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Home Archive for category "Law of the Sea"

The South China Sea case: Chess Arbitration?

Published on August 10, 2016        Author: 

This post looks into the wider questions The South China Sea recent award raises and its possible impact.   Looking back at the rare examples in international law in which States chose not to appear to participate in the proceedings, I address questions such as “what good is an award that cannot be enforced” and what role has arbitration in that context.  I argue that contrasting with conventional dispute resolution in which the award puts an end to a dispute, the award in the South China Sea case was neither an end in itself, nor necessarily an attempt to get leverage on the part of Philippines, to negotiate with China at bilateral level. After all, counsel for Philippines himself has argued that “bilateralized negotiations had failed”.  I argue that much like a chess-movement, the South China Sea case is rather the means for something else in a broader chess-like strategy: (a) as a brick on which other disputes can be built (b) to attempt the multilateralization of the dispute concerning the South China Sea, to involve all those countries with claims in respect of the disputed sovereignty and entitlements over the South China Sea.

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Philippines v China: first thoughts on the Award in the South China Seas Case

Published on July 12, 2016        Author: 

Any international lawyer looking at a news site in the last few hours will have seen that the final award has been handed down at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Philippines v China dispute brought under the UN Convention on the Law Sea Annex VII procedure. The arbitral tribunal’s decision is simply historic. While Philippines has lost on a number of smaller points, the scale of its win overall is much greater than most commentators were expecting.

What follows is a very preliminary comment – and I stress that faced with a 500 page decision I may well revise my views later. It is also more in the nature of an explainer than a deep dive on any of the many legal questions already highlighted below. (This is also an excessively long post, for which I apologise.) However, on a first, quite brief, examination the tribunal has attempted to be meticulously fair to China and has applied the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea strictly and thoroughly. It has delivered a result which was, by and large, predictable.

James Kraska of the US Naval College has summarised the key holdings as:

  • the nine dash line has no basis in law,
  • there are no islands in the disputed area within the meaning of Article 123, UNCLOS,
  • China has interfered in the Philippines’ EEZ; and
  • China’s actions have aggravated the dispute.

I would add to this list three matters. First, the Tribunal has concluded that Mischief Reef is a low tide elevation over which no State can claim sovereignty or possession. This means it is simply a maritime feature within the Philippines exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Chinese island-building activities there are thus not merely without legal effect but are in violation of the sovereign rights of the Philippines.

Second, it has found that China has breached various obligations under UNCLOS regarding the protection and preservation of the marine environment by having caused severe and irreparable harm to coral reef ecosystems in its construction of artificial islands in the South China Seas.

Third, international tribunals normally bend over backwards to avoid findings of bad faith against a state. That is, one cannot act in bad faith without violating some other substantive right. So most tribunals consider it sufficient to stop at determining that a right or duty has been violated. This tribunal has found China violated Article 300 of UNCLOS: the duty to act in good faith. This is an extraordinary rebuke and a clear indication that the law of the sea dispute resolution system will not be cowed by the posturing of the superpower. As a matter of principle, it takes a principled stand on the supremacy of the rule of law. As a matter of pragmatism, it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that angering China over this dispute could jeopardise the stability of the law of the sea system.
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The Philippines v. China Arbitral Award on the Merits as a Subsidiary Source of International Law

Published on July 12, 2016        Author: 

“Great Game” politics in the Asia-Pacific has just changed irrevocably, especially for all parties, claimants, and affected constituencies in the South China Sea, after the Annex VII UNCLOS arbitral tribunal released its 12 July 2016 Award in Republic of the Philippines v. People’s Republic of China (Permanent Court of Arbitration Case No. 2013-19).  While we will be featuring posts over the coming days on this award that dissect and analyze the award, its international legal significance, and its larger geopolitical consequences for all claimants to the South China Sea dispute and third-party actors (such as the United States), for now, a close read of all 479 pages of this arbitral award reveals it to be an extremely rich and fertile piece of international jurisprudence, one that will certainly have far-ranging doctrinal impacts as an international judicial decision that is also an authoritative subsidiary means for determination of the international law rules under UNCLOS, especially on questions such as the:
1) normative weight of “historic rights” and differentiating the same from “historic title” and “historic rights short of sovereignty”, and clarifying what could still possibly amount to historic rights that States could still validly assert within the UNCLOS treaty regime;

2) authoritative criteria for determining the existence of low-tide elevations (LTEs), noting that the legal consequences of which were not completely settled in the International Court of Justice’s judgment in Qatar v. Bahrain;

3) objective criteria for the authoritative interpretation of Article 121 UNCLOS;

4) objective and subjective criteria for testing the lawfulness and unlawfulness of a coastal State’s asserted ‘enforcement’ activities; and the

5) objective or scientific factors that could be taken into account to determine the existence of actionable environmental damage to the marine environment under Articles 192 and 194 UNCLOS.

Interestingly, the arbitral tribunal did not assume jurisdiction in this case over the interpretation of “military activities” within the meaning of Article 298 of UNCLOS, which the Philippines had asserted in regard to various military and paramilitary incidents with China over Second Thomas Shoal. It would be interesting to see, in the coming days, how the United States reacts to this development, since it has frequently insisted on the prerogative of the coastal State to make the authoritative determination of what “military activities” could be justifiably excluded from compulsory dispute settlement under UNCLOS Article 298(1)(b).

The evidentiary rules and fact-finding procedures of this tribunal will also, I suspect, also provoke considerable commentary, if not critique, since the tribunal drew heavily from numerous statements, published views, and opinions that were attributed to the respondent in this case. One can also expect questions to be raised on why the respondent never chose to participate in the proceedings if only to challenge jurisdiction, to contest the veracity or authoritativeness of the Philippines’ technical, environmental, hydrographical, and other expert submissions under protest, or to otherwise set its own narrative, instead of permitting China’s narrative to be formed from the tribunal’s reconstruction of innumerable media statements and statements of officials.

Clearly, this award has greater consequences beyond China’s repeated refusal to recognize it (at least for now). As a subsidiary means for determining international law, it is conceivably difficult for any of the claimants – the Philippines included – to ignore the legal effect of this ruling and its impact on all future steps to be undertaken in the actual maritime boundary delimitation negotiations. The ruling will likely affect the landscape of interpretation for the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties to the South China Sea, and the ongoing work agenda of the ASEAN-China Working Group on the Code of Conduct for the Parties to the South China Sea. Whatever the stated preferences may be of China or the new Duterte administration in the Philippines, and regardless of objections to the veracity of factual findings of the tribunal, the very existence of the Philippines v. China arbitration award as a subsidiary means for determining the rules of international law arguably changes the very scope and interpretation of actual applicable law to be considered by parties to this dispute.

We look forward to featuring a broad spectrum of views from various international lawyers and scholars on this landmark arbitral award, as we track contemporaneous developments in the Asia-Pacific region, and invite further discussion especially on next steps ahead for the actual disputes between the claimants on maritime boundary delimitation. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Admissibility of a Claim of Continental Shelf Rights Beyond 200nm Before an International Tribunal Absent a Recommendation by the CLCS: A Few Words About the ICJ’s 2016 Judgment in Nicaragua v. Colombia

Published on May 13, 2016        Author: 

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently set the arena for a timely discussion of the question of the admissibility of a claim of continental shelf rights beyond 200 nm, absent a recommendation by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). The litigation concerned the Question of the Delimitation of the Continental Shelf between Nicaragua and Colombia beyond 200 nautical miles from the Nicaraguan Coast (NICOL II). In its 17 March 2016 Judgment on Preliminary Objections, the ICJ dismissed Colombia’s preliminary objections against the jurisdiction of the Court and the inadmissibility of Nicaragua’s first claim. While the ICJ upheld Colombia’s contentions against the admissibility of Nicaragua’s second submission – a rather unusual request for the establishment of a provisional regime of conduct in the area of overlapping entitlements pending delimitation – the case will now move to the merits with respect to Nicaragua’s request for the Court to adjudge and declare:

“The precise course of the maritime boundary between Nicaragua and Colombia in the areas of the continental shelf which appertain to each of them beyond the boundaries determined by the Court in its Judgment of 19 November 2012.”

This post will focus on the decision of the ICJ to reject, by 11 votes to 5, Colombia’s overarching claim on inadmissibility. ICJ’s 2016 ruling seems to definitely settle the doctrinal debate concerning admissibility of maritime rights beyond 200 nm without exhaustion of the procedure in UNCLOS Article 76(8). Read the rest of this entry…

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Shipping and climate change: the IMO is making progress – though worryingly slowly

Published on May 3, 2016        Author: 

The Paris Agreement, which was adopted in the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2016 in Paris, does not include aviation and shipping in its regulatory framework. Acknowledging the global and complex nature of shipping activities, the Kyoto Protocol entrusted the reduction of GHG emission from marine bunker fuels to the International Maritime Organisation (article 2 (2)). One of the purposes of the IMO is to ‘encourage and facilitate the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning the … prevention and control of marine pollution from ships’ (article 1 (a) of the IMO Convention), and its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) has the task of negotiating, adopting and amending international conventions, regulations and measures related to the protection of the marine environment. Since 1997, the MEPC has been actively engaged in discussions concerning the reduction of GHG emissions from ships and the elaboration of a legal framework for energy efficiency in the shipping industry as a means of tackling climate change. The IMO has adopted a number of measures to address these issues, but progress has been slow.

Despite encouragement from the former IMO Secretary General to ‘bring the spirit of the Paris Agreement to IMO’ and by the UN Secretary General to continue the momentum of the Paris Agreement, the response in the MEPC in its 69th Session which took place from 18-22 April 2016 was less enthusiastic, though some progress was made. This post discusses the recent discussions and negotiations in the IMO MEPC with respect to reduction of emissions from ships.   Read the rest of this entry…

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The ‘Internationalization’ of Maritime Disputes in the South China Sea: Environmental Destruction in the High Seas and Threats to the Global Commons

Published on April 28, 2016        Author: 

What does it mean to ‘internationalize’ a maritime dispute? Accusations of ‘internationalization’ of the maritime disputes in the South China Sea have been strident over the past weeks, most recently from the 18 April 2016 Joint Communique of the Foreign Ministers of the Russian Federation, the Republic of India, and the People’s Republic of China, which stressed that “Russia, India and China are committed to maintaining a legal order for the seas and oceans based on the principles of international law, as reflected notably in the UN Convention on the Law of Sea (UNCLOS). All related disputes should be addressed through negotiations and agreements between the parties concerned. In this regard the Ministers called for full respect of all provisions of UNCLOS, as well as the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the Guidelines for the implementation of the DOC.” (Joint Communique, para. 21). Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was also reported to have observed to Chinese media in Moscow during the Russia-China-India April 2016 trilateral summit that “[attempts to internationalize the issue] are completely counterproductive. Only negotiations, which China and the ASEAN are pursuing, can bring the desired result; namely, mutually acceptable agreements” – a sentiment echoed by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi who was also reported to have voiced his opposition to the ‘internationalization’ of the South China Sea dispute on the basis of the Philippines’ “unilaterally-proposed arbitration case”. Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated the call for negotiations only between the states involved, reportedly implying  nations outside the region such as the United States have “no role in regional disputes”.  The Russia-China-India trilateral statement came one week after the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, Japan, yielded the April 11, 2016 G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on Maritime Security, which stated, among others, that the G7 “express[es]… strong opposition to any intimidating, coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions, and urge all states to refrain from such actions as land reclamations including large scale  ones, building of outposts, as well as their use for military purposes and to act in accordance with international law including the principles of freedoms of navigation and overflight. In areas pending final delimitation, we underline the importance of coastal states refraining from unilateral actions that cause permanent physical change to the marine environment insofar as such actions jeopardize or hamper the reaching of the final agreement, as well as the importance of making every effort to enter into provisional arrangements of a practical nature, in those areas.” (G7 Statement, para. 5).   Read the rest of this entry…

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Killing by Omission

Published on April 20, 2016        Author: 

On Monday, the Forensic Architecture team at Goldsmith College, London, published Death by Rescue. The report exposes a rather complex set of facts, but the basic argument is as simple as it is alarming.

Operation Triton, facilitated by Europe’s border security agency, Frontex, began on 1 November 2014 and is mandated to enforce Italy’s maritime border. Triton replaced an earlier and much wider Italian Navy operation, Mare Nostrum, which began in October 2013 and was mandated to save migrant lives beyond Italy’s territorial waters. When EU officials decided on the more limited scope of Triton, they knew their decision would result in the drowning of numerous migrants. As one Frontex official wryly noted, “the withdrawal of naval assets from the area, if not properly planned and announced well in advance, would likely result in a higher number of fatalities.” But the European Commission turned a blind eye – leading to a spike in migrant deaths, which the authors, Charles Heller and Lorenzo Pezzani meticulously document.

From a legal perspective, this set of circumstances raises the question whether the migrants’ rights were violated, and if so, whether EU actors can be held legally accountable. In my view, the report exposes no illegal activity by European agents, either at the operational or at the policymaking level. Perhaps more troubling, the report raises the specter of unaccountable violence ingrained in the very structure of international law. If international law is somehow to blame for circumstances that made these utterly preventable deaths possible, then perhaps it is law itself that should be indicted.

Law of the Land, Law of the Sea

To explain what I mean by that, several rather theoretical remarks are required.

In common law countries, one of the first things law students learn is that law imposes no duties of rescue upon individuals qua individuals.  The classical jurisprudence on this includes comically macabre examples. A characteristic hypothetical describes a bystander witnessing a drowning baby. Law professors often use the initially astonishing absence of a duty of rescue to illustrate a basic tenet of legal positivism: the distinction between legal and moral prescription (or “the separation thesis”). Students are expected to adopt this distinction as a second nature. Rescuing the drowning stranger, they are comforted, is morally required. Of course, there are important exceptions to the general absence of a duty of recue. The basic point nevertheless stands: law does not impose a duty of rescue. Law does not always follow moral prescription. 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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Japan’s New Optional Clause Declaration at the ICJ: A Pre-Emptive Strike?

Published on October 20, 2015        Author: 

On the pitch, the best offense is sometimes a good defense. Alternatively, you can simply decide not to play.

It was reported yesterday that Japan has submitted a new reservation to its declaration recognizing the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The new reservation, which is not yet available on the Court’s website, apparently seeks to exclude disputes relating to living marine resources from the Court’s jurisdiction. According to a fact sheet from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan considers that such disputes should instead be heard under the dispute settlement provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This is an interesting, if not surprising, development. In March 2014, the ICJ held in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan) that Japan’s authorization of special permits for the killing of whales in connection with the research program known as JARPA II did not comply with Article VIII of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). Article VIII, paragraph 1, provides that “any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit”. Whaling that is authorized by special permit under Article VIII is exempt from other restrictions imposed by the ICRW regime, including the moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since the 1980s.

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Are Human Rights Hurting Migrants at Sea?

Published on April 24, 2015        Author: 

Every year hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, cross the Mediterranean Sea to enter Europe. More than 200.000 are thought to have crossed in 2014, reaching the coasts of Italy, Greece, Spain, Malta and Cyprus.

The reasons for the crossing are obvious. Some migrants flee conflict and persecution; others simply seek a better life in Europe. Regardless of motivations, crossing is not without perils. The UNHCR estimates that 3.500 lives were lost in 2014 while more than two thousand people have died since 1 January 2015.

After more than 300 migrants drowned near the island of Lampedusa in 2013, the Italian Government established the so-called Operation Mare Nostrum. Mare Nostrum was a humanitarian success. The International Organization for Migration applauded the “heroic work of Italy’s maritime forces”, which rescued some 100.000 people between 2013 and 2014. Despite widespread praise, Mare Nostrum ended in October 2014.

In its place, the European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the European Union (known by the more palatable name Frontex) established operation Triton. Read the rest of this entry…

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