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Home Archive for category "International Humanitarian Law"

Some Thoughts on the Serdar Mohammed Appeals Judgment

Published on August 10, 2015        Author: 

In this post I’d like to add a few thoughts on the recent Court of Appeal judgment in Serdar Mohammed, that we already covered on the blog last week (here and here). The case is now heading to the UK Supreme Court, and may also eventually end up in the European Court of Human Rights – although Strasbourg will be looking carefully at the Supreme Court’s judgment even if the case doesn’t find its way to it.

First off, I think everything that can be said about the ‘big issue’ of authority to detain in NIAC has already been said; those already committed to either view are not going to be dissuaded by some novel argument. For my part, I only wish to note that after the Court of Appeal’s (unanimous!) judgment it looks increasingly unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn the finding of the lower courts (although that of course may still happen), especially bearing in mind the rigour and detail of these lower judgments. It is very difficult for any court to essentially make up rules (in reasoning by implication/analogy/structure or whatever) on who precisely can be detained in NIACs, for how long and under what exact process, in the absence of any meaningful legislative guidance. This is not a gap that most judges would feel comfortable in filling, especially when easy analogies to IACs or (much worse, between targeting and detention) break down.

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The UK Court of Appeal in Serdar Mohammed: Treaty and Customary IHL Provides No Authority for Detention in Non-international Armed Conflicts

Published on August 6, 2015        Author: 

Last week’s judgment in Mohammed v. Secretary of State for Defence is rich in analyses and observations concerning detention in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). One of the key issues assessed concerns the power to detain in NIACs under IHL.

The Secretary of State’s position on this point commenced with a challenge to traditional classifications of armed conflict, contrasting purely internal conflicts with armed conflicts between two States (para 168). It was contended that the legal position concerning the authority to detain in a NIAC now reflects a more complex factual position than that captured under traditional classifications. A third classification must now be recognized: ‘internationalised’ NIACs. This echoes the ICRC’s Opinion Paper on internment, which speaks of ‘NIACs with an extraterritorial element’, in which “the armed forces of one or more State, or of an international or regional organization, fight alongside the armed forces of a host State, in its territory, against one or more organized non-State armed groups” (page 7).

To paraphrase, ‘if it looks and feels like an international armed conflict, let us apply IHL rules on international armed conflicts by analogy’. This is a dangerous approach that the Court of Appeal carefully avoided, instead focusing on its proposed implications.

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The Authority to Detain in NIACs Revisited: Serdar Mohammed in the Court of Appeal

Published on August 5, 2015        Author: 

As the English Court of Appeal breaks for the summer vacation, scores of international lawyers are about to descend on one of its latest decisions: Mohammed v Secretary of State for Defence; Rahmatullah and Ors v MoD and FCO [2015] EWCA Civ 843. In this 109-page long judgment, the Court upholds the conclusion reached at first instance by Leggatt J that British armed forces participating in ISAF lacked the legal authority under international law to detain suspected insurgents captured in Afghanistan.

The implications of Serdar Mohammed are considerable. The case raises difficult questions about the place the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) occupies in the international legal order and, more broadly, about the relationship between international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL). Those who have followed this debate will recall that we were not convinced by Leggatt J’s reasoning on these points (see here, here and here). In so far as it upholds his main conclusions, we also find ourselves in disagreement with the judgment now delivered by the Court of Appeal. Rather than rehearsing our arguments on the underlying issues in full (see in detail here), in this post we would like to briefly comment on those aspects of the Court’s decision which, in our view, take the debate forward and those which do not. Read the rest of this entry…

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Cyber Responses “By The Numbers” in International Law

Published on August 4, 2015        Author: 

According to open source reports, the Obama administration is considering how to retaliate against China for hacks into the US government’s Office of Personnel (OPM). Although it has hesitated to openly pin the rose on China, the reports raise questions as to how it might respond consistent with international law.

The issue of responses to harmful cyber operations has generated a fair degree of rather confused dialogue among politicians, pundits and the public. In the aftermath of, inter alia, the Sony hack and the OPM incident, it might be useful to take a by-the-numbers look at the international law governing responses to harmful cyber operations. The International Group of Experts that prepared the 2013 Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare under the auspices of the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence dealt with the topic briefly. A follow-on project, “Tallinn 2.0,” is presently underway to examine these issues in greater depth. As director for both projects, I have found the most useful lesson to be that, despite persistent claims to the contrary by international law and policy alarmists, the extant international law provides a linear structure, and robust means, for response. In the same way that international law generally balances national interests and international stability in the non-cyber realm, so too does it with respect to cyber. What follows is a summary of my approach to deconstructing the applicable law.

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Breaking: Court of Appeal Affirms Serdar Mohammed

Published on July 30, 2015        Author: 

Breaking news: today the English Court of Appeal  unanimously affirmed Leggatt J’s judgment in Serdar Mohammed v. MoD, finding that IHL does not contain authority to detain in non-international armed conflicts. Full (and very lengthy) judgment available here; our earlier coverage is here. Happy to report that some of our earlier posts (three I think) were cited by the Court. Obviously I haven’t yet read all of the decision, but we will have plenty of commentary in the days to follow.  I imagine an appeal to the Supreme Court is virtually inevitable.

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Tears in Our Eyes: Third State Obligations in International Law

Published on July 30, 2015        Author: 

In early January 2015 the Republic of South Korea sold 1.9 million tear gas canisters to Turkey. With this sale came much campaigning against it. Amnesty International’s “Korea, do not sell us tear gas” campaign received over 50,000 signatures of support. The goal of this campaign was to highlight how the Turkish police force has been and continues to be to this day reckless and excessive in its use of tear gas on certain domestic demonstrations. Reckless and excessive use which, according to data collected by the Turkey Human Rights Joint Platform, led to the death of 19 Turkish citizens between 2006 and 2013 — including four children.

The sale of such large quantities of tear gas to a country that has a proven track record of using it frequently and recklessly raises important questions of international law. It raises questions in particular with regard to the responsibility of third states for internationally wrongful acts and the standard of proof required to establish such responsibility. Put simply, did South Korea commit an internationally wrongful act when it sold tear gas to Turkey?

Tear gas and international law

The name tear gas encompasses a group of substances that irritate mucous membranes and cause stinging sensations and tears. The effect of tear gas is normally considered temporary for a healthy adult so long as they are able to breathe fresh air shortly after exposure. Fatalities have been caused when tear gas has been used in closed spaces, on unhealthy adults or the elderly, or when canisters have been fired directly at protesters.

The use of tear gas is prohibited in wartime both by the 1925 Gas Protocol and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.  The 1993 Convention, however, explicitly includes a clause in Article 1(5), inserted at the insistence of the United States, stating that “Each State Party undertakes not to use riot control agents as a method of warfare.” Article II(7) of the 1993 Convention further defines a “Riot Control Agent” as “Any chemical not listed in a Schedule, which can produce rapidly in humans sensory irritation or disabling physical effects which disappear within a short time following termination of exposure.” This clause, by implication, signals a regime of permissibility for riot control agents — including tear gas — during peacetime. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Nagorno-Karabakh Cases

Published on June 23, 2015        Author: 

Last week I wrote about one particular aspect of the recent Grand Chamber judgments of the European Court of Human Rights in two cases dealing with the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict: Chiragov and Others v. Armenia, no. 13216/05 and Sargsyan v. Azerbaijan, no. 40167/06, namely the Court’s conclusion that belligerent occupation necessarily requires troops on the ground. I also promised a more comprehensive look at the two (very important) judgments, and here it is. The two cases concerned the aftermath in the conflict, in the sense that they dealt with the right of persons displaced by the conflict to access their property (under Article 1 of Protocol 1 to the Convention), rather than with the conflict itself, which was outside the Court’s temporal jurisdiction. That said, there are numerous noteworthy aspects of these two judgments.

First, there is the cases’ basic structure. Both cases were brought by individuals, but there are more than a thousand other applications pending before the Court with essentially the same issues. While these are formally not pilot judgments in the sense the Court uses the term, they are in fact test cases on the basis of which the Court is set to resolve all of the other pending cases, unless the parties choose to settle them first. And while the cases were brought by individuals, they have a strong interstate dimension, not only because of their politically controversial subject-matter, but because Armenia and Azerbaijan both intervened as third parties in the case in which the other state was the respondent (i.e. Armenia intervened in Sargasyan and Azerbaijan in Chiragov). These were, if you will, interstate cases by proxy.

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European Court Decides that Israel Is Not Occupying Gaza

Published on June 17, 2015        Author: 

Yesterday the Grand Chamber of  the European Court of Human Rights delivered judgments in two blockbuster cases regarding the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan: Chiragov and Others v. Armenia and Sargsyan v. Azerbaijan. These are very rich judgments raising many important issues, and I will be writing up more detailed comments shortly. But I first had to share one particular little nugget: the Court has (implicitly!) decided that Israel is not the occupying power in Gaza. How so, you ask?

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Protection of UN Facilities During Israeli-Palestinian Hostilities: A Brief Assessment of the UN Board of Inquiry Findings

Published on June 17, 2015        Author: 

The release of United Nations (UN) documents on Israeli conduct always seems to give rise to controversy and heated debates. However, the latest publication of an UN Board of Inquiry investigating selected actions carried out during the 2014 Israeli and Palestinian hostilities has brought a relatively mild media storm. Israeli‘s acknowledgement of the investigation had already been shown through their active cooperation during the process. The Board’s findings show progress both in terms of quality and approach taken compared to an earlier 2009 investigation into selected incidents during the 2008-09 clashes between the same adversaries. Most importantly, the 2015 Board came up with several recommendations aimed at improving the internal security measures aiding the protection of UN facilities during hostilities. If implemented consistently, these recommendations should limit the abuse of such facilities for military purposes and thus reduce the risk of anyone located there from suffering the consequences of a potential, possibly entirely legitimate, attack.

A summary of the new Board’s report was made public by the UN Secretary General only last April and, like in 2009, the full document was not publicly released. The Board of Inquiry was tasked with investigating incidents which affected or involved UN personnel, premises and operations. The Board was specifically mandated to look into 10 incidents ‘in which death or injuries occurred at, or damage was done to, UN premises or in which the presence of weaponry was reported at those premises’ between 8 July and 26 August 2014. These incidents involved schools of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Of the 10 incidents, three involved schools where weapons were allegedly stored. None of these had been designated or was being used as an emergency shelter at the time. All three schools were in summer recess and, in principle, free of pupils. But in one of them, a schoolyard had been made available for children’s use. The school gate remained unlocked, allowing unrestricted access. The Board subsequently established that weapons were found on all three premises, as previously reported, and in two cases the weaponry was then removed by unidentified individuals in somewhat mysterious circumstances. The Board suggested that one school might also have been used by members of a Palestinian armed group to launch mortar attacks. The Inquiry further concluded that in the remaining seven cases the damaged schools served as emergency shelters and all these attacks were attributed to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Currently, all but one of these incidents are being investigated separately by the Israeli authorities.

The 2009 Board of Inquiry investigated only four incidents involving UNRWA schools. It attributed the attacks to the IDF in three of these. It is possible that two schools were not directly targeted, and that the resulting damage and casualties occurred as a side effect of an attack on another target. No military activity at the premises was established. The 2009 Board’s recommendations appeared almost entirely directed at the UN’s requests to the Government of Israel and did not include any recommendations about the UN’s own due diligence. The 2015 Board’s report was in stark contrast to this earlier report. It looked into the UNRWA internal security practices and arrangements and proposed a number of improvements to them. These included recommendations to enhance security at premises, such as by employing additional skilled security guards, and developing and implementing standard operating procedures for reporting security incidents. Read the rest of this entry…

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Prolonged Occupation and Article 6(3) of the Fourth Geneva Convention: Why the International Court Got It Wrong Substantively and Procedurally

Published on June 16, 2015        Author: 

I recently gave a paper on prolonged occupation at a UN Roundtable on Legal Aspects of the Question of Palestine.  In the law of armed conflict, the notion of “prolonged occupation” is absent from the governing international instruments.  It has been little discussed in commentaries, and Adam Roberts cautions that attempting to define the notion of prolonged occupations “is likely to be a pointless quest” (see 84 AJIL 44 (1990) 47)), but Israel’s High Court has employed it in a number of decisions.

The UN meeting in the Hague was perhaps a timely meeting given the outcome of the recent Israeli elections which brought into office a government which includes some ministers who are opposed to the existence of any Palestinian State and others who are opening calling for the annexation of the West Bank.  Despite the urging of President Obama, the guidelines for the new coalition government contain no commitment towards a Palestinian State.  The conclusion of the Oslo Accords and subsequently the Roadmap for Peace masked the reality of Israel’s occupation of Palestine with the figleaf of a negotiated process between ostensible equals which, under the Roadmap, was meant to have led to a comprehensive settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict ten years ago.  As the outlook of the current Israeli government appears adverse to negotiation, this should put the fact of occupation back on the table.

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