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Home Archive for category "International Humanitarian Law"

Not Only a Matter of Lex Specialis: IHL, the European Union and Its Two Definitions of Terrorism

Published on December 1, 2014        Author: 

These times of foreign fighters who travel from Europe to Iraq and Syria have revived the debate on how the definition of terrorism relates to armed conflict. The recent judgment of the EU first instance judicial body, the General Court, in the Tamil Tigers case highlights that different approaches are possible even within a single polity, the European Union. This post discusses the underlying rationale and the implications of the decision’s conclusion on the relationship between terrorism and armed conflict, which appears to have gone unnoticed in legal circles. Other relevant findings of the Court (for instance, the validity of a judgment of an Indian court as a basis for the listing of the group) will not be addressed here.

The EU has been one of the main supporters of current Article 3 of the Draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (former article 18), according to which the definition of terrorism excludes ‘international law applicable in armed conflict, in particular those rules applicable to acts lawful under international humanitarian law’ (paragraph 4). To advance the present version of the convention, the EU has signed partnership agreements with Iraq and South Korea that include reciprocal agreement to support it. As is well known, Article 3 is the main cause of deadlock in the negotiations. It is not by chance that the United Nations Security Council has been operating for years without a definition of terrorism.

Despite its support for Draft Article 3, the EU itself is not alien to the tensions preventing the provision’s adoption. The recent judgment of the General Court has demonstrated that, even within the EU, the relationship between IHL and terrorism is unsettled. For the sake of discussion, I will assume that the EU is bound by customary IHL in the exercise of its competences, which implies inter alia a duty to interpret EU law in accordance with customary IHL (as AG Mengozzi claimed in Diakité, paras. 23-27). Read the rest of this entry…

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After Gaza 2014: Schabas

Published on November 4, 2014        Author: 

In the face of the heart-rending loss and injury of civilian life including children in the recent Gaza conflagration, it was neither unexpected nor inappropriate for the UN Rights Council to announce on 23 July 2014 that it was to launch ‘an independent inquiry to investigate purported violations of international humanitarian law and human rights laws in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem’.

People hold very strong views on the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Articles in EJIL dealing with this topic are always amongst the most downloaded. Passions run high, tempers flare, intemperate language is used. When such is translated into legal writing there is, with some exceptions, a tendency whereby the author’s political and moral views on the conflict translate almost linearly into legal conclusions. I say this with the experience of 25 years on the Board of Editors of EJIL. This is not necessarily an indictment of bad faith or an accusation of ‘brief writing’ disguised as scholarship.  One of the least contested insights of Legal Realism is the manner in which our normative sensibilities and sensitivities condition the very way we experience both facts and the law. But there is plenty of barely disguised lawfare too. Given our own scholarly mission and our belief, mocked by some, that the search for objective legal evaluation is a worthy, if at times Sisyphean, endeavour, we have often ‘balanced’ things out by encouraging debate and reaction pieces. This predates my tenure as Editor-in-Chief. Those with a long memory will recall the exchange between Francis Boyle and James Crawford on the 1988 Palestinian Declaration of Independence in one of our earliest issues.

One is typically blind to one’s own shortcomings. Personally I take some measure of comfort from the fact that my occasional legal writings on the conflict are regularly criticized, always with passion, by partisans on one or the other sides of the conflict, most recently in our own EJIL: Talk! in response to comments I made on the Levy Report.

Be that as it may, when the firing and killing ceases and judicial inquiry takes over it is in the interest of justice and the credibility of the bodies who administer it to adopt those other idioms of the law – dispassionate, ‘blind’, fair – and to heed the wisdom of justice needing not only to be done but to be seen to be done. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Few Thoughts on Hassan v. United Kingdom

Published on October 22, 2014        Author: 

Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne has written an excellent analysis of the European Court’s recent Hassan v. UK judgment, which I fully subscribe to and have nothing substantive to add. Rather, I wish to use this post to outline some thoughts on the practical impact of Hassan, its bottom line and possible future influence.

(1) When it comes to the extraterritorial application of the Convention, the Court has now reaffirmed that de facto physical custody will ipso facto constitute Article 1 jurisdiction, within the personal model of jurisdiction as authority and control over an individual. The Court did not seem to put any limits on this principle (and rightly so), not even the vague idea of ‘public powers’ that it invented in Bankovic and imported into the personal model of jurisdiction in Al-Skeini (cf. the Court’s finding in Hassan, para. 75 that the events took place before the UK assumed responsibility for the maintenance of security in South East Iraq, which was the basis for the ‘public powers’ in Al-Skeini). Similarly, the Court (again, rightly) focused on factual control, disregarding some of the formal arrangements under a memorandum of understanding between the UK and the US (para. 78), and finding that ‘Tarek Hassan fell within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom from the moment of his capture by United Kingdom troops, at Umm Qasr on 23 April 2003, until his release from the bus that took him from Camp Bucca to the drop-off point, most probably Umm Qasr on 2 May 2003 ‘ (para. 80).

The bottom-line of this approach is that whenever the military forces of a European state capture any individual, no matter where that individual is located (note how the Court again, like in Al-Skeini, explicitly avoided ruling whether the territory of South Iraq was under UK control for the purpose of the spatial conception of jurisdiction (para. 75)), the Convention will apply by virtue of the personal conception of Article 1 jurisdiction as authority and control over individuals. The Convention will apply on this basis not only to detention operations in Afghanistan, but also to situations such as the French intervention in Mali, the capture of Ukrainian soldiers by Russian forces in Crimea, etc. This is fully consistent with the English High Court’s Serdar Mohammed judgment, which rejected the UK government’s attempts to confine Al-Skeini to the facts of Iraq (for our previous coverage of Serdar Mohammed, see here).

In short, European soldiers carry the ECHR with them whenever they engage in capture operations. Military legal advisers and other officials will hence inevitably have to take the Convention into account (as many have been doing anyway). Use of force operations are not so comprehensively covered – at least for the time being.

Read the rest of this entry…

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MH 17 Goes to Strasbourg: Some Remarks on Obligations of Prevention, Foreseeability and Causation

Published on October 9, 2014        Author: 

pusztaiDavid Pusztai is a PhD candidate in international law at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge.

The families of the German victims of the tragic MH 17 incident have reportedly decided to claim compensation from Ukraine. Although the details and the legal foundations of the claim have not been disclosed, what we know is that Professor Elmar Giemulla, representing the claimants, intends to bring this case before the European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR]. According to Professor Giemulla, “[e]ach state is responsible for the security of its air space […] If it is not able to [protect its air space] temporarily, it must close its air space. As that did not happen, Ukraine is liable for the damage.”

At the present stage many specific details are unclear, such as the admissibility of the claim or its articulation in the language of human rights law instead of international air law. There is, however, one apparently clear choice of legal strategy based on Professor Giemulla’s announcement: the identification of the internationally wrongful act in question, namely, Ukraine’s omission to close its airspace and to permit continued traffic.

Ukraine was indeed required to “take all practicable measures” to prevent offenses against the safety of international aviation under the 1971 Montreal Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation (Article 10). Given its sovereignty over its airspace, the customary duty to take reasonable steps to protect aliens within its territory required the same from Ukraine, just as its human rights obligations did under the European Convention of Human Rights. In Ilaşcu v. Moldova and Russiathe ECtHR held that the State’s positive obligations do not cease to exist when de facto it is not able to control a part of its territory. Ukraine, to use the Court’s language, “must endeavour, with all the legal and diplomatic means available to it vis-à-vis foreign States and international organisations, to continue to guarantee the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms defined in the Convention”, even within the territory controlled by separatists (see para. 333 of Ilaşcu).

The legal basis of MH 17’s presence in Ukraine’s airspace was Article 1 of the 1944 International Air Services Transit Agreement, conferring the right on foreign aircraft engaged in scheduled international air services to fly across its territory (both Ukraine and Malaysia are parties to the Agreement). Closing the airspace would have been one of  the “legal means” available for Ukraine under the same Article, given that the exercise of this privilege (the “first freedom of the air”) is subject to the specific approval of Ukrainian authorities in “areas of active hostilities”according to the same Article 1. Further, Article 9 of the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation provides that States may, “for reasons of military necessity or public safety”, restrict or prohibit foreign aircraft from using certain parts of their airspace. One important constraint is that such restriction “shall be of a reasonable extent and location so as not to interfere unnecessarily with air navigation.”  In fact, Ukraine exercised this right before the MH 17 tragedy and closed its airspace up to flight level 320 (32 000 ft); MH 17 was flying at flight level 330.

The question whether Ukraine’s failure to completely close its airspace before the incident is in itself a breach of international law (may it be international air law, international human rights law or law of the treatment of aliens) is an intriguing one, yet the present post focuses on a second possible hurdle for this claim:  the issue of causation (for more on air law aspects, see Professor Abeyratne’s article here) . Article 31 of the ILC Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts [ARSIWA] provides that the obligation to provide reparation is conditional upon a causal nexus between the internationally wrongful act and the damage. Did Ukraine’s decision to leave open its airspace above flight level 320 in the Dnipropetrovsk Flight Information Region cause the downing of MH 17?  Read the rest of this entry…

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UN Human Rights Council Panel Discussion on Drones

Published on October 1, 2014        Author: 

Last week the United Nations Human Rights Council convened a panel to  discuss the use of armed drones (remotely piloted aircraft) in counter-terrorism and military operations in accordance with international law. The panel was convened as part of the Human Rights Council’s 27th regular session, which finished last week.  The session held last Monday took the form of an interactive dialogue between a panel of experts, members of the Human Rights Council (i.e States), as well as observers. I had the honour to be invited to moderate what turned out to be a very interesting panel discussion. The panellists were Christof Heyns, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Ben Emmerson QC, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism; Shahzad Akbar, Legal Director, Foundation for Fundamental Rights; Alex Conte, Director of International Law and Protection Programmes, International Commission of Jurists;  and Pardiss Kebriaei, Senior Attorney, Centre for Constitutional Rights. Flavia Pansieri, the UN’s Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights opened the discussion.

There was a really interesting exchange of views, not only amongst members of the panel but also between states and NGOs. Over 20 states spoke, including all the permanent members of the UN Security Council, as did the ICRC. There was discussion of the entire range of legal issues relating to targeted killings in counterterrorism and other operations. In particular, there was consideration of the applicable legal framework regulating the use of armed drones with much attention given to the applicability of international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL). In this context there was discussion of the substantive legal issues relating to the determination of the applicable legal framework – such as the classification of situations of violence (for the purpose of determining the applicability of IHL) and the extraterritorial application of the right to life. However, perhaps the most significant disagreement between states related to the question of institutional competence for discussing and monitoring compliance with the law. In a divide which appeared to mirror the range of views as to whether norms of human rights or IHL constitute part of, or the main applicable legal framework, some states (like the US, the UK and France) insisted that the Human Rights Council was not an appropriate forum for discussion of the use of armed drones whereas many other states, observers and panellists insisted that the Council was such a forum.

A significant part of the discussion also covered the applicable human rights  and IHL rules that apply to the use of drones. The panellists spoke about the right to life as it might apply to drones; the principles relating to targeting under IHL; and other potentially applicable human rights, such as the right to a remedy.  A key part of the discussion was about accountability with respect to the use of drones. All the panellists spoke about the obligations of states under IHL and human rights law to conduct investigations in cases where there was a credible allegation of violations, as well as the obligations relating to transparency with respect to drone operations. This issue was also raised by a number of states with some seeking examples of best practices that may be employed with respect to disclosure of data relating to drone operations.

A press release summarising the discussion is available here and a video of the entire panel discussion is available on UN Web TV. Christopher Rodgers of the Open Society Foundations has also written an excellent report of the session on Just Security. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will submit a report on this discussion to the Human Rights Council’s 28th regular session which will take place early in 2015. At this point, the matter will return to the Council for further consideration.

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Geoff Corn and Guglielmo Verdirame take part in Transatlantic Dialogue on International Law and Armed Conflict

Published on September 19, 2014        Author: 

This week guglielmo-verdirame_0 Professors Geoff Corn (left, South Texas College of Law)j-corn and Guglielmo Verdirame (right, Kings College London & barrister at 20 Essex Street) contributed pieces in the joint blog series arising out of the Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held in Oxford this past July.

Geoff Corn’s piece, “Squaring the Circle: The Intersection of Battlefield Regulation and Criminal Responsibility”, was posted at Lawfare at the start of this week. In this thoughtful pose, Geoff says:

“I sought to highlight what I believe are several evidentiary and institutional complexities associated with subjecting commanders and other operational decision-makers to criminal accountability for battle-command judgments – complexities that will become more significant as cases focus increasingly on complex operational decision-making, particularly in relation to targeting.”

He raises a number of important issues relating to the feasibility of international criminal prosecutions to produce credible accountability decisions in relation to battlefield decision-making. One question he addresses, which is particularly novel but really important is this:

“[A] complicated aspect of criminal prosecution based on alleged unlawful targeting decisions is the relationship between LOAC/IHL presumptions and criminal burdens of proof. The presumption of innocence an axiomatic component of any fundamentally fair trial, and imposes on the prosecution the burden of production and the burden of persuasion. However, several LOAC/IHL targeting rules are based on presumptions which, when applied in the criminal context, arguably shift the burden of production to the defense.”

At the the end of the week, Guglielmo’s piece, “Taming War through Law – A Philosophical & Legal Perspective” , was posted on InterCross (the blog of the ICRC. Guglielmo begins his post in this way:

“The relationship between theory and practice in international law eludes easy explanations. In the history of international law there are examples of ideas shaping practice. But at times the phenomenon of international law – with its complex mix of state practice, adjudication and politics – finds directions not foreseen by any theory.

The application of human rights law to armed conflict may be a case in point. It emerged over the last two decades from the decisions of international and domestic courts without being preceded by a reflection – by jurists, policy-makers or others – on how human rights could contribute to regulating armed conflict. Can this development be accommodated within the system of international law or does it in some way challenge its architecture?”

His post then examines the work of Kant, Grotius and Hobbes, together with decisions of the European Court of Human Rights and the UK courts, in his survey of the question whether human rights law should apply to armed conflicts.

 

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The Grand Chamber Judgment in Hassan v UK

Published on September 16, 2014        Author: 

The eagerly-awaited Grand Chamber judgment in the case of Hassan v UK has now been released, and its importance for anyone interested in extraterritoriality, detention and the relationship between international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) cannot be overstated. For the first time in its history, the Court has explicitly offered its view on the interaction between IHL and IHRL and the operation of the Convention, particularly the right to liberty, in the context of an international armed conflict.

A good overview of the facts of the case and the Court’s judgment can be found here, and they will not be repeated in this post. Instead, I want to offer some initial thoughts on the Court’s reasoning with regard to Article 5 ECHR and, more specifically, its approach to treaty interpretation.

The question before the Grand Chamber was whether the internment of the applicant’s brother, which appeared to conform with the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, could be considered consistent with Article 5 ECHR, notwithstanding the absence of any derogation by the UK. At a very general level, the Court effectively had two options here. On the one hand, it could have followed the path it appeared to be laying in its previous case-law, particularly in Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda, and hold that, where jurisdiction exists and where no lawful derogation has been made, the State remains bound to honour its obligations under the ECHR as ordinarily interpreted. Had the Court taken this approach, the Contracting States may eventually have conceded defeat and begun derogating in extra-territorial contexts. (Incidentally, the Court continued to avoid explicitly engaging with the permissibility of extra-territorial derogations.) Instead, the Court adopted the alternative approach, interpreting the ECHR so as to leave room for the broader powers that States have under IHL. Thus, it effectively read into Article 5(1) ECHR an extra permissible ground for detention where consistent with the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, and it read down the requirement of habeas corpus in Article 5(4) to allow for the administrative forms of review under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Let’s begin with a few, in my view, positive points about the Court’s approach here. First, and perhaps most importantly, the Court rejected the UK’s principal argument that IHL as the lex specialis precluded jurisdiction arising under Article 1 ECHR (para 77). To have followed this would effectively have been to displace the entire Convention where IHL applies. Instead, the Court adopted a more nuanced, case-by-case approach which looks at the specific right at issue. This enables the Court to retain its oversight function by assessing the legality of the actions of Contracting Parties through the prism of IHL.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Developing the Law of Non-International Armed Conflict: A View of the Harmonization Project

Published on September 12, 2014        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This post is part of the joint series of posts hosted by EJIL:Talk!, Lawfare and Intercross (blog of the International Committee of the Red Cross) and arising out of the Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held in Oxford this summer.

This post is a response to Professor Sarah Cleveland’s post on the Columbia-based Harmonization Project that Professor Cleveland and Sir Daniel Bethlehem are leading. That project explores the potential for applying the law of international armed conflict (IAC) in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs), as a means of developing the law applicable in the latter. The conclusion of the project is that the large majority of the rules applicable in IACs can be transplanted into NIACs without amendment and that this should be done by States either multilaterally or via unilateral declarations.

A detailed, rule-by-rule consideration of the degree to which parity between the law of IAC and NIAC is practicable is a very useful endeavour. Indeed, historically this has been the method by which the law of NIAC has developed. It is clear why this should have been the case. When the first international humanitarian law (IHL) treaties were adopted in the mid-nineteenth century, international law was still, by and large, a law governing inter-State relations. Matters that did not directly engage such relations, including NIACs, were thus generally excluded. Customary rules did of course develop to govern certain NIACs, such as the doctrine of belligerency, but these often applied only where another, non-party State was affected by the conflict.

As international law expanded to include the regulation of purely intra-State matters (reflected in human rights instruments, as well as the Genocide Convention, adopted in the aftermath of the Second World War), this basis for marginalising NIACs began to fall away. Rules traditionally applicable only in IACs could now move over into NIACs. And indeed this is what has happened: common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol II were based on the law of IAC. This is also true of the customary rules recognised by the ICTY and ICRC.

It is therefore only natural that we should look to the law of IAC in developing the law of NIAC. This post, however, will offer some words of caution in adopting this method of humanising NIACs. In particular, it will be argued that both general and specific arguments militate against this supposedly self-evident means by which to develop the law of NIAC.

General Concerns

The Harmonization Project declares its goal as being to build upon current obligations in NIACs—it is limited to IHL and does not seek to make a claim regarding the relationship between IHL and human rights law. However, it seems to me that one cannot avoid such questions when considering proposals for developing the law of NIAC. Indeed, if one’s goal is further to humanise NIACs (as the Harmonization Project’s seems to be) then one must tread carefully in proposing the extension of IHL in toto to NIACs. As David Kretzmer has shown, far from increasing protections, this method could in fact undermine existing protections. Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Ken Watkin on the Overlap between IHL and IHLR: Part II

Published on September 11, 2014        Author: 

BOG_Ken WatkinThe latest post in the joint blog series we are hosting with Lawfare and Intercross is Part II of Brigadier General (Rtd) Ken Watkin QC’s piece on “The Overlap between IHL and IHRL”. The piece  is posted on Intercross, where you can also find Part I. Ken Watkin was the senior legal adviser in the Canadian Armed Forces and, also  a former Stockton Professor of International Law at the US Naval War College. The joint series arises out of the 2nd annual Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, which took place in Oxford in July.

Ken begins his latest post in this way:

Last week, I described  the “exclusionary” approaches to the application of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international law human rights law (IHRL), which assume that one body of law will apply to the exclusion of the other. I also described how the approaches taken by the United States and Canada differ from those taken by European nations, the latter approach being influenced, in large part, by decisions of the European Court of Human Rights. However, the widely and often loudly debated exclusionary approaches do not actually represent how the law is being applied, particularly in a North American context. The reality of contemporary conflict is that both normative frameworks often need to be relied on concurrently. The application of human rights based norms occurs less through consideration of IHRL treaty law obligations than by operation of customary law obligations (both IHRL and IHL), the application of domestic law, or as a matter of policy. There is increasing recognition that Common Article 3 and Article 75 of Additional Protocol I apply as a matter of customary international law to international operations. Article 75 was clearly influenced by the 1948 Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. As then Professor Christopher Greenwood noted, the relationship between IHL and human rights law “is expressed in the adoption of major human rights principles in Article 75 AP I” [Christopher Greenwood, “Scope of Application of Humanitarian Law”, in Dieter Fleck, ed., The Handbook of International Humanitarian Law (2nd ed., 2008), 74, Rule 254.] Significantly, these human rights norms must be applied regardless of the geographic location of the armed conflict, thereby avoiding the intractable debate regarding the extra-territorial application of IHRL treaty law.

Read the rest on Intercross!

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Harmonizing Standards in Armed Conflict

Published on September 8, 2014        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This post is part of the joint series of posts hosted by EJIL:Talk!, Lawfare and Intercross (blog of the International Committee of the Red Cross) and arising out of the Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held in Oxford this summer.

One of the consequences of the non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) of recent years has been widespread recognition that the current international humanitarian law (IHL) treaty framework regulating such conflicts is inadequate. One interim solution that some states have pursued has been to apply the rules developed for international armed conflicts (IACs) in conflicts with non-state armed groups.

The United States, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and others, for example, have issued guidance stating that their armed forces will apply IAC rules as a matter of policy in NIACs. And since 2009,the US has taken the position that “[p]rinciples derived from law-of-war rules governing international armed conflicts. . . must inform the interpretation of [its Guantánamo] detention authority.” Yet the extent to which states look to IAC principles as a means of delimiting their authority is unclear.

The Project on Harmonizing Standards for Armed Conflict, which I co-direct with Sir Daniel Bethlehem at the Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute, seeks to augment such efforts by exploring the extent to which the IAC treaty regime can be practically applied, as a matter of law, in NIACs.  The ultimate goal of the project is to help harmonize the IHL rules applicable in all armed conflicts to the higher standards established for IACs. States would adhere to the regime by registering a unilateral declaration of intent with an appropriate body, possibly the Swiss Federal Council (the depository for ratifications of the Geneva Conventions).  The resulting regime would be legally binding on that state as a matter of international law.

One consequence of the approach would be to substantially reduce the significance of characterizing a conflict as either an IAC or NIAC.  If successful, the project could help significantly raise the level of protection for individuals in non-international armed conflicts while clarifying a participating state’s IHL obligations.  More broadly, it could complement longer-term law reform efforts by demonstrating the feasibility of holding states to the higher standards of protection from IAC, and ultimately catalyse the development of a more harmonized regime of IHL legal standards. Read the rest of this entry…

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