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Home Articles posted by Christian Tams

Let the Games Continue: Immunity for War Crimes before the Italian Constitutional Court

Published on October 24, 2014        Author: 

The issue is important, no doubt – to what extent do rules of immunity apply in respect of grave violations of international law? Over the past two decades, it has been addressed by lawmakers, the ILC, international and national courts in cases like Al Adsani, Jones, Bouzari and others – and of course in hundreds of articles, notes and books. In fact, few other questions have prompted as much intense debate in the literature. As the number of plausible arguments and approaches is finite (jus cogens, implied waiver, etc.), there was bound to be duplication and repetition. (Was I the only one gradually tiring of the debate?)

In any event, the ICJ’s judgment in Jurisdictional Immunities of early 2012 seemed to settle matters: immunity could be invoked in respect of war crimes, said the Court; jus cogens was not at issue; immunity had to be assessed as a preliminary matter and irrespective of the gravity of the allegations; grave violations could still be acts iure imperii; the territorial tort exception did not apply etc. In terms of international legal process, this seemed to show the Court at its strongest, acting as supreme arbiter in long-standing debates about the proper understanding of the law, and by virtue of its authority clarifying the state of international law.  ‘At last we have certainty’ wrote Andrea Bianchi on EJIL:Talk! . And in 2013, Italy passed legislation implementing the ICJ judgment.

Two and a half years on, it’s clear that the matter remains a live one. The ECHR’s judgment in Jones seemed to accept the authority of the ICJ’s decision, but raised questions about the scope of personal immunities. (See Philippa Webb’s post).  And in the past few weeks, things have accelerated. Two weeks ago, the High Court of England and Wales decided that a Bahraini prince is not immune from prosecution for torture allegations.

But that, it seems, was no more than the prologue: Because on Wednesday, the Italian Constitutional Court seems to have gone much further. It has quashed the Italian legislation implementing the 2012 judgment, which in its view violates constitutional provisions. The ICJ’s decision is duly addressed, but not followed. As my Italian is rudimentary (and as I have yet to find a translation of the decision), I will not even begin to discuss the merits and arguments set forward. All I want to do at this stage is draw readers’ attention to it. And suggest we all prepare for yet another round of debates about how to strike the balance between human rights and immunity. ‘Certainty at last?’ You wish.

UPDATE: Here is an English summary of the judgment, provided by Francesco Messineo, Honorary Research Fellow at Kent Law School.

 

International Law MOOCs: A Hazardous Legal Tool?

Published on October 8, 2014        Author: 

A while ago, Jean d’Aspremont engaged in a detailed defence of the ‘hazardous legal tool of blogging’ on this site. (He has since blogged quite prolifically – ie put theory into practice…). 3 ½ years on, I would like to raise a similar point and ask whether “international law MOOCs” (or “international law MOOC-ing”) could be something worth exploring – and find out whether readers have explored MOOC-ing already and would share their views.

MOOC stands for “massive open online course”; the relevant Wikipedia entry describes it as an “online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. In addition to traditional course materials such as videos, readings, and problem sets, MOOCs provide interactive user forums that help build a community for students, professors, and teaching assistants. MOOCs are a recent development in distance education which began to emerge in 2012.”

My sense is that – while courses on cross-cutting themes flourish (Michael Sandel’s course on justice perhaps being the most prominent example) – Law MOOCs have had a relatively slow start. In a recent blogpost, Loren Turner notes that “Initially, law schools were hesitant to offer MOOC courses in legal studies”, but that “within the last year [ie 2013/14], law schools have begun to embrace the idea as a way of exporting their brands, programs, and faculty to a global audience.” The initial hesitation may be due to a range of factors: perhaps legal topics are (or are perceived to be) technical; perhaps law schools are afraid that free online courses would ‘eat into’ or undermine proper (paid) course provision; or finally, to embrace the cliché, legal academia may just be a tiny bit more averse to experimenting than other disciplines. (With respect to the latter point, I thought it was interesting that a recent report on the Völkerrechtsblog, summarising a joint ILA-ASIL meeting on ‘The Teaching of International Law’, suggests that the meeting remained focused on core university teaching. I did not attend so do not know what was said; but was struck by the fact that the use of videos in classroom teaching was considered ‘sensationalist’.)

But the times are probably a-changing. Read the rest of this entry…

 

A Follow-Up on International Arbitration under Pressure

Published on March 17, 2014        Author: 

Given the dramatic events in Ukraine, investment law was unlikely to be high up on the international legal agenda these past few days. However, during the weekend, the debate about investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) I described in my last post may have taken a new turn. On 14 March, the Financial Times reported that Germany – long the most ardent supporter of ISDS and the country with the largest number of Bilateral Investment Treaties – now pushes for the exclusion of dispute settlement provisions from the EU-US Trade and Investment Partnership. This is the relevant bit:

Germany has introduced a stumbling block to landmark EU-US trade negotiations by insisting that any pact must exclude a contentious dispute settlement provision. …. [I]n the biggest blow yet to those seeking its inclusion in the deal, Berlin has decided that it will push for the exclusion of the ISDS provisions …. A spokesman for the economy ministry in Berlin said on Friday that the government had relayed its position to officials in Brussels, where negotiators have ended a week of talks over the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Earlier in the week, Brigitte Zypries, a junior economy minister, told the German parliament that Berlin was determined to exclude arbitration rights from the TTIP deal. “From the perspective of the [German] federal government, US investors in the EU have sufficient legal protection in the national courts,” she told parliament. The German position pits Berlin against the commission, the US and business groups. All of them argue that the transatlantic deal is an opportunity to update arbitration rights that already feature in existing bilateral investment treaties and are often open to abuse.

 And, as the FT went on, the German position is really something quite new:

Nicole Bricq, France’s trade minister, has raised concerns before over the ISDS provision. Germany has until now backed its inclusion in the new pact. But Berlin has also been confronted with growing public scepticism in recent months over the transatlantic deal as a whole, and the ISDS provision in particular. At a press conference to mark the close of the fourth round of negotiations on Friday, Dan Mullaney, the leading US negotiator, declined to comment on the German decision. Ignacio Garcia Bercero, the EU’s chief negotiator, also refused to comment on it. But he pointed out that the EU’s original mandate to negotiate specifically included an ISDS provision and had been approved by member states, including Germany. “We are working on the basis of the mandate that has been given to us,” said Mr Garcia Bercero.

So, Alessandra Asteriti may be right (in the comments to my previous post) in saying the ‘ground is shifting’.

 

International Arbitration: Heating Up or Under Pressure?

Published on March 11, 2014        Author: 

Dapo recently posted on this blog about the rise of inter-State cases before the PCA and predicted that “the current rise of inter-state arbitration will endure for some time“. Many readers will presumably be quite happy about the trend described: binding dispute resolution, if it happens, tends to make us international lawyers happy after all – so the more (cases) the merrier?

Interestingly, there is one branch of international law in which the debate currently seems take a different turn; in which the belief in binding dispute resolution is under attack – and in which many commentators, incl. many with an internationalist mindset and a keen desire for a rights-based global order, strongly feel that we have too much international arbitration. This is the field of investment law, in which the concept of investment arbitration has come under fire. Of course, this is an important debate for those interested in investment arbitration — academics, practitioners, companies, civil society, etc.  But, as importantly (if not more), it is also a debate that general international lawyers interested in dispute settlement should follow, and which I feel would benefit considerably if they did not leave it to the (pro- and anti-) investment communities. So this post is an attempt to introduce it to a wider audience and to encourage a wider debate. Within investment law, the debate has been going on for a while. However, over the past few months, it has suddenly heated up – and it has heated up in Europe, where the EU is formulating its investment policy. And this fresh start has opened up interesting spaces for debate. So what is it all about? Read the rest of this entry…

 

An EU-China Investment Agreement?

Published on October 15, 2013        Author: 

Notes from Glasgow #1

EU China BITMany thanks to Dapo, Marko and Iain for inviting me to contribute to EJIL: Talk! on a regular basis. It’s a great blog, and it complements my favourite international law journal, so I accept with pleasure. The first of my ‘Notes from Glasgow’ focuses on international investment law – an area of law that EJIL: Talk! has, I think it is fair to say, so far approached with a measure of caution. Investment law is exciting, though: not so much because of the number of awards produced, week by week, by arbitral tribunals. (In fact, just tracing awards quickly becomes boring.) But rather because it is such an interesting field-study in how international law evolves, how ‘exotic’ branches are rapidly mainstreamed, and how they change in the process.

The latter aspect – change in international investment law – is the theme of the following thoughts. I take my cue from a resolution passed in the European Parliament (EP) on 8 Oct 2013. (See here for the BBC’s coverage of the debate.) As was reported in the media, the EP in principle approved the start of negotiations towards a China-EU Investment Agreement, but added a number of caveats: notably, according to a useful summary by the EP Library (which condenses the resolution’s 49 recitals and thus can be quoted meaningfully), the EP wants the future agreement to “ensur[e] equality of investment environments” in China and the EU, to include binding provisions on “social responsibility, social and environmental standards”, to protect European public services, and to be negotiated with maximum transparency. All this is interesting for a number of reasons. I’ll flag four of them, hoping to return to some of them in subsequent posts. (photo above left, accompanying China’s announcement that it will seek an investment treaty with the EU) Read the rest of this entry…

 
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Philippine Supreme Court Silencing Dissent?

Published on November 9, 2010        Author: 

Given the wide coverage of the Calvo-Goller/Weigend/Weiler saga, EJIL Talk readers will be well aware of the topic of challenges to academic freedom. This post seeks to draw readers’ attention to another instance involving risks of an altogether different degree, and to raise awareness for what seems to be a worrying attempt, by a court, to silence dissent among academics: the Court in question is the Philippine Supreme Court, which is threatening 37 members of the University of Philippine’s College of Law with disciplinary sanctions for contempt – a charge that may eventually result in the loss of their bar licenses. This is only the latest twist in legal proceedings that from the outside seem altogether surreal, but that involve risks of a very real nature to some of our colleagues. So what is it all about, and why should we care?

What it’s about

The contempt proceedings have their origin in the proceedings of Isabelita Vinuya et al. v. Executive Secretary et al., in which the plaintiffs sought an order requiring the Philippine government to seek reparations from Japan for the mistreatment of Philippine “comfort women” during World War II. The Supreme Court declined the request, and in the course of its decision discussed concepts such as jus cogens and obligations erga omnes. Its discussion was curious because it quoted passages from works by Dr Mark Ellis, Professors Evan Fox-Decent and Evan Criddle and myself without properly attributing them, and, it seems, without really having understood them – hence attempts to apply jus cogens or obligations erga omnes meaningfully were presented as evidence of their questionable status.

Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Kosovo Opinion

Published on August 6, 2010        Author: 

 Christian J. Tams is Professor of International Law at the Univeristy of Glasgow. His publications include Enforcing Obligations Erga Omnes in International Law (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

The International Court of Justice’s Kosovo opinion of 22 July had been much expected. It was one of the not so frequent instances which the world (as opposed to State parties, or a small group of international lawyers) was waiting for the world court to speak. Great expectations can lead to great disappointment. And judging from the first round of reactions and responses on this blog and in other fora, there is indeed a feeling of disappointment: of course among those who expected a different outcome, but also among those who would have hoped for a fuller discussion of the legal issues raised by the unilateral declaration of independence of 17 February 2008.

I share many of the points made in the posts by Dapo and Zoran in their posts on this blog, notably their surprise at the Court’s strained conclusion on the identity of the authors of the declaration of independence – a readjustment of the request that is rightly criticised by Vice-President Tomka in his declaration. Instead of reiterating my agreement with other criticisms, I will use this comment to make two broader points on the scope of the opinion. The first comes back to the “minimalist” focus of the opinion, and essentially is an attempt to shift some of the blame away from the Court. The second is a reflection on what seems to be the crucial substantive statement of the opinion – namely that general international law does not prohibit declarations of independence.

A narrow answer to a narrow question

First, the Court’s minimalism. Few fail to mention it, some even speak of a “non-opinion”. I agree: the Kosovo opinion is narrowly argued, and its advisory value limited. But unlike some others, I do not think the Court can really be blamed for that. Of course, some of the judges may have been relieved to offer a narrow/cautious/minimalist reasoning, yet this is not unusual: when faced with high profile disputes courts often decide to be technical, and the ICJ is no exception. The real point is another one, and while obvious, I do not think it is properly reflected in the discussion so far. It is this: Read the rest of this entry…