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Lethal Drone Strikes — Not Just for American Citizens Any More!

by Kevin Jon Heller

Not surprisingly, drone strikes that kill American citizens have received the most attention in the press. So it’s important to emphasize that the US kills citizens of its allies, as well, such as the two Australians recently vaporized in Yemen:

TWO Australian citizens have been killed in a US airstrike in Yemen in what is the first known example of Australian extremists dying as a result of Washington’s highly controversial use of predator drones.

The Australian has been told the two men, believed to be in their 20s, were killed in a Predator drone strike on five al-Qa’ida militants travelling in a convoy of cars in Hadramout, in eastern Yemen, on November 19.

The men were Christopher Havard of Townsville and a New Zealand dual citizen who went by the name “Muslim bin John’’ and fought under the alias “Abu ­Suhaib al-Australi’’.

The Australian government, which insists it was given no ­advance warning of the strike, has positively identified the remains of the men using DNA analysis, with samples taken from families of the two men.

[snip]

A senior counter-terrorism source told The Australian the men were “foot soldiers’’ for al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qa’ida’s regional franchise based in Yemen.

It is understood US authorities notified Australian officials about the possibility Australian citizens might have been “collateral damage’’ in the strike, part of an ongoing campaign by the US and Yemeni governments to wipe out AQAP militants.

“The Americans advised us that they had intelligence that suggested they may have been in the car and may have been collateral damage,’’ the source said.

Note that although the drone strike did not target the two Australians, the Australian government knows for a fact that the men were “foot soldiers” for AQAP. And how does it know this? What evidence does it have? Who knows — taking a page from the US, the government won’t say. And some journalists are not impressed. Here is The Guardian‘s Antony Loewenstein:

Yet, uncertainty be damned, the Australian government seems to keep on supporting the CIA killings with most of the media following without question.

Fairfax Media headlined one story “Abbott government defends drone strike that killed two Australian Al-Qaeda militants” without challenging that the two men were, indeed, militants or affiliated with Al-Qaida – they may or may not have been, but innocent civilians have been killed by drones before. The sentence “alleged militants, according to the government” never appeared in the article (this is a relatively common habit in journalism – see for example this essential take-down of a New York Times report on drone killings in Yemen).

I’ve reported independently from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and accurate journalism requires finding reliable sources on the ground (or corresponding with individuals through email, phone, encryption or Twitter) who can confirm or challenge the official version. It’s not rocket science, though definitive information can be scarce in a war zone.

In the last days I’ve reached out to various sources in Yemen (some of the best are herehere and here) and asked Sanaa-based Baraa Shiban to comment. His answer is revealing. “The lack of transparency has became a fixed strategy for the US in its drone war. The US announced recently the death of almost 30 militants in a training camp in Abyan, south of Yemen, but can’t release a single name; this tells it all.”

Taking the word of security sources and the state, when this information is so often wrong or deliberately skewed by anonymous officials whostrategically leak to justify their counter-terrorism policies, is sadly all too common. “We don’t know the facts” is not a shameful statement. To be skeptical shouldn’t be a flaw, but an asset.

Skepticism as an asset, not a flaw. What a radical idea…

Hat-Tip: Bianca Dillon.

Andreas Lowenfeld: A Life Illuminating the Path

by Chris Borgen

lowenfeld

photo: NYU Law School

I am sad to mark the passing of one of the giants of international law, and one of my teachers, Professor Andreas Lowenfeld of NYU Law School. His career was exemplary; Andy operated at the highest levels of practice and academia. In an era when so many scholars and practitioners become hyper-focused on one or two specific areas, Andy not only had incredible depth and precision, but also brought the panoramic view and sweeping vision of an earlier generation of international lawyers. Though perhaps best known for his work in international litigation and arbitration, that description does not capture his career. Consider this excerpt from his New York Times obituary:

Professor Lowenfeld was a towering figure in the fields of public international law, trade and economic law, private international law, and international arbitration. He served on the NYU Law faculty for 47 years, influencing generations of lawyers, and continued to teach International Litigation and Arbitration and International Monetary System among other courses until as recently as Spring 2013. Professor Lowenfeld wrote more than 18 books and authoritative legal treatises and over 115 law review articles and argued before the United States Supreme Court, the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, and the International Court of Justice in the Hague. He made landmark contributions to legal scholarship and practice on issues as varied as extraterritorial jurisdiction, international arbitration, international monetary transactions, trans-border child abduction, international monetary law, investor-state dispute settlement, economic sanctions, enforcement of foreign judgments, aviation law, sovereign immunity, international trade, and civil procedure. His most recent work was a comprehensive treatise on International Economic Law. An avid supporter of the interaction between academics and practitioners, he was frequently an arbitrator in international disputes, public and private. He served as a Reporter on two major projects of the American Law Institute and was a lecturer twice at the Hague Academy, first in 1979 and later in 1994. In the 1994 lectures, he proposed criteria for a global community free of strict legal rules and based instead upon what he termed “reasonableness, not certainty.” One of the hallmarks of his work was his commitment to eliminating what he viewed as an unnecessary divide between public and private international law. In 2007, he was awarded the Manley O. Hudson Medal of the American Society of International Law for his lifelong achievements in the field of international law.

(Read the rest of the obituary here. See also this tribute from 2009.)

And that doesn’t even cover his years in the State Department’s Office of the Legal Adviser during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations where:

[h]e provided strategic counsel to those presidents during the Cuban Missile Crisis; the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty; the so-called “Chicken War,” in which the U.S. and the European Common Market sparred over poultry tariffs; and the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic.

Andy Lowenfeld’s scholarship and his career argued against the “unnecessary divide of public and private international law,” setting the stage (along with Philip Jessup) for the current focus on  complex regulation, transnational law, and dispute resolution. He taught us how public and private international law interact in an interconnected system and, by his example, he showed us how diverse aspects of the international legal profession could be integrated into a coherent career.

I have the great fortune of having been one of Andy’s students. My second year at NYU, I took the general course in international law, which was then team-taught by Andy Lowenfeld and Theodor Meron. Learning international law from “Ted and Andy” as we affectionately referred to them (behind their backs, that is) was everything you would expect from such lawyers: a lively dialogue interweaving law, history, politics, and economics.  I was also Andy’ s student in what was perhaps his signature course, his International Litigation and Arbitration seminar. Here he paired each JD student with a foreign LL.M. to brief and argue an issue in a case, before a bench made up of 3 of our classmates. It was a wonderful bit of experiential learning that has stayed with me and taught me as much about how to be a good teacher as to how to be a good litigator.

In the years since I graduated from law school, Andy Lowenfeld remained generous with his time and wise counsel. I may have become a professor, but he never stopped being my teacher.

But perhaps my favorite memory of Andy was from when I was the Director of Research and Outreach at the ASIL. Andy was a panelist on an international arbitration panel we organized for a Fifth Circuit judicial conference in San Antonio. After the panel, he told me we should go visit the Alamo. So, one hot summer afternoon we toured the Alamo together; I will always remember his enthusiasm in examining the exhibits, especially anything having to do with the deeds, land grants, and international agreements concerning the disposition of territory. He interspersed our conversation about the history of the U.S.-Mexico border with reminiscences from the State Department, career advice, some thoughts on scholarly projects I was considering, and anecdotes from his incredible career. At one point there was a boy, who was maybe seven years old, standing near us and holding a large faux-parchment facsimile of a document, probably recently acquired from the gift shop.  Andy started questioning the boy about the topic of the text on his souvenir, whether or not the reproduction was accurate, and so on. (The boy stared, then shrugged; Andy walked on.) It made me smile watching Andy attempting a Socratic dialogue with a first grader. Even while walking around the Alamo, Andy Lowenfeld was first and foremost an educator and a mentor.

I want to close with a few of Andy’s own words, taken from his magisterial International Economic Law (Oxford, 2d. ed 2008). In the preface, he argues against the skeptics and describes (with perhaps a wink to Louis Henkin) a realistic appreciation of international economic law:

This book is not founded on a claim that all states and all economic enterprises behave at all times according to all the rules, nor that the rules are clear and universally agreed at all levels. But one would not say that there is no criminal law because crimes continue to be committed and are not always punished, or that there is no family law because marriages break up, husbands beat their wives, and children are abused. In fact international conventions, collaborative arrangements, roughly uniform national laws, and customary laws apply to much of the international economy; while there is no global sheriff, and the system of remedies does not reach as far as the system of rules, there are a surprising number of consequences of deviant behavior, and a growing number of fora for resolving disputes among states and between states and private participants in the international economy.

Almost 1,000 pages later, the closing passage puts more than his treatise into perspective: :

It is evident that this book has made more use of narrative and illustration, and less of flat normative statements than might have been expected from a treatise. This approach reflects my belief that the answers cannot be understood without the question, and that abstract statements cannot be comprehended without awareness of the underlying facts and continuing controversies.

This is not to deny the normative character of international economic law. But international economic law—like all law but perhaps more so—is a process. Any attempt to define the law as of a given moment cannot help but distort. The process continues, and the hope is that this book has illuminated the path.

[Emphasis added.]

It has. And so has Andreas Lowenfeld’s life.

 

 

An End-of-War Policy Diversion

by Deborah Pearlstein

Since I’ve given the New York Times grief in the past about using the name “Al Qaeda” to refer to non-Al Qaeda radical Islamist groups, I wanted to give them due credit for yesterday’s piece describing the takeover of Mosul by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) as having been accomplished by Sunni militants. The Times piece even includes a helpful pull-out explainer box describing the origin and evolution of ISIS and its now broken relationship with Al Qaeda central.

Would that everyone had made such strides. The Washington Post’s piece on the same set of events appropriately headlines its article, attributing the attacks to generic “insurgents,” but in paragraph two of the text describes the group as “an al-Qaeda offshoot.” More paragraphs down it explains: “ISIS is an expanded and rebranded version of the al-Qaeda in Iraq organization that the U.S. military claimed it had tamed, though not defeated, ahead of the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011.” It’s not until the very final graf of the lengthy piece one gets this: “Earlier this year, the leader of ISIS, known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, publicly fell out with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was harshly critical of some of the group’s extreme methods. Though no longer directly affiliated with al-Qaeda, however, the group shares essentially the same goal of establishing a global Islamic state.”
The Post piece is misleading. As I’ve described, Zawahiri’s Al Qaeda (i.e. bin Laden’s Al Qaeda) didn’t just “fall out” with ISIS, it publicly and officially broke off all ties and condemned the group after ISIS refused repeatedly to comply with Zawahiri’s orders. If one is going to describe the group as an Al Qaeda offshoot in para two, this critical fact belongs in the same paragraph, not buried at the end.

This might seem more like nit-picking the Post if it were not for what seems to be its emblematic character – emblematic of a broader kind of category error in policy thinking about the post-bin Laden world. So forgive the diversion from legal analysis for a moment and take David Rothkopf’s piece today in Foreign Policy, anachronistically (and ominously) titled, “We Are Losing the War on Terror.” Set aside the fact that neither the President nor the courts has used the catch-phrase “war on terror” since circa 2008 (indeed, both have rejected it on the grounds that it is legally useless and politically obscures the actual and identifiable groups with which we have been at war). One might also set aside the misleading suggestion early in the Rothkopf piece that the growth in terrorist attacks worldwide is directed at (or indeed, has much to do with) Americans; I explained in an earlier post how that is not the case, and Rothkopf grudgingly acknowledges as much toward the end.

The larger problem of Rothkopf’s piece is that he ties the current proliferation of radical Islamist groups in the Middle East with “the war [Bowe Bergdahl] went to Afghanistan to fight.” A world of geopolitical water has gone under the bridge since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. And we will be doing ourselves a huge geopolitical and strategic disservice if we pretend we now face the same – or any – kind of war.

We went into Afghanistan in 2001 because Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda had launched a series of terrorist attacks against the United States, culminating in the unprecedented carnage of September 11; we went in to destroy bin Laden’s ability to do such damage to our country again and to root out the Taliban government that had provided bin Laden’s group a safe base from which to operate. In 2001, bin Laden’s Al Qaeda had no claims to (or plausible hope of claims to) governing a state or territory of a state; the Middle East was governed by a set of seemingly intractably stable state dictatorships. Since the Arab Spring, the situation in that part of the world is radically different, and many groups now have claims to (and some even hope of) taking over the task of governance. In 2001, bin Laden’s Al Qaeda had named the United States as the enemy, had directed its terrorist operations toward us, and had killed our citizens. How many of the 49 Salafi-jihadist groups whose existence Rothkopf laments can say the same? No doubt some of them. But equally as little doubt that many of them hold greater interests that are primarily regional and nationalistic in nature.

Ultimately, I think Rothkopf sees this as well. And none of the foregoing is to suggest that the current turmoil in the Middle East, the sectarian radicalism, even the threats that are directed against the United States (such as by AQAP) are untroubling or may be safely ignored. Far from it. But if we think simply about the changing dynamics in the Middle East as an extension of the “war we went to fight” in 2001 – even in the interest of rhetorical connection – we empower those who would simply extend existing war authorities, and will be missing the opportunity, and the imperative, of describing the world’s current problems for what they are.

New ILO Treaty on Forced Labor Victims

by Duncan Hollis

With all the talk of the End of Treaties and Treaty Survival, it’s worth noting that the wheels of multilateral treaty-making have not come to a complete stop.  Earlier today, the ILO adopted a Protocol to ILO Convention No. 29, the 1930 Forced Labour Convention.  On paper, the 1930 Convention was a success — it currently has 177 parties.  But it’s also considered outdated within the human rights community, which has emphasized the continuing and significant costs of forced labor in humanitarian and economic terms, necessitating new legal tools to limit or mitigate the effects of this horrible practice.

Some of the 2014 Protocol’s provisions are standard treaty fare on modern global problems — i.e., requiring “national” plans of action and domestic legislation on forced labor issues.  Other provisions reflect the need to update the 84 year old Convention itself (i.e., deleting provisions on forced labor in overseas “colonies”).  The heart of the treaty appears to be Article 4:

Article 4
1. Each Member shall ensure that all victims of forced or compulsory labour, irrespective of their presence or legal status in the national territory, have access to appropriate and effective remedies, such as compensation.

2. Each Member shall, in accordance with the basic principles of its legal system, take the necessary measures to ensure that competent authorities are entitled not to prosecute or impose penalties on victims of forced or compulsory labour for their involvement in unlawful activities which they have been compelled to commit as a direct consequence of being subjected to forced or compulsory labour.

I’d be interested in reactions from those who follow the ILO and forced labor subjects more closely. Is this Protocol significant in the ongoing efforts to deal with human trafficking and forced labor? How important is the expansion of the right to relief to include migrants who might otherwise be labeled “illegal” via their immigration status?  And is the “entitlement not to prosecute” that significant a requirement?  It presumably still gives State authorities the ability to prosecute forced labor victims engaged in ‘unlawful’ behavior like sex work or drug offenses even if they were coerced into doing so. Thus, it seems more like an aspirational goal than a provision that will mandate changes in State behavior. Comments most welcome.

Executive Director Search at the American Society of International Law

by Chris Borgen

As many readers of this blog know, Elizabeth Andersen, the  Executive Director of the American Society of International Law, has been named the new director of the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law Initiative. Consequently, the ASIL has a search underway for a new Executive Director. The search announcement states, in part:

The American Society of International Law (“ASIL” or “the Society”) seeks an accomplished leader with vision, proficiency in international law, and proven management abilities to serve as its next Executive Director, starting in the second half of 2014…

…The Executive Director works closely with an active Executive Council and President (the latter is elected every two years). The successful candidate for the Executive Director post will be proficient in international law, and demonstrate strong administrative ability and experience, effective fundraising capacity, and an ability to relate to and represent the diverse and multinational membership of academics, private practitioners, jurists, government officials, and students in their various endeavors relating to all facets of international law. In addition to coordinating with Society leaders, the Executive Director manages an annual budget in excess of $3 million; supervises a staff of 17 (14 of whom are full-time employees) in planning and executing day-to-day operations; facilitates the dissemination of scholarly and informational output in print, electronic, and conference settings; raises funds for the Society by seeking grants and other contributions from foundations, corporations, law firms, individuals, and other sources; implements outreach programs to a variety of external constituencies including the U.S. Congress, the judiciary, the media, law-making bodies, think tanks, international organizations, academia and others; and administers programs outside as well as within the United States.

Please see the full text of the announcement for further  details about the ASIL, the position, and the application process.  Please note that that applications should be received by June 15, 2014.

Having been the Society’s Director of Research and Outreach from 1999-2002, I can say that serving on the ASIL’s staff is an incredible experience. Although running any NGO is a demanding task (more accurately, it is a conglomeration of many, many, demanding tasks…), there are few positions in the international law that place one at such a nexus in the profession as being the Executive Director of the ASIL.

My best wishes to the applicants and to the the Search Committee.

 

 

High Level Sanctions Review Launched at the UN

by Kristen Boon

A new High Level sanctions review has been initiated at the UN, sponsored by the UN Missions of Australia, Finland, Greece and Sweden, in combination with Brown University and the sanctions consulting firm CCI. The purpose of the review is to assess existing sanctions and develop forward looking recommendations to enhance effectiveness. A similar process took place in 2006, known as the Informal Working Group on General Issues of Sanctions, which resulted in some important policy documents for sanctions regimes.

This new review will focus on three issues:

  • UN integration and coordination on the implementation of UN sanctions (addressing opportunities to improve sanctions integration and coordination among the UN entities supporting the Council’s sanctions function, including sanctions committees, expert groups, the Ombudsperson and the Secretariat)
  • UN sanctions and related institutions and instruments. (addressing the intersections between UN sanctions and other international instruments and institutions dealing with international security, such as international arms control and disarmament mechanisms, international financial and economic regulatory systems, and international criminal justice institutions)
  • UN sanctions, regional organizations, and emerging challenges (Addressing opportunities to optimize UN sanctions as an effective tool in response to serious and systematic violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, enhance coordination with regional sanctions, and explore new applications to address evolving threats to international peace and security)

This promises to be an important endeavor. While some member states stressed that there was no need to “reinvent the wheel”, others noted the importance of coordinating with the ICC and not overburdening developing states.

From my perspective, this process will be relevant to international lawyers for three reasons:

  • There are increasingly complex questions about how sanctions committees interact with other mechanisms. Are sanctions, which target individuals, incompatible with peacekeeping exercises, which usually have a mandate of neutrality? How should sanctions, which focus on conflict prevention and peace building, interact with international judicial mechanisms, which focus on deterrence, and longer term judicial processes for individual criminal responsibility? Relatedly, how can the work of the ICC and sanctions committees be better coordinated?
  • What process of review should apply to targeted sanctions generally? Currently only the Al Qaida sanctions regime is overseen by an administrative review mechanism in the form of the UN Ombudspersons office. Individuals and entities targeted under other sanctions regimes only have access to a “focal point” which is viewed as being not much more than a mailbox, given its limited mandate. The ECJ’s Kadi decision of 2013 raised stakes on due process, finding that even the Ombudspersons office does not meet the standard of effective protection. The battle between sanctions regimes and courts has begun, with potentially significant stakes for the supremacy of Security Council resolutions under Art. 103 of the Charter, and the ability of states to implement sanctions in the face of court challenges.
  • Finally, the situations in which sanctions are applied are increasingly innovative. Hate speech, poaching of wildlife products, protection of civilians, exploitation of natural resources – these are but a few of the justifications for imposing sanctions in the last decade.   These indicate a broadening view of what constitutes a threat to the peace and a deepening interest in using sanctions as a broad based tool.

To watch the opening meeting and see the statements, the video is available here.

Bond Cheat Sheet

by Peter Spiro

As David Kaye notes, treaty-power advocates everywhere may be breathing a collective sigh of relief with the Supreme Court’s decision in Bond v. United States. I’m not so sure how big a difference it makes, given the Senate’s persistent refusal to put an expansive treaty power to work. From an academic perspective the decision is a big let-down. No big pronouncements on Missouri v. Holland, the treaty power, the future of federalism in a different world.

On the substance, we have Jean’s excellent post below as well as Curtis Bradley’s characteristically precise analysis on AJIL Unbound. As Curt points out, the straight-up application of the federalism clear-statement rule in the foreign affairs context is significant. Perhaps a little tension with Charming Betsy? But this is incremental stuff, not the kind of ruling that marks a major pivot on the Court’s part in foreign relations law. The money quotes in the majority opinion relate to domestic affairs of a decidedly mundane kind, as Roberts decries an application of the treaty that “would sweep in everything from the detergent under the kitchen sink to the stain remover in the laundry room.”

The Court may have understood this to be too freaky a case on which to peg a major ruling (hence also the silence from the Left side of the Court). The parade of horribles may be theoretically long and broad when it comes to imagining the ways that treaties might subsume core state authorities. But when it comes to making that specter a little more concrete, Justice Scalia is left conjuring up a multilateral “Antipolygamy Convention” with which Congress then trumps state intestacy laws. Really? (Scalia is known to write his concurrences and dissents from scratch. That was once a good thing; now it may be a bad. His concurrence here has a sloppy feel to it.)

For his part, Justice Thomas walks us through the original understanding of the Treaty Power in calling for its limitation to international relations. With due respect to the many rigorous scholars of an originalist orientation, I must admit that I have less patience for this oracular stuff the older I get. It never coughs up determinate answers. (How could it, in this context perhaps more than any other.) In what should be a candidate for SCOTUS understatement of the year, Thomas concludes: “I acknowledge that the distinction between matters of international intercourse and matters of purely domestic regulation may not be obvious in all cases.”

As foreign affairs law becomes increasingly doctrinalized, with a slew of major cases over the last 15 years, this is one area that will now remain up for grabs (the persistence of the century-old Holland decision notwithstanding). Maybe that’s not a bad thing for methodological and pedagogical purposes. As the Court plays the Marbury card more frequently (Scalia does it here), a last-word mirage rises in which the Court seems to be calling all the shots. But the new global architecture is far too immense and intricate for the Court to stay on top of it. Better to stay attuned to non-judicial mechanisms of constitutional evolution.

Roundtable at the NY City Bar on International Law and the Crisis in Ukraine

by Chris Borgen

For those in the New York City area who may be interested, tomorrow (June 4th) I will be participating in a roundtable discussion with Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United Nations, concerning the crisis in Ukraine.   Mark Meyer, Moldova’s Honorary Consul in New York (and a member of the law firm Herzfeld & Rubin), will moderate the discussion.

The roundtable will take place at the New York City Bar on June 4th from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm, with a reception to follow. Full details are available here.

For some of my recent posts on this topic, please see: 1, 2, and 3.

Guest Post: Silences in the Bond Case

by Jean Galbraith

[Jean Galbraith is an Assistant Professor at Rutgers School of Law - Camden]

Thank you to Opinio Juris for letting me guest blog on Bond.

The most notable thing about the Bond decision is a resounding silence.  As a matter of law, it should have been easy to find for the government.  The statutory text reads plainly in the government’s favor, and constitutional text, practice, and precedent easily support the conclusion that the federal government can override federalism interests in implementing constitutionally valid treaties.  Yet not a single justice sided with the United States.  This silence is particularly perplexing given that three justices at oral argument seemed sympathetic to the government.

That is the major silence, but there are silences of reasoning in the opinions as well.  In what follows, I focus on two silences.  The first is the lack of consideration in the majority opinion of how treaty-implementing statutes might differ as a matter of statutory construction from ordinary statutes.  The second is the startling absence of constitutional history from the Framing onward in Justice Scalia’s concurrence.

The Majority Opinion

As Peter Spiro has noted, the majority ducks the constitutional question of whether the Treaty Power plus the Necessary and Proper Clause authorizes Congress to criminalize domestic poisonings like that of Ms. Bond.  Following a hint dropped by Justice Kennedy at oral argument, the Court does this by holding that there needs to be a “clear statement that Congress meant the statute to reach local criminal conduct.”  It isn’t enough for Congress to use broad language that seems to cover the act at issue; instead, Congress apparently has to do something more to signal specific intent to reach “local” conduct.  Congress didn’t do so here, so Ms. Bond wins.

I won’t deconstruct the merits of this approach, although I think Justice Scalia does a good job in his concurrence of showing why it is problematic.  But I do want to mention that it leads to an interesting divergence between the interpretation of a treaty and the interpretation of implementing legislation.  The Court spent very little time on the interpretation of the Chemical Weapons Convention itself, merely noting its “doubts” that the Convention was meant to reach ordinary domestic poisonings.  If it had wanted to, the Court could doubtless have done more to interpret the Convention this way (e.g., by explicit discussion of “object and purpose” or perhaps by drawing on rule-of-lenity-related principles in international and comparative law).  But instead the Court accepted a wedge between the interpretation of a treaty and of its implementing legislation.  Federalism principles do not matter to treaty interpretation (given that these principles are country-specific) but do matter to the interpretation of implementing legislation.  If this canon of construction is about Congressional intent, then it strikes me as odd, because there is a countervailing consideration not mentioned by the Court. This is that when Congress uses language that closely tracks a treaty’s language in implementing the treaty, Congress presumably does so because it wants convergence rather than divergence with the treaty.

Justice Scalia’s Concurrence

(more…)

Supreme Court Ducks Broad Treaty Power Ruling in Bond v. United States

by Peter Spiro

The decision is here. The Court found unanimously that the federal government overreached in prosecuting Carol Anne Bond under a federal statute implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention for what was otherwise a simple assault in a lovers’ quarrel. The six-justice majority decided the case on non-constitutional, statutory grounds – interpreting the statute (and the treaty) not to cover such conduct, but not addressing broader questions relating to the scope of the federal power to invade otherwise exclusive state authorities through the vehicle of international agreements.

So Missouri v. Holland stands. And it’s likely to stand for the foreseeable future. This was a freak case, a rare application of the treaty power cleanly posing the federalism question. Congress isn’t exactly free and loose in making use of its putatively limitless authority under the Holland opinion.

For those favoring national powers, this is probably the best that could have been hoped for. The Roberts Court has been ratcheting back the foreign affairs power on other fronts, and there was a wide expectation that this case would supply another important episode in advancing that agenda. The ruling is consistent with that agenda insofar as the Chief Justice’s opinion here treats the statute as it would any other. It’s not given a more expansive reading because it involves a treaty or foreign affairs. In that respect, Bond reflects the normalization of foreign relations law. But only in a small-ball kind of way. Constitutionally limiting (or affirming) the treaty power would have been much, much more significant.

We should have more soon on the ruling, the concurrences, and the future of the treaty power during the course of the week here at OJ.

Washington University Law Professor Sworn in as Malawi’s President

by Julian Ku

So, Professor of Law, what are you going to do after you retire from your tenured post teaching and finish writing all the articles and books you want to write? Well, I guess I’ll become President (of Malawi)!

On Saturday, [Peter] Mutharika, now 74, a soft-spoken professor with a proper English-educated accent and who smoked a pipe while he taught in the 1970s, shocked many of his former colleagues and students when he was officially named the southeastern African country’s president after a tumultuous election that took more than a week to resolve.

It was an ascent to power just three years after his formal retirement from Washington University.

Congrats to Professor (er, I mean President) Mutharika!   It is not very often that a professor of international commercial law and contracts becomes a head of state.  It sounds like there are many serious obstacles facing him (and only a few of those are related to his background as a U.S. law professor), but I am sure all of us in the U.S. law academy wish him the best!

Constructing the Eurasian Economic Union

by Chris Borgen

The New York Times reports that:

The presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus formally signed an agreement on Thursday to create a limited economic union — an alliance hobbled by the absence of Ukraine but one long pursued by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to confirm his country as a global economic force.

“Today we are creating a powerful, attractive center of economic development, a big regional market that unites more than 170 million people,” Mr. Putin said during the ceremonies. He underscored the significant energy resources, work force and cultural heritage of the combined nations.

This treaty, which was signed this past week but is not expected to come into force until January 2015, marks the next step in transforming the still-nascent Eurasian Customs Union (ECU) into the Eurasian Union (EEU). Russian pressure for Ukraine to turn away from association with the European Union and towards Moscow-led Eurasian integration was one of the roots of the current crisis.

As the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) with China and the Central Asian states is Russia’s answer to U.S. military alliances, Eurasian economic integration is meant to be Russia’s response to EU and U.S. economic power.  According to a chronology in a report by the Centre for European Policy Studies, the creation of the EEU was first suggested by the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in 1994. There was not much movement until the negotiation and signing of a customs union treaty among Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in 2007. The basic requirements of the Eurasian Customs Union came into force in 2010, which were essentially trade policy coordination measures establishing a common external tariff among its members. However, the deepening Eurasian economic integration was given a boost by an op-ed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2011.

In early 2012, the member states deepened ECU’s institutions by starting the operations of the Eurasian Economic Commission, a supranational entity that was contemplated in the 2007 treaty,  to manage the external trade regulations of the member states, including relations with the WTO. That also marked the establishment of  the “single economic space” (SES) among the member countries which, in the words of the Centre for European Policy Studies paper, “envision[ed] further regulatory convergence and harmonisation of national laws” in particular economic sectors.

The treaty that was signed on May 29th is ostensibly to move from customs union towards a full economic union, with free movement of goods, capital, and people among the member states, but reality has so far proven to be less sweeping and heroic than the rhetoric that marked the occasion. The most obvious issue is that the EEU was originally envisioned to include not only Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan, but also Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and especially Ukraine. Ukraine would have added  a populous country with  economic potential and an an economy that (unlike Russia and Kazakhstan) was not based on natural resource exploitation. But Russia’s intervention in Ukraine  backfired: not only did it fail to bring Ukraine into the EEU fold but, according to a Radio Free Europe report, it has weakened the EEU by having: (more…)