Recent Posts

Hostages and Human Dignity

by Jens David Ohlin

News reports indicate that Jordan is engaged in frantic negotiations with the Islamic State (ISIS) over a proposed hostage swap. Jordan is apparently willing to turn over a prisoner, would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for ISIS releasing both a Jordanian air force pilot and a Japanese captive. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear, the deal appears to have collapsed.

Earlier video appeared to show that another Japanese hostage was murdered by ISIS–a development that provoked shock and outrage in Japan. ISIS hostage-takers had earlier demanded $200 million from the Japanese government in exchange for releasing the two Japanese nationals. Although Japan is not militarily engaged in the armed conflict against ISIS, the terrorist organization said that its actions were motivated by the financial assistance that Japan had pledged to the regional effort, though Japan clarified that the financial assistance was for non-military efforts. Unfortunately, that clarification did not dissuade ISIS from continuing to threaten the life of the remaining hostage.

It is unclear what policy Japan is following regarding negotiating with ISIS generally and paying ransom demands specifically.

The United States and Britain have explicit policies against paying ransom to ISIS or other terrorist organizations. Consequently, while many captives from other European countries have been released after their governments paid ransoms to ISIS, several U.S. and British hostages have been brutally beheaded because their governments refused to negotiate or give money to ISIS to win their release. This has caused anguish for the families of the hostages.

In this post, I don’t want to address the normative question of whether it is best (morally or strategically) to pay a ransom. Of course, paying the ransom wins the release of the individual hostage. However, it also emboldens and encourages ISIS and other terrorists to perpetrate more kidnappings. It is precisely for this reason that the U.S. refuses to negotiate and pay money to ISIS.  The ransom payments are bankrolling the ISIS war in Iraq and Syria. So the European countries that are paying the ransoms are providing (indirectly and under duress) the resources for ISIS to fight the military coalition that is trying to stop them from carving its caliphate out of the territory of Iraq and Syria.

Rather, I want to ask the descriptive question of why most European governments are willing to pay the ransoms while the U.S. and Britain will not.  Both sides of this issue understand the pragmatic consequences. So why the different conclusions?

I have spent a long time thinking of the question and the only answer i can find is: human dignity. The U.S. and British position sacrifices the interests of the individual hostage in order to serve a larger social goal: denying ISIS the financial resources to continue its military campaign. This is a consequentialist calculation. The problem is that it is not so good for the individual hostage.

European governments care about the lives of the hostages and are willing to save them, even though they know that saving them will make the overall situation worse, both for the global community as well as their own citizens will inevitably be taken hostage again. But they are unwilling to balance away the interests of the hostage for some larger societal interest. This preservation of, and respect for, human dignity is deeply entrenched in some European legal cultures. For example, article 1 of the German Constitution says that human life is inviolable and cannot be balanced away. Utilitarian balancing is impermissible as a matter of constitutional law if it violates the human dignity of the individual, who is entitled to moral and legal respect. This means that the life of the hostage cannot be subordinated to the global interests that are advanced by the policy of non-negotiation.

Of course, one caveat here. The cause of the hostage’s peril stems from an outside agent (ISIS), not the government. So the government is not directly harming the hostage by not paying the ransom. This makes the situation much different from the German Airliner case, where the German courts concluded that authorizing the shooting down of a hijacked airliner would be unconstitutional because it would violate the human dignity of the innocent passengers. In that situation, the passengers would have been killed by the German government, while in the case of the hostages, their deaths would be caused by ISIS, not their own government. This is a relevant difference, both morally and legally.

That being said, I still think that, as a descriptive matter, the commitment to human dignity and moral individualism is at play in the background here. For some European governments, as well as their domestic populations exerting political pressure on them, the interests of individual citizens cannot be dismissed simply because a larger social policy requires doing something different. For some European governments, that social policy sounds particularly cold because it indirectly ends up condemning the individual hostages. The question is why these governments think this result would be cold. And I think the reason why is because the commitment to Kantian dignity is more deeply engrained in some legal cultures than others.

 

From Strawberries to Sony Pictures

by Duncan Hollis

One of my first posts with Opinio Juris remains one of my all time favorites — Strawberries versus Skin Cancer.  Looking back, that post marked a transition point for me as a scholar and an academic; in it, I began to allow myself to think more critically about my former employer, the U.S. State Department, even as I remained loyal to its employees and their mission. Certainly, the post benefited from my work on the Montreal Protocol while I was in the Legal Adviser’s office, but I also began to feel free to call out U.S. non-compliance where I saw it (and to flag the politically motivated rationales that lay behind it).  At the time, I figured this sort of post would typify my new academic self — detailed doctrinal analysis of specific treaty regimes especially in the environmental arena.

As it turns out, my assumption proved only half right.  True, I’ve ended up spending a lot of time thinking about treaties and their alternatives; it remains a core focus for my blogging and scholarship. But along the way, blogging also brought new lessons and served as a catalyst for my career in ways that I could never have anticipated in 2005.  What follows are nine takeaways from my blogging these last nine years:

1) Somehow I became a scholar of cyberspace, particularly questions of how to govern over (and within) this medium.  For those who have known me for a while, this is pretty surprising.  Until 2007, I openly described myself as a Luddite; my only claim to cyber-expertise was my (small) role in negotiating the final clauses of the Cybercrime Convention.  Today, I still can’t code, but I do think the experience of blogging gave me enough self-confidence to take advantage of opportunities that came my way to opine on how international law translates into cyberspace and offer some new ideas for dealing with cyber insecurity.

2) People find cyberspace issues really interesting; I had multiple friends and family ask me if I was going to blog about the Sony Pictures Hack (I didn’t).  In contrast, no one ever asks me to blog about treaties.  This makes me a little sad sometimes.

3) I love treaties; I like blogging about treaties, hosting symposia on treaties and treaty interpretation, drafting lists of the best treaties, and calling out those (e..g, the Supreme Court) that seem willfully ignorant of treaty terminology and processes.

4) International lawyer humor is not a thing, despite my semi-regular efforts to make it a thing.

5) International lawyers love underdog efforts to create a new state, especially if it’s a small pacific island.

6) I can never blog more than once a week, and I remain in awe of those who toss off daily blog posts (cough, Kevin, cough).  At least once each year, I’ve made a resolution to blog more.  But don’t hold your breath; I seem to be slowing down the pace of my blogging rather than speeding it up of late.

7) Major writers and Hollywood producers need international law consultants. For those of them reading this, e-mail me.  We still need to talk.

8) Opinio Juris has helped make the “invisible college” more collegial.  I’ve met so many people through blogging and credit it for starting several friendships that formed here on-line or via some in-person conversation about my blogging.  Meanwhile, Opinio Juris has become a place where we can opine on the state of the profession; celebrate our champions, and mourn the passing of our giants.

9) Blog in haste, regret at leisure.

Being a law professor can be an isolating experience, but Opinio Juris has done so much to make me feel part of a larger community; it’s made me appreciate that, whatever our substantive disagreements, there is among my co-bloggers and so many of our readers a passion for international law (both its potential and its pitfalls).

Let me close with a thank you to those readers that actually care about treaties (or cyberspace for that matter).  It’s your interest and dedication that make this enterprise worthwhile and what keeps me doing it (even if I don’t do it enough — see comment 6).  You’ve helped make this blog what it is and you offer the promise of it continuing to grow and flourish in depth and breadth for years to come.

International Law Ten Years Later — On the Ground and In the Academy

by Peter Spiro

You know you’ve reached a certain age when you start saying, “I remember when. . .”

Well, I remember when international law was considered a legal chimera and an academic backwater. Policymakers would take it into account in only a limited set of circumstances, and then usually only where it was consistent with other agendas. In law schools it was ghettoized: schools understood they needed one member of the faculty to cover international law courses, but at many it was only one. Among the international relations theorists, international law was the target of ridicule (“epiphenomenal,” delivered with a heavy dollop of condescension).

Things had begun to change around the time that I joined the blog in 2006. One sign of change was a new wave of entry-level international law faculty, among whom Chris, Peggy, and Julian prominently counted. International law felt like the academic equivalent of a start-up, and Opinio Juris was there, helping to build the community of international law academics (something reflected in our impressive list of alumni guest contributors). There was a time when it was required reading among IL scholars. The blog helped demonstrate international law’s relevance on a day-in, day-out basis.

In those early years, I felt like blogging here was part of that cause – to prove the reality of international law against a stolid cohort of non-believers, both in and outside of the academy. It wasn’t advocacy in the traditional sense; international law doesn’t always point to progressive (or otherwise “correct”) results. (In any case, one of OJ’s virtues is its ideological diversity.) More in the way of advocacy for the discipline, at a point at which its respectability was still contested.

Today, there’s no longer any real need to engage in that kind of promotional activity. I don’t feel like I have to do the sort of cheerleading that I engaged in my early years here. International law has left its Ice Age behind. It is now arguably the center of the action, both on the ground and in the academy, as it comes to touch every area of law. It is in its take-off phase. Foundations are being built that will have consequences for generations to come. There’s still a tremendous level of instability. Some institutions now in their infancy will crash and burn. But others will survive. Things happening today will be studied by future generations, even if they aren’t necessarily very high-profile in the contemporary imagination. Some institution-builders anonymously at work today will be celebrated only long after they are dead.

The accelerated growth isn’t all upside, even leaving aside the inevitable missteps and false starts that are part of any take-off. In the “be careful what you wish for” department, international law has grown to the point where it’s no longer a unified field. It’s a lot of fields that are starting to go their own way. The number of international law generalists is dwindling; it’s impossible to keep up with developments in fields as diverse as those in domestic law. The level of specialization now makes it tough to talk across specialties. It’s like your first cousins — you have a recent common ancestor and probably spent some time together in your youth, but may more recently have drifted apart. The next generation will likely as not be strangers.

That’s presents a challenge for a blog that remains generalist in orientation. There are times when the debates in the weeds aren’t worth following if it’s not your particular area. Appealing to the larger community gets more difficult.

I’m also old enough to remember when blogging was new (not so old!). As Julian points out, it has changed – much more serious now, less of the breezy sort of pointers and back-and-forth chatter, much of which has moved to Twitter (which itself has started to get more serious). The emergence of other international law-oriented blogs (Just Security and Lawfare in particular) is a testament to that seriousness, as well as another data point evidencing the robust state of the field. In any case it’s been fun to be a part of a project that has seen these things through.

Blogging and the Marketplace of Ideas

by Roger Alford

marketplace of ideasI started blogging at Opinio Juris in June 2005. My first post was a postcard from India. Since that time I have published over 1,000 posts. During that same ten-year period I have also published dozens of articles and a few books. In light of that background, I thought I would use Opinio Juris’ ten-year anniversary to reflect on the state of law blogging within the legal academy.

In the early days, law blogging was controversial. Many serious scholars were wary of blogging. Crusty established professors at elite schools saw little point in it, and untenured professors were intrigued but nervous. The sweet spot were young newly-tenured (or soon-to-be tenured) professors at reputable non-elite schools eager to build their brand and willing to embrace the medium despite the risks. Chris Borgen, Julian Ku, and Peggy McGuinness seized the opportunity and were the first-movers in the international law blog space.

As soon as I started reading Opinio Juris I knew I wanted to become a permanent contributor. Why? Because professors are in the marketplace of ideas, and blogging presented a whole new medium to sell our ideas. If a scholar is serious about the marketplace of ideas, it is not enough to simply produce a great product. One also has to promote that product in a thoughtful, respectful manner. This is no easy task.

So exactly how does one sell ideas? In the old days, promoting one’s scholarship required an inordinate amount of time speaking at conferences. At those conferences we would spend ten hours of travel time in order present for twenty minutes about an article that we had been working on for fifty-two weeks. If we were lucky, there would be about a hundred people in the audience. The incremental payoff was meager, but with enough effort a scholar could build a reputation.

Blogging completely changed the equation. Now a scholar can spend two hours summarizing an idea, post that summary on a blog, and reach an audience of thousands. That audience is not clustered in a particular geographic region, but is spread throughout the world. That audience is not required to listen to your ideas because they are second-year law review staffers, but they eagerly seek out your ideas because they are sincerely interested in what you have to say. Conferences continue to have their place, but the cost-benefit analysis favors blogging.

After over a decade of experience, the payoff is now clear. There is no doubt that blogging promotes scholarship. Consider law schools where there are well-known, reputable scholars who routinely blog. Where do they rank on SSRN downloads? Invariably law professors who blog are near the top of their respective faculty download rankings. At law schools where there are well-known law professor bloggers—schools like Chicago, Georgetown, UCLA, Alabama, Notre Dame, Ohio State, BYU, George Mason, Temple, Pepperdine, Case Western, American, San Diego, Hofstra, and South Texas—again and again we see permanent bloggers are at or near the top for all time SSRN downloads for their respective faculty.

I seriously doubt that the quality of the scholarship of law professor bloggers is uniformly better than that of their colleagues who do not blog. But there is almost no question that law professors who blog have a distinct advantage when it comes to promoting their scholarship. If I write a blog post and make a passing reference to a recent article, (see, e.g., here and here) there is the distinct possibility that of the thousands who read the post, a significant minority will read the article linked in that post. If I write a blog post specifically about a recent article, I can almost guarantee a download bounce.

As others will discuss during this anniversary symposium, blogging serves many useful purposes. But one undeniable benefit is to provide a platform for law professors to promote their scholarship.

Scholarship is not about producing great ideas. It is about producing great ideas and communicating those ideas to the broader world. Some law professors have embraced a medium that gives them a megaphone to share their ideas. Other brilliant scholars choose to produce great scholarship and forego the opportunity to promote it.

Opinio Juris has carved out a unique place in the international legal academy where we actively promote the ideas of the permanent contributors, and others who reach out to us and use this space to share their ideas.

How the Legal Blogosphere Has Changed After Ten Years of Opinio Juris

by Julian Ku

I want to mark our Opinio Juris anniversary with some musings on how the legal blogosphere has changed in the decade since Chris, Peggy, and I launched this site. When we began, there was already a pretty robust universe of legal blogs.  But law blogs were still pretty much hobbies rather than serious professional publications.  Chris, Peggy and I were writing for each other and our friends,and the blog may have seemed more like a convenient forum for long-distance communication.

In the early days, it was enough to simply link to stories and articles in corners of the internet that most mainstream papers wouldn’t have noticed.  I remember linking to reports of Iraq’s accession to the ICC, way before most news media reported on it.  I developed an early ongoing obsession with the legal battle over Japan’s whaling practices, way before reality TV and the ICJ case made it mainstream news.   Sometimes, we would take random shots at celebrities for their lack of understanding of international legal issues but mostly just to try to get attention.  I challenged Angelina Jolie, for instance, to rethink her support for international criminal justice (and I have some reliable sources tell me she actually read the post at some point). I think Opinio Juris still can serve an important news function for specialized stories most people don’t care about, although much of that has been taken over by our fabulous Twitter account.

Blogs today, especially law blogs, have become much more professional and serious.  The great advantage of law blogs is that they provide a way for detailed legal analysis to reach the public and policy-making worlds directly and immediately.  A judge at the International Court of Justice,an attorney-adviser in the U.S. State or Justice Department, and a journalist can find useful detailed legal analysis with very little effort (and all have at various points).  Journalists in particular can and have used law blogs as a quick and dirty way to canvass expert opinion on whatever legal issue their stories are intersecting. For instance, a recent Vox explainer was able to draw on our blog and others to discuss the legality of military action in Syria.   Law blogs are surprisingly important and influential, and I could not have predicted that in 2005.

For academics like us, Opinio Juris is a way for us to apply our professional analysis to current events in a way that was simply not possible before law blogs.  To be sure, some of our analysis was incorrect or mistaken (I managed to declare various ICJ judges dead when they were very much alive), but much of it became part of the larger public conversation.  For me, the blog has always challenged me to link my academic ideas to real-world events, and I am always grateful for that outlet.

I am also grateful that non-American readers continue to find our musings useful and interesting.  We remain a resolutely Americanist/ America-centered blog, but I think that actually is part of our utility to non-American readers.  We offer a certain perspective of what American academics think about international legal issues, and a particular insight into U.S.-law-heavy topics that impact the world (like the war on terrorism and the Alien Tort Statute).

But at the heart of the blog, and what continues to motivate me to write, is the chance to “talk” with my co-bloggers, guest-bloggers, and readers about things that my neighbors (or even my colleagues) find tedious or boring or over-technical.  I am curious about the world, and I cherish the existence of an online community to share this exploration with. Thanks for reading, and I hope continuing to read, for the next decade (at least!).

Celebrating Ten Years of Opinio Juris (!)

by Chris Borgen

It may be hard to believe, but this week Opinio Juris is celebrating its tenth anniversary. In a placeholder post prior to our commencing regular blogging, Peggy, Julian, and I had explained:

Our modest goal is to share with our readers a variety of perspectives on the role of international law in the U.S. and around the globe and to stimulate discussion within the community of international law scholars and practitioners. We will include useful links to other important on-line sources of information on international law.

We started blogging on January 10, 2005. On that first day we bantered with each other about UN reform (see 1, 2, 3), a topic that would come up time and again in the following years. Rereading some of my early posts makes me smile… and wince.  Although we were making it up as we went along, we were finding our voice. Ten years ago there was barely a blogosphere, let alone a legal blogosphere.

We knew we wanted this site to be a forum where people with a broad spectrum of views could discuss, argue, and analyze a wide range of topics related to international law. But if you want an interesting and informative conversation, then you better have interesting and informed discussants and editors. And so over the years Roger, Kevin, Duncan, Peter, Ken, Deborah, Kristen, and Jens joined the masthead, and An and Jessica joined as Assistant Editors.

However, the real reason this site has thrived is the thousands of people in the Opinio Juris community who are not on the masthead.  Each person who has submitted a guest post, participated in a symposium, taken the time to read a post, or added a comment to a post has made Opinio Juris the ongoing discussion that we hoped it would be.

Day in, day out, for a decade we have all participated in a conversation that has ranged over important topics, humorous observations, technical analyses, and politically fractious debates. It is a discussion that includes anyone who has taken a moment to read or write anything on the site. Thank you.

In our first week of blogging we had perhaps a couple of hundred visits (and I think a large number of those hits came from repeated visits by our relatives). But the conversation has grown not only through our expanding masthead but with hundreds of guest bloggers, over 9,000 posts,and nearly 26,000 comments.  We have tens of thousands of readers each month and a total of over five million visits (according to our platform’s counter).

Again, thank you. We are constantly learning from our co-bloggers, our guest bloggers, and commenters. These last ten years have brought much more than we ever expected and we are very grateful.

In the coming days we will post about the past ten years of international law as well as where it may be going. We will also point out some memorable moments from the first decade of Opinio Juris.

You can also follow us on Twitter, @OpinioJuris (we will use the hashtag #OJ10 for topics related to the anniversary).

We look forward to our continuing conversation…

 

 

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, January 12, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Your weekly selection of international law and international relations headlines from around the world:

Africa

  • A girl perhaps no more than 10 years old detonated powerful explosives concealed under her veil at a crowded northern Nigeria market on Saturday, killing as many as 20 people and wounding many more. On Sunday, at least six people were killed after two suspected child suicide bombers blew themselves up in a market in northeast Nigeria, witnesses say, in the second attack involving young girls strapped with explosives.
  • The United Nations Security Council backed plans by Democratic Republic of the Congo and U.N. peacekeepers to begin a military campaign to “neutralize” a Rwandan rebel group in the country’s rugged eastern provinces.

Middle East and Northern Africa

  • The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court may be close to opening an initial investigation into last summer’s Gaza war.
  • Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Venezuela’s president on Saturday he backed coordinated action between Tehran and Caracas to reverse a rapid fall in global oil prices which he described as a “political ploy hatched by common enemies”.
  • American-led forces launched 12 air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria since Friday, all but one of them near the contested city of Kobani, the U.S. military said.
  • Reports have surfaced that a U.S.-led coalition airstrike killed at least 50 Syrian civilians late last month when it targeted a headquarters of Islamic State extremists in northern Syria, according to an eyewitness and a Syrian opposition human rights organization.

Asia

Europe

  • Two gunmen forced their way into and opened fire in the Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing twelve, including staff and two police officers, and wounding eleven, four of them seriously. The gunmen escaped but a day later they were shot dead as they fled a warehouse where they had hostages north of Paris, firing at police. World leaders including Muslim and Jewish statesmen linked arms to lead more than a million French citizens through Paris in an unprecedented march to pay tribute to victims of Islamist militant attacks.
  • These attacks may fuel rising anti-immigration movements around Europe and inflame a “culture war” about the place of religion and ethnic identity in society. Over the weekend, a German newspaper in the northern port city of Hamburg that reprinted caricatures of Prophet Muhammad from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was the target of an arson attack, according to police and the offices of Le Soir, a Belgian newspaper that republished cartoons from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, were evacuated on Sunday after receiving an anonymous bomb threat, its staff said. Hackers claiming to be with the group Anonymous say they have hacked a jihadist website in retaliation for the terror attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
  • Transsexuals, transvestites and others thought to have what Russia considers to be “sexual disorders” have been barred from driving in the country for “medical reasons” under new road safety regulations.

Americas

  • More than a decade after a series of shootings and bombings in the Jerusalem area, a trial is slated this week in New York to determine whether the Palestine Liberation Organization and Palestinian Authority should pay up to $1 billion to victims.
  • Egyptian-born imam Abu Hamza al-Masri has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of terrorism charges last year.

UN/World

  • The United Nations is immune from a lawsuit seeking compensation for victims of a deadly cholera outbreak in Haiti, a US judge said in dismissing a case that government lawyers said could open international body to an onslaught of litigation.
  • Hundreds of civilians were massacred in two separate incidents in South Sudan last year in which victims were targeted for their ethnicity, nationality or political views, possibly amounting to war crimes, the United Nations said in a report on Friday.

Congratulations to Dean Andrew Guzman

by Duncan Hollis

I’m pleased to note that Andrew Guzman is leaving Berkeley Law to become Dean of USC’s Gould School of Law (see here for the USC announcement, and here for Berkeley’s take).

Andrew’s a renowned scholar of international law, with major works on international trade, regulation, investment and public international law, including some seminal work on using rationale choice theory to explain the international legal order.  I’m deeply indebted to his scholarship on bilateral investment treaties (this one in particular) and soft law for influencing my own work.  Plus, to top it all off, he’s found time over the years to guest blog for us a few times.

Congratulations to Andrew — it’ll be good to have another international lawyer in a major leadership position in U.S. legal education.

Events and Announcements: January 11, 2015

by Jessica Dorsey

Events

  • On Wednesday, 28 January 2015, the International Humanitarian and Criminal Law Platform of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut and PAX are hosting the launch of the report: ‘Unacceptable Risk: Use of explosive weapons in populated areas through the lens of three cases before the ICTY’ at 7:00 in the evening at the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in The Hague. More information can be found here. To register, please send an e-mail with your name, organisation and affiliation to conferencemanager [at] asser [dot] nl
  • The Wilson Center will host a panel on Wednesday, 26 February 2015 to examine practical suggestions for reform of the current system of resolving international investment treaty disputes. The increase in cases against States and their challenge to public policy measures has generated a strong debate, usually framed by complaints about a perceived lack of legitimacy, consistency and predictability. While some ideas have been proposed for improvement, there has never before been a book systematically focusing on constructive paths forward. The new volume launched with this panel discussion features 38 chapters by almost 50 leading contributors, all offering concrete proposals to improve the ISDS system for the 21st century. Registration begins at 8:30 am. More information can be found here.

Calls for Papers

  • The programme chairs of the 9th Pan-European Conference on International Relations invite paper, panel, and roundtable proposals for submission to any of the 64 sections on the 2015 programme. All sections welcome individual paper proposals, and most welcome panel/roundtable proposals as well – please contact section chairs to inquire about this. Each 105-minute panel/roundtable should comprise five papers/presenters plus a discussant who will also act as panel/roundtable chair. Proposals (with abstracts of 200 words maximum) must be submitted no later than 15th January 2015, via the online submission system: www.conftool.pro/paneuropean2015 . More information about the conference can be found here.
  • Professor Ole Kristian Fauchald and Postdoctoral Fellow Daniel Behn of PluriCourts invite scholars to submit paper proposals papers for a roundtable discussion on measuring judicial responses to legitimacy crises that a number of international courts and tribunals have experienced in recent years, during the ESIL Conference, 10-12 September. The deadline is 25 January. More information about the call can be found here, and the conference, here.
  • The Palestine Yearbook of International Law is now inviting submissions of scholarly articles for publication for its next volume, XVIII (2015). Unlike recent years, this upcoming volume will not be based on a specific theme. Therefore, the editors encourage the submission of scholarly pieces of relevance to public international law and Palestine. The Yearbook is edited at Birzeit University’s Institute of Law (Birzeit, Palestine), and published by Martinus Nijhoff Publishers (The Hague, The Netherlands). The Editor-in-Chief of the Yearbook is Mr. Ardi Imseis. At this stage, the Institute of Law will be accepting abstracts for review. Abstracts should include a working title, with a preliminary outline of the author’s legal arguments, along with a CV. Prospective authors should express interest by e-mailing the Assistant Editor of the Yearbook, Ms. Reem Al-Botmeh and sending an abstract of the suggested paper as indicated above, along with the prospective author’s CV. The abstract of under 750 words should be submitted by 15 February 2015. Notification of decisions will be provided 1 March 2015.For more information, please contact Ms. Reem Al-Botmeh, the Assistant Editor of the Yearbook, at rbotmeh [at] gmail [dot] com or alternatively, you may communicate directly with Mr. Ardi Imseis at AImseis [at] hotmail [dot] com. More information can be found here.
  • The Utrecht Journal of International and European Law is issuing a Call for Papers on ‘General Issues’ within International and European law. The Board of Editors invites submissions addressing any aspect of International and/or European law. All types of manuscripts, from socio-legal to legal technical to comparative, will be considered for publication. The Board of Editors will select articles based on quality of research and writing, diversity and relevance of topic. The novelty of the academic contribution is also an essential requirement. Prospective articles should be submitted online via our website and should conform to the journal style guide (See here for full details). Utrecht Journal has a word limit of 15,000 words including footnotes. For further information please consult our website or email us at utrechtjournal [at] urios [dot] org. Deadline for submissions is 30 April 2015.

Announcements

  • Vol 6, No 1 (2014) of Trade, Law and Development (Special Issue: Trade & Climate Change) has been published. This issue is a Special issue on Trade and Climate Change. It is the eleventh in series, and also commemorates the sixth anniversary year of Trade, Law and Development. More information can be found here.

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. 

Guest Post: 2014 at The African Court on Human and Peoples Rights–a Year in Review

by Oliver Windridge

[Oliver Windridge is a British lawyer specialising in international human rights and international criminal law, currently based in The Hague, Netherlands. He is founder of the blog The ACtHPR Monitor, on twitter @acthpr_monitor. In June 2014 Oliver was one of five non-African lawyers to be appointed to the Court’s inaugural List of Counsel (pro bono). The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organisation affiliated to the author.]

Many readers will be familiar with the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights. For those who are not the Court was established by the African Union to hear cases relating to alleged violations of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Charter) and other international human rights instruments. The Court is based is in Arusha, Tanzania and is separate to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights. What follows is a summary of the Court’s activity in 2014.

March: the Court’s 32nd Ordinary Session

At its 32nd Ordinary Session, the Court conducted the public hearing in Konate v. Burkina Faso. The Applicant, working as editor of the weekly newspaper L’Ouraganin, published two articles which lead to his convicted for defamation, public insult and insulting a magistrate. He was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment and handed large fines. The Applicant argued that his conviction and punishment contravened his right to freedom of expression as protected under Article 9 of the Charter and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Court also rendered three judgments. The first, Zongo and others v. Burkina Faso, related to the alleged assassination of Norbert Zongo an investigative journalist and Director of the weekly paper l’Indépendent and three colleagues in December 1998. The Applicant argued that following the alleged assassination the local authorities had failed to mount a proper investigation and failed to act with due diligence in seeking, trying and judging those involved in the death of Zongo and his companions. In only the second case to be decided on its merits, the Court found that Burkina Faso had indeed failed to take measures to ensure the Applicants right to be heard by a competent national court, therefore violating articles 1, 7, 9(2) of the Charter and Article 66 of the ECOWAS Treaty. Reparations are to be decided after further submissions from the parties.

The second and third cases, Omary and others v. Tanzania involving an application by former East African Commission employees who had not received promised reparations, pension and severance benefits when the then East African Community was disbanded in 1984, and Chacha v. Tanzania, concerning the Applicant’s alleged unlawful arrest, detention, charging and imprisonment contrary to Tanzanian laws, were both declared inadmissible due to the Applicant’s failure to exhaust local remedies.

The Court also considered its first application for interpretation and review of a previous Judgment. In June 2013 the Court had found the case of Mkandawire v. Malawi inadmissible due to the Applicant’s failure to exhaust local remedies. The Applicant made an application to the Court for review and interpretation of the Judgement. The Court ruled that the application for interpretation could not be entertained because “interpretation” as found in the Protocol and rules of the Court can only be sought for the purposes of executing a judgement. Since the case was dismissed due to non-exhaustion of local remedies there was no judgement to interpret. As to the application to review, the Court found the application inaccurately cited key paragraphs of its earlier judgement which were the subject of the review application. In addition evidence provided by the Applicant which he argued was new was known to him at the time the Court handed down its judgement and was therefore neither new or evidence.

June: movement toward the African Court of Justice and Human Rights

The Court, or at least the future guise of the Court, came into the spotlight in June after the African Union met in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea where it adopted the Protocol on Amendments to the Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights. (Incidentally, Equatorial Guinea has not signed the Protocol establishing the existing Court).

This Protocol has been the subject of much comment and debate, in particular for its amendment to Article 46A bis of the Protocol on the Statute of the Court which imparts immunity against criminal charges for acting heads of state or government and other senior state officials. We also learned a little more of the new court’s ambitious proposed structure consisting of a “general” chamber handling trade issues and conflict between states, a “human rights chamber” handling work similar to the current Court and “criminal chamber”. For more comment on the immunity amendment see Paul Bradfield’s piece here, and Mark Kersten’s piece here. A press conference by Legal Counsel for the African Union Vincent Nmehielle on the new court, including the issue of immunity, can be seen here. Please note that the press conference does not start until about 6 minutes in, so best to skip forward.

June: Mtikila ruling on reparations

Also in June, the Court rendered its first ever ruling on reparations in Mtikila v. Tanzania. The case centered on Tanzanian laws that require candidates running for local government, parliamentary and presidential elections to be members of a registered political party, effectively barring independent candidates. In June 2013 the Court delivered its judgment, unanimously finding Tanzania’s ban on independent candidates had violated the Applicant’s Article 10 and 13(1) Charter rights and, by majority, that the same ban violated the Applicant’s Article 2 and 3 Charter rights. The judgment can be read here. My summary and analysis of the case can be seen here.

The issue of reparations was postponed in order that both parties could make additional submissions. In its ruling the Court found there exists a fundamental principle of international law that where a violation of an “international obligation” causes harm, there entails an obligation to provide adequate reparation which the Court should follow and is reflected in Article 27(1) of the Court’s Protocol. The Court found that applying this principle, pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages and legal expenses were capable of being awarded by the Court, but that the Applicant had failed to provide evidence of a link between the damages and expenses claimed and the claim itself.

In addition, the Court also examined Tanzania’a compliance with the June 2013 judgment noting that in Tanzania’s reply to damages it continued to maintain that the judgment was wrong, since the law in Tanzania prohibits independent candidates from running for election. The Court expressed its “concern” at this line of argument which was compounded by Tanzania’s failure to report to the Court on the measures it is taking to comply with the Judgment. Consequently, it ordered that within six months Tanzania should: (i) publish the official English translation translated into Kiswahili at Tanzania’s expense and publish in both English and Kiswahili once in the official gazette and once in a national newspaper; and (ii) publish the Judgment it its entirety in English on an official website and remain available for one year. The Court ordered that nine months from the ruling Tanzania should submit to the Court a report ion the above measures. (more…)

Guest Post: When Should the ICC Call It Quits?

by Rebecca Hamilton

[Rebecca Hamilton is an Associate in Law at Columbia Law School, and author of Fighting for Darfur.]

The close of 2014 continued to bring bleak news for civilians in Darfur. As fighting in Sudan’s beleaguered western region increased, the UN looked to reduce its peacekeeping presence there. And this on the heels of the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, telling the Council that in the absence of any commitment from them to enforce the Darfur warrants, the Court would be suspending its investigative activities.

As Kevin has already noted, Bensouda’s statement is a depressing insight into the moribund state of ICC-Security Council relations (not to mention another blow for survivors of the conflict). Yet as he also observed, it is heartening to see the Prosecutor laying the blame for the lack of arrests squarely where it belongs. For too long the Council has used its Darfur referral to outsource the problem to the ICC in lieu of taking meaningful steps itself.

Beyond the immediate implications for Darfuris, the ICC, or the Security Council however, there is a broader question triggered by Bensouda’s statement, and one that commentators are yet to pay attention to: Under what conditions should the ICC Office of the Prosecutor stop its activities in a given situation?

Both academics and practitioners have spent the first decade of the Court’s existence focused largely on issues related to the OTP’s commencement of activities in new situations. But as I argue in a forthcoming article in N.Y.U. J. Int’l L. & Pol., attention now needs to be directed to the question of what principles might guide the end of its operations. Given that Bensouda’s statement marks the first time an ICC Prosecutor has publicly discussed any halt to the OTP’s activities, it is worth closely scrutinizing the rationale upon which her decision is based, and considering some of the implications should the same rationale be used consistently as the basis for the temporary or permanent cessation of OTP operations in other situations.

Good faith and cooperation

Bensouda’s statement to the Council is worth reading in its entirety as a striking example of straightforward truth-telling in a setting so often filled with obfuscating diplomatic language. But in terms of using the statement to extract criteria the OTP could use to decide whether to stop its activities in other situations, there are a few key excerpts to focus on.

The Prosecutor is clearly frustrated by the lack of arrest warrant enforcement, stating that “What is needed is a dramatic shift in this council’s approach to arresting Darfur suspects.” But her concerns also seem to extend more broadly.

“In the almost 10 years that my Office has been reporting to the Council, no strategic recommendation has ever been provided to my Office, and neither have there been any discussions resulting in concrete solutions to the problems we face in the Darfur situation.”

It seems reasonable to assume that her reference to “the problems we face” includes not only the lack of arrest warrant enforcement, but also the lack of cooperation and denial of access that has plagued the Court’s Darfur investigation. As Sarah Nouwen details in her excellent book on the ICC and complementarity, the Sudanese government has refused all communications with the Court since the first Darfur warrants were issued back in 2007.

Of particular note in the above excerpt is the focus on effort, in addition to results. The Prosecutor is seeking warrant enforcement and “concrete solutions.” Yet in bemoaning the absence of even recommendations by the Council to the Court, she also seems to suggest that a good faith effort by the Council to work with the Court throughout the duration of its Darfur investigation would have gone a long way toward convincing the OTP to continue its activities in the situation. (more…)

Holiday Roundup: December 20, 2014 – January 9, 2015

by An Hertogen

This holiday season, we trust Santa was still as safe as back in 1961 and that nobody received a lump of coal. We found some time to post, so if you were too busy to visit our blog, here is what you missed.

Kevin posted about a virtual roundtable on David Bosco’s “Rough Justice” in which he participated over at H-Diplo, and linked to his new essay on the use and abuse of analogy in IHL. Deborah agreed with Cliff Sloan on the closing of Guantanamo. Catherine Harwood wrote about the UN HRC inquiry into human rights violations in North Korea and Larry Backer commented on the recent normalisation of US-Cuban relations.

Finally, I listed the events and announcements and Jessica wrapped up the international law news (1, 2).

Watch this space next week as we mark our tenth anniversary!

Many thanks to our guest contributors and have a nice weekend!