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.
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
Two 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.
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.
Subsequent Practice in the Whaling Case, and What the ICJ Implies about Treaty Interpretation in International Organizations
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…
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.
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.)
The latest issue of the European Journal of International Law will be published at the end of next week. Over the course of next week, in advance of the publication of the new issue, we will have a series of posts by Joseph Weiler – Editor in Chief of EJIL. These posts will then appear in the Editorial in the upcoming issue. Here is the Table of Contents of the next issue of EJIL:
The International Society for Public Law – Call for Papers and Panels; Van Gend en Loos – 50th Anniversary; Vital Statistics; Roll of Honour; Quantitative Empirical International Legal Scholarship; In this Issue
EJIL: Keynote Debate!
Daniel Bethlehem, The End of Geography: The Changing Nature of the International System and the Challenge to International Law
David S. Koller, The End of Geography: The Changing Nature of the International System and the Challenge to International Law: A Reply to Daniel Bethlehem
Carl Landauer, The Ever-Ending Geography of International Law: The Changing Nature of the International System and the Challenge to International Law: A Reply to Daniel Bethlehem
Maria Aristodemou, A Constant Craving for Fresh Brains and a Taste for Decaffeinated Neighbours
Christopher Wadlow, The beneficiaries of TRIPS: Some Questions of Rights, Ressortissants and International Locus Standi
Revisiting Van Gend en Loos: A Joint Symposium
with the International Journal of Constitutional Law (I·CON)
JHH Weiler, Van Gend en Loos: The Individual as Subject and Object and the Dilemma of European Legitimacy
Eyal Benvenisti and George Downs, The Premises, Assumptions, and Implications of Van Gend en Loos: Viewed from the Perspectives of Democracy and Legitimacy of International Institutions Read the rest of this entry…
Our friends at Just Security have just published an advance unedited version of the Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of the United States, as adopted yesterday by the Committee. The observations address many issues, but some of the highlights involve the extraterritorial application of the ICCPR, the use of drones, and NSA surveillance. For example, in para. 4:
The Committee regrets that the State party continues to maintain its position that the Covenant does not apply with respect to individuals under its jurisdiction but outside its territory, despite the contrary interpretation of article 2(1) supported by the Committee’s established jurisprudence, the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice and state practice. [the Committee thus recommends to the US to:] Interpret the Covenant in good faith, in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to its terms in their context, including subsequent practice, and in the light of its object and purpose and review its legal position so as to acknowledge the extraterritorial application of the Covenant under certain circumstances, as outlined inter alia in the Committee’s general comment No. 31 (2004) on the nature of the general legal obligation imposed on States parties to the Covenant;
With regard to the CIA ‘enhanced interrogation’ program under the previous US administration, the Committee was especially concerned about the impunity of the perpetrators of torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and recommended the investigation and prosecution especially of ‘persons in command positions,’ and that the ‘responsibility of those who provided legal pretexts for manifestly illegal behavior should also be established.’ (para. 5)
On 16 December 2013, by adopting resolution 68/111, the General Assembly completed a 21-year study on the codification and progressive development of the law on reservations to treaties. In its resolution, the GA takes note of the Guide to Practice on Reservations to Treaties, the text of which had been adopted by the International Law Commission (ILC) on 11 August 2011. The full text is an addendum to the 2011 Report of the ILC (available at http://legal.un.org/ilc/reports/2011/english/addendum.pdf).
A Special Kind of Instrument
I was appointed the Special Rapporteur of the ILC on the topic of “Reservations to Treaties” in 1994. With excessive confidence – or recklessness – I then declared that ‘[i]t does not seem unrealistic to think that the Commission would be in a position to adopt an initial set of draft articles, or a first draft to serve as a “guide” …, within three or four years of the subject being included on its agenda and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur” (Yrbk ILC (1993), ii(1), at 335, para. 55). I rapidly became disillusioned and realized that, as my illustrious predecessors had noted, ‘the subject of reservations to multilateral treaties is one of unusual – in fact baffling – complexity and it would serve no useful purpose to simplify artificially an inherently complex problem’ (Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, Report on the Law of Treaties, doc. A/CN.4/63, Yrbk ILC (1953), ii, at 124) moreover, the topic brings with it an emotional charge at the political level which I had underestimated and which made things even more complicated. The ‘sharia reservations’ are but the most striking example of the political sensitivity of the subject. More generally, reservations to human rights conventions, although they are by no means special legally speaking, are the object of harsh doctrinal and ideological debates. Read the rest of this entry…
One of the more remarkable aspects of the whole unfortunate Ukraine episode is the rampant hypocrisy on part of all of the major players involved in the dispute. Those same Western states that unlawfully invaded Iraq, and supported Kosovo’s secession from Serbia while endlessly repeating that Kosovo was somehow a really super-special sui generis case, are now pontificating about the sanctity of the UN Charter and territorial integrity. On the other hand, that same Russia that fought two bloody wars in the 1990s to keep Chechnya within its fold, that same Russia that to this day refuses to accept the independence of Kosovo, has now rediscovered a principle of self-determination that apparently allows for the casual dismemberment of existing states.
I am not saying that no distinctions can be drawn between the various situations I just mentioned. In particular, I agree with many of the arguments in the recent posts by Christian Marxsen and Jure Vidmar about the differences between Crimea and Kosovo, the critical one being that Crimea’s secession is the direct result of Russia’s unlawful military intervention against Ukraine, whereas Kosovo’s secession was not tainted to the same extent by NATO’s 1999 intervention due to the subsequent adoption of Resolution 1244, which authorized the presence of international forces in Kosovo while disabling Serbia from taking military action to suppress Kosovo’s secession. I would also note that it is more difficult to levy charges of hypocrisy against international lawyers, rather than states or politicians – and I hope that speaks well of our profession. Most international lawyers after all considered the 1999 intervention against Serbia or the 2003 invasion of Iraq to have been unlawful, and most justifiably feel the same way with regard to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.
But even if Kosovo and Crimea are legally distinguishable, they are still close enough. The West’s position on Crimea is undeniably undermined by their previous stance regarding Kosovo, and they can only blame themselves for that. Just consider President Putin’s speech justifying the annexation of Crimea by reference to Kosovo and the ICJ’s advisory opinion: