Home Articles posted by Marko Milanovic

Ecuador Turns Off Julian Assange’s Internet Access

Published on October 19, 2016        Author: 

The world is an awful, terrible place. But sometimes it gives us a nugget so glorious that it really has to be savoured and appreciated. One such nugget is today’s news item that Ecuador had made a ‘sovereign decision’ to restrict the Internet access of Julian Assange, for many years a guest in its London embassy (Guardian and BBC reports here; our previous coverage of various legal issues regarding Assange here). Note the reason Ecuador gave for restricting Assange’s Internet access (which I imagine they are paying for, in any event): respect for the principle of non-intervention. Here’s the Ecuadorian government’s official communique (via Twitter):

In recent weeks, WikiLeaks has published a wealth of documents, impacting on the U.S. election campaign. This decision was taken exclusively by that organization.

The Government of Ecuador respects the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. It does not interfere in external electoral processes, nor does it favor any particular candidate.

Accordingly, Ecuador has exercised its sovereign right to temporarily restrict access to some of its private communications network within its Embassy in the United Kingdom. This temporary restriction does not prevent the WikiLeaks organization from carrying out its journalistic activities.

Just consider, for a moment, how Assange, as a champion of the freedom of speech on the Internet, has found himself in cahoots with (likely) Russia – by any measure not the freest of societies – in actively influencing the forthcoming American elections, and how he is maintaining this activity from UK sovereign soil, protected by Ecuador’s unlawful grant of asylum. And then ponder the delicious irony of a state like Ecuador which, on the one hand, violated the principle of non-intervention vis-a-vis the UK by granting asylum to a fugitive from criminal justice, only to then invoke that very same principle vis-a-vis the United States in order to effectively limit Assange’s freedom of expression. Remarkable, isn’t it?

On a purely legal level, it is particularly noteworthy that a state has essentially expressed its opinio juris to the effect that the customary principle of non-intervention requires it to prevent a private actor operating from a place within its jurisdiction from interfering with the electoral process of a third state by leaking the content of a campaign official’s private emails. I, at least, am not aware that the principle of non-intervention has ever been invoked by an (arguably) intervening state against itself in this particular way, and indeed as part of justifying the interference with an individual’s human rights. But this is an excellent example of how an old legal principle can keep evolving in different circumstances.


UK to Derogate from the ECHR in Armed Conflict

Published on October 5, 2016        Author: 

At the Conservative party conference this week, the UK Prime Minister and her defence secretary announced that the UK will derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights in times of armed conflict. I have written before that such derogations – if appropriately used – can be a valuable tool in regulating the relationship between human rights law and international humanitarian law, by providing much needed clarity and flexibility. I hence have no problem with the principle of the idea – indeed, I have argued in particular that the dicta of some of the judges of UK’s highest courts to the effect that the ECHR cannot be derogated from extraterritorially are not to be followed. I do have a problem, however, with how this derogation idea is now being sold to the British public and for what purpose. In that regard, my comments in this post are caveated by the unfortunate fact that the specifics of the derogation plan are yet to be published – we know that there will be a ‘presumed’ derogation, but not from which rights and under what exact circumstances.

Let me first deal with the political salesmanship. To start with, there’s the usual (and forgivable) pandering – Theresa May thus opens her pitch by saying that “Our Armed Forces are the best in the world” and that her government “will ensure that our troops are recognised for the incredible job they do. Those who serve on the frontline will have our support when they come home.” Oh, please. By what metric exactly are the British armed forces “the best in the world”? By their tactical combat effectiveness? By their actual achievement of specific strategic goals (in which they’ve been constantly hampered by the underfunding, underequipping and wishful thinking on the part of their political masters)? By their compliance with the law of armed conflict? The Chilcot inquiry’s findings with respect to the armed forces’ performance in Basra do not exactly support the “best in the world/incredible job” label.

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English Court of Appeal Decides Al-Saadoon Case on the ECHR’s Application Extraterritorially and in Armed Conflict

Published on September 14, 2016        Author: 

Last week the Court of Appeal of England and Wales rendered a unanimous judgment in Al-Saadoon & Ors v Secretary of State for Defence [2016] EWCA Civ 811. For extended analysis, see David Hart QC’s post on the UK Human Rights Blog here. Like the judgment of the High Court by Mr Justice Leggatt below, this judgment, written by Lord Justice Lloyd Jones, is exceptionally rigorous and well-argued. In a nutshell, the CoA basically endorsed almost all of the Leggatt J’s reasoning below, with one specific exception: while Leggatt J considered that under the ECtHR’s Al-Skeini judgment the personal conception of Article 1 jurisdiction as authority and control over an individual exercised by a state agent necessarily captures the use of lethal force against that individual, Lloyd Jones LJ held that he did not think that the ECtHR intended the principles articulated in Al-Skeini to go that far, and that it should be for the ECtHR to extended them thusly if it wanted to do so. He nonetheless agreed with Leggatt J in the application of the relevant principles to the facts, with most of the claimants being covered by the ECHR on a different basis.

The key paras of Lloyd Jones LJ’s reasoning are below the fold. In any event, in my view both of the judges have it right: limiting the personal principle so that it does not cover uses of lethal force (e.g. by a drone) would indeed be arbitrary, but in Al-Skeini the Court did in fact try to preserve the result of Bankovic and vaguely create a limitation of precisely this kind (see more here). And I can fully see why an English judge would think that this conceptual mess is one for Strasbourg to sort out – note, in that regard, the impact that cases that do not concern armed conflict (e.g. on extraterritorial surveillance) will inevitably have on this jurisprudence. What will ultimately happen in this regard is unclear, and will depend on the wider political context and the readiness of Strasbourg to find and follow the moral logic of Article 1 ECHR – but it’s clear that this case is headed first to the UK Supreme Court and then on to Strasbourg.

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The ICC and Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines

Published on August 30, 2016        Author: 

Below are two possible exam questions for the students and cognoscenti of international criminal law with regard to the possible involvement of the International Criminal Court in the ongoing campaign of state-sanctioned extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, a manifest violation of the right to life under customary international law and Article 6 ICCPR that has so far claimed almost 2,000 lives with no sign of abating (see, e.g, here and here). I would just note, by way of preface, that we have devoted a lot of attention on the blog to the recent arbitral award on the South China Sea dispute, but are yet to comment on the sheer irony of a state claiming the protection of international law while simultaneously proceeding to violate that law so thoroughly and so tragically – I imagine because the irony is so obvious, so depressing, and so familiar. We shall see whether a significant cost will be exacted internationally from the Duterte regime for its violation of the most fundamental of human rights, but I’m not holding my breath.

In the meantime, note that the Philippines have been a party of the Rome Statute since 2011 and consider – if you were the ICC Prosecutor, what would you do now? Should you intervene, how, to what benefit and at what cost? Then ponder these two little exam questions:

  1. “Despite plausible evidence that 2,000 individuals have been killed in the Philippines with the support of the government, these killings do not satisfy the ‘widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population’ chapeau requirement for crimes against humanity under Article 7 of the Rome Statute. In the absence of an armed conflict they equally cannot constitute war crimes, even if the government rhetorically claims to be fighting a ‘war against drugs.’ Accordingly, the ICC is without jurisdiction with respect to this situation, no matter how tragic.” Discuss.
  2. “Even if the substantive elements of crimes against humanity or war crimes were met, President Duterte could not be qualified as their ‘indirect co-perpetrator.’ Shame – because we totally could have nabbed him under the ICTY/R doctrine of joint criminal enterprise!” Discuss.

Horrible Metrics

Published on August 24, 2016        Author: 

I was visiting the site of the American Journal of International Law this morning, and this particular advertising blurb caught my eye:

The Journal ranks as the most-cited international law journal on Google Scholar. It is also considered by the nonprofit, scholarly periodical resource JSTOR to be “the premier English-language scholarly journal in its field.”

Wow, I thought – it’s no longer sufficient to say that the international law academic profession as a whole regards the AJIL and EJIL as the two most prestigious journals in the field, but even when we are self-promoting to our own readership we have to refer to some kind of metric or league table. Second wow, I had no idea that Google Scholar ranked international law journals, I should really check that out. Here’s the table:

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Filed under: EJIL, EJIL Analysis
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A Rejoinder to John Bellinger on the Chilcot Report

Published on July 13, 2016        Author: 

Over on Lawfare, John Bellinger has an interesting post on the Iraq Inquiry which is well worth a read, responding partly to Oona Hathaway’s recent post on Just Security. However, there are a couple of points in Bellinger’s post that I think are highly problematic and would like to address here.

First of all, Bellinger notes that the Inquiry did not expressly criticize the UK (and the US) legal argument for intervening in Iraq, and draws from that the following conclusion:

Even if the Chilcot committee did not want to substitute its own legal conclusions for Goldsmith’s, if the Goldsmith view is as “widely repudiated” as Oona believes, surely the committee (which had former ICJ President Rosalyn Higgins as its legal adviser) would have noted this fact and provided the counter-arguments.  That the committee does not criticize the substance of Goldsmith’s legal conclusions tends to indicate that the committee did not find them “manifestly implausible.”

I don’t think this inference is correct, i.e. that from Chilcot’s silence we can infer anything about the commissioners’ views on the legality of the war. Chilcot expressly said that the legality of the war was outside the Inquiry’s mandate. This would include any judgments about the plausibility (as opposed to correctness) of any particular argument. And he moreover noted that the war was not one of last resort AND that in the Inquiry’s view the UK (and implicitly the US) undermined the authority of the Security Council.  Since the UK/US argument was based on implied Security Council authorization, the Inquiry’s finding is if anything directly contrary to the overall thrust of that argument, at the very least politically so.

Second, Bellinger notes (correctly) that, as a matter of principle, the 678/687 revival argument was not new, i.e. it was used before to justify several bombing campaigns in Iraq. But that the revival argument was not new has little bearing on whether it is plausible or correct, the political optics aside. It was always highly controversial, and received a lot of criticism in the legal literature even when it was used on a vastly smaller scale than the full invasion and regime change of 2003.

Nor does the fact that the government lawyers of five states (US, UK, Australia, Poland, Spain) endorsed that argument inherently make it plausible. I suppose a lot depends on the exact criterion by which we judge plausibility. I am reminded in that regard of a panel discussion on the Ukraine crisis that I chaired at last year’s ESIL conference in Oslo. There were a couple of hundred people in the room, and at one point I asked for a show of hands on how many of the international lawyers in that room thought that that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was lawful – only one person did so. I then asked the same question about the US intervention in Iraq, and again only one person did so (it was not the same guy!). That is obviously just an unscientific data point, but it still aligns with my anecdotal impression that 99% of international lawyers outside the US (and even there the percentage is not much smaller) think that the Iraq war violated the UN Charter. That (some of) the government lawyers of five states thought otherwise doesn’t change much, I think, about the judgment that the profession as a whole has passed on the Iraq war, which I admit is also inevitably influenced by the unmitigated disaster it eventually turned out to be.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I think Bellinger doesn’t take into account that even among these five states there were significant differences in how they actually approached the revival argument. In particular, even the UK, the US closest ally, per the advice of Lord Goldsmith, considered that the US version of the revival argument was legally wrong. Just as a reminder, under both versions of the revival argument the authority to use force under SC res 678 was suspended but not extinguished by 687, and could be revived by a material breach of the conditions imposed on Iraq by 678 and subsequent resolutions. However, under the US version of this argument it was for individual states (i.e. the United States, i.e. President George W. Bush) to decide whether Iraq was in material breach, but under the UK version that judgment had to be made collectively, by the Security Council. This is why, under its legal view, the US had no need of resolution 1441, but on the UK view that resolution was indispensable, i.e. without it the 678 authority could not be revived.  This is also why, in his 7 March formal legal advice , at para. 9, Lord Goldsmith noted that he ‘was not aware of any other state which supports [the US] view.’

Finally, this is also why, as Dapo and I argued in our submission to the Iraq Inquiry, which was joined by many other scholars, Lord Goldsmith’s last-hour change of heart about the interpretation of 1441 could not be justified by discussions with US interlocutors and by reference to US ‘red lines’ that US negotiators could not possibly have conceded, since the US red lines were predicated upon the US version of the revival argument and not the UK one. In other words, the US may well have succeeded in upholding its red lines, but this would not automatically have meant that the UK succeeded in getting from 1441 what it needed to get to invade Iraq. (Notwithstanding the point of principle Richard Gardiner and Michael Wood have made before on whether UNSC resolutions can be interpreted by reference to what some of the negotiators privately thought they had or had not achieved).


UK Iraq Inquiry Report

Published on July 6, 2016        Author: 

In the past couple of hours, the Chilcot inquiry on the Iraq war delivered its long-awaited report, which can be accessed here. It is highly critical of virtually every aspect of UK policy that led to the Iraq war and its unfortunate aftermath – indeed, much more critical than many have expected. When it comes to the legal aspects, the inquiry’s mandate did not include an assessment of the legality of the use of force, but the inquiry nonetheless concluded that “the UK chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted. Military action at that time was not a last resort” and that:

The judgements about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction – WMD – were presented with a certainty that was not justified.

Despite explicit warnings, the consequences of the invasion were underestimated. The planning and preparations for Iraq after Saddam Hussein were wholly inadequate.

The government failed to achieve its stated objectives.

The inquiry also found that:

Mr Blair and Mr Straw blamed France for the “impasse” in the UN and claimed that the UK Government was acting on behalf of the international community “to uphold the authority of the Security Council”.

In the absence of a majority in support of military action, we consider that the UK was, in fact, undermining the Security Council’s authority.

Second, the Inquiry has not expressed a view on whether military action was legal. That could, of course, only be resolved by a properly constituted and internationally recognised Court.

We have, however, concluded that the circumstances in which it was decided that there was a legal basis for UK military action were far from satisfactory.

A 170-page chapter of the report on the provision of legal advice is here; further commentary from Joshua Rozenberg here.


Brexit and Hamilton’s King George: You’ll Be Back and What Comes Next

Published on June 28, 2016        Author: 

If I may be forgiven for lowering the level of conversation (yet again) after the excellent post by Jure Vidmar & Craig Eggett and Larry Helfer’s post over on Opinio Juris discussing many important legal issues – I just wanted to share a (rare) happy Brexitian thought. In Broadway’s smash-hit Hamilton, coming soon to London’s West End, King George sings a delectable British Invasion-y break-up song to his American soon-to-be-ex subjects (“You’ll Be Back”) and then follows up with two shorter songs on the same tune (one of them, “What Comes Next”, works magnificently here as you’ll see). Now, I concede that the analogy is imperfect, but humour me. Just picture in your head Donald Tusk or (better yet) Jean-Claude Juncker at his charming best, belting this out to Britain on behalf of the EU. Got that? Hold that in, take a breath. Then listen, read the lyrics below, and tell me you can’t feel the magic. Am I right or what?


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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, European Union

Stairway to Brexit

Published on June 24, 2016        Author: 

So it is Brexit. As if the current volatile mix of crises affecting Europe and the world was not enough, British voters  may have just dealt a death blow to the European Union (by 52% to 48%). Or things will eventually work out – nobody really knows. Nor does anybody really know whether we will now have an economic meltdown, or what exact arrangements Britain will negotiate with the EU, i.e. whether it’ll be full-calorie Brexit or Brexit lite, e.g. with respect to the single market and the free movement of people. What we do know is that the UK and the EU are entering a prolonged period of uncertainty.

We have seen (yet again) the power of emotion and identity politics, driven largely by concerns over immigration, with people voting with their guts rather than with their brains – see also Trump, Donald. (Do you know you have more nerve-endings in your gut than in your head? Look it up.) We have also seen how momentous events are shaped not only by structural processes, but also by petty decisions of single individuals who were in the right place at the wrong time. Brexit would never had happened had David Cameron not made a promise he probably didn’t think he would have to keep to have a referendum, all to appease malcontents within his own party. And while a similar gamble succeeded (just barely) with the Scottish referendum, here it backfired rather spectacularly. The Disunited Kingdom, in which London, Scotland and Northern Ireland have all voted Remain but most of England has voted Leave, is very much a reality – at least for now, since Scotland will likely have a second independence referendum in the next few years. That, and the austerity which had the greatest impact on the most vulnerable of people, is the sad legacy of Cameron’s premiership. He has just announced that he will be stepping down as prime minister by October, but the irony is that we may yet remember him sentimentally under, say, a prime minister Boris Johnson.

In other, happier news, Led Zeppelin was cleared by a US jury of charges of plagiarizing the Stairway to Heaven. So enjoy the video below (including Robert Plant’s pant Brexit), while contemplating the future.


Filed under: EJIL Analysis, European Union

Grand Chamber Judgment in Al-Dulimi v. Switzerland

Published on June 23, 2016        Author: 

This week the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered a major judgment in Al-Dulimi and Montana Managment Inc. v. Switzerland, no. 5809/08. This is the latest in a long and complex line of cases dealing with the negative human rights impact of sanctions mandated by the UN Security Council, raising inter alia the legal effects of the supremacy clause in Article 103 of the UN Charter. For background, see these two earlier posts on the Al-Jedda and Nada cases, and Anne Peters’ excellent post on the Chamber judgment in Al-Dulimi.

By 15 votes to 2 (judges Ziemele and Nussberger dissenting), the Grand Chamber found a violation of Article 6(1) ECHR, because Swiss courts did not provide meaningful judicial review of the applicants’ listing by the Sanctions Committee of the Security Council. The size of the majority belies the amount of disagreement among the judges; of the 15 judges in the majority, 6 concurred in the result but not in the reasoning – in other words, the line of reasoning that the Court ultimately followed was in fact adopted by the barest of majorities, 9 votes to 8.

So what did the Court decide? It essentially pushed to its very limits the presumption it established in Al-Jedda, para. 102, ‘that the Security Council does not intend to impose any obligation on member States to breach fundamental principles of human rights. In the event of any ambiguity in the terms of a United Nations Security Council resolution, the Court must therefore choose the interpretation which is most in harmony with the requirements of the Convention and which avoids any conflict of obligations. In the light of the United Nations’ important role in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights, it is to be expected that clear and explicit language would be used were the Security Council to intend States to take particular measures which would conflict with their obligations under international human rights law.

The Court held in Al-Dulimi that because the relevant SC resolutions did not exclude domestic judicial review expressis verbis, the resolutions, when properly interpreted, left the door open for such review, which was required by Article 6 of the Convention. However, that review would be relatively minimal, ensuring that the listing of the person in question was not arbitrary. In so doing, the Court avoided (yet again!) ruling on whether Article 103 of the Charter is capable of displacing the Convention in the first place, in case there is a genuine norm conflict. Here are the key paragraphs of the Court’s reasoning:

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