Breaking news: today the English Court of Appeal unanimously affirmed Leggatt J’s judgment in Serdar Mohammed v. MoD, finding that IHL does not contain authority to detain in non-international armed conflicts. Full (and very lengthy) judgment available here; our earlier coverage is here. Happy to report that some of our earlier posts (three I think) were cited by the Court. Obviously I haven’t yet read all of the decision, but we will have plenty of commentary in the days to follow. I imagine an appeal to the Supreme Court is virtually inevitable.
Living Instruments, Judicial Impotence, and the Trajectories of Gay Rights in Europe and in the United States
Evolutionary or dynamic interpretation is one of those perennial ‘big’ topics, which we e.g. recently dealt with in our book discussion on Eirik Bjorge’s recent work on the topic. Judicial pronouncements on LGBT rights are an excellent example of this phenomenon (for some of my earlier thoughts on this, see here). In particular, on 26 June the US Supreme Court rendered its blockbuster ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, in which it held (per Justice Kennedy, and by 5 votes to 4) that the US Constitution requires full marriage equality between same-sex and different-sex couples. On reading this judgment, as well as some of the recent cases on similar questions before the European Court of Human Rights, I was struck by several points on the practical realities of dynamic interpretation that I’d like to raise in this post.
First, it really is striking that despite the many differences in the text of the relevant instruments, their history, the institutional make-up or legal culture generally, US and European courts both look at gay rights generally (or the issue of gay marriage specifically) through the same analytical lenses: on the one hand there’s private life, family life or individual liberty (or in US parlance substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution); on the other hand, there’s equality or non-discrimination. And while there are many differences in the concrete legal tests being applied (e.g. proportionality in Europe, tiered levels of scrutiny in the US), there are many conceptual similarities as well.
Second, in both Europe and in the US most gay rights cases, whether under privacy/liberty or under equality, boil down to one basic, fundamental problem: if a right or legitimate interest is interfered with or restricted by the state (e.g. gays are denied the right to marry), what is the justification offered by the state for that restriction, and how then should a court assess that justification. In particular, can such a restriction ever be justified by reference to public morals, or tradition, or disapproval of a particular group or behaviour alone, absent any objectively identifiable, concrete individual or societal harm. One reason why Obergefell came out the way it did was that the opponents of gay marriage were simply unable to articulate any concrete harm to anyone; each argument they tried to make of that type was easily disprovable (e.g. if marriage is inextricably tied to procreation, why then do we allow infertile couples to get married, etc. – for an example of pretty brutal judicial questioning along these lines, one need only listen to this oral argument before Judge Richard Posner, and read this judgment.)
In other words, the big question is whether it would ever be legitimate to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples simply because ‘we’ (say the majority in a popularly elected parliament) believe that same-sex couples are icky and yucky. Is a feeling or sentiment of yuckiness (or sinfulness, turpitude, taboo, whatever) enough to deny people legal rights? Many lawyers would stop here and simply say that such irrational considerations cannot form the basis for running a legal system. But wait – in the European Convention (unlike in the US Bill of Rights) we actually have explicit references to the protection of morals in the limitation clauses of several articles, including Article 8. And in fact the Court has said, for example, that it’s fine to keep a person in prison simply because that person chooses to walk in public without wearing any clothes, even though he causes no concrete harm to others in so doing – remember that naked rambler dude? He’s still naked, and still in prison (9 years on! – see here and here for very recent developments). And if yuckiness alone does not suffice, what then of polygamy or consensual adult incest and the like (and we do have cases like that), or some other parade of horribles?
In the great catalogue of human misery, the July 1995 Srebrenica genocide merits a special mention. But as horrible as the slaughter of more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys was – unquestionably the worst crime of the whole brutal Bosnian conflict – the repeated, ongoing and unrelenting denial of the crime is if not worse, then at least as depressing. Today, twenty years on, that revisionist denial is strongest where it matters – in Republika Srpska and in Serbia – and its strength demonstrates the continued, long-term inability of these communities to come to terms with the past.
The denial is manifold, in forms both hard and soft. It ranges from a complete rejection that any crime took place, to disputing the number of victims or who the victims were, to emphasizing crimes against Serbs around Srebrenica or inflating the numbers of Serbs killed, to disputing the characterization of the crime as genocide as if that makes some actual moral difference. And, it needs to be said, that denial is virtually unaffected by whatever the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia or the International Court of Justice said on the matter.
To demonstrate the scale of denial in cold, hard numbers, it suffices to take a look at a February 2012 survey of public opinion in Bosnia, sponsored by the Belgrade Centre for Human Rights and the OSCE and conducted by Ipsos Strategic Marketing (detailed results on file with me). The survey found that of the (mostly Serb) population of the Republika Srpska only 59.2% say that they even heard of a massacre in Srebrenica, while only 34.8% of the people who say that they’ve heard of the crime believe that it actually happened. Thus, of the whole RS population 40.8% say they’ve never even heard of any massacre in Srebrenica, 38.6% say that they’ve heard of it but that it never happened, and only 20.6% believe it did. That, dear readers, is what ‘truth and reconciliation’ in today’s Bosnia look like.
Last week I wrote about one particular aspect of the recent Grand Chamber judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in two cases dealing with the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Chiragov and Others v. Armenia, no. 13216/05 and Sargsyan v. Azerbaijan, no. 40167/06, namely the Court’s conclusion that belligerent occupation necessarily requires troops on the ground. I also promised a more comprehensive look at the two (very important) judgments, and here it is. The two cases concerned the aftermath in the conflict, in the sense that they dealt with the right of persons displaced by the conflict to access their property (under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the Convention), rather than with the conflict itself, which was outside the Court’s temporal jurisdiction. That said, there are numerous noteworthy aspects of these two judgments.
First, there is the cases’ basic structure. Both cases were brought by individuals, but there are more than a thousand other applications pending before the Court with essentially the same issues. While these are formally not pilot judgments in the sense the Court uses the term, they are in fact test cases on the basis of which the Court is set to resolve all of the other pending cases, unless the parties choose to settle them first. And while the cases were brought by individuals, they have a strong interstate dimension, not only because of their politically controversial subject-matter, but because Armenia and Azerbaijan both intervened as third parties in the case in which the other state was the respondent (i.e. Armenia intervened in Sargasyan and Azerbaijan in Chiragov). These were, if you will, interstate cases by proxy.
Yesterday the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights delivered judgments in two blockbuster cases regarding the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan: Chiragov and Others v. Armenia and Sargsyan v. Azerbaijan. These are very rich judgments raising many important issues, and I will be writing up more detailed comments shortly. But I first had to share one particular little nugget: the Court has (implicitly!) decided that Israel is not the occupying power in Gaza. How so, you ask?
This week we will be discussing Steven Ratner’s recent book with OUP, The Thin Justice of International Law: A Moral Reckoning of the Law of Nations. We will be running this discussion in tandem with the blog of Ethics & International Affairs, the journal of the Carnegie Council, who will be having their own discussants – be sure to visit!
Steve is a leading international law academic; he is currently the Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School. His book will be discussed over the course of the week by Anne Peters, Rob Howse, Jean d’Aspremont and Frédéric Mégret, who will be joined over at EIA by Kristen Hessler and David Lefkowitz. Steve will start off the discussion with an introduction, and wrap it up with a response to all of the discussants. We are grateful to all of them for their participation.
A couple of days ago the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention adopted an important document, the “Basic Principles and Guidelines on Remedies and Procedures on the Right of Anyone Deprived of His or Her Liberty by Arrest or Detention to Bring Proceedings Before Court,” and submitted the text to the Human Rights Council. The document was developed by the WG at the Council’s request. The project is meant to guide Member States on principles on the judicial review of the lawfulness of detention. The drafting process was completed after extensive consultations with states and other stakeholders. A press release is available here, the full text of the Guidelines and Principle is here, while the submissions by interested states and other actors are here.
ESIL Annual Conference 2015, Oslo – Registration: early bird fees applicable until 30 April 2015
The 11th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law (Oslo, September 10-12, 2015) will be hosted by the University of Oslo’s PluriCourts Center on the Legitimate Roles on the Judiciary in the Global Order.
The conference is entitled “The Judicialization of International Law – A Mixed Blessing ?”. The conference will address the international law aspects of the increased judicialization from an interdisciplinary perspective. The conference will feature plenary sessions, fora with invited speakers, and a number of agorae with selected speakers. Invited speakers include current and former judges of various international courts, as well as legal practitioners and scholars of several disciplines.
Early bird registration fees are applicable until 30 April 2015. Please visit the conference website for more information.
I’m happy to report that OUP have now published a collection of essays edited by Sir Michael Wood and myself on The Law and Politics of the Kosovo Advisory Opinion. Michael and I are especially happy with the cover, which is gloomy in a very nice way. Our intro to the book is available here, while a smattering of draft chapters is also freely available on SSRN.
Here are the blurb and the ToC:
This volume is an edited collection of essays on various aspects of the 2010 Kosovo Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice. The main theme of the book is the interplay between law and politics regarding Kosovo’s independence generally and the advisory opinion specifically. How and why did the Court become the battleground in which Kosovo’s independence was to be fought out (or not)? How and why did political arguments in favour of Kosovo’s independence (e.g. that Kosovo was a unique, sui generis case which set no precedent for other secessionist territories) change in the formal, legal setting of advisory proceedings before the Court? How and why did states supporting either Kosovo or Serbia choose to frame their arguments? How did the Court perceive them? What did the Court want to achieve, and did it succeed in doing so? And how was the opinion received, and what broader implications did it have so far? These are the questions that the book hopes to shed some light on. To do so, the editors assembled a stellar cast of contributors, many of whom acted as counsel or advisors in the case, as well a number of eminent scholars of politics and international relations whose pieces further enrich the book and give it an interdisciplinary angle. The book thus tells the story of the case, places it within its broader political context, and so attempts to advance our understanding of how such cases are initiated, litigated and decided, and what broader purposes they may or may not serve.
Eirik Bjorge has written an excellent critique of the Policy Exchange report Clearing the Fog of Law: Saving Our Armed Forces from Defeat by Judicial Diktat, by Richard Ekins, Jonathan Morgan, and Tom Tugendhat. I now write only to add a few additional (and apologetically undiplomatic) comments which I think the report warrants. I do so not because it may be substantively wrong in its conclusions and prescriptions, although some of these may be subject to reasonable disagreement. In fact, when it comes to one of the report’s main recommendations, that the UK (and other states parties) should derogate from the ECHR in (extraterritorial) situations of armed conflict, I at least am on the record as arguing that extraterritorial derogations are both permissible and that they can be a good idea.
My problem with the report is hence not with (some of) its conclusions, but with the quality of its analysis, leading to the misdiagnosis of the chief ailment that it identifies – allegedly extravagant judicial overreach. I have to say, regretfully, that the report’s analysis is crude and unsophisticated. It is in fact so crude and unsophisticated that it does a disservice to the overarching position it advances. The report is moreover manifestly clouded by the politics of its authors. Not that there is anything necessarily wrong, mind you, with the report of a right-of-centre (or left-of-centre, or whatever) think-tank demonstrating a distinct political bent. The problem here is rather that the authors allow their political predilections to solidify into a type of confirmation bias that all too easily leads to errors in judgment, argument, and method. Let me explain how and why.