Recent Posts

Kim Priemel, “The Betrayal: The Nuremberg Trials and German Divergence”

by Kevin Jon Heller

I want to call readers’ attention to Oxford University Press’s publication of my friend Kim Priemel‘s new book, The Betrayal: The Nuremberg Trials and German Divergence. Here is the publisher’s description:

At the end of World War II the Allies faced a threefold challenge: how to punish perpetrators of appalling crimes for which the categories of ‘genocide’ and ‘crimes against humanity’ had to be coined; how to explain that these had been committed by Germany, of all nations; and how to reform Germans. The Allied answer to this conundrum was the application of historical reasoning to legal procedure. In the thirteen Nuremberg trials held between 1945 and 1949, and in corresponding cases elsewhere, a concerted effort was made to punish key perpetrators while at the same time providing a complex analysis of the Nazi state and German history. Building on a long debate about Germany’s divergence from a presumed Western path of development, Allied prosecutors sketched a historical trajectory which had led Germany to betray the Western model. Historical reasoning both accounted for the moral breakdown of a ‘civilised’ nation and rendered plausible arguments that this had indeed been a collective failure rather than one of a small criminal clique. The prosecutors therefore carefully laid out how institutions such as private enterprise, academic science, the military, or bureaucracy, which looked ostensibly similar to their opposite numbers in the Allied nations, had been corrupted in Germany even before Hitler’s rise to power. While the argument, depending on individual protagonists, subject matters, and contexts, met with uneven success in court, it offered a final twist which was of obvious appeal in the Cold War to come: if Germany had lost its way, it could still be brought back into the Western fold. The first comprehensive study of the Nuremberg trials, The Betrayal thus also explores how history underpins transitional trials as we encounter them in today’s courtrooms from Arusha to The Hague.

I cannot recommend the book highly enough. It’s a remarkable piece of scholarship, weaving together legal history, political history, and intellectual history into a seamless and compelling whole. Kim is a superb historian — and one who writes about law as well as most legal scholars. The book also does something almost unprecedented: tell the story of the IMT and NMTs together, which is necessary for understanding both. The book’s only competitor in that regard is Telford Taylor’s wonderful book The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials: A Personal Memoir — but Taylor’s book is, as the title indicates, a memoir, not an “objective” legal history.

Anyone interested in Nuremberg, international criminal law, or transitional justice will want to pick up a copy of The Betrayal. To appropriate Larry Solum: read Priemel!

Emerging Voices Symposium 2016 Comes to a Close

by Jessica Dorsey

The summer is coming to a close and so is our fourth annual Emerging Voices Symposium. We have featured fantastic posts from emerging scholars, practitioners and students over the course of the summer and a roundup follows of what it is that they have covered.

Alexandra Hofer started our 2016 edition off with her post on assessing the role of the European Union as an enforcer of international law in the Ukranian crisis, concluding that both the EU and Russia ought to change their practices in order to escape the stalemate in which they currently find themselves. Wolfgang Alschner weighed in on a novel approach to dealing with the complexities of international law in his post on computational analysis of international law, specifically focusing on text-as-data tools for investigating international investment agreements.

Our next post featured an analysis by Andrea Bowdren of the trial of Ahmed Al Faqi Al Mahdi before the International Criminal Court, which represented a series of firsts for international law and justice. as Al Mahdi is the first individual from Mali brought before the ICC, the first Islamic extremist to face charges at the ICC, the first individual to be prosecuted solely for cultural destruction as a war crime, and the first individual who indicated an intention to plead guilty to an ICC charge (which he subsequently did). John Coyle asked whether foreign investors can enforce international investment law in U.S. courts, and after a careful analysis concluded that the government should at least consider the possibility that an FCN treaty might impose legally enforceable limitations on its freedom of action.

The Symposium continued with Jenny Poon’s insightful contribution discussing whether the margin of appreciation accorded to European Union Member States is too wide, which may lead to violations of international law and used the topic of asylum as a lens in which to analyze this question, ultimately calling for more clarification on the margin of appreciation in order to protect the rights of the vulnerable. Myriam Feinberg weighed in with a thoughtful analysis of the role of international organizations in the context of sovereignty in the age of global terrorism, contending that this can be examined in the wider context of state sovereignty, even though a number of international law analyses consider the concept of State sovereignty obsolete or in need of reform.

Amina Adanan discussed the role of national prosecutors in the context of domestic regulation of universal jurisdiction, concluding, in particular, a balance must be struck between prosecutorial discretion and the need to prevent impunity for the worst atrocities, after a thorough analysis. Finally, Grazyna Baranowska analyzed the European Court of Human Rights and women affected by the disapperance of their relatives, positing several alternatives for action and concluding that actions that countries should take in order to address specific needs of female relatives of disappeared persons face could be included in ECtHR judgments.

Thank you again to all of our participants. We hope you have all enjoyed reading and interacting with the contributions in our fourth annual Emerging Voices Symposium.

Emerging Voices: The European Court of Human Rights and Women Affected by Enforced Disappearances of Their Relatives

by Grazyna Baranowska

[Grazyna Baranowska is a Senior Researcher at the Poznań Human Rights Centre of the Institute of Law Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences.]

The nature of enforced disappearances is that it affects whole families, rather than only the individuals who disappeared. While the majority of the forcibly disappeared are men, these disappearances have a strong economic, socials and psychological effects on the wives/partners of the disappeared.

The impact of enforced disappearances on women has been recognized by the Working Groups on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances. In the Preamble to the General comment on women affected by enforced disappearances it is stated that:

“(…) gender equality and the empowerment of women are essential tools to address the situation that women victims of enforced disappearances face. A gender perspective is crucial in explaining, understanding and dealing with unique disadvantages and obstacles that women face in the exercise of their human rights and to outline solutions to try and address these issues. (…)The experience of the Working Group demonstrates that the effects of enforced disappearances are lived and faced in different ways by women and girls due to gender roles, which are deeply embedded in history, tradition, religion and culture (…).”

International law considers the ‘victims of enforced disappearances’ to be both the disappeared persons and any individuals who have suffered harm as a direct result of a disappearance (art. 24.1 International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, ICPPED). Even though ICPPED does not have a gendered perspective, the effects of disappearances on women had been discussed since the second session of the Committee of Enforced Disappearances in March 2012. The results of these discussions have been included in the document on relationship with NGO’s: the Committee encouraged integration of a gender perspective in submissions and consultation of women’s organization and women human rights defenders.

The European Court of Human Rights also recognizes that disappearances violate  the rights of a disappeared persons’ families As stated by the ECtHR: “The phenomenon of disappearances imposes a particular burden on the relatives of missing persons who are kept in ignorance of the fate of their loved ones and suffer the anguish of uncertainty” (Varnava v. Turkey). In Çakıcı v. Turkey, the ECtHR  found that art. 3 of the ECHR was violated with regard to the disappeared persons’ relatives when their suffering has a character and dimension distinct from the emotional distress stemming inevitably from the violation itself.

The court established ‘special factors’ in this context, covering: (1) the proximity of the family tie, (2) the particular circumstances of the relationship, (3) the extent to which family members witnessed the events, (4) their involvement in the attempts to obtain information and (5) the way in which the authorities responded to those enquiries (Çakıcı v. Turkey, par. 98).

Those factors have been developed in subsequent judgments. Recently, the ECtHR has tended to focus on the last aspect – the authorities’ reaction and attitude to the situation when it is brought to their attention (Khachukayevy v. Russia, par. 73; Khava Aziyeva v. Russia, par. 96).

During the first decade of disappearance cases before the ECtHR, the Court attached great importance to the involvement of the applicant in the attempts to obtain information and direct contact with authorities (see for example Nenkayev and others v. Russia, par. 168).  However, this has changed over time. In the applications against Russia, which currently constitute the vast majority of disappearances cases, very often whole families are applicants and the ECtHR has in most cases not differentiated between the applicants, even when some of them were more involved in the inquiries. Nevertheless there are still cases when all of the ‘special factors’ are brought up by the ECtHR.

The “special factors” established by the ECtHR are not gender-sensitive: requiring involvement in the attempts to obtain information might be difficult for a woman especially when – after the disappearance of her partner – she is the single parent of small children. This is further exacerbated in patriarchal societies, were male relatives traditionally represent women in their contact with authorities. Furthermore the illiteracy rate is higher among women in the countries from which the enforced disappearance cases to the ECtHR origin from and in minority communities (such as Kurds and Chechens) the language barrier is an additional obstacle, especially for women.

Due to these factors, a  substantial number of applicants before the ECtHR in cases against Turkey are men. These cases thus result in finding that men– often the brothers of disappeared—as opposed to the wives, are thevictims of violations of article 3 of the ECHR. When the wife is an applicant, she is usually accompanied by male members of the family, as has been the case in the majority of applications against Russia. There is a very limited number of cases submitted solely by women.

Therefore, although women are strongly affected by enforced disappearances of their male relatives/partners, they are less often authors of applications and if men are representing them in contact with authorities due to the ‘special factors’, they are less likely to be found victims of violation of art. 3 of the ECHR. A striking example of such a way of reasoning was a judgment, in which the ECtHR found no violation of article 3 of the ECHR because the wife of the disappeared failed to demonstrate that she was involved in the ongoing investigation pertaining to the disappearance of the husband (Nesibe Haran, 83).

In order to recognize the suffering of women relatives of disappeared persons, it would be beneficial to rethink the “special factors.” This could be done through resigning from the requirement of involvement in the attempts to obtain information. Alternatively the ECtHR could analyze how the applicant is affected by the disappearance and its consequences. This would make it possible for the applicants and their representative to show the particularly difficult situation for the female relatives of the disappeared person. The Court could also – just like other international bodies – completely abandon the “special factors.”

Second, the ECtHR could reconsider analyzing a violation of the rights of family members of a disappeared person under article 8 of the ECHR, guaranteeing right to respect for private and family life. This has been raised previously by a number of applicants, but it has rejected by the ECtHR. Article 8 of the ECHR could be used to recognize the vulnerable situation of female relatives of disappeared persons.

A third possibility would be to recognize at the enforcement stage the particular effect enforced disappearances of family members have on women. In the judgment Alakhanova and others v. Russia the ECtHR provided “guidance on certain measures that had to be taken by the Russian authorities to address the systemic failure to investigate disappearances in the Northern Caucasus.” Currently the Committee of Ministers expects Russia to address those measures in order to implement the disappearances judgments. Therefore, actions that countries should take in order to address specific needs of female relatives of disappeared persons face could be included in the ECtHR judgment.

Events and Announcements: September 3, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey


Calls for Papers

  • The Wisconsin International Law Journal announces its Annual Symposium March 31, 2017, University of Wisconsin Law School with the theme of: “Regional Human Rights Systems in Crisis.” For this event, they have issued this call for papers. WILJ invites submission of abstracts of not more than 500 words from legal scholars and practitioners in the fields of regional human rights and international law. The submission deadline is September 15, 2016, and applicants will be notified by October 10, 2016.
  • Call for Papers: Cognitive Sociology, Culture, and International Law. iCourts, Centre of Excellence for International Courts, University of Copenhagen, 28-29 April 2017The third workshop on the sociology of international law aims to break open the study of interactions between various cognitive processes and the formation, interpretation and implementation of international law. More information can be found here.
  • The Cambridge International Law Journal (CILJ) is a double-blind, peer-reviewed journal run by members of the postgraduate community at the Cambridge University Law Faculty. The CILJ is the successor journal to the Cambridge Journal of International and Comparative Law ( and is now published by Edward Elgar Publishing. The Editorial Board is pleased to invite submissions for its sixth volume. General call for submissions – International law The Board welcomes long articles, short articles, case notes and book reviews that engage with current themes in international law and EU law. All submissions are subject to double-blind peer review by our Editorial Board. In addition, all long articles are sent to our Academic Review Board, which consists of distinguished international law scholars and practitioners. The deadline for submissions is 28th October 2016 at 11.59 p.m. Submissions received by this date will be considered for publication in Volume 6, Issue 1, to be published in Spring 2017. Further submission information The Journal accepts the following types of manuscript:

    1. Long Articles between 6,000 and 10,000 words but not exceeding 12,000 words including footnotes;
    2. Short Articles not exceeding 6,000 words including footnotes;
    3. Case Notes, including substantive analysis, not exceeding 3000 words including footnotes; and
    4. Book Reviews not exceeding 2500 words including footnotes.
    Please list the word count of the text and the footnotes on your manuscript. All copies must be submitted in Word (.doc) or (.docx) format and must conform to our style guidelines, which are available at the following links: OSCOLA Fourth editionOSCOLA: Citing International Law Sources. To submit, please follow this link. Please ensure that your manuscript does not contain any reference to your personal or professional identity. For further information, please email us at editors [at] cilj [dot] co [dot] uk


  • The Centre for War Studies (CWS) at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense is currently advertising a post as Assistant Professor with starting date 1 November 2016 or soon thereafter. CWS is an interdisciplinary research centre rooted in the Departments of Political Science, Law and Cultural Studies. The successful applicant will be skilled at organizing policy and public outreach activities, including workshops, partner networks and various communication platforms. The teaching load will include contributions to the interdisciplinary master degree in “International Security and Law”. The successful candidate can be trained either in international law or international relations, but should research issues of relevance to both communities. This position has been created to advance both interdisciplinary research collaboration and outreach, and if after three years the initiative proves successful, the Departments of Political Science and Law will fund a tenured position, budgets allowing. For more information and the application form see the official job advert. The deadline for applications is 15 September 2016.
  • The Codification Division of the UN Office of Legal Affairs recently added new lectures to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law website, which provides high quality international law training and research materials to users around the world free of charge. The latest lectures were given by Professor Emmanuel Decaux on “Les défis juridiques de la Convention internationale pour la protection de toutes les personnes contre les disparitions forcées” and Mr. Olufemi Elias on “An Introduction to the Law of the International Civil Service”, “The Chemical Weapons Convention, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and Non-State Actors”.
  • The ICRC has recently issued its quarterly bibliographyFor older issues, comments, unsubscribing and feedback, please contact library [at] icrc [dot] org  We take this opportunity to inform you that the annual version for the year 2015 will soon be out (paper and ebook).
    If you wish to receive a paper copy either for yourself or for your institution’s library, we will be glad to send you one free of charge. Please send an email to library [at] icrc [dot] org with the following subject: IHL bibliography 2015 – order.
  • The European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EIUC) is proud to launch the first MOOC of the Global Campus Open Learning Series. With contributions by academic and experts from all the regions of the world, the Global Campus massive online courses provide open access to highly qualified learning on topical human rights concerns. The Series opens on 12 September 2016 with a MOOC on “Disability as a human rights issue: global and national perspectives”.
    Enrolment to our GC MOOC is FREE and available on until 14 October 2016
    Course dates: 12 September-24 October 2016
    Duration: 6 weeks – Commitment: 5 hours/week
    Requirements: participation in 4 weekly discussions and completion of 2 quizzes
    Course type: instructor-led
    Credentials: certificate of participation

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 Strange Idea of the Classroom as a “Safe Space”

by Kevin Jon Heller

I have admired Mark Tushnet’s work since I was a law student, so I was very disappointed to read his critique of the now-notorious letter the University of Chicago sent to first-year students about “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” Here is the bit that got Tushnet so riled up:

Our commitment to academic freedom means that we do not support so-called trigger warnings, we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.

Most of Tushnet’s arguments involve reading the letter as uncharitably as possible — such as claiming that the University of Chicago would force a veteran to remain roommates with an anti-war activist who insisted on badgering him about the war every night. (Geoffrey Stone has already made clear that the University was not talking about dormitories.) But I was truly shocked when Tushnet made the following claim about the classroom as a safe space:

Even there, though, sometimes the university should condone the creation of a space in which there is a sharp restriction on “ideas and perspectives different from” the ones being offered in the class. Consider a course described clearly in the catalogue as a course dealing with Austrian economics, with a syllabus whose readings focus tightly on that topic. Students who want to discuss Marxist economics can, I think, properly be silenced in that class – perhaps as long as there is some other university-based venue in which they can explore Marxist economics – so that students only interested in Austrian economics can get on with their studies of that topic. Again – a safe space for the study of Austrian economics.

Really? As long as the University offers a course in Marxist economics, it’s fine for professors to “silence” a student who wants to use Marxist economics to question Austrian economics? The professor in the Austrian economics class should just say, “sorry, questioning Austrian economics is not permitted in this class. We’re here to learn what Austrian economics is about — not why it’s wrong. If you want to know why Austrian economics is wrong, go take a class with my hippie colleague”?

That strikes me as a terrible idea. Of course reasonable limits on discussion are appropriate — the Marxist student shouldn’t be able to dominate the class by questioning every assertion, nor should he or she be able to bring in Marxist ideas that have no relevance to Austrian economics. (“The proletariat will smash your bourgeois Austrian-economics state!”) But that is a far cry from saying it’s fine to “silence” the Marxist student so students “only interested in Austrian economics can get on with their studies of that topic.” That isn’t a “safe space.” It’s a propagandistic one that reduces learning to the uncritical reception of a professor’s preferred ideas. Little wonder the University of Chicago rejected the idea! Tushnet simply makes the University’s point.

PS: Given my lefty tendencies, it’s not surprising that Tushnet’s particular example got my hackles up. But the same criticism would apply to any course that wanted to create a “safe space” for learning a subject by excluding critical perspectives. I would be no less offended if the professor in an ICL course told a student who tried to challenge the value of punitive trials to shut up and go find a course on transitional justice.

Emerging Voices: Domestic Regulation of Universal Jurisdiction–The Role of National Prosecutors.

by Amina Adanan

[Amina Adanan is a PhD candidate at the Irish Centre for Human Rights, School of Law, NUI Galway.] 

In common law and civil law legal systems it is the responsibility of the public prosecutor to determine whether the prosecution of an international crime is pursued. The level of this discretionary power and the considerations to be taken into account in making the decision vary from state to state. As such, the prosecutor plays a significant role in the prosecution of international crimes under the universality principle. Notwithstanding the importance of universal jurisdiction, the regulation of the principle at a domestic level is of crucial significance because it dictates the parameters within which the jurisdiction operates in a particular state. In this context, the role of the national prosecutor in the exercise of universal jurisdiction should be examined at interstate forums and also by academics.

Universal jurisdiction (or the universality principle) grants all states the right to prosecute persons suspected of committing certain human rights abuses regardless of where the crime has occurred and notwithstanding the nationalities of the accused person(s) or victim(s). This right exists in both customary international law and in conventional international law. The list of offences to which the jurisdiction applies is: genocide, war crimes (committed in both international and non-international armed conflict), crimes against humanity, torture and international piracy. The right can be found in a range of sources. The Final Report of the Commission of Experts established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 (1992) expressly reaffirmed universal jurisdiction over the crime of genocide and crimes against humanity, as was declared in Attorney General of Israel v Eichmann. The right of states to exercise universal jurisdiction over war crimes committed in non-international armed conflict is recognised in rule number 157 of the International Committee of the Red Cross’ Customary International Humanitarian Law database.

Universal jurisdiction over torture is provided under Article 5(2) of the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), while universality over international piracy is codified in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The grave breaches regime of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I includes an obligation on the High Contracting Parties to prosecute persons, ‘regardless of their nationality’, who are accused of committing grave breaches, so long as they are present in the territory of the forum state (the prosecuting state). Universality is also inscribed in Article 16(1) of the Second Protocol to the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict and in Articles 13(1) and 14 of the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel. In addition, universal jurisdiction applies to some transnational offences such as the destruction of undersea water cables and currency counterfeiting.

Regardless of the existence of the principle in customary and conventional international law, it is up to each individual state as to whether it legislates for universal jurisdiction and under what conditions it is exercised. For example, some states such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland and others have legislated for universal jurisdiction over war crimes committed in non-international armed conflict, whereas other states, such as Ireland, have not done so. What is more, some states have gone further than the parameters of international law and legislated for universal jurisdiction over additional offences. For example Belarus and Colombia can exercise universal jurisdiction over the crime of ecocide. It should also be acknowledged that where a state has enacted universal jurisdiction over a said offence, it does not necessarily mean that the law is utilised.

One such obstacle to the initiation of an investigation or trial under universal jurisdiction is prosecutorial discretion. As Judge Daniel D. Ntanda Nsereko notes, in some countries the government may direct the prosecutor, while in other countries prosecutors may act of their own accord. In deciding if an investigation or trial is to be pursued, the prosecutor must take into account a series of considerations such as whether a prosecution is in the public interest and whether evidence can be obtained easily.

An example of the gap between universal jurisdiction in international law and its exercise on a national level can be seen in states’ regulation of access to the jurisdictional principle. In some states it is possible for an individual or a group to initiate proceedings in respect of the extraterritorial crime. In fact, some of the most prominent examples of universal jurisdiction cases commenced in this manner. However, this legal mechanism is quickly becoming a thing of the past with many states closing off this means of judicial access. In Belgium, the consent of the Federal Prosecutor is required for the initation of an investigation into international crimes under Article 16 (2) of the Law on Grave Breaches of International Humanitarian Law (August 2003). Prior to 2003 it was possible for individuals to commence such proceedings. Equally, in the United Kingdom, the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions is required in order for an arrest warrant to be issued against persons accused of having committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions under Section 153 of the UK Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. Prior to the enactment of the UK legislation it was possible for a judge to issue such an arrest warrant upon receipt of a petition by an individual. These legislative changes are the result of the deterioration in international relations with states whose nationals were the subject of universal jurisdiction proceedings. In some states, such as Australia and Canada, prosecutorial discretion in respect of international crimes is not a new phenomenon.

There is little doubt that the exercise of universal jurisdiction will negatively impact the forum state’s bilateral relations with the state of nationality of the accused when the latter does not support the prosecution. This reality has been noted by some states participating in the discussion on the scope and application of the principle of universal jurisdiction taking place at the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly. Thus, on the one hand, it is to be expected that an official linked to the executive should decide important matters that are likely to have repercussions for the forum state’s international relations. In many states, the executive has traditionally regulated foreign policy matters. Moreover, the preservation of prosecutorial discretion may provide an incentive for states to sign up to future international treaties that contain a clause providing for the exercise of universal jurisdiction over a particular crime.

However, on the other hand, prosecutorial discretion raises a series of significant issues concerning international criminal justice. First, it begs the question as to whether the obligation to prosecute or extradite that applies to grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I and to torture (as provided in the respective conventions) is fulfilled. The enactment and exercise of universal jurisdiction over these offences is a fundamental element of the obligation to prosecute in both the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I and in UNCAT. Second, concerns arise in respect of the right of victims of serious violations of international law to have access to justice as guaranteed by the Updated Set of Principles for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights Through Action to Combat Impunity.

Third, the reality is that political considerations are a factor in the decision making process of a national prosecutor and this consideration will result in the exercise of universal jurisdiction being biased in support of the interest of powerful and influential states. In practical terms, relations with powerful trading allies are likely to be taken into consideration in determining whether or not a case should proceed. In 2014, pressure placed on the Spanish Government by the Chinese authorities, after an arrest warrant was issued by a Spanish judge for alleged international crimes committed in Tibet, resulted in significant restrictions to the Spanish law on universality. An exception to this proposition is the ‘US torture case’ in Germany. Here, the German Federal Prosecutor initiated a ‘monitoring procedure’ into alleged torture committed by US officials against persons while in CIA detention and overseas facilities, following the publication of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report on CIA Detention. (The monitoring procedure is still pending). Indeed, it is often said that universal jurisdiction operates in favour of the interests of influential states, predominantly from the Global North. The recent prosecution of Hissène Habré by Senegal and the ‘Zimbabwe Torture Docket’ case in South Africa may be cited against this contention. However, the reality of realpolitik is that the nationals of certain states will not be tried under the universality principle.

Universal jurisdiction is a rationale-based jurisdiction. The rationale for the exercise of universal jurisdiction is that the offences to which the jurisdiction applies are so heinous that they impact the whole of humanity. The principle fills an important void where there is no prospect of a domestic prosecution in the territorial state or in the state of nationality of the accused (often these are the same). Nonetheless, cases where the interests of the state of nationality of the accused align with the interests of the forum state are the cases most likely to proceed. Adding foreign policy considerations into the mix eschews the original rationale for universal jurisdiction. During the discussion at the Sixth Committee, some states have called upon the creation of guidelines on the exercise of universal jurisdiction. In the event of any such guidelines being formulated, it is imperative that the role of the prosecutor be examined in the deliberations. In particular, a balance must be struck between prosecutorial discretion and the need to prevent impunity for the worst atrocities.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, August 29, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

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


Middle East and Northern Africa




  • A ceasefire to end the 52-year-old war between the Colombian state and FARC fighters has gone into effect, with a full peace agreement expected to be signed in September.
  • Eight Paraguayan soldiers have been killed by a roadside bombing, according to the government, in an attack blamed on a Marxist armed group.



The Media Spotlight on Investor-State Dispute Settlement Just Got a Lot Brighter

by Julian Ku

Buzzfeed’s Chris Hamby is out today with the first installment of a promised four-part investigative report into the system of investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).  Like all such reports, it needs a spectacular headline and summary to draw clicks, and this one’s a doozy:

The Court That Rules the World

A parallel legal universe, open only to corporations and largely invisible to everyone else, helps executives convicted of crimes escape punishment.

The article itself is much more fair and thorough than this ridiculous headline teaser suggests.  It contains lots of original reporting on three ISDS cases involving Egypt, El Salvador, and Indonesia where Hamby says actual or threatened ISDS actions allowed corporate executives to escape criminal punishment.

I have no reason to doubt the accuracy of Hamby’s reporting on these cases. But I do have two initial somewhat critical reactions:

  • ISDS does give foreign investors leverage with host nations like Egypt or El Salvador that they wouldn’t otherwise have.  But I think Hamby overstates the amount of leverage a real or threatened ISDS claim creates.  Foreign governments don’t immediately comply with all ISDS awards and collecting judgments against foreign sovereigns, even weak ones like Egypt or El Salvador, is no easy task given those states’ sovereign immunity legal defenses and the difficulty of seizing state-owned assets.  Moreover, research shows that ISDS shows that states win more often than investors do, or they at least prevail as often as investors do. (See Footnote 3 to this letter defending ISDS as well as this EU Commission report).  ISDS may have allowed some foreign investors to unjustly avoid liability for their actions, but it is hard to know (and Hamby’s article cannot prove) that such cases represent a majority, or even a meaningful percentage, of overall ISDS actions.
  •  I don’t have a problem with Hamby reporting on these cases where it seems ISDS has been abused.  But I think it is important to keep the larger context of ISDS in mind.  What would be the impact of not having ISDS at all?  Would it make cross-border investment less common?  A lot less common?  Would the elimination of ISDS result in more corruption as foreign investors feel a need to pay protection money to host countries rather than resort to legal means?  Would the elimination of ISDS result in simply more cross-border investment among “rich” countries with well-developed domestic legal systems such as the US and Europe to the exclusion of “poor” countries with developing legal systems?  In other words, ISDS may be bad in many ways, and much abused (although I doubt the abuse is as common as Hamby intimates), but would eliminating ISDS be worse?

I am not an uncritical cheerleader for ISDS. I am doubtful, for instance, that ISDS adds much to the (now pretty much dead) proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US.  And I have questioned the constitutionality under US law of the ICSID Convention’s requirement of automatic enforcement of ISDS awards.   But I do feel ISDS critics should eventually have to answer the question: If not ISDS, then what? And will that non-ISDS future be better or worse? Hopefully, one of Hamby’s remaining three parts will address this important policy issue.

I Sing of MAARS and a Robot

by Chris Borgen

Defense One points to a news story in the Baghdad Post that the Iraqi Security Forces may be preparing to deploy a ground-combat robot:

Loosely dubbed Alrobot — Arabic for robot — it has four cameras, an automatic machine gun, and a launcher for Russian-made Katyusha rockets, and can be operated by laptop and radio link from a kilometer away, the [Baghdad Post] story says.

One point is important to emphasize, the Alrobot is a remotely-controlled four-wheeled drone, it is not an autonomous weapon. By contrast, an autonomous weapon would be, in the words of a recent article from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, “capable of selecting and engaging targets without human intervention.”

However, while the Alrobot would not be autonomous, Defense One also notes that it will also not be the first remotely-controlled battlefield weapon deployed in Iraq:

Back in 2007, the U.S. Army deployed three armed ground robots called the Special Weapons Observation Reconnaissance Detection System, or SWORDS, from weapons maker Foster-Miller (now owned by Qinetiq). SWORDS basically consisted of a Foster-Miller TALON robot armed with a machine gun.

However, the SWORDS unmanned ground vehicles (UGV’s) were never used on patrol. A 2008 Wired article (to which Defense One linked) explained in an addendum:

Senior Army leadership, however, was not comfortable with sending them out to do combat missions due to safety reasons, and they are now placed in fixed positions, said Robert Quinn, vice president of Talon operations at Foster-Miller…

It seems to be a “chicken or the egg” situation for the Army, he said. The tactics, techniques and procedures for using armed ground robots have not been addressed.

But until there is an adequate number of SWORDS to train with, these issues can’t be worked out, he said.

.A successor weapons system, the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) is currently being developed by QinetiQ. Like its predecessor, MAARS would  not be an autonomous weapon, but a remotely-controlled battlefield robot with humans making the tactical decisions. Consequently, the legal issues here would be less like the many concerns stemming from using artificial intelligence to make targeting and live-fire decisions, but rather would be similar to the legal issues arising from the use of armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s). Possible questions would include whether the use of the cameras and other sensors on the UGV would allow its operator to adequately discriminate between combatants and noncombatants. Does inserting an remotely-controlled armed robot make one more likely to use force? Under what situations would using such a system be disproportionate?

This may depend, in part, on how such systems are deployed. There could be different legal implications in using a UGV to, for example, “stand post” to guard the perimeter of a platoon that is out on patrol in a remote mountainous region as opposed to using a UGV in an urban combat situation where there are many civilians in close-quarters. The U.S. Marine Corps, for example, is considering when and how the use of weapons like MAARS would be appropriate.

For another recent post on robots and regulations, see my post from earlier this summer.

BDS Means Showing Disdain for Israeli Athletes?

by Kevin Jon Heller

As regular readers know, although I’m opposed to academic BDS, I fully support its economic incarnation. Which is why I find stories like this both depressing and infuriating:

“I have no problem with Jewish people or any other religion or different beliefs. But for personal reasons, you can’t ask me to shake the hand of anyone from this state, especially in front of the whole world.” These words, spoken by an individual who has just engaged in a gesture of support for the Palestinian people, are a standard response to the accusation of anti-Semitism which is routinely hurled at pro-justice activists.

The necessary distinction made between the “Jewish people” and the Israeli state is one Israel itself seeks to erase, as it strives to deflect all criticism of its policies, blaming it on anti-Jewish hatred instead. As such, these words do not in themselves establish new grounds, but a new approach to solidarity. Yet as Egyptian judoka Islam El-Shehaby uttered them last week in Brazil, they signified a new milestone: the sports boycott had arrived at the 2016 Olympic Games.

“Shaking the hand of your opponent is not an obligation written in the judo rules. It happens between friends and he’s not my friend,” El Shehaby explained, in the fallout from his action, which resulted in his dismissal from the games, for “poor sportsmanship.”

One day before El-Shehaby’s refusal to shake the hand of the Israeli Olympian he had just competed with, another judoka, Saudi Joud Fahmy, had withdrawn from the competition, in order not to have to compete against an Israeli athlete, should she win and advance to the next round.

You want to know why so many people despise BDS? Because of childish, appalling actions like these — actions that make it all too easy to erase the necessary distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. I don’t watch the Olympics, in part because I don’t find them interesting (outside of a few sports like football), but mostly because I find the rampant jingoism sickening. But I would never hold the politics that pervert the Olympics against the individual athletes who compete in the games, all of whom — to a man and a woman — have dedicated their lives to sporting excellence. There is absolutely no justification whatsoever for disrespecting an Olympic athlete simply because of the country he or she represents. None.

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine you did not view the Olympics solely through the prism of politics. Which country do you think more highly of now that the Olympics have ended? Egypt, whose judoka wouldn’t shake an Israeli judoka’s hand? Or New Zealand, whose 5000-metre runner gave up any shot at a medal to help an injured American runner who had initially helped her?

I don’t think what the Egyptian and Saudi athletes did is anti-Semitic. But I sure as hell think what they did was stupid — and profoundly damaging to the BDS cause. If these actions are a “new milestone” for BDS, as Mondoweiss claims, BDS is in serious trouble.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, August 22, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

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


Middle East and Northern Africa






Emerging Voices: ‘Sovereignty in the Age of Global Terrorism’ What is the Role of International Organizations?

by Myriam Feinberg

[Dr Myriam Feinberg is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Minerva Center for the Rule of Law under Extreme Conditions, University of Haifa. The topic addressed in this blog post is based on her monograph Sovereignty in the Age of Global Terrorism – The Role of International Organisations published by Brill/Martinus Nijhoff in May 2016.]

The attacks of 9/11 brought terrorism to the international stage. They raised many legal questions, both on the nature of terrorism itself and on the responses to the phenomenon. One of these questions is the role of international organisations in addressing the terrorist threat, and the ensuing question of the place of States in the international community. More generally, I contend that this can be examined in the wider context of state sovereignty, even though a number of international law analyses consider the concept of State sovereignty obsolete or in need of reform.

It is clear that the concept of sovereignty has evolved and that its validity can be challenged. Its definition was never completely clear but it definitely does not equate absolutism anymore. In fact, sovereignty is today considered to include a number of responsibilities for States. The Global Trust Project for instance, looks at sovereigns as ‘trustees of humanity’ and aims to examine the obligations that States and international organisations have towards various stakeholders, including foreign stakeholders.

However, the notion of sovereignty is also still frequently used as a narrative by States in order to impose certain domestic measures or to question territorial challenges. This is exactly why, to my mind, sovereignty is a useful frame of reference for counterterrorism, an area where issues of legitimacy and power are crucial: not as an ideal concept, not as a strict and defined notion, but rather, as the thermometer of how States consider their status, obligations and capacities in international law and their willingness to work alongside international organisations, especially in order to address security issues.

This post examines State sovereignty in the context of post-9/11 counterterrorism and focuses both on the ability of international organisations to adopt and enforce counterterrorism measures and on the practical example of terrorist asset freezing sanctions.

Terrorism challenges the sovereignty of a State because it questions the State’s ability to protect its citizens against violence and therefore, the States needs to be perceived as acting against it. After the events of 9/11, it also constitutes a challenge to the nature of the State in international law and to the international community as a whole.

In parallel, the attacks of 9/11 questioned the existing counterterrorism regimes of States because they showed that national legislation and jurisdiction were not sufficient to deal with this major issue. In other words, traditional responses appear to have failed and terrorist threats seem to have superseded territorial and nationality concepts. Yet, if terrorism constitutes a challenge to the concept of State sovereignty, any international response will also inherently challenge State sovereignty: since security is a core component of State sovereignty, the actions of international organisations in counterterrorism mean that the State is not the only actor to deal with security threats in its own territory. Instead, international and regional organisations have become fundamental actors in counterterrorism.

This tension between the two challenges to sovereignty is particularly interesting and it shows the trade-offs that States will face and the compromises they will need to adopt in order to balance the protection of their citizens and territory with their desire to retain the primary responsible actor in national security.

In practice, I argue that in the case of counterterrorism, sovereignty remains relevant for the following two reasons.

Firstly, terrorism concerns national security and States consider that they have the primary duty in this regard, with a view to protecting their citizens. This involves sensitive information, as well as political decision-making. In practice, this is a considerable obstacle to true global counterterrorism and it questions whether international organisations can truly make an impact on domestic counterterrorism legislation.

Secondly, the absence of an international definition of terrorism but more significantly, the lack of an international court with specific jurisdiction on terrorism and enforcement power further question the possibility of an international counterterrorism regime. In fact, while there is now an extensive international framework to deal with terrorism, the need for domestic implementation keeps the primary responsibility with individual States.

To further make this argument, we can look at the case of terrorist sanctions: the 2008 Kadi case of the European Court of Justice was a ground breaking decision that re-defined conflict of norms, although more recent case law, such as the 2016 Al-Dulimi case continue to develop the theme of relationships between international organisations and States, as well as between various international organisations.

These cases first show the focus of counterterrorism regimes on executive measures. The nature of terrorist threats has led to a number of emergency measures that took place without the balance of a judicial review or parliamentary oversight. In addition, the sanction regimes of the UN and the EU, as well as their domestic implementation, show the increasing cooperation, in a circular way, between the executive bodies of States and international organisations. Executive measures are the preferred way for counterterrorism for reasons of speed, secrecy and separation of powers. Moreover, the concerted way in which States and international organisations adopt these measures enables a consistency against the evolving threat of international terrorism. In this respect, the sovereignty of States is maintained in that the policy and legislation decided by domestic governments will be replicated at the international level, which is based on an intergovernmental model.

Yet, cases on terrorist sanctions, and in particular cases since Kadi, are also a testimony to the judiciary’s more recent attempt to protect human rights in the context of counterterrorism. In this respect, the main difference between regional organisations and the UN is that most of the former include a judicial enforcement mechanism within their mandate. This has been crucial in the context of counterterrorism, in particular, in order to balance human rights concerns with security needs. The various organisations have set some human rights standards for addressing terrorism within their counterterrorism regimes, but have also made a significant impact through their courts’ case law regarding human rights protection, in particular the EU and the Council of Europe. This role is fundamental given the targeting of individuals, rather than States, by the sanctions regimes.

On the other hand, the case law has created legal uncertainty with regards to the hierarchy between norms and conflicts between legal orders that would traditionally give precedence to the Security Council and its binding resolutions. States condemned by the European courts will want to ensure that their UN obligations do not clash with European human rights. In that respect, this might be the biggest impact on State sovereignty.

The framework of State sovereignty allows all these considerations to be brought to light. It shows that most of the measures adopted by international organisations will tend to contribute to States’ security agenda by remaining intergovernmental. Yet, it also evidences that the

concept of sovereignty as a responsibility to fulfil human rights obligations is continuing to develop, through regional courts. This is all the more significant because of the risk of sovereign abuse that often characterises counterterrorism in relation to to security measures and the focus on executive measures.