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Home Archive for category "Law of the Sea"

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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Mauritius v. UK: Chagos Marine Protected Area Unlawful

Published on April 17, 2015        Author: 

On 1 April 2010, the UK declared the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos Archipelago. The Archipelago is one of 14 remaining British overseas territories, administered by the UK as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). In contrast to other British overseas territories such as the Falklands/Malvinas and Gibraltar, BIOT is not on the UN list of non-self-governing territories. There is currently no permanent local population because the UK cleared the archipelago of the Chagossians between 1968 and 1973.

Mauritius and the UK both claim sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. The largest island of the Chagos Archipelago – Diego Garcia – has since the late 1960s housed the most important US military base in the Indian Ocean. The UK leased the island for defense purposes to the US in 1966, prior to Mauritian independence in 1968. The 50-year lease of Diego Garcia is due to be renewed in 2016.

In the Matter of the Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v. UK), a tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) issued its award on 18 March 2015. The tribunal found that the UK’s declaration of the MPA disregarded Mauritius’ rights, rendering the MPA unlawful. The award raises the prospect that the renewal of the lease in 2016 will require the UK to meaningfully consult Mauritius.

Mauritius made four submissions to the tribunal:

First: The UK was not entitled to declare a MPA because it was not a coastal state under UNCLOS (the ‘sovereignty claim’, according to the UK)

Second: The UK was prevented from unilaterally declaring the MPA due to Mauritius’ rights as a coastal state under UNCLOS

Third: The UK may not take any steps to prevent the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf from making recommendations to Mauritius in respect of any full submission to the Commission that Mauritius may make

Fourth: The UK’s declaration of the MPA was incompatible with substantive and procedural obligations under UNCLOS

The jurisdictional part of the award is centered on whether the four submissions concern the ‘interpretation or application of UNCLOS’ under Article 288 UNCLOS. This blog entry concentrates on the merits as regards the Fourth Submission. 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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The Continental Shelf Delimitation Agreement Between Turkey and “TRNC”

Published on May 26, 2014        Author: 

nicholasioanNikolaos A. Ioannidis is a PhD candidate in Public International Law at University of Bristol.

Last month, Turkey submitted a note verbaleto the Secretary-General of the United Nations setting out the geographical coordinates of its continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean, as established by a delimitation agreement with the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”). The agreement was signed on 21 September 2011 and ratified by the Turkish government on 29 June 2012. A map published by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs depicting the agreement is pictured below. (The reasons why the “TRNC” is in quotation marks will be elaborated below.) By transmitting this document to the UN Secretary-General, Turkey sought to achieve the publication of the agreed coordinates in the Law of the Sea Bulletin (LSB), where official submissions by states regarding the law of the sea are published. Although Turkey has not acceded the UN Law of the Sea Convention (‘LOSC’), it acted in accordance with article 84(2) LOSC (due publicity of charts or lists of geographical coordinates regarding continental shelf delimitation). Nonetheless, the submission of Turkey was not listed as an official deposit on the website of the Department of Oceans and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS).TRNC

The Turkish approach on the regime of islands

The delimitation agreement outlines some of Turkey’s longstanding positions on the law of the sea. It deals only with the continental shelf and does not provide for the delineation of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). While there is nothing precluding coastal states from choosing which maritime zones to claim and/or to delimitate, Turkey’s choice not to delimit an EEZ with the “TRNC” alludes to the Turkish position that islands in certain regions (implying the Aegean Sea) should not be entitled to claim maritime zones of their own other than territorial sea or should have reduced capacity to generate such zones. This stance was formulated in the context of the dispute between Turkey and Greece concerning sovereignty over the maritime space of the Aegean Sea;  since the 1970s, Turkey has sustained that the Aegean islands are situated on the continental shelf of Anatolia (Turkey) and, consequently, do not have a continental shelf of their own. This matter was an apple of discord between the Turkish and the Greek delegations over the course of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (‘UNCLOS III’). In the end, by virtue of article 121(2) LOSC, the Conference recognised the rights of islands to generate maritime zones. Article 121 LOSC reflects customary law (ICJ, Nicaragua v Colombia (2012), para 139) and, accordingly, applies to non-states parties as well.

Turkey’s resentment at the provisions on the regime of islands was one of the reasons it voted against and has not yet acceded to the LOSC (see Plenary Meetings 160 and 189). For the sake of clarity, it should be pointed out that when it comes to maritime delimitation, the maritime space an island can claim may be diminished depending on the circumstances (see, e.g., Anglo-French Arbitration 1977, Tunisia v Libya 1982, Black Sea Case 2009, Bangladesh/Myanmar 2012). Therefore, although in principle islands are not deprived of the rights bestowed on them by article 121 LOSC, they may not always be granted full effect in maritime boundary delimitations. However, islands cannot be denied their capacity to generate maritime zones and/or to be given decreased effect a priori;each case should be scrutinised according to its own unique terms. In any event, the Turkish argument that the Greek islands in the Aegean are located on the continental shelf of Turkey has been severely emaciated by the introduction of the EEZ concept and the prevalence of the “distance criterion” of maritime delimitation over the “geological” one. The distance criterion provides that the breadth of the maritime space afforded to a state should be calculated according to a fixed distance measured from the coast. The geological criterion, by contrast, would permit a state to claim the sea waters lying over the “natural prolongation” of its territory irrespective of the distance from its coastline. In the Nicaragua v Colombia case (2012), the ICJ put an end to the argument that one state’s islands cannot have their own continental shelf because they are located on another state’s continental shelf:

“The Court does not believe that any weight should be given to Nicaragua’s contention that the Colombian islands are located on “Nicaragua’s continental shelf”. It has repeatedly made clear that geological and geomorphological considerations are not relevant to the delimitation of overlapping entitlements within 200 nautical miles of the coasts of States.” (para 214).

The delimitation agreement

According to its well-established position that islands should not have the capacity to claim extended maritime zones when facing a bigger coastline, Turkey holds the view that Cyprus, being an island, has lesser effect in terms of maritime delimitation than the longer Turkish coastline, which is opposite the northern coast of Cyprus. Hence, as the agreement provides, the continental shelf delineation was carried out in accordance with equitable principles, resulting in a delimitation line closer to Cyprus at some points, which gives Turkey a more extensive maritime space than that allocated to the “TRNC”. Turkey was a fervent advocate of the equitable principles/relevant circumstances method during UNCLOS III, vehemently rejecting the median line/special circumstances method (UNCLOS III, Negotiating Group 7). The “equitable principles” method, which was elaborated in the 1969 Continental Shelf cases, stipulates that all relevant factors should be considered in order to reach an equitable result; however, the Court gave no further guidance as to how such an equitable result would be reached, rendering this method equivocal. Read the rest of this entry…

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China, the Philippines and Oil Rig HD-981: A New Flashpoint in the South China Sea Dispute

Published on May 23, 2014        Author: 

South_China_Sea_vector.svgTensions between China and Vietnam over the disputed Paracel islands erupted into anti-Chinese riots this week in Vietnam. The immediate cause is the positioning of a deep sea exploratory oil rig, the HD-9H1, 17 nautical miles from Triton Island, the south-western most feature of the Paracel group. It is also within 200 nautical miles of the Vietnamese coastline and therefore potentially within the EEZ of Vietnam. (The map at left shows China’s claims in the South China sea as well as each country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone. Click to enlarge. Credit.)

The underlying dispute is of course whether Vietnam or China has sovereignty over these maritime features. If they do belong to China, any maritime zone they generate would be opposable to Vietnam and a maritime delimitation would be needed to sort out the respective boundaries. Is recourse to international dispute resolution – if not by consent, then initiated by Vietnam – likely in such a case?

The situation obviously has some parallels with the Philippines v China arbitration initiated under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Indeed, such Annexe VII arbitrations under Part 15 of UNCLOS are undergoing something of a renaissance at present. Other than the Philippines v China case, there is also obviously the pending arbitration in the case of the MV Arctic Sunrise (Netherlands v Russia) – both cases in which a major power has threatened nonappearance. More positively, hearings under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration recently concluded between Mauritius and United Kingdom concerning the dispute which followed the UK’s pronouncement of a marine protected area around the Chagos archipelago. The attraction of UNCLOS arbitration is that dispute resolution under the Convention is, in principle, compulsory; the downside is that it is riddled with complex exceptions. (As I have noted in a previous post.)

Could this be the next case to go to an Annexe VII Tribunal? The problems with relying on this mechanism to resolve maritime boundary disputes, or disputes concerning the underlying title to an island, are well known. Read the rest of this entry…

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Mackerel War Called Off?

Published on April 9, 2014        Author: 

In November 2013 we wrote about a remarkable WTO dispute initiated by Denmark against the EU (The ‘Mackerel War’ Goes to the WTO). The case is remarkable because it has pitted one EU Member state against the other 27. Denmark, a member of the EU, brought the case “in respect of the Faroe Islands” which are part of Denmark, but not of the European Union.

The dispute concerns fishing quotas jointly managed by the Faroes, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the EU under the Atlanto-Scandian Herring Management Arrangements. In annual negotiations, the parties decide on the division of the total allowable catch (TAC). In 2013 parties were unable to reach agreement, largely due to refusal to accommodate the Faroe Islands request for a larger part of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC).

When the Faroe Islands unilaterally decided to increase their catch, the EU responded by prohibiting import of herring and mackerel from the Faroe Islands. Denmark then brought a WTO dispute as well as arbitration proceedings under Annex VII of UNCLOS. In its request for consultations to the WTO, Denmark claimed the EU’s response to be in breach of GATT Article I:1, V:2 and XI:1. Denmark also reserved its rights under UNCLOS.

The parties have recently settled their dispute in respect of mackerel. On 12 March 2014, the Faroe Islands, Norway and EU concluded a joint arrangement for the conservation and management of the North East Atlantic mackerel stock for the next five years. The arrangement allocated 13% of the TAC between the parties (not including Russia and Iceland) to the Faroe Islands. This is a sizeable increase compared with the 5% that had been previously allocated to the Faroese, and the proportion is set to increase again next year.

The WTO dispute, however, is centered on herring, whereas the new agreement only deals with mackerel. Pending an agreement on herring, the WTO complaint and the UNCLOS Annex VII arbitration continue, and EU Regulation 793/2013, establishing sanctions against the Faroe Islands, remains in force. Read the rest of this entry…

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OUP Debate Map on “Disputes in the South and East China Seas”

Published on February 7, 2014        Author: 

Readers interested in the territorial and maritime boundary disputes between China and her neighbours in the South and East China Seas will welcome the creation by Oxford University Press of a “Debate Map” on the topic. The  “Debate Map” is a valuable way of keeping track of scholarly commentary, in journals and blogs, on the range of issues related to those territorial and maritime disputes. It is essentially an index which categorises and:

maps scholarly commentary on the international law aspects of the conflicts in and around the South China and East China Seas, including maritime boundary disputes, the question of sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, China’s recent announcement of an Air Defence Identification Zone, and the Philippines/China UNCLOS arbitration. It brings together primary documents with discussions in English-language legal blogs and a selection of journal articles.

Readers can “[u]se this map to review scholarly arguments and to keep track of which issues have been covered and who has said what.” OUP has also made available a range of online OUP materials on these issues (see the Oxford Public International Law Page).

The current Debate Map is the third such Map created by the Law team at OUP. The first was on The Use of Force Against Syria and was noted by John Louth here. The second on the Prosecution of Heads of States and Other Senior Officials at the ICC was discussed by Merel Alstein here. These debate maps are regularly updated and as Merel explains “aim to provide a quick overview of the relevant legal problems and controversies but also to create an archive of scholarship that can be referred back to  . . .”

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Ripples in the East and South China Seas: Aid, ADIZs, Aircraft Carriers, and Arbitration

Published on December 1, 2013        Author: 

0912ChinaSeaTerritory2In the past few weeks throughout November 2013, various incidents have sharply demonstrated China’s foreign policy preferences in relation to disputes with neighbors over the East and South China Seas (pictured above left, credit), as well as its self-perception of its broader hegemonic role in the Asian region.  I recently spoke on regulatory freedom and control under the new ASEAN regional investment treaties at the international investment law panel organized and led by Dr. Stephan Schill of the Max Planck Institute and Professor M. Sornarajah of the National University of Singapore, at the Fourth Biennial Conference of the Asian Society of International Law (AsianSIL) held in New Delhi, India from 14 to 16 November, 2013.  In the same conference, I witnessed firsthand the rare exchange  between China’s Judge Hanqin Xue of the International Court of Justice during the presentation made by my former University of the Philippines colleague Professor H. Harry Roque on the Philippine arbitration claim filed against ChinaIn a detailed reply after Professor Roque’s presentation, Judge Xue noted that there was no other Chinese scholar or delegate in the AsianSIL conference, and said she would thus take the opportunity to analyze the Chinese position on the Philippine arbitration.  She did stress, however, that her remarks were made in her personal capacity, and not in any way reflective of her views as a Member of the Court and certainly not representative of China’s official position on the South China Sea.)

First, Judge Xue observed that the questions in the Philippine claim, taken in their totality, in reality amount to territorial questions that fall well outside the scope of the subject-matter jurisdiction of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  Second, she stressed that around forty states (including China) had not accepted compulsory jurisdiction under the UNCLOS dispute settlement procedure.  Third, she related her experiences as China’s Ambassador to ASEAN during the passage of the Declaration of the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, where, in her view, the littoral States signing the declaration clearly assumed the obligation to resolve the South China Sea disputes through negotiations and not through compelled arbitration.  Finally, she expressed that China decided not to participate in the UNCLOS arbitration initiated by the Philippines because no country could have “failed to see the design” of the Philippine claim which “mixed up jurisdiction and merits”, and that it tended to complicate the full range of regional maritime issues and inhibit confidence-building measures between the seven States parties to the dispute.  Judge Xue stressed that all parties to the South China Sea dispute would do better to cooperate on issues gradually (such as, first, through rapid response disaster risk reduction in maritime disasters and maritime-related environmental hazards) to build confidence steadily among the States enough to reach multilateral agreement on joint resource management and resource uses over the disputed area.  Even though issued in her personal capacity, the remarks of China’s most senior international judge certainly suggests, at least, that there is some groundswell towards peaceful cooperative actions for resolving maritime disputes in the Asian region.

Subsequent actions taken by the Chinese government in the past week, however, seem to demonstrate some equivocation to the above views.  On November 23, 2013, China announced that it was marking its own “air defense identification zone” (ADIZ) to include airspace over the disputed islands (Senkaku Islands according to Japan, Diaoyu islands according to China) in the East China Sea.  Similar to other ADIZs established by the United States, Canada, Russia, among others, China established its ADIZ by declaration, and not by treaty.  An ADIZ may be established over territorial waters or land, but it may also be declared over high seas or extended into international airspace adjacent to national airspace. (Nicholas Poulantzas, The Right of Hot Pursuit in International Law, Martinus Nijhoff, 2002, at pp. 341-342.)  In the latter instance, foreign aircraft passing through the ADIZ would be required to provide the State administering the ADIZ with advance warning information only if the aircraft’s final destination is the said State. Read the rest of this entry…

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Greenpeace ‘Pirates’ and the MV Arctic Sunrise

Published on October 8, 2013        Author: 

MV Arctic SunriseAs is now well-known, on 18 September several Greenpeace activists attempted to board Gazprom’s oil platform, the Prirazlomnaya, in the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) bearing ropes and posters. They did do in inflatable craft launched from the Greenpeace vessel the MV Arctic Sunrise. They were soon arrested by the Russian Coast Guard. On 19 September the Russian Coast Guard boarded, within their EEZ but outside territorial waters, the Arctic Sunrise itself (a Netherlands flagged vessel) and arrested those on board.

I have already blogged at The Conversation as to why the Greenpeace protestors are self-evidently not pirates at international law. (In short, their acts were neither violent nor committed against another ship.) Vladimir Putin even agrees, but nonetheless the protestors and all aboard the Arctic Sunrise have been charged with “piracy of an organised group”.

Now the Netherlands government has commenced arbitration proceedings against Russia over the detention of the Arctic Sunrise and, it seems, the legality of its seizure. These proceedings will have two limbs: (1) seeking the release of the vessel and crew; and (2) the merits of the case concerning the lawfulness of the Russian action against both those aboard its oil platform and the Arctic Sunrise.

The case will be heard by an arbitration panel constituted under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This panel will have the power to order the release of the Arctic Sunrise as a preliminary measure, or if it is not constituted within two weeks the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea will have jurisdiction to hear the prompt release case (Article 290(5), UNCLOS).

I, perhaps rather rashly, previously noted that the Russian reservation to the UNCLOS dispute settlement mechanism might pose problems to such proceedings. (The reservation purports to exclude disputes arising from certain categories of law-enforcement action.) What follows is (mostly) an explanation of why that is likely not the case.

A health warning, however: this is a long and rather technical post.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Could Australia Follow a US Lead on Maritime Interdiction of Migrants?

Published on August 19, 2013        Author: 

As an Australian citizen living abroad a depressing feature of current electoral politics at home has been the race to the bottom on policy for asylum-seekers arriving by boat to Australia. The reasons for which the new policy of summarily deporting all boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea for refugee processing and resettlement are contrary to Australia’s international obligations have been ably articulated by Ben Saul and others.

However, an allied issue in the boat people debate has been the feasibility of “stopping the boats” at sea. The leader of the Coalition opposition, Mr Tony Abbott, has claimed “it’s standard naval practice to intercept and turn around boats on the high seas,” and Coalition policy has also reportedly “annoyed Indonesia by insisting Jakarta is open to talking on turning back boats when it most definitely is not”. Nonetheless, Mr Abbot has suggested that the “US Coast Guard has been turning boats around in the Caribbean for years” and that this points to maritime interception as a viable policy option.

So does US Coast Guard migrant interdiction provide a model Australia could adopt? In my view: no. The US Coast Guard does intercept thousands of migrants at sea every year from Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, but only under a very different operational and legal framework to that being proposed in Australia. Read the rest of this entry…

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