Archive of posts for category
General

Expanding the UN Ombudsperson’s Mandate & Better Cooperation Between the ICC and Sanctions Regimes

by Kristen Boon

The UN Ombudsperson’s office currently has jurisdiction over the 1267 sanctions regime, but the discrepancy between the due process afforded to individuals affected by that regime as opposed to other regimes has long been noted: individuals listed under the various sanctions regimes applicable to situations in Africa, and the Weapons of Mass Destruction regimes applicable the situations in Iran and North Korea, only have access to a UN focal point to request delisting. The UN focal point, however, has fewer powers and does not operate under the same due process guidelines as the Ombudsperson.

This issue was debated last week in the Security Council during an open meeting on Security Council methods. According to the UN Press who reported on the day long meeting, Kimberly Prost, the UN Ombudsperson, noted that in her experience a fair process was essential to the implementation of sanctions, and it connected with a possible reduction in legal challenges to the application of sanctions at regional and domestic levels.  For analysis of the reasons the UN Ombudsperson herself and certain Member States support extending the Ombudsperson’s mandate, see Maya Lester’s blog here. General background on the Working Methods debate is available here.

At the same session, states also discussed overlap between sanctions regimes and the ICC, and ways to improve cooperation. For background on the main issues, see my blog here.

There is little question that an expansion of the Ombudsperson’s mandate at least to more sanctions regimes, and better cooperation between criminal tribunals and the UN Sanctions regimes will improve the effectiveness of UN sanctions. Moreover, they complement the UN High Level Review of Sanctions which is coming to an end, in which a parallel effort to assess and improve sanctions regimes has taken place.

 

What Does China Mean When It Celebrates the “International Rule of Law”?

by Julian Ku

In observance of United Nations Day on October 24, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi issued a long statement expressing China’s view of itself as a “staunch defender and builder of international law” (Chinese version here). As China-watchers know, China’s Communist Party has just completed its “Fourth Plenum” (sort of a Party leadership strategy meeting) on the theme of the promotion of the rule of law, so it is not surprising that China’s leadership would have something to say about the international rule of law as well.

The statement is pretty predictable (and largely unobjectionable) in its broad pledge for Chinese support to “international law” or the “international rule of law.”  It is hardly pathbreaking.  Still, as I have suggested in earlier posts, China’s government tends to have a slightly different view on what constitutes “international law” as compared to the United States or Europe.  So while much of the statement is pretty anodyne (it is communist-party-speak, after all), there are a few points relating to China’s emphasis on sovereignty and its allergy to human rights that are worth noting:

1) International Law and China’s History of National Humiliation

The statement places China’s commitment to international law in the context of its historical struggles facing foreign oppression in invasion beginning with the Opium War of the 1840s.  This reference to China’s historical weakness in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is standard nationalist fare in China, but it is interesting that it is linked here to modern international law. As the statement notes, “[s]eeing the contrast between China’s past and present, the Chinese people fully recognize how valuable sovereignty, independence and peace are.”  I think this historical experience is a useful explanation for why there are deep roots to the version of international law presented here.  For China, international law is closely linked to its achievement of independence from foreign powers, and there is no principle more dear to China in international law than “sovereignty” and independence from foreign domination.  Those of us educated in the States have been taught that sovereignty is usually an obstacle to the promotion of international law (Louis Henkin even called it the “S” word), but that concept is still hard to sell in China.

2) Sovereignty 5:  Human Rights 0

Indeed, the statement mentions “sovereignty” five times as a fundamental principle of international law, as referenced in the United Nations Charter. Thus, the statement cites certain universally recognized norms of international law and relations such as

…[A]s respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, peaceful settlement of international disputes and non-interference in the internal affairs of others, as enshrined in the UN Charter, are the foundation stones upon which modern international law and conduct of international relations are built.

This is right out of Article II of the UN Charter.  But it is hard to imagine a statement by the United States about international law that did not also mention the UN Charter’s commitment to the protection of human rights.  To be sure, human rights protection is not in Article II of the UN Charter’s list of “Principles” but it is odd (at least to an American) to see it ignored so completely here.

3) Just Say No to Responsibility to Protect 

The statement takes direct aim at those countries who are interventionist.

Hegemonism, power politics and all forms of “new interventionism” pose a direct challenge to basic principles of international law including respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs. Some countries follow a pragmatist or a double-standard approach to international law, using whatever that suits their interests and abandoning whatever that does not.

Hmm.. I wonder which country or countries it is referring to here?  This position also reflects longstanding Chinese policy against any kind of military intervention (and most other kinds as well) no matter what the justification.  So don’t count on a Chinese vote for that Syria intervention.

4) Go Democracy (between, but not within, nations)!

The statement also endorses democracy…that is to say, democracy in international lawmaking.  It accuses some countries (the One-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) of trying to make “rules of certain countries as “international rules”, and their standards “international standards”. I am guessing this is clearly a shot at the U.S. in areas as varied as trade laws, IP, and human rights.

5) Philippines and UNCLOS arbitral tribunal: Don’t You Dare Ruin International Law

Not surprisingly, the statement takes aim at international and national courts.   It declares:

“National and international judicial institutions should avoid overstepping their authority in interpreting and applying international law. Still less should they encroach on the rights and interests of other countries under the pretext of”the rule of law” in total disregard of objectivity and fairness.”

I think this is clearly a warning signal to the UNCLOS arbitral tribunal formed to resolve the Philippines claim against China.  This is another sign there will be no backing down on this arbitration. China is going to continue to loudly proclaim its commitment to rule of law, and continue to reject and maybe even denigrate the legitimacy of this arbitration.

6) International Rule OF Law, not Rule BY Law

Finally, I’ll note that the statement’s use of the phrase “international rule of law” might help clarify a debate among China-watchers as to what China means by the phrase “rule of law.”  As Josh Chin has usefully explained in the Wall Street Journal here, the Chinese phrase “法治“ (fazhi) is often translated as “rule of law” but could also be translated as “rule by law”.  Indeed, there is a traditional Chinese “Legalist” tradition that thinks of law as an instrument for ruling society, but less so as a constraint on lawmakers and government.  Most China-watchers would probably say that “rule by law” is a more accurate translation of what the Chinese Communist Party means when they call for the promotion of the “法治” (fazhi) in domestic reforms, since most expect the Party to remain effectively above the law for most key matters in the future, but for law to be used as a mechanism of social and political control of everyone else.

No matter what the Party means domestically by 法治 (fazhi), it is clear that its use internationally fits within the Western conception of law as an autonomous force constraining state power and preserving state equality.

In promoting international rule of law, the most important thing is to use universally applicable rules in international relations to distinguish right and wrong, end disputes and seek a win-win solution through coordination. This is vital to international rule of law. The formulation, interpretation and application of international law should all be conducive to this goal. Under no circumstances should we inflate the arrogance of hegemonism and power politics, still less use international rule of law to instigate disagreement and friction,for it will only lead us to a wrong direction.

Indeed, in its call for universally applicable principles, democratic lawmaking, and the use of law to restrain strong states from taking advantage of the weak, the Chinese Communist Party is invoking a version of rule of law that many Westerners would be familiar with.  It will be interesting to see if this conception bleeds over into the Party’s push for domestic rule of/by law reform.

 

Privileges and Immunities Hearing in The Haiti Cholera Case against the UN

by Kristen Boon

An interesting and significant hearing on the UN’s Privileges and Immunities in the Haiti Cholera case took place on Thursday morning, October 23, in the Southern District of New York.   For plaintiffs, the hearing was a milestone because it represented the first time that they have had the opportunity to argue any aspect of their case regarding the cholera epidemic in Haiti in a tribunal.   Hearings on privileges and immunities are rarely granted by domestic courts (judges generally make the determinations on the basis of written submissions of the parties), and so Judge Oetken’s invitation was an unusual and important development.  Plaintiffs were represented by the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, and the District Attorney responded for the United States, as host state to the UN.   Three amici spoke on behalf of plaintiffs.

In front of a packed court room, lawyers for the plaintiffs in Georges et al v. UN made the case that the UN has breached the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN by not providing an “appropriate mode of settlement” for private law matters as required by Article 29 of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN (CPIUN).   This argument is developed in the plaintiff’s August 28 sur reply (available here), in which they state that the broad immunities granted to the UN in Article 2 of the convention need to be read in light of the UN’s obligation to make appropriate modes of settlement in Article 29. According to the plaintiffs, the UN’s failure to adhere to Article 29, which in this case would involve the establishment of a mechanism like the Standing Claims Commission envisioned in the model status of forces agreement (SOFA), should result in a lifting of the UN’s immunities.

In response, the US government, who has asserted absolute immunity on the part of the UN, relied on its letter in support of its statement of interest dated July 7 (available here), making the case that the UN’s immunities are absolute under Article 2 of the CPIUN, and that the only exception to Article 2 is an express waiver of immunity, which the UN has not given in this case.  According to the US government, Article 29 cannot be read as a condition precedent to Article 2.

Judge Oetken displayed a high level of knowledge of the applicable international legal framework and precedent in US courts and abroad on the scope of the UN’s immunities.   He appeared to be using the oral argument as an opportunity to test ways to frame the question, and to challenge each of the parties with regards to the scope of applicable precedents.  He both orally acknowledged that he is bound by 2nd circuit precedent, and cases like Brzak, in which the UN’s immunity was found to be absolute, and expressed interest in whether courts elsewhere have faced a similar question or come to a different conclusion with regards to the scope of the UN’s immunities. He was interested in Plaintiffs argument that there is a fundamental bargain between member states behind the CPIUN, which, if breached by the UN’s decision not to provide an appropriate mode of settlement, might be a basis to lift the immunity protections under the CPIUN.  Using terminology from contract law, he asked the US government if the UN were not in material breach of the treaty in this instance, for failure to provide a mechanism to resolve the claim. He also engaged in a close reading of the text of the CPIUN – noting that Article 29 says that the UN shall provide appropriate modes of settlement, not may or might. Moreover, he challenged both parties about venue, asking whether, pursuant to Article 30 of the CPIUN, the ICJ wasn’t the better forum to resolve questions of interpretation, such as the relation between Articles 2 and 29, and why Haiti or the US couldn’t refer such a question to the ICJ.

From my perspective two issues that were not addressed by the parties in oral argument that seem important to the resolution of the case involve the distinction between public and private law disputes, and the status of private parties within the CPIUN.  To recall, the plaintiffs take the position that the claims in this matter are private (sounding in tort, involving a request for compensation for death or injury), whereas the UN’s response to their initial complaint stated that the claim was not receivable because it would involve a review of political and policy matters.  The UN did not provide reasons for this characterization. Given the centrality of the distinction between public and private law definitions under Article 29 with respect to the obligation to provide appropriate modes of settlement, clarity about the definition of public versus private law will be important to this and future such cases against International Organizations like the UN.  Second, the status of the claimants, here private individuals who were never part of the ‘grand bargain’ underlying the CPIUN between UN member states was not explored, yet this seems significant to the question of material breach.

Judge Oetken has reserved judgement, and a decision in this case is not expected before the new year. Two other class actions have been filed in US courts and are currently pending.

For background on this case, please see my prior blogs on Opinio Juris and an October 17 program on CBC Radio entitled “The Current” in which journalists, lawyers, and an independent academic (myself) were interviewed. http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/current_20141017_93209.mp3

Events and Announcements: October 26, 2014

by An Hertogen

Events

  • ALMA and the Radzyner School of Law of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) invite you to the opening session of the Joint International Humanitarian Law Forum for the 2014-2015 Academic year. The session will be held on Wednesday, October 29, 2014, 18:30, in the meeting room of the Communication school (room C228, Arazi-Ofer Building, 3nd floor) at the IDC. In this session they will host the distinguished Prof. Malcolm Shaw, Emeritus Sir Robert Jennings Professor of International Law, School of Law, University of Leicester. Prof. Shaw will discuss the topic of: Combatant Immunity for State Forces in Non-International Armed Conflicts. Following the presentation, there will be an open round table discussion. Please note that the session will be conducted in English. The meeting is free and open to the public. If you wish to attend the meeting please register in advance via forum [at] alma-ihl [dot] org.
  • On Thursday, October 30, from 4:00 to 5.30 p.m., GW Law will hold an event on Professor Chiara Giorgetti’s new book titled Litigating International Investment Disputes:  A Practitioner’s Guide (Brill/Nijhoff 2014).  The session will feature book contributors who will address topics such as selecting the arbitrator, representing the State, the award, and relationship of counsel/parties to the secretariat.  In addition to Prof. Giorgetti, panelists will include John Crook of GW Law, Eloise Obadia of Derains & Gharavi PLLC, and Jeremy Sharpe of the U.S. Department of State, Office of the Legal Adviser; the discussion will be moderated by Stanimir Alexandrov of Sidley Austin LLP.  The events will be held at GW Law, 2000 H Street, N.W., with the panel in the Jacob Burns Moot Court Room (Lerner 101), and a reception thereafter in the Dee Kelly Lounge.  All are invited.  No rsvp is needed. More information about the book here.

Call for papers

  • The 4th Conference of the Postgraduate and Early Professionals/Academics Network of the Society of International Economic Law (PEPA/SIEL) offers graduate students and early professionals/academics studying or working in the field of IEL an opportunity to present and discuss their research and to network with senior people in the field. The upcoming conference will take place on April 16-17, 2015 in Milan, Italy. If you wish to apply, or if you have any questions, write to: pepa2015conference [at] gmail [dot] com. The call for papers is here.
  • The deadline for submitting proposals for the 21st Annual Forum of Young Legal Historians (AYLH 2015, Tel-Aviv, March 1-3, 2015) is November 1. The Call for Papers and further information on the Forum are and will be available on the AYLH website.

Announcements

  • The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) is pleased to announce the launch of the “First Annual International and Comparative Disaster Law Essay Contest”.   The contest is co-sponsored by the IFRC, the American Society of international Law (ASIL) and the “International Disaster Law Project” of the Universities of Bologna, Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna, Roma Tre and Uninettuno (also associated with the Italian Red Cross Cross), with support from the International Institute of Humanitarian Law. They are looking for entries from graduate or undergraduate students (regardless of major/concentration) with a deadline of January 30, 2015.  Among the top prizes are sponsored participation in next year’s week-long “International Disaster Law Course” in Sanremo and a year membership in ASIL and waiver of fees for attendance of the 2015 Annual meeting on April. Note that all submissions must be in English and must address international or comparative legal issues for disasters linked to natural hazards. They are also looking for qualified persons willing to serve as readers/scorers of some of the contest submissions. The reading would take place in the first 2-3 weeks of February. If anyone is willing and available, he/she should write to disaster [dot] law [at] ifrc [dot] org and include his/her CV. The web link for the contest is here.

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

Ebola will be a Chapter VII issue

by Jens David Ohlin

Right now, the Ebola virus is spreading across the Africa, and the ability of the most affected states – Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea – to stop and contain the virus is very much in doubt. Although only a few cases have been reported in the United States and Europe, it is clear that it will be impossible to completely avoid disease transmission here.

Furthermore, it is also clear that the healthcare systems of Spain and the United States have been incapable of correctly handling cases so as to prevent transmission of the disease. In the U.S., for example, the healthcare system was unable to correctly contain an outbreak that initially started with just one patient. Imagine what would happen if the United States were facing 1000 cases of Ebola. Although clearly the U.S. has more resources to deal with such a scenario than, say, Sierra Leone or Liberia, the current cases do not inspire confidence.

One of the factors leading to the spread of Ebola is the high mobility of today’s populations. We no longer live in one city or even one country. We move around. Once Ebola changed from a rural virus to an urban disease, it became that much easier for the disease to reach epidemic levels.

The other reason the disease spread so quickly is that the governments of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea responded inappropriately to the outbreak. They did not put in place the required measures to identify and isolate potentially infected Ebola patients. Also, medical personnel did not – and in many cases still do not – have access to the necessary protective equipment to prevent them from contracting the virus and, in turn, passing it along to others. The failures here run deep and are systemic.

The outbreak will cross international borders, potentially overwhelming national healthcare systems, and causing thousands of deaths. Experts have already predicted that, absent appropriate intervention and global resources, by the end of November the outbreak could claim as many as 10,000 new infections each week. Imagine what the weekly infection rate will be in January, or next June. The infection rate increase exponentially; the numbers are truly frightening.

The media attention to the disease has been schizophrenic. On the one hand, news outlets are reveling in public hysteria over Ebola because it no doubt increases readership and viewership. At the same, the same media outlets run stories or commentaries decrying the public hysteria as irrational and disproportionate to the level of threat. The latter is incredibly unhelpful because it ignores the fact that many governments, in both Africa and even the United States, have under-reacted to the threat and therefore missed the boat with regard to early containment. I think much of the public hysteria is warranted and rational because the government has done insufficient planning for a worst-case scenario situation.

All of this adds up to a situation that may very well threaten international peace and security. The director of the W.H.O. has already said as much, although I’m not sure if she was aware of the legal consequences of this statement. In any event, I am aware of the legal consequences, and I do believe that Ebola may become a threat to international peace and security.

Once that happens, the Security Council will have the authority under Chapter VII to declare Ebola a threat to international peace and security and to authorize measures to repair the breach. Those remedies could include outside interventions in effected countries even in the absence of local government consent. The time might come when outside governments need to do more than offer assistance; they might need to take control over the response, not just because of a humanitarian obligation but also from collective self-interest. The way to defeat Ebola will be to take the fight to Africa rather than sit back and wait for it to come here.

This issue doesn’t line up as Africa versus the rest of the world. The countries with the greatest interest in seeing a more intrusive global response are the African nations that border on the outbreak but have so far remained Ebola-free. If the outbreak spreads, they will be the hardest hit and it is their interests that would be most vindicated by a global intervention. An uncontained outbreak in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea is a disaster for their African neighbors.

Outside intervention would infringe the sovereignty of the host governments, but with a Chapter VII enforcement resolution from the Security Council, those putative violations of sovereignty would be lawful and consistent with the U.N. Charter.

I hope none of this becomes necessary. I hope the Ebola outbreak is contained and eliminated next week. I hope one of the vaccines proves effective and the whole world gets the vaccine by January. But there is no rational reason for optimism. Disaster planning requires preparing for the worst. If Ebola lingers and spreads, it makes sense to think now of the appropriate global response, the role of the U.N. and the Security Council in leading that response, and the structure of a legal argument that would justify intrusive interventions.

Legal Issues at the GA This Fall

by Kristen Boon

For those interested in the 6th committee program at the General Assembly currently underway,  the schedule is available here.   Interesting topics are being discussed, including the Rule of Law, International Terrorism, Universal Jurisdiction, finalizing a draft UNCITRAL treaty on transparency in treaty based Investor-State disputes, and an update on the Responsibility of International Organizations.  The ILC’s report will be discussed between October 27 – November 5.  Documents for the sessions are available on the PaperSmart portal, and all the plenaries can be viewed by live webcast here.

In addition, on Thursday, Oct. 16, elections will take place for five non-permament Security Council seats.   Background on the seats available and the countries vying for them is available here.

 

How to Get Quirin Right When Quirin Was Wrong

by Jens David Ohlin

On Monday, the defense in the Al Bahlul case filed their reply brief. The case is important because it squarely presents the issue that was left hanging after Hamdan, i.e. whether the military commissions have jurisdiction to try inchoate conspiracy. It also raises the far deeper question of whether the jurisdiction of the military commissions is limited to offenses against the law of nations (the international law of war), or whether the military commission’s jurisdiction to try law of war offenses includes domestic offenses as well. The government has repeatedly argued in the past that historically U.S. commissions were used to try violations of the common law of war, such as conspiracy. If that argument holds water, then it does not really matter whether inchoate conspiracy is an international offense or not.

There has been a lot of commentary on this issue, and it seems to me that the heart of the dispute has to be Quirin, the German saboteurs case during World War II. In that case, the petitioners were prosecuted before a military commission after landing in the U.S., burying their uniforms, and setting afoot with orders to commit acts of sabotage against strategic installations. They were convicted by military commission and appealed to the Supreme Court.

The problem with the Quirin precedent is that the Supreme Court probably assumed that spying and sabotage were international offenses, which they are not. The proper understanding of the situation, which was correctly identified by Baxter in his famous article, was that the belligerents in Quirin were not entitled to the privilege of belligerency and therefore liable for prosecution under domestic law. But being unprivileged and subject to domestic prosecution is not the same as committing an international offense.  For what is worth, the best reading of Quirin is that the Supreme Court conflated these two situations:

By a long course of practical administrative construction by its military authorities, our Government has likewise recognized that those who during time of war pass surreptitiously from enemy territory into our own, discarding their uniforms upon entry, for the commission of hostile acts involving destruction of life or property, have the status of unlawful combatants punishable as such by military commission. This precept of the law of war has been so recognized in practice both here and abroad, and has so generally been accepted as valid by authorities on international law that we think it must be regarded as a rule or principle of the law of war recognized by this Government by its enactment of the Fifteenth Article of War.

This specification so plainly alleges violation of the law of war as to require but brief discussion of petitioners’ contentions. As we have seen, entry upon our territory in time of war by enemy belligerents, including those acting under the direction of the armed forces of the enemy, for the purpose of destroying property used or useful in prosecuting the war, is a hostile and war-like act. It subjects those who participate in it without uniform to the punishment prescribed by the law of war for unlawful belligerents. It is without significance that petitioners were not alleged to have borne conventional weapons or that their proposed hostile acts did not necessarily contemplate collision with the Armed Forces of the United States. Paragraphs 351 and 352 of the Rules of Land Warfare, already referred to, plainly contemplate that the hostile acts and purposes for which unlawful belligerents may be punished are not limited to assaults on the Armed Forces of the United States. Modern warfare is directed at the destruction of enemy war supplies and the implements of their production and transportation quite as much as at the armed forces. Every consideration which makes the unlawful belligerent punishable is equally applicable whether his objective is the one or the other. The law of war cannot rightly treat those agents of enemy armies who enter our territory, armed with explosives intended for the destruction of war industries and supplies, as any the less belligerent enemies than are agent similarly entering for the purpose of destroying fortified places or our Armed Forces. By passing our boundaries for such purposes without uniform or other emblem signifying their belligerent status, or by discarding that means of identification after entry, such enemies become unlawful belligerents subject to trial and punishment.

 

The Quirin decision is notoriously difficult to read because the court is inexact with its language. It appears to me that the Court assumed that an unprivileged belligerent who commits an offense out of uniform would be guilty of an international offense — a conclusion that does not follow. In reality, spying and related offenses are not, and were not, international offenses, but where offenses against domestic law, albeit ones that are mirrored in some way in almost every nation.

Herein lies the problem: How do you correctly interpret Quirin when Quirin‘s jurisdictional theory is built on a mistake? In my view, the correct reading is that Quirin stands for the proposition that military commissions are limited to prosecuting international offenses because that is what the Supreme Court believed spying to be. The fact that spying is a domestic offense does not, and should not, transform its holding into a much broader jurisdictional theory: that military commissions have jurisdiction over domestic offenses as well. True, the Supreme Court in Quirin upheld the military commission’s jurisdiction over spying, and spying is a domestic offense, but in reality the court was upholding the jurisdiction over spying-qua-international-offense, a category that unfortunately is a null set.

The defendant’s reply brief does not take this line. Rather, the defense makes the much simpler argument that spying was indeed an international offense, and that both the government today and Baxter got this wrong.  Here is the crucial paragraph in Al Bahlul’s brief:

Regardless of this article’s scholarly merits, Quirin is the authoritative law
in this case. And regardless of whether spying’s status changed after the Second World War, Quirin had a wealth of precedent and international legal authority
behind it in 1942. Lassa Oppenheim, International Law 2:223 (1921)
(“Oppenheim”) (“persons committing acts of espionage or war treason are – as will be shown below – considered war criminals and may be punished[.]”), Supp.App. 53; Henry Halleck, International Law 1:628-29 (1908) (“Halleck”) (“The act of spying is an offence against the laws of war alone; it is no crime in time of peace”), Supp.App. 36-37; George Davis, Outlines of International Law 241 (1887) (including spying within the “Crimes and Offences against the Laws of War” and a “crime[] at International Law[.]”), Supp.App. 13-14; Winthrop, at 770 (“By the law of nations the crime of a spy is punishable with death.”), Supp.App. 89; M. de Vattel, The Law of Nations 375 (1758) (describing spying as a form of treachery), Supp.App. 5; Military Commissions, 11 Op. Att’y Gen. 297, 312 (1865)
(“Infractions of the laws of nations are not denominated crimes, but offenses. …
[Acting as] a spy is an offense against the laws of war”); Hague Convention (IV)
Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and Its Annex, Oct. 18, 1907,
36 Stat. 2277, arts. 29-31 (regulating the punishment of spies). In fact, the very
first spying statute, passed in 1776, stated that spies should “suffer death according to the law and usage of nations.” Supp.App. 49-50.

While this is a conceptually clean argument, I don’t find it persuasive. Oppenheim’s quote simply asserts that spies are criminals without labeling the offense as domestic or international; Halleck too refers to it as an offense against the laws of war without calling it an international offense, the issue at bar here. Winthrop refers to it as a rule of the law of nations, although the quote does not say whether the offense itself is international or simply whether the law of nations dictates that spies are unprivileged (and by extension liable for punishment of domestic crimes), which is a far different matter. Vattel refers to it as treachery which again doesn’t speak to the classification issue. Finally, the Hague Convention regulates the manner in which spies will be punished, which again does not logically entail the crime’s classification as an international offense. That leaves the Davis quote as the only one that directly speaks to the international nature of the offense.

So my argument is different from the government’s argument and different from the defendant’s argument, although in result I side with Bahlul. Quirin stands for the proposition that military commissions prosecute international offenses, but not because the offenses in Quirin actually were international offenses, but simply because the Supreme Court (incorrectly) assumed that to be the case. And I think this mistake (conflating international offenses with unprivileged conduct violating domestic law) is an easy one to make and one that was more common in the past than it is today. Interpretation demands that we find the deeper principle in Quirin, and that is that military commissions prosecute international offenses.

Guest Post: The International Law Case for Democracy in Hong Kong

by Alvin Y.H. Cheung

[Alvin Y.H. Cheung is a Visiting Scholar at the US-Asia Law Institute at NYU School of Law.]

After two years of increasingly acrimonious debate over Hong Kong’s electoral reforms for 2017, the city’s pro-democracy movement has finally attracted global concern.  A consistent theme of international responses has been that Hong Kong’s democratisation should occur in accordance with the Basic Law, the city’s quasi-constitution.  The White House’s official response to a petition supporting democracy in Hong Kong was that it supported universal suffrage in Hong Kong “in accordance with the Basic Law.”  Similarly, Richard Graham MP, who heads the All Party Parliamentary Group on China, expressed the hope that further consultations would ensure a satisfactory choice that remained “within China’s Basic Law” (a misnomer that uncomfortably emphasised where the veto power over Hong Kong’s electoral reforms lay).  The implication of these statements is that the debate over how Hong Kong should choose its own leader is purely a municipal law matter.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made that point even more forcefully when his spokesperson stated that the Hong Kong protests were “a domestic matter.”  These accounts, framed purely in domestic law terms, are misleading. The 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the Question of Hong Kong (Joint Declaration) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – properly interpreted – both require that the Hong Kong electorate have a genuine choice in its leader.

Chief Executive Elections in Hong Kong and the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) Decision of August 31, 2014 (2014 Decision)

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive is currently chosen by a 1,200-strong Election Committee, the composition of which is carefully designed to favour pro-business and pro-Beijing interests.  The “race” in which Leung himself was selected, although more competitive than previous “elections,” was heavily influenced by the Beijing Government and its representatives.  Although Article 45 of the Basic Law provided that the “ultimate aim” was for Hong Kong to elect its Chief Executive by universal suffrage, the deadline for universal suffrage has been repeatedly delayed by the NPCSC, which retains the power to interpret the Basic Law and to make decisions about the necessity of electoral reform.  The 2014 Decision ostensibly laid down the framework for universal suffrage in 2017, after months of consultation by the Hong Kong Government.  Instead, it provided the flashpoint for the student protests that in turn triggered the Umbrella Revolution. Under the 2014 Decision:

1)      The NPCSC confirmed that the Chief Executive owed responsibilities both to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and to the Beijing Government;
2)      As a result, any Chief Executive would be required to “love the country and love Hong Kong” – a phrase that, in practice, means that pro-democracy politicians will be barred from candidacy;
3)      Only 2 or 3 candidates would be permitted to run;
4)      Candidates would be chosen by a 1,200-strong Nominating Committee; and
5)      Support from at least half of the nominators would be required for candidacy.

The upshot of the 2014 Decision, and its various restrictions on nomination, is to ensure that only persons who Beijing deems politically palatable can run.  Lawrence Lessig aptly described the framework of the 2014 Decision as “Tweedism updated.”

The Joint Declaration

On its face, Article 3(4) of the Joint Declaration permits Hong Kong’s Chief Executive to be appointed after either elections, or consultations.  It contains – as Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive CY Leung wrote in the Financial Times – no specific prescriptions regarding the election or consultation process.  However, such an interpretation ignores basic principles of treaty interpretation.  The requirements under Article 31(1) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) – to which both China and the UK are parties – govern the interpretation of the Joint Declaration, yet have been routinely ignored by the Hong Kong and Beijing Governments. I argue that the Article 31(1) factors point towards an interpretation of the Joint Declaration that, contrary to Beijing’s assertions, imposes substantive requirements on how Hong Kong’s Chief Executive can be elected.

First, any interpretation of “elections” or “consultation” that permits a purely formal process in which the Hong Kong electorate “elects” a candidate pre-ordained by the Nominating Committee strips such terms of any reasonable meaning.  Second, the Joint Declaration was intended to guarantee that Hong Kong enjoyed a “high degree of autonomy,” except in foreign affairs and defence.  Giving the Hong Kong public a genuine choice in electing its Chief Executive can only be consistent with that purpose, without necessarily undermining Chinese sovereignty.  Third, to the extent that the Basic Law is acknowledged by both China and the UK to be subsequent practice in applying the Joint Declaration, there is agreement that elections should be by “universal suffrage.”  Fourth – and most importantly – the Joint Declaration also declares, in Chapter XIII of Annex I, that the provisions of the ICCPR applicable in Hong Kong shall remain in force after 1997.

The Applicability of ICCPR Article 25(b)

Under ICCPR Article 25(b), citizens enjoy the right “[to] vote and be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage…” without unreasonable restrictions.  However, the applicability of Article 25(b) to Hong Kong has long been contentious.  When the UK acceded to the ICCPR on behalf of Hong Kong, it entered a reservation to Article 25(b).  Nonetheless, the Human Rights Committee has long taken the view that the reservation ceased to apply to elections for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council once an elected legislature was established.(Human Rights Comm., Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Comm (H.K.): U.K., U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/79/Add.57 (1995), ¶ 19.) The same reasoning would apply with equal force to Chief Executive elections; once the office of Chief Executive is filled through elections, such elections must comply with Article 25(b).  Curiously, the Committee’s Concluding Observations of 2013 in respect of Hong Kong appeared to accept that the reservation remained in force, without citing its previous Concluding Observations or explaining its departure from its previous position. (Human Rights Comm., Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Comm.: H.K., China, U.N. Doc. CCPR C/CHN-HKG/CO/3 (2013), ¶ 6.)

If one accepts that ICCPR Article 25(b) applies to Hong Kong’s Chief Executive elections, limits on the right to stand for election may not be subjected to unreasonable restrictions.  General Comment 25 adds that limits on the right to stand for election may only be based on “objective and reasonable criteria.”  The Human Rights Committee has consistently rejected political affiliation as an “objective and reasonable” criterion, (Chiiko Bwalya v Zambia, Commc’n No. 314/1988, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/48/D/314/1988 (1993); Lukyanchik v Belarus, Commc’n No. 1391/05, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/97/D/1392/2005; Sudalenko v Belarus, Commc’n No. 1354/05, U.N. Doc. CCPR/C/100/D/1354/2005.) including in a series of cases regarding arbitrary denial of registration to electoral candidates. (Lukyanchik and Sudalenko)  Indeed, by Beijing’s own admission, the pre-selection of candidates for political pliancy is not a criterion that could be legally defined.

Counter-Argument: The Source of Authority for the Basic Law

Shigong Qiang of Peking University has argued that Hong Kong’s “high level of autonomy” flows solely from authority from the Central Government, and that the Basic Law itself derives its authority solely from the PRC Constitution. (Shigong Qiang, 國際人權公約在香港:被誤讀的國際條約’ [The ICCPR in Hong Kong: The Misinterpreted International Treaty] Mingpao (HK, 25 Aug 2014).)  Yet this view does not appear to be universally shared even among Mainland academics.  The late Xiao Weiyun, one of the Mainland’s pre-eminent authorities on the Basic Law, conceded that the obligation to enact the Basic Law flowed from the Joint Declaration. (Xiao Weiyun, One Country Two Systems: An Account of the Drafting of the Basic Law 13(2001).  On Xiao see Jimmy Cheung, Basic Law ‘Guardian’ Dies at 78, S. China Morning Post (H.K.), Jul. 16, 2004.)  Nor does the text of the Basic Law support Qiang’s argument; the Preamble to the Basic Law states that it was enacted “to ensure the implementation of the basic policies of the [PRC] regarding Hong Kong.”  The “basic policies” referred to could only be those set out in Article 3 of, and Annex I to, the Joint Declaration.

Implications for the Electoral Reform Debate

If the Joint Declaration and ICCPR demand genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong, then China has not merely a domestic law obligation to democratise Hong Kong, but an international law obligation.  This in turn empowers the UK, and potentially other parties to the ICCPR, to ensure China fulfils its obligations.  Writing in the Financial Times, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Lord Patten of Barnes sought to remind Westminster that the United Kingdom had not merely a political and moral obligation to monitor developments in Hong Kong, but a legal obligation.  In light of ongoing developments, there is a compelling legal case for Whitehall to speak up in Hong Kong’s defence. Yet there are few signs that the United Kingdom’s long-standing policy of neglect will change.  In the wake of the 2014 Decision, the Foreign Office stated merely that the 2014 Decision would “disappoint” Hong Kong’s democrats, without any reference to the Joint Declaration.  Although Prime Minister David Cameron has now stated that he is “deeply concerned” about events in Hong Kong, it remains to be seen whether this will translate into a change in Foreign Office policy.

How to Solve the MV Limburg Mess: A Brief Exegesis on ‘Jurisdictional Facts’

by Jens David Ohlin

The Al Nashiri case before the Guantanamo military commission is currently stuck in a quagmire over the bombing of the oil tanker MV Limburg on Oct. 6, 2002, which Al Nashiri is alleged to be complicit in. Before trial, the defendant, Al Nashiri, moved to dismiss the charges related to the MV Limburg (which is just one of many charges in the case) on the grounds that the government does not have jurisdiction over the MV Limburg bombing since it was not part of the armed conflict between the United States and al-Qaeda. The MV Limburg was a French vessel (not American).

Instead of interpreting the motion as dealing with Congress’ jurisdiction to prescribe (as the defense appeared to suggest), the judge interpreted the motion as one attacking the jurisdiction of the military commission to hear the case because the attack was not connected to the hostilities between the U.S. and al-Qaeda. Since the government had not presented evidence that the attack was connected to those hostilities, the judge eventually dismissed the charges.

The U.S. government is appealing the dismissal of the MV Limburg charges, and it filed its appeal brief on September 29, 2014 to the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review. The government’s position is that the existence of hostilities (or a connection between the attack and the hostilities) is a question that goes to the merits, not jurisdiction, and therefore the government should be permitted to proceed to trial where it will demonstrate this connection. The connection between the hostilities and the attack is a merits question because the existence of hostilities is a predicate element of any war crime.  No war, no war crime.

So it is clearly a question that goes to the merits that should be decided at trial.  On this point the government is clearly correct. However, Al Nashiri is also correct that the same fact — the connection to the hostilities — is an essential ingredient of the court’s jurisdiction under the law of war. The military commission does not, and should not, have jurisdiction over crimes unrelated or unconnected to the underlying military conflict. So it is a jurisdictional question too. It is both at the same time. What the court really needs to figure out is how to treat a fact that is both jurisdictional and an element of the offense (merits) at the same time. Should it be proved at trial or does the party need to show the court, prior to trial, that it has jurisdiction over the case?

As should be clear by now, this basic problem is not unique to a military commission. It happens any time that the same factual element goes to jurisdiction and merits in the very same case. A court confronted with the twin nature of such a fact needs to determine whether to treat it as it does other jurisdictional elements (determine prior to trial) or as a merits question (determine at the conclusion of the trial).

The very best article on this subject, by Kevin Clermont, is simply titled Jurisdictional Fact, 91 Cornell L. Rev. 973 (2006). As Clermont convincingly explains, judges faced with this quandary should adopt a bifurcated approach with two standards of decision, one for the jurisdictional analysis and a second for the merits analysis:

All courts, then, should apply the prima facie standard of proof whenever a jurisdictional fact overlaps the merits. “Overlapping” here means that a factual finding in establishing … jurisdiction would also go toward proving the merits of the claim, with “merits” broadly meaning those issues that arise other than in determining the forum’s authority.

 

So, at the pre-trial phase, the court should require that the party asserting jurisdiction (which in Al Nashiri’s case would be the government prosecutors) should make a prima facie demonstration of the jurisdictional fact, and then at trial should be required to demonstrate the same fact under the higher standard, which in a civil case would be preponderance of the evidence or in a criminal case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Most importantly, this basic scheme applies regardless of whether one interprets Al Nashiri’s motion as going to personal jurisdiction or subject matter jurisdiction. It does not matter which one we use to classify the motion. If there is a fact that is both jurisdictional and merits, the government must demonstrate it pre-trial with a prima facie case, and then at trial under the regular standard for the merits decision.  Here is how Clermont explains the basic point:

From a morass of confused cases on a procedural point of significance, there emerges a startlingly clear rule that covers jurisdictional fact, and much more. On any factual element or legal question of forum authority, from subject-matter jurisdiction to venue whenever properly challenged, the proponent of forum authority must make the usual showing of more-likely-than-not, subject to this exception: if that element or question overlaps the merits of the claim, the proponent need provide only prima facie proof to establish the forum’s authority. Depending on the particular threshold issue’s importance, “prima facie” might mean any of the standards below the more-likely-than-not standard, namely, slightest possibility, reasonable possibility, substantial possibility, or equipoise. That lower standard will allow the judge to decide efficiently but definitively whether the forum has authority to decide the merits–doing so without entailing or foreclosing any decision on the merits, a decision to which a higher standard would apply.

Applying this basic scheme to Al Nashiri’s case, here is the correct result for the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review to consider. The government is indeed required to make a factual showing of the hostilities connection prior to trial, though it need not be burdened with demonstrating it under the standard applicable at the merits phase. Instead, the government was only required to make a prima facie showing of this jurisdictional fact. That being said, the government would be wrong if it claims that it bears no burden at all until trial — that clearly is an exaggeration. The task for the appeals court is to recognize the appropriate standard for such jurisdictional facts — the prima facie showing — and then decide if the government met that burden. If the lower judge’s assessment is correct that the government made no showing whatsoever on the hostilities question, then the appeals court should conclude that the charges were properly dismissed. If, on the other hand, the appeals court concludes that the government did make this prima facie case, and can cite to particular facts in the record that are sufficient to meet the prima facie showing, then the charges should be reinstated.

One final point. The government brief seems to assert that the government’s prima facie showing is already met because Al Nashiri never contested his status as an alien unprivileged enemy belligerent (AUEB). But this goes to personal jurisdiction, not subject matter jurisdiction. The government then goes on to use personal jurisdiction to bootstrap its way into subject matter jurisdiction under the theory that subject matter jurisdiction is automatically established once the status of the individual is established. This might be the way that it works for a court martial under the UCMJ (where the status of the individual service-member is sufficient to trigger the authority of the military court), but this conflation of personal and subject matter jurisdiction is not appropriate for military commission cases trying enemy belligerents.

Unlike domestic court martial proceedings which retain plenary authority to prosecute all UCMJ offenses against service-members, military commission cases are jurisdictionally limited to offenses arising from the conflict between the parties — the very conflict that grounds the genesis of the military commission under international law. Simply put, military commissions cannot use the existence of an armed conflict as a pretext to assert plenary authority over all criminal behavior committed by the individuals who lawfully fall under their personal jurisdiction.

Can a U.S. Judge Hold the Government of Argentina in “Contempt”?

by Julian Ku

In the latest round in the never-ending battle between Argentina and its holdout bondholders, a U.S. court has found Argentina to be in “contempt” for trying to circumvent that US court’s orders. Argentina has been outraged by such an order, arguing that a  state cannot be held in “contempt” because it is an affront to its sovereign dignity (with Argentina’s president denouncing the U.S. judge as “senile“).   Indeed, the Argentine government on Monday sent a very interesting letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry setting out why it believes it cannot be subject to a “contempt” order in a domestic U.S. court.

The Argentine Republic notes that it is completely absurd for plaintiffs to argue that a local judge can hold a foreign State “in contempt”. This position can only arise from ignorance or a distorted view of the fundamental rules of international law currently in force and the peaceful coexistence of global order.

The principles on which international coexistence rests are reflected in the Charter of the United Nations. One of these principles refers to sovereign equality of all States and is expressly embodied in Article 2(1) of that Charter. This is a fundamental principle when it comes to determining what a State can or cannot do in relation to other States.

When any branch of government of a State denies “equal” status to another State, it not only manifestly violates international law but it also risks setting a precedent for the commission of similar violations of international law to its own detriment.

I think that Argentina’s argument that contempt orders and other judicial sanctions against it are violations of international law (even thought it has consented to that domestic jurisdiction) can draw some support from the statements of the U.S. government itself (which is quoted extensively in the letter).  The problem for Argentina is that the U.S. judicial system has not agreed with the U.S. government’s views on many of these questions.  So US law is no help to Argentina here (for the most part). And the U.S. government has almost no legal mechanisms to change the district court’s actions here, so the letter is largely for public consumption.

The harder question is whether (as Argentina argues) there is a generally accepted rule of international law that a court cannot hold a sovereign in contempt where that sovereign has consented to the jurisdiction of that court.  This is a tricky question and one worth thinking about further. I hope to post on that when I have had more time to digest it.

To Debate or Not to Debate in a Time of War

by Kristen Boon

John Stewart’s Sept. 29 clip “Cameron – What are you Doing?” is a must see on comparative constitutional law.   Stewart contrasts the fulsome and spirited debate in the UK on whether to authorize airstrikes against ISIL, with the absence of congressional action in the US.   Well worth watching. And quite funny.   Here is the show.

 

 

Ground Troops & the Myth of Air Power

by Jens David Ohlin

House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview on Sunday that ground troops may be necessary in order to stop the threat of ISIS. Although his comments were interwoven with lots of unnecessary talk of ISIS being barbarians, which I don’t think is terribly helpful, I do agree with his bottom-line assessment: air power and proxy ground troops won’t be enough to win this war.

This points to a frequent mistake. Politicians think they can eliminate the cost of going to war by conducting an air war. That may work in some situations, but they are a distinct minority. The NATO bombing campaign against Serbia (led by General Clark) was frustratingly slow and borderline ineffective without the introduction of ground troops to make a real difference on the ground.

Air power is effective in some situations, especially when combined with a select number of well-trained, well-equipped, and highly motivated infantry on the ground. Air power might also be appropriate to punish an international wrongdoer and deter them from violating international law in the future, in very isolated ways.

In isolation, air power cannot win a war that is designed to deprive an enemy of governmental control over a territory. An enemy facing only air power can hunker down and wait out the air assault especially when, as in this case, the President at first announced that ground troops were off the table. Obama smartly reversed course and is now issuing more ambiguous statements so as not to motivate ISIS forces to wait out the air assault (which cannot go on forever).

True, grounds troops are not entirely absent from this conflict. It is just that they are from Iraq, Turkey, and the moderate Syrian opposition. But the Iraqi Army is incredibly weak at the moment and there is little incentive for troops to show up to fight. The Syrian opposition is also disorganized. And no amount of money and weapons is going to fix that.

Boehner is right that ground troops are necessary if the US is serious about defeating ISIS. But if that happens, I don’t think the Obama Administration will be able to hang on to the fiction that the intervention is covered by the 9/11 AUMF. A new authorization, and political buy-in from Congress, will be required.