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Home Archive for category "International Humanitarian Law"

IHL Does Authorize Detention in NIAC: A Rejoinder to Rogier Bartels

Published on February 24, 2015        Author: 

We are grateful to Rogier Bartels for his thoughtful comments on our recent post and article in which we argue that IHL authorizes State parties to a NIAC to detain suspected insurgents. In this rejoinder, we briefly respond to Rogier’s main criticisms of our argument.

Equal protection versus equal status

The crux of Rogier’s criticism flows from his understanding of what the principle of equal application requires. For Rogier—as well as for Leggatt J in Serdar Mohammed and Dapo Akande and Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne (see here and here) —‘a principle of IHL has to apply equally to all sides; otherwise it cannot be a principle’. All parties to a NIAC, both States and non-state actors, must have exactly the same rights (including authorities) and obligations under IHL. Thus, our position that IHL authorizes States (but not organized armed groups) to detain produces unacceptably ‘asymmetrical rules’.

As we explain in our article, this ‘symmetry’ objection stretches the principle of equal application beyond its breaking point:

If the principle [of equal application] demands that all belligerents must enjoy the same status and rights and CA3 does not confer the full panoply of belligerent status and rights on non-State actors, then the only logical conclusion is that the parties to the Geneva Conventions and AP II gave up their status and rights as States and assumed the same status and rights as non-State actors. This not only contradicts commonsense, but also the plain language of CA3, which declares that it does not affect the legal status of the parties, State and non-State alike, to the conflict. In fact, CA3 thereby conserves any pre-existing inequality between the belligerent status and rights of State and non-State parties to a NIAC.

The principle of equal application requires that the protections and obligations under IHL apply to all parties to an IAC or NIAC whatever the lawfulness of resort to force under the jus ad bellum. Entitlement to protection is not dependent on how the conflict began or the relative justice of the causes involved. Similarly, the scope of IHL obligations should not be linked to organizational capacities or military rationales. However, none of this alters the fact that there is an undeniable asymmetry in the status of parties to a NIAC. One is a State and the other is not. The fact that an internal situation rises to the level of a NIAC does not transform the State party into a non-State actor or vice versa. As René Provost notes in his comments on the debate between Marco Sassòli and Yuval Shany referred to by Rogier: Read the rest of this entry…

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IHL Does Not Authorise Detention in NIAC: A Reply to Sean Aughey and Aurel Sari  

Published on February 16, 2015        Author: 

As noted by Sean and Aurel, the appeals proceedings in Serdar Mohammed v Ministry of Defence have sparked a renewed debate about detention in non-international armed conflict (NIAC). They have set out their arguments in an interesting article and in summary form in this post. I am not convinced by their arguments though, and despite the fact that certain provisions of the law of NIAC address the restriction of liberty or otherwise recognize that on occasion persons will be held by a party to the conflict, I do not see any authorisation for detention in the black-letter, or customary, law of NIAC. In this reply, I address some of the arguments made in favour of finding such authorisation and put forward an opposing view, in support of Leggatt J’s judgment.

Sean and Aurel, and others claiming that authorisation to detain must exist because it is (partially) regulated, fail to acknowledge that the entire body of post-WW2 IHL shows that the regulation of a situation (or behaviour) does not make the occurrence of that situation legal or authorised. The pragmatism of the ICRC and the recognition that conflicts would continue to occur and regulation of the behaviour of warring parties would continue to be necessary, despite the UN’s insistence that no further need for regulation was necessary after the adoption of the UN Charter that outlawed aggression, does not make it legal to wage war. The fact that rules were adopted for NIAC, did not give armed groups any authorisation to fights their governments (or each other). Nor did it authorise governments to take action against such armed groups. Instead, IHL explicitly recognises that sovereign States had that right, independent of IHL. Read the rest of this entry…

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IHL Does Authorise Detention in NIAC: What the Sceptics Get Wrong

Published on February 11, 2015        Author: 

As Serdar Mohammed v Ministry of Defence hits the English Court of Appeal, the blogs have lit up with comments, criticisms and predictions. In recent posts published at Just Security and Opinio Juris, Ryan Goodman, Kevin Jon Heller and Jonathan Horowitz (see here, here and here) have joined with Marko Milanovic and Lawrence Cawthorne-Hill and Dapo Akande (see here, here and here) in defending the view that IHL does not provide States with a legal authority to detain persons in a non-international armed conflict (NIAC). In this post, we wish to outline our challenge to this proposition as mistaken in law and undesirable as a matter of policy (for a more detailed version of our argument, see our recent article in International Law Studies here).

The nature of the law of war

In Serdar Mohammed, Mr Justice Leggatt relied on five arguments to deny the existence of a legal authority to detain under IHL in NIACs (paras 228–251). Despite his meticulous analysis, we do not find the reasoning persuasive. None of the five arguments exclude the possibility that a legal basis for detention exists under customary international law. Even if correct, they establish only the absence of an implicit legal basis under Common Article 3 (CA3) of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the relevant provisions of Additional Protocol II of 1977 (AP II). However, Leggatt J’s reading of these provisions is too narrow. In particular, it misconstrues the nature and purpose of IHL as a body of law.

According to Leggatt J, the purely humanitarian purpose pursued by CA3 and AP II is inconsistent with the idea that they were designed to confer a legal power of detention (para. 244). Although humanitarian imperatives have played a central role in the development of modern IHL, they have never been its sole preoccupation. Its other purpose has always been the regulation of hostilities. Focusing on the humanitarian aspects of IHL at the expense of its warfighting dimension ignores its fundamentally dual character. In particular, it fails to appreciate the role played by the principle of military necessity. As Nils Melzer has explained, the ‘aim of military necessity as a principle of law has always been to provide a realistic standard of conduct by permitting those measures of warfare that are reasonably required for the effective conduct of hostilities, while at the same time prohibiting the infliction of unnecessary suffering, injury and destruction’ (Melzer, Targeted Killing in International Law, 279–280). The principle therefore serves both a restrictive and a permissive function. Read the rest of this entry…

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Two Cheers for the ICTY Popovic et al. Appeals Judgement: Some Words on the Interplay Between IHL and ICL

Published on February 4, 2015        Author: 

Two years ago, I criticised the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) seized of the Prosecutor v. Popovic et al. for incorrectly applying international humanitarian law (IHL). In a publication dealing with the challenging interplay between IHL and international criminal law (ICL), I referred to the Popovic et al. Trial Judgement as an example of “problematic rulings” that “qualify acts as crimes against humanity although they would be legitimate under IHL, thereby penalising the behaviour of warring parties in times of armed conflict, if such behaviour formed part of a larger, criminal plan”. Now, I am happy to note that the Appeals Chamber has set the IHL-record straight.

Friday, some 4.5 years after the rendering of the Trial Judgement, the Appeals Chamber rendered its long-awaited judgement in Prosecutor v. Popovic et al. The case concerned the take-over by the Bosnian-Serb army (VRS) of the Bosnian-Muslim enclaves Srebrenica and Zepa and the crimes committed by the VRS in the aftermath, including the (genocidal) murder of several thousand (the actual number was disputed) able-bodied Muslim men. Of the various ICTY cases dealing with these events, this multi-accused case was known as theSrebrenica case”. Since the trial, one of the accused has passed away and another did not appeal his conviction. The remaining five men saw their convictions mostly upheld, bringing to a close this interesting case with accused from different components and various hierarchical levels of the Bosnian-Serb forces. Two life sentences, one 35-year sentence, and one 13-year sentence were affirmed. One sentence was reduced by one year to 18 years.

All in all, this is a good result for the Tribunal, which noted in its press release that this completes the ICTY’s largest case to date. But it is an especially good outcome for the Prosecution, as the convictions at trial were mostly upheld, with a couple of exceptions: Read the rest of this entry…

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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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