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International Law Movies

by Kristen Boon

After attending a great panel at ESIL in 2014 on International Law and Film, I’ve been thinking about how to integrate film into my public international law class. I’ve compiled a list of international law films (with help from colleagues and fellow bloggers) that make for excellent viewing.  In a subsequent post, I’ll offer some thoughts about teaching international law through film.

Dramatizations

Zero Dark Thirty (Bin Laden)

Team America (Terrorism, North Korea and WMDs) (not on the serious side of international law movies!)

The Interpreter (filmed in the UN)

Argo (Iran Hostage Crisis)

The Reader (War Crimes Trial in Germany)

Battle of Algiers (Algerian War of Independence)

Hotel Rwanda (Genocide in Rwanda)

Woman in Gold (Nazi Art Theft, FSIA)

The Whistleblower (Post-War Bosnia)

Captain Phillips (Piracy)

Blood Diamond (Conflict Diamonds)

Lord of War (Arms Dealing)

War Witch (Child Soldiers)

Star Wars (Trade Dispute prompts Armed Conflict in Outer Space) J

Bridge of Spies (Cold War)

The Constant Gardener (Diplomacy, Pharmaceuticals, British High Commission in Kenya)

Documentaries

The Reckoning (The ICC)

Last Station before Hell (UN peacekeeping)

Judgment at Nuremberg (Nuremberg Trials)

Sons of the Clouds:  The Lost Colony (Western Sahara)

The Gatekeepers (Shin Bet)

Taxi to the Darkside (Torture, Afghanistan)

All Rise (Jessup Competition)

 

An alternate list of international law films compiled by Lyonette Louis-Jacques at the University of Chicago Law Library with more foreign / older content available is here.

Do you have additional movie ideas?  Please add other titles using the comments box below.

Transitional Justice and Judicial Activism Symposium: Closing

by Ruti Teitel

[Ruti Teitel is the Ernst C Stiefel Professor of Comparative Law, New York Law School and the author of Globalizing Transitional Justice (OUP paper2015).]

I have learned a great deal from the thoughtful responses to my article (.pdf) by the participants in this symposium. Dinah PoKempner is correct to say that my article doesn’t address the merits of a “right of accountability” as such but rather looks to how the move to judicialization and application of human rights law interacts with political and other domestic processes of transition. She speculates that “the judicial recognition of such duties is unlikely to narrow the ambit of transitional justice.” Clearly more research here is needed to see how these processes interact: one could conclude that it might well engage in constructive way with transition. Dinah concludes that the problem is that there is too little in the way of human rights law associated with the transition, rather than too much. The question here may be less the ambit of the right to accountability in itself than the nature of the remedies that tribunals impose, and their relationship to the domestic processes of transitional justice.

One example, which I discuss in my article is, is Goiburu, where the Inter-American Court required that Paraguay’s create a museum, which would honor the victims of human rights abuses in the conflict of the past. Such a remedy arguably risks preempting truth processes where all sides the conflict have an opportunity to address narratives of truth. While Dinah concludes that “(t)he repertoire of transitional justice is likely to remain broader than the jurisprudence of human rights courts, which serve a different end, and a different pace” from its very inception the Inter American Court of Human Rights has been drawn into the issue of accountability relating to transitions.

On the other hand, Cesare Romano suggests as an implication of my analysis the notion that international courts exercise discretion in taking jurisdiction, based on the nature of the issues at stake in the dispute, and the extent to which its underlying character is political. Drawing upon the current peace deal in Havana between Colombia and the FARC, which does not contemplate a maximalist approach to justice, Cesare raises the question of whether such a deal would withstand scrutiny given the jurisprudence in my article. He argues that the” time has come to start considering the merits of allowing international adjudicative bodies, like the various international human rights courts, and quasi-adjudicative bodies, like the Inter-American Commission and the Human Rights Committee, to pick and choose their cases.”

At present they have no such choice, Cesare continues:

Faced with inopportune cases, international adjudicative bodies too often end up compromising their legitimacy. They stall, dither, and, eventually, render flawed decisions that try to square the circle and appease everyone but end up appeasing no one. And when they take advantage of the little leeway they have and manage to dodge the case, they are open to criticism because of the lack of transparency about the considerations that have been weighted.

His proposal that international tribunals would have discretion to refuse cases say along political question lines is very interesting. No doubt, where a tribunal is long established and has acquired considerable legitimacy and recognized independence this could work. In other instances, where there is a greater fragility, the result might be undue political pressure on a tribunal not to adjudicate in controversial cases. The concern is that since transitional justice issues involve both law and politics that genuine legal disputes would be screened out due to political questions and the right of accountability might well be elided altogether.

Chandra Sriram questions the use of the term “crossjudging” to denote the influence of the jurisprudence of one tribunal on another.

In my view “cross-judging” is a broader notion than transnational judicial dialogue or cooperation because it can denote the use by a tribunal of another’s jurisprudence in the manner of simply drawing on the relevant normative material, i.e. without networking or any interaction between the judges. In this sense “cross-judging” points to a rich universe of case law in the international domain that is relevant, whether or not tribunals or judges choose to interact explicitly.

Chandra also makes several observations that to go issues of state responsibility, a focus of international law/ she underscores an issue at the heart of my article which goes to accountability for disapprearances where there is often blanket denial : “Judgments have relied on a mixture of state responsibility for direct action by its agents, and of state inaction. “ She invites me to expand on this issue “particularly in light of two challenges which confront international criminal and transitional justice: the role of non-state actors in serious abuses, and modalities of interpreting complicity and joint criminal enterprise “

Kristen Boon’s post addresses “the undercurrents of state responsibility” raised by my article.
Boon writes:

As conceptualized in her article, the right to accountability is a primary rule of international law that is based in treaty law, and particularly the right to life. It is also connected to other sources such as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, and Article 7 of the Statute of the ICC. There is, of course, no “right to accountability” as such.

She rightly notes that the emergence of the norm of right to accountability doesn’t settle but continues to create challenges re secondary rules particularly regarding attribution. I agree. One issue for instance is whether there might be attribution where a state egregiously fails to investigate alleged human rights abuses over a long period of time, simply foreclosing accountability. In some circumstances, could one draw the inference that, in doing nothing to address the wrongfulness of the conduct that the state is adopting or acknowledging that conduct as its own within the meaning of Article 11 of the ILC Articles. This is just to illustrate that the question of attribution cannot be reduced to considerations simply of state “control” when we are dealing with the right to accountability

Transitional Justice and Judicial Activism Symposium

by Kristen Boon

The focus of Ruti’s article is the developing primary norm of the “right to accountability”, which derives from international jurisprudence associated with disappearances. Ruti describes the core content of this right as one that “implies a set of obligations on the state, largely read into prevailing treaty rights protections involving personal security, such as the right to life, whether under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights or the European or Inter-American conventions on human rights.” Like arguments for a right to democracy, it has its aspirational dimensions. Yet, Ruti taps into some very interesting undercurrents that implicate state responsibility, and it is this angle that I wish to comment on today.

As conceptualized in her article, the right to accountability is a primary rule of international law that is based in treaty law, and particularly the right to life. It is also connected to other sources such as the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, and Article 7 of the Statute of the ICC. There is, of course, no “right to accountability” as such.   The primary norm is based on patterns of jurisprudence developed through judicial tools which courts have adopted to overcome obstacles associated with cases involving disappearances, whether jurisdictional (such as time bars), or stemming from a state’s refusal to recognize the disappearance.

A central claim of the article is that this primary norm has developed as a remedy to the limitations of secondary rules, such as rules on attribution under the Articles on State Responsibility. In this, as Ruti notes, there are parallels with terrorism and cases of rendition, that have led to the elaboration of new duties, such as a duty to prevent, and creative thinking about omissions and due diligence standards. I have discussed these trends in a recent article in the Melbourne Journal of International Law available here.

Nonetheless, given the connection between state action and disappearances, the secondary rules of state responsibility remain important. Ruti describes some of these connections: in Heliodoro Portugal, for example, she writes that “the court drew on the principle of the continuing breach of state responsibility rather than fully conceiving the failure to provide accountability as an autonomous internationally wrongful act— which, of course, obviously continued up to the time the petition was brought, and persisted until and unless there was state explanation.”   Ruti also discusses the attribution of acts to a state, and notes the IACHR’s profound contributions to its development and application, beginning with the Velasquez Rodriguez case. Importantly, she highlights that courts are not adhering to the traditional two-step process of identifying attribution and wrongfulness, instead determining there is “a right to accountability” regardless of whether it can be established that the original human rights abuses were themselves internationally wrongful. Finally, in Goiburu, she discusses connections between forced disappearance and violations erga omnes, which trigger the responsibility of other states and the international community as a whole.

One interesting dimension of this article is that it points towards a unified theory of responsibility that combines international criminal law, human rights law, and global / criminal justice. Another is that it highlights the problem of slippage in international law: states are increasingly outsourcing key activities, including activities that have been linked with disappearances, raising the question of whether one high level of control is the appropriate default standard in international law.   Finally, this study supports the proposition that in certain areas of law- which may now include disappearances – the relevance of secondary rules is waning.  As such, the piece provides interesting insights into the status of secondary rules of state responsibility in a variety of regional courts.   There are a series of open questions that follow: Might this jurisprudence constitute a lex specialis for attribution doctrines in the field of human rights? More generally, what would a unified theory of responsibility that encompasses states, international organizations, individuals, and non-state actors look like? What would its core components be? Finally, are attribution doctrines under the ASR fit for the purpose today, given the changing nature of the modern state, including prevalent out-sourcing and multilevel governance situations?  I would be very interested in Ruti’s take on how to remedy the gaps in the ASR given the role of non-state actors in the cases she examines.

Transparency and Access at the Paris Negotiations

by Hari Osofsky

[Hari Osofsky is a law professor, faculty director of the Energy Transition Lab, and director of the Joint Degree Program in Law, Science & Technology at the University of Minnesota. She is serving as chair of the American Society of International Law’s observer delegation at the 2015 Paris climate change negotiations. Any views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of either the University of Minnesota or the American Society of International Law. This is her second post from Paris.]

Expectancy has dominated the last two days as people awaited each day’s new draft of the agreement. Because the negotiations are taking place behind closed doors, people use relationships to learn ever-evolving information about the state of negotiations and timing of draft release and to give input to the small set of party representatives allowed in the negotiating rooms. They also race to gain the tickets that allow them access to the plenary room in which the Comité de Paris takes place, since most observers and many delegation members are stuck watching in overflow rooms. In the spirit of transparency, no one except those compiling the draft receives a copy before its release at the Comité de Paris and the drafts and reports on the consultations have all been posted publicly. I stood in a dinner line tonight with a minister who affirmed that he was looking forward to seeing the new draft.

At the Comité de Paris in which Wednesday’s draft was released, Laurent Fabius, COP 21 President, noted many new areas of convergence (there was a three-quarter reduction of bracketed language) and three remaining cross-cutting outstanding political issues, which are no great surprise: differentiation, financing, and level of ambition. After a second Comité de Paris that went until almost 11:30 pm, party statements reinforced that many key negotiating issues still remained, as Dan Bodansky’s post covered. I too was struck by the number of parties calling for a goal limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, as well as the level of support for the human rights provisions and REDD+.

State parties worked overnight and a new draft was released Thursday evening, with the time rolling back from early afternoon to 9 pm as people exchanged rumors and information. The same three political issues remain the key areas of negotiation and parties are participating in an Indaba of Solutions (closed to observers, with three exchangeable passes for each party) from 11:30 pm on after two hours to review the document. President Laurent Fabius made clear that the time has passed for general statements, and that this Indaba would focus only on compromise solutions aimed at seeking landing zones. He still aims to produce the final text tomorrow. The new text has even fewer bracketed items, and clearly represents some tough compromises. Notably, for example, human rights are mentioned in the preamble without brackets, but have been removed from the operational Article 2.

Press conferences abound as this COP moves towards its conclusion, reinforcing the sense of energy here. In one of the most high profile press events yesterday, Secretary Kerry formally announced that the U.S. is part of the high-ambition coalition and would double its grant-based adaptation commitments by 2020. The press conference was screened to an overflow audience at the U.S. Center as security excluded all observers from the actual press conference (limited to the press pool).

At the same time the negotiations continue to unfold, side events highlighting cities, states, and corporations, as well as a myriad of specific issues, proliferate inside the restricted Blue Zone, in the public Climate Generations space, and around Paris. As someone trying to go to as many side events as possible on subnational government and corporations (while also attending the very limited number of the official negotiation meetings that I have access to), I am overwhelmed by the number of simultaneous options. Participants in these events, including ones who have been to many COPs, attest to the growing role of these non-nation-state entities and recognition of that role. At the same time, many of them call for greater access and inclusion.

As I return from tonight’s meeting, I want to reflect for a moment on this question of access in a world of increasingly polycentric climate change governance. I worry about what those concentric circles that I referred to in my first guest post mean for stakeholders’ ability to have input into the critical compromises being made as I write. There is a fundamental tension at the core of this issue. On the one hand, closed spaces can help people speak freely in ways needed for compromise. On the other hand, if all these other stakeholders matter to the problem and its solution, are current avenues for input enough?

Non-parties have certainly had some avenues for input here besides back channels and this post is not intended as a criticism of access at this meeting in particular. Observers were given the opportunity to talk with Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and UNFCCC COP 20 President and current Peruvian Minister of Environment Manuel Pulgar-Vidal Wednesday morning, and Minister Pulgar-Vidal conveyed their input at the Comité de Paris just before the Wednesday evening meeting closed. Meanwhile, advocacy groups, such as the coalition working to shift the countries opposing human rights provisions, continue their campaigns to influence national positions with letters and calls to key officials—as well as by comments on drafts given to those with access to negotiators. And nation-states’ pledges through their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are foundationally based on conversations that national governments have had with other key governmental and nongovernmental actors.

The access issues in international negotiations, though, are much more fundamental than the particular procedures used in any given meeting. Namely, the nation-state-based structure of negotiations and agreements fundamentally limits how polycentric governance is in this context. Even if cities, states, regions, and corporations form their own agreements and pledges, the closed structure of this final stage of negotiations constrains how much those efforts are able to align. And as many have discussed in multiple contexts, resource differences among nation-states make a major difference in their ability to negotiate; the President has tried to be sensitive to small delegations who do not have enough people to attend simultaneous meetings on several streams, but it is clearly much easier for delegations that can substitute in negotiators as meetings go into the wee hours over multiple nights.

The solution to this problem is not straightforward. The world remains divided into nation-state units and treaties among nation-states remain the strongest mechanism that the world has to try to achieve universal action—a critically needed step given how large the gap is between the INDCs and the 1.5 (or even 2) degree goal. But after people emerge from this meeting, hopefully with as strong a Paris Outcome as possible, it is worth taking some time to consider what ways might exist to bring key actors on climate change together better as they make important decisions.

Moreno-Ocampo Needs a Remedial Criminal Law Course

by Kevin Jon Heller

Here is Moreno-Ocampo’s latest doozy, concerning the possibility of Israelis being prosecuted for war crimes related to Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank:

Where the Israeli High Court of Justice has approved specific settlements as legal, this could provide a complete defense to any allegations that they are war crimes, former International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo told the Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Moreno-Ocampo is in Jerusalem lecturing at the The Fried-Gal Transitional Justice Initiative at the Hebrew University Law School.

Although Moreno-Ocampo has stepped down from his post, he was the boss of the current ICC chief prosecutor who will decide whether or not the settlements qualify as a war crime, is considered highly influential internationally and his statement could be a major coup in the debate over the issue.

Moreno-Ocampo did not by any means say that the settlements were legal under international law.

But he did say that “Israel’s High Court is highly respected internationally” and that anyone prosecuting Israelis regarding settlement activity would be incapable of proving criminal intent if those Israelis explained that they honestly believed their actions were legal once ratified by the country’s top court.

“At least they could show no intention” to commit a crime said the former chief ICC prosecutor.

Few ICL scholars are more sympathetic to mistake defences than I am (see this article), but Moreno-Ocampo’s statements simply make no sense. Most obviously, Art. 32(2) of the Rome Statute specifically recognises the principle ignorantia legis neminem excusat — ignorance of the law excuses no one:

A mistake of law as to whether a particular type of conduct is a crime within the jurisdiction of the Court shall not be a ground for excluding criminal responsibility.

Art. 32(2) applies regardless of whether a defendant was simply unaware that his actions were illegal (ignorance) or affirmatively believed that they were legal (mistaken belief). So if an Israeli was prosecuted for committing a settlement-related war crime — transfer of civilians into occupied territory, forcible transfer, pillaging, etc. — it would not matter that he either did not know international law criminalised his actions or believed that his actions were legal because the Israeli Supreme Court had approved the legality of settlements. The only question would be whether he committed the actus reus of the war crime in question with the necessary mens rea.

To be sure, some common-law systems provide an exception to the ignorantia legis principle where the defendant has reasonably relied on an official interpretation of the law. Moreno-Ocampo’s emphasis on the reputation of the Israeli Supreme Court suggests he might be thinking about that exception. But there are two significant problems here. First, no such exception exists in the Rome Statute, as the text of Art. 32(2) makes clear. Second, even if there was one, the ICC would be very unlikely to conclude that an Israeli defendant could reasonably rely on a statement by an Israeli court — even a supposedly “highly respected” one (which is questionable) — that settlements are legal. That would obviously be the case if the Israeli Supreme Court affirmed that the settlements were legal under Israeli law; no international tribunal has ever allowed such a “domestic legality” defence. And I seriously doubt that the ICC would find it any more reasonable for an Israeli defendant to rely on an Israeli court’s interpretation of international law, given the widespread international rejection of official Israeli positions on a variety of international-law issues.

Finally, we might be generous and assume that Moreno-Ocampo was actually thinking not about Art. 32(2) of the Rome Statute, but about Art. 32(1), which recognises mistakes that negative mens rea:

A mistake of fact shall be a ground for excluding criminal responsibility only if it negates the mental element required by the crime.

In this interpretation, Moreno-Ocamp is actually arguing that an Israeli defendant who knew the Israeli Supreme Court had approved the legality of the settlements would not have the mental states required by any of the various settlement-related war crimes. But that is a flawed argument, because none of those war crimes require a mens rea that would be negated by a belief in settlement legality. Consider, for example, the elements of the war crime of direct or indirect transfer, Art. 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute:

1. The perpetrator: (a) Transferred, directly or indirectly, parts of its own population into the territory it occupies…

2. The conduct took place in the context of and was associated with an international armed conflict.

3. The perpetrator was aware of factual circumstances that established the existence of an armed conflict.

In terms of mens rea, Art. 8(2)(b)(viii) requires the prosecution to prove that the defendant (1) intentionally engaged in the acts that qualified as direct or indirect transfer; (2) knew that Israeli civilians were moving into occupied territory; and (3) knew that Israel exercised effective control over the West Bank at the time of the transfer. The defendant’s belief that settlements are legal would not negate either of those mental elements, so Art. 32(1) would not apply.

No matter how we interpret it, then, Moreno-Ocampo’s statement about the Israeli Supreme Court makes no sense as a matter of substantive international criminal law. Israel relies on the “expertise” of this “highly influential” former prosecutor at its own peril…

Transitional Justice and Judicial Activism Symposium: Comments by Chandra Lekha Sriram

by Chandra Lekha Sriram

[Chandra Lekha Sriram, Professor of International Law and International Relations and Director, Centre on Human Rights in Conflict, University of East London.]

This insightful article covers a great deal of subject matter, far more than can be analysed in a brief comment. These include not only the topics signaled by the title, but also the relationship between transitional justice and international criminal accountability and between transitional justice and the jurisprudence of regional courts. The primary focus of the article is the jurisprudence of regional courts, specifically the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), on forced disappearances and its relationship to political transitions. It necessarily touches upon a number of complex issues that continue to bedevil transitional justice and international criminal justice, and I will take up a few of these.

State perpetration and state inaction
The paper understandably begins with the jurisprudence of the IACtHR) and the Velasquez-Rodriguez, relating to enforced disappearances in Honduras. As with many of the cases to follow, while the pattern of state perpetration appeared evident, the state engaged in blanket denial of responsibility, and evidentiary difficulties have meant that judgments have relied on a mixture of state responsibility for direct action by its agents, and of state inaction. Teitel rightly flags this issue, but doesn’t expand on it as she might do, particularly in light of two challenges which confront international criminal and transitional justice: the role of non-state actors in serious abuses, and modalities of interpreting complicity and joint criminal enterprise.

Transnational/regional state violence
Not surprisingly given the history of transnational violence and inter-state collaboration in abuses via Plan Condor in South America, the IACtHR has had to render judgments on regional violence. Yet, while its decisions have referred to regional patterns of violence, they haven’t grappled sufficiently with additional challenges that state collaboration may have for questions of state responsibility, either for breaches of obligations to their own citizens or potentially those in relation to other states. Teitel explains that the trend is to treat such violations as erga omnes and thus of concern to the international community generally; this turn also appears to underpin treatment of temporal jurisdiction encompassing violations which predate some states’ acceptance of the jurisdiction of the court. Each of these trends seem open to question, and the essay might have interrogated these further.

Justice in and for strong vs weak states
The article argues that there has been a shift from strong to weak state transitional justice, in states with weak rule of law, with concomitant effects for regional and international courts. Certainly, it is notable that many of the situation countries at the International Criminal Court (ICC) are either emerging from serious internal armed conflict or are dysfunctional or collapsed states. However, these countries are all in Africa, with only Georgia now the subject of a non-African request for the opening of an investigation, and therefore not subject to the jurisdiction of either of the regional courts examined in the article. Further, while it is true that some of these states do have weak or failing judiciaries, many do not, although those judiciaries may well be corrupt or biased. Further, many states of interest for the article are not weak or collapsed, and are able to resist implementing judgments, either thoroughly or at all, such as Russia or Brazil. Even some ICC situation countries are quite strong, or at least able to resist external courts, such as Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. The claim regarding this trend needs more justification, particularly as there are important implications noted, such as that it is concomitant with an expansion of legal obligations and rights.

Cross-judging or transnational legal culture?
The article develops the concept of “cross-judging”, or interpretation across legal systems. She characterizes this largely as the cross-referencing of cases between the two regional courts. However, one might ask for a greater examination of the use of similar doctrines and practices across not only these courts but also others, as she begins to discuss when addressing subsidiarity, deference, and the ICC principle of complementarity. Here, an examination of the work of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights might have provided an additional comparative perspective, particularly given that court’s broader application of states’ obligations beyond the African Convention. The necessity of the creation of the term “cross-judging” is also somewhat unclear, given the rich literature that exists on transnational judicial dialogue and transnational legal culture. Is there something unique about the new term?

Expanding external jurisprudence and internal transitional justice
Teitel closes with reflections upon the challenges where courts intervene in countries where accountability has begun, but has stopped or is delayed. She suggests that there is, or ought to be, a continuum of accountability where there are domestic political considerations in play. Building on conceptions of judicial deference, subsidiarity and complementarity, she makes the case for caution with the increase of judicialization. It is an important call, given that much of the argument against judicialization and indeed individual criminalization has focused purely on political pragmatism, and political strategies, whereas she focuses on legal strategies. This approach opens up new opportunities for both research and policy development.

To close in brief, this is an article rich with challenges and ideas, and I have drawn on and queried just a few. Naturally, such an article could not have addressed all of the issues I have raised, but I look forward to Teitel’s reactions to the comments in this piece and others.

The Endowment Effect and the International Climate Change Negotiations

by Daniel Bodansky

[Dan Bodansky is the Foundation Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Center for Law and Global Affairs at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He is in Paris for the climate change negotiations. This is the fifth in a series of updates both from the U.S. and from Paris. Professor Bodansky has consulted for the government of Switzerland and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) in relation to the Paris Summit. However, he is writing in his personal capacity and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Swiss government or C2ES.]

According to the endowment effect, people care more about losses than gains. If the no-Paris-agreement status quo represents country’s current endowment, then the endowment effect suggests that countries will place a higher priority on removing provisions in the Paris agreement that represent losses to them, than on including provisions that represent wins. That is why, in reaching an agreement, countries tend to resolve differences by removing provisions rather than by adding them. Hence the incredible shrinking climate agreement that I described in my earlier post.

Yesterday afternoon, the French put out a new version of the text (.pdf). Even though it made relatively modest changes, and left all of the crunch issues unresolved, and even though all countries accepted it as a basis of negotiations, they raised many objections in a three-plus hour meeting of the Paris Committee last night. Indeed virtually every option that the French text had tried to remove, some country insisted on putting back in. Following the Paris Committee, which ended at about 11:30 PM, the French presidency convened a smaller, closed meeting (known as an Indaba, a term that originated at the 2011 Durban COP), which reportedly ran until 7:30 AM. Apparently, the Indaba made little progress in bridging differences, so the French are now conducting bilateral consultations with a wide variety of countries, to try to reach agreement on “landing zones” for the various issues in the text.

Interestingly, the issue that was probably raised most frequently last night in the public meeting of the Paris Committee was the need to strengthen the long-term goal from the current goal of limiting temperature increase to no more than 2° C, to a goal of no more than 1.5° C. Since most analysts agree that there is no prospect of meeting the below-2° target, it is unclear what benefit would be provided by adopting an even more unrealistic temperature goal. Supporters of the 1.5° goal remind me of the courtiers to King Canute, who thought he could command the tide not to rise – they seem to believe that saying 1.5° will make it so. This reflects a touching faith in the power of words, but, frankly, I think the efforts to include a 1.5° degree goal might better be spent on including provisions in the agreement that are most likely to actually reduce emissions, such as a strong transparency system and a ratchet mechanism to encourage progressively more ambitious action over time.

The negotiations are now going 24/7. Although they are scheduled to end on Friday, most assume that they will continue into Saturday and possibly Sunday. A good indicator is that most delegations with whom I’ve spoken have booked return tickets for Monday!

Correction:  My original post incorrectly suggested that King Cnut actually believed he could command the tide to stop.  But, apparently, the correct rendition of the story is that King Cnut knew he was powerless to stop the tide from rising, and ordered it to do so either to show the supreme power of God over his own secular power, or to rebuke his fawning courtiers (depending on which version of the tale one reads).

A Shout-Out For Peter Spiro’s NY Times Oped on the Constitutionality of Trump’s Muslim Ban

by Julian Ku

I wanted to briefly point our readers to this smart oped in today’s NY Times from OJ’s own Peter Spiro on the constitutionality of Donald Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration into the U.S.  Peter argues that, contrary to many people’s expectations, such a ban would be constitutional.  And that’s the problem.  Read the whole thing!

Transitional Justice and Judicial Activism Symposium: International Courts and Tribunals Should Have Discretionary Review

by Cesare Romano

[Cesare Romano is Professor of Law, Joseph W. Ford Fellow, and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles. He is also Senior Research Fellow of iCourts, University of Copenhagen, and of Pluricourts, University of Oslo.]

Last September, the President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, and Timoleón Jiménez, the top commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), met in Havana to unveil a plan to put an end to the violence that has plagued their country for more than 50 years. According to the National Center for Historical Memory, between 1958 and 2012 about 220,000 people died as a result of the conflict between leftist guerrillas, right-wing paramilitary groups, and government security forces. Of those, about 80% were civilians. Moreover, violence, or the fear of it, created 6 million of refugees or internally displaced persons.

A key aspect of the plan is what sort of penalties the perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the long conflict should face. As agreed in Havana, while the rank-and-file of the FARC’s fighters will receive amnesties, leaders charged with “the most serious and representative” crimes will be judged by a Special Tribunal, containing a minority of foreign judges (para 3 of Joint Communique No. 60) (.pdf). Those who confess and collaborate with a Truth Commission will benefit from alternative penalties: between five and eight years of community work “with effective restriction of liberty”, though not in prison conditions. Those who do not collaborate will go to jail for up to 20 years. Similar procedures will apply to the armed forces and those found guilty of financing right-wing paramilitary vigilantes.

Once upon a time, ending civil wars was fairly straightforward, at least from the legal point of view. In return for demobilizing, insurgents would get an amnesty and, if they were lucky, political reforms or even a hand in writing a new constitution. That was what happened in the Central American peace deals of the 1990s, and with Colombia’s M-19 rebels, active between 1970 and 1990.

However, as Ruti Teitel’s article Transitional Justice and Judicial Activism: A Right to Accountability? (.pdf) details, international law has changed since then. Starting from the mid-1990s, the imperative of accountability has moved to the front and center, displacing time-honored transitional justice processes including lustration, exile and the many hard-bargains peoples have made throughout history to turn the page on traumatic events and move on. Nowadays, blanket amnesties that grant impunity for international crimes are, at best, frowned upon, and are even arguably prohibited by international law. Moreover, the range of crimes that cannot be pardoned or amnestied is growing by the day, going beyond jus cogens.

As the Colombian peace process advances, many wonder whether the agreements reached in Havana will pass muster with the International Criminal Court, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights or the UN Human Rights Committee. Will the punishment meted out by the Special Tribunal satisfy the ICC Prosecutor? Some victims will certainly challenge the legality of the agreement before the Human Rights Committee or the Inter-American Commission. The question might even reach the Inter-American Court, as it has been the case in the past with similar processes in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile and Peru. Will the imperatives of accountability and human rights undo the negotiations? Teitel’s article skillfully takes us through the maze of considerations and dilemmas that international judicial involvement in transitional justice efforts create.

I believe time has come to start considering the merits of allowing international adjudicative bodies, like the various international human rights courts, and quasi-adjudicative bodies, like the Inter-American Commission and the Human Rights Committee, to pick and choose their cases.

“Discretionary review” is the authority appellate courts have to decide which cases they will consider from among those submitted to them. The opposite of discretionary review is “mandatory review”, in which appellate courts must consider all appeals submitted (as long as they are admissible and the appellate court has jurisdiction, of course).

Discretionary review is widely employed in all modern and developed judicial systems. It has several advantages. It enables an appellate court to focus its limited resources on cases that have large public benefits, and to decide substantive cases with the lowest “opportunity cost”, thus giving the judges the opportunity to avoid being entangled in disputes where the political stakes are too high. It helps the system to develop a coherent body of case law, and reduce potential conflicts with past decisions or other jurisdictions.

Under contemporary international law, international courts and tribunals have mostly mandatory review. When a case is admissible and the adjudicating body in question has jurisdiction, there is little the judges can do to avoid deciding the case. Arguably, the International Court of Justice would have been better off if it had the chance to avoid answering questions that it could not really answer, such as whether the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is against international law, or whether genocide had been committed in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

I am sure the Inter-American Court would have preferred not having to pronounce itself on the legality under international law of amnesty laws in several Latin American states. But it had no choice. Once the Inter-American Commission brings a case before it, unless it finds the case not admissible or that it does not have jurisdiction (which has happened, for technical and practical reasons, extremely rarely in the history of the Court), it has to decide. And, given the legal parameters that it has to apply, and the general pro homine bias it necessarily has, the cases lead to scripted conclusions.

The same can be said about the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the European Court of Human Rights. Albeit in recent years, after the entry into force of Protocol 14 to the European Convention, the Strasbourg court has been given limited discretionary review through the introduction of pilot cases, it is still forced to decide more often than not cases that it should not decide as a matter of opportunity. Admittedly, international criminal tribunals have greater discretion that the other kinds of international adjudicative bodies. However, the discretion is only the Prosecutor’s. Once the Prosecutor has decided to investigate and indict, the judges cannot second guess the Prosecutor and dismiss the case because it might undermine delicate transitional justice efforts.

Faced with inopportune cases, international adjudicative bodies too often end up compromising their legitimacy. They stall, dither, and, eventually, render flawed decisions that try to square the circle and appease everyone but end up appeasing no one. And when they take advantage of the little leeway they have and manage to dodge the case, they are open to criticism because of the lack of transparency about the considerations that have been weighted.

Such a reform would be a momentous change in international procedural law, even if limited to just one adjudicative body. There are many questions to be considered, including whether it could be done by simply modifying the rules of procedure and add a new admissibility criterion, or whether it would require changing the statutes, and, thus, require states’ intervention; how much latitude should international judicial bodies have in deciding when to hear a case; who should be allowed to argue on whether the court should take on the case and how (petition of certiorari only or also hearings?); by what majority should the decision be taken (e.g. the U.S Supreme Court requires four judges out of nine to vote to take on a case); whether the judges should motivate the decision not to take on a case; and so on.

Granted, discretionary review has some disadvantages, too. It reduces access to justice and leaves the parties (mostly victims of human rights abuses) at the mercy of the discretion of the court. However, if we can trust the wisdom of these judges on the merits of the case, why can’t we trust them also on weighing the costs and benefits, writ large, of hearing the case? It is exactly the conundrums of transitional justices detailed in Teitel’s article that should give us pause and let us consider the merits of discretionary review in international adjudicative processes.

Transitional Justice and Judicial Activism Symposium: Comments by Dinah PoKempner

by Dinah PoKempner

[Dinah PoKempner is General Counsel of Human Rights Watch. She is writing in her personal capacity. Views expressed in this essay are not necessarily those of HRW.]

Increasing judicial recognition of a duty to investigate and even to prosecute serious violations of international law is unlikely to narrow the ambit of transitional justice; to the contrary, it adds pressure for more thorough transitional measures by upping the reputational cost of impunity.

Not even two decades have passed since agreement of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, arguably a high water mark in political consensus on accountability for human rights crimes. While that institution has survived what was initially feared to be its strongest political obstacle—the non-participation and even subversion of great powers—it is still having difficulty in gaining acceptance in Africa, a region with the greatest number of both states parties and ICC investigations. The region is also known for weak state institutions where, as Ruti Teitel would acknowledge, supranational judicial intervention (even by invitation) may be most likely and most appropriate. Indeed, watching its moves in carefully navigating a course to find what is politically as well as legally feasible to prosecute is itself an education in the limitations of international law as a bulwark against real-world impunity, even after the moment of international political consensus.

I mention this, because it seems premature to worry, as Teitel does, about a developing judicial consensus on what she terms the “right to accountability” overwhelming the political options for transitional justice. If anything, judicial recognition of state obligations to provide account, investigate and even prosecute the most serious abuses can add a little impetus for broader transition from a regime of abuse towards one of legality.

Teitel elegantly traces a number of components of accountability through international judicial bodies. She grounds the notion of account in the crime of enforced disappearance, where the question of what happened and who did it—that is, the state’s refusal to give account–is quite literally the central wrong. As she points out, the law developed in a way highly sensitive to context, in this case the regional as well as national context of patterns of impunity, failure to investigate, and systemic political corruption that courts noted in imputing duties to the state even where states denied involvement in the crime.

It bears mention that in less obscure contexts—massacres, genocides, ethnic cleansing—the notion of an investigation and formal account has also become established as a primary duty of the state, both through normal domestic law and through transitional mechanisms. Should the state fail in this duty, such an account might be supplied by a foreign or international prosecutor, court or commission if need be. Either way, resort beyond the national courts indicates a failure of the state to assume the burden of the account as well as the conclusions on remediation or retribution that may flow therefrom. What disappearance jurisprudence added was not an entirely sui generis duty of investigation or right to the truth (.pdf), but rather a notable judicial reluctance to step aside (by courts flexibly interpreting doctrines such as standing, exhaustion of remedies, statutes of limitation, etc.) when a state stonewalled on what everyone more or less knew were the likely victims, the likely perpetrators, and the likely wrongs.

Indeed, enforced disappearance, more than many other human rights crimes, is custom-built for legal deniability. It may be that the precedent of courts sidestepping prudential obstacles to read new duties into the law may be more interesting as a model of judicial approach for other elusive or deniable crimes than as the origin point of a duty to investigate. Perhaps a duty of democratic oversight or transparency will one day be read into human rights law when deniability for violations rests on secrecy justified by national security interests; or maybe we will see a duty of accurate and public record-keeping on persons taken into state custody, to avoid liability for conditions that encourage abuse.

The second line of jurisprudence Teitel describes as creating a “right to retributive justice” involve state actions that in the main implicate criminal acts for which there is a clear and pre-existing duty of investigation and potentially prosecution, such as torture, enforced disappearance or a crime against humanity. Although scholars have long asserted a duty of prosecution, it was not seen by all as comprehensive or mandatory until fairly recently. That such a duty is gaining judicial recognition is a natural corollary of the positive duty of states to prevent abuses, by discouraging an environment of impunity.

But the formal legal recognition of a duty to prosecute does not necessarily displace transitional justice measures as Teitel suggests when she adverts to “a restructuring and narrowing of the relevant questions” or to a shift of emphasis from “political and social goals of transition to other more limited aims such as procedural justice for victims and their families.” There is no reason that these processes cannot co-exist, and indeed, they often do.

Indeed, as she acknowledges, supranational legal interventions from regional courts can also take place outside of a transitional context or in lieu of it; Russia and Turkey are not in the midst of transition with respect to their counter-terrorism policies, to the contrary. One might even wonder whether the incorporation of some states to regional human rights mechanisms might in some ways “normalize” these moments of intervention and criticism. But even where they don’t produce systemic change, such interventions do not pass unnoticed and can provide some support for those who press for greater respect of human rights or incorporation of universal standards into domestic law. And sometimes these rulings can impel further alignment with more generally held democratic norms where the political process hit a plateau.

Teitel’s recommendation that regional courts take into consideration whether some deference to transitional justice processes is due, while pragmatic, perhaps misses the point that whatever their function was at their moment of inception, these courts are not serving only transitional ends. The European Court of Human Rights, for example, mostly regulates mature democracies, and undue deference to the transient political circumstances of one state creates normative license for others as well. A regional court may not be able to disturb a self-amnesty law in a given country, but it can discourage that law from having wider recognition as a legitimate act of a sovereign democracy. The repertoire of transitional justice is likely to remain broader than the jurisprudence of human rights courts, which serve a different end, and a different pace.

The Incredible Shrinking Climate Agreement?

by Daniel Bodansky

[Dan Bodansky is the Foundation Professor of Law and Faculty Co-Director of the Center for Law and Global Affairs at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. He is in Paris for the climate change negotiations. This is the fourth in a series of updates both from the U.S. and from Paris. Professor Bodansky has consulted for the government of Switzerland and the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) in relation to the Paris Summit. However, he is writing in his personal capacity and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the Swiss government or C2ES.]

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from COP to COP.” For many, that might be the slogan of the UN climate change regime. Or, to mix literary metaphors, the COPs are reminiscent of Sartre’s No Exit, where hell consisted of being locked in a room talking to the same small group of people for eternity.

Paris is the opportunity to prove the skeptics wrong – to show that the climate change regime can take a real step forward, rather than just creep along from COP to COP. But whether it will succeed in doing so remains an open question.

First, the good news. Paris is definitely one of the best-organized COPs ever – the French have done a fantastic job. And the mood, perhaps not coincidentally, is also good, totally unlike the poisonous atmosphere in Copenhagen, where some countries sought to systematically undermine the Danish Presidency. In contrast, one hears nothing but praise for the French team’s handling of COP21. Instead of angry protesters outside the venue, people are handing out apples, as a taste of biodiversity.

Moreover, the text is gradually being streamlined to a more manageable size. Parisagreement.org, a group based at UC San Diego, have been tracking the number of brackets and options in each successive iteration of the negotiating text. According to their figures, the number of brackets in the December 5 text has shrunk by 45% from the November 10 text, and the number of options by 60%. Of course, their work reminds me a bit of the Monty Python skit in which John Cleese compares the difficulty of Shakespeare’s plays in terms of the number of words they contain: Hamlet has 8262, Othello has 941 words fewer, and so forth. But then he adds, “Ah well, I don’t want you to get the impression it’s just the number of words … I mean, getting them in the right order is just as important.” Something similar could be said of brackets; it’s not just the number, it’s also a matter of whether they reflect real differences or are just negotiating ploys. That said, I do think it’s fair to infer that the shrinking number of brackets and options reflects progress. And I remain optimistic that there will be an agreement this week in Paris.

The question is what will survive the negotiating process and make it into the agreement. Although the text is in better shape than many expected and the number of crunch issues is relatively manageable, states continue to push proposals that have no prospect of being accepted, in an effort to gain negotiating leverage. So progress remains slow.

The political imperative of reaching a deal gives tremendous leverage to potential naysayers. The usual solution, when time is running out, is to cut and cut and cut, until the outcome doesn’t push any country past its comfort zone. Developing countries want strong provisions on finance and differentiation, while developed countries want more modest provisions. Conversely, developed countries want strong provisions on transparency and updating (to promote progressively higher mitigation ambition), while the big developing countries do not. How to bridge these differences? The easiest solution is to trade weak provisions on finance and differentiation for weak provisions on transparency and updating.

Even if this is how the end game plays out – and that is, of course, by no means a foregone conclusion – I don’t think it would be fair to characterize the Paris process as a failure. Paris has served as a catalyst both for national governments and for sub-national and non-governmental initiatives. It has prompted more than 185 countries to put forward INDCs, which would reduce emissions by an estimated 4-8 gigatons below business as usual by 2030, according to a recent report by UNEP. It has led to a groundswell of activities by cities, regions, and companies. And it has spawned initiatives like Mission Innovation, announced last week by President Obama, President Hollande, and leaders from 18 other countries, who pledged to double their clean energy R & D over the next five years, as well as the related private initiative, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, led by Bill Gates. So, in many ways, Paris is already a success. Nevertheless, the international agreement that the Paris process is supposed to produce is also a key ingredient. If the INDCs submitted by countries aren’t bolstered by an agreement with strong provisions on transparency and ambition, then I think Paris will be a lost opportunity to show that the UN process can do more than creep – that there’s a way out of the room within which the negotiators have been locked.

Success in the Paris Climate Negotiations in Broader Context

by Hari Osofsky

[Hari Osofsky is a law professor, faculty director of the Energy Transition Lab, and director of the Joint Degree Program in Law, Science & Technology at the University of Minnesota. She is serving as chair of the American Society of International Law’s observer delegation at the 2015 Paris climate change negotiations. Any views expressed are those of the author and do not represent the views of either the University of Minnesota or the American Society of International Law.]

I appreciate the opportunity to guest blog with Opinio Juris while at the Paris climate change negotiations this week. I will aim in my blogs to complement Dan Bodansky’s excellent assessment of the negotiations among state parties by examining the broader context of what would be required to address climate change adequately and the activities by other key stakeholders.

From my observation of the first Comité de Paris and hallway conversations on Monday, December 7, the parties still seem on track to reach some sort of agreement in Paris, though perhaps not by the Friday deadline. While there are certainly some differences yet to be resolved, the tone appears to be unusually cooperative at this stage according to those who have attended many of these negotiations.

However, even if the agreement contains reference to the need to keep warming less than 1.5 degrees, which appears increasingly likely, the state parties are highly unlikely to actually achieve that with their current commitments. As one civil society participant from Latin America remarked to me yesterday, the key question is whether we hold warming at 3 or 4 degrees. While I certainly hope he is wrong, we are not on track, even is these negotiations successfully conclude, to mitigate at the levels that scientists say are needed. And as I have analyzed in forthcoming articles with Jackie Peel  and Hannah Wiseman, even if we can find ways to more constructively address energy partisanship in the United States, the Clean Power Plan will involve a complex integration of an environmental cooperative federalist law with a largely state- and regionally-based energy system.

So how do we bridge the gap between what negotiations among nation-states can achieve and what is needed? Two key pieces of that puzzle are subnational governments and the private sector (particularly corporations and investors), and my blogs this week will focus on some of their activities here.

In the process, I will also try to convey, for those who have not attended international negotiations like these, the concentric circles of activity taking place here, with access limitations between each ring. At the core are the nation-states negotiating, and even some of those meetings are only open to subsets of those negotiators. A key concern raised in the Comité de Paris by several state parties on Monday night was the need for more transparency and inclusion in the informal facilitated streams taking place this week to try to bridge differences. Outside of that are official observers, who can gain access to only a very limited set of the negotiations but are able to enter the “Blue Zone,” which contains the negotiating spaces and many of the high-level side events. Outside of the restricted space, a hall in Le Bourget and venues around Paris contain events open to the many people who are here without access passes.

As I move between sessions in the “Blue Zone” space, the people around me exude a sense of being rushed and busy with important tasks as they race among meetings and cluster in small groups in hallways. I am continually reminded of an observation by Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the-chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, when she presented  at the climate change negotiations in 2005, the year that the Inuit submitted their petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights claiming that U.S climate change policy violated their rights:

I have attended three COPs. People rush from meeting to meeting arguing about all sorts of narrow technical points. The bigger picture, the cultural picture, the human picture is being lost. Climate change is not about bureaucrats scurrying around. It is about families, parents, children, and the lives we lead in our communities in the broader environment. We have to regain this perspective if climate change is to be stopped.

While many at these negotiations clearly have that bigger-picture focus, I think that continually reminding ourselves of what all these legal conversations are really about is critical. Achieving an agreement that goes farther than anything that preceded it at Paris would certainly be a form of success, but ultimately we only succeed if we limit human suffering and ecosystem damage—and develop new opportunities—through mitigating and adapting adequately.