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Home Archive for category "EJIL Analysis" (Page 2)

What Is An Imminent Armed Attack? A Hopefully Helpful Hypo

Published on January 12, 2017        Author: 

Yesterday we had the privilege to publish the speech by the UK Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC MP, setting out some of the UK Government’s views on the law of self-defence. The speech focused in particular on the criteria for assessing the imminence of an armed attack by a non-state actor, and essentially endorsed some of the principles set out in Daniel Bethlehem’s 2012 AJIL article. Thus, the Attorney stated in particular (following a speech by the US State Department Legal Adviser, Brian Egan, at last year’s ASIL meeting) that:

[Bethlehem’] Principle 8 on imminence, as part of the assessment of necessity, is a helpful encapsulation of the modern law in this area.

Sir Daniel’s proposed list of factors was not exhaustive, but included (at Principle 8), the following:

  • The nature and immediacy of the threat;
  • The probability of an attack;
  • Whether the anticipated attack is part of a concerted pattern of continuing armed activity;
  • The likely scale of the attack and the injury, loss or damage likely to result therefrom in the absence of mitigating action; and
  • The likelihood that there will be other opportunities to undertake effective action in self-defense that may be expected to cause less serious collateral injury, loss or damage.

It is my view, and that of the UK Government, that these are the right factors to consider in asking whether or not an armed attack by non-state actors is imminent and the UK Government follows and endorses that approach.

In each exercise of the use of force in self-defence, the UK asks itself the questions that flow from that articulation. Questions like – how certain is it that an attack will come? How soon do we believe that attack could be? What scale of attack is it likely to be? Could this be our last clear opportunity to take action? And crucially – is there anything else we could credibly do to prevent that attack?

I don’t think the Attorney broke any new ground here, nor do I wish to dispute the accuracy or normative desirability of this analysis. But what struck me most about it is the lack of conceptual clarity, in particular the lack of clear delineation between the concepts of imminence, necessity and proportionality and the legal role that these concepts are playing. (I would highly recommend, in that regard, this piece in the AJIL by Dapo and Thomas Liefländer). For example, what is the work that the idea of imminence does here? Is its main purpose to delineate between permissible anticipatory and prohibited preemptive self-defence, which goes around the Article 51 Charter language ‘if an armed attack occurs‘? Or is imminence an aspect of the broader concept of necessity? And can a word such as imminence encompass non-temporal elements? Conceptual clarity matters because without a common understanding of the words we are using we cannot actually properly debate the soundness or desirability of any given approach. Without it, it is hard to even have a conversation.

So here’s a hypo that I hope might be helpful in this regard. Again, the point of the hypo is not to argue for any particular interpretation of self-defence, whether expansive or restrictive. It is only to help us understand how people use particular words, such as imminence, and for what precise purpose.

Dr. Evil is a very capable terrorist, who has decided to attack the United Kingdom, even though he has never done so before. He manages to get his hands on a mid-range cruise missile with a 150 kt thermonuclear warhead, in perfect working order. He places the missile launching system in a building in a Paris suburb, and uploads a video of himself to YouTube showing him arming a very specific firing mechanism. The missile is aimed at London, and will launch in exactly 30 days; there is no off-switch, code or remote signal that can disarm it. Absent forcible intervention in the causal chain, there is complete certainty that the missile will fire in 30 days and that it will destroy a substantial part of London.

Is this armed attack ‘imminent’ in any legally relevant jus ad bellum sense?

Note that this hypo is specifically designed to eliminate most of the real-world uncertainties about armed attacks – the reliability of the intelligence, the likelihood of the attack, not knowing the exact time, location or scale of the attack. In this hypo, we know everything with absolute certainty. And if you have a problem with the non-state actor nature of the attacker, we can easily turn him into a French state agent. Again, the main point here is that a causal chain has been set in motion which, without some further action, as its certain end has the destruction of London. Does this mean that the attack is ‘imminent’? If so, would it be imminent even if the timer was set to 60 days, 120 days, or 10 years? At what point (if any) is there a switch from an anticipatory to a preemptive scenario? When does imminence end, and necessity begins?

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The Modern Law of Self-Defence

Published on January 11, 2017        Author: 

Text of the speech delivered this evening by United Kingdom’s Attorney-General, the Rt Hon. Jeremy Wright QC MP, at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London on “The Modern Law of Self-Defence”:

Introduction

Thank you to the International Institute for Strategic Studies for hosting us today.

The Institute’s Mission Statement sets out its aim to promote ‘the development of sound policies that further global peace and security, and maintain civilised international relations.’

For my part, I welcome the opportunity to speak to you on an international question which is one of the most serious any government can face – when is it lawful for a state to use force – always a last resort and only where it is necessary.

Today I want to talk specifically about when it is lawful to use force in self-defence – whether of the UK, or of our allies. And I want to set out, in greater detail than the Government has before, how the UK applies the long-standing rules of international law on self-defence to our need to defend ourselves against new and evolving types of threats from non-state actors.

I don’t need to remind this audience that the UK is a world leader in promoting, defending and shaping international law. In the 19th Century as modern international law was being formed, it was the UK (in 1807) that helped outlaw and end the international slave trade and then slavery itself.[1] It was diplomatic correspondence between the United Kingdom and the United States which followed the Caroline Incident of 1837 that defined the parameters of the concept of imminence, as it was understood at that time and to which I will return.[2] It was the UK, with the US, which agreed to international arbitration as a means for the settlement of international disputes in the Jay Treaty of 1795.[3]  Our commitment to defending and shaping international law is undimmed since then. The UK was a founding member of the League of Nations and the United Nations, as well as an original signatory to the Kellogg-Briand Pact[4], Ottawa Treaty[5] and the Rome Statute.[6] And we are one of the biggest contributors of funding to the International Criminal Court.[7] We are also the only permanent member of the UN Security Council that recognises the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice[8], and we remain one of the largest contributing states to the International Committee of the Red Cross[9], supporting it in its endeavours to promote and strengthen international humanitarian law.

As the latest in a long line of Attorneys General, I follow in a tradition of advocating, celebrating and participating in a rules-based international order. On several occasions in its history, the United Kingdom has subjected itself voluntarily to the jurisdiction of various international tribunals. My predecessors and I have appeared before a variety of international tribunals on behalf of the UK. And while we do not win every point in every case, I believe this personal investment demonstrates the commitment to international law of those who have done my job.

Of course, consistent with our commitment to that rules-based international order, the UK may on occasion decide to withdraw from a particular international agreement. You may have noticed that the British public has asked us to do so recently, with regard to one such set of agreements. The government is acting on that mandate, through the process of withdrawal from the European Union, and is doing so in accordance with Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union – in other words, in a manner fully compliant with international law. That is the nature of the country we are, and the nature of our commitment to the Rule of Law.

There are few more fundamental rules of international law than the prohibition of the use of force and the right of self-defence, defined in customary international law and codified in important respects in the UN Charter.[10]

The UK should and will only use armed force, and will only act in self-defence, where it is consistent with international law to do so. International law sets the framework for any action taken by Sovereign States overseas, and the UK acts in accordance with it.

Today, I want to spell out how we ensure that we do so. Read the rest of this entry…

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Legal Bindingness of Security Council Resolutions Generally, and Resolution 2334 on the Israeli Settlements in Particular

Published on January 9, 2017        Author: 

As I have read commentary on the recently adopted resolution by the U.N. Security Council (Resolution 2334) addressing Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, I’ve noticed a number of commentators who appear to assume that, since this resolution was not explicitly adopted in exercise of the Council’s Chapter VII powers, therefore all of its operative provisions are per se legally non-binding. Orde Kittrie, writing over at Lawfare, seems to make this assumption clear when he writes:

“Resolution 2334 was not adopted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter and is not legally binding. The resolution does not create additional legal requirements on Israel, nor does the resolution require (or even explicitly encourage) U.N. member states to impose sanctions on Israel in response to Israeli settlement activity.”

I thought this would be a good opportunity to write briefly to clarify that the legal obligation for U.N. Charter states parties to comply with the decisions of the Security Council, contained in Article 24 and 25 of the Charter, is not contingent upon the Council’s acting in exercise of its Chapter VII powers. Any decision of the Security Council is legally binding upon all U.N. member states, whether or not the text of the resolution explicitly references Chapter VII.

Rather, the key question for determining whether a particular provision of a Security Council resolution is legally binding on member states (i.e. whether the provision is a “decision” of the Security Council), including the specific addressee of the resolution, is whether the Council has chosen to use words within the provision indicating its intent to create a legally binding obligation.

The International Court of Justice made these points clear in its 1971 Namibia advisory opinion, in Paragraphs 108-114. Read the rest of this entry…

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Identifying the Language of Peace: Developing the Practical and Theoretical Framework of Peace-Making

After a year which saw an unprecedented number of people displaced by violent conflict, and peace processes suffering setback after setback, from the repeated ceasefire violations reported in Yemen to the difficult process of bridging differences in Syria, faith in peace-making appears to be at its lowest. But when faced with the devastating impact of conflicts around the world, there can be no question of the need to redouble the efforts directed at achieving negotiated peace; as illustrated by the case of Colombia, peace is attainable even in the most entrenched of conflicts. In most cases, redoubling efforts requires going back to the drawing board, reframing issues and suggesting different approaches in order to create novel solutions to seemingly intractable problems. In such cases, the ability to draw on the practice of previous agreements drafted in similar situations may prove invaluable to the process; but without a consolidated and issue-based digest of such previous practice, this means having to spend days combing through possibly hundreds of documents (often on very short notice) each time, while there is still a chance of missing at least some of the relevant results.

Furthermore, identifying the range of options utilised in previous practice is only the first step; the negotiating parties must then consider whether these approaches comply with, or appear to depart from, international law. This in itself can be a cause of great controversy within peace-making processes: for instance, is it legal for peace agreements to grant blanket amnesties, including to (suspected) war criminals? Such controversies, as well as the ever-growing attention to concepts such as lex pacificatoria and jus post bellum, highlight the need to clarify the underlying relationship between peace and international law in specific areas.

It is in response to these concerns that the Language of Peace research tool – launched at the UN Secretariat in New York on Tuesday, 6 December 2016 – was developed, allowing instant search capability across the provisions of around 1,000 peace agreements, categorized according to the issues they address, from negotiating agendas through human rights to power-sharing arrangements. This post identifies two areas in which Language of Peace seeks to contribute to the development of international peace-making. Read the rest of this entry…

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Trumping International Law? Implications of the 2016 US presidential election for the international legal order

Published on January 3, 2017        Author: 

Any assumptions about the implications of the 2016 US presidential election for international law are premature and tentative. There is no proper foreign policy programme against which one could evaluate the future policy of the new administration. We know from Trump’s announcements and from a foreign policy speech of 27 April 2016 that he opposes the Paris Agreement, the WTO, NAFTA, TTP and TTIP as well as the nuclear deal with Iran. Thus, political analysts immediately described the election of Trump as ‘the beginning of a new and darker global order’ and announced the end of the post-World War II order. International lawyers assume that a post-human rights agenda lies ahead. Do we finally face the end of the liberal international order and globalization more generally?

Of course, there are also other voices: those who compare a possible withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement to its non-participation in the Kyoto Protocol; those who hold that globalization is anyway inevitable; those who stress that populism in Latin America, where opposition to globalization was very strong, is in decline again; those who compare Donald Trump with Ronald Reagan; and those who count on new technologies and the young generation. If it was just for the election of Trump I would probably share the idea that his policy may only represent a temporary slump in the overall progressive development of the international legal order. However, the symbolism of Trump’s election is not an isolated incident but fits into a more general pattern. Certain phenomena indicate that we currently observe a crisis of international law of unusual proportions which requires us to reassess the state and role of law in the global order Read the rest of this entry…

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Most Read Posts 2016

Published on January 1, 2017        Author: 

Happy New Year to all EJIL:Talk readers! In many ways, 2016 was a remarkable year for international law. It is hard to pick a standout event or development but perhaps 2016 will be remembered as the year when international lawyers began to think seriously, across the board, about the legal processes relating to how states exit from international commitments. It is probably fair to say that international lawyers have spent far more time thinking about the processes by which international law obligations are imposed on states and other actors than on the processes by which those international law commitments might cease to be binding.  The UK’s Brexit referendum of June 2016 means we now have to think about how the UK unwinds from its membership of the EU. The notices of withdrawal from the ICC Statute by South Africa, Burundi, and the Gambia also raise questions about treaty withdrawal. Then the election in the US of Donald Trump raises the prospect of US withdrawal from a range of treaties dealing with climate change, trade and the Iranian nuclear deal. All of this might suggest that research into issues relating to treaty withdrawal would constitute a profitable research agenda for 2017! All of these were covered on this blog in 2016 but clearly there will be more to say.

I would like to thank all of our readers but also all of those who wrote posts on EJIL:Talk! in 2016! Below is a list of the posts that were most read in 2016. Some of these posts were written in earlier years.

20) After Trump: China and Russia move from norm-takers to shapers of the international legal order, Anne Peters (2016)

19) Permanent Imminence of Armed Attacks: Resolution 2249 (2015) and the Right to Self Defence Against Designated Terrorist Groups, Marc Weller (2015)

18) A Plea Against the Abusive Invocation of Self-Defence as a Response to Terrorism, Olivier Corten (2016)

17) Grand Chamber Judgment in Al-Dulimi v. Switzerland, Marko Milanovic (2016)

16) Russia and China Challenge the Western Hegemony in the Interpretation of International Law, Lauri Mälksoo (2016)

15) Turkey’s Derogation from the ECHR – What to Expect?, Martin Scheinin (2016)

14) On My Way Out – Advice to Young Scholars II: Career Strategy and the Publication Trap, Joseph Weiler (2016)

13) Self-Defense and Non-State Actors: Indeterminacy and the Jus ad Bellum, Marko Milanovic (2010)

12) The Bashir Case: Has the South African Supreme Court Abolished Immunity for all Heads of States?, Dapo Akande (2016)

11) ICTY Convicts Radovan Karadzic, Marko Milanovic (2016)

10) European Court Decides Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda, Marko Milanovic (2011) Read the rest of this entry…

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Has the European Court of Human Rights Turned a Blind Eye to Alleged Rights Abuses in Turkey?

Published on December 28, 2016        Author: 

On 8 December 2016, in the case of Zihni v. Turkey, (App. No. 59061/16) the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “the Court”) rejected a second application arising out of alleged violations in Turkey in the aftermath of the attempted coup on 15 July 2016.

The Court’s dismissal of the complaint for failure to exhaust available domestic remedies (Article 35 of the European Convention on Human Rights – hereinafter “the Convention”) is consistent with its 17 November 2016 decision in the case of Mercan v. Turkey (App. No. 56511/16), so it came as no surprise. In the Mercan case, the Court similarly dismissed the application, which concerned the unlawfulness, length and conditions of a judge’s pre-trial detention in the absence of any evidence.

In Zihni v. Turkey, the applicant was suspended from his duties as a school’s deputy headmaster on 25 July 2016 and subsequently dismissed from public service, together with 50,874 other civil servants, by the list appended to the Decree no. 672 on 1 September 2016, on account of his alleged “membership of, affiliation, link or connection” to terrorist organizations.

The application before the Court in Zihni cited numerous rights violations: (1) lack of access to a court (Article 6, Article 13 and Article 15); (2) no punishment without law (Article 7); (3) violation of the right to respect for his family life (Article 8); and (4) discrimination on account of his dismissal (Article 14). Read the rest of this entry…

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The Inevitable Benefits of Greater Clarity in Relation to Humanitarian Relief Access

Published on December 16, 2016        Author: 

The Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict is, as we know from the tragic images of human suffering in Syria broadcast almost daily, both timely and beneficial. Greater clarity on how international law frames the rights and obligations related to humanitarian relief efforts can only be positive. Indeed, this effort will ideally contribute to the objective of mitigating civilian suffering caused by the deprivations that seem almost inevitable during armed conflict.

It was therefore with great interest that I reviewed the Oxford Guidance. I was generally familiar with the effort, having discussed the project with several of the authors last summer. At that time, I expressed my strong support for any effort that aids in clarifying legal aspects of humanitarian relief efforts. Clarity in this area is, as many know, sorely lacking, which produces inevitable uncertainty as to when, where, how, and under what conditions humanitarian efforts may be conducted in the midst of armed conflict. This effort will ideally enhance the humanitarian effect of these efforts, which is an objective that no reasonable person could conceivably object to.

Still, even these best efforts are unlikely to completely bridge the gap between the aspiration of maximizing humanitarian relief efforts and the reality of achieving this aspiration in the complex and chaotic environment of military operations. So in this comment I will seek to focus on several aspects of the Guidance that I consider most significant to achieving the obvious primary objective of this effort: to reduce impediments that prevent or delay humanitarian relief operations and thereby exacerbate civilian suffering.

It seems that the true, “decisive point” of the Guidance is the discussion of consent: when and under what circumstances is a party to an armed conflict lawfully permitted to deny consent for the conduct of humanitarian relief operations? And as the Guidance indicates, there is no easy answer to this question. I’m sure the drafters would have preferred to propose an interpretation of international law that indicated an absolute obligation to facilitate such relief efforts when needed to avert severe humanitarian suffering. To their credit, they did not, because they cannot. Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Discussion on The Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict: Just Security Posts

Published on December 16, 2016        Author: 

The second and third posts in our joint blog discussion in relation to The Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict are now available on Just Security. The blog posts are as follows:

Read the full posts over on Just Security.

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Taking Stock of the Law on Targeting, Part II

Published on December 15, 2016        Author: 

On Monday, I used the recently released U.S. report on military operations to assess the law on targeting. I argued that the dominant mode for analyzing these operations — asking whether international humanitarian law (IHL), international human rights law (IHRL), or a combination of both regimes governs — is problematic. The targeting rules in each regime are context-dependent, so the rules that have been developed for one context would not necessarily require the same thing if they were extended to a different context. Focusing so heavily on the regime choice is not only unhelpful but can be counterproductive. It reinforces the idea that the regime choice is ultimately what determines the codes of conduct. And so, it makes it harder to develop the law for situations that fit neatly into neither regime. Today, I’ll use U.S. targeting policies to amplify on my argument.

U.S. Position on Targeted Killings

The U.S. position is significant precisely because it pushes past the stale IHL-versus-IHRL debate. The United States does not treat the regime choice as particularly relevant to question of which targeting rules apply.

The U.S. legal claim seems to be that, although IHRL might apply to certain cross-border targeting operations, IHL defines or supersedes what IHRL would require; IHRL does not have independent force. Yet for years now, the United States has made clear that it does not intend to exploit, in all contexts in which it says IHL applies, the expansive authorities that are usually associated with IHL. The United States claims that, outside designated areas of active hostilities, it generally will use force only when someone “poses ‘a continuing, imminent threat to U.S. persons’” and “only when capture of an individual is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively.” (See p. 25 of the U.S. report.) Read the rest of this entry…

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