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Anchugov and Gladkov is not Enforceable: the Russian Constitutional Court Opines in its First ECtHR Implementation Case

by Marina Aksenova

[Marina Aksenova is a Post-doc at the Centre of Excellence for International Courts, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen. You can reach her at: Marina [dot] aksenova [at] jur [dot] ku [dot] dk.]

On 19 April 2016, the Constitutional Court of Russia (CC) issued its pilot decision testing newly acquired powers to refuse the implementation of the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) contradicting Russia’s Constitution. The case under review of the CC was Anchugov and Gladkov v Russia. In this case, the ECtHR previously found that automatic and indiscriminate ban on Russian prisoners’ voting rights was disproportionate and thus in violation of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1 (right to free elections) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Ever since it was issued in 2013, the Russian authorities viewed this ruling as problematic because it directly contradicts Article 32(3) of the Russian Constitution, which reads as follows:

Deprived of the right to elect and be elected shall be citizens recognized by court as legally unfit, as well as citizens kept in places of confinement by a court sentence.

The CC has been enjoying powers to refuse the implementation of contested decisions of the ECtHR for only nine month, and, more precisely, since 14 July 2015 when it issued ground breaking decision to reaffirm the primacy of the Russian Constitution over the conflicting rulings of the ECtHR and any other international bodies tasked with human rights protection (some aspects of this decision are discussed here and in the second half of this post). On 14 December 2015, the legislature, in line with the position of the CC, amended the law regulating the operation of the Russian Constitutional Court, granting the President and the Government the right to appeal to the Court in instances when they suspect that executing the ruling of the ECtHR may contradict the Constitution. Following the introduction of this new internal review mechanism, the Ministry of Justice swiftly filed an appeal to the CC asking it to rule on the possibility of implementing the ECtHR judgment in Anchugov and Gladkov.

The CC held on 19 April 2016 that the ECtHR judgment in Anchugov and Gladkov could not be executed. The CC adopted, however, a diplomatic approach by not ruling out the introduction of future penalties involving non-custodial sentences that limit the freedom but do not impede on the voting rights. The CC nonetheless insisted on its previous interpretation of Article 32(3) as sufficiently discriminate to satisfy the requirements Article 3 of Protocol No. 1. The Court further stressed European pluralism in what concerns organisation of the electoral processes in different members states as well as inconsistent position of the ECtHR itself in matters concerning voting rights (the CC contrasted Hirst v UK (2005) and Scoppola v Italy (2012) judgments, pointing to a certain change of heart by the Strasbourg court).

The CC distinguished general measures and measures that benefit the applicant in making three important pronouncements:

  • Anchugov and Gladkov cannot be implemented in what concerns general measures involving repealing or changing the imperative provision of Article 32(3) of the Constitution given its supremacy within Russian legal system. The CC found it particularly troubling that the provision in question can only be changed by virtue of adopting a new Constitution;
  • Anchugov and Gladkov can be implemented in what concerns general measures ensuring fairness, differentiation and proportionality of the restrictions on voting rights. Here the CC adopted a rather questionable approach arguing that only a custodial sentence leads to the disenfranchisement of the offender concerned, which ensures sufficient differentiation because most of the first-time offenders charged with minor crimes do not get imprisoned, ergo their voting rights are intact. The ECtHR has however already dismissed this argument in Anchugov and Gladkov (para. 106) pointing to the lack of evidence that courts take into account impending disenfranchisement when deciding on the type of sanction to be imposed on the convicted person. Possibly sensing some weakness in this position, the CC made an additional promise for the future – the legislator may optimise Russian penitentiary system so as to ensure the existence of punishments limiting freedom but not involving imprisonment, thus guaranteeing voting rights to the convicted persons;
  • Finally, Anchugov and Gladkov cannot be executed in what pertains measures benefitting individual applicants because the applicants were convicted for serious offences and sentenced to fifteen years of imprisonment, automatically leading to their disenfranchisement. Moreover, restitutio integrum is simply impossible in this case for the elections that the applicants wished to participate in took place between 2000 and 2008.

14 July 2015 CC Ruling

The CC Anchugov and Gladkov ruling was made technically possible due to the adoption of Continue reading…

Trump’s Proposed Great Chinese Tariff Wall

by Roger Alford

Chinese Great WallUnfortunately Republican primary voters have made the remarkable choice to take Donald Trump seriously, and therefore we now have little choice but to contemplate the ramifications of a Trump presidency for United States foreign policy.

In terms of U.S. trade, Donald Trump would be an unmitigated disaster. Trump, of course, has a penchant for incendiary comments, and his statements regarding international trade are as ludicrous and uninformed as much of his other foreign policy positions. Almost everything Trumps says about Chinese trade is wrong. “We don’t win anymore,” “They are taking our jobs,” and “They don’t play fair.” These are all platitudes without substance, but a significant percentage of Americans are buying his snake oil. The answer to our Chinese problem, according to Trump, is a trade war. “The only power that we have with China is massive trade,” Trump says, so we should tax China. “I would tax China on products coming in. Let me tell you what the tax should be… the tax should be 45 percent.” The solution to our trade problems with China, he thinks, is to build a tariff wall. Build a wall and make them pay.

Trump thinks that Mexico will pay for the Mexican wall, and he thinks that China will pay for a Chinese tariff wall. But he is wrong. The American people would pay for the wall with higher consumer prices and reduced American exports.

First, how would such a tariff increase impact American consumers? A 45 percent tariff on Chinese products would be an indirect tax on American consumers. On average, the United States imposes a 3.5 percent tariff on foreign products. Over 20 percent of all United States imports come from China, with a total value of over $500 billion. At 3.5 percent, the tariff on $500 billion worth of Chinese imports is $17.5 billion. At 45 percent, the tariff would be $225 billion. That’s an increase of over 1,186 percent. In other words, assuming Chinese imports continued at their current rate, Donald Trump’s proposed tariff wall with China would reflect an indirect tax on American consumers of over $200 billion. A tax increase of over $200 billion would be one of the largest in American history, greater than the combined tax increases imposed by Presidents Obama, Clinton, and Carter.

To be more concrete, as detailed here, the United States imports from China over $135 billion worth of electronic equipment, over $100 billion worth of machinery, over $30 billion worth of furniture, over $25 billion worth of toys, and over $18 billion worth of footwear. All of us routinely purchase Chinese products, and we each would face a dramatic price increase as the 45 percent tariff is passed on to consumers.

Second, how would the tariff increase impact American exporters? Trump’s tariff wall is undoubtedly illegal under the WTO rules. The rules were designed to make sure that countries keep their trade promises. Donald Trump’s proposal is a blatant breach of our promise to keep tariffs low. All of our tariff rates are “bound,” meaning we have committed by treaty not to increase beyond the bound rate. Every imported product has a bound tariff rate, and under GATT Article II, any tariff above that ceiling violates the WTO rules.

Trump’s proposed tariff wall would break United States’ promise to maintain its current tariff rates. China would have the right to bring an action before the WTO to challenge the 45 percent tariff increase. Just as the United States would undoubtedly win if China tried to do something similar to us, China would undoubtedly win if it challenged the Trump tariff wall. The WTO would demand that the United States keep its tariff promises, and authorize China to raise tariffs on United States’ products coming into China equal to the harm the United States caused to China.

In other words, if China suffers over $200 billion worth of harm from increased tariffs on Chinese products, the WTO would authorize China to increase tariffs on U.S. products by the same amount. Over 7 percent of all United States exports go to China, with total U.S. exports to China exceeding $120 billion.

So if China is hit with over $200 billion worth of tariff increases, China would be authorized to impose over $200 billion worth of tariff increases on $120 billion worth of American exports. Our major exports to China include soybeans ($15 billion), civilian aircraft ($8.4 billion), passenger vehicles ($5.2 billion), copper ($3 billion), corn ($1.3 billion), and coal ($1.2 billion). American workers with jobs in these industries would be severely injured by these WTO-authorized Chinese countermeasures. All those American auto workers, and corn and soybean farmers, and coal miners who support Trump would see their Chinese export market shrink. A tariff increase this dramatic could effectively close the Chinese market to American exports. And it would be completely proper for China to do this to compensate it for our illegal behavior.

In short, the great Chinese tariff wall that Donald Trump proposes to build would severely injure American consumers, making the price of all Chinese products dramatically higher. It also would severely injure American workers, as U.S. exports to the Chinese market would sharply contract. The economic harm that his tariff wall would have on the average American is shocking. Yet his supporters remain blissfully unaware that the United States would not win if it enters a trade war with China.

Opinio Juris’ New Series on International Law and Presidential Politics

by Roger Alford

Presidential PoliticsWe are pleased to announce that Opinio Juris will begin an occasional series on international law and Presidential politics. Foreign policy and international law have been a central topic of discussion among the U.S. presidential candidates, and there is much fodder for discussion regarding the fidelity of their positions with the United States’ commitments under international law. The series will address the connection between the U.S. presidential election and international law. As long as it relates to international law, any comment, debate discussion, party platform, or candidate position presented by the Republican or Democratic presidential candidates is fair game for a post.

Rather than present these posts as a symposium subject to specific time constraints, we have decided to run it as an occasional series between now and the November 2016 election. As we have done in the past, we welcome academics to submit guest posts for possible publication. We will focus on the international legal aspects of the U.S. presidential election, not the broader political issues. So please keep your posts confined to international law and Presidential politics.

We can’t guarantee we will publish every post submitted, but we would love to broaden the discussion to include other voices. So if you want to write a 500- to 1500-word guest post for Opinio Juris about the U.S. presidential elections and international law, please do so beginning this week and continue to do so through the November election. You can send your post to Jessica Dorsey (her email is linked to the right). Our editorial team will review the posts and publish those selected.

Surprise Hearing in Haiti Cholera Case Appeal

by Kristen Boon

In a surprise announcement late last week, the Second Circuit granted a hearing in the Haiti Cholera Case.  The hearing will take place tomorrow, and the lawyers will have had only 4 days to prepare.    While no reasons were given as to why the hearing was granted so suddenly, the speculation is that upon reading the papers, at least one or more judges decided a hearing was warranted.

If you are in New York on March 1, and want to attend the hearing here are the details:

What: Second Circuit appeals hearing in Georges v. United Nations.

When: Tuesday, March 1, 2016 at 2pm

Where: Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse 17th Floor, Room 1703 40 Foley Square New York, New York 10007

Each side will be granted 10 minutes.

As soon as a transcript is available, I will post it on OJ.

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, February 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

  • The United Nations Security Council on Friday unanimously demanded that all parties to the civil war in Syria comply with the terms of a U.S.-Russian deal on a “cessation of hostilities” due to take effect at midnight local time (5.00 p.m. ET).
  • Guns mostly fell silent in Syria and Russian air raids stopped on Saturday, the first day of a cessation of hostilities that the United Nations has described as the best hope for peace in five years of civil war, but the Syrian opposition warned on Sunday that attacks by the army, backed by Russian warplanes, threatened a U.S.-Russian deal for a cessation of hostilities with collapse and endangered future peace talks.
  • The Arab coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has denied targeting civilians after air strikes hit a market northeast of the capital Sanaa, reportedly killing at least 40 people.
  • The United States and its allies conducted 24 strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on Saturday, the coalition leading the operations said in a statement on Sunday.
  • Turkish security forces have foiled 18 suicide attacks since the start of the year, three of them by intercepting vehicles planned for use as car bombs, Interior Minister Efkan Ala said in an interview with the Kanal 7 television station on Sunday.
  • Armed forces from 20 countries have begun manoeuvres in northeastern Saudi Arabia that the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) has described as one of the world’s biggest military exercises.


  • An American student held in North Korea since early January was detained for trying to steal a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel and has confessed to “severe crimes” against the state, the North’s official media said on Monday.
  • India and the United States are closing in on an agreement to share military logistics after 12 years of talks, officials said, a sign of strengthening defence ties between the countries as China becomes increasingly assertive.



  • Senior U.S. defense officials voiced concern about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions on Friday as they toured American missile defense sites a day after watching the military test-fire its second intercontinental ballistic missile in a week.



Events and Announcements: February 28, 2016

by Jessica Dorsey

Sponsored Announcements

  • This summer 2016, SOAS will be offering five different law short courses, co-convened by leading academics in the field. Through a mixture of lectures, readings, discussions and activities, the courses will explore contemporary issues of; Gender, Conflict & Law, English Law in the Global Context, Climate Change Law and Policy, International Law: Contemporary Issues, Migration, Radicalisation and the Law. For more information, on dates, fees and content, please visit the SOAS website.
  • Admissions to the two-days training seminar on the “EU Charter of Fundamental Rights” (8-9 April 2016), organised by the European Inter-University Centre for Human Rights and Democratisation (EIUC) are open until 18 March 2016, early bird 1 March 2016 with 10% discount. The object of this training seminar is to explore the scope and usefulness of the Charter for the legal practitioners facing the national courts or the Court of Justice of the EU, mostly by means of preliminary reference. Beyond illustrating the key features of the Court and essential aspects of its functioning, the training seminar will be dedicated to the analysis of relevant case law in parallel working groups with a view to allow discussion and exchange on specific concrete questions, among which:
    • Privacy/Data Protection
    • Internal Market
    • Asylum and Immigration
    • Economic and Social Rights

    The seminar will focus on the Charter’s values, as well as on the main fields of application when a specific appeal is submitted. The academics and experts composing the Training seminar’s faculty are high level well-known professionals and leading professors coming from different European Universities. The seminar’s scientific responsible, Prof. Jean-Paul Jacqué, has contributed – within the Legal Service of the Council of the European Union – to the drafting of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. Please note that there is a limited number of places available for this training seminar, hence EIUC will proceed by accepting candidatures on an ongoing basis. Don’t miss the opportunity! Organised with the Patronage of the European Agency for Fundamental Rights. Interested candidates should register by compiling the online application form.


  • New additions to the UN Audiovisual Library of International LawThe 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 Concepción Escobar Hernández on “Inmunidad de jurisdicción penal extranjera de los funcionarios del Estado” and by Professor Françoise J. Hampson on “Reservations to Human Rights Treaties”.
  • Postdoctoral Fellowships on the Legitimacy of International Courts and Tribunals: PluriCourts announces up to three 3-year positions as postdoctoral research fellow studying international courts and tribunals in the following fields: human rights, trade, international criminal law or the environment. Deadline: 21 March 2016. Up to three 3 year postdoctoral fellowships are available at PluriCourts, a Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order, a multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence at the Faculty of Law, Department of Public and International Law of University of Oslo.The postdoctoral researchers will study international courts and tribunals (ICs) in one or more of four issue areas: human rights, trade, international criminal courts or the environment. The research should apply methodology from the fields of philosophy and/or law, with a slight preference for applicants in political philosophy.The candidate may be assigned a 10 % workload of tasks including teaching, supervision or other relevant tasks. The full announcement can be found here.
  • A position as professor (or associate professor) in International Economic Law is announced at PluriCourts. The application deadline is 1 April. PluriCourts is a Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order. PluriCourts is a multidisciplinary Centre of Excellence at the Department of Public and International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Oslo. The Faculty may appoint an associate professor if no applicant is found qualified as professor. While at PluriCourts the candidate will primarily conduct research, with the exception of 10% workload of tasks such as teaching and supervision. More teaching and supervision may be agreed with the Faculty. The position will be integrated in the Faculty of Law when PluriCourts expires in the year 2023, at which time the position will have the same obligations concerning research, teaching and administrative tasks as other professors at the Faculty. More information can be found here.
  • A position as professor (or associate professor) in Legal Theory/Political Philosophy is announced at PluriCourts. The application deadline is 1 April. The Faculty may appoint an associate professor if no applicant is found qualified as professor. While at PluriCourts the candidate will primarily conduct research, with the exception of 10% workload of tasks such as teaching and supervision. More teaching and supervision may be agreed with the Faculty. The position will be integrated in the Faculty of Law when PluriCourts expires in the year 2023, at which time the position will have the same obligations concerning research, teaching and administrative tasks as other professors at the Faculty. More information can be found here.

Calls for Papers

  • A one-day workshop will be held at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK on 4 July 2016. The aim of this workshop is to address a fundamental gap in academic literature and policy making; namely the legal ‘no-man’s land’ in which the issue of climate refugees currently resides. We intend to address this gap by bringing together experts from two separated legal fields – environmental law and refugee law – and initiate a dialogue in which novel linkages between these two worlds can be explored and developed. Papers which address the following areas will be considered: Questions of international rights and responsibilities; the role of international institutions; legal interactions and tools for systemic integration; the relevance of the emerging concept ‘environmental justice’ to climate refugees, and creative future pathways and ways to overcome the impasse. Please send the title of your proposed paper along with a 200-word abstract and your contact details to avidan [dot] kent [at] uea [dot] ac [dot] uk . Submissions of abstracts will be accepted until 15 April 2016. All proposals will be answered by 30 April 2016. Proposals from graduate students are encouraged. For further information and questions, please email Dr Simon Behrman s [dot] behrman [at] uea [dot] ac [dot] uk
  • The Scuola Superiore Sant’ Anna and the Institute of Law, Politics and Sustainability are accepting proposals for the International AgLaw Colloquium on Agri-Food and Environmental Regulatory Agenda in Regional Trade Agreements: Legal Implications and Trends on October 20-21, 2016. Submission forms are due on May 16, 2016 while the paper draft deadline is September 25, 2016. For more details, please see the complete call. The AgLaw Colloquium is intended to be an opportunity for early-career researchers (Ph.D. candidates and post-docs) to present and discuss their results and methodological approaches in a supportive environment. It is inspired by the wish to share on-going analysis, questions and exploration fields in agricultural law from a global perspective. Based on the feedback received from the 2015 edition, the AgLaw Colloquium represents a key opportunity to bring scholars together from all over the world and to build a network of young researchers interested in the legal aspects of the agriculture, food and the environment.
  • The Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies, the Lauder School of Governance, Diplomacy and Strategy, IDC (Herzliya), and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung are pleased to announce a call for papers for two workshops on “The Rule of Law in Areas of Limited Statehood: Internal and International Dilemmas”. The workshops will take place in Herzliya (Israel) on 27-28 June 2016and Leuven (Belgium) on 29-30 September 2016. Areas of Limited Statehood are territories where governments lack the ability or will to implement and enforce rules, provide essential public services – including law and order – or in which the legitimate monopoly over the means of violence is lacking. The goal of the two workshops is to explore, in a focused manner, the various challenges that Areas of Limited Statehood pose to both internal Rule of Law conditions and international law. We are interested in hearing perspectives from both practitioners and scholars. Abstracts of no longer than 250 words, together with a short CV are to be submitted by 21 March 2016. Further details of the call can be found here.

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

Ukraine Prepares Even More International Lawsuits That Russia Will Ignore

by Julian Ku

Things are not going well for Ukraine.  It has lost Crimea, effective control over eastern parts of its territory, its divided government is hampered by corruption which is sparking more internal violence, and its economy is doing poorly.  Russia is the cause of many (though not all) of its problems, so it is not surprising that Ukraine is looking to try to retaliate somehow and in some way.

This past week, Ukraine’s government announced that it is preparing to bring claims against Russia in the International Court of Justice.

Along with three interstate claims filed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), we’re preparing for filing a claim to the International Court of Justice on the Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism and racial discrimination, as we have real facts of discrimination, in particular, Crimean Tatars on the territory of Crimea,” [Deputy Justice Minister for European integration Serhiy] Petukhov said in the parliament on Wednesday.

To my surprise, Russia has actually agreed to compulsory dispute settlement under the ICJ for both treaties.  Under Article 24 of the Terrorism Financing Convention,

1. Any dispute between two or more States Parties concerning the interpretation or application of this Convention which cannot be settled through negotiation within a reasonable time shall, at the request of one of them, be submitted to arbitration. If, within six months from the date of the request for arbitration, the parties are unable to agree on the organization of the arbitration, any one of those parties may refer the dispute to the International Court of Justice, by application, in conformity with the Statute of the Court.

Similarly, under Article 22 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination:

Any dispute between two or more States Parties with respect to the interpretation or application of this Convention, which is not settled by negotiation or by the procedures expressly provided for in this Convention, shall, at the request of any of the parties to the dispute, be referred to the International Court of Justice for decision, unless the disputants agree to another mode of settlement.

On this latter provision, it is worth noting that the United States has reserved its liability by agreeing to jurisdicition only upon its specific agreement.  Russia did not make such an argument in Georgia’s ICJ case against Russia, so it is unlikely to do so again.

So in addition to a case under the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea, Ukraine could file at least two more international court actions against Russia over Crimea and other actions.  But will it? Russia has been largely unaffected by the Arctic Sunrise case, and it doesn’t seem in a mood to reconcile.  But, like the Philippines against China, Ukraine may simply think it doesn’t have any better options.

St. John’s Law School Search: Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies

by Peggy McGuinness

St. John’s University School of Law in New York City is conducting a search for a new Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies to head up our LLM programs and other international non-JD programs and initiatives.  Here is the formal announcement with key contact information, but feel free to reach out to me directly if you are interested in learning more about it.

St. John’s Law School is now looking for an Assistant or Associate Dean for Graduate Studies, who will be the senior administrator responsible for the development and management of initiatives related to non-J.D. degrees and programs at the Law School. The ADGS will oversee four existing LL.M. programs: (1) U.S. Legal Studies for Foreign Trained Lawyers (which qualifies graduates to sit for the New York bar exam); (2) Transnational Legal Practice; (3) International Sports Law Practice; and (4) Bankruptcy.  We are looking for candidates with a strong entrepreneurial spirit and keen business sense to develop new degree programs and opportunities as market conditions permit. This is primarily a leadership/management position and will not lead to a tenure-track appointment. The ADGS will develop linkages and partnerships with foreign and domestic educational institutions, bar associations, law firms, and other institutions. The ADGS will also be the senior administrator in the graduate programs area and will manage an office that includes three directors (including one who spends significant time recruiting students in Asia), an office assistant, and a Europe-based consultant.

A J.D. (or J.D.-equivalent from a foreign jurisdiction) and admission to practice law in at least one U.S. jurisdiction and/or significant experience in higher education administration is required.

Interested candidates should submit letters of inquiry and CVs to lawfac [at] stjohns [dot] edu

One more time all together: Obama wants to close Gitmo

by Jens David Ohlin

Just a minute ago, President Obama announced yet again his intention and desire to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. There are no particular surprises here. From what I heard listening to his comments, the plan is merely a renewed push to get Congress to cooperate on closing the prison. Specifically, Obama suggested that the detainees who cannot be released should be transferred to a domestic facility, though he declined to specify which one.

Obama made several points in defense of this plan. He conceded that some members of the public are scared about the possibility of detaining terrorists on US soil, though he noted that we already do that because several terrorists convicted in Article III courts are already housed in federal prisons. Moreover, the federal government has housed them in the US without incident, which demonstrates, according to Obama, that domestic detention is safe.

Furthermore, Obama also tried appealing to fiscal conservatives, noting that the transfers would save the government between $65 milliion to $85 million per year. Over a span of 20 years, that adds up to a $1.7 billion savings. So domestic detention is not only safe, it’s cheaper too.

Obama also announced that although military commissions would remain an option for detainees who are captured on the battlefield in active theaters, for all others, Article III courts are the preferred option for terrorism prosecutions.

There was little discussion of how to clear the political log jam that remains over the fate of Guantanamo, though the President said that he was “clear-eyed” about the challenges of achieving the result he wanted: “The politics of this are tough,” he said, but “this plan deserves a fair hearing.” He noted that even George W. Bush wanted to close the prison.

Of course, one solution, which he did not discuss, would be the use of an executive order to close the Guantanamo facility. I’m very curious to hear readers’ thoughts regarding this possibility. One, I’m interested in predictions about whether he might take such a drastic step in the last months of his presidency. Second, I’m interested in whether it would provoke a miniature constitutional crisis, with Obama using his executive power to close the facility but Congress using its spending power to prevent detainee transfers to domestic soil. What result then?

UPDATE: Transcript of the Background Press Call is here.

The ICC Is Not Shying Away from the Georgian Challenge

by Aaron Matta and Anca Iordache

[Dr. Aaron Matta is a Senior Researcher at The Hague Institute for Global Justice, Rule of Law Program. Anca Iordache is an intern within the Rule of Law Program the Institute. With many thanks to Stephen Rapp, Danya Chaikel and Lyal S. Sunga for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this commentary. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the Hague Institute for Global Justice. ]

On Wednesday, 27 January 2016, the Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTCI) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to proceed with an investigation into the situation in Georgia. Specifically, the OTP will investigate crimes allegedly committed in and around South Ossetia, Georgia, between 1 July and 10 October 2008. Not only is this the first investigation outside of Africa, but it is also the first proprio motu case involving a non-State party, the Russian Federation. This is striking given the current geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West, and the PTCI decision raises many procedural issues and political challenges for the ICC, while at the same time providing the Court with a number of unprecedented opportunities.

After nearly two months of border clashes between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia, Georgia launched, in the early days of August 2008, a major military offensive against South Ossetia which prompted Russia to intervene against Georgia. Despite a 12 August cease-fire brokered by the French-led EU presidency, crimes reportedly continued to be committed. Russia completed most its withdrawal of troops on 8 October, and it later recognized South Ossetia, as well as Georgia’s  second breakaway region of Abkhazia, as independent states. It was in this context that the OTP opened a preliminary investigation on 14 August, only two days after the cease-fire was agreed upon. Then on 13 October 2015, the Prosecutor requested authorization from the Court’s judges to proceed with an investigation into the Georgia situation. To quote Harvard professor Alex Whiting, “the Prosecutor is moving forward on Georgia not because she is necessarily eager to do so, but because after seven years the case demands it.”

The PTCI decision touches upon a number of issues. First, it concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed during the 2008 Georgian war (PCTI authorization, paras. 26–31). These include alleged forcible displacement of ethnic Georgians from South Ossetia, and alleged Georgian attacks on Russian peacekeepers. Second, it is worth noting the issue of rationae loci jurisdiction of the Court over crimes committed in the region of South Ossetia (Art. 12 of the Rome Statute). Although South Ossetia claims independence and is still supposedly under Russian effective control, the region continues to be internationally recognized as part of Georgia – a state party to the Rome Statute – and therefore the Court concluded, that it falls within the jurisdiction of the Court (para. 6). This will inevitably be of concern in future Georgia cases, particularly when it comes to judicial cooperation issues, such as gathering of evidence, arrest of suspects, or witness protection, since Russia currently holds de facto effective control over South Ossetian territory.

Another contentious point the PTCI addresses concerns the issue of admissibility of the case under Article 17 of the Rome Statute. With regard to complementarity (Art. 53(1)(b) of the Statute), both Georgia and Russia have had sufficient time to undertake national investigations of conflict related crimes – more than 7 years. On the one hand, while the Russian Federation authorities have shown to be willing and able to conduct national proceedings (para. 50), the Court could not conclusively decide on the question regarding their inability to access crucial evidence (para. 46). On the other hand, the Georgian authorities seemed to have been unable to conduct investigative activities in South Ossetia (paras. 40–41). The Court agreed with the Prosecution’s position in that any proceedings undertaken by the de facto authorities of South Ossetia are not capable of meeting the requirements of article 17 of the Statute, due to South Ossetia not being a recognized State. In view of this, together with a lack of full cooperation between the parties involved, Georgia was considered to be unable, even if it seemed willing, to investigate effectively serious crimes committed during the 2008 war. PTCI ultimately found that potential cases arising from the situation were “largely admissible” as there was also sufficient gravity (Art. 17(1)(d) of the Statute) to warrant an OTP investigation (paras. 51–56).

The PTCI decision also addressed respective cooperation of Georgian and Russian authorities with the OTP’s investigation. Georgia, as a State Party to the Rome Statute since 2003, has an obligation to cooperate fully with the ICC (Art. 86, of the Statute) and it thus far declared its commitment to collaborating with the Court. After signing in 2000 but not ratifying the Rome Statute, the Russian Federation has not yet become a state party. However, the Court could investigate Russian nationals suspected of committing crimes on the territory of a State Party, as is the case of South Ossetia. The Russian Federation initially confirmed that it would cooperate with the ICC probe and thus far has done so, for example, by providing the Court with more than 30 volumes of material from its own criminal investigation. However, following the PCTI authorization to proceed with an investigation, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs criticized the Court for taking Georgia’s side, and also stated that “in the light of the latest decision, the Russian Federation will be forced to fundamentally review its attitude towards the ICC”. This criticism was followed by Alexander Bastrykin’s (Chair of Russia’s Investigative Committee) lengthy interview (in Russian) in the official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, during which he said that the Court “turned the circumstances of the case on its head” (‘с ног на голову’) by ignoring Georgian crimes. This would not be the first time the Russian Federation has criticized or has opposed an international court for seeming to display an ‘anti-Russian bias’. For example, Moscow has on several occasions criticized the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) as well as the Permanent Court of Arbitration, and more recently, it vetoed the establishment of a Tribunal to prosecute individuals in relation to the downing of the MH17 flight. Russia has gone as far as to adopt legislation that allows it, in certain cases, not to implement ECtHR rulings.

A major issue that could make its way to the ICC in this situation is what the European Parliament has termed Russia’s effective misinformation campaign during the Ukrainian conflict. This concern coupled with the apparent “lack of transparency” of the Russian Prokuratura, which “remains vulnerable to presidential and other political power” (see Council of Europe’s Venice Commission Opinion, para 75), could prove to be a major challenge to the Court. This criticism also applies to Georgia in the sense that proposed domestic reforms of the General Prosecutors Office “does not yet fully achieve the stated goal of depoliticizing the office of the Chief Prosecutor” (see Venice Commission opinion no. 811/2015 para 10). In addition, the OTP will have to remain vigilant about not relying on information that may be heavily biased from either side. It will not be the first time the Court has to show its ability to discern genuine evidence from biased reports. In the end, a positive result of the ICC’s involvement could be that the OTP’s investigation focuses on all sides to the conflict equally which has been a challenge for the Court in other cases such as the collapsed Kenyatta case and the recent blow to the Prosecution in the Ruto case.

It is also useful to compare the Georgian and Ukrainian circumstances as they deal with some similar issues. First, a UN Security Council referral was not an option for Ukraine or Georgia, due to the potential use of the veto power by Russia. Unlike Ukraine however, Georgia is a State Party to the Rome Statute. While Kiev’s only choice was to submit a declaration to the Court accepting jurisdiction under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute, this was not the same for Tbilisi, which could have but did not refer its own situation to the Court. Unlike Ukraine, where the conflict was still ongoing, there were fears of Russian retaliation if Georgia had chosen to ‘poke the bear’ further after the conflict had ceased. Therefore, the proprio motu investigation could be seen as a blessing in disguise for the Georgians, in spite of the fact that it will target Georgians as well.

Another important point to consider with regard to the issue of Crimea and South Ossetia, is whether the Prosecutor has jurisdiction to lay charges for the crime of aggression. In view of this, the jurisdiction of the ICC may begin one year after the 30th ratification of the 2010 Kampala Amendments to the Rome Statute, but not before the Assembly of State Parties has approved the commencement of jurisdiction after 1 January 2017.  So far, only 26 states, including Georgia, have ratified the amendments and notably the Court’s jurisdiction will be limited only to those States Parties once jurisdiction over aggression kicks in. Even so, the Prosecutor could not lay charges for the crime of aggression with regard to the issue of South Ossetia due to the non-retroactive nature of the Court’s jurisdiction.

The ICC´s decision to open an investigation in Georgia is significant because it is the first investigation into a situation outside the African continent. The ICC focus on Africa has led to accusations that the Court has been biased. However, a majority of ICC investigations have been opened at the request of African governments, even if these investigations can be criticized as ‘low-hanging fruit’ the OTP can easily pluck for prosecutions. Ultimately, regional balance should not be a factor in deciding the direction of the Court’s prosecutions. Nonetheless, such a development is a small but positive step towards a truly global Court. The fact that the ICC is now focusing also outside Africa will certainly help diminish the alleged anti-African bias, particularly at a time when some African Union States have threatened to leave the ICC. However, a plausible scenario, judging from official reactions cited above, is Russia embracing anti-ICC rhetoric. In that event the main challenge will be to tackle the broader criticism of the Court as “a tool of Western Imperialism” not exclusively aimed at Africa.

In the end, the authorization on Georgia shows that the Court has not shied away from challenges even if they involve a non-state party or more importantly a UN Security Council permanent member. However, the potential cases emanating from the Georgian situation will no doubt prove to be particularly challenging if Russia’s shows less cooperation with the Court. Hopefully the Court will show itself to be up to the challenge and the next steps will set a positive tone for future potential and similarly challenging situations such as Afghanistan or Palestine.

Guest Post: UN Peacekeepers and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse

by Melanie O'Brien

[Dr Melanie O’Brien, TC Beirne School of Law & Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, University of Queensland.]
Since December, there have been multiple announcements of new allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) by peacekeepers, and criticism of the UN for the handling of these allegations. These allegations all relate to SEA committed by peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, usually by soldiers who are part of the UN’s Multidimensional Integrated
Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). Allegations of peacekeeper SEA are not new. In fact, I have been researching on this topic for almost 13 years. Thirteen years of begging for accountability, and still the SEA continues. I have even written on how the ICC should not shy away from holding peacekeepers accountable for SEA when it occurs in the context of armed conflict and/or crimes against humanity, based on the seriousness of the offence. That is, the role of peacekeepers as protectors of civilians means that they are a special category of offender that should be held accountable. My call for the ICC to step up stems from the fact that sending states, which hold exclusive jurisdiction over their military and police personnel serving in peace operations, are not investigating or prosecuting SEA offences.
The UN’s Conduct and Discipline Unit (CDU), developed a decade ago in response to allegations of sexual abuse by peacekeepers, is not fully transparent. UN annual reporting of statistics on SEA does not ‘name and shame’ states involved, which means that the UN’s follow-ups to states involved go unheeded. Why should states bother if nobody knows it’s them? Last year Ban Ki-Moon finally announced that he would ’name and shame.” Months have dragged by, but it seems that perhaps this is actually happening, with the most recent allegations naming the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo as sending states, and the UN announcing that Burundi peacekeepers have been repatriated from MINUSCA. ”Naming and shaming” means greater transparency. It also enables the international community and a sending state’s nationals to pressure that sending state to take action with investigation and prosecution. Since reporting began, from a high of almost 400 allegations, we have dropped to under 100 allegations per year. Yet this is still far too many. The UN has been unwilling to rock the boat of sending states’ generosity, in case the UN is no longer able to procure enough personnel for missions. Missions are already understaffed (and under resourced). However, without proper vetting from sending states, the UN tendency to take whoever they can get it is jeopardising mission success. SEA breaches the trust between host communities and peacekeepers, which creates insecurity and uncertainty in which a peace operation cannot successfully operate. The conduct also damages the reputation of the UN.

There are also entrenched problems within the UN.l. The recent scandal has revealed a disregard for human rights, evidence by inaction to sexual abuse allegations.It also exemplified the ongoing targeting and condemnation of whistleblowers. The most recent whistleblower has been vindicated, but his time in the spotlight has brought many people forward who have likewise been attacked for reporting in-house human rights violations. In this way, the UN needs to clean house and maintain only employees of integrity. This is not to say that there are not people in the UN working hard and ethically: I met a Samoan police officer working with the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) CDU who took great pride in her work and championed the importance of the standards set by her team. Clearly, we need more people like her in the UN (not to mention a greater gender balance in missions). What we should be doing is empowering UN Civilian Police (CivPol) to act like police in relation to criminal allegations against mission personnel. CivPol are trained police officers who have the ability to conduct proper investigations, including taking on-site witness statements and safeguarding secure chains of evidence.

However it is not the UN who has sole responsibility here; it is time sending states step up to the plate. There is an inherent human rights component to the SEA. Peacekeeper SEA is derived from entrenched gender inequality and patriarchal attitudes where women are perceived as unimportant and as chattel of men to be used when and how men see fit. There is also an element of bigotry and discrimination involved in the SEA, where peacekeepers are committing crimes they may not necessarily commit at home, both out of opportunity (a common reason for the commission of crime and enhanced by conflict/post-conflict circumstances and the powerful position of peacekeepers), but also out of a perception that the local community are lower in social standing than they are. In addition, the number of allegations relating to SEA of children is substantial. Does this indicate an issue of paedophilia that states need to be specifically dealing with? There is definitely a need for criminological, especially psychology, studies of this ‘phenomenon’. Sending states need to be addressing these social issues as a root cause, targeting education and social structures.

SEA by peacekeepers is a human rights violation (or rather, it violates many human rights). It is termed ‘misconduct’, but let’s stop calling it that and minimising the behaviour. It is criminal conduct, and states must take action to eliminate these crimes. Punishment of criminal conduct is a crucial component of preventive justice. Firstly, States must ensure they have the legislative means to prosecute their personnel. This means having the substantive law that covers this particular conduct; many states lack the specific provisions to prosecute sexual exploitation of adults. States must enact such legislative provisions, which reflect the imbalance in power dynamic between the peacekeeper and victims, and the exchange in goods/services/money that takes place. These provisions must include appropriate and proportionate punishment. In memoranda of understanding to contribute personnel, states must guarantee they will carry out investigation and prosecution using the proper provisions (as opposed to minor offences). States also need to establish extra-territorial application of the substantive law. Once these capabilities are in place, the sending state must make very clear to its personnel that commission of crimes will not be allowed to take place with impunity. A demonstration of action by states will contribute to prevention of peacekeeper SEA.

The UN and its member states champion the rule of law and human rights in states in the midst of conflict or in post-conflict disarray. We need the UN and its member states to practice what they preach.

Weekly News Wrap: Tuesday, February 16, 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






  • The U.N. Syria envoy held talks with Syria’s foreign minister on Tuesday aimed at securing a cessation of hostilities and “unhindered” delivery of humanitarian aid to areas besieged by all parties, a U.N. spokesman said.
  • Around 5,700 structures in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi and its outskirts have incurred some level of damage since mid-2014, and almost 2,000 buildings have been destroyed, the United Nations said on Monday, citing satellite images.