Recent Posts

A Summer of Shifting Alliances?

by Deborah Pearlstein

Just keeping up with the news on international terrorism/counterterrorism this summer could be a full time job. Among many other potentially significant reports, I wanted to highlight this statement recently released by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), often described by U.S. officials as the branch of Al Qaeda that currently poses the greatest threat to the United States. The AQAP statement announces the group’s support for the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL).

“We announce solidarity with our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the crusade. Their blood and injuries are ours and we will surely support them…. We assert to the Islamic Nation [all Muslims worldwide] that we stand by the side of our Muslim brothers in Iraq against the American and Iranian conspiracy and their agents of the apostate Gulf rulers.”

The statement goes on to offer various bits of non-rocket-science tactical advice to the Islamic State – watch out for spies, don’t assume electronic communications are unmonitored, digging trenches can help protect against the impact of shelling (thanks General Pershing). While I can’t generally vouch for the journalistic practices of the Yemen Times (on which I’m relying for the AQAP statement), this seems a simple direct quotation.

Why does this matter? A few reasons potentially. First, core Al Qaeda (led by Al Zawahiri) has condemned ISIL/the Islamic State and dissociated itself with the group. It is unclear how core Al Qaeda will take this move by one of its branches to voice its support for ISIL, but if AQAP intends to signal a real move away from core Al Qaeda, it would be another significant weakening of Al Qaeda’s regional and international capabilities (and a significant boost to ISIL). Second, AQAP has long been understood by the United States as a force “associated with” Al Qaeda for purposes of coverage by the statutory AUMF (authorizing the President to use force – targeting, detention, etc. – against those groups that attacked us on 9/11). If AQAP is moving to break its association with core Al Qaeda, the statutory argument that AQAP remains one of groups Congress meant to authorize force against in 2001 becomes much weaker. Given that the United States has reportedly continued to conduct targeting operations against AQAP forces in Yemen, this poses a potentially significant legal wrinkle in administration arguments that it enjoys statutory authorization for those operations. On the other hand, it would strengthen any case the administration might make to Congress for new authority to use force against ISIL and its associates. Will the administration seek such new congressional authority, particularly when the War Powers Act 60-90 day clock runs on current U.S. operations in Iraq (after which the President is required to seek congressional authorization)? Stay tuned.

Can Israel Cut Off Water and Power to Gaza?

by Kevin Jon Heller

That’s the question at the heart of a complicated debate between a variety of IHL scholars. The debate began with a legal opinion that Avi Bell submitted to the Knesset, in which he argued that nothing in international law prohibits Israel from cutting off the water and power it provides to Gaza. Although the opinion is dense — and has been updated in response to a document criticising an earlier published version — the bottom line is that Bell rejects the idea that Gaza is still occupied and believes it is thus impossible to find a positive obligation on Israel to continue to provide water and power (p. 5):

Some have argued that Israel is required to supply the Gaza Strip because Israel allegedly maintains control over Gaza. There are two versions of this claim: one version claims that Israel belligerently occupies the Gaza Strip; the other claims that Israel “controls” the Gaza Strip for purposes of human rights treaties or “post-occupation” duties even though it neither occupies nor exercises sovereignty over the Gaza Strip. When it controls territory through belligerent occupation, a state may have the duty supply certain goods to a civilian population if there is no other way to ensure access to the goods. Similarly, when it controls territory over which it has lawful sovereignty, a state may have the duty to supply certain goods when human rights treaties demand their provision to the civilian population. However, Israel does not control the Gaza Strip for purposes of the law of belligerent occupation or human rights  duties. Thus, Israel cannot be held to a duty to supply.

Bell’s legal opinion led a group of leading Israeli international-law scholars, including Eyal Benvenisti, Aeyal Gross (also at SOAS), David Kretzmer, and Yuval Shany, to submit a response to the Knesset. The essence of the response is that even if Israel is no longer occupying Gaza (on which the experts do not take an opinion), its ongoing control over basic features of Gazan life means that it is not free to completely ignore basic Palestinian humanitarian needs. Here is the key paragraph (pp. 10-11):

Israel and Gaza are not equal sovereign entities. Israel has controlled Gaza for decades, which resulted in significant dependence on Israeli infrastructure. Even after the disengagement, it still holds certain powers over the population in Gaza – including by its control over essential infrastructure. Since Israel does not allow, de facto, the development of independent infrastructure in Gaza, it cannot completely deny the responsibility to provide these essential supplies. Therefore, the interpretation suggested in the Opinion does not reflect a proper balance between the different objectives of IHL – even when considering the special challenges of asymmetric warfare. Chiefly, this is because it results in a legal “black hole” which deprives the civilian population of the effective protection of international law.

The debate between Bell and the other experts led Diakonia, a Swedish NGO, to commission a third report from Michael Bothe, one of the world’s foremost IHL experts. Bothe concludes, like the group of experts, that cutting off water and power to Gaza could (in certain circumstances) violate IHL. But he offers two independent bases for that conclusion…

Weekend Roundup: July 19-25, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, our Emerging Voices symposium continued with a post by François Delerue on cyber operations and the prohibition on the threat of force, a comparison by Otto Spijkers of the Nuhanović and Mothers of Srebrenica cases, and Arpita Goswami’s analysis of the PCA’s recent Bay of Bengal Maritime Arbitration Case between India and Bangladesh.

We also welcomed Jens Ohlin for a guest posting stint. This week, Jens discussed competing theories of control in light of the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 and two decisions by the European Court of Human Rights on Poland’s involvement in CIA Black Sites on its territory.

Other guest posts were by Jonathan Hafetz who discussed the D.C. Circuit’s en banc ruling in Al Bahlul and by Charles Kels who followed up on our recent symposium self-defence during armed conflict.

Of our regular bloggers, Kevin explained why comments by Moshe Feiglin, the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset in Israel, can be seen as advocating crimes against humanity, but not genocide, against Palestinians. He also summarized the al-Senussi admissibility decision in two quotes. Kristen discussed interesting questions about the increasing “jurisdictional overlap” between individuals designated on targeted sanctions lists and international criminal courts.

Finally, Jessica wrapped up the news and listed events and announcements.

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

Guest Post: Henderson & Cavanagh on Self-Defense During Armed Conflict

by Charles Kels

[Charles Kels is a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and an attorney for the Department of Homeland Security. He is writing in his personal capacity and his contribution is not meant to represent the views of the Department of Homeland Security, Air Force or Defense.]

Group Captain Henderson and Squadron Leader Cavanagh’s series of posts comparing and contrasting the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) and self-defense under criminal law (first, second, third, and fourth parts, along with the responses to posts one and four) provides an excellent analysis of how the legal basis for the application of force impacts the conditions upon its lawful use.

It is hard to argue with the central premise of the discussion: simply put, self-defense is not a part of LOAC. As the authors note, it is a term applicable to specific scenarios—namely, as a defense under criminal law and as a justification for the resort to force by states—and has different meanings depending upon the context in which it is invoked. This, by the way, is why I think the concept of “naked self-defense” as a standard for targeted killings is misplaced: it impermissibly (and I would argue counterproductively) conflates the jus ad bellum with the jus in bello.

The same can be said about the related issue of imminence. It has one meaning under a state’s right of self-defense, and another meaning under the law enforcement “force continuum,” but I’m unaware of any relevance to status-based targeting under LOAC. This is why some of the Obama administration’s pronouncements regarding imminent threats in the midst of what it deems an armed conflict have at times been so confusing.

The inapplicability of self-defense to LOAC is aptly encapsulated by Professor Ohlin vis-à-vis its interplay with the combatant’s privilege: the latter trumps the former, thereby rendering reliance upon it both unnecessary and self-defeating. Claiming self-defense in the face of criminal or disciplinary proceedings is essentially an excuse, but a privileged combatant who has exercised lethal force in compliance with LOAC has no need for vindication. In fact, he or she may be in line for a medal.

Yet, I am left wondering whether the discussion thus far elides a larger issue, rooted not in LOAC per se, but in the moral framework that undergirds it. That is, to what extent does the internal logic of LOAC as a coherent legal regime rest upon a generalized notion of individual self-defense? To the extent this insight has merit, I of course can’t take credit for it, although I have tried to flesh out its implications for remotely-waged warfare. It stems from Walzer’s famous formulation  (p. 34) of the “moral equality of soldiers,” and has found perhaps its most eloquent expression in the writing of legal philosopher Paul Kahn.

Essentially, Walzer’s notion is that “the capacity to injure” is what makes combatants legitimate targets in war. Kahn takes that argument to its logical conclusion, claiming that “the internal morality of warfare” is based upon the principle of “self-defense within conditions of reciprocal imposition of risk.” As such, what we lawyers call the combatant’s privilege is at heart “the soldier’s privilege of self-defense.”

Of course, given the irrelevance of imminence to LOAC, the risk posed by the identified enemy need not be immediate—hence another of Walzer’s well-known examples, the “naked soldier” (p. 138). Presumably, however, when that soldier gets dressed, he just may try and kill you (and may even be obligated to do so). This is what differentiates him from those who are hors de combat. So better to shoot him now, while you have the chance. What Michael Ignatieff calls the “tacit contract” of “kill or be killed” (p. 161) is still intact, even if attenuated.

One way to respond to Walzer, Kahn, and Ignatieff, et al. is simply to say that they’re wrong. Mutual risk has nothing to do with LOAC. To the extent that LOAC is concerned with promoting reciprocity, it’s a reciprocity of compliance, not physical peril. The jus in bello principle of proportionality, of course, imposes no requirement whatsoever with respect to parity in casualty rates among opposing forces.

Even so, it’s hard to deny that the reductive notion of combat as self-defense has intrinsic appeal, if nothing else than for providing a conceptually digestible précis of LOAC for those who actually have to implement its tenets in less than ideal circumstances. After all, the true value of LOAC is not just that it forbids some inhumane practices, but also that it legitimates certain acts of violence so that soldiers can do their jobs “without resorting to their own personal moral codes” or becoming paralyzed by principled indecision. This is especially so where, as in today’s conflicts, exhortations to abide by LOAC in order to incentivize compliance by the enemy are likely to fall on deaf ears (not to mention fail the straight-face test). At the end of the day, adhering to LOAC is about preserving our own humanity, not performing a risk-benefit analysis.

None of this detracts from the cogency of Henderson and Cavanagh’s observations, nor does it obviate the importance of avoiding confusion with respect to both the different contextual meanings of self-defense and their divergence from wartime targeting rules. However, I’m not sure that it’s possible to get away completely from accounting for permutations of self-defense when we talk about war-fighting. Otherwise, we risk being legally correct in the technical sense, while losing sight of the larger discussion over what it means to fight honorably.

Jurisdictional Overlap: Security Council Sanctions and the ICC

by Kristen Boon

A background paper for a High Level Review of Sanctions currently underway at the UN raises some important and interesting questions about the increasing “jurisdictional overlap” between individuals designated on targeted sanctions lists and international criminal courts.   In relevant part, the paper states:

Increasingly, the reach of sanctions has gone beyond those responsible for initiating and supporting threats to, or breaches of, international peace and security, to include perpetrators of conduct that could be crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC (especially violations of international humanitarian law, human rights, attacks against civilians, recruitment of child soldiers, sexual and gender based violence), thus increasing the overlap. Inevitably, in some cases the same individuals are or could be subject to both ICC proceedings and to UNSC targeted sanctions.

Even where their “jurisdiction” overlaps, sanctions and the ICC have different objectives (and evidentiary standards): sanctions applied to a particular individual seek to protect “the peace” or, more concretely, civilians, from future actions of the individual, by constraining the individual’s ability to act; an ICC proceeding seeks to determine the accountability of that individual for past actions.

 

This overlap is significant for a number of reasons.  First, it shows an important evolution in sanctions design, from comprehensive sanctions, to targeted measures against specific individuals which run the risk “criminalizing” certain behaviors without a judicial process.   I should be clear that from the work I have seen of sanctions committees, restraint rather than overstepping has been the norm.  Nonetheless, it does present issues of “individualization” (which have been analyzed by Larissa van den Herik in the context of human rights and the Kadi and Nada cases in Europe).  Second, it raises issues of how the ICC and Security Council and its subsidiary bodies cooperate.  The ICC – UN Relationship agreement is a framing instrument here, as is Part IX of the ICC statute on cooperation.  That said, the absence of a general policy at the UN to designate individuals on sanctions lists (where a relevant sanctions regime exists) is striking.  The most high profile (read: political) example of that involves Omar Al-Bashir – despite an outstanding ICC arrest warrant against him, ongoing sanctions regime against the situation in Sudan, and a Security Council referral of the situation to the ICC, Bashir has never been designated under the sanctions regime.  As I argued in this post last year, a travel ban would have been one way to restrict his efforts to attend the General Assembly meetings in New York in 2013.  Finally, write large, it presents the old “peace versus justice” debate because of the different goals of sanctions (conflict management) and criminal prosecutions (atrocity for past acts.)

Emerging Voices: The Old Woe of Contemporaneity and Cartographic Evidence in a New Bottle

by Arpita Goswami

[Arpita Goswami currently serves as an Assistant Editor to China Oceans Law Review, and is a Graduate Assistant at the South China Sea Institute, Xiamen University, P.R. China. The views expressed here are her own and have no connection whatsoever to the above mentioned organizations.]

The recently concluded Bay of Bengal Maritime Arbitration Case between India and Bangladesh offers interesting insights into the application of the judicial pronouncements to the factual situation contemporaneous with it for determining the boundary lines and the usage of cartographic evidence in the same. This post examines the section of the Award delimiting the riverine boundary between the two States. The reasoning given by Tribunal in this case makes an interesting read regarding the technicalities of demarcation of boundaries, challenges in the contemporaneous applications and the validity of cartographic evidence in such an application.

Background (para. 50-55 of the judgment)

The Indian Independence Act, 1947 of the United Kingdom, partitioned from India, the states of West Pakistan and East Pakistan. East Pakistan was carved out of the Bengal Province, with West Bengal remaining in India. In order to demarcate the boundary between East Pakistan and West Bengal, the Bengal Boundary Commission was set up in 1947 which was chaired by Sir Cyril Radcliffe. In Aug. 1947, the Commission submitted the report describing the boundary, and is known as “Radcliffe Award”. However, in 1948 the Indo-Pakistan Boundary Dispute Tribunal was set up by India and Pakistan to address the disagreement in the application of the Radcliffe Award. In 1950, the above mentioned Tribunal gave its Award, known as the “Bagge Award”.

In 1971, East Pakistan declared independence from West Pakistan, and succeeded as a new state of Bangladesh to the territory of East Pakistan and its boundaries.

The boundary between India and Bangladesh runs across the Sunderban Delta region. The southern section of the land boundary lies in the riverine features, which fall in the Bay of Bengal. Among its tasks of finding the land boundary terminus anddelimiting the territorial sea, EEZ and continental shelves between the two States, the present Tribunal also had to concern itself with delimiting the boundary river between the two, which will be discussed in the passages below.

Delimitation of the Boundary River

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The al-Senussi Admissibility Decision in Two Quotes

by Kevin Jon Heller

Libya’s Foreign Minister, 21 May 2014:

There is a complete absence of the army and the police [in Libya], which are responsible for the security of the state. Armed groups are not under control…. State-building needs to build security institutions first and foremost because with no security there can be no investments, building a real state, nor an effective criminal justice system to protect rights and freedoms.

ICC Appeals Chamber, 24 July 2014:

The Appeals Chamber concluded that there were no errors in the findings of the Pre-Trial Chamber that Libya is not unwilling or unable to genuinely prosecute Mr Al-Senussi.

ECHR Rules Against Poland in CIA Black Sites Case

by Jens David Ohlin

In two decisions (here and here) handed down this morning, the European Court of Human Rights has found that Poland violated its obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights for its complicity in the United States’ running of a CIA black site and high-value detainees program on Polish territory.

One of the cases involved al-Nashiri, who was prosecuted before a U.S. military commission and the subject of protracted habeas litigation in the DC Circuit. He was accused of orchestrating the attack against the USS Cole in 2000. In federal court his lawyers raised the very interesting issue of whether there existed an armed conflict with al-Qaeda at that time (i.e. before 9/11), and whether a military commission could properly assert jurisdiction over a crime that was allegedly committed before (in their view) the commencement of the armed conflict.

Nashiri was captured in Dubai in 2002, transferred to a CIA prison in Afghanistan (called the “Salt Pit”), then to a CIA facility in Bangkok (called “Cat’s Eye”) where detainee Abu Zubaydah (the subject of the other case) also was held. Both were then transferred to the CIA black site in Poland. After his time in Poland, he was transferred briefly to Morocco on his way to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The decision goes into extensive detail of the CIA interrogation program, including a review of internal CIA documents explaining the interrogation methods that officers were authorized to use against detainees, as well as the unauthorized techniques that were sometimes used. The court concluded that (para. 417):

Assessing all the above facts and evidence as a whole, the Court finds it established beyond reasonable doubt that:

(1)  on 5 December 2002 the applicant, together with Mr Abu Zubaydah, arrived in Szymany on board the CIA rendition aircraft N63MU;

(2)  from 5 December 2002 to 6 June 2003 the applicant was detained in the CIA detention facility in Poland identified as having the codename “Quartz” and located in Stare Kiejkuty;

(3)  during his detention in Poland under the HVD Programme he was interrogated by the CIA and subjected to EITs and also to unauthorised interrogation techniques as described in the 2004 CIA Report, 2009 DOJ Report and the 2007 ICRC Report;

4)  on 6 June 2003 the applicant was transferred by the CIA from Poland on the CIA rendition aircraft N379P.

The ECHR then concludes that Poland was aware of (and complicit) in the CIA activities:

442.  Taking into consideration all the material in its possession (see paragraphs 418-439 above), the Court finds that there is abundant and coherent circumstantial evidence, which leads inevitably to the following conclusions:

(a)  that Poland knew of the nature and purposes of the CIA’s activities on its territory at the material time and that, by enabling the CIA to use its airspace and the airport, by its complicity in disguising the movements of rendition aircraft and by its provision of logistics and services, including the special security arrangements, the special procedure for landings, the transportation of the CIA teams with detainees on land, and the securing of the Stare Kiejkuty base for the CIA’s secret detention, Poland cooperated in the preparation and execution of the CIA rendition, secret detention and interrogation operations on its territory;

(b)  that, given that knowledge and the emerging widespread public information about ill-treatment and abuse of detained terrorist suspects in the custody of the US authorities, Poland ought to have known that, by enabling the CIA to detain such persons on its territory, it was exposing them to a serious risk of treatment contrary to the Convention (see also ElMasri, cited above, §§ 217-221).

443.  Consequently, Poland was in a position where its responsibility for securing “to everyone within [its] jurisdiction the rights and freedoms defined …. in [the] Convention” set forth in Article 1 was engaged in respect of the applicant at the material time.

The Court holds that Poland violated Article 3 of the Convention for its failure to adequately investigate the mistreatment, and for failing to ensure that “individuals within its jurisdiction were not subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, including ill-treatment administered by private individuals .”  Again, here is the Court’s holding (para. 517):

Notwithstanding the above Convention obligation, Poland, for all practical purposes, facilitated the whole process, created the conditions for it to happen and made no attempt to prevent it from occurring. As the Court has already held aboveon the basis of their own knowledge of the CIA activities deriving from Poland’s complicity in the HVD Programme and from publicly accessible information on treatment applied in the context of the “war on terror” to terrorist suspects in US custody the authorities – even if they did not witness or participate in the specific acts of ill-treatment and abuse endured by the applicant – must have been aware of the serious risk of treatment contrary to Article 3 occurring on Polish territory.

Accordingly, the Polish State, on account of its “acquiescence and connivance” in the HVD Programme must be regarded as responsible for the violation of the applicant’s rights under Article 3 of the Convention committed on its territory (see paragraph 452 above and El-Masri, cited above, §§ 206 and 211).

The Court also found a violation of the article 5 prohibition against arbitrary detention (para. 532), the article 8 prohibition against interference with family life for holding him incommunicado (para. 540), the article 13 requirement of an effective domestic remedy (para. 551), and the article 6 prohibition against an unfair trial (para. 569).

The last holding on article 6 required the Court to conclude that the petitioner’s trial before a U.S. military commission would be unfair — which is a substantial legal determination. Unfortunately, the Court’s analysis on this point is incredibly thin, and relies mostly on the U.S. Supreme Court’s determination in Hamdan that the creation of the tribunals was procedurally defective and violated Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, without much independent analysis. There is no discussion of post-Hamdan military commission reforms.

Finally, the Court concludes that Poland violated its Protocol 6 (abolition of the death penalty) obligations because of the risk that the petitioner would be subject to capital punishment before a U.S. military commission (para. 579).

Emerging Voices: Responsibility of the Netherlands for the Genocide in Srebrenica–The Nuhanović and Mothers of Srebrenica Cases Compared

by Otto Spijkers

[Otto Spijkers is an Assistant Professor of Public International Law at Utrecht University.]

Introduction

This post compares the recent judgment of the District Court in The Hague in the case of the “Mothers of Srebrenica” with the judgment of the Dutch Supreme Court of last year in the Nuhanović case. I will try not to repeat what Kristen Boon wrote about the case in an earlier post.

Facts

Both judgments deal with the legal responsibility of the Netherlands for the death of (some of) the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995. When the so-called “safe area” of Srebrenica fell into the hands of the Bosnian Serbs, the Dutch UN peacekeepers all left the area. Hasan Nuhanović was permitted to leave with them, because he had worked for the UN, but the UN peacekeepers refused to take the relatives of Hasan Nuhanović as well. Hasan’s brother and father were subsequently killed, together with thousands of other Bosnian Muslims. Most of the victims were situated outside the compound over which the Dutch peacekeepers exercised effective control. Even those Bosnian Muslims that managed to enter the compound, just before the fall of Srebrenica was a fact, were later surrendered by the Dutch peacekeepers to the Bosnian Serbs. Almost all of them were killed.

Legal Question

Nuhanović argued that the refusal of the Dutch UN peacekeepers to save his relatives constituted a wrongful act, attributable to the State of the Netherlands. The Mothers of Srebrenica argued that the refusal of the Dutch UN peacekeepers to save all Bosnian Muslims within the so-called “mini safe area” constituted a wrongful act, attributable to the Netherlands. This is the area where most people fled to after the city of Srebrenica had fallen into the hands of the Bosnian Serbs. This mini safe area consisted of the compound in Potočari and the surrounding area, where deserted factories and a bus depot were located (para. 2.35 of Mothers of Srebrenica judgment).

Attribution

In Nuhanović, The Dutch Supreme Court held that the same conduct could in principle be attributed both to the Netherlands and to the United Nations. In reaching this decision, the Court referred to Article 48 of the ILC’s Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations (2011, DARIO). In the Mothers of Srebrenica case, the District Court reached the same conclusion (para. 4.34)

Since the UN was not party to the Nuhanović-proceedings, the Supreme Court could look only at the rights and responsibilities of the Netherlands. The Mothers of Srebrenica initially involved the UN in the proceedings as well, but the Organization effectively relied on its immunity (this led to some landmark judgments by the Dutch Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights), and thus the case continued without the UN. In Mothers of Srebrenica, the District Court explicitly rejected the position of the Mothers that, given the immunity of the UN, the rules on attribution should be interpreted more “broadly,” as otherwise the Dutch UN peacekeepers would be placed “above the law” (para. 4.35). At the same time, one cannot help get the feeling that it played a role.

With regard to attribution, the Supreme Court in Nuhanović based its decision primarily on Article 7 DARIO. This provision states that the conduct of an organ placed at the disposal of an international organization by a State must be considered to be the conduct of that international organization, when the organization has effective control over the conduct. The Netherlands argued that Article 6 DARIO was the relevant provision, and not Article 7. Article 6 DARIO states that the conduct of an organ of an international organization is attributable to that international organization. The argument of the State was thus that the peacekeepers were a UN organ. This is also the view of the UN itself. But the Supreme Court followed the ILC Commentary to DARIO, according to which a battalion of peacekeepers is not a UN organ, because the battalion to a certain extent still acts as an organ of the State supplying the soldiers. Important in this assessment is the fact that the troop-contributing State retains disciplinary powers and criminal jurisdiction over its peacekeepers.

Interestingly, the Dutch Supreme Court also referred to Article 8 of the ILC’s Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (2001, ARS). Strictly speaking, Article 7 DARIO says nothing about the attribution of conduct of an organ placed at the disposal of an international organization by a State to that State. The Article deals exclusively with the responsibility of international organizations, such as the UN. All it says is that, if the international organization does not have effective control over the conduct of the organ, then it is not responsible for that conduct. But that does not mean that, by definition, this makes the State responsible in such cases. In theory, it could very well be that neither of the two is responsible. And so to complete the picture, the Dutch Supreme Court relied on Article 8 ARS. According to this provision, the conduct of a group of persons shall be considered an act of a State if the group is in fact acting under the effective control of that State in carrying out the conduct. This provision was meant to make it possible to attribute acts of persons not formally part of the State system to the State in exceptional circumstances.

One may wonder why the Supreme Court did not instead make use of Article 4 ARS, according to which the conduct of any State organ shall be considered an act of that State. If peacekeepers are not UN organs, then it would be logical to consider the peacekeeping force as a State organ instead. Peacekeepers are not the mercenaries, militants or bands of irregulars for which Article 8 ARS has been designed. But if we follow the Dutch Supreme Court, the peacekeepers are nobody’s organ; and whoever happens to be in effective control of them at the relevant time, is responsible for their actions.

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Control Matters: Ukraine & Russia and the Downing of Flight 17

by Jens David Ohlin

The recent downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, apparently by an anti-aircraft missile fired from within rebel-controlled territory in the Ukraine, has raised the specter that Russia is covertly (or not so covertly) supplying arms and assistance to the pro-Russian separatists operating within eastern Ukraine. Obviously, the facts here are somewhat contested and I have no insider or independent information about the firing of the missiles. What I say here is based on news reports in The New York Times and elsewhere, and our understanding of the situation is rapidly evolving.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that this story (or something similar) turns out to be true. Let’s assume that the “BUK” anti-aircraft missile system was either provided to the Ukrainian rebels by Russian operatives, or that it was stolen by the rebels from the Ukrainian military, and then operated with assistance from Russian operatives and military advisors. It seems more likely that the missile system was provided directly by Russia, but even if the rebels stole it from the Ukrainian military, it seems unlikely that the untrained militia-members would have been capable of deploying it without Russian assistance. (Again, let’s just take this as an assumption, because alternate hypotheses exist, including the contention that the militia members are trained in anti-aircraft missile deployment because they are local defectors from the Ukrainian military).

If this story is true, it reveals how important the debate is, in international jurisprudence, between competing theories of control. This might seem like an obvious point, but the current situation in the Ukraine (vis-à-vis Russian influence) may stand at precisely the fault line between “effective control” and “overall control” – the two competing doctrines of attribution in international law.

As most readers already know, the effective control test was articulated in the ICJ’s Nicaragua judgment and offers a fairly robust set of standards for attributing the actions of an armed group to a particular state, essentially requiring that the armed units are operating on the instruction, or at the direction of, the foreign state. In these circumstances, the actions of the armed group can be attributed to the foreign state.

In contrast, the ICTY in Tadic declined to follow the ICJ’s Effective Control Test, and instead formulated and applied the broader Overall Control Test. The test was originally designed to determine in Tadic whether the armed conflict was an international armed conflict or a non-international armed conflict. If the conduct was attributable to a foreign state, then the armed conflict was international in nature. Subsequently, Cassese argued (correctly) that the test was, in fact, a general test for state responsibility. The test allowed for state responsibility in situations where a foreign power helped to coordinate the actions of an organized and hierarchically structured armed group by equipping, financing, or training the paramilitary force.

The dispute between these two tests is crucial because they really do give different answers in important cases. It seems to me that the Ukrainian situation falls directly on the fault line between the overall and effective control tests. If the Effective Control test applies, then it is not clear whether the shooting down of the airliner can be directly attributed to the Russian government (although that conclusion depends on which facts are unearthed in the investigation). On the other hand, if the Overall Control test applies, then there is a plausible argument that the shooting of Flight 17 can be attributed to Russia because their operatives probably helped train and equip, and coordinate, the activities of the pro-Russian militia. The Overall Control test supports the attribution of responsibility to Russia, while the Effective Control test probably does not.

Either way, one important insight about both tests is their black-and-white nature. Instead of a spectrum of control yielding different degrees of responsibility, the tests act as an on-off switch. Either there is state responsibility or there is not; either the acts are attributed or they are not. There is no sliding scale of responsibility based on the degree of foreign involvement or entanglement in the local affairs of the militia or paramilitary organization.

A final note on a related but distinct topic. It also seems pretty clear that pro-Russian militia were acting incompetently in shooting down the plane, assuming incorrectly that they were shooting down a military aircraft. How should one understand their level of culpability here? Recklessness comes to mind as the appropriate mental state since they probably did not engage in the appropriate due diligence to distinguish between military and civilian aircraft.

Although it is unclear whether this should be treated as an international crime (killing of civilians during an armed conflict) or a domestic crime (murder), I have to say that I have never found international criminal law’s treatment of crimes of recklessness particularly satisfying. Under domestic law, reckless killings are either classified as manslaughter or as the lowest degree of murder (such as depraved indifference to human life) depending on the jurisdiction and depending on the severity of the recklessness. Domestic law therefore produces a grading of the offense based on the lower mental state. In contrast, international criminal law has no lower offense for crimes of recklessness. Unlike the distinction between murder and manslaughter, a defendant is either convicted or acquitted of the war crime of killing civilians (with nothing in between).

Guest Post: The D.C. Circuit’s En Banc Ruling in Al Bahlul: Legal Innovation, Tradition, and America’s Domestic Common Law of War

by Jonathan Hafetz

[Jonathan Hafetz is Associate Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law School.  He has represented several Guantanamo detainees and has filed amicus briefs in previous legal challenges to military commissions.]

On July 14, the en banc U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issued its long-awaited (and deeply fractured) opinion in Al Bahlul v. United States (.pdf), addressing the scope of military commission jurisdiction over offenses—material support for terrorism, solicitation, and conspiracy—that are not crimes under international law.  In a nutshell, the D.C. Circuit vacated Bahlul’s conviction for material support and solicitation, but affirmed his conviction for conspiracy against an ex post facto challenge.  While the ruling takes material support and solicitation off the table for commission prosecutions (at least for prosecutions of current Guantanamo detainees), it does not resolve the viability of charging conspiracy as a stand-alone offense because the en banc holding is based on the application of plain error review to Bahlul’s case (due to its conclusion that Bahlul failed to preserve his ex post facto challenge below).  The decision thus leaves open the fate of conspiracy under de novo review.  By implication, it also leaves open the viability of the U.S. government’s domestic war crimes theory not only with respect to other commission cases charging conspiracy (including the ongoing prosecution of the 9/11 defendants), but also with respect to Bahlul’s other legal challenges to his conspiracy conviction, which the en banc court remanded to the original D.C. Circuit panel.

This post will examine the multiple opinions in Bahlul addressing the U.S. government’s domestic war crimes theory, which posits that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (2006 MCA) retroactively authorizes, and that the Constitution allows, the prosecution by military commission of conduct that is not a crime under the international law of war.  (For excellent summaries of the Bahlul decision, see posts at Just Security by Steve Vladeck here and by Steve and Marty Lederman here).  The theory’s viability is central to the retroactivity arguments addressed by the en banc court as well as to the additional arguments under Article I and Article III that will be considered on remand.
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Welcome to Guest Blogger Jens David Ohlin

by Chris Borgen

Professor Jens David Ohlin of Cornell Law School will be guest blogging with us over the next two weeks. Many readers may know Jens from his blogging at Lieber Code and from his many articles on international criminal law, the laws of war, cyberwar, and comparative criminal law, among other topics.

Jens is also the author or editor of four books, including his forthcoming The Assault on International Law (Oxford) and Targeted Killings: Law and Morality in an Asymmetrical World (Oxford 2012), for which he was a co-editor.

We are very happy to have Jens participating on Opinio Juris for the next couple of weeks and look forward to the conversation!