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Home Archive for category "International Law and Domestic Law"

A Comment on Croatia’s Concerns over Serbia’s So-Called “Mini-Hague”

Published on April 22, 2016        Author: 

As recently reported, Croatia has blocked the opening of Chapters 23 and 24 of the accession negotiations between Serbia and the European Union (EU). One of the reasons given relates to Serbia’s law establishing the jurisdiction of Serbian prosecutors and courts over war crimes committed anywhere on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Justifying their actions, Croatian officials have said that Serbia must follow “European standards”, with some Croatian officials and media reports referring to Serbia’s extension of jurisdiction as the creation of a “mini-Hague” (a media report in Serbo-Croatian is available here). Croatia has asserted that such jurisdiction is incompatible with international law and that it actually constitutes a “hybrid”, rather than universal, jurisdiction (available here in Serbo-Croatian). From the perspective of States whose national legislation provides for universal jurisdiction over international crimes, the issues arising here are quite interesting.

The involvement of the European Commission and its request that the Croatian government cease its opposition has added further complexity to the matter. In a ‘non-paper’, the European Commission has expressed its opinion that the arguments advanced by Croatia are not justified. Commenting on the document, a Croatian official has described it as an old document meant for internal use, and one that the Croatian public should not be bothered with.

Jurisdiction over Croatian Nationals

Croatia’s criticism seems to be aimed at the statutory provisions themselves. In particular, Croatia takes issue with Article 3 of the Serbian Law on Organization and Jurisdiction of State Organs in War Crimes Proceedings, which provides:

The government authorities of the Republic of Serbia set out under this Law shall have jurisdiction in proceedings for criminal offences specified in Article 2 hereof, committed on the territory of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim. (An older English version of the law is available here; the quoted provision remains unchanged.)

Croatia thus appears concerned with the possibility of Serbia exercising its jurisdiction over Croatian nationals. No accusations of discriminatory or systematic prosecutions by Serbian prosecutors against Croatian nationals have been advanced by Croatia.  To date, universal jurisdiction has not been extensively used to prosecute foreign nationals for war crimes allegedly perpetrated in the Yugoslav conflict; reported cases include both an acquittal and a rejection of a request for extradition (for the reason of an allegedly politically motivated process) of two Bosnians. In 2015, a Croatian national sentenced in Serbia for war crimes was transferred to serve his sentence in Croatia.

Compliance with “European Standards” and International Law

The Croatian government is targeting a particular statutory provision, which in its opinion, marks Serbia’s intention to act as a “regional policeman”. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Bashir Case: Has the South African Supreme Court Abolished Immunity for all Heads of States?

Published on March 29, 2016        Author: 

Earlier this month, the South African Supreme Court of Appeal decided unanimously (see the judgment here) that the South African government had breached its obligations under the South African domestic statute implementing the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and under the Rome Statute, by failing to arrest and detain for surrender to the ICC Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. Bashir visited South African in June 2015 to attend the African Union summit held there. As will be explained below, although the decision was ultimately based on domestic law, it is potentially very far reaching in the effect that it will have in South Africa and possibly internationally. In summary, the Court held that under the South African Implementation of the Rome Statute of the ICC Act 2002, any head of State subject to an ICC arrest warrant may be arrested in South Africa and surrendered to the ICC. However, the Court also held that under the same Act international law immunities, including the immunity of heads of states, do not apply under South African law when a person is sought for domestic prosecution in South Africa for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. This aspect of the decision is particularly remarkable given that the same South African Act provides for universal jurisdiction over those crimes, and the South African Constitutional Court held in 2014 that the South African Police Service may commence an investigation of these crimes even if the person is not present on South African territory. Although the aspect of the Bashir decision relating to domestic prosecution in South Africa, is in my view obiter and not part of the ratio decidendi of the decision, if it stands, it means that South Africa would be a very rare example of a State that claims the authority to prosecute serving heads of state for international crimes.

The lead judgment of the South African Supreme Court of Appeal was given by Wallis JA, with whom two judges concurred. A further two judges concurred in the result but agreed with the lead judgment only in in so far as it was based on South African ICC Implementation Act. Read the rest of this entry…

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CETA’s New Domestic Law Clause

Published on March 17, 2016        Author: 

The recent, widely-reported ‘legal scrub’ of the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) has drawn attention for its endorsement of a radical shift away from the model of investor-state dispute settlement that has prevailed in investment agreements to date. The new text indicates that Canada has agreed to the EU’s proposals on an investment court system, with a permanent roster of arbitrators appointed by Canada and the EU, rather than ad hoc tribunals whose members are appointed by the disputing parties themselves. In another innovation, CETA will also include an appeals mechanism, which will have power to review the merits of first-instance rulings, going beyond the limited grounds for annulment of awards in the existing ICSID system.

Alongside these revolutions, the new CETA text also contains another change from the earlier text. Under the heading of ‘Applicable law and interpretation’, Article 8.31(2) of the new text provides:

The Tribunal shall not have jurisdiction to determine the legality of a measure, alleged to constitute a breach of this Agreement, under the domestic law of the disputing Party. For greater certainty, in determining the consistency of a measure with this Agreement, the Tribunal may consider, as appropriate, the domestic law of the disputing Party as a matter of fact. In doing so, the Tribunal shall follow the prevailing interpretation given to the domestic law by the courts or authorities of that Party and any meaning given to domestic law by the Tribunal shall not be binding upon the courts or the authorities of that Party.

Although the provision is new in CETA, it has also recently appeared in the EU-Vietnam FTA and in similar language in the EU’s November 2015 TTIP proposals. While this might suggest that the provision is a recent invention of the EU, its inspiration in CETA could equally have come from Canada, which included a similar provision in its 2008 FTA with Colombia. In fact, Colombia itself appears to have first spearheaded the provision, including language on domestic law broadly similar to the provision’s first sentence in its 2007 Model BIT and in agreements signed as far back as 2006 with Japan, the UK, India, Belgium, China, Peru and Switzerland. Read the rest of this entry…

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New German Constitutional Court Decision on “Treaty Override”: Triepelianism Continued

Published on February 29, 2016        Author: 

By Court order of decision of 15 December 2015 (2BvL 1/12), published only recently, the German Constitutional Court (second Senate) has confirmed the practice of treaty override in tax law. The euphemism “treaty override” means that the German legislator adopts a law which violates a prior international treaty (often a treaty on double taxation). The Federal Tribunal on Finances (Bundesfinanzhof) had doubts about the constitutionality of this practice. It was convinced that a recent amendment of the Income Tax Act which is incompatible with a German-Turkish dual taxation treaty of 1985 is unconstitutional, exactly because it violates the treaty.

If in a pending judicial proceeding, a German court is convinced that a legal provision, which it needs to apply to resolve the case under scrutiny, is unconstitutional, that court must stay the proceeding and pose a reference question on the law’s constitutionality to the German Constitutional Court (Art. 100(1) German Basic Law). Such a reference procedure guarantees that the Constitutional Court retains the monopoly for declaring a law unconstitutional, and is thus a hallmark of the concentrated system of constitutional control in Germany.

Translation into constitutional questions
The judicial proceeding under Art. 100(1) Basic Law is available only for questions of constitutionality, not for questions of compatibility with international law. This worked, because the courts involved in fact “translated” the question of the relationship between international law and domestic law into a constitutional law question of the separation of powers and of constitutional principles: rule of law versus democracy.

The Federal Tribunal on Finances deemed the treaty override unconstitutional for violation of the rule of law and of the German constitutional principle of “friendliness towards international law” (“Völkerrechtsfreundlichkeit”).

The Constitutional Court did not follow this view. It opined that the constitutional principle of democracy (which includes the principle of discontinuity of parliament following elections) demands that the German Parliament is free to change its mind and to make or amend a law even if this violates an international treaty which had been ratified by a previous Parliament (Order of 15 Dec. 2015, paras 53-54). Read the rest of this entry…

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The United Kingdom Ministerial Code and International Law: A Response to Richard Ekins and Guglielmo Verdirame

Published on December 11, 2015        Author: 

Until very recently, little attention had been paid by academic international lawyers to the United Kingdom’s Ministerial Code (though see this discussion of the role of the Code with respect to legal advice relating to the Iraq War of 2003). The Code, is a document issued by the Cabinet Office, but effectively by the Prime Minister. It sets out the standards of conduct expected of ministers with respect to the discharge of their duties. As was recently stated in this House of Commons Briefing Paper on the Code [p.3],”It has become the convention for the Code to be released at the beginning of a new administration and at a new Parliament.” Paragraph 1.2 of the 2010 version of the Code (as well as some earlier versions) stated that the Code was to be read against “the background of overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations . . .” However, in October 2015, Paragraph 1.2 was changed to state that: “The Ministerial Code should be read against the background of the overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law . . .” without any reference to international law or treaty obligations. Much has been written in the British media and in legal blogs about this change (see here for posts on the UK Constitutional Law blog and here, here and here for pieces in the Guardian and on the BBC).

This post responds to just one of the pieces that have been written in support of the change. We argue that the position set out in the piece by our colleagues, Richard Ekins and Guglielmo Verdirame (and in a twin piece by the same authors) misconceives the role of the reference to international law in the previous version of the Ministerial Code; misunderstands the relevance of international law to the rule of law; and goes too far in drawing a distinction between the binding force of international law on the state and on state officials. Read the rest of this entry…

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The (Non-)Judicialisation of War: German Constitutional Court Judgment on Rescue Operation Pegasus in Libya of 23 September 2015 (Part 2)

Published on October 22, 2015        Author: 

Editor’s Note:  This is the second of two posts discussing the ‘Rescue Operation Pegasus’ Judgment of the German Federal Constitutional Court.

4. Assessment

The legal reasoning of the German Federal Constitutional Court in the Rescue Operation Pegasus Judgment is quite obviously inspired by the desire to avoid impractical results. It is somewhat in tension with the Court’s insistence on an otherwise joint and unified power of Government and Parliament (“Entscheidungsverbund”; para. 83).

Still, I find the teleological argument fully convincing: On the premise that Parliament has the war power because it is supposed to co-decide in the face of political and military risk but not to assess the lawfulness of the operation, an ex post “ratification” does not make sense.

Importantly, in the different factual situation of an ongoing operation, parliamentary approval would have to be sought, and its refusal would deploy its effect ex nunc and oblige Government to withdraw troops (para. 87).

It is also worth noting, that – like a counter-point to the actual holding against Parliament − the Court by way of dicta highlighted and strengthened parliamentary powers in numerous respects. Read the rest of this entry…

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The (Non-)Judicialisation of War: German Constitutional Court Judgment on Rescue Operation Pegasus in Libya of 23 September 2015 (Part 1)

Published on October 21, 2015        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two posts discussing the ‘Rescue Operation Pegasus’ Judgment of the German Federal Constitutional Court.

In the middle of the civil war in Libya in 2011 (before the start of the UN authorised military operation), the German Chancellor, following the proposals made by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and of Defence, decided to evacuate 132 persons (German and other civilians) from an industrial camp in Nafurah, 400 km south of Benghazi. The operation – dubbed “Operation Pegasus” – succeeded without any combat action.

Subsequently, a group of members of the German Bundestag seized the German Federal Constitutional Court and argued that the constitutional and statutory division of powers among the Executive and the Legislative branch when it comes to deciding about military action not only demands parliamentary ex ante approval but also, in those urgent cases where the Executive is allowed to decide on its own, requires a formal ex post approval. This claim was rejected by the Court (judgment of the Second Senate, 23 September 2015, No. 2 BvE 6/11).

1. The legal framework and background

Germany is probably the state with the most detailed legal regime on parliamentary involvement in decisions on the use of military force abroad. Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Blog Series: Application of International Humanitarian Law by Domestic Courts

Published on September 15, 2015        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 3rd Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held in Oxford this summer.

It is well known that in an order such as international law where there is no universal, compulsory judicial system, domestic courts play an important role not only in enforcement, but also in interpretation and development of particular international legal rules. This is especially the case in international humanitarian law (IHL), an area that constantly faces existential critique for its lack of effective enforcement mechanisms. Moreover, it was only in the 1990s with the emergence of modern international criminal justice that many of the specific rules of IHL came to be interpreted and developed since their codification several decades before. Against this background, domestic courts are increasingly called on to apply and interpret IHL.

The purpose of this post is to offer a brief overview of the circumstances that might lead a domestic court to examine IHL, the extent to which such jurisprudence can be considered as contributing to the development of IHL, and some of the problems that arise here.

How does IHL come to arise before domestic courts?

There are a number of situations that might call for a domestic court to draw on IHL during the proceedings. In such cases, the court will either apply IHL directly (e.g. where a domestic law or government policy is being judicially reviewed for compliance with the international obligations of the State) or indirectly (e.g. where a domestic law or other international obligation of the State is being applied in a situation that requires a renvoi to IHL for content-determination, such as when interpreting a human right in the context of an armed conflict). Read the rest of this entry…

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Embedded Troops and the Use of Force in Syria: International and Domestic Law Questions

Published on September 11, 2015        Author: 

Editor’s Notes: This post was written before the announcement earlier this week that the UK had conducted a drone strike against members of Islamic State in Syria in August. Commentary on that latest development will follow later.

As Rob McLaughlin noted in his post, UK military pilots, (as well as other UK military personnel), embedded with US and Canadian forces have taken part in air strikes in Syria against Islamic State (or ISIL) targets. It has also been reported that Australian pilots embedded with US forces are also due to start taking part in that campaign in Syria. In a written Ministerial Statement of 20 July, the UK Secretary of State for Defense confirmed that: “A small number of embedded UK pilots have carried out airstrikes in Syria against ISIL targets: none are currently involved in airstrikes.”

The involvement of UK military personnel in air strikes in Syria would ordinarily raise a number of international law questions: (i) Is the UK to be considered as using force in Syria, and, if so, what is the legal basis for such action?; (ii) is the UK to be regarded as a party to one or more of the armed conflicts taking place in Syria?; (iii) would the UK bear responsibility if any violations of international law, occur in the conduct of those air strikes? Although these are all important questions of international law, they have not been all that significant in this case. These questions have not been of great importance in the context of the air strikes conducted by embedded personnel largely because (in the case of the first two) they arise apart from the participation in those airstrikes, and because (in the case of the third), it has not been suggested that violations of international humanitarian law occurred in the conduct of those strikes.

In the UK, the significance of UK forces acting in Syria has arisen largely because of domestic political and legal considerations that I set out below. However, as will be seen those domestic legal considerations are intertwined with questions of international law and in particular, with the question whether the UK pilots who have acted in Syria are to be considered as part of the armed forces of the UK, or rather as part of the armed forces of the countries in whose forces they are embedded (the US or Canada). This question, which is important domestically, raises the international law question that Rob McLaughlin refers to: are the acts of those UK pilots attributable, as a matter of international law, to the UK, or attributable only to the US and Canada?

The UK and the Legality of the Use of Force in Syria

The UK has already indicated that it would be prepared to use force against Islamic State in Syria and it has been rumoured that the government would seek parliamentary approval for such a use of force this autumn, perhaps even, this month. In any case, even prior to the revelation that UK embedded personnel had acted in Syria, the UK had already engaged in acts which amount to a use of force in Syria as it is involved in training and equipping Syrian rebel forces Read the rest of this entry…

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Russian Constitutional Court Affirms Russian Constitution’s Supremacy over ECtHR Decisions

Published on July 15, 2015        Author: 

On 1 July 2015 a group of Russian MPs requested the Russian Constitutional Court (RCC) to check the constitutionality of the Federal Law ‘On ratification of ECHR’, the Federal Law ‘On international treaties’, and a number of procedural norms. According to the applicants,

‘participation in international cooperation should not lead to a breach of human rights or contradict the fundamental principles of the constitutional system. In their view, the contested rules oblige the courts and other state bodies to implement unconditionally ECtHR decisions, even if they contradicted the Russian Constitution. As a result … the person who applies the law is put in an impossible situation, because such a conflict might be insoluble.’

Although the RCC held that the contested norms do not conflict with the Constitution, thus leaving the de jure legal status of the Convention intact, this ruling and its high publicity in Russian media clearly signifies a change in the political attitude towards the implementation of decisions of the European Court.

Position of the Constitutional Court

The Court confirmed that the contested norms do not contradict the Constitution. Thus, the Convention remains part of Russian legal system, according to Article 15 (part 4) of the Constitution. However, the Court reasoned that

‘the participation of the Russian Federation in any international treaty does not mean giving up national sovereignty. Neither the ECHR, nor the legal positions of the ECtHR based on it, can cancel the priority of the Constitution. Their practical implementation in the Russian legal system is only possible through recognition of the supremacy of the Constitution’s legal force.’

There is no revolution in admitting that ‘both the Constitution and the European Convention are based on shared basic values’ and that ‘in the vast majority of cases no conflict between the two documents can appear at all.’ There have hardly been any conflicts since 1998, when Russia ratified the Convention. However, when it comes to interpretation, apparently the position can differ. Read the rest of this entry…

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