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Callamard Report on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Part I

Published on June 25, 2019        Author: 
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Last week the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, submitted to the Human Rights Council her long-awaited final report on the investigation she conducted on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. In this post I’ll offer a few thoughts on some of the legal and factual findings of this report, which is the result of the only independent inquiry to-date into Khashoggi’s assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year. Readers may recall that I’ve recently written extensively on the blog on the international legal aspects of Khashoggi’s murder, based on my forthcoming article in the Human Rights Law Review.

The Callamard report is extensive, detailed and rich in its legal and factual analysis. Indeed it is far too extensive to be summarized and discussed in a blog post, which I will not attempt to do. Rather, this two-part post will focus on a selection of the report’s most novel factual and legal findings; the first part will examine the former, and the second, to be published tomorrow, will look at the report’s legal analysis.

The report itself is comprised of two documents. First, the formal report to the Human Rights Council, submitted for its 41st regular session starting this week – UN Doc. A/HRC/41/36. Second, a one-hundred page annex to that report, which contains the Special Rapporteur’s detailed factual and legal findings with regard to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – UN Doc. A/HRC/41/CRP.1. The former document by and large summarizes the contents of the latter, while emphasizing some important points of principle, e.g. regarding the duty to warn (on which more tomorrow). I will hereinafter thus only refer to the annex, i.e. whenever I cite a paragraph of the report, I mean to refer to the longer document, A/HRC/41/CRP.1.

Again, I will not cover the report exhaustively. The media coverage of the report, including succinct summaries of its main findings, has been extensive (e.g. here and here; see also this VoA interview with Ms Callamard). In a nutshell, the Special Rapporteur found that Saudi Arabia bears state responsibility for the extrajudicial killing of Mr Khashoggi, in violation of his human right to life, and that it has similarly violated its positive obligation to effectively investigate his killing. She has inter alia called on the UN Secretary-General, the Human Rights Council, and the Security Council, to establish an independent international criminal investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, and has specifically found that credible evidence existed for the potential responsibility of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and his principal henchman, Saud al-Qahtani.

As one could expect, Saudi Arabia has already rejected the report, alleging that it is biased, contains ‘nothing new,’ repeats allegations already made in the media, and is based on ‘false accusations confirmed as stemming from Callamard’s preconceived ideas and positions towards the kingdom.’ In reality, however, there are quite a few new significant factual findings in the report, which have been made with a commendable degree of care and rigour – all the more commendable in light of the very limited resources that the Special Rapporteur had at her disposal. In fact, the report expressly tries not to rely on media reporting, whenever possible, and acknowledges possible sources of bias when appropriate (see paras. 36-37, 42-47). The Special Rapporteur established as proven or credible only those facts that she herself could independently substantiate. And, of course, she applied in great detail the applicable rules of international law to the facts that she has established. As we will see, most of her legal findings are (at least in my view) unassailable, while others are somewhat more tenuous.

What, then, of the report’s novel factual findings?

Read the rest of this entry…

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Attribution of Naval Mine Strikes in International Law

Published on June 24, 2019        Author:  and
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On Thursday, June 13, two ships were damaged within forty-five minutes by (current evidence suggests) limpet mines, while transiting the Gulf of Oman at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz. The Japanese product tanker, Kokuka Courageous sustained damage from either a limpet mine or a projectile, just as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran to try to reduce regional tensions. The Front Altair, also a tanker, suffered far more severe damage to its starboard hull, including a hole at the waterline, which – it has been suggested – was the result of a torpedo strike. This is very difficult to confirm – torpedoes tend to cause much more significant damage, and the damage sustained by Front Altair might also be consistent with a moored or floating mine strike, or the detonation of an attached limpet mine. Both ships caught fire and their crews abandoned ship. Four ships were also damaged by limpet mines off the coast of Fujairah on May 12, 2019. A UAE inquiry pinned responsibility on an ‘unidentified state actor.’

World oil prices increased as daily freight rates for oil supertankers climbed as much as fifty percent to reflect the heightened risk. Insurance rates for a seven-day transit have increased fifteen percent. Some seventy of the world’s supertankers are in the region – ten percent of global capacity – but many remain idle due to the threat. The United States blamed Iran for the attacks, and indeed there is evidence that points to Iranian involvement. The UK also attributes responsibility to Iran. Iran has denied responsibility, and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded on twitter that the United States or its allies were likely behind the assaults and that the charge was ‘[without] a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence.’

The United States has pledged to keep the Strait of Hormuz (SOH) open to traffic. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attributed the attacks to Iran based upon ‘intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping, and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.’ On June 17 he doubled down, promising to present in the coming days ‘lots of data, lots of evidence’ linking the attacks to Iran. President Trump stated flatly, ‘Iran did do it.’ U.S. Central Command released a video which appears to show an Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp Navy (IRGCN) patrol boat removing an unexploded limpet mine from the Kokuka Courageous. Trump added, ‘I guess one of the mines didn’t explode and it’s probably got essentially Iran written all over it… It was them that did it.’

In this piece, we explore the available evidence for attribution in light of the international law on point. May the attacks be attributed to Iran, and if not, what additional evidence would have to be produced? And once (if) attribution of the attacks is made out, what measures may affected states then take in response? Since there is no evidence that there exists an international armed conflict under Common Article 2 of the Geneva Conventions, we do not address international humanitarian law, although in the last few days the shoot down of a US UAV and reports of a bombing mission switch off are starting to complicate this assessment.

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President Trump admits US strike against Iran would have been illegal

Published on June 21, 2019        Author: 
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Yesterday President Trump apparently aborted a US strike against Iran, in response to Iran’s destruction of an unmanned US surveillance drone. US and Iranian accounts continue to differ on whether the drone was shot down in Iranian airspace or in international airspace. Ashley Deeks and Scott Anderson have helpfully analyzed the international legal framework applicable to any US strike in response to the destruction of the drone over on Lawfare, to which I have little to add in principle. In particular, they’ve explained the more expansive and the more restrictive theories of self-defence on which the legality of a US strike would hinge (see also Ashley’s previous post here).

But, President Trump has tweeted in the past hour, as he does, and his tweets effectively (if inadvertently) admit the illegality of the aborted US strike under any conceivable theory of self-defence, no matter how expansive:

 

Note, first, how President Trump describes the aborted US strike as being meant ‘to retaliate’ against Iran for the destruction of the drone. But it is black letter jus ad bellum that the purpose of self-defence can only be to stop an ongoing attack, or (possibly) to prevent imminent future attacks. It cannot, however, simply be to retaliate against an attack committed in the past. Thus, even if US historically expansive views on the right to self-defence were to be accepted in their totality, and even we were to accept that the US drone was in international airspace when it was shot down and that this was an armed attack by Iran against the US in the sense of Article 51 of the UN Charter, the US head of state has just admitted to the world that the strike he authorized, and then rescinded, was retaliatory and not defensive in nature.

Similarly, he expressly admitted that the attack would have been disproportionate, as 150 lives would likely have been lost for one destroyed unmanned drone. And as we all know, proportionality is a key requirement of the customary law of self-defence. Thankfully, President Trump ultimately decided to abort the strikes, and therefore no violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter took place. Hopefully any conflict between the US and Iran will be avoided. But that said, it is also clear from what the US President tweeted to all of us, so explicitly and so ungrammatically, that the proposed military action of his government, had it taken place, would have been illegal. And again, under the President’s own admission, it would have been illegal regardless of whether one embraces a more restrictive or a more expansive theory of self-defence.

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Russian Agents Charged with Downing of MH17; MH17 Cases in Strasbourg

Published on June 20, 2019        Author: 
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Yesterday international investigators charged three Russian nationals and one Ukrainian national before Dutch criminal courts for the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. According to a report in the Guardian:

The suspects were named as Igor Girkin, a former colonel of Russia’s FSB spy service; Sergey Dubinskiy, employed by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency; and Oleg Pulatov, a former soldier with the GRU’s special forces spetsnaz unit. All were Russian soldiers previously sent abroad.

A fourth suspect, Leonid Kharchenko, is a Ukrainian. He led a military combat unit in the city of Donetsk as a commander, it was alleged.

Girkin was minister of defence in the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). He was the commander of the DNR when the plane was shot down on 17 July 2014. Dubinskiy served as Girkin’s deputy in the DNR, and Pulatov was Dubinskiy’s deputy. Kharchenko was under their command.

Investigators said the soldiers “formed a chain linking DNR with the Russian Federation”. This link was how the separatists obtained heavy equipment from Russia including the Buk launcher used to fire at MH17 with “terrible consequences”.

The accused did not push the button themselves but were responsible for bringing the anti-aircraft system to eastern Ukraine. They could therefore be held criminally liable and charged with murdering 298 people, investigators said.

Readers will recall that last year the investigators and the Dutch and Australian governments formally attributed the downing of MH17 to Russia. Yesterday, however, saw the first criminal charges brought against specific individuals. Obviously, it remains highly unlikely that any of them will face trial in the Netherlands in the foreseeable future, unless they are unwise enough to travel abroad, although they will likely be tried in absentia.

There have also been interesting developments about litigation regarding MH17 in the European Court of Human Rights. Back in 2014 I suggested that the families of the victims may decide to bring cases against both Russia and Ukraine:

In addition to whatever direct involvement these states may have had in the destruction of the aircraft, they could also be held liable for other internationally wrongful acts. For example, Ukraine could be responsible for failing to secure the right to life of the victims and failing to comply with its substantive positive obligations under Article 2 ECHR by deciding not to close the relevant airspace for civilian traffic. Russia could be held responsible for providing the rebels with anti-aircraft weaponry without sufficient safeguards (e.g. appropriate training of the missile crews), thus creating the risk that this weaponry could be used against civilian targets. Both states could be held responsible for failing to secure an effective investigation into the incident. Obviously the facts could yet develop and some very complex preliminary issues could arise (e.g. the extent of Russia’s control over the Ukrainian rebels and the question of the ECHR’s extraterritorial application), but all these points seem arguable.

At least two such cases have indeed been brought and have been communicated by the Court to the respondent governments for pleadings on admissibility and merits.

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The Legal Status and Characterisation of Maritime Militia Vessels

Published on June 18, 2019        Author: 
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A recent report has described how Royal Australian Navy helicopter pilots were targeted with lasers during a night flight in the South China Sea. The lasers were allegedly directed from Chinese fishing vessels – the primary cadre from which the so-called Chinese ‘maritime militia’ is drawn. Further, the incident occurred – according to another report – shortly after a US admiral warned that the paramilitary force could be treated as ‘combatants’. 

What is the Chinese maritime militia? As described below it is a hybrid body (or bodies), but in essence it is a civilian reserve force (often of fisherman) capable of being called upon to conduct military or governmental activities. A number of recent official reports (eg, US, and Japan), have specifically commented upon the rise in China’s employment of this force multiplier in the South and East China Sea regions. At a certain level such a force may be benign, called upon to assist in search and rescue efforts. The concern, however, is that militia vessels are also being used to further Chinese strategic claims in disputed waters by – for example – harassing the fishermen of other states – including by sinking their vessels, as is reported to have occurred with a Philippines fishing vessel just a few days ago. In another episode, Chinese fishing vessels formed a cordon around Chinese oil exploration vessels operating off Vietnam.

The concept of a ‘maritime militia’ is relatively recent, but not without historical parallel. There has long been (and remains) well settled law around the practices of privateering, use of merchant vessels as auxiliaries to naval forces, and conversion of merchant vessels into warships. In this post, however, I will briefly outline two status and characterisation challenges ahead – or rather, already with us – presented by the increased use of maritime militia by China in the current geo-political and legal context: The status and characterisation of militia vessels under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the customary law of the sea; and their status under the Law of Naval Warfare (LoNW). Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: UN Audiovisual Library of International Law; Professor of International Law and Human Rights, Lund (Sweden); ILaW Discussion on ICC Decision in the Al-Bashir Case; CfP Exploratory Workshop on Constitutions of Value

Published on June 16, 2019        Author: 
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1. New Additions to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law. The Codification Division of the Office of Legal Affairs recently added the following lectures to the Lecture Series of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law (AVL) website: Mr. Manuel Monteagudo Valdez on “The Singularity and Limitations of Contemporary International Economic Law” and on “Perspectives on International Economic Law: Searching for an Anthropological Approach” (in Spanish). The Audiovisual Library is also available as a podcast, which can be accessed through the preinstalled applications in Apple or Google devices, through Soundcloud or through the podcast application of your preference by searching “Audiovisual Library of International Law”.

2. Professor of International Law and Human Rights, Lund (Sweden). The Faculty of Law at Lund University intends to appoint full-time Professor of International Law and Human Rights with a starting date of 1 April 2020. Applications are to be submitted by 12 September 2019. The duties of the appointed professor include teaching on the professional law degree programme and on the international Master’s programme in International Human Rights Law (in collaboration with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law), in the PhD-education, and within the Faculty’s distance learning and commissioned education courses. The further particulars can be accessed here.
 
3. ILaW Discussion on ICC Decision in the Al-Bashir Case. ILaW (International Law at Westminster), in co-operation with the ILSA at Westminster Chapter, is organising a rapid response event to discuss the recent decision of the International Criminal Court on head of state immunity in the Al-Bashir case. The event will take place on Wednesday 19 June 2019, 17.30 – 19.30 at the University of Westminster (4-12 Little Titchfield Street, Room 2.05C). It will gather scholars and practitioners to address the many contentious issues that are at the centre of the decision, taking into account customary international law, the mandate of the International Criminal Court in the fight against impunity, and the relationship between the Court and the UN. Register interest here
 
4. Call for Papers: Exploratory Workshop on Constitutions of Value. This workshop, which will take place 12 – 13 December 2019 at the University of Würzburg, has been convened by Isabel Feichtner (Würzburg) and Geoff Gordon (The Hague). This symposium intends to take a view of value not as exogenous to law and society, not merely something to be identified, promoted and protected by law. Rather, it will begin from a view of value, value production and measurement as endogenous. It is proposed to engage in a constitutional study of value that not only looks to the role of law, but also to the material dimensions of value production. The organisers seek to examine the ways in which value is (co-)constituted, structured and shaped by law, politics, science and technology, and thus hope to advance understanding of the foundational role of value in political economy as well as the law like effects of values and value measurements so constituted. For further information, see here
 
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Interests of Justice? The ICC urgently needs reforms

Published on June 11, 2019        Author: 
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The demands for an “independent evaluation” through a small group of experts, formulated by four former presidents of the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and accompanied by several critical blogs (see, inter alia, here, here, here and here) is the outcome of several controversial court decisions and the Court’s manifest problem in its decision-making process, i.e., its serious governance problems.

Probably the most controversial decision, made on 12 April 2019, concerns the rejection by Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II of the Prosecutor’s application of the initiation of a (formal) investigation into the Afghanistan situation involving crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban, Afghan and US military forces. The PTC based its decision on a broad interpretation of the ambiguous concept of “interests of justice” (Art. 53(1)(c) Rome Statute) and the expected lack of cooperation by Afghanistan and the USA, allegedly resulting in limited chances of a successful investigation. Thereby the Chamber converts the interests of justice concept into a utilitarian efficiency clause which is predicated on the possible success of the proceedings. Not only is this difficult to reconcile with the rationale of the said concept but also incompatible with the wording of Art. 53(1)(c) which links the “interest of justice” to, inter alia, the gravity of the crime and the interests of the victims. Yet, both of these criteria speak for the opposite result than that reached by the Chamber, namely the opening of the formal investigation. For the gravity of the crimes is acknowledged by the Chamber itself and the victims’ interests are reflected by the submission of information by hundreds of them during the preliminary examination. If a Chamber considers that despite the existence of gravity and interests of victims “an investigation would not serve the interests of justice”, i.e. “nonetheless” (Art. 53(1)(c)) the existence of these criteria, it must show that there are more important “substantial reasons” which displace the prima facie interests of justice (derived from gravity and victims’ interests) in favour of opening a formal investigation. In other words, while the term “nonetheless” makes clear that there may be countervailing considerations which may speak against the opening of an investigation despite gravity and victims’ interests, these countervailing considerations must be thoroughly substantiated and, at any rate, do not turn the interests of justice clause into a mere, free floating policy factor which gives a Chamber an unfettered discretion (see also Ambos, Treatise International Criminal Law Vol. III, 2016, p. 390). The present Chamber fails to grasp these complexities and therebyshows a lack of sensibility with regard to the “interests of justice” concept. Thus, it is not surprising that the decision has met serious criticisms in the international criminal law blogsphere (see here, here, here and here) and the Prosecutor filed a leave to appeal request on 7 June 2019. The most recent Appeals Chamber decision from the 6 May 2019, denying the personal immunity of the then Sudanese President Al-Bashir and interpreting the non-immunity rule of Art. 27 Rome Statute as one of customary law, has also received some criticism (see here and here) but ultimately deserves support (see here and here) since it confirms the historical (Nuremberg) trend of non-immunity in international criminal justice. Read the rest of this entry…

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More on the Duty to Warn Persons Threatened by Foreign Intelligence Services

Published on June 10, 2019        Author: 
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I recently wrote on the blog about the obligation of states, arising from their duty to protect the right to life under human rights law, to warn individuals subject to their jurisdiction of any real and immediate risk to their life, bodily integrity, or liberty and security of person, posed by foreign intelligence services. That duty arises if the state knows, or ought to know, of such a threat, i.e. if the threat is reasonably foreseeable to it. I’ve argued in that regard how it cannot be conclusively established, but may be so established after further factual inqury, that the United States or Turkey had enough relevant information in their possession to trigger their protective obligation with regard to Jamal Khashoggi and the threat posed to his life by agents of Saudi Arabia. If that obligation was triggered, however, the duty to warn Khashoggi arose, whereas no such warning was given to him before his assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

As I have explained in my previous post, and in more detail in my full paper, the duty to warn does not impose unreasonable burdens on states engaged in intelligence-gathering activities. First, it is subject to a jurisdictional threshold, which may be looser, per the Human Rights Committee’s new functional approach to the extraterritorial application of the right to life, or stricter, per the more traditional spatial or personal conceptions of jurisdiction. Opinions will clearly differ in this regard as to which approach should prevail. The key point here, however, is that a state lacking the capacity to fulfil the duty to warn will never be expected to have to do so. Second, the duty will only be engaged if a specific unlawful threat to the life of an individual was reasonably foreseeable to the state. Third, the duty to warn is one of due diligence, and the state can take a number of relevant considerations into account in deciding on how to fulfil it. It might, for example, choose to convey the substance of the threat in a way that will avoid any risk of compromising intelligence-gathering sources and methods. It might choose to do so through an intermediary, such as a relevant agency of a partner state. In the vast majority of conceivable circumstances the state will be able to convey a warning without compromising its essential interests in any meaningful way. Granted, the state will have to devote some resources towards actually complying with the obligation. But such an expectation is not unreasonable, especially bearing in mind that this rather modest burden will usually fall on the wealthiest, most powerful states in possession of an extensive foreign intelligence apparatus, whose ultimate purpose should after all be the safeguarding of human life.

Importantly, in the past month or so, the CIA and partner security services have actually warned three associaties of Khashoggi of a Saudi threat against them, demonstrating that the duty to warn does not, in fact, impose unreasonable burdens on state authorities and that it can effectively be complied with.

First, after obtaining information about a specific threat from the CIA, the Norwegian security services warned a prominent Arab pro-democracy activist and vocal critic of the Saudi crown prince, who has been granted asylum and is living in Norway. As the Guardian reports:

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Announcements: UN Audiovisual Library of International Law; CfS Trade, Law and Development

Published on June 9, 2019        Author: 
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1. New Addition to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law. The Codification Division of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs recently added the following lecture to the Lecture Series of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law (AVL) website: Ms Michelle Reyes Milk on “The Ad Hoc International Criminal Tribunals and their Legacy” (in Spanish). The Audiovisual Library is also available as a podcast, which can be accessed through the preinstalled applications in Apple or Google devices, through Soundcloud or through the podcast application of your preference by searching “Audiovisual Library of International Law”.

2. Call for Submissions: Trade, Law and Development. The Board of Editors of Trade, Law and Development invites original, unpublished manuscripts for publication in the Winter ’19 Issue of the Journal (Vol. 11, No. 2) in the form of Articles, Notes, Comments and Book Reviews. Manuscripts received pertaining to any area within the purview of international economic law will be received for publication. Founded in 2009, the philosophy of TL&D has been to generate and sustain a constructive and democratic debate on emergent issues in international economic law and to serve as a forum for the discussion and distribution of ideas. Manuscripts may be submitted via e-mail or ExpressO. For further information about the journal please click here. For submission guidelines, please click here. In case of any queries, please feel free to contact us at editors[at]tradelawdevelopment[dot]com. Last date for submissions is 30 September 2019.

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