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Home Archive for category "Jurisdiction"

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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Palestine at the Gates of the Peace Palace: The long and windy road towards Palestinian membership in the Permanent Court of Arbitration

Published on April 5, 2016        Author: 

To Be or not to be a Party …

It took two lengthy sessions of the Administrative Council of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (‘PCA’ ) before it decided, on March 14, 2016, to confirm that the ‘State of Palestine’ is a contracting party to the 1907 Hague Convention for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes (‘1907 Convention’) and hence also a member of the PCA. The decision was made by vote, for the first time in the long history of the PCA, with 54 states voting in favor and 25 abstentions. Notably, the parallel accession of Kosovo is still ‘under review’. This development raises a whole set of legal issues ranging from the role of the depositary in situations of contested statehood, to issues of treaty interpretation, as well as finally the legal consequences of Palestine now having become a member of the PCA.

In order to understand the legal implications of the decision, it is necessary to recall some of the most important steps that led to its adoption. Both Palestine and Kosovo, had within a short space of time (namely on 30 October 2015 (Palestine) and on 6 November 2015 (Kosovo)), submitted their accessions to the 1907 Convention. These accessions were acknowledged by the depositary, the Dutch government, on 17 November 2015 on its depositary website. The website also indicated that the said Convention would enter into force for Palestine on 29 December 2015 and for Kosovo on 5 January 2016, a move that was (somewhat prematurely, as we will see) welcomed by the Kosovo Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Upon the request of Serbia, the Administrative Council of the PCA then met on January 4, 2016, i.e. just one day before the Kosovar accession was supposed to become effective, and decided to keep the situations of Kosovo and Palestine ‘under review’, which in turn led the Depositary to ‘strike out’ the accessions of Palestine and Kosovo, with both of them then listed in the following manner:

“Parties (5 January 2016):

Party                            Ratification                  Entry into force

Kosovo                        06-11-2015 (T)           05-01-2016                

Palestine                       30-10-2015 (T)           29-12-2015 

This in turn then led to a request by a group of Arab States for yet another urgent meeting of the Administrative Council of the PCA. This meeting was supposed to deal with the status of Palestine vis-à-vis the 1907 Convention, given that by the time the above-mentioned decision of January 4, 2016 had been made to keep the situations of Kosovo and Palestine ‘under review’, Palestine had already become a contracting party of the Convention with effect from December 29, 2015. Hence, the action by the depositary had amounted, as far as Palestine was concerned, to a de facto suspension of a pre-existing treaty membership. 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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The Situation Concerning the Mavi Marmara at the ICC: What might the next move of the Prosecutor be?

Published on March 22, 2016        Author: 

In early summer 2010, around fifty people were seriously injured and ten Turkish nationals died on a vessel which was part of the ‘Freedom Flotilla’: the Mavi Marmara ship. The incident saw the establishment of a UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission, a separate panel of inquiry appointed by the UN Secretary-General, a Turkish Commission and a Israeli Commission of Inquiry (aka “Turkel Commission”). The Israeli Defense Force (IDF)’s storming of the ‘Freedom Flotilla’, have subsequently been subject to judicial proceedings both domestically in Turkey, and internationally at the International Criminal Court (ICC).

In May 2014, four arrest warrants were released by Istanbul’s Seventh High Criminal Court against former IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Navy Chief Eliezer Marom, former Military Intelligence Chief Amos Yadlin and former Naval Intelligence chief Avishai Levy. A year earlier, on 14 May 2013, a referral was received by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) from the authorities of the Comoros, a State Party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, in relation to the Humanitarian Aid Flotilla’s incident (registered vessels situation). Six months after Turkey issued its arrest warrants, the OTP announced in its report under Article 53 (1) Rome Statute that it had decided not to investigate the registered vessels situation.

OTP’s decision not to investigate was based on the ‘gravity’ criteria of the Rome Statute. According to the OTP, ‘the potential case(s) likely arising from an investigation into this incident would not be of “sufficient gravity” to justify further action by the ICC.’ In so doing, the OTP did not consider the other two criteria for declining to investigate, namely, complementarity and the interests of justice. As Kevin Jon Heller predicted, the Comoros ‘appealed’ the OTP’s decision and on 16 July 2015, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) requested the Prosecutor to reconsider its decision not to open an investigation. Acting under Article 53 (3) (a), the PTC took issue with several aspects of the OTP’s decision not to investigate (see comments here and here).

In this post, my aim is to analyze the OTP’s decision not to investigate on the basis of gravity and the PTC’s request to the OTP to reconsider its decision. I argue that OTP’s gravity assessment was hasty and came at the expense of assessing the potential complementarity of the Turkish proceedings. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ukraine vs. Russia in International Courts and Tribunals

Published on March 9, 2016        Author: 

In early January 2016, Ukraine affirmed its intention to bring a claim against Russia before the ICJ under the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (‘Financing of Terrorism Convention’). Further announcements were made in late January and February 2016 as to both an additional claim in the ICJ under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and a claim under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This post provides a brief overview of pending and prospective cases originating from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

Cases pending before international court and tribunals

Ukraine is currently seeking to challenge Russia’s actions on its territory in the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court. Three inter-State cases initiated by Ukraine concerning Russia’s actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine are currently pending before the ECtHR (the first inter-State case by Ukraine against Russia was discussed here). In September 2015, Ukraine also lodged a Declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognising its jurisdiction with respect to the acts committed on its territory since 20 February 2014. It is true that acceptance of the jurisdiction of the ICC by Ukraine may not necessarily lead to the prosecution of Russian citizens fighting in the Eastern Regions. It is, nonetheless, another avenue used by Ukraine to put the conflict between the two States before international judges.

Russia’s actions in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine have also resulted in individual cases brought against Russia at the international level under international human rights law and international foreign investment law. As of October 2015, more than 1,400 applications seemingly related to the events in Crimea or Eastern Ukraine, lodged against both Russia and Ukraine or against one of those States, are pending before the ECtHR.

Several cases were initiated before the PCA against Russia under UNCITRAL rules apparently concerning investments located in Crimea. One of these cases, for instance, concerned interference with property situated in Crimea. Incidentally, in reply to the commencement of the arbitral proceedings in this case, Russia sent a letter stating that it did not recognise the jurisdiction of the arbitral tribunal. Despite Russia’s request not to regard the letter as consent to participation in arbitral proceedings, Read the rest of this entry…

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The new enemy of mankind: The Jurisdiction of the ICC over members of “Islamic State”

Published on November 26, 2015        Author: 

President Obama has called the recent Paris terror attacks an “attack on all of humanity”. In doing so, he has touched upon the core of so-called crimes against humanity. Due to their quantitative and qualitative dimensions and their utter disregard for fundamental values, such crimes are directed not only against individual persons, but against humanity as a whole. The link to a State was abandoned in the Statutes of the UN Ad Hoc Tribunals in 1993 (ICTY) and 1994 (ICTR) and then, with a universal claim,  in 1998 with the definition adopted in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Since then, it has been possible for crimes against humanity to be committed by non-state actors. Their traditional State-based rationale – punishing the representatives of the morally perverted State that uses its power against its own citizens without restraint – can be transferred to non-state actors. When these actors, like the so-called Islamic State (IS), send suicide assassins into a concert hall to execute innocent civilians, this reveals a level of moral perversion that is typical of crimes against humanity. That the perpetrators invoke God when doing so makes the matter even worse. Religiously motivated perpetrators of crimes against humanity not only deny their victims’ right to exist, but in doing so place themselves above us “unbelievers” as part of a supposedly divine mission; in fact, they act in the same manner as the crusaders they claim to be fighting against.

A perpetrator of a crime against humanity is “hostis humani generis”, an enemy of mankind. The concept was used to refer to pirates long before crimes against humanity existed. The IS is far worse than pirates, and its acts carry all of the hallmarks of crimes against humanity. While this may have been doubted before Paris, after the attacks these doubts are gone with the wind. In the dry technical language of the so-called context element of crimes against humanity, the attacks represent a widespread and systematic attack directed against the civilian population. The attack targeted a large number of civilians and had been planned in a premeditated fashion. The intentional killing of more than 100 people constitutes the required single act of ‘murder’. As a consequence, the ICC has jurisdiction ratione materiae, without any need for recourse to war crimes. This makes the matter simpler, as it is highly controversial – despite the unambiguous language of the French President Hollande (“acte de guerre”) – whether an armed conflict can actually exist between a transnational non-state actor and a State under current International Humanitarian Law.

However, does the ICC also have formal jurisdiction over acts committed by members of Islamic State? 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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The Jurisdictional Rubicon: Scrutinizing China’s Position Paper on the South China Sea Arbitration – Part I

Published on January 29, 2015        Author: 

On December 7, 2014, China officially published its Position Paper “on the Matter of Jurisdiction in the South China Sea Arbitration initiated by the Republic of the Philippines” [hereafter, “China Position Paper”]. The China Position Paper was issued two days after the US State Department issued its December 5, 2014 Limits in the Seas No. 143 Report, “China: Maritime Claims in the South China Sea”, authored by its Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs and Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs [hereafter, “US State Department Report”]. The US State Department Report concludes, in particular, that: “unless China clarifies that the dashed-line claim reflects only a claim to islands within that line and any maritime zones that are generated from those land features in accordance with the international law of the sea, as reflected in the [UN Convention on the Law of the Sea/UNCLOS], its dashed-line claim does not accord with the international law of the sea.” (US State Department Report, p. 24). China’s 7 December 2014 Position Paper provides its first official, public, and certainly most authoritative clarification of its arguments and claims to date, and certainly introduces a significant dimension to the ongoing arbitration proceedings. Vietnam is reported to have filed a (hitherto-undisclosed) statement to the Annex VII arbitral tribunal, asking the latter to take into account its legal interests while also refuting China’s claims. Although the China Position Paper explicitly states that it should “not be regarded as China’s acceptance of or participation in [the] arbitration” (China Position Paper, para. 2), the Annex VII tribunal is arguably not prevented from taking cognizance of the statements therein as part of China’s jurisdictional objections in this dispute. China itself circulated the Position Paper to members of the arbitral tribunal, albeit stressing that it should not be construed as acceptance of, or participation in, the arbitration (Permanent Court of Arbitration 17 December 2014 Press Release). In its 22 November 2013 Provisional Measures Order in the Arctic Sunrise case (Netherlands v. Russian Federation) – a case where Russia explicitly refused to appear in the proceedings – the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) took motu proprio judicial notice of two Notes Verbale by Russia to the Netherlands, as evidence of the nature and content of Russia’s jurisdictional challenge to the existence of a dispute between the parties (Arctic Sunrise Order, paras. 64-65, 68). Read the rest of this entry…

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Let the Games Continue: Immunity for War Crimes before the Italian Constitutional Court

Published on October 24, 2014        Author: 

The issue is important, no doubt – to what extent do rules of immunity apply in respect of grave violations of international law? Over the past two decades, it has been addressed by lawmakers, the ILC, international and national courts in cases like Al Adsani, Jones, Bouzari and others – and of course in hundreds of articles, notes and books. In fact, few other questions have prompted as much intense debate in the literature. As the number of plausible arguments and approaches is finite (jus cogens, implied waiver, etc.), there was bound to be duplication and repetition. (Was I the only one gradually tiring of the debate?)

In any event, the ICJ’s judgment in Jurisdictional Immunities of early 2012 seemed to settle matters: immunity could be invoked in respect of war crimes, said the Court; jus cogens was not at issue; immunity had to be assessed as a preliminary matter and irrespective of the gravity of the allegations; grave violations could still be acts iure imperii; the territorial tort exception did not apply etc. In terms of international legal process, this seemed to show the Court at its strongest, acting as supreme arbiter in long-standing debates about the proper understanding of the law, and by virtue of its authority clarifying the state of international law.  ‘At last we have certainty’ wrote Andrea Bianchi on EJIL:Talk! . And in 2013, Italy passed legislation implementing the ICJ judgment.

Two and a half years on, it’s clear that the matter remains a live one. The ECHR’s judgment in Jones seemed to accept the authority of the ICJ’s decision, but raised questions about the scope of personal immunities. (See Philippa Webb’s post).  And in the past few weeks, things have accelerated. Two weeks ago, the High Court of England and Wales decided that a Bahraini prince is not immune from prosecution for torture allegations.

But that, it seems, was no more than the prologue: Because on Wednesday, the Italian Constitutional Court seems to have gone much further. It has quashed the Italian legislation implementing the 2012 judgment, which in its view violates constitutional provisions. The ICJ’s decision is duly addressed, but not followed. As my Italian is rudimentary (and as I have yet to find a translation of the decision), I will not even begin to discuss the merits and arguments set forward. All I want to do at this stage is draw readers’ attention to it. And suggest we all prepare for yet another round of debates about how to strike the balance between human rights and immunity. ‘Certainty at last?’ You wish.

UPDATE: Here is an English summary of the judgment, provided by Francesco Messineo, Honorary Research Fellow at Kent Law School.

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The Territorial Reach of the EU’s “Right To Be Forgotten”: Think Locally, but Act Globally?

Published on August 14, 2014        Author: 

Brendan Van Alsenoy is a legal researcher at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Law & ICT (ICRI), KU Leuven – iMinds. Marieke Koekkoek is a research fellow at the Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies (GGS), KU Leuven.

800px-Google_SignIn May of this year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided that individuals can – under certain conditions – ask Google (photo credit) to stop referring to certain information about them. The CJEU’s recognition of this so-called “right to be forgotten” has kicked up quite a storm. Now that the dust is beginning to settle, it’s time to direct our attention to questions of practical implementation. One set of questions is about territorial reach. How far should the right to be forgotten extend, geographically speaking? Should Google, upon finding that an individual’s request is justified, modify its search results globally? Or should it only modify search results shown within the EU?

According to press reports, Google’s current approach is to limit its modification of results to the “European versions” of the search engine. Search results of people using google.com remain unaltered, while people using google.es or google.be may no longer be seeing the full picture. However, Google still allows its EU users to switch to the .com version, simply by clicking a button at the bottom of the page. EU users can also freely navigate to other country-specific versions of the search engine, whose search results may not be filtered in the same way. By not taking further measures to limit access to “forgotten” search results, it seems as if the search engine is needlessly provoking the wrath of European data protection authorities. So what should the search engine be doing?

Realistically speaking, only two approaches seem viable. The first option would be to “keep it local”, by filtering the search results for queries originating from EU territory – regardless of which country version of Google is being used. The second option would be to “go global”, which would involve modification of search results worldwide. (To be clear, either approach would only kick in once Google has decided to grant a specific request and would only affect results following a name search).

It is true that nothing in the CJEU ruling suggests that Google would be justified in limiting itself to specific websites, countries or regions. But, as even the Chairwoman of the Article 29 Working Party has acknowledged, the matter may not be so clear-cut. Read the rest of this entry…

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