the WTO agreement change all sorts of other U.S. laws, it makes sense for Congress to supervise how and when the U.S. gets out. (It bear repeating: terminating the JCPOA does NOT violate or change any U.S. domestic law).

Second, as I noted in my original post, even if the Iran Deal was a treaty approved by the Senate, there is good reason to think the President could withdraw from the Iran deal-treaty without going back to the Senate for approval.  President Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty without going to the Senate, President Carter withdrew from the U.S.-Taiwan defense treaty without going to the Senate, etc.  For this reason, a future President could withdraw from the JCPOA (even if the JCPOA is legally binding) without going back to Congress, especially where the Review Act does not reserve to Congress any termination rights.  Thus, even if Professors Ackerman and Golove are right that the Review Act authorizes the President to enter into an agreement, it doesn’t REQUIRE him to do so or REQUIRE him to stay in the JCPOA. (And he can withdraw via the JCPOA’s provisions if he chooses).

In conclusion, I am back where I started.  Professors Ackerman and Golove use the thinnest of statutory language to claim that Congress “authorized” the President to make an agreement, and further, that Congress has also prohibited the President from withdrawing from it.  That’s a lot of work for a mere definition of the word “agreement” to carry. It’s far too much, especially when one considers the way Congress goes about its business in the trade agreement context.  The next President can unilaterally withdraw from the JCPOA. And, with all due respect to Professors Ackerman and Golove, such a withdrawal will be the opposite of “lawless.”


*As a side note, the fact that the definition of an agreement includes non-binding political commitments suggests that Congress is really after review and disclosure, not authorization and approval.  Could Congress authorize the President to enter into a non-binding political commitment? And then require him and future presidents to stick to such a commitment?

International Open Day at the ICTY

by Jessica Dorsey

The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) is hosting its Annual International Open Day on Sunday, 20 September, at the ICTY Main Building in The Hague as part of The Hague International Day. At the Open Day, there will be opportunities to interact with ICTY Judges and other key staff members, view documentaries produced by the ICTY Outreach Programme, learn about the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) and explore exhibitions and material from the ICTY Archives. To register or to request more information, click here, or contact Alexa Magee (magee [at] un [dot] org).


Human Rights Position at Seton Hall School of Diplomacy

by Kristen Boon

My colleagues at the Diplomacy School have just alerted me to an interesting new opportunity.  All who are interested should apply.  Here is the job ad:

The School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University invites applications for a tenure-track assistant professor position in international human rights law to commence in the 2016-2017 academic year. Applicants must possess a J.D. A Ph.D. in a related discipline is desirable. The expertise to teach and develop other courses related to international law is a plus, including courses in European Union Institutions, or courses related to the Middle East. The position is subject to final budgetary approval.

Successful applicants will demonstrate the ability or potential to teach effectively in a professional school at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. All applicants should have strong research backgrounds or demonstrate substantial potential for conducting important academic research in their field of specialization.

The School of Diplomacy and International Relations prepares graduate and undergraduate students for careers in international affairs and operates in an exclusive alliance with the United Nations Foundation/United Nations Association of the United States of America.

Located only 14 miles from New York City, Seton Hall University is the oldest and one of the largest diocesan universities in the nation. Seton Hall has recently developed a required, undergraduate Core Curriculum, and occasional teaching of a course or two within this curriculum will be required.

All candidates should provide a curriculum vitae, examples of scholarly work, evidence of teaching effectiveness (if available), three letters of recommendation, and a graduate transcript. To receive full consideration, materials should be sent electronically by October 2, 2015 via (follow employment links). Letters of recommendation should be sent to humanrightssearch [at] shu [dot] edu.

President Rubio/Walker/Trump/Whomever Can Indeed Terminate the Iran Deal on “Day One”

by Julian Ku

Professors Bruce Ackerman and David Golove argue in this Atlantic essay that the next President cannot withdraw from the Iran agreement because it is a “congressionally authorized executive agreement.” They argue that Senator Marco Rubio’s pledge to terminate the Iran Deal on day one “would destroy the binding character of America’s commitments to the IMF, the World Bank, NAFTA, and the World Trade Organization….The President can no more walk away from them than he can from any other law or treaty.”

I am sorry to say that this article, which comes from two super-respected legal scholars, is deeply and badly mistaken.

This argument is based on the premise that the “legislation that Congress adopted last May, …explicitly grants the Administration authority to negotiate and implement binding legal commitments with Iran.” In their view, the Iran Deal is a simply a congressional-executive agreement exactly akin to U.S. trade agreements like NAFTA.

But this premise is wrong.  The U.S. government has repeatedly stated (see here)  that the “Joint Coordinated Plan of Action” between Iran and the P-6 powers is a “nonbinding” political commitment. And the JCPOA itself talks only of “voluntary measures.” (see Dan Joyner’s discussion of this here).   Even the United Nations Security Council Resolution that implements the JCPOA does not legally bind the U.S. to stick to the JCPOA (as John Bellinger argues here).

Nor does the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act explicitly (or implicitly) authorize the President to make an agreement with Iran that would go beyond the President’s existing constitutional powers to make sole-executive agreements or nonbinding political commitments. The Review Act simply sets up a disclosure and timetable regime for the President’s disclosure of his foreign affairs activities that he wouldn’t otherwise have to disclose to Congress.

It is nothing like the Trade Promotion Authority that the President has received to conclude trade agreements like NAFTA or the WTO. While the Review Act discusses agreements that were already made and sets out disclosure and timing requirements, Trade Promotion Authority laws (like the most recent one) say things like: “the President— (A) may enter into trade agreements with foreign countries before” certain dates and then cannot afterwards.”  This is explicit authority, and no similar language can be found in the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act.

In any event, Ackerman and Golove are also mistaken on a more mundane point. Even if the Iran Deal is a binding congressionally authorized international agreement, a future President could withdraw from such an agreement unilaterally.  This is true because: 1) the JCPOA itself has an “exit ramp” under Paragraph 36 which allows the U.S. to terminate its participation after 35 days if its concerns about Iran’s compliance are not satisfied; and 2) the President appears to have broad constitutional powers to unilaterally terminate treaties without Congress or the Senate’s approval.  Surely, the President could terminate a nonbinding voluntary “plan of action” without going back to a Congress that didn’t really authorize him to make an agreement in the first place.

Even though I am increasingly convinced that the Iran Nuclear Deal is a bad deal for the U.S. and Europe (not to mention Israel), I have publicly defended the legality of President Obama’s decision to conclude a nuclear “agreement” with Iran without going to Congress to get approval. But the decision to bypass Congress has got to have a price for the President.  And that price is that the Iran Deal does not bind his predecessor either as a matter of constitutional or international law.

Guest Post: A Complementarity Challenge Gone Awry– The ICC and the Libya Warrants

by Jennifer Trahan

[Jennifer Trahan is an Associate Clinical Professor, The Center for Global Affairs, NYU-SPS, and Chair, International Criminal Court Committee, American Branch of the International Law Association.]

On July 28, 2015, a domestic court in Libya announced death sentences against Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, and Abdullah al Senussi, who served as intelligence chief. In total, 32 former Gaddafi-era officials were convicted, including 9 who were sentenced to death. Yet, observer accounts suggest the trials were deeply flawed, lacking key fair trial protections. The possibility that Libya will carry out the death sentences is clearly of huge concern to the defendants, but should also be of concern at the International Criminal Court.

On February 26, 2011, the UN Security Council referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court. The Court originally issued 3 warrants for crimes committed during the 2011 uprising, against Muammar Gaddafi, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, and Abdullah al Senussi, charging them with murder and persecution as crimes against humanity. The case against Muammar Gaddafi was terminated after his death.

Initially at issue in both the Saif Gaddafi and al Senussi cases was whether they should be tried in Libya or at the ICC, as the ICC will only try cases where national courts are “unwilling” or “unable” to conduct the trials. The Court ruled that Saif needed to be tried at the ICC, whereas al Senussi could be tried in Libya, as he was the subject of domestic proceedings and the ICC deemed Libya “willing” and “able” to carry them out. The ICC Appeals Chamber affirmed both rulings.

Yet, despite the ruling that Saif should be tried in The Hague, he was never surrendered, and remains in Libya. His situation is complicated by the fact that he is not held by any governmental authorities, but the “Zintan” militia.

As to al Senussi, this Author thinks the Court erred in its decision. The problem with the criteria of “willing” and “able” (or that a national court is not “unwilling” or “unable” to try the accused, as it is phrased in article 17 of the Rome Statute), is that it generally ignores an equally problematic third possibility – that a national court is “all too willing” to try someone (i.e., the situation of “overzealous” national proceedings). This is a situation one can certainly anticipate any time there has been a regime change and the new government wants to “get” at officials of the past regime – in other words, potentially the situation here. The rush to justice resulting in the Saddam Hussein execution is another example.

Human Rights Watch reports that al Senussi was denied adequate time to prepare his case, and adequate assistance of counsel. Saif, who was not even present for his trial, was apparently denied both these protections, and, additionally, while trials in absentia are permitted in Libya, the procedural safeguards required for them were apparently not provided. While the death penalty is permissible under Libyan law (and its imposition alone does not necessarily mean the trials were unfair), more and more countries categorically oppose the death penalty. At minimum, where it is a possible punishment, it is especially important that fair trial guarantees are scrupulously observed.

Should this turn of events be of concern to the ICC? Indeed.

Saif was supposed to be tried at the ICC, and he could end up executed in Libya. As a result of the ICC’s rulings, a “green light” was given to al Senussi’s trial in Libya, which has also resulted in a death sentence. If the sentences are affirmed on appeal and carried out, the ICC will have played a role in allowing two executions based on trials suspected of serious due process flaws.

There is still a chance for an appeal in Libya. Libya’s Supreme Court should independently and fairly review the verdict, particularly with a view to due process. But in the mean time, more pressure should be put to bear to ensure that Saif is transferred to The Hague (where he should have been all along), and al Senussi’s counsel should move to reopen the admissibility challenge based on newly discovered information (the events in Libya), or the ICC Prosecutor’s Office should do so.

The Appeals Chamber did leave an opening in its July 24, 2014 ruling (.pdf), suggesting that it would not utterly ignore due process violations by a national court, suggesting some concerns of an “all too willing” or “vengeful” national court:

It is clear that regard has to be had to ‘principles of due process recognized by international law’ for all three limbs of article 17(2), and it is also noted that whether proceedings were or are ‘conducted independently or impartially’ is one of the considerations under article 17(2)(c). . . . As such, human rights standards may assist the Court in its assessment of whether the proceedings are or were conducted ‘independently or impartially’ within the meaning of article 17(2)(c).

To the extent the Appeals Chamber also suggested the national proceedings would have to be “completely lack[ing in] fairness” such that they fail to provide “any genuine form of justice,” before the ICC can be the proper venue, the Judges are setting the bar too high. (Alternatively, it is conceivable that, upon further inquiry, one might find even that bar met.)

It is true that the drafters of the Rome Statute specifically rejected making the lack of due process a ground for admissibility. Yet, the precedent they were dealing with at the time – the experiences of the ICTY and ICTR, where “unwilling” and “unable” trials respectively were the concern – simply do not reflect what has become the experience of the ICC. Moreover, it is quite possible –as the Appeals Chamber has done — to read a “due process” component into the language of article 17 of the Rome Statute.

Based on the events in Libya—flawed proceedings that suggest a lack of impartiality—the Court should now find the al Senussi case “admissible” at the ICC and order him transferred. If that happens, individual states and the UN Security Council should be prepared to help ensure the transfer actually happens.

These may not seem the most significant cases the ICC has on its docket (they probably aren’t), but it would be a bleak day if the ICC (and the UN Security Council) stand by and let these death sentences be carried out on cases that stemmed from the Security Council’s referral, and as to which the ICC was involved.

So What Are Your Top 5 Worst Treaties Ever?

by Duncan Hollis

Benjamin Soloway at Foreign Policy magazine thrilled me last week when he called to set up an interview for this story on the worst treaties ever.  Simply put, I love treaties and I love lists.  After all, a few years back I started a discussion on the most important treaties ever.  But, having given a lot of thought to my top 5, I was surprised to have never done a list of my bottom five.  So, I spent an entire day before talking to Ben, pestering my family (who do not necessarily share my enthusiasm for all things treaty-related) with various candidates based on different ways of defining “worst” (worst treaty for humanity? the parties? one party in particular? for third parties? for the agreement’s stated goals?).  In the end, I’m glad to see all the treaties that I mentioned got onto his list. Some, sadly, didn’t make the cut –I’d wanted the Universal Rubber Agreement included because it’s a rare example of a treaty that so failed to perform its intended functions (stabilizing rubber as a commodity) that the parties went through the trouble of terminating it in lieu of just letting it fall into desuetude.

Interested readers should definitely read Ben’s article.  But I thought I’d open the comments section here to allow Opinio Juris readers to sound off on whether they agree with his list, or to offer their own suggestions.  What treaties would you add (or delete) if we’re talking about the worst treaties of all time?