Home Archive for category "International Law and Domestic Law"

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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The New UK Government Wants To Scrap the Human Rights Act. Does the Act Matter, and Can Anything Be Done To Save It?

Published on May 27, 2015        Author: 

The quick answers to the above two questions are Yes and Maybe.  Despite the statutory framework that devolved power to legislative bodies in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, the UK parliament has the power to repeal the 1998 Human Rights Act (“HRA”).  Yet there are significant legal, constitutional and political aspects that will determine the future of the HRA.  Before delving into these, it is worth asking why repeal is even on the agenda.

This proposal is not new. The Conservative party promised to repeal the HRA in 2010 and replace it with a British Bill of Rights, but ended up governing in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. A Commission on a Bill of Rights was set up instead, but failed to reach a consensus. In the 2015 manifesto the pledge re-emerged.  Having won a majority on the May 7th Prime Minister David Cameron is now pressing ahead. (Also high on his legislative agenda is a referendum on EU membership). The government claims scrapping the HRA would:

  • Break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights and make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK” and,
  • “Stop terrorists and other serious foreign criminals who pose a threat to our society from using spurious human rights arguments to prevent deportation.”

It also intends to go ahead with a “British Bill of Rights” to:

  • “Remain faithful to the basic principles of human rights, which we signed up to in the original European Convention on Human Rights.”
  • “Reverse the mission creep that has meant human rights law being used for more and more purposes, and often with little regard for the rights of wider society”, and
  • “Ensure our Armed Forces overseas are not subject to persistent human rights claims that undermine their ability to do their job.” This argument will be familiar to readers of recent posts on the second of the two “Fog of Law” reports (2013 & 2015, Policy Exchange).

Readers will see the many legal reasons why most of these aims cannot be achieved by abolishing the HRA, Read the rest of this entry…

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The Human Rights of Migrants as Limitations on States’ Control Over Entry and Stay in Their Territory

Published on May 21, 2015        Author: 

As Juan Amaya-Castro points out, (domestic) migration legislation is about selecting among potential or prospective migrants, i.e. creating two categories of migrants: ‘documented’ or ‘regular’ migrants, whose migration status complies with established requirements, and ‘undocumented’ or ‘irregular’ migrants, whose migration status does not so comply. Where does this leave international law and, as Juan Amaya-Castro calls it, its humanist-egalitarian tradition?

This post will argue that Amaya-Castro underestimates the strict and strong limitations on the sovereignty of states established by international human rights law, international refugee law and international labour law. In particular, states’ discretion in the adoption and enforcement of migration policies is limited by their obligation to respect, protect and promote the human rights of all individuals within their territory and subject to their jurisdiction (UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 15, para. 5). This post discusses some of the far-reaching consequences of this principle, focusing on three types of limitations on state sovereignty with respect to migration: limitations on the prerogative to control entry; limitations on the prerogative to establish conditions for entry and stay; and limitations on the treatment of irregular migrants.

Limitations on the prerogative to control entry

The obligation not to reject refugees and asylum-seekers at the frontier may be an exception to state sovereignty conceptually, but it is far from exceptional in practice, especially in certain European contexts. Of the 19,234 people “intercepted” along EU borders by the joint border control operation Mos Maiorum between 13-26 October 2014, 11,046 people (57%) claimed asylum (Mos Maiorum final report, p. 25). More than a quarter of those “intercepted” were Syrians, followed by Afghans, Eritreans, Somalis, Iraqis – individuals whose need for international protection can easily be argued (ibid., p10).

Nikolaos Sitaropoulos expertly discussed the limitations imposed on states’ sovereign prerogative to control entry and stay by the Council of Europe human rights framework, in particular its obligation of non-discrimination. Outside that framework, the guidance provided by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is also worth mentioning. In 1998 the Committee criticised Switzerland’s so-called three-circle-model migration policy, which classified foreigners on the basis of their national origin, as ‘stigmatizing and discriminatory’ (UN Doc. CERD/C/304/Add.44, para. 6). Four years later, the Committee expressed concern at the possible discriminatory effect of Canadian migration policies (in particular, a high ‘right of landing fee’) on persons coming from poorer countries (UN Doc. A/57/18, para. 336). On these grounds, this post argues that the general principle of non-discrimination is a limitation to states’ discretion in the adoption and enforcement of all migration policies, including their prerogative to control entry. Read the rest of this entry…

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International Migration Law: License to Discriminate?

Published on May 19, 2015        Author: 

The story of international law and migration commonly begins with the observation that states have the sovereign right to deny access to non-nationals. This statement is then qualified with the observation that there are some exceptions to this rule. Refugees and other people who may run serious risks if returned to their country, or are otherwise expelled, and in some cases people requesting admission on the basis of family reunification, should be allowed access. The sovereign right to exclude is presumed to be inherent and ‘age-old’. That impression is mistaken. Immigration control is a relatively recent phenomenon. Until late in the 19th century, political demographic conditions made population growth desirable, so immigration was welcomed. It was only with the desire to limit Chinese immigration into the US and Australia, a desire motivated by racist considerations, that immigration control and the passport regime became the new ‘normal’, and that the reference to the ‘age old’ sovereign right to control immigration began to gain force.

Recently, a number of countries have made headlines because of innovative immigration policies designed to attract investors and entrepreneurs. Spain, Chile, Canada, and others are now conceiving of immigration policies within the broader context of increasing their economic competitiveness. Many other countries already offer benefits to so-called ‘knowledge migrants’. What makes this new wave stand out is the overt effort to compete with other countries for talent and investment. One could almost forget that fear of immigrants has been the main driving force behind most immigration policies around the world. Although government officials in many countries experiencing immigration may be under pressure to implement policies that bring immigrant numbers down, immigration policies have typically also been made with an eye to economic sectors eager for access to certain workers, whether skilled or unskilled. In other words, immigration policies cater not only to those fearful of (large scale) immigration, but also to those in need of specific forms of labor.

As such, migration law is not just about putting up barriers to migrants but also about selecting among potential or prospective migrants. In the Dutch political context the term of art is kansarm (poor in prospect) or more broadly in public opinion debates kansloos (prospectless). Kansarm even made it into the 2010 coalition agreement, which also exempted so-called knowledge-migrants (kennismigranten) from various measures deemed to make immigration more difficult; the factor used to determine whether someone is a knowledge-migrant is a minimum level of income. Blunt as Dutch political discourse may be, public discourse on immigration in most immigration countries often takes such distinctions for granted. Read the rest of this entry…

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Individual Compensation Reloaded: German Liability for Unlawful Acts in Bello

Published on April 29, 2015        Author: 

On 30 April, the Appeals Court of Cologne will rule on whether Germany has to pay compensation to victims of an airstrike in Afghanistan. Its judgment is likely to consolidate the new German approach to questions of compensation for armed activities which – given the increasing relevance of litigation about armed conflicts – merits a brief treatment.


In 2009, a German colonel ordered an airstrike against two fuel trucks that were stuck on a sandbank near the NATO camp in Kunduz/Afghanistan. Due to the tense situation in Kunduz, he assumed that the fuel or the trucks could be used for a bomb against ISAF units and thus represented an imminent threat. The airstrike caused the death of 142 individuals. Because many among the victims were civilians, it has become the most controversial modern operation involving the German Armed Forces (leading, amongst other things, to the resignation of a minister of government, criminal investigations and the establishment of a parliamentary investigation).

Seeking compensation for damages on the basis of domestic rules of governmental liability (Amtshaftung), victims filed a claim against the Federal Republic of Germany. In 2013, the Court of First Instance in Bonn rejected the claim (for details see my article in the JICJ). Although it held that governmental liability in principle applies to acts in bello, the Court concluded that the colonel did not breach his official duty to comply with international humanitarian law. A press release, summarizing the oral proceedings and the taking of evidence issued in March, indicates that the Cologne Appeals Court intends to uphold the result of the Court of First Instance.

As I have argued elsewhere (see JICJ article, at p 631-633), the legal assessment made by the Court of First Instance is questionable in several respects. Most importantly, it seems that the colonel did not comply with the customary rule encompassed in Art. 57 (2), a (i) AP I. He failed to do everything feasible to verify that the objectives of the attack were neither civilians nor civilian objects. Certainly, the level of precaution necessary depends on the specific circumstances of the attack. However, in this case the fact that trucks had been stuck for seven hours, and thus did not represent an imminent threat, was not sufficiently taken into account. The adoption of the first instance court’s assessment by the Court of Appeals would therefore be problematic.

While the two courts’ interpretation and application of rules of international humanitarian law is highly fact-dependent, a preliminary aspect is of more general relevance, and highlights the particular approach obtaining under German law: on what basis can Germany be held responsible, before domestic courts, for alleged violations of international humanitarian law? Read the rest of this entry…

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OFAC’s Settlement with Commerzbank AG: Coerced Voluntary Settlements of the Competitively Disadvantaged

Published on March 20, 2015        Author: 

Nine months after the Office of Foreign Asset Control’s largest ever settlement with French BNP Paribas (see my previous post), OFAC is striking again. On March 11, OFAC settled for the first time with a German financial institution, Commerzbank AG, for alleged violations of the U.S. sanctions regulations. Commerzbank is the thirteenth foreign financial institution (and eleventh European one) to settle with U.S. authorities (see e.g. OFAC’s Selected Settlement Agreements) for processing electronic funds on behalf of its Cuban, Iranian, Burmese and Sudanese customers, among others. (Settlement Agreement [26-30]). In exchange for Commerzbank’s agreement to pay OFAC $258 million (less than a third of what BNPP agreed to pay OFAC alone), OFAC pardoned the bank of all civil liability in government-initiated cases for its alleged wrongful conduct, thought to have started in 2002. (See Settlement Agreement [39]).

The total amount paid to all relevant U.S. authorities (United States Department of Justice, New York County District Attorney’s Office, Federal Reserve Boards of Governors and the Department of Financial Services of the State of New York) is $1.45 billion. This post considers only OFAC’s actions toward Commerzbank and calls into question OFAC’s jurisdiction to enforce its sanctions regulations and penalties abroad.

Allegations against Commerzbank

Commerzbank allegedly violated the U.S. sanctions regulations by routing non-transparent payment messages for states, entities and individuals subject to U.S. sanctions through the U.S. financial system between 2002 and 2010. By removing or omitting references to U.S.-designated entities from SWIFT’s MT103 and MT202 payment messages, Commerzbank also allegedly caused U.S. financial institutions to violate U.S. law. (Settlement Agreement [3-5, 1-9, 11, 20]). The first question we must ask is why Commerzbank, a German entity, would have to follow U.S. sanctions regulations?

OFAC’s main argument is that the alleged wrongful transactions went through the U.S. financial system, and, therefore, under the territoriality principle, U.S. law applies. Without repeating myself (see my previous post), I would like to stress that Commerzbank, incorporated in Germany and initiating its transactions in Germany, has a much stronger jurisdictional link to German than to U.S. law. In the settlement, OFAC acknowledges that Commerzbank agrees to OFAC’s requests only to the extent permitted by local law. (Settlement Agreement [44]). Read the rest of this entry…

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