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Everybody Has Friends, Why Not the ICC: On the Court’s Power to Appoint Amicus Curiae Prosecutors

by Ekaterina Kopylova

[Ekaterina Kopylova is a PhD candidate at MGIMO-University, Moscow, and a former Legal Assistant with the ICC Office of the Prosecutor on the Bemba, et. al case]

A month ago the ICC Trial Chamber V(A) vacated without prejudice the charges of crimes against humanity against the sitting Kenyan Vice-President William Ruto. This case involved intense cross-parties allegations of witness tampering. Some of these allegations have been found serious enough to substantiate a warrant of arrest against a former journalist Walter Barasa, who is suspected of having influenced or sought to influence several persons to withdraw as Prosecution witnesses.

At trial, the Ruto Defense alerted the Prosecution and the Chamber to the conduct of certain Prosecution witnesses that, in its view, might be constitutive of offences against the administration of justice, to no avail. On May 2, 2016, it decided to take these allegations to the next level. It requested in essence that the Trial Chamber directs the Prosecutor to appoint an amicus to investigate several Prosecution witnesses, intermediaries and officials for the possible violations of article 70 of the Rome Statute.

The Office of the Prosecutor should not have to go to great pains to convince the Chamber to reject the Defense request. Although a Chamber may refer facts to the Prosecutor, the choice of whether and how to proceed, including what safeguards against possible conflicts of interests to put in place, is clearly hers. Specifically, pursuant to article 41(2) of the Statute, the Office shall act independently, and neither solicit, nor accept instructions from any external source.

However, the Ruto Defense may reconsider the relief sought and ask the Court to appoint an amicus curiae prosecutor directly.

Article 70 stipulates that “the Court has jurisdiction over […] offences against its administration of justice.” The Court determines on a case-by-case basis the best way to exercise this jurisdiction. Like any international organisation, the Court is free to act in any manner consistent with its founding treaty to achieve the goals of that treaty. For example, the Pre-Trial Chamber in the Bemba, et al. case appointed an independent counsel answerable directly to it to vet the evidence received from the domestic authorities for any privileged material.

Nothing in the statutory framework prevents the Court from appointing an amicus curiae prosecutor, at least with respect to the article 70 proceedings and in other cases, where appropriate. This may be the case, for example, when the allegations concern a member of the Office or a witness who testified for it. Proceedings contaminated by suspicion of collusion are unlikely to meet the standards of international justice. It is the Court’s duty to ensure such situations do not happen.

Under article 42(1) of the Statute, the Office is an organ “responsible for receiving referrals and any substantiated information on crimes […], for examining them and for conducting investigations and prosecutions before the Court.” This article merely describes the Office’s duties within the Court’s system without prohibiting their temporary transfer to another person or entity, if the good administration of justice so requires.  Neither the Statute, nor the Rules of Procedure and Evidence suggest that the Office of the Prosecutor has exclusive power to conduct investigations and prosecutions of the offences within the Court’s jurisdiction for the Court’s benefit.

Appointing an amicus to deal with the contemptuous conduct is normal practice at the ad hoc tribunals, including when the Prosecutor may be conflicted. Admittedly, there is an express provision to this effect in their Rules. Nevertheless, the parallel with the ad hocs seems apposite. No statute provides for the power of those tribunals to punish contempt or the modalities of its exercise; however, such powers are not expressly prohibited, either. Thus, the contempt cases are a good illustration of the international courts taking initiative to face challenges that have not necessarily been articulated by the drafters.

To allay the conflict of interests related concerns, the Office of the Prosecutor may envisage the creation of a special division dedicated exclusively to the investigation and prosecution of the article 70 offences. Such division should be comprised of investigators and trial lawyers acting independently and reporting directly to the Prosecutor or a special Deputy Prosecutor. Those who work interchangeably on the core crimes and article 70 offences naturally tend to employ the same techniques and strategies to both, losing in efficiency and speed, as what is good for the core crimes is usually bad for the article 70 offences. Specifically, whereas the core crimes cases are largely predicated on witness evidence, in the article 70 cases such evidence alone may be insufficient to sustain a finding of guilt. Having a focused team will enhance productivity and effectiveness in full respect of the Statute and the fair trial rights of the accused.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, May 9, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Here’s your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

Europe

Americas

Oceania

UN/World

Events and Announcements: May 8, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Sponsored Announcements

  • Admissions to the Venice Academy of Human RightsBacklash against Human Rights? (4 – 13 July 2016), organised by the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EIUC) are open until 22 May 2016. The Venice Academy of Human Rights is a centre of excellence for human rights education, research and debate. The  Venice Academy provides an enriching forum for emerging ideas, practices and policy options in human rights research, education and training. It hosts distinguished experts to promote critical and useful research, innovation and exchange of current knowledge. The theme Backlash against Human Rights? – International and regional human rights systems have witnessed remarkably outspoken critiques that emphasise a movement back towards the nation State and national sovereignty. The European Court of Human Rights is occasionally openly criticised, if not attacked, for overstepping its competencies and intervening in national affairs. National supreme courts reassert their own status and authority. Professor Robert McCorquodale, Director of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law in London, is the General Course Responsible “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back: Dancing to the Human Rights Beat”. Developments in human rights in recent years have seen the expansion of obligations on states, the extension of human rights responsibilities to international organisations and corporations, and the application in situations of armed conflict. There have also been resistance to these advances by groups within and across states. This series of lectures will explore these types of advance and resistance, and the opportunities and dangers these may indicate for human rights protections. The enrolment fee for the Venice Academy of Human Rights is – 1320 EUR including accommodation in a single room from 3-13 July – 1050 EUR including accommodation in a shared double room from 3-13 July – 700 EUR without accommodation. The fee includes: tuition, lunches on class days (Monday-Friday), refreshments, social events, accommodation (if applicable).
    Theme: Backlash against Human Rights?
    Dates: Monday, 4 July – Wednesday, 13 July 2016
    Faculty: András Sajó (opening lecture), Robert McCorquodale (general course), Helen Fenwick, Mark Goodale, Geir Ulfstein
    Participants: Academics, practitioners, PhD/JSD and master students
    Type of courses: Lectures, seminars, discussion sessions and panel presentations
    Number of hours: 34 hours
    Venue: Monastery of San Nicolò, Venice – Lido, ItalyInterested candidates should register by compiling the online application form. For any query about the Venice Academy please contact us at venice [dot] academy [at] eiuc [dot] org.
  • Admissions to the Venice School of Human Rights – Human Rights as Our Responsibility (24 June – 2 July 2016), organised by the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EIUC) are open until 22 May 2016, early bird 15 April 2016 with 10% discount. The Opening Lectures of the School will be held by Prof. Manfred Nowak, Professor at the University of Vienna and EIUC Secretary General, one of the most renowned human rights experts (his academic career includes more than 400 publications) by Andrew Anderson, member of the Advisory Board of the Centre for Applied Human Rights at the University of York, Front Line Defenders on the Board of the EU Human Rights Defenders Mechanism, and by Hauwa Ibrahim, human rights lawyer who won the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize in 2005. After a first session common to all participants dedicated to a general introduction on international systems of protection of human rights and related mechanisms, the programme will develop into the three thematic clusters – Business and Human Rights, Technical Progress and Human Rights and Violence against Women as Gender Based Violence. From ‘CEDAW’ To Istanbul And Beyond – among which participants will have to choose.The Venice School is addressed to graduate students from all academic backgrounds, students from the different regional masters in human rights and democratisation, to E.MA alumni as well as to human rights practitioners willing to deepen and improve their knowledge in human rights issues. Training language: All courses will be held in English. It is, therefore, essential that all participants understand and speak English fluently. All participants attending the Venice School of Human Rights will receive a certificate of participation upon completion of the course.The enrolment fee for 2016 Venice School of Human Rights is 1100,00 € and it will include:
    • tuition fee
    • lunches on class days
    • accommodation with breakfast included in a shared double-room for 9 nights (23 June – 2 July 2016) in Venice at the Crociferi residence (Crociferi)
    • free shuttle to/from EIUC site on class days at the starting and ending of lectures

    Interested candidates should register by compiling the online application form. For any query about the Venice School please contact us at veniceschool [at] eiuc [dot] org

Call for Papers

  • The Editorial Board of UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence is pleased to call for submissions for the second issue of 2016. This will be our ‘City Issue’ and the Editorial Board welcomes submissions that engage with this general theme. The topic is broadly conceived and leaves scope for any area of law or jurisprudence (domestic, regional or international) that is deemed to be ‘City’ related. See here for a non-exhaustive list of potential topics. The editors accept articles of 8,000-12,000 words, case notes of 6,000-8,000 words and book reviews of 1,000-2,000 words. All submissions must comply with the Oxford University Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA). Contributions that have already been published or that are under consideration for publication in other journals will not be considered. The (extended) deadline for submissions is 15th May 2016. Manuscripts must be uploaded via the submissions section on the website. For further information and guidelines for authors please visit the website.

Announcements

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

A Quick Bleg

by Kevin Jon Heller

Does anyone have an idea of what would be a fair hourly rate for someone to cite-check — both for substance and for accuracy of citation — a leading international law treatise published by a leading university press? Rates in pounds, dollars, or euros would be most appreciated!

What the European Convention on Human Rights Has Actually Done For You

by Patrick Wall

[Patrick Wall is studying for an LL.M. in International Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, as the Sir Ninian Stephen Menzies Scholar in International Law.]

Last week, the British home secretary, Theresa May, called for the United Kingdom to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

Describing ‘the case for Britain remaining in organisations such as NATO, the World Trade Organisation and the United Nations’ as ‘clear’, Ms May argued that ‘the case for remaining signatory of the European Convention on Human Rights, which means that Britain is subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights, is not clear’:

The [European Convention] can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals – and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights. So regardless of the EU referendum, my view is this: if we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the [European Convention] and the jurisdiction of its court.

Ms May has faced a ‘huge backlash’ over her comments. Amnesty International has said that withdrawing from the European Convention would ‘strike at the very architecture of international protection’, whilst Liberty criticised Mrs May for ‘playing fast and loose’ with the legacy of one of the Conventions’ early architects, Sir Winston Churchill.

Ms May’s comments also put her at odds with colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the House of Commons. On her own side, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that withdrawal is not government policy—for the time being, at least—while Tory MP and former attorney general Dominic Grieve said that he was ‘disappointed because it shows a lack of understanding of the positive impact the [European Convention] is for the EU’.

Across the aisle, shadow justice secretary Charles Falconer has described Ms May’s comments as ‘so ignorant, so illiberal, so misguided’:

Ignorant because you have to be a member of the [European Convention] to be a member of the EU [and Ms May supports the UK remaining in the EU].

Illiberal because…there has to be a source external to a government determining what human rights are.

And misguided because it will so damage the standing of the UK, a country that above all plays by the rules and that is going around the world saying we should comply as a world with human rights.

This is so, so appalling.

The Guardian newspaper (affectionately known to some as The Grauniad) has responded somewhat differently; it has released a film—modelled on Monty Python’s ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’—starring Sir Patrick Stewart as a would-be Prime Minster who sees the European Convention as his ultimate nemesis (do be mindful of an expletive at the end):

Whilst the film is undoubtedly enjoyable, I do wonder whether it might do more harm than good.

As might be expected from a production for popular consumption, the film’s claims aren’t entirely accurate. In addition to suggesting—incorrectly—that the European Convention is an institution of the European Union, many of the rights that the Convention is said to have ‘given’ the British (one is reminded of God giving Moses the Ten Commandments) existed in some form well before anyone had ever thought of having a European Convention on Human Rights. Slavery, for example, was abolished in England and Wales by Lord Mansfield’s decision in Somerset v Stewart in 1772. Although their precise contours have developed since the 50s, fair trial standards and notions of privacy, freedom of religion and non-discrimination were far from unknown to the British legal system. This is recognised towards the end of the film, of course, when one of Prime Minister Stewart’s colleagues recognises the role of British lawyers and British law in drafting the Convention.

Furthermore, whilst the Good Friday Agreement certainly requires the Northern Ireland Assembly to comply with the European Convention, the suggestion that ‘we would need to make peace all over again’ if Britain withdrew is plainly untrue. WTO Agreements frequently incorporate the provisions of other treaties that are then binding on members, regardless of whether or not they are parties to the incorporated treaty.

The point is not to nit-pick over factual errors in the film. As a political enterprise, certain dramatic license is understandable. The suggestion, however, that the main achievement of the European Convention was to bestow upon a grateful British people rights that were previously unknown to them, as well as the subsequent admission that this wasn’t the case, makes the film hopelessly confused. My concern is that this confused account of the benefits of the European Convention gives fodder for those who advocate Britain’s withdrawal.

Furthermore, it obscures the real arguments in favour of the European Convention. The great innovation contained in the European Convention was not the agreement between the High Contracting Parties as to what rights were worthy of protection; the rights enshrined are broadly reflective of those in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the governments of Europe were active in formulating and unanimously supported. The Convention did not enshrine the next generation of human rights, but the next generation of human rights enforcement through the establishment of a strong mechanism—the European Court of Human Rights—to hold States’ feet to the fire when the temptation to abandon principles for reasons of expediency or popularity was strong. This interpretation is supported by the travaux préparatoires and is reflected in the Convention’s preamble (‘Being resolved, as the Governments of European countries which are like-minded and have a common heritage of political traditions, ideals, freedom and the rule of law to take the first steps for the collective enforcement of certain of the Rights stated in the Universal Declaration’).

By playing a leading role in the drafting and adoption of the European Convention, the United Kingdom did the cause of human rights a great service. It clearly asserted that, to be truly meaningful and effective, human rights must be enforceable. If the UK were to withdraw, the cause of human rights would take a large backward step; not just in Britain, not just in Europe, but everywhere. After all, if this great contribution to the protection of human rights can be reversed, what else can be?

Was the Kunduz Hospital Attack a War Crime?

by Jens David Ohlin

The Pentagon has released its report on the U.S. air assault against a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in October. The picture painted by the Pentagon report is pretty damning. The attack killed 42 people and turned out to be a giant mistake. The U.S. attacked the wrong building.

Initially, some Afghanistan officials suggested that insurgents had taken up positions in the hospital—an allegation that spurred an intense legal debate about whether, and when, the presence of such fighters would render the hospital a legitimate military target under LOAC. The Pentagon report makes clear that these allegations were unfounded. The insurgents were located in a different building, and the U.S. hit the wrong target.

The Pentagon report details a litany of mistakes—not just a single mistake but indeed a “cascade” of errors. The mistakes were clearly evidence of unprofessional behavior and deserving of reprimands. A total of 16 Americans involved in the attacked were officially disciplined administratively.

But was the attack criminal? The problem is that the killing of the innocent civilians was not intentional, it was accidental. As a matter of criminal law, it was either reckless or negligent (more on that later), but the civilian killings were not performed with purpose.

The New York Times had this to say about reckless attacks on civilians:

The failure to bring any criminal charges was “simply put, inexplicable,” said John Sifton, the Asia policy director of Human Rights Watch.

There are legal precedents for war crimes prosecutions based on acts that were committed with recklessness, he added, and recklessness or negligence does not necessarily absolve someone of criminal responsibility under the United States military code.

Is Sifton right about this?

The answer to this question is complicated. I’ve written an entire article about this, Targeting and the Concept of Intent, and I can’t go into that level of detail in a blog post. And even my full-length article did not fully address all angles of the question. The issue is exceedingly complex. But let’s make some preliminary observations.

The Rome Statute includes two particular war crimes of interest to the discussion.

The first provision defines as a war crime:

Intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities;

The second provision defines as a war crime:

Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects or widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated;

The first war crime is a violation of the principle of distinction: intentionally killing civilians. The second war crime is a violation of the principle of proportionality: causing disproportionate collateral damage.

The problem with applying the first war crime provision from the Rome Statute is that the attack against the civilians in the Hospital building in Kunduz did not obviously involve “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population.”

Now here is where things get complicated. The word “intentionally” does not have a stable meaning across all legal cultures. As I note in my article, the word intentionally is generally understood in common law countries as equivalent to purpose or knowledge, depending on the circumstances. But some criminal lawyers trained in civil law jurisdictions are more likely than their common law counterparts to give the phrase “intentionally” a much wider definition, one that includes not just purpose and knowledge but also recklessness or what civilian lawyers sometimes call dolus eventualis. Now for present purposes I am going to avoid the difficult controversy of whether dolus eventualis is equivalent to recklessness or a higher mental state (residing somewhere above recklessness but well below knowledge), and for the purposes of this discussion simply assume that dolus eventualis and recklessness are similar mental states dealing with risk-taking behavior.

Now here is the key point. In the civilian tradition, the concept of intent is a wider category that in some circumstances might include recklessness. This equation sounds odd to a common-law trained criminal lawyer, because to an American student of criminal law, intent and recklessness are fundamentally different concepts. But just for the sake of argument, what would happen if intent were given this wider meaning? Could the U.S. service members be prosecuted for intentionally directing an attack against the civilian population because “intentionally” includes lower mental states such as dolus eventualis or recklessness?

I worry about this argument. And here’s why. If intent = recklessness, then all cases of legitimate collateral damage would count as violations of the principle of distinction, because in collateral damage cases the attacker kills the civilians with knowledge that the civilians will die. And the rule against disproportionate attacks sanctions this behavior as long as the collateral damage is not disproportionate and the attack is aimed at a legitimate military target. But if intent = recklessness, then I see no reason why the attacking force in that situation couldn’t be prosecuted for the war crime of intentionally directing attacks against civilians, without the court ever addressing or analyzing the question of collateral damage. Because clearly a soldier in that hypothetical situation would “know” that the attack will kill civilians, and knowledge is certainly a higher mental state than recklessness. That result would effectively transform all cases of disproportionate collateral damage into violations of the principle of distinction and relieve the prosecutor of the burden of establishing that the damage was indeed disproportionate, which seems absurd to me.

The correct result, it seems to me, is to explicitly codify a new war crime of recklessly attacking civilians, and the codification of such a crime should use the word “recklessly” rather than use the word “intentionally.” The idea would be to create a duty on the part of attacking forces and then penalize them for failing to live up to it. (Of course, the scope and content of that duty would then have to be elucidated through case law adjudication.) And the existence of a separate war crime would help signal the moral difference between intentionally killing civilians and recklessly killing them.

If such a hypothetical prosecution were to take place, is there sufficient evidence that the attacking force was reckless in the Kunduz hospital case? Unfortunately yes. Among the factual issues are:

1. The targeting system of the AC-130 gunship was not operating correctly because the gunship had to take evasive maneuvers due to ground fire.

2. The targeting system therefore identified the target as an empty field, which forced the gunship’s crew to locate the correct target visually.

3. Using visual confirmation, the crew located the wrong building—the hospital—instead of the actual building where the insurgents were located.

4. Apparently the crew of the gunship either did not have a list of no-fire targets on board or failed to check the hospital coordinates against the list.

5. Commanders at HQ failed to check the coordinates of the hospital target with the coordinates on their no-fire target list. Had they done so, they would have realized that the gunship was about to engage a no-fire target.

6. After the attack began, hospital workers and MSF officials began frantically calling and texting the U.S. military to stop the attack, but there was a substantial delay before the attack was finally halted.

7. According to the Times report, at least one commander was hesitant to stop the attack when they did not have “situational awareness” (SA) on the ground. Apparently he was concerned that friendly ground forces might remain in danger even as they called off the attack. Of course, the opposite turned out to be true: because they lacked SA, they continued to attack the wrong target without a firm understanding of who or what they were really attacking. Obviously it was a mistake for them to have attacked the target in the first place given that they had no SA.

Does all of this add up to a crime of recklessness? I don’t know. That would be for the fact-finder to decide, but a prosecutor could certainly make out a prima facie case that targeting “best practices” were not followed in this case, leading to the identification of the wrong target, and the loss of 42 innocent lives. But I don’t think this is a Rome Statute case. There may be sound moral reasons to create a new war crime provision for accidents of this type, but I don’t think this conduct falls under the existing law as it stands now.

The $50 BILLION Treaty Interpretation Question: Dutch Court Sets Aside Yukos Award Against Russia

by Julian Ku

Russia scored a huge victory today when the Hague District Court in the Netherlands court set aside a $50 billion arbitral award in favor of former shareholders of Yukos.  The $50 billion Yukos award (that’s BILLION, with a “B”),  is the largest arbitration award ever issued, was issued under the authority of the Energy Charter Treaty.  The arbitral tribunal (hosted at the Permanent Court of Arbitration) had found that the Russian government was liable for expropriating the former shareholders of Yukos through use of tax laws, harassment, criminal punishments, and other government measure without providing adequate compensation.

The Hague District Court set aside the award on jurisdictional grounds.  According to this English-language summary, the Dutch court held that Russia was not bound to arbitration under the Energy Charter Treaty because it never ratified the ECT.  The arbitral tribunal held in its interim award that Russia was bound under Article 45, which calls for provisional application of the treaty pending ratification.  But the Hague District Court disagreed.

Here is Article 45(1) and (2)(a):

(1) Each signatory agrees to apply this Treaty provisionally pending its entry into force for such signatory in accordance with Article 44, to the extent that such provisional application is not inconsistent with its constitution, laws or regulations.

(2) (a) Notwithstanding paragraph (1) any signatory may, when signing, deliver to the Depository a declaration that it is not able to accept provisional application. The obligation contained in paragraph (1) shall not apply to a signatory making such a declaration. Any such signatory may at any time withdraw that declaration by written notification to the Depository.

Russia did not make such an Article 45(2) declaration, but the Dutch Court held that Article 45(1) still acted as a jurisdictional bar on the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction because it requires the arbitral tribunal to go back and assess whether the dispute resolution provision (Article 26) of the Energy Charter treaty is “inconsistent” with Russia’s “constitution, laws or regulations.”  the Dutch court concluded that Russia’s constitution does not permit it to be bound to an arbitration assessing the legality of its tax laws without the consent of its legislature.

I don’t have a strong view on who is right here. I will note that Russia is represented by the well-known New York law firm Cleary Gottlieb (where I once toiled as a young summer associate) and that Russia mustered an impressively long list of international law experts on its behalf such as Martti Koskenniemi, Alain Pellet, and Gerhard Hafner (to list just a few).  The claimants had their own impressive list including James Crawford and my former Yale professor Michael Reisman.  This is a truly difficult treaty interpretation question, which just happens to have $50 billion riding on it.  So we can be sure there will be an appeal of the Hague District Court’s ruling.

It is worth noting that also that Russia has a lot riding on this case, but it also decided to litigate this matter fully even though it believes the tribunal has no jurisdiction.  This turns out to be a smart move, since they seem to have won (for now) and because not litigating would have still subjected them to lots of enforcement actions against them around the world. So litigation seems to have worked out for Russia this time. I wonder if that will encourage Russia  to try its hand at litigation in future cases as well?

 

Stay in Your Lane! When Political Scientists Become Bad International Lawyers

by Julian Ku

Next month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, a leading journal of highbrow foreign policy in the U.S., features an important article on the United States as “The Once and Future Superpower” (subscription).  Based on their forthcoming book, professors Steven Brooks and William Wohlforth of Dartmouth College argue that China is not going to displace the United States as the world’s leading superpower in the near or even mid-range future.

As an article analyzing global power politics, it seems fairly (although not completely) persuasive.  But I was struck by how the otherwise carefully argued piece descends into complete gibberish when it tries to explain how “international law” can be a tool for the United States to constrain and manage China’s activities in the South China Sea.

And if Beijing tried to extract economic gains from contested regions [in the South China Sea], Washington could facilitate a process along the lines of the proportional punishment strategy it helped make part of the World Trade Organization: let the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in The Hague, determine the gains of China’s illegal actions, place a temporary tariff on Chinese exports to collect exactly that much revenue while the sovereignty claims are being adjudicated, and then distribute them once the matter is settled before the International Court of Justice.

Whaaaahhht?

In this one sentence, the authors propose that an arbitral tribunal convened under UNCLOS issue an award granting money damages to the Philippines. This is somewhat unlikely, but it is theoretically possible.  But who exactly is going to place a “temporary tariff on Chinese exports”?  The United States? A country that is not party to the dispute between China and the Philippines? And why exactly wouldn’t this cause a trade war with China and why wouldn’t it violate the WTO Agreement? And when exactly did the International Court of Justice get involved given that China has not consented to that court’s compulsory jurisdiction?  

Not only is this not a plausible mechanism for sanctions against China (the world’s second largest economy), but it is not a plausible mechanism for sanctions against almost any country in the world.  It has never been done before outside of the trade context, where every country specifically agreed to the trade sanction system in advance! 

The authors’ casual, offhand explanation of how “international law” is an asset that can be used for pursuing policy goals irrespective of existing legal institutional frameworks and legal principles is something I’ve noticed before in political science literature.  The “law” argument is not a bad one in principle, but it requires a deeper understanding of law as an independent analytical field than political scientists are willing to give it credit for.

As it stands now, this otherwise interesting article loses credibility with policymakers because the authors didn’t bother to try to understand how law and legal institutions are organized.  Maybe they should just skip over the legal stuff, and stay in their own lanes.  Or maybe they could find a reader up there in New Hampshire with a J.D. (I’m always available!).

Interview with David Remnick About Syria

by Kevin Jon Heller

I had the pleasure about a week ago to discuss Syria with David Remnick for the New Yorker Radio Hour. Most of the questions, not surprisingly, focused on whether I thought there was any realistic prospect that Assad would face justice. (My answer: probably not.) The show went live a couple of days ago — I was traveling and didn’t have access to internet — but you can find the podcast here. My interview lasted about 25 minutes, and I highly recommend the segment on Syria that precedes it.

Thoughts most welcome!

New Decision Finds UN Responsible in Kosovo Lead Poisoning Case

by Kristen Boon

The Human Rights Advisory Panel has found UNMIK, the UN Mission in Kosovo, responsible for breach of a number of human rights provisions connected with lead poisoning of the Roma population following the 1999 conflict.   Under Section 2 of UNMIK Regulation No. 2006/12, t the Panel has jurisdiction over complaints relating to alleged violations of human rights   “that   had   occurred   not   earlier   than   23   April   2005   or   arising   from   facts   which   occurred prior to this date where these facts give rise to a continuing violation of human   rights”.

The facts of the case first launched in 2008 are summarized as follows:

the complainants are 138 members of the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian (RAE)2 communities in Kosovo who used to reside in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) set up in northern Mitrovicë/Mitrovica since 1999. All complainants claim to have suffered lead poisoning and other health problems on account of the soil contamination in the camp sites due to the proximity of the camps to the Trepca smelter and mining complex and/or on account of the generally poor hygiene and living conditions in the camps. The Trepca smelter extracted metals, including lead, from the products of nearby mines from the 1930s until 1999.

In the recently released decision 26-08 NM etal Opinion FINAL 26feb16 the panel noted at para. 207 that:

 the heavy exposure to contamination, coupled with poor living conditions in the camps, a situation which lasted for more than 10 years, three of them within  the  Panel’s  jurisdiction,  was such as to pose a real and  immediate  threat  to  the  complainants’  life  and  physical  integrity. The Panel also considers established the bad health conditions incurred by the complainants, and especially by children and pregnant women, as a result of their prolonged exposure to lead.

Ultimately, the panel found that UNMIK breached articles 2,3 and 8 of the ECHR (including the right to life, the right to be free from degrading and inhumane treatment, and the right to family life), Arts 2, 11, 12 and 23 of the ICESR (including the right to health and adequate standard of living), Arts. 2 and 26 of the ICCPR, and various provisions of CEDAW and the CRC due to the increased risk that pregnant women and children face from lead exposure.

With regards to remedies, the Panel recommended that UNMIK:

PUBLICLY ACKNOWLEDGES, INCLUDING THROUGH THE MEDIA, UNMIK’S   FAILURE   TO   COMPLY   WITH APPLICABLE HUMAN RIGHTS STANDARDS IN RESPONSE TO THE ADVERSE HEALTH CONDITION  CAUSED BY       LEAD CONTAMINATION IN THE IDP CAMPS AND THE CONSEQUENT HARMS SUFFERED BY THE COMPLAINANTS, AND MAKES A PUBLIC APOLOGY TO THEM AND THEIR FAMILIES;

TAKES APPROPRIATE STEPS TOWARDS PAYMENT OF ADEQUATE COMPENSATION TO THE COMPLAINANTS FOR MATERIAL DAMAGE IN RELATION TO THE FINDING OF VIOLATIONS OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS PROVISIONS LISTED ABOVE;

TAKES APPROPRIATE STEPS TOWARDS PAYMENT OF ADEQUATE COMPENSATION TO THE COMPLAINANTS FOR MORAL DAMAGE IN RELATION TO THE FINDING OF VIOLATIONS OF THE HUMAN RIGHTS PROVISIONS LISTED ABOVE;

It is hard to tell at this stage what influence this decision will have.   A Chatham House report from 2012 reported that at that date,  the UN had not acted on similar recommendations to pay compensation.

“although the Panel has recommended that UNMIK award ‘adequate compensation for non-pecuniary damage’ to date no compensation has been paid out on the basis of the Panel’s recommendations.”

Nonetheless, the decision creates important precedents in other ways.  It is to be contrasted, in particular, with the fate of a decision rendered in 2011 under a different process established by the General Assembly, in which the UN’s immunities blocked the claims.   I discuss this decision in a recent article on mass torts against the UN, and copy the relevant paragraph below:

This claim was brought by private claimants to the U.N. under a procedure established by General Assembly Resolution 52/24768 within six months from the time of the injury, asking for compensation and remedies for economic losses. The U.N. rejected the claim on July 25, 2011, stating by letter that the claims “do not constitute claims of a private law character and, in essence, amount to a review of the performance of UNMIK’s mandate . . . therefore, the claims are not receivable.” The U.N.’s response gave no explanation for why these were deemed to be public law claims, other than to note that the claims “alleged widespread health and environmental risks arising in the context of the precarious security situation in Kosovo.” In a more recent communication addressing the U.N.’s position on private torts claims generally, the U.N. added the following justification for its rejection of the Kosovo claim: The claims were considered by the Organization not to be of a private law character since they amounted to a review of the performance of UNMIK’s mandate as an interim administration, as UNMIK retained the discretion to determine the modalities for the implementation of its interim administration mandate, including the establishment of IDP camps.

 

The merits decision was issued after the case was refiled in October 2011 pursuant to the decision noted above.  Significantly, the reasoning was similar to that used to reject the claim against the UN for bringing cholera to Haiti.

Friends Don’t Let Friends Torture: Comment on Youssef v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs

by Matthew Sands

[Matthew Sands is a Legal Advisor with the Geneva based NGO, Association for the Prevention of Torture (APT) the full judgment on this case is available here.]

In late January, the UK Supreme Court published its judgment in the case of Youssef. In 2005, Mr. Youssef had been suspected of involvement in terrorist-related activity, and Egypt had requested the UN sanctions committee mandated under UN Security Council resolution 1267 to impose targeted sanctions on Youssef including an assets freeze and a travel ban. The UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs agreed with the designation, and this blog asks whether alternative actions by the UK would have been more consistent with international law.

One issue decided by the case was whether the UK Secretary of State should step in and intervene when other States might be relying on evidence tainted by torture, in deciding whether to add Youssef’s name to the UN Sanctions list. Though the Secretary of State had not relied on tainted evidence himself, Youssef argued the decision to support the sanctions committee’s designation effectively sanctioned or consented to the use of torture-tainted information which had likely been used by other States to influence their own decisions.

In its ruling, the UK Supreme Court restated an earlier ruling that international law empowered, but did not oblige, the Secretary of State to so intervene. Ultimately, the Court ruled that the Secretary of State may simply turn a blind eye to the possible jus cogens violations of partner States in the UN.

We should emphasise that this was a possible jus cogens violation. It was not shown that the evidence on which other States relied was definitely the result of torture. The UK Supreme Court seems willing to distinguish between this and a definitive finding of illegality, which could engage a duty to intervene. In its reasoning, the Court examined the ICJ Advisory Opinion on Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory that placed other States under an obligation “not to recognise the illegal situation resulting from construction of the wall” and “not to render aid or assistance in maintaining the situation created by such construction” (ICJ, para.159). The Supreme Court reasoned that such rules “do not suggest or imply any duty on States to inquire into the possible reliance on such evidence by other States […] The obligations held to arise out of the International Court’s decision on the Palestinian wall are nothing in point. They followed a definitive finding of illegality.” [emphasis added] (at 29).

In accepting that duties likely flow from definitive knowledge of unlawful acts, but not from mere suspicion, the UK Supreme Court leaves open a gap that State actors will surely exploit. This is because it is understandably extremely difficult for anyone, whether a complainant or a State, to establish that information obtained overseas, often from victims who remain detained and who continue to be at risk of further torture, were tortured in order to get it.

Absent a definitive finding of illegality (and in these circumstances, it seems unlikely that such a finding would be made) the Youssef ruling implies no duty on the State to act in any way which stymies the possible jus cogens violations of others.

This conclusion seems at odds with the ICTY’s Furundžija judgment which was one of the authorities considered by the Court that recognised positive obligations of States “not only to prohibit and punish torture, but also to forestall its occurrence” (Furundžija, para.148). The ruling would also seem to be plainly inconsistent with settled jurisprudence of various international and regional bodies which require States to take effective measures to prevent torture and to ensure that evidence which cannot be shown to be untainted from the stain of torture is excluded in any proceeding.

The ruling in Youssef is therefore likely to frustrate the work of actors who assert that States can and should do more than passively respect the absolute prohibition if they are to actually stop torture in practice.

By failing to object to the designation placing his name on the sanctions list, Youssef argued that the Secretary of State did not fulfil an obligation to insist on respect for the prohibition against torture, which includes a duty not to rely on the fruits of torture. The UK Supreme Court recalled further passages from Furundžija that the prohibition of torture imposes on States “obligations owed to all the other members of the international community, each of which then has a correlative right. […] [A]nd every member […] then has the right to insist on fulfilment of the obligation or in any case to call for the breach to be discontinued” (Furundžija, para.151).

In recognising that the UK has the right, rather than the obligation, to insist that other States reject evidence obtained by torture, the Court retained its customary deferential position to the State in the exercise of prerogative powers. A better reading might have been to accept that the positive duty to forestall a breach of the prohibition against torture required the Secretary of State to withdraw from any decision where tainted evidence was likely being considered.

Putting law to one side for a moment, as a recognised purpose of the UN, States should cooperate towards universal respect and observance of human rights through the exercise of friendly relations. It then begs the question, what would a friend do if confronted with the possibility that others relied on evidence tainted by torture?

The responsible thing to do would be to refuse to offer support for the designation of the UN sanctions committee, avoiding injury to individuals wrongly listed and to States themselves, until the committee was in a better state to make a fair decision based on untainted evidence. This would be more consistent with the role of the Secretary of State as a person constrained by a professional and a legal duty to uphold the obligations of international law, such as those described in the Convention against Torture.

In finding that the Secretary of State did not have an obligation to intervene, the UK Supreme Court gave the UK and others just enough wiggle room to permit torture and its fruits to continue to be collected and used. There is a risk that the judgment will be relied on elsewhere to show that wilful blindness to torture committed overseas is an excuse to do nothing. It is not.

The Next UN Secretary General – Public Meetings Starting Soon

by Kristen Boon

Importantly, and for the first time, meetings will soon be held with all candidates for the post of UN Secretary General, enabling them to present their candidatures.  Member States will also have the opportunity to ask questions.   Mogen Lykketoft, president of the GA, has publicized his plans for these meetings in letters here and here.

A current list of candidates (and their accompanying documents) for the position is available here, and includes the recently announced Helen Clark of New Zealand, Antonio Guterres of Portugal, Danilo Turk of Slovenia, and Vesna Pusic of Croatia.  The informal dialogues noted below are scheduled for April 12-14, and will be webcast on UN TV:   http://webtv.un.org.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016 [Trusteeship Council]

Wednesday, 13 April 2016 [Trusteeship Council]

Thursday, 14 April 2016 [Trusteeship Council]

9 AM – 11 AM

Dr. Igor Lukšić Dr. Danilo Türk

11 AM – 1 PM

Ms. Irina Bokova Dr. Vesna Pusić  Helen Clark

3 PM – 5 PM

Mr. António Guterres Ms. Natalia Gherman Dr. Srgjan Kerim

Other organizations are also holding meetings with the candidates, such as the International Peace Institute (IPI) whose conversation with Dr. Pusic was broadcast yesterday and can be viewed here.

Despite this new process, a recent New York Times article suggests this move towards more dialogue will have little substantive effect:

In the end, the selection will be made by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who will send that person’s name to the 193-member General Assembly for approval. As in the past, the deliberations are likely to be shaped more by diplomatic jockeying between Moscow and Washington than what the candidates say or do in public hearings that start next week. The Russian ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin, made this clear to diplomats who asked him about the new pressure for transparency.

Given recent negative press about the relevance of the Organization, this possibility makes it all the more important for Member States and civil society to strategically engage the candidates, and raise agenda setting items early.   For background on the push for a new and more transparent selection process, see my post here.

Some of the issues that are being raised with the candidates include qualities of a new SG (with gender being a frequently discussed topic in the current campaign);  how the UN should respond to new threats to peace and security including asymmetrical warfare, whether we need more peacekeepers, and how their quality (training) can be maintained and improved.

Another frequent question is how the UN should respond to claims against the Organization, including the Haiti Cholera case and recent allegations of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers.   To date, Danilo Turk has been most concise and convincing on this point, stating in the Times article noted above that he hoped the organization would “provide the victims with a fair process and an effective remedy.”   Dr. Pusic’s response in the IPI interview yesterday was disappointing:  she suggested more study was needed, and quickly moved on.

What questions would you like to pose to Secretary General Candidates?