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Home Archive for category "EJIL Analysis"

Sense and Nonsense of Territorial Referendums in Ukraine, and Why the 16 March Referendum in Crimea Does Not Justify Crimea’s Alteration of Territorial Status under International Law

Published on April 16, 2014        Author: 

Referendum in Crimea

Yesterday, on 15 April 2014, Ukrainian interim president Turtschinov considered to hold, simultaneously with the presidential elections, a referendum in regional competences in Ukraine. On 8 April 2014, separatists in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk proclaimed that they would hold a referendum on the independence of that Eastern region of Ukraine. Some days before, representatives of the Crimean Tatars announced that they sought to hold a referendum on their political autonomy within Crimea.

On 16 March 2014, the population of Crimea had overwhelmingly voted in favour of joining the Russian Federation. The population was asked to choose between the following alternative: “1) Are you in favour of Crimea joining the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation?” or “2) Are you in favour of re-establishing the 1992 constitution of the Republic of Crimea and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine?” The maintenance of the territorial and status quo was not given as an option in that referendum, and no international observers were admitted. With a voter turnout of 83.1 %, 93 % answered with a “Yes” to the second question, and thus pronounced themselves in favour of joining the Russian Federation.

The spokespersons of the Tatars now declare that their ethnic group had boycotted the referendum of 16 March, and assert that the majority of Tatars would have preferred to stay within Ukraine. Tatars currently form about 10 percent of the Crimean population. Probably hundreds of thousands of Tatars were killed, starved, and were deported from the 1920s to the 1940s under Soviet policy. The new government of Crimea rejects the idea of a politically autonomous territory for the Crimean Tatars but holds that the Tatars can only claim “cultural autonomy”.

The 16 March referendum, and announced further territorial referendums in Ukraine, place in the limelight the problématique of this legal institution. Are not the outcomes of referendums in ethnically mixed units most often ethnically pre-determined? And does not the resort to a referendum lead to ever smaller subgroups which again seek to detach themselves from a larger one? After all, the Ukrainian people, including the Crimean population, had some 20 years ago voted in favour of independence from the Soviet Union. (See on the 1991 referendum in Ukraine Anne Peters, Das Gebietsreferendum im Völkerrecht (Baden-Baden: Nomos 1995), 184-88; specifically on previous Crimean referendums ibid., 190-91, 211-15). That Ukrainian referendum of 1 December 1991 had been at the time widely appreciated as having rung the death knell for the dissolution of the USSR one week later, when the Agreement Establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States of Minsk of 8 December 1991 declared that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. But even before that date, and later, Crimean politicians had several times (in 1991, 1992, 1994, and so on) planned and sometimes held “polls” on a special status of Crimea.

This post postulates that, as a matter of international customary law, and as a matter of legal consistency and fairness, a free territorial referendum is emerging as a procedural conditio sine qua for any territorial re-apportionment. However, the 16 March referendum was not free and fair, and could not form a basis for the alteration of Crimea’s territorial status. Read the rest of this entry…

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Customary International Law as a Dance Floor: Part II

Published on April 15, 2014        Author: 

The first part of this blog post commended the self-restraint of the ILC Special Rapporteur on the identification of customary international law. It simultaneously argued that the work of the ILC, somewhat paradoxically, laid bare a formidable emancipatory fervour at play outside the Palais des Nations. It is as if the intellectual prison of custom was gradually being turned into a large dance floor where (almost) everything goes. The following observations substantiate that claim and shed light on some of the consequences of this ongoing revelling.

Hunting (and finding) practice everywhere

It has long been accepted that the myth of induction in the theory of customary international law was more difficult to uphold in relation to opinio juris. This is why the subjective element has always been the object of the most severe criticisms or reservations. Yet, international legal scholars have started to realise that the myth of induction is not less difficult to vindicate in connection to the objective element, i.e. practice. As the Nicaragua decision famously taught us, how can one possibly ascertain the unascertainable, that is an intangible practice of abstention? Since the great majority of rules of international law are of a prohibitive character, the establishment of customary international law very often requires a speculative venture into nothingness. Confronted with this overdue realisation that practice – especially with respect to prohibitive rules – was not more easily captured inductively than opinio juris, international lawyers have been forced to resort to all new sorts of nets and traps to hunt and capture practice where there was none.

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Customary International Law as a Dance Floor: Part I

Published on April 14, 2014        Author: 

International lawyers’ thirst for argumentative freedom seems unquenchable. Nowhere is this more conspicuous than in the debate unfolding around the current work of the International Law Commission (hereafter ILC) on the identification of customary international law. Indeed, whilst the ILC has espoused a rather self-restrained approach so far, its study on the identification of customary international law has laid bare the prodigious emancipatory fervour at work outside the Palais des Nations. Particularly remarkable is the widespread presupposition that, in order to allow customary international law to serve the various agendas of ambitious 21st century international lawyers, one can simply toss out some of the elementary constraints around which the 20th century modern theory of customary international law had been shaped.

As this short note will argue, the emancipation from the traditional theory of customary international law at play in international legal scholarship, and unveiled by the current work of the ILC, is perplexing. This is certainly not because the traditional and modern theory of customary law should be redeemed. The inconsistency and deceitfulness of customary international law have long been proven. It is even astounding that such a frail gospel has been able to survive for so long. What is perplexing is that international lawyers may currently be replacing the duplicitous prison of customary international law with a dance floor where (almost) anything goes while still believing that this uncomplicated discourse-production technique can serve all their – sometimes extravagant – ambitions. It is contended in the following observations that this argumentative freedom is not only bound to be short-lived but may also end up depriving international lawyers of what has so far been a surprisingly useful discursive technique to create authority and make demands of the world.

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The ILC’s Clever Compromise on the Validity of Reservations to Treaties: A Rejoinder to Marko Milanovic and Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos

Published on April 11, 2014        Author: 

In ‘The ILC’s Clever Compromise on the Validity of Reservations to Treaties’, Marko Milanovic and Linos-Alexandre Sicilianos say the ILC Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties strikes a clever compromise by holding on to a general regime on reservations to treaties and, at the same time, making human rights lawyers happy.  They also characterise the ILC Guide as a ‘Vienna Plus’ regime – indicating that the ILC Guidelines go beyond the rules of the VCTL and, in many respects, adapt the VCTL to present day conditions.

We agree that the new regime proposed is indeed a ‘Vienna-plus regime’. We also agree that the ILC special rapporteur on reservations, Alain Pellet, changed his views on objections to reservations within the context of international human rights law between when the study started in 1993 (Report of the ILC on the work of its forty-fifth session, para. 430) and ended in 2011 (Report of the ILC, sixty-third session). We, however, wish to highlight one point of reminder and one point of query with regard to the clever compromise.

First, the solution offered by the ILC report suggesting that an objective validity test under Article 19 comes prior to the subjective objections of states under Article 20 was originally proposed by the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities in 1999, pursuant to the Sub-Commission decision 1998/113 entitled “Reservations to human rights treaties”. Second, the ILC report goes further than current UN human rights law practice when it comes to the assessments of the human rights treaty bodies with regard to the invalidity of reservations. It takes a more radical step than current practice.

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The Use of ‘Do it Yourself’ Barrel Bombs under International Law

Published on April 10, 2014        Author: 

Among the continuing horrors reported from Syria, it is the use of certain weapons that time and again makes the headlines. While the use of chemical weapons led to an important response from the international community, in recent months attacks with so called ‘barrel bombs’ triggered an international echo. In its latest resolution on Syria the UN Security Council demanded all parties to cease ‘the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas, including shelling and aerial bombardment, such as the use of barrel bombs’. UN Secretary General Ban called these weapons ‘horrendous’, France found that these weapons ‘sought to indiscriminately kill people’, and for the UK the use of these weapons against civilian areas constitutes ‘yet another war crime’ by the Assad regime. Different human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch or the Syrian Network for Human Rights, report that the use of barrel bombs has caused high numbers of dead, the vast majority of which are civilians. There is no question that war crimes are committed in Syria, especially by the Assad regime. It is, however, less clear to what extent international law prohibits the use of barrel bombs in non-international armed conflicts, and whether their use constitutes a war crime.

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Evidence in Environmental/Scientific Exceptions: Some Contrasts between the WTO Panel Report in China-Rare Earths and the ICJ Judgment in Whaling in the Antarctic

Published on April 7, 2014        Author: 

Rare earths imageTwo significant international decisions involving environmental protection claims were issued within the last few days of March 2014.  On 26 March 2014, a World Trade Organization (WTO) Panel issued its Report in China-Measures Related to the Exportation of Rare Earths, Tungsten, and Molybdenum (hereafter, China-Rare Earths), which held, among others, that “China may not seek to justify the export duties it applies to various forms of rare earths, tungsten, and molybdenum [pictured above left, credit] pursuant to Article XX(b) [exception for measures "necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health"] of the GATT 1994.” (Panel Report, para. 8.11b)  On 31 March 2014, the International Court of Justice issued its Judgment in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening) (hereafter, the Whaling case) where the Court held, among others, that “the special permits granted by Japan in connection with JARPA II [Japanese Whale Research Programme under Special Permit in the Antarctic Phase II] do not fall within the provisions of Article VIII, paragraph 1 [, of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling." [Judgment, para. 247(2)].  In China-Rare Earths, China sought to justify export duties that facially violated Paragraph 11.3 of China’s Accession Protocol to the WTO, by essentially alleging that these duties were justifiable as measures “necessary to protect human, animal, or plant life or health” within the purview of Article XX(b) of GATT 1994.  In the Whaling case, Japan sought to justify JARPA II as a programme “undertaken for purposes of scientific research and is therefore covered by the exemption provided for in Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the [International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling].” (Judgment, para. 49).  While both decisions contain rich analyses of numerous issues of treaty interpretation, one can also look at significant methodological contrasts between the ICJ and the WTO Panel on the treatment of scientific evidence and assignment of evidentiary burdens for the environmental/scientific issues in each case.

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Yanukovych Confirms He Invited Russian Intervention

Published on April 2, 2014        Author: 

In an interview with AP today, the ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych confirmed that he invited Russian military intervention in Ukraine. Readers will remember the Russian ambassador waiving of a letter to that effect in the Security Council, without actually making the copies of the letter available. I may be wrong, but I think this is the first time Yanukovych actually admitted that he made the invitation (which does not mean, of course, that it was legally valid, or that the invitation, such as it was, extended to the annexation of Ukrainian territory):

Putin said last month that Yanukovych had asked Russia to send its troops to Ukraine to protect its people — a request seen as treason by many Ukrainians. Asked about the move, Yanukovych said he had made a mistake.

“I was wrong,” he said. “I acted on my emotions.”

A mistake, was it? I’m sure there must be some equivalent for ‘no backsies’ in Russian.

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Use of Force
 
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Subsequent Practice in the Whaling Case, and What the ICJ Implies about Treaty Interpretation in International Organizations

Published on March 31, 2014        Author: 

Today the ICJ delivered its long-anticipated judgment in the Whaling Case (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand Intervening), finding Japan’s whaling program in breach of the Whaling Convention on several counts. It is a rich judgment, which will be more fully digested over the next few days.

In this post I want to draw attention to one specific point on the ICJ’s approach to the interpreting the Whaling Convention – specifically the Court’s approach to subsequent agreement and practice in relation to its prior advisory jurisprudence on the interpretation of the U.N. Charter. The relevant aspect of the Whaling Judgment concerns the Court’s assessment of the weight of resolutions issued by the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

The IWC is a supervisory body established by the Whaling Convention. It has the capacity to amend certain provisions of the Convention by three-fourths majority vote (though amendments will not bind any State Party that objects). It can also render non-binding recommendations. The Court indicates at the outset that while such resolutions are non-binding, when “they are adopted by consensus or by a unanimous vote, they may be relevant for the interpretation of the Convention.” (¶46). The Court notes that the Commission has amended the Convention several times, and that “the functions conferred on the Commission have made the Convention an evolving instrument” (¶45). Read the rest of this entry…

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ICJ Decides the Whaling in the Antarctic Case: Australia Wins

Published on March 31, 2014        Author: 

This morning the ICJ delivered its judgment in the case concerning Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening). Australia won on almost all counts, and by 12 votes to 4. The Court’s principal reasoning is that while Japan’s whaling programme involved ‘scientific research,’ a concept that the Court did not want to define with particular precision, it was still not conducted for the purposes of scientific research, and thus violated Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. The Court took a number of factors into account in making this determination, including: decisions regarding the use of lethal methods; the scale of the programme’s use of lethal sampling; the methodology used to select sample sizes; a comparison of the target sample sizes and the actual take; the time frame associated with a programme; the programme’s scientific output; and the degree to which a programme co-ordinates its activities with related research projects. The determination in the Court’s view required an objective standard of review, rather than a deferential one which would take the state’s professed objectives at face value. It thus found that bearing in mind the design of Japan’s programme, its minor scientific output etc,  it was not set up for the purposes of scientific research. In terms of the remedy, the Court ordered Japan to revoke existing whaling permits and refrain from authorizing new ones under the current whaling programme.

The judgment summary is available here, the judgment itself and a number of separate opinions here. We will have more coverage of the case in the week to come.

 

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Crimea and (the Lack of) Continuity in Russian Approaches to International Law

Published on March 28, 2014        Author: 

On 27 March 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling upon states not to recognize changes in status quo of Crimea region. 100 states voted in favor, 11 were against and 58 abstained. In terms of international law, Ukraine’s continued sovereignty over Crimea is supported by the absolute majority of states, even though Crimea is now de facto annexed by the Russian Federation. In this post I want to make two points: one concerning the Russian scholarship on international law and the second on the history of Russia’s treaty practice regarding Crimea.

The first point is that the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation goes against pretty much everything that has been written in Russia over the last twenty years (plus during the Soviet period) on the legality of the use of military force and the right or peoples to self-determination in international law in non-colonial contexts. Suffice it to say that the Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, approved by President Putin on 12 February 2013, emphatically criticizes and condemns the use of military force outside the framework of the UN Charter.

My comment focuses on the Russian scholarship of international law because its most prominent representatives have until now argued that, in international law, the principle of state sovereignty clearly trumps the right of peoples to self-determination. (See e.g. I.I. Lukashuk, Mezhdunarodnoe pravo. Obshaya chast’ (2001), 280, 300; V.I. Kuznetsov, B.R. Tuzmukhamedov (eds) Mezhdunarodnoe pravo, 2nd ed. (2007), 215; G.G. Shinkaretskaya, ‘Polozhenie fakticheski sushestvuyushikh rezhimov (nepriznannykh gosudarstv)’, in: A.G. Lisitsyn-Svetlanov (ed.) Novye vyzovy i mezhdunarodnoe pravo (2010), 168-172; A.Ya. Kapustin (ed.) Mezhdunarodnoe pravo (2008), 105; A.A. Kovalev, S.v. Chernichenko (eds) Mezhdunarodnoe pravo, 3rd ed. (2008), 58.)

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