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

President Trump admits US strike against Iran would have been illegal

Published on June 21, 2019        Author: 
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Yesterday President Trump apparently aborted a US strike against Iran, in response to Iran’s destruction of an unmanned US surveillance drone. US and Iranian accounts continue to differ on whether the drone was shot down in Iranian airspace or in international airspace. Ashley Deeks and Scott Anderson have helpfully analyzed the international legal framework applicable to any US strike in response to the destruction of the drone over on Lawfare, to which I have little to add in principle. In particular, they’ve explained the more expansive and the more restrictive theories of self-defence on which the legality of a US strike would hinge (see also Ashley’s previous post here).

But, President Trump has tweeted in the past hour, as he does, and his tweets effectively (if inadvertently) admit the illegality of the aborted US strike under any conceivable theory of self-defence, no matter how expansive:

 

Note, first, how President Trump describes the aborted US strike as being meant ‘to retaliate’ against Iran for the destruction of the drone. But it is black letter jus ad bellum that the purpose of self-defence can only be to stop an ongoing attack, or (possibly) to prevent imminent future attacks. It cannot, however, simply be to retaliate against an attack committed in the past. Thus, even if US historically expansive views on the right to self-defence were to be accepted in their totality, and even we were to accept that the US drone was in international airspace when it was shot down and that this was an armed attack by Iran against the US in the sense of Article 51 of the UN Charter, the US head of state has just admitted to the world that the strike he authorized, and then rescinded, was retaliatory and not defensive in nature.

Similarly, he expressly admitted that the attack would have been disproportionate, as 150 lives would likely have been lost for one destroyed unmanned drone. And as we all know, proportionality is a key requirement of the customary law of self-defence. Thankfully, President Trump ultimately decided to abort the strikes, and therefore no violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter took place. Hopefully any conflict between the US and Iran will be avoided. But that said, it is also clear from what the US President tweeted to all of us, so explicitly and so ungrammatically, that the proposed military action of his government, had it taken place, would have been illegal. And again, under the President’s own admission, it would have been illegal regardless of whether one embraces a more restrictive or a more expansive theory of self-defence.

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Russian Agents Charged with Downing of MH17; MH17 Cases in Strasbourg

Published on June 20, 2019        Author: 
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Yesterday international investigators charged three Russian nationals and one Ukrainian national before Dutch criminal courts for the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. According to a report in the Guardian:

The suspects were named as Igor Girkin, a former colonel of Russia’s FSB spy service; Sergey Dubinskiy, employed by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency; and Oleg Pulatov, a former soldier with the GRU’s special forces spetsnaz unit. All were Russian soldiers previously sent abroad.

A fourth suspect, Leonid Kharchenko, is a Ukrainian. He led a military combat unit in the city of Donetsk as a commander, it was alleged.

Girkin was minister of defence in the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). He was the commander of the DNR when the plane was shot down on 17 July 2014. Dubinskiy served as Girkin’s deputy in the DNR, and Pulatov was Dubinskiy’s deputy. Kharchenko was under their command.

Investigators said the soldiers “formed a chain linking DNR with the Russian Federation”. This link was how the separatists obtained heavy equipment from Russia including the Buk launcher used to fire at MH17 with “terrible consequences”.

The accused did not push the button themselves but were responsible for bringing the anti-aircraft system to eastern Ukraine. They could therefore be held criminally liable and charged with murdering 298 people, investigators said.

Readers will recall that last year the investigators and the Dutch and Australian governments formally attributed the downing of MH17 to Russia. Yesterday, however, saw the first criminal charges brought against specific individuals. Obviously, it remains highly unlikely that any of them will face trial in the Netherlands in the foreseeable future, unless they are unwise enough to travel abroad, although they will likely be tried in absentia.

There have also been interesting developments about litigation regarding MH17 in the European Court of Human Rights. Back in 2014 I suggested that the families of the victims may decide to bring cases against both Russia and 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.

At least two such cases have indeed been brought and have been communicated by the Court to the respondent governments for pleadings on admissibility and merits.

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The Legal Status and Characterisation of Maritime Militia Vessels

Published on June 18, 2019        Author: 
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A recent report has described how Royal Australian Navy helicopter pilots were targeted with lasers during a night flight in the South China Sea. The lasers were allegedly directed from Chinese fishing vessels – the primary cadre from which the so-called Chinese ‘maritime militia’ is drawn. Further, the incident occurred – according to another report – shortly after a US admiral warned that the paramilitary force could be treated as ‘combatants’. 

What is the Chinese maritime militia? As described below it is a hybrid body (or bodies), but in essence it is a civilian reserve force (often of fisherman) capable of being called upon to conduct military or governmental activities. A number of recent official reports (eg, US, and Japan), have specifically commented upon the rise in China’s employment of this force multiplier in the South and East China Sea regions. At a certain level such a force may be benign, called upon to assist in search and rescue efforts. The concern, however, is that militia vessels are also being used to further Chinese strategic claims in disputed waters by – for example – harassing the fishermen of other states – including by sinking their vessels, as is reported to have occurred with a Philippines fishing vessel just a few days ago. In another episode, Chinese fishing vessels formed a cordon around Chinese oil exploration vessels operating off Vietnam.

The concept of a ‘maritime militia’ is relatively recent, but not without historical parallel. There has long been (and remains) well settled law around the practices of privateering, use of merchant vessels as auxiliaries to naval forces, and conversion of merchant vessels into warships. In this post, however, I will briefly outline two status and characterisation challenges ahead – or rather, already with us – presented by the increased use of maritime militia by China in the current geo-political and legal context: The status and characterisation of militia vessels under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the customary law of the sea; and their status under the Law of Naval Warfare (LoNW). Read the rest of this entry…

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More on the Duty to Warn Persons Threatened by Foreign Intelligence Services

Published on June 10, 2019        Author: 
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I recently wrote on the blog about the obligation of states, arising from their duty to protect the right to life under human rights law, to warn individuals subject to their jurisdiction of any real and immediate risk to their life, bodily integrity, or liberty and security of person, posed by foreign intelligence services. That duty arises if the state knows, or ought to know, of such a threat, i.e. if the threat is reasonably foreseeable to it. I’ve argued in that regard how it cannot be conclusively established, but may be so established after further factual inqury, that the United States or Turkey had enough relevant information in their possession to trigger their protective obligation with regard to Jamal Khashoggi and the threat posed to his life by agents of Saudi Arabia. If that obligation was triggered, however, the duty to warn Khashoggi arose, whereas no such warning was given to him before his assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

As I have explained in my previous post, and in more detail in my full paper, the duty to warn does not impose unreasonable burdens on states engaged in intelligence-gathering activities. First, it is subject to a jurisdictional threshold, which may be looser, per the Human Rights Committee’s new functional approach to the extraterritorial application of the right to life, or stricter, per the more traditional spatial or personal conceptions of jurisdiction. Opinions will clearly differ in this regard as to which approach should prevail. The key point here, however, is that a state lacking the capacity to fulfil the duty to warn will never be expected to have to do so. Second, the duty will only be engaged if a specific unlawful threat to the life of an individual was reasonably foreseeable to the state. Third, the duty to warn is one of due diligence, and the state can take a number of relevant considerations into account in deciding on how to fulfil it. It might, for example, choose to convey the substance of the threat in a way that will avoid any risk of compromising intelligence-gathering sources and methods. It might choose to do so through an intermediary, such as a relevant agency of a partner state. In the vast majority of conceivable circumstances the state will be able to convey a warning without compromising its essential interests in any meaningful way. Granted, the state will have to devote some resources towards actually complying with the obligation. But such an expectation is not unreasonable, especially bearing in mind that this rather modest burden will usually fall on the wealthiest, most powerful states in possession of an extensive foreign intelligence apparatus, whose ultimate purpose should after all be the safeguarding of human life.

Importantly, in the past month or so, the CIA and partner security services have actually warned three associaties of Khashoggi of a Saudi threat against them, demonstrating that the duty to warn does not, in fact, impose unreasonable burdens on state authorities and that it can effectively be complied with.

First, after obtaining information about a specific threat from the CIA, the Norwegian security services warned a prominent Arab pro-democracy activist and vocal critic of the Saudi crown prince, who has been granted asylum and is living in Norway. As the Guardian reports:

Read the rest of this entry…

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A Hidden Reading of the ICC Appeals Chamber’s Judgment in the Jordan Referral Re Al-Bashir

Published on June 6, 2019        Author: 
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On 6 May 2019, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the Judgment in the Jordan Referral re Al-Bashir Appeal. It found that Jordan had no ground to refuse to execute the request by the ICC for arrest and surrender of Omar Al-Bashir, the then Head of State of Sudan – a State not party to the Rome Statute.  In this highly controversial judgment, the Appeals Chamber held that ‘[t]here is neither State practice nor opinio juris that would support the existence of Head of State immunity under customary international law vis-à-vis an international court.’ (par. 1, 113) Endorsing the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I’s 2011 Malawi Non-Cooperation Decision, the Appeals Chamber furthermore held that ‘[t]he absence of a rule of customary international law recognising Head of State immunity vis-à-vis international courts is relevant […] also for the horizontal relationship between States when a State is requested by an international court to arrest and surrender the Head of State of another State.’ (par. 114)  

The Chamber could have ended its judgment on the issue of immunities there, as this finding on customary international law, if correct, would seem to dispose of the matter. However, it decided to also consider the position taken  by Pre-Trial Chamber II in the Jordan Non-Cooperation Decision, that the immunity of the Sudanese President was removed by virtue of the Security Council (SC) resolution referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC.

In this post, I will argue that the Chamber not only confirmed the legal validity of what has been termed the ‘Security Council route’ – as developed in the Jordan & South Africa Non-Cooperation Decisions – but actually upheld that it is such reasoning that must be applied at the horizontal level to displace the immunity of a Head of State of a non-party State. I will show that this conclusion flows from the Joint Concurring Opinion of 4 of the 5 Appeals Chamber judges (Judges Eboe-Osuji, Morrison, Hofmański and Bossa) – constantly referred to in the main Judgment for further elaboration – and the recently issued Q&A regarding the Appeals Chamber Judgment. Read the rest of this entry…

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CETA Opinion – Setting Conditions for the Future of ISDS

Published on June 5, 2019        Author:  and
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The April 2019 New York UNCITRAL Meeting of Working Group III did not discuss the then forthcoming Opinion 1/17 (CETA Opinion) on the compatibility of CETA’s investment court system with EU law. For some the dangers this Opinion could pose to ISDS were altogether non-existent – the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) might as well have considered ISDS in CETA as incompatible with EU law. To others ISDS reform negotiations without the EU, and probably without its Member States, might have seemed a more appealing prospect. The CETA Opinion was rendered on 30 April 2019 and confirmed that the treaty’s investment court system is compatible with EU law. Reaction to it has been immediate, but the real consequences of this (probably explosive or even implosive) opinion will take time to absorb, and a lot of in-depth analysis will certainly follow.

In the past years the CJEU was seemingly headed down a narrow one-way street: its Opinions on a Patent Court, the EU accession to the ECHR or even the Achmea Judgement questioned the participation of the EU and its Member States in international dispute settlement placed outside the control of the EU judicial system. With the CETA Opinion the Court took a U-turn out of the one-way street, back into the path of international dispute settlement. But as the Court managed to turn – and immense pressure was brought to bear – it drafted the conditions for the new multilateral court system that the EU is currently pursuing in international fora. In the remainder of this short contribution we will not canvass the possible contradictions between the Opinion and previous CJEU decisions – although there might be some. We focus on the future instead. In light of the EU’s role as a major investment treaty negotiator and its push for the creation of an MIC, we ask two questions: what this Opinion might mean for the future of ISDS and what open questions remain.

  1. Conditions for the Future of ISDS

Although the CJEU only dealt with the narrow question of whether CETA’s investment court system is compatible with EU primary law, its Opinion will likely have consequences well beyond this context, including notably in relation to a future Multilateral Investment Court (MIC). When the CJEU was deciding, the MIC was the invisible elephant in the room: first, because in CETA the EU commits to pursuing the establishment of an MIC; second, because the European Commission in its contributions to UNCITRAL’s WGIII promotes this option as at least at this time the only possible future for ISDS involving the EU. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Future of International Law in an Authoritarian World

Published on June 3, 2019        Author: 
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In this short review essay, I would like to offer some thoughts on the future of international law in an increasingly authoritarian world. Even for a discipline which loves a crisis, these are perhaps challenging times. The liberal cosmopolitan project of global governance through international law and multilateral institutions has, at the very least, hit a bump in the road. There is a widespread sense that a change in direction is likely. It is a reasonable time to reflect on questions such as: is international law in trouble? How concerned should we be at attempts to revise the international system? And what might a more authoritarian version of international law look like?

In reflecting on the questions I’d like to offer my readings of three scholars I’ve recently found thought-provoking. These are personal reflections and interpretations, not an effort to capture every nuance of their work. Nonetheless, each has had an impact on my thinking.

  1. Shirley Scott, “The Decline of International Law as a Normative Ideal

In this piece, Scott contrasts her view of international law with what she considers the dangers in the turn to speaking about a “rules-based order”. Scott sees the project of international law as historically containing a commitment to several major principles.

First, the principle that law is politically neutral: a conception that law stands aside from politics, and creates a level playing field for state actors, to engage and to argue with each other. This principle includes the idea of formal sovereign equality.

Second, a commitment to peace through law: the idea that law contains within it the potential for objective dispute settlement, and that this is a contribution to world peace. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Hypothetical on Deprivation of Liberty and Torture

Published on May 31, 2019        Author: 
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In light of today’s rather extraordinary statement by Prof. Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, that Julian Assange has been subjected not only to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but also to a sustained campaign of collective persecution, the results of which were tantamount to psychological torture, here’s a brief hypothetical that can hopefully shed some light on Assange’s legal situation:

Variant 1: A is a human rights defender living and working in Dystopia, a highly authoritarian police state. He has helped countless people in his work, to much international acclaim. One day he receives reliable information that a Dystopian court has ordered his arrest, on charges of sedition, and that if convicted (which seems very likely) he could spend many years in prison. A decides to evade the police seeking to arrest him.  With the help of friends, A finds refuge in a cave in a remote location. He spends 7 years in that cave, with very little human contact, fearful that if he ever left the cave the police would find him and arrest him. The years take their toll. A starts suffering from a number of physical ailments. Even worse, the virtually total separation from his family, friends and the outside world eventually leads to serious impairment to his mental health, including severe anxiety and depression. After 7 years, the Dystopian police discover A’s hiding place and arrest him.

Questions: (1) While A was in the cave, was he subjected to a deprivation of liberty by the state of Dystopia? (2) If so, was that deprivation of liberty arbitrary? (3) In any event, do the accumulated consequences to A’s mental and physical health, due to the extended period of time he spent in the cave hiding from Dystopian authorities, qualify as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of A on the part of the state of Dystopia?

Variant 2: R is the highest-ranking general of the army of a separatist regime in Anarchia, a country ravaged by a sectarian civil war. The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for R’s arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale; he is suspected of leading a campaign of ethnic cleansing which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. After the Anarchian civil war ends in the victory of his opponents, R decides to go into hiding. With the help of friends, R finds refuge in a cave in a remote location. He spends 7 years in that cave, with very little human contact, fearful that the Anarchian government authorities will arrest him and send him to The Hague for trial. The years take their toll. R starts suffering from a number of physical ailments. Even worse, the virtually total separation from his family, friends and the outside world eventually leads to serious impairment to his mental health, including severe anxiety and depression. After 7 years, the Anarchian police discover R’s hiding place and arrest him.

Questions: (1) While R was in the cave, was he subjected to a deprivation of liberty by the state of Anarchia? (2) If so, was that deprivation of liberty arbitrary? (3) In any event, do the accumulated consequences to R’s mental and physical health, due to the extended period of time he spent in the cave hiding from Anarchian authorities, qualify as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of R on the part of the state of Anarchia? (4) If you have answered any of the preceding questions differently than their counterparts in Variant 1, please explain why you have done so.

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The Distinction between Military and Law Enforcement Activities: Comments on Case Concerning the Detention of Three Ukrainian Naval Vessels (Ukraine V. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures Order

Published on May 31, 2019        Author: 
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International Tribunal for Law of the Sea (ITLOS) issued a provisional measures order to Russian Federation to release three Ukrainian naval vessels and their servicemen on 25 May 2019. In deciding that the Annex VII arbitral tribunal would have prima facie jurisdiction as required under Article 290(5) of United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Tribunal held that the case was not “disputes concerning military activities” as provided under Article 298(1)(b) (see Kraska).

This is an important decision considering that there is no settled definition of “military activities” which allows state parties to be exempted from the compulsory dispute settlement procedure under UNCLOS. This is the first time that ITLOS held its interpretation on the former half of Article 298(1)(b) (while the latter half was dealt in the provisional measures order in Arctic Sunrise, para.45), and South China Sea arbitration case of 2016 before Annex VII Arbitral Tribunal remains the only precedent where a third-party dispute settlement institution held its interpretation of the same text.

There seems to be a common understanding that in this order, the Tribunal interpreted the scope of the “military activities” under Article 298(1)(b) quite narrowly, if not diminished, and thereby lowered its jurisdictional bar. While assessments of this decision have already been posted (see Kraska, Schatz), this post adds some comments on the legal framework that the Tribunal relied upon.

Preliminary Remarks

One thing that should be kept in mind is that, since it is a provisional measures order, it suffices if the provisions invoked by the applicant prima facie appear to afford a basis on which the jurisdiction of the Annex VII arbitral tribunal could be founded, and need not definitively satisfy itself that the tribunal has jurisdiction over the dispute (Order, para. 36; see also ARA Libertad, para. 60). Judge Lijnzaad’s commented that the questions of the applicable law and of whether the issues raised are solely to be understood as being related to the interpretation and application of UNCLOS were left to Annex VII arbitral tribunal at a later stage, as they are “matters that go well beyond the prima facie analysis of a request for provisional measures (Declaration, Lijnzaad, para.8).” Read the rest of this entry…

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