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The Downing of MH17 and the Potential Involvement of International Courts

Published on July 22, 2014        Author: 

I do not at all want to trivialize the human tragedy that is the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine last week, nor for that matter the parallel unfolding tragedies on the ground in Ukraine and in Israel and Gaza, by engaging in some premature lawyerly analysis. But, in reading on the unfolding story of the aircraft’s demise, I nonetheless couldn’t help but think how that story is very likely to find its epilogue in an international courtroom. The facts of MH17′s destruction are obviously far from clear, and are not going to become much clearer in the near future, but the number of possible scenarios is limited – the aircraft was (most likely) destroyed by Ukrainian rebels with Russian-supplied weapons, or (less likely) by either Ukranian or Russian state agents (who may have acted ultra vires). And not only did the downing of MH17 deepen a major existing international crisis, but it directly affected a number of states other than Ukraine and Russia, such as Malaysia and the Netherlands, not to mention the families of the victims themselves. This raises both the incentives and the opportunities for international litigation, in addition to whatever proceedings may ensue before domestic courts or international fact-finding missions.

Consider, first, the possibility that a case or cases regarding MH17 might end up before the European Court of Human Rights. Both Russia and Ukraine are of course parties to the ECHR, and readers will recall that one of the first acts of the new government in Kiev in response to the Crimea crisis was to lodge an inter-state application against Russia in Strasbourg, on which the Court ordered provisional measures. It is perfectly possible for the downing of MH17 to be an issue in the existing or a new inter-state case, or indeed one brought by a third state, such as the Netherlands, since the majority of the victims had Dutch nationality. And obviously the families of the victims may also bring individual applications against either Russia or 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.

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From Targeted Sanctions to Targeted Settlements: International Law-Making Through Effective Means

Published on July 22, 2014        Author: 

2014.07.20.MarijaMarija Đorđeska, LL.M., is a Thomas Buergenthal Scholar and an S.J.D. Candidate at the George Washington University Law School, in Washington D.C.

The U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control of the Department of Treasury (OFAC) has again shocked the international financial community with a recent settlement with BNP Paribas, France’s largest financial institution. BNP Paribas was accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran, Sudan, Burma and Cuba from 2005 to 2012. For $8.9 billion in compensation – the priciest settlement to date – OFAC pardoned BNP Paribas and its subsidiaries from their civil liability under U.S. law. (Settlement Agreement [30], see also Enforcement Information for June 30, 2014).

OFAC is aggressively and effectively applying U.S. sanctions law to foreign institutions incorporated and doing business abroad, without taking into consideration foreign domestic legal regimes or international standards. French President François Hollande expressed his disapproval of the penalty imposed on BNP Paribas. The settlement should also cause concern among European and international lawyers, as BNP Paribas is the ninth European financial institution to be sanctioned since 2006 for processing funds for entities subject to U.S. sanctions. By threatening to cut off foreign financial institutions from the U.S. market, OFAC precludes these financial institutions from publicly and transparently arguing their case in legal proceedings (Settlement Agreement [31]). OFAC is establishing a precedent of a new, efficient, and not yet legal method for asserting U.S. laws abroad, bypassing the traditional territoriality principle of jurisdiction.

In the documents that are publicly available, OFAC does not mention any legal grounds on which it claims jurisdiction, leaving it unclear on what basis the U.S. can sanction transactions initiated abroad by foreign entities or the clearing of US dollars outside the U.S. (Factual Statement [34]) or regulate foreign exchange transactions (Settlement Agreement [12, 13]). Because the settlement negotiations were not made public, and BNP Paribas also waived its right to “any possible legal objection,” (Settlement Agreement [31]) the substantive public debate on the issue is necessarily limited.

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OHCHR Publishes Report on Surveillance and Privacy in the Digital Age

Published on July 18, 2014        Author: 

Readers will recall that in its resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age the UN General Assembly had requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report for the next GA session on the various issues raised by mass electronic surveillance and the human right to privacy (see here for our previous coverage). An advance edited version of that report (A/HRC/27/37) is now available here. The report is rich, thoughtful and very much pro-privacy in the surveillance context, albeit not in a blind, fundamentalist way. It reaffirms that the right to privacy, as set out in Article 17 ICCPR or Article 8 ECHR, provides a framework within which the legality of surveillance measures needs to be assessed. While it acknowledges the legitimate governmental interests that surveillance may serve, it finds the existing institutional and legal arrangements in many states wanting and in need of further study and reform. Here are some of the highlights:

- It is important to consider linkages with other possible human rights violations, e.g. the collection of intelligence through surveillance that is later used for an unlawful targeted killing (para. 14).

- Interferences with the privacy of electronic communication cannot be justified by reference to some supposedly voluntary surrender of privacy on the Internet by individual users (para. 18).

- Collection of communications metadata can be just as bad in terms of privacy interference as the collection of the content of the communication (para. 19).

- Because of the chilling effect of surveillance: ‘The very existence of a mass surveillance programme thus creates an interference with privacy.’ (para. 20).

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Two Articles on the Relationship between IHL and IHRL

Published on July 14, 2014        Author: 

Readers interested in my four scenarios on the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law who want to know how I would decide them, as well as those who’ve read coverage of the Serdar Mohammed v. MoD judgment, might also be interested in two companion articles I recently posted on SSRN. The first is called Extraterritorial Derogations from Human Rights Treaties in Armed Conflict. In a nutshell it argues that states can and should resort to derogations from human rights treaties in extraterritorial situations, for example that the UK could have derogated (but chose not to) from the ECHR with respect to situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second piece is entitled The Lost Origins of Lex Specialis: Rethinking the Relationship between Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law and it mainly deals with the genesis of the lex specialis principle and analyses the three different conceptions thereof. The abstracts are below the fold, and comments are as always welcome.

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Four Scenarios on the Relationship between IHL and IHRL

Published on July 9, 2014        Author: 

The issue of the relationship between international humanitarian law and international human rights law is often mixed together with other difficult questions of international law. This is not very conducive to conceptual clarity. One way of advancing that clarity is to construct hypotheticals which isolate as many of the various issues as possible, so that we can through a thought experiment better appreciate both how they operate individually and how they interact with one another, and move through them carefully, step by step, while resisting the temptation of introducing further complicating considerations.

In this post I’ll present four such (not so) hypothetical scenarios. These are the quintessential hard cases: they all deal at least with an apparent conflict between IHRL and IHL with regard to the use of lethal force and preventive security detention without judicial review. This is not to dispute that in the vast majority of other situations IHRL and IHL would be complementary. My reason for focusing on the hard cases is that they allow us to address more clearly conceptual questions such as the nature and utility of the lex specialis principle.

Scenario 1: NIAC

State A is a party to both the ICCPR and the ECHR. A non-international armed conflict is taking place on its territory, between the state’s forces and those of a non-state actor, B, an organized armed group. The constituent elements of the NIAC threshold are met beyond any doubt. In an operation during the dead of night, A’s forces kill a dozen of B’s fighters sleeping in a barracks (e.g. by shelling it from a distance), presumably doing so in complete accordance with the applicable IHL rules on targeting. From the facts on the ground, however, it was clear that A’s forces were perfectly capable of capturing B’s fighters had they wanted to do so, with little or no risk to A’s own soldiers. Indeed, B’s fighters sleeping in an adjacent barracks were captured and detained by A as threats to state security for the duration of the NIAC, without criminal charge, and without any judicial review of the legality of the detention.

Questions:

1)     Do the ICCPR and the ECHR apply in principle to the killing and detention of B’s fighters, i.e. did these individuals have human rights vis-à-vis A? Assuming that the answer to this question is yes:

2)     Was the killing of B’s fighters lawful under Article 6 ICCPR? Why or why not?

3)     Was the killing of B’s fighters lawful under Article 2 ECHR? Why or why not?

4)     Was the detention of B’s fighters lawful under Article 9 ICCPR? Why or why not?

5)     Was the detention of B’s fighters lawful under Article 5 ECHR? Why or why not?

6)     Would a derogation under either treaty be permissible, and if so would the prior existence of a derogation have any impact on the analysis under questions 2-5?

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S.A.S. v France: Living Together or Increased Social Division?

Published on July 7, 2014        Author: 

On 1 July, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has delivered, in a public hearing, its judgment in the case of S.A.S. v France. This case is a challenge of the French legislation prohibiting the wearing of face-covering clothing in all public spaces. In a post on this blog, Stephanie Berry discusses the case and points out a number of positive developments, including the balanced and well-reasoned nature of the judgment, the rejection of the gender equality and human dignity arguments for the burqaban, as she refers to the French law, and the consideration that this ban was not necessary for public safety in the absence of concrete evidence. However, Berry criticises the ECtHR for accepting that the ban pursues the legitimate aim of ‘living together’ under the ‘protection of the rights and freedoms of others’. Berry points out that this concept pursues a distinctly assimilationist agenda. I agree with Berry that this is a worrying development. In this post, I examine this concept of ‘living together’ in more detail and explain why this is such a worrying development. I will not discuss other aspects of the judgment.

First of all, what does this concept mean? The ECtHR mentions that the ‘Report on the wearing of the full-face veil on national territory’ criticises the wearing of the full-face veil as ‘a practice at odds with the values of the Republic’ and as ‘a denial of fraternity, constituting a negation of contact with others and a flagrant infringement of the French principle of living together’ (para. 17). It also refers to the explanatory memorandum to the relevant law, which states that ‘the wearing of the full veil is the sectarian manifestation of a rejection of the values of the Republic’; that ‘the voluntary and systematic concealment of the face is problematic because it is quite simply incompatible with the fundamental requirements of “living together” in French society’; and, that it ‘falls short of the minimum requirement of civility necessary for social interaction’ (para. 25). The French Government stated that one of the aims of the law was the observance of the minimum requirements of life in society because the face plays a significant role in human interaction, and the effect of concealing one’s face in public places is to break the social tie and to manifest a refusal of the principle of ‘living together’ (para 82, and for a similar argument from the Belgian government: para. 87).

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SAS v France: Does Anything Remain of the Right to Manifest Religion?

Published on July 2, 2014        Author: 

Niqab23The finding by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in SAS v France that the so-called ‘French burqa ban’ did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) will not surprise many in the field of human rights. However, the judgment itself contains a number of developments and departures from the Court’s previous jurisprudence that warrant further consideration. In particular, the conclusion that the right to manifest religion may be restricted on the ground of ‘living together’ presents a worrying development, if this right is to have any practical meaning. (photo credit)

In SAS v France, the applicant challenged the French Loi no 2010–1192 interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public of 11 October 2010, JO 12 October 2010 (herein after the ‘burqa ban’), which prohibits the covering of the face in public. The case differs from previous cases concerning the right of Muslim women to manifest religion by wearing religious attire, as the law imposed a blanket ban which extended to the social sphere. The applicant argued that by preventing her from wearing the burqa the ban violated her rights under articles 3, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 14 ECHR. The ECtHR completely dismissed her claims under articles 3, 10 and 11 ECHR, and focused its attention on articles 8, 9 and 14 ECHR, with a notable emphasis on article 9, the right to freedom of religion or belief.

The ECtHR’s judgment in SAS v France, for the most part, is balanced, well-reasoned and provides a thorough consideration of the French government’s justifications for the restriction of the applicant’s right to manifest her religion: public safety and ‘respect for the minimum set of values of an open and democratic society’. The latter category comprises three separate elements: gender equality, human dignity and ‘respect for the minimum requirements of life in society’ or ‘living together’. Whilst public safety is found within articles 8(2) and 9(2) ECHR, as noted by the ECtHR,  ‘respect for the minimum set of values of an open and democratic society’ does not correspond with any of the permissible limitations on article 8 and 9 ECHR (paras 116-7). Consequently, the ECtHR interpreted this justification as falling with the broad ‘protection of the rights and freedoms of others’ (para 117).

While the ECtHR established that the ‘burqa ban’ was prescribed by law (para 112), it did not accept that the ban pursued the ‘legitimate aims’ of gender equality and human dignity (paras 119-120). Specifically, in the context of gender equality, the ECtHR took ‘the view, … that a State Party cannot invoke gender equality in order to ban a practice that is defended by women – such as the applicant – in the context of the exercise of the rights enshrined in those provisions’ (para 119). This marks a significant departure from the ECtHR’s jurisprudence in the hijab cases. InDahlab v Switzerlandthe ECtHR had held that the hijab ‘appears to be imposed on women by a precept which is laid down in the Koran and which … is hard to square with the principle of gender equality’ . However, this approach was the subject of criticism, most notably by Judge Tulkens in her dissenting opinion in Leyla Şahın v Turkey:

It is not the Court’s role to make an appraisal of this type – in this instance a unilateral and negative one – of a religion or religious practice, just as it is not its role to determine in a general and abstract way the signification of wearing the headscarf or to impose its viewpoint on the applicant. (para 12)

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Eroding Religious Freedom Step by Step: France and the Baby Loup Case

Published on July 1, 2014        Author: 

cour de cassationLast Wednesday, the French Cour de Cassation (pictured left), in the Baby Loup case, permitted yet another restriction to be placed on the right to manifest religion in France.  The applicant had been fired from her job at Baby Loup, a private crèche and nursery, for violating the organisation’s rules of procedure. By wearing the hijab, the applicant purportedly breached the rule that

the principle of freedom of conscience and of religion of each staff member may not impede respect for the principles of laïcité [secularism] and neutrality that apply in the exercise of developmental activities, either on the premises of the crèche or during outside activities in which staff accompany children enrolled in the crèche.

The applicant will now take the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The decision of the Cour de Cassation in Baby Loup is made all the more significant by the pending judgment in SAS v France, due to be handed down by the ECtHR today. Will the ECtHR continue to permit the creeping erosion of the right to manifest religion (article 9 European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR)) by deferring to the State’s margin of appreciation?

The decision of the Cour de Cassation was based on Articles L. 1121-1 and L. 1321-3 of France’s Labour Code, which require any restrictions on an employee’s freedom of religion to be proportionate and justified by the nature of the employment. The Courtfound that the private nursery could not justify the restriction of the freedom of religion of the employee by direct reference to the principle of laïcité, as the principle applies only to public bodies. Nonetheless, it was willing to accept that the adoption of the principle of laïcité in the organisation’s rules of procedure was designed to protect children and to promote gender equality, rather than promoting and defending laïcité as a religious, political or philosophical belief. Consequently, the Cour de Cassation found that the restriction on the applicant’s freedom of religion was permissible.

The ECtHR is also likely to consider whether the freedom of religion of the applicant in Baby Loup can be justified by either the principle of secularism or ‘the rights and freedoms of others’ (article 9(2) ECHR). The recent cases of Ahmet Arslan and others v Turkey and Eweida and others v United Kingdom are directly relevantas previous ECtHR cases addressing the restriction of the right to manifest religion in the private sphere.

Ahmet Arslan concerned the arrest of members of the Aczimendi tankaı religious community for wearing religious clothing in public. The ECtHR found that the restrictions placed on the community by the authorities could not be justified by reference to the principle of secularism as the applicants were not State officials (para 48) and were not wearing religious clothing in a State institution such as a State school (para 49). Thus, Ahmet Arslan limits the circumstances in which States may justify the restriction of freedom of religion on the grounds of the principle of secularism to public officials and institutions. Consequently, it seems unlikely that France will be able to rely on the principle of laïcité in the Baby Loup case, as the nursery was a private organisation. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Marshall Islands’ Case against India’s Nuclear Weapons Program at the ICJ

Published on June 27, 2014        Author: 

ShashankShashank P. Kumar is a Dispute Settlement Lawyer at the Appellate Body Secretariat of the WTO in Geneva and a visiting lecturer of international law at National Law University, Jodhpur, India.

Earlier this year, on 24 April, the Republic of the Marshall Islands filed an application against India and eight other States at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), claiming that these States, known or presumed to possess nuclear weapons, have failed to fulfil their obligations under international law with respect to nuclear disarmament and the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date. In its application against India, the Marshall Islands accused it of not engaging in negotiations to cease the nuclear arms race, highlighting that India, instead, continues to expand and improve its nuclear arsenal. By an Order dated 16 June 2014 the Court noted India’s objection to its jurisdiction, as well as its refusal to participate in procedural meetings, and decided that the jurisdictional questions must be separately determined before proceeding to the merits. This post explores the basis of the Court’s jurisdiction over the Marshall Islands’ application against India. One reservation to India’s optional clause declaration excluding disputes concerning actions taken in “self-defence” suggests that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the case.

The Marshall Islands relies on different grounds to establish the Court’s jurisdiction in its nine applications. In its applications against India, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan, it invokes these States’ declarations accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction. In its applications against the United States, China, France, Russia, Israel and North Korea – none of whom have made declarations accepting the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction – it calls upon these States to accept the Court’s jurisdiction under the doctrine of forum prorogatum. The application against India is unique because, while India has accepted the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction, unlike the UK and Pakistan, India made a reservation to its Declaration that may exclude the Court’s jurisdiction over the Marshall Islands’ Application.

The Limits of India’s Recognition of ICJ Jurisdiction

On 18 September 1974, Swaran Singh, the then Indian Minister of External Affairs, made a declaration, on India’s behalf, which recognizes “as compulsory ipso facto and without special agreement … the jurisdiction of the [ICJ] over all disputes”. This blanket acceptance is qualified by a long list of reservations that excludes several categories of disputes from the scope of India’s consent. One broad class of disputes that is excluded are “disputes relating to or connected with facts or situations of hostilities, armed conflicts, individual or collective actions taken in self-defence, resistance to aggression, … and other similar or related acts, measures or situations in which India is, has been or may in future be involved”. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Legality of Turkey’s Possible Self-Defence Action against ISIS: A Response to Ashley Deeks

Published on June 25, 2014        Author: 

SinaSina Etezazian is a PhD Candidate at Monash Law School.

In a recent blog post at Lawfare, Professor Ashley Deeks analyses the manner in which Turkey may lawfully protect the Turks taken hostage by the jihadist group ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).  She contends that ‘if the Maliki government loses total control of the country, Turkey almost certainly would be legally justified in using force in Iraq to rescue its nationals’ in accordance with Article 51 of the UN Charter.  She also takes the view that the forcible protection of citizens abroad may be equated with permissible self-defence when:

(1) the nationals in question face imminent threat of (or have suffered actual) injury;

(2) the host state is unwilling or unable to protect or rescue them; and

(3) the action of the intervening state clearly is limited to the goal of rescuing its nationals – that is, it is not engaging in pretextual intervention.

However, Deeks is on shaky legal ground concerning the ‘unwilling or unable’ and ‘last resort’ requirements. I do not aim here to consider the legal status of the protection of nationals abroad; I have discussed it elsewhere  (and it has also been addressed in length on this and other blogs and forums since the Russian intervention in Crimea). Instead, I want to explore a distinction that can be drawn between forcible responses to territorial and non-territorial attacks with respect to the ‘unwilling or unable’ and ‘last resort’ tests, clarifying why – contrary to what Deeks asserts – Turkey might not be allowed to undertake unilateral forcible measures to protect its nationals in Iraq on the basis of the right of self-defence.

The ‘Unwilling or Unable’ Test and a Distinction between Responses to Territorial and Extraterritorial Attacks

The point that Deeks makes regarding the ‘unwilling or unable’ test can hardly be said to reflect existing law, as it is founded on the claim that ‘unwilling or unable’ extends to the protection of nationals abroad, which is itself a very controversial issue in modern jus ad bellum. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that ‘unwilling or unable’ qualifies as a new norm of customary international law that allows for the exercise of the right of self-defence against non-state actors when the host state is unwilling or unable to prevent its territory being used as a base for launching attacks against the victim state’s soil. Even allowing that position, it is extremely unlikely that its scope has been so widened as to include the military rescue of nationals threatened extraterritorially.

It is true that the ‘unwilling or unable’ test has attracted some level of support from the international community since 9/11, especially when the attack has been directed against the territory of the victim state (as was apparent from states’ reaction to the September 11 attacks). Nonetheless, the most recent trend in state practice clearly demonstrates that the argument for ‘unwilling or unable’ would be uncertain at best in scenarios where Article 51 has been invoked to rescue nationals allegedly at risk outside their territory. Read the rest of this entry…

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