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Weekend Roundup: December 13-19, 2014

by An Hertogen

This week on Opinio Juris, our regular bloggers touched on a variety of topics again with Kevin rejecting Ashley Deeks’ evidence that the international response to ISIS supports the “unwilling or unable” test under article 51 UN Charter and Kristen expanding the UN’s list of 13 things to know about UN sanctions to 16. Prompted by Christopher Kutz’ essay, Julian asked whether the norm against torture is indeed dying in the US.

In guest posts this week, Bede Sheppard discussed new guidelines to protect schools and universities from military use during armed conflict, and Rick Lines and Damon Barrett pointed to an interesting question of international law posed by the US’ four pillar approach to international drug control.

Finally, Kevin welcomed Points of Order to the blogosphere and, as every week, you could count on Jessica to wrap up the international news headlines and list the events and announcements.

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

Rob Howse Guest Blogging This Week

by Kristen Boon

It’s my pleasure to announce that Rob Howse will be guest blogging on Opinio Juris this week.  Rob is the Lloyd C. Nelson Professor of International Law at NYU, and a specialist in international trade and investment law.  He is also the author of a new book in political philosophy entitled Leo Strauss Man of Peace published by Cambridge.   A great interview with Rob on the book can be found here.

As his CV attests, Rob is both a prolific scholar and an active practitioner who has been involved in  a wide range of cutting edge legal disputes.  It is our pleasure to welcome Rob to Opinio Juris this week.

Thoughts on the Baffling Comoros Declination

by Kevin Jon Heller

As I read – and re-read – the OTP’s decision regarding the attack on the Mavi Marmara, one thought kept going through my mind: what was the OTP thinking? Why would it produce a 61-page document explaining why, despite finding reason to believe the IDF had committed war crimes during the attack, it was not going to open an investigation? After all, the OTP took barely 10 pages to explain why it was not going to open an investigation into British war crimes in Iraq. And it routinely refuses to open investigations with no explanation at all.

There are, I think, two possible explanations for the length of the decision. The first is that the OTP learned its lesson with its 2006 Iraq decision, which no one found convincing and was widely interpreted as Luis Moreno-Ocampo succumbing to Western pressure. This time, the OTP was going to do better, providing a much more detailed discussion of its decision not to investigate.

The second possible explanation is that the OTP felt the need to say more than usual because this was the first time a state had referred crimes committed by another state to the OTP. Nothing in the Rome Statute requires the OTP to treat state referrals differently than “referrals” by individuals or organisations (the scare quotes are necessary because individuals and organisations don’t refer situations; they ask the OTP to use its proprio motu power to open an investigation into a situation), but the OTP is, of course, ultimately dependent upon states to cooperate with it. Hence greater solicitude toward state referrals is warranted.

These two explanations are not mutually exclusive, and I imagine both are at least partially correct. But I still can’t help but think that the OTP made a serious mistake, one that will come back to haunt it in the future, should it ever need to formally address the Israel/Palestine conflict again — which seems likely.

To be clear, I don’t think refusing to investigate the attack on the Mavi Marmara was a mistake. I agree with the OTP that the potential crimes committed during the attack, however troubling, are not grave enough to warrant a formal investigation. My problem is with the OTP’s explanation of why those crimes are not adequately grave – that attacks on peacekeepers (in Darfur) are more serious than an attack on civilians engaged trying to break a blockade that has been widely condemned as illegal because of its devastating consequences for the inhabitants of Gaza. I fully agree with Michael Kearney’s recent guest-post on the Comoros decision, in which he questions the OTP’s characterisation of the flotilla as not really being humanitarian. I’d simply add that I find problematic its insistence that a genuinely humanitarian mission would have worked with Israel to distribute goods in Gaza instead of trying to break the blockade. Doing so would have meant, of course, giving final say over the goods to a state whose officials have admitted they want to keep Palestinians at near-subsistence levels. Complying with the blockade would simply have made the flotilla complicit in Israel’s ongoing collective punishment of Gaza’s civilian population.

The OTP’s gravity analysis is also analytically confused…

This War of Mine — A New (and Better) Type of Videogame

by Kevin Jon Heller

Nearly nine years ago, I blogged about the ICRC’s efforts to prevent the use — or, more accurately, the misuse — of the Red Cross symbol in videogames. I imagine it will have less of a problem with the new game This War of Mine, which challenges the player to survive as long as possible as a civilian in a war-torn fictional city. Here is the powerful trailer for the game, which mixes survivor testimony with haunting in-game graphics:

And here is a snippet of a glowing (if that’s the right adjective) review of the game by Matt Peckham in Wired:

I’ve seen some refer to This War of Mine as an antiwar video game. That’s too reductive—like calling pictures of civilian casualties in conflict zones “pacifist propaganda.”

The scenarios This War of Mine engages are less antiwar than they are actual war stories, and that, I think, is the point: This is what unflinching war looks like from the standpoint of those powerless to stop it, the ones caught in the teeth of the machine without catchy operational monikers to rally behind or celebrated by politicians to usher them home as heroes. The ones whose war this isn’t.

It’s what Cormac McCarthy was getting at in The Road: We’re a faint signal cutting through the static of existence, and war, with its reduction of civilian lives to collateral damage, scrambles even that.

The version of war we’re often sold involves abstract military numbers, splashy interactive news maps and easy slogans on bumper stickers. In real war, whatever the reasons and however noble the rhetoric, it comes down to individuals like the ones in This War of Mine: People like you or me trapped in appalling scenarios, their social constructs crumbling, needing basic shelter, food, a bed to sleep in, pills or antibiotics, and perhaps most of all, a reason in all the madness not to check out for good.

Videogames are now a $15 billion industry. Here’s hoping at least some of that money goes to the innovative developers of This War of Mine for showing us the educative and transformative potential that well-designed videogames possess.

Guest Post: The ILC Project on the Identification of Customary International Law–Saving the Temple from Submergence

by Duncan French and Jean d'Aspremont

[Duncan French is the Head of Law School and a Professor of International Law at the University of Lincoln and Jean d’Aspremont is a Professor of International Law at the University of Manchester and a Professor of International Legal Theory at the University of Amsterdam.]

The two-day expert seminar on the identification of customary international law, co-organised by Lincoln Law School and the Manchester International Law Centre, took place on 13-14th November at the University of Lincoln. With the active participation of Sir Michael Wood, the Special Rapporteur of the International Law Commission (hereafter ILC) on the issue, the seminar witnessed the contribution of over 25 international lawyers from around the United Kingdom. Discussions focused on Sir Michael’s second report, the eight draft conclusions adopted by the ILC drafting committee and those issues yet to be considered in the preparation of the third report.

A blog for Opinio Juris in advance of the seminar entitled “Amidst the Academic Mania for the Identification of Customary International Law–The ILC and the Operative Value of Distinctions” had flagged many of the salient matters discussed during the seminar. As could be anticipated, interventions were made on the methodological aspects of the “two element” approach to the identification of customary international law, the role of international organizations in the determination of customary international law, inaction and acquiescence, and how customary international law has developed within particular areas of international law, notably in the economic and environmental spheres. There was also more wide-ranging discussion on, inter alia, the notion of opinio juris, the scope of the ILC conclusions, whether the development of human rights has impacted upon the identification of customary international law, international organizations, non-state actors, the role of the persistent objector, the relevance of specially affected states, the temporal inter-relationship between state practice and opinio juris, and the existence of special/local/regional custom, etc.

It is beyond the purpose of this blog to revisit the depth and richness of these exchanges. It will limit itself to formulating four sets of remarks.

First, there was general agreement among the participants that the scope of the ILC codification exercise is rightly restricted to the identification of customary international law. This was perceived as a pragmatic, and reasonable, delimitation. Nevertheless, it was acknowledged that one could not always easily distinguish between the formation, the identification and the evidence of customary international law. In that sense, it was highlighted that the current title was too narrow, and that, in the French text, the word (‘détermination’) captured more accurately the more nuanced and various complexities of the question. And this was not the only issue arising in the respective translations. The importance – both conceptually and practically – in the assessment of evidence in identifying customary international law [draft conclusion 3] takes on a subtly alternative understanding when interpreted as ‘áppreciation des moyens’.
Secondly, as indicated in the earlier blog, the practice and opinio juris of international organizations in the identification of customary international law – as distinct from the acts of States within and through such organizations – proved particularly contentious and triggered a lot of debate. The contribution of international organizations primarily raises the question as to whether the practice and opinio juris of international organizations should contribute generally to any customary rule, or only when it concerns the development of rules that will also bind international organizations. The Special Rapporteur and several participants indicated that, in their view, an organization can only contribute to the formation of a rule of customary law which it can potentially be bound by. This has to do with the self-commitment at the heart of the doctrine of customary international aw. It is also perhaps as a matter of equity between participants in the international legal system.

Equally, there was discussion as to which international organizations can contribute to the formation of customary international law. Legal personality is a seemingly determinate variable. Yet, a question remains as to whether there is a significant difference between organizations with a high degree of autonomy, those with more independent-minded secretariats and those international organizations that are member-state driven. It seems axiomatic that the greater the autonomy, the greater the extent to which the practice and the opinio juris of an international organization itself (in contrast to the acts of its members within the context of the organization) should contribute to customary international law.

The point was also made (more…)

Weekly News Wrap: Monday, November 17, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

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

Africa

Middle East and Northern Africa

Asia

  • Thousands of Rohingya boat people who have left Myanmar in the past month have yet to reach their destinations, say relatives and an advocacy group for the persecuted minority, raising fears their boats have been prevented from reaching shore.
  • Three Hong Kong student leaders were stopped from boarding a flight to Beijing on Saturday to take their fight for greater democracy directly to the Chinese government after airline authorities said their travel permits were invalid.
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is to send a personal envoy to Russia, state media said on Friday, the latest in a series of diplomatic moves by the isolated country as it fends off accusations of crimes against humanity.

Europe

Americas

Oceania

  • Australian city Brisbane played host to the G20 meeting, where leaders have pledged to stimulate job growth, bolster global financial institutions and address climate change in the communique released at the end of a two-day summit in Brisbane.

UN/World

  • Fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are committing war crimes and crimes against humanity on a large scale in areas under the group’s control in Syria, UN investigators say. In its first report focused squarely on acts by ISIL, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria presented on Friday a horrifying picture of what life was like in areas controlled by the group, including massacres, beheadings, torture, sexual enslavement and forced pregnancy.

Guest Post: A Big Deal on Climate?

by Daniel Bodansky

[Daniel Bodansky is Foundation Professor of Law at Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University.]

Is the US-China joint announcement on climate change a big deal? Opinions differ widely. Paul Krugman says yes, Tyler Cowan, no.

Who’s right? Is the announcement a “gamechanger,” as Joe Romm thinks, or “a well-timed, well-orchestrated press release,” as Cowan calls it? In part, the different answers reflect different measures of success, a point to which I will return in a moment.

But, first, a little background. Back in 2011, the parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the Durban Platform, which launched negotiations to develop a new legal instrument to limit global greenhouse gas emissions post-2020. The Durban Platform negotiations are to be completed and a new agreement adopted in December 2015 at the Paris conference of the parties. A decision adopted last year in Warsaw called on states to communicate their intended national contributions to the new agreement well in advance of the Paris meeting. What the United States and China unveiled in Beijing – although generally characterized as an “agreement” or “pact” – were their intended national emission targets under the 2015 agreement.

At least four metrics are relevant in evaluating the joint announcement:

First, do the announced targets put us on a pathway towards limiting climate change to safe levels? Safety involves value judgments, of course, but most scientists believe that warming of more 1.5-2° C above pre-industrial levels would result in dangerous impacts – impacts that most people would wish to avoid. (The earth is already about .8 degrees warmer than pre-industrial level, so we’re almost halfway there.) Even the most ardent boosters of the US-China deal don’t claim that, by itself, it will put the world on a 2° pathway, only that it is a first step.

Second, do the targets announced by the United States and China represent a significant improvement over business as usual? Or, to put it differently, will achieving them require the US and China to significantly ratchet up their level of effort? Here, opinions differ widely, because they depend on judgments about what would happen in the absence of the targets, which in turn depend on assumptions about the economy, technology, and government policies more generally – all of which are highly uncertain. Who would have predicted, ten years ago, the Great Recession and the rapid expansion of fracking, both of which have had a huge influence on US emissions? So it is perhaps not surprising that some analysts say the US-China announcement “doesn’t change things much,” while others think it represents a major advance. Climate Interactive, for example, calculates that the US-China targets, if fully implemented, would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 650 billion tons through 2100 – and if other countries follow suit, taking similar targets, global emissions would be reduced by about 2500 billion tons through 2100.

A brief sampling of estimates of Chinese and US emissions:  (more…)

Events and Announcements: November 16, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

Events

  • ASIL-IEcLIG Co-Chairs, Elizabeth Trujillo (Suffolk University Law School) and Jason Yackee (University of Wisconsin Law School), are happy to announce the upcoming ASIL–International Economic Law Interest Group’s Biennial Research conference, on “Reassessing International Economic Law and Development: New Challenges for Law and Policy,” taking place on November 13-15, 2014. It is hosted by ASIL Academic Partner University of Denver Sturm College of Law, in collaboration with the Sutton Colloquium. The keynote speaker is Petros Mavroidis of ASIL Academic Partner Columbia University School of Law and the European University Institute. More than 60 leading scholars from five regions of the world will gather to present their academic work on the conference theme and other important topics in international economic law. Panels will address the role of law in devising domestic strategies for development; regulating climate change and fostering clean energy programs; addressing food security and technology transfer; and promoting international financial stability. More information can be found on the website here.

Call for papers

  • The London International Boundary Conference 2015 will take place on 21-22 April 2015 at the Royal Geographical Society in London. The organizers have launched a call for papers.This conference will provide a unique and multidisciplinary insight into the complex world of international boundary and territorial questions.  Each panel will offer a balance of established expertise and emerging talent. The Department of Geography, King’s College London, Volterra Fietta and the United Kingdom Hydrographic Office invite any interested parties to submit their abstract to Clementine Lietar (clementine [dot] lietar [at] volterrafietta [dot] com) and Anass El Mouden (anass [dot] elmouden [at] volterrafietta [dot] com) by 31 December 2014. This abstract should be written in English and contain no more than 500 words. It should include the title of the paper as well as the name and contact details of the author. More information about the call and the conference can be found on the website.
  • The Stanford Program in Law and Society at Stanford Law School is pleased to announce its Second Conference for Junior Researchers. Following the success of last year’s Inaugural Conference, this event seeks to continue the community-building process by providing a forum where aspiring scholars from around the globe can meet to present and discuss their current projects on law and society and create a fruitful ground for future cooperation. The conference is specially designed for junior researchers to present their work in progress and receive input from faculty and other participants, while promoting vibrant discussions and the exchange of ideas. The conference will also allow participants to develop their research skills through a special workshop. The conference invites papers from junior researchers (graduate students, post-graduate students, post-doctoral researchers as well as recent graduates from law schools and social science departments) that explore the relationship between law and social transformations. More information can be found here. Junior researchers are invited to submit an abstract of up to 400 words, together with their CV. All abstracts and CVs should be submitted to stanfordlawandsociety [at] gmail [dot] com by January 12, 2015.
  • The Polish Yearbook of International Law (PYIL) is currently seeking articles for its next volume (XXXIV), which will be published in June 2015. Authors are invited to submit complete unpublished papers in areas connected with public and private international law, including European law. Although it is not a formal condition for acceptance, we are specifically interested in articles that address issues in international and European law relating to Central and Eastern Europe. In this context, we are particularly looking for articles that analyse different legal aspects of the current Ukrainian crisis and the new power relations that are emerging in this part of the world. Authors from the region are also strongly encouraged to submit their works. Submissions should not exceed 15,000 words (including footnotes) but in exceptional cases we may also accept longer works. We assess manuscripts on a rolling basis and will consider requests for expedited review in case of a pending acceptance for publication from another journal. All details about submission procedure and required formatting are available on PYIL’s webpage. Please send manuscripts to pyil [at] inp [dot] pan [dot] pl. The deadline for submissions is 31 January 2015.

Announcements

  • TheCentre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts) welcomes scholarship applications oriented at the study of international courts and dispute resolution with an empirical and interdisciplinary focus. In particular, candidates interested in the institutionalization of global courts, such as the ICC, ICJ, WTO AB and the ITLOS; in international commercial arbitration; and in the justificatory practices of international courts in philosophical context are encouraged to apply. Contact: Associate Professor, Joanna Jemielniak, joanna [dot] jemielniak [at] jur [dot] ku [dot] dk. You can read more about the scholarships on the website.

Last week’s events and announcements 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. 

Weekend Roundup: November 8-15, 2014

by Jessica Dorsey

This week on Opinio Juris, we had three guest contributions in addition to some of our regular bloggers weighing in on timely issues in international law. The first guest post, from Michael Kearney, discussed his thoughts on the ICC’s recent decision regarding the Mavi Marmara report, in which he focused on issues about fact-finding missions, categorization of armed conflict, limitations on territorial jurisdiction, and humanitarian assistance.

Jean d’Aspremont weighed in on an event that was organized by Manchester International Law Center and the Lincoln Law School, and shared his thoughts about the identification of customary international law and the ILC report. Another post is expected from Jean later this week or beginning of next.

Additionally, Gabor Rona contributed to a discussion about the United States’ AUMF with respect to the Islamic State, that had its origins on Lawfare and Just Security earlier in the week, specifically about use of force provisions against “associated forces” and why the government should go with Just Security’s “parties to the conflict” interpretation versus Lawfare’s proposal of “engaged in hostilities”.

From our regular contributors, we saw Peter’s analysis of Kuwait’s decision to bulk-order Comoros citizenship (to the tune of a couple hundred million dollars) for stateless native-born tribal Bidoon, thereby purporting to solve the statelessness problem in Kuwait and Roger discussed his contribution to a Notre Dame Law Review symposium on Bond v. United States, in which he presented on the relationship between Supreme Court treaty interpretation and the international approach to treaty interpretation under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Kristin called attention to the election of two new ICJ judges and Kevin also announced a UNWCC event at SOAS London coming up on the 19th.

Finally, I wrapped up the news and An listed events and announcements.

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

Guest Post: Gabor Rona on the AUMF Discussion

by Gabor Rona

[Gabor Rona is a Visiting Professor of Law and Director, Law and Armed Conflict Project at Cardozo Law School.]

Just Security and Lawfare have published dueling AUMF reform proposals, here and here. (The proposals are not those of Just Security or Lawfare, but rather, those of the individual authors. For ease of reference, I’m calling them Just Security and Lawfare.) At the moment, there are also dueling posts on the two websites about the meaning of the Just Security proposal’s sunset provision. In fact, there are bigger fish to fry.

There’s quite a bit of agreement in the two proposals, as Ben notes in his responsive post at Lawfare, but he takes issue with the Just Security proposal’s principle #1: that a new AUMF should be “ISIL-specific and mission-specific.” Ben wants to include Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but the fact is that while the Just Security proposal is limited to ISIL, it does nothing that would conflict with executive powers to use force elsewhere. Both proposals contemplate force against ISIL and “associated forces,” but the Lawfare proposal explicitly adds Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban. This addition appears to be a critical distinction between the two proposals, since they both also envision repeal of the 2001 AUMF against those responsible for 9/11 and those who harbor them (Al Qaeda and the Taliban) and of the 2002 AUMF against Saddam’s Iraq. Ben fears, mistakenly, that the Just Security proposal would leave our residual forces in Afghanistan legally naked. Here’s why he’s wrong.

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan hasn’t ended, but it has changed. The two international legal elements for armed conflict no longer exist. The first element is frequent and/or severe attacks. Fact is, it’s been quite a while since there have been either frequent or severe hostilities between the US and Al Qaeda/Taliban, whether in Afghanistan, Pakistan or elsewhere on the planet. The drawdown of coalition troops and the limits imposed on those that remain make it difficult, if not impossible, for frequent or sever hostilities to persist. The second element for armed conflict is that the attacks be conducted by organized entities with a command structure, such that they are capable of being considered “a party” to armed conflict and subject to the laws of war. Whether you prefer to think of Al Qaeda as having “metastasized” or “dissipated,” there’s plenty of reason to doubt that “it” is no longer an “it” with the requisite command structure.

Another way to view the situation is that we’ve gone from war in Afghanistan, where force may be employed offensively, to non-war, where force may be employed defensively. The point for AUMF purposes is this: while US troops may need congressional authorization to prosecute a war, they do not need congressional authorization to defend themselves. That’s because the executive has inherent authority to order, or permit, our forces to defend themselves in the event of attack or imminent threat.

Bottom line # 1: while the Lawfare proposal is more emphatic about repeal of the two AUMFs than is the Just Security proposal, it is the Just Security proposal’s limitation to ISIL that more genuinely melds facts on the ground with applicable law, while doing nothing to compromise the executive’s constitutional powers to use force in self-defense.

Ben’s concerns aside, both proposals fail to deal effectively with the flawed notion of “associated forces.” Section 2b of the Lawfare proposal says that the “authorization of force (against Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the Afghan Taliban) extends to associated forces of (those) entities . . . insofar as such forces are engaged in hostilities against the United States.” There are two things wrong here.

First, the very notion of “associated forces” as a construct to widen the net of war is wrong. There is no such notion in international law, and for good reason. There is a notion of “co-belligerency” applicable to wars between states. This notion exists to remove the protections of the law of neutrality when State C interferes in a war between States A and B. But there is no neutrality principle applicable to non-State armed groups, so the US’s doctrine asserting the right to engage against “associated forces” by analogy to the concept of co-belligerency is flawed. In fact, the notion of war against X and its “associated forces” is little different than the notion of global war, absent refinement of the associated forces concept.

Second, the Just Security proposal also endorses the “associated forces” concept and is, therefore, also flawed, but it at least requires a narrow definition of that term, “to include only those groups that are acting in concert with ISIL as parties to the armed conflict against the United States…” The Lawfare proposal does not define “associated” and applies to any forces “engaged in hostilities,” a much broader frame than “acting in concert with ISIL as parties to the armed conflict…”. It’s questionable that ISIL or any of its alleged associated forces are “engaged in hostilities against the United States.” As far as I’ve seen, the hostilities have been pretty much a one-way street, with U.S. bombings of ISIL. To maintain this asymmetry is why, I suppose, Americans don’t want U.S. boots on the ground.

Bottom line # 2: if you want to authorize use of force against “associated forces” rather than specific named entities (although I recommend against it for the reasons stated above) do so with the Just Security proposal’s reference to “parties to the conflict” rather than Lawfare’s “engaged in hostilities.”

Bond and the Vienna Rules on Treaty Interpretation

by Roger Alford

Tomorrow I have the good fortune of participating in the Notre Dame Law Review symposium with leading foreign relations scholars. The topic of the symposium is Bond v. United States. The keynote will be given by Paul Clement, who won the case for Petitioner.

The focus of my discussion will be the relationship between Supreme Court treaty interpretation and the international approach to treaty interpretation. As readers of this blog well know, the Supreme Court has never followed the international approach to treaty interpretation. In the over forty years since the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties was signed, the Supreme Court has not relied on its interpretive methodology on a single occasion. This is despite the fact that the Vienna Convention’s interpretive approach (the “Vienna Rules”) reflected the common practice at the time it was adopted, and now reflects customary international law. This is despite the fact that the United States views the Vienna Convention as the authoritative guide to treaty law and practice.

This is not to suggest that the Supreme Court does not utilize the same interpretive tools as the Vienna Rules. Indeed, at one time or another the Court has used every single interpretive tool reflected in the Vienna Rules. It supports reliance on the ordinary meaning of the terms of a treaty. The Court has held that “[a]s treaties are contracts between independent nations, their words are to be taken in their ordinary meaning as understood in the public law of nations.” It recognizes that a treaty should be construed to give effect to its purposes, stating that “[a] treaty should be generally construed liberally to give effect to the purpose which animates it.” It agrees that a treaty should be read in context, reasoning that “when interpreting a treaty, we ‘begin with text of the treaty and the context in which the written words are used.’” It interprets terms in light of subsequent practice and subsequent agreements. It supports recourse to supplementary means of interpretation, such as the negotiating history. It follows general rules of interpretation such as presumptions and constructions that follow ordinary logic and reason. Thus, although the Court has never systematically followed the holistic, unitary approach of the Vienna Rules, it consistently relies on the same interpretive tools.

Bond v. United States marks an important moment in this history of Supreme Court treaty interpretation. Although it did not cite the Vienna Rules, it is the first time that the Supreme Court has analyzed a treaty (and it’s implementing legislation) using the same methodology as the Vienna Rules. That is, the Court interpreted the treaty “in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose.” Because the terms of the treaty were ambiguous and could lead to manifestly absurd and unreasonable results, the Court also applied supplementary means of interpretation, including the negotiating history and a federalism presumption.

The ordinary meaning of the term “chemical weapon” was central to the Court’s analysis. “[A]s a matter of natural meaning, an educated user of English would not describe Bond’s crime as involving a ‘chemical weapon.’” The natural meaning of that term accounts for both the type of chemical used and the circumstances in which they were used. No ordinary person would consider that the chemical Bond used was a deadly toxin of the type the Chemical Weapons Convention was designed to address. The ordinary meaning of a “weapon” is an “instrument of offensive or defensive combat.” Using natural parlance, Bond’s behavior was not combat. Interpreting “chemical weapon” to include Bond’s crime “would give the [implementing] statute a reach exceeding [its] ordinary meaning.” Reliance on the ordinary meaning of “chemical weapon” plays a “limiting role” on the scope of the prohibition, and avoids transforming a “statute passed to implement the International Convention on Chemical Weapons into one that also make it a federal crime to poison goldfish.”

The Court in Bond extensively discussed the object and purpose of the Convention. It began with an image of the ravages of chemical warfare during the First World War as the impetus behind the overwhelming consensus that toxic chemicals should never be used as weapons of war. It cited the bold aspirations expressed in the Convention’s Preamble—the complete elimination of all types of weapons of mass destruction used by state and non-state actors in times of war and peace. These purposes were critical to the Court’s interpretation. “[T]he Convention’s drafters intended for it to be a comprehensive ban on chemical weapons … [and] we have doubts that a treaty about chemical weapons has anything to do with Bond’s conduct.” Given the purpose of the Convention to address “war crimes and acts of terrorism,” the Court concluded that “[t]here is no reason to think the sovereign nations that ratified the Convention were interested in anything like Bond’s common law assault.” It found that Bond’s chemical of choice—an arsenic-based compound that causes minor irritation when touched—bore “little resemble to the deadly toxins that are ‘of particular danger to the objectives of the Convention.’” The “purely local crime” that Bond committed “could hardly be more unlike the uses of mustard gas on the Western Front or nerve agents in the Iran-Iraq war that form the core concerns of the treaty.” Accordingly, the United States and the community of nations have no interest in seeing Bond imprisoned for violating the ban on chemical weapons. “[T]he global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard, or to treat a local assault with a chemical irritant as the deployment of a chemical weapon.”

The Court also repeatedly cited context as an interpretive aid. It concluded that “the context from which the [implementing] statute arose demonstrates a much more limited prohibition was intended” by the ban on chemical weapons. Rather than rely solely on the statutory definition the Court concluded that the “the improbably broad reach of the key statutory definition” was rendered ambiguous by “the context from which the statute arose—a treaty about chemical warfare and terrorism.” The Court interpreted the term “chemical weapon” in light of the entire Convention, including the Preamble, other treaty provisions, and the Annex on Chemicals. These provisions illuminated the purpose and structure of the ban on chemical weapons, and the nature of the banned chemicals.

Most importantly, the Court twice cited another provision of the Convention, which provides that “[e]ach State Party shall, in accordance with its constitutional processes, adopt the necessary measures to implement its obligations under this Convention.” It cited this provision as contextual support for a federalism presumption. The “constitutional process in our ‘compound republic’ keeps power ‘divided between two distinct governments.’” Faithful to federalism and other constitutional concerns, the Convention only required that “necessary measures” be adopted, leaving to the States how they would be adopted within their constitutional system. This context permitted the Court to interpret the treaty obligation consistent with a federalism presumption, a presumption that has a longstanding history within the Court’s jurisprudence.

Bond raises the possibility that the Court’s interpretive approach could more closely align with the international standard. There already are existing canons of construction that support a greater reliance on the Vienna Rules. Among them is the general rule that treaties are contracts between nations that should be interpreted according to a shared understanding. As the Court recently put it, “[a] treaty is in its nature a contract between nations, not a legislative act.” Therefore, “it is our responsibility to read the treaty in a manner consistent with the shared expectations of the contracting parties.” If the shared expectations of the contracting parties is that treaty terms should be interpreted according to the Vienna Rules, then it follows that the Court could apply that canon not only to interpret the meaning of specific treaty terms, but also to its interpretive methodology. It would not do so because the United States has ratified the Vienna Convention or that the Vienna Rules are otherwise part of United States law. Rather, the Court would rely on them because with every treaty the contracting parties have the expectation that the treaty terms will be interpreted using the Vienna Rules.

Another canon of construction is that the Court should give deference to the Executive Branch’s interpretation of treaties. If the Executive Branch recognizes that the Vienna Rules are the authoritative guide to treaty interpretation, then the Court should give great weight to that conclusion. Ordinarily this deference applies to the Executive Branch’s interpretation of specific treaty terms. But it could also support the Executive Branch’s support for the Vienna Rules as the authoritative guide to treaty interpretation. As the United States argued in one recent case, “[a]lthough the United States has not ratified the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, the United States generally recognizes the Convention as an authoritative guide to treaty interpretation.” If the United States views the Vienna Rules as the authoritative guide to treaty interpretation, and the Supreme Court gives deference to Executive Branch’s interpretation of treaties, then the Court could rely on the Vienna Rules in deference to the Executive Branch.

The Supreme Court has long ignored the Vienna Rules. Bond does not change that fact, but it does give support for courts to rely on the interpretive tools that form the basis for the Vienna Rules. The Court has always accepted the tools of interpretation reflected in the Vienna Rules. It now has accepted those tools as part of a holistic, unitary approach. The Vienna Rules are hidden behind the veil of Bond’s interpretative methodology. Consistent with accepted canons of construction, the Court could rely on the Vienna Rules more explicitly.

Kuwait Bulk-Orders Comoros Citizenship for Stateless Bidoon

by Peter Spiro

Citizenship for sale schemes have become an increasingly common phenomenon as the rich from non-Western states look to upgrade their travel privileges. The likes of Malta, Cyprus, and St. Kitts have had some success selling citizenship to plutocrats from Russia, China and other non-visa waiver countries. The revenues supply a nice fiscal bump at low marginal cost to these small states. The price is fairly steep (more than a million Euros in the case of Schengen-advantaged Malta) but the number of buyers has been relatively small.

That’s cash-for-passports on a retail basis. We now have reports of the first wholesale purchase. Kuwait has long been criticized for its refusal to extend Kuwaiti citizenship to native-born tribal Bidoon, who as a result have been left stateless. (See this report from Human Rights Watch, for example.) Kuwait continues to deny the Bidoon Kuwaiti citizenship. But it is now moving to procure them citizenship in the Comoros. Kuwait purports to solve the statelessness problem. The Comoros (not a rich country) gets a couple of hundred million dollars for the favor.

Full report here from Atossa Abrahamian in Aljazeera America. Those Bidoon who accept Comoros citizenship will no longer be stateless, which will better their lot in place in Kuwait for things like health care. But human rights groups aren’t buying. The Comoros scheme will continue to deny the Bidoon access to citizenship in their place of habitual residence. That’s problematic as a matter of international human rights, which is beginning to assimilate an “access to citizenship” norm beyond the long-established regime against statelessness.

The transaction itself is probably consistent with international law. States have near-complete discretion with respect to the extension of citizenship. If the Comoros wants to sell nationality on a bulk basis to a group of people that have no ties to the Comoros, that’s its business, at least to the extent that the Comoros doesn’t try to assert the nominal nationality against other states (which would bring the ICJ’s Nottebohm threshold of “genuine links” into play). That’s highly unlikely, since the Comoros won’t have much interest in expending diplomatic resources on behalf of citizens with whom it has no organic social connection.

So the deal is likely to stick. It might even serve as a template for other states that host large stateless populations. Hard to argue that this doesn’t supply further evidence of citizenship’s degradation, but there’s not much to do about it.