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Home International Organisations Archive for category "United Nations"

Should Commitments to Implementation Factor into Elections to the Human Rights Council?

Published on November 8, 2016        Author: 

Following the recent celebration of the UN Human Rights Council’s tenth anniversary, one of the key questions for its next decade is how it can play a more effective role in promoting the implementation of human rights standards and norms and its own and other UN bodies’ recommendations. This shift is critical given the serious deficiencies in implementation, despite the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s call almost 15 years ago for a focus on the ‘implementation of the commitments we have made’ in an ‘era of commitment and implementation’. The recent Universal Rights Group Glion III report points to ‘important signs that UN Member States are increasingly turning their attention to the question of implementation, and how best to support it’ including within the Council. Recently, the President of the Council remarked that the Universal Periodic Review process holds ‘great potential to lead the charge’ in this regard. Tomorrow, the Council’s UPR Working Group will hold a half day panel discussion on ‘national reporting processes and structures’ as a key means to achieving implementation.

On 28 October, the UN General Assembly held elections for 14 new vacancies in the Human Rights Council. In this post, I ask whether and how the election process could provide a further lever to the burgeoning implementation project within the Council. I use the example of the UK’s recent re-election to illustrate how a deeper connection between implementation and election to the Council could be made, particularly through pledges to establish national implementation and follow-up mechanisms.

Expectations of Council Members

In 2006, the General Assembly in Resolution 60/251 outlined the requirements for membership of the Council as: (1) ‘the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights’ (2) the submission of ‘voluntary pledges and commitments made thereto’ (4) the ‘uphold[ing of] the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights’ (5) ‘full[] cooperat[ion] with the Council’ and (6) agreement to ‘be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during their term of membership’. The Resolution also indicated that the commission of gross and systematic human rights violations could result in the suspension of membership. Read the rest of this entry…

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Withdrawal from the United Nations: Would it have been Lawful for the Philippines?

Published on September 19, 2016        Author: 

50 years ago today (on 19 September 1966), the Ambassador of Indonesia to the United States sent a telegram to the UN Secretary-General stating that “my Government has decided to resume full co-operation with the United Nations and to resume participation in its activities . . .” That marked the beginning of the end of the only case where a UN member has purported to withdraw from the organization. Last month, Rodrigo Duterte, President of Indonesia’s neighbour, the Philippines, threatened that the country would withdraw from the United Nations because of criticism by two UN Special Rapporteurs (see here). As has been widely reported, and as pointed out by Marko a couple of weeks ago, hundreds of (or on some accounts up to 3000) suspected drug dealers or users have been killed since the Duterte took over in Philippines.  On 18 August, the UN Special Rapporteurs on Summary Executions and on the Right to Health issued a statement “urging the Government of the Philippines to put an end to the current wave of extrajudicial executions and killings in the context of an intensified anti-crime and anti-drug campaign targeting drug dealers and users.” In response, Philippines President Duterte stated that “maybe we’ll just have to decide to separate from the United Nations” (see here and here). The Philippines Foreign Minister later stated that the country had no plans to leave the UN, and Duterte himself subsequently stated that his threat was just a joke.

However, the threat to withdraw does raise the question of whether UN members may legally withdraw from the Organization. Although the circumstances are very different, and there are clear treaty provisions to provide guidance, British withdrawal from the European Union also provides cause to ponder more generally about how and when states may withdraw from international organizations. Would the Philippines have been entitled to withdraw from the UN? Unlike the position with the European Union, and it’s now well-known Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union), the UN Charter does not make explicit provision for withdrawal. This post explores whether despite the absence of specific provision,  a UN member is legally entitled to withdraw from the organization. Read the rest of this entry…

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The New Arbitrariness and Competing Constitutionalisms: Remarks on ECtHR Grand Chamber Al-Dulimi

Published on June 30, 2016        Author: 

In a judgment published on 21 June 2016, the ECtHR Grand Chamber confirmed a violation of Art. 6(1) ECHR by Switzerland. The history of the case is summarized in my post on the chamber judgment of 26 November 2013. Al-Dulimi was considered by the relevant UN sanctions committee to be the former head of finance of the Iraqi secret service under Saddam Hussain (a fact which he apparently never denied), and he ran the firm Montana Management, registered under the laws of Panama. Al-Dulimi’s bank accounts in Switzerland had been frozen in 2004 by Switzerland pursuant to Resolution 1483 (2003). The main findings of the new Grand Chamber judgment are reported by Marko Milanovic in his post.

As Marko already pointed out, the reasoning of the Grand Chamber was carried only by a slim majority. The judgment followed the Chamber judgment in three points: First, it sought to harmonize the obligations of Member States under the UN Charter and under the ECHR, and thereby denied the conflict and evaded the question of legal consequences flowing from Art. 103 UN Charter. Second, the Grand Chamber found that although the Swiss authorities’ and courts’ refusal to review the complaint pursued the legitimate objective of maintaining international peace and security, the denial of any substantive review was disproportionate and therefore impaired “the very essence of the applicant’s right of access to a court“ (para. 151). Third, as the Chamber had done before, no just satisfaction was awarded to the applicant.

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Belgium’s Article 51 Letter to the Security Council [UPDATED]

Published on June 17, 2016        Author: 

On 7 June, the government of Belgium sent an Article 51 letter to the President of the Security Council, justifying its military action on the territory of Syria against ISIS by way of collective self-defense. The ODS link to the letter is here (S/2016/523), and here is the key paragraph articulating Belgium’s legal position:

ISIL has occupied a certain part of Syrian territory over which the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic does not, at this time, exercise effective control. In the light of this exceptional situation, States that have been subjected to armed attack by ISIL originating in that part of the Syrian territory are therefore justified under Article 51 of the Charter to take necessary measures of self-defence. Exercising the right of collective self-defence, Belgium will support the military measures of those States that have been subjected to attacks by ISIL. Those measures are directed against the so-called “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” and not against the Syrian Arab Republic.

Interestingly, this paragraph is taken almost word-for-word from the letter Germany had sent to the Council on 10 December 2015, S/2015/946:

ISIL has occupied a certain part of Syrian territory over which the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic does not at this time exercise effective control. States that have been subjected to armed attack by ISIL originating in this part of Syrian territory, are therefore justified under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations to take necessary measures of self-defence, even without the consent of the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic. Exercising the right of collective self-defence, Germany will now support the military measures of those States that have been subjected to attacks by ISIL.

Note, however, some of the differences: Belgium calls this an exceptional situation, somewhat diplomatically removes the reference to the lack of any need for Syria’s consent, even though that’s implicit in its invocation of Article 51, and adds a sentence saying that measures taken in self-defence are directed at ISIS rather than against Syria (even if Belgian airplanes are flying in Syrian airspace and discharging weaponry on Syrian territory without its consent). Both Germany and Belgium endorse a position whereby action against a non-state actor operating from the territory of another state is permitted without that state’s consent if the state lost effective control over the relevant area – this is very close to, but not necessarily exactly the same thing, as the ‘unwilling and unable’ test.

UPDATE: Many thanks to everyone contributing in the comments. I’d say that perhaps the most valuable lesson to be learned from this discussion is how all of these states are strategically using ambiguity in their various letters to the Council. They know perfectly well that the formulations that they have chosen are open to several possible interpretations, and they were deliberately chosen precisely with that in mind – not simply as a matter of diplomacy, but in order to create legal cover for what they want to do today while keeping their options open for the future. Nothing less could be expected, of course, when we bear in mind that the Council’s ISIS resolution 2249 is itself a masterful example of such a use of ambiguity. But ambiguity of this kind is also obviously detrimental when it comes to solidifying a clear position with regard to self-defence against non-state actors on the basis of state (and UNSC) practice.

In that regard, a kind reader also let me know that Norway has also sent a letter to the Council, dated 3 June, S/2016/513. The three key paragraphs are quoted below the fold – note how simply wonderful Norway is in saying nothing, beyond simply stating that it is exercising the right to collective self-defence without directing its actions against Syria.

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Kosovo’s Membership in the PCA: Some comments on Professor Zimmermann’s post

Published on April 13, 2016        Author: 

It was nice to read Professor Zimmermann’s post on the issue of membership of Palestine and Kosovo in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), as this matter should get more attention from the community of international lawyers. I have already dealt with some of the relevant legal issues in an ESIL Reflection of 11 March 2016 which Professor Milanović has kindly referred to in a comment to Professor Zimmermann’s post. I would like to use this opportunity to engage with some issues raised by Professor Zimmermann, namely: whether the Netherlands should have raised proprio motu the issue of Kosovo’s accession to the 1907 Convention; whether there has been an ‘entente ulterieure’ among the member States of the PCA; what are the powers of the PCA Administrative Council and what is the value of its decision of 4 January 2016, and; what is the way forward concerning Kosovo’s accession to the 1907 Convention.

Calling a meeting of the PCA Administrative Council proprio motu

There was no need for the Netherlands as State depositary to raise proprio motu the matter of Kosovo’s accession to the 1907 Convention within the framework of the PCA Administrative Council. Any State who had an issue with Kosovo’s accession could have called for a meeting of the Administrative Council, even at short notice, like Serbia did, albeit not being a party to the 1907 Convention. Also, it must be noted that by the time of the 4 January 2016 meeting of the PCA Administrative Council, only three out of the 116 Member States of the PCA, namely Russia, Serbia and Mexico seemed to have raised an issue concerning Kosovo’s membership in the PCA. Finally, given that more than half of the member States of the PCA recognize Kosovo as an independent State, there was no need for the Netherlands to raise this issue proprio motu.

Entente ultérieure among PCA member States

Contrary to what Professor Zimmermann claims, there has been no ‘entente ultérieure’ along the lines of Article 60 of the 1899 Convention and Article 94 of the 1907 Convention. The December 1959 agreement among the PCA member States simply authorized the Government of the Netherlands, as State depositary, to send an invitation to new members of the United Nations which were not yet a party to the PCA or whose membership position was unclear. The aim was to increase the membership of the PCA. The document to which Professor Zimmermann refers to as ‘UN support’ is a Study prepared by the Secretariat in 1968 concerning the succession of States to multilateral treaties. Read the rest of this entry…

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A New Theory for Enforcing ICJ Judgments? The World Court’s 17 March 2016 Judgments on Preliminary Objections in Nicaragua v. Colombia

Published on April 6, 2016        Author: 

The International Court of Justice simultaneously issued two intriguing judgments on 17 March 2016, both involving applications filed by Nicaragua against Colombia, and both of which have some nexus to the Court’s 19 November 2012 Judgment in Territorial and Maritime Dispute (Nicaragua v. Colombia). To recall, the Court in its 2012 Judgment had affirmed Colombia’s sovereignty over seven islands, drawn a single maritime boundary delimiting the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones of Nicaragua and Colombia, and rejected Nicaragua’s request to have Colombia declared in breach of international law for allegedly denying Nicaragua’s access to natural resources to the east of the 82nd meridian. (2012 Judgment, dispositif, para. 251)

Thereafter, Nicaragua instituted two Applications on matters appearing to flow from, but alleged to be extraneous to, the Court’s 2012 maritime delimitation Judgment. In its 2013 Application in Alleged Violations of Sovereign Rights and Maritime Spaces in the Caribbean Sea (Nicaragua v. Colombia) [hereafter, “Application on Sovereign Rights and Maritime Spaces Violations”], Nicaragua alleged, among others, that Colombia violated Nicaragua’s rights pertaining to maritime zones defined under the Court’s 2012 maritime delimitation Judgment and that Colombia had also breached the obligation not to use or threaten to use force. On the other hand, in its 2013 Application in Question of the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf between Nicaragua and Colombia beyond 200 Nautical Miles from the Nicaraguan Coast (Nicaragua v. Colombia) [hereafter, “Continental Shelf beyond 200 NM Application”], Nicaragua requested the Court to declare “the precise course of the maritime boundary between Nicaragua and Colombia in the areas of the continental shelf which appertain to them beyond the boundaries determined by the Court in its Judgment of 19 November 2012” [hereafter, “first Request”], as well as “the principles and rules of international law that determine the rights and duties of the two States in relation to the area of overlapping continental shelf claims and the use of its resources, pending the delimitation of the boundary between them beyond 200 nautical miles from Nicaragua’s coast.” [hereafter, “second Request”] (Continental Shelf beyond 200 NM Application, para. 12).

At the core of Colombia’s preliminary objections in both cases was the argument that the Court had already resolved the alleged matters in the 2012 Judgment, and accordingly, incidents related to these matters thereafter ought to be enforced under the canonical rule in Article 94(2) of the UN Charter (“[i]f any party to a case fails to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the Court, the other party may have recourse to the Security Council, which may, if it deems necessary, make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken to give effect to the judgment.”). Nicaragua’s theory was essentially based on the characterization of fresh disputes with Colombia that may have some factual/legal nexus with the 2012 Judgment, but were, ultimately, left undetermined or outside the purview of the 2012 Judgment. It is highly interesting to see how this theory mainly prevailed in the Court’s 17 March 2016 Judgment on Preliminary Objections in Alleged Violations of Sovereign Rights and Maritime Spaces in the Caribbean Sea (Nicaragua v. Colombia) [hereafter, “Sovereign Rights and Maritime Spaces Violations Judgment on Preliminary Objections”] and its 17 March 2016 Judgment on Preliminary Objections in the Question of the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf Between Nicaragua and Colombia Beyond 200 Nautical Miles from the Nicaraguan Coast (Nicaragua v. Colombia) [hereafter, “Continental Shelf beyond 200 NM Judgment on Preliminary Objections”]. The Court’s unprecedented acceptance of jurisdiction for certain claims in both of these Nicaraguan applications certainly provoke new lines of inquiry on lines of demarcation between issues of enforcement of the Court’s judgments, and related but separate claims that could be instituted fresh with the Court, without triggering the rule on enforcing ICJ judgments through the more political forum of the Security Council. How was the Court able to assume jurisdiction in these cases, and what do these decisions bode for the settled rule on the finality of the Court’s judgments?

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The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention decision on Assange: ‘ridiculous’ or ‘justifiable’?

Published on February 9, 2016        Author: 

The UN WGAD Assange decision has been met with general ridicule from British officials, legal academics and the press. This piece seeks to bring some balance to the coverage on this decision, which consistently fails to outline the arguments which persuaded the Working Group.

The central argument of Assange’s lawyers’ proceeds on the basis that his confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy ‘cannot … be characterized as volitional’ (para 13). He is not free to leave, because he is protecting himself from the violation of other human rights: ‘the only way for Mr. Assange to enjoy his right to asylum was to be in detention’ (para 11). If Assange were to leave he would be arrested in the UK and extradited pursuant to a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) issued by Sweden. Consequently, he would expose himself to the risk of a ‘well founded fear of persecution’ were he to be extradited to the US from Sweden (para 12). In the words of Assange’s lawyers:

The source submits that Mr. Assange was deprived of his liberty against his will and his liberty had been severely restricted, against his volition. An individual cannot be compelled to renounce an inalienable right, nor can they be required to expose themselves to the risk of significant harm. Mr. Assange’s exit from the Ecuadorian Embassy would require him to renounce his right to asylum and expose himself to the very persecution and risk of physical and mental mistreatment that his grant of asylum was intended to address. His continued presence in the Embassy cannot, therefore, be characterised as ‘volitional’ (para 13).

Assange’s lawyers moves on to the failure of the Swedish authorities to pursue their investigation through less restrictive means. Simply put, the Swedish authorities have ‘not established a prima facie case’ and have refused ‘unreasonably and disproportionately’ to ‘question him through alternative means offered under the process of mutual assistance’ (para 13). Furthermore, they argue that Assange has been deprived of the opportunity to know the case against him, to provide a statement regarding the charges against him, and thus to defend himself against the charges. This combination of factors thus also bears upon the principle of audi alterum partem and the presumption of innocence. The cumulative result of all of these conditions, and the failure to guarantee non-refoulement to the US, have resulted in a situation in which, on Assange’s argument, he has in effect been arbitrarily detained. Read the rest of this entry…

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Julian Assange and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention

Published on February 5, 2016        Author: 

We should have known. Once Julian Assange publically stated that he would surrender to the UK authorities if the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found against him, it was obvious that the Working Group had done no such thing. And its opinion was released today, to widespread derision among the legal community (at least as expressed by my twitter feed).

To get the obvious issues out of the way: the Working Group is a UN body but it is not, and does not represent, ‘the United Nations’. Instead, it is one of the ‘thematic special procedures’ of the UN Human Rights Council, which is itself a political body established by and reporting to the UN General Assembly. The Working Group was originally established by the Commission on Human Rights, the Human Rights Council’s predecessor, and had its mandate renewed, most recently by the Human Rights Council in 2013. In contrast to the HRC, however, the Working Group is a body of independent experts serving in their individual capacities. It presently has five members: from South Korea, Mexico, Benin, Australia and the Ukraine.

The Working Group is tasked with investigating cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily, with reference to the relevant international standards set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as to the relevant international instruments accepted by the States concerned. It can consider individual communications and, having done so, render opinions as to whether an arbitrary detention has or has not been established and make recommendations to the State concerned.

What all this means is that the Working Group cannot issue binding decisions (contrary to what Julian Assange’s legal team are arguing), hence their description as ‘opinions’. Nor can it provide authoritative interpretations of any human rights treaty (having not been granted that role by the parties to any such treaty). The most that can be said is that States are under a duty to take ‘due consideration’ to Working Group’s recommendations, which is a rather weak obligation.

Moving from the general to the particular, the Working Group gave its opinion in response to a communication made on behalf of Julian Assange. It will be recalled that Mr Assange has been in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 19 June 2012, when he skipped bail following the decision of the UK Supreme Court on 30 May 2012 to permit his extradition to Sweden under a European Arrest Warrant. The communication was made on 16 September 2014 and was passed on to the Governments of Sweden and the United Kingdom, which replied, respectively, on 3 and 13 November 2014. The opinion was adopted on 4 December 2015, over a year later, and was published on 5 February 2016, which does not indicate an enormous sense of urgency. Following the Working Group’s rules, one of the members of the Working Group recused herself from this deliberations as she shared the same nationality as Mr Assange. Another, Mr Vladimir Tochilovsky, dissented and produced a short individual dissenting opinion. Read the rest of this entry…

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UN Peace Operations: Tracking the Shift from Peacekeeping to Peace Enforcement and State-Building

Published on September 2, 2015        Author: 

On June 16, the UN secretary General’s High-Level Independent Panel released its eagerly awaited review of UN-mandated peacekeeping: ‘Uniting our Strengths for Peace’. A comprehensive assessment of the UN’s evolving role in conflict management and a detailed set of reforms to its peacekeeping architecture, the report has already generated thoughtful analysis, with many observers highlighting the Panel’s principal conclusion that “lasting peace is achieved not through military and technical engagements, but through political solutions” (Executive Summary). This post examines three significant trends in peacekeeping mandates – the use of force, state-building and criminal jurisdiction – which will likely remain contested aspects of UN-mandated conflict resolution going forward. Against the backdrop of the report’s main findings, it argues that the UN’s large-scale operations increasingly blur the lines between political mediation and classical peace-keeping on the one hand, and peace-building, peace enforcement and state-building on the other.

As is well known, peacekeeping missions have operated in increasingly hostile environments since the end of the Cold War. Beginning with the Balkans, Rwanda and Somalia in the 1990s, peacekeepers have often been deployed to areas with little or no peace to keep, while taking on a continuously expanding set of peace-building tasks. This trend has only intensified in the last few years, starting with the UN’s longstanding mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), its revamped mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), as well as newly established missions in Mali (MINUSMA) and in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

Yet, despite its expanding role in conflict-management, a striking feature of recent UN operations has been the Security Council’s practice of enshrining the classic principles of peacekeeping into mission mandates. Starting with the 2013 renewal of MONUSCO’s mandate, the Security Council has consistently re-affirmed the ‘trinity of virtues’ – impartiality, host state consent and non-use of force beyond self-defence and defence of the mission mandate – in the preambles of its largest peacekeeping operations (DRC: 2013, 2014, 2015; Mali: 2013, 2014, 2015; CAR: 2014, 2015; South Sudan: 2014, 2015). Although their status under international law remains contested, the three classic principles are grounded in an (almost) by-gone era of conflict-management, where UN peacekeepers monitored mutually agreed cease-fires.

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Data Protection in International Organizations and the New UNHCR Data Protection Policy: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

Published on August 31, 2015        Author: 

In May 2015 the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) published its Policy on the Protection of Personal Data of Persons of Concern to UNHCR (Data Protection Policy). The Policy may seem to be merely an internal guidance document addressed to the staff members of an international organization. However, as a subsidiary organ of the United Nations, established by the General Assembly pursuant to Article 22 of the UN Charter, working for millions of refugees and with thousands of other organizations active in the field of protection and assistance, UNHCR bears a certain responsibility when it sets internal standards which inevitably also have an external impact. Moreover, the Policy highlights the growing importance of data protection in international law, particularly for the work of international organizations.

Against this background, our blog addresses some interesting underlying legal issues of public international law raised by the Policy. In particular, it discusses the relevance of data protection to the work of international organizations, including UN agencies, and what level of data protection is appropriate and required for international organizations in general and UNHCR in particular, taking into account the humanitarian context in which the organization often operates. Read the rest of this entry…

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