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Home Archive for category "Sources of International Law"

Reconciling new interpretations of the UN Charter with the customary international law on the use of force

Published on November 26, 2019        Author: 

 

In a recent lecture, published as a post on this blog, Professor Dapo Akande analysed the diversity of the rules on the use of force in international law and the implications for the evolution of the law in this area. In this post I wish to address one issue arising from this discussion but not directly addressed in Dapo’s lecture: the impact of changes to the UN Charter on the customary international law rules on the use of force.

In his lecture, Dapo argues persuasively that there are structural difficulties surrounding the evolution of Charter rules, and that these could be avoided if UN members were to interpret the UN Charter through subsequent practice under Article 31(3)(b) VCLT so that a ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution of the UN General Assembly ‘would be deemed not to be a breach of the prohibition of force under Art. 2(4) in the same way that a Council resolution authorizing force would have that effect.’ However, while this route would avoid the obstacles Dapo discusses that make it difficult to imagine customary international law bringing about a change in the Charter rules on the use of force, it raises the opposite question: how would modification of the Charter rules impact the customary prohibition on force?

As clarified by the ICJ in Nicaragua (Merits, para 179), customary law continues to exist and apply separately alongside even identical treaty provisions. Since the customary and treaty prohibitions exist independently, even if the Charter were to be interpreted so that force authorised through Uniting for Peace was no longer considered a breach of Article 2(4), this interpretation of the Charter wouldn’t automatically change custom to match. A priori, force lawfully authorised by the General Assembly under the Charter would therefore still be in violation of the customary prohibition on force. One could argue that the new treaty rule would simply prevail over the customary prohibition to the extent they conflict, but this seems difficult when the customary prohibition is probably also a jus cogens norm. Indeed, it seems rather that the purported interpretation of the Charter would – by analogy with a new treaty amendment conflicting with jus cogens which would presumably be caught by Article 53 VCLT – be invalid. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Diversity of Rules on the Use of Force: Implications for the Evolution of the Law

Published on November 11, 2019        Author: 

Last month, I had the pleasure and honour to deliver one of the keynote lectures at the Canadian Council of International Law Annual Conference. The theme of the conference was “Diversity and International Law” and I chose to speak about the diversity of rules on the use of force and the implications of that diversity for the evolution of the law. I am pasting the text of my lecture here

In this lecture I wish to address the question whether the law relating to the use of force – as set out in the UN Charter – has been capable, and is capable, of adapting to meet new threats and challenges facing the international community. My focus is not on the substance of the rules but rather on how they change. In particular, I wish to show that we need to be attentive to the nature of diverse nature of the rules in this area as we think about the possibility of their evolution.

Yesterday was the 74th anniversary of the entry into force of the United Nations Charter. It was around the time of the 50th anniversary of the UN that literature began to emerge suggesting that we might think of the UN Charter as a constitution for international society. Whether one agrees with that characterisation or not the Charter shares at least a couple of features with constitutions – it aims to lay down an overarching framework for the community it applies to, and is intended to be an abiding document in terms of duration. This immediately raises questions about whether the document can continue to regulate new and unforeseen challenges. This is particularly true of the Charter rules relating to the use of force.

Areas Where Evolution of the Charter Rules on Use of Force Have Been Called For

One can think of at least four areas where it has been argued that rules of the UN Charter ought to be adapted (or have been adapted, depending on one’s point of view) to meet new challenges : Read the rest of this entry…

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France Speaks Out on IHL and Cyber Operations: Part II

Published on October 1, 2019        Author: 

In the first part of this post I discussed the position paper’s articulation of the views of France on the applicability of IHL to cyber operations, on the classification of armed conflicts, and on their geographical scope in the cyber context. In this part I will examine the position paper’s views on the concept of “attack,” on the conduct of hostilities and on data as an object.

The Meaning of the Term “Attack”

The issue of the meaning of the term “attack” has occupied center stage from the very inception of legal thinking about cyber operations during an armed conflict. It is a critical one because most key IHL “conduct of hostilities” rules are framed in terms of attacks – it is prohibited to direct “attacks” against civilians or civilian objects (distinction), an “attack” expected to cause collateral damage that is excessive to the anticipated military advantage is prohibited (proportionality), parties must take precautions in “attack” to minimize harm to civilians (precautions in attack), etc.  These prohibitions, limitations, and requirements beg the question of when a cyber operation qualifies as an “attack” such that the rules govern it.

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France Speaks Out on IHL and Cyber Operations: Part I

Published on September 30, 2019        Author: 

The French Ministry of the Armies (formerly the Ministry of Defense) has recently released Droit International Appliqué aux Opérations dans le Cyberspace (International Law Applicable to Operations in Cyberspace), the most comprehensive statement on the applicability of international law (IHL) to cyber operations by any State to date.  The position paper dealt definitively with many of the current unsettled issues at the forefront of governmental and scholarly discussions.

This two-part post builds on an earlier post at Just Security in which I examined the position paper’s treatment of the relationship between peacetime international law, including that set forth in the UN Charter regarding uses of force, and hostile cyber operations. The focus here, by contrast, is on France’s views as to how IHL applies in the cyber context. Key topics addressed in the paper include the applicability of IHL in cyberspace; classification and geography of cyber conflict; the meaning of the term “attack” in the cyber context; the legal nature of data during an armed conflict; and other significant IHL prohibitions, limitations, and requirements on cyber operations.

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Was there the Third World in Geneva in 1949?

Published on September 26, 2019        Author: 

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. The importance that has been attached to the four Geneva Conventions (GCs) in the last seven decades is discernible from their universal acceptance. Since their adoption hardly there has been an armed conflict situation where the discussions have not involved the issues related to the Geneva Conventions. Development of the law of armed conflicts did not stop with the adoption of the GCs as later on Additional Protocols of 1977 (AP I and AP II), and 2005 (AP III) were adopted. Despite the fairly comprehensive nature of the GCs, the Additional Protocols were found to be necessary. One of the important reasons for the adoption of the APs, particularly AP I and AP II, was the coming into existence of the newly independent third world States and the need for accommodating their concerns. It is true that newly independent third world States were more in number in 1977 and made a significant difference to the APs, like the recognition of national liberation movements as international armed conflicts in AP I. It is also true that there were not many States from the third world at the time of negotiations on GCs. However, a plain assertion of these facts ignores a critical and historically contingent role of the third world States who participated in the negotiations on GCs in 1949.

Historical accounts of the GCs often state that the GCs were largely negotiated by the European States as less number of States participated from the third world (Giovanni Mantilla, The Origins and Evolution of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the 1977 Additional Protocols, p. 39). This situation is often compared with the AP I and AP II negotiations in the 1970s where there was more number of newly independent third world States, and therefore their influence was manifest on the outcome of the diplomatic conference. This narrative presents the absence of the third world States as an important reason for the prominent role gained by the European States in 1949. This narrative further demonstrates that the presence of more number of third world States in 1977 made a significant impact on AP I and AP II, like in the form of inclusion of national liberation movements and the modification of combatant status. This plain equivalence, while attempting to present the apparent facts, tends to ignore the unsuccessful attempts of the third world States in bringing to the fore their concerns during the negotiation process in 1949. Problematized from a third world perspective, this equivalence also has the potential to present the ideological divide between the third world and the first world as a question of mere presence and absence and formal participation.

Hence, while assuming that the number of States that participated from the third world was less, however, their participation and interventions during the negotiations convey emerging solidarity among the third world States(though African, Asian and Latin American States constituted almost half of the 59 participating States at the diplomatic conference). Their interventions provided a critique of the developed or the first world on several issues and underlined the similarities between the third world States. This pointed towards emerging third world solidarity which was carried forward to the later years and decades at the multilateral fora. This emerging dualism of first world critique and third world solidarity in the international law making process was evidently witnessed on some of the crucial issues of the Geneva Conventions. Two issues are analyzed here to substantiate the above arguments: These are common article 3 and the red cross emblem. Read the rest of this entry…

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Living in the Shadow of Flawed Peace: How General International Law Is Implicated in the Trade War between Japan and South Korea

Published on August 22, 2019        Author: 

As the anniversary of V-J Day approaches, the legacy of World War II still casts a long shadow on its previous Pacific theatre.  Last month, an unprecedented quadripartite incident involving warplanes from, inter alia, Japan and South Korea played out in the territorial airspace of the contested Dokdo/Takeshima islands, disputed territory that was left unresolved in the postwar San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 (SFPT).  Yet, the warning shots fired above those tiny rocks is not the only instance of regional tensions heating up in Northeast Asia.  On 2 August, Japan decided to remove South Korea from its list of trusted trade partners, following its restrictions on the exportation of three important chemicals to South Korea imposed last month.  Days later, Japan pulled back and permitted export of a key chemical for semiconductor manufacturing in Korea.  The two Asian economic titans have since brought their trade war to the attention of the WTO’s General Council

Yet the WTO is not the only international legal regime engaged in the escalating trade conflict between Japan and South Korea.  In this contribution, I aim to show that the now seldom-trodden postwar peace treaties concluding WWII are still pertinent to current international relations as evidenced by the diplomatic row between Seoul and Tokyo.  Self-help remains relevant to the effective operation of the international legal order, especially with respect to the enforcement of international legal rules lying outside the purview of any (quasi)judicial fora such as flaws from postwar peace treaties. 

The End of a World War  

While Japan ended its colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula following its surrender to the Allies at the end of WWII, the Peninsula was soon split into two entities.  Because of the Allies’ disagreement as to whether Korea was a belligerent party, neither Pyongyang nor Seoul signed the SFPT.  Despite its exclusion of both Koreas, the SFPT includes a China/ Korea entitlement clause (article 21).  Among other things, article 4—the framework provision on, inter alia, the disposition of property of Japan and of its nationals in the territories renounced by Japan (including the Korean Peninsula) and the relevant claims—is applicable to Korea by way of this special clause.  Yet the apparent omission of the reparation clause (article 14) sowed seeds of the lingering dispute over responsibility and reparations between Japan and South Korea. Read the rest of this entry…

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Hospital Bombings: Empirical and Theoretical Fallacies of Those Rejecting a Ban

Published on August 16, 2019        Author:  and

The argument we advance in our recent EJIL Article, ‘‘Hospital Shields’ and the Limits of International Law’, emerged from analysis of empirical data showing how, during the past several years, hospitals were being bombed on a daily basis. Comparing these attacks with official statements released by actors suspected of bombing hospitals, we discovered that one of the recurrent arguments used to legitimise the strikes was that the facilities had been transformed into ‘hospital shields’ and used to conceal military targets. We then decided to reconstruct the history of hospital bombings and found that since 1911 — the first time medical units were bombed from the air — belligerents have consistently justified aerial strikes by claiming that the medical units were being used to hide combatants or harbour weapons.  

This revelation led us to examine in detail the historical development of the legal clauses dealing with the protection of medical units in armed conflicts. Our analysis revealed that the clauses include a number of exceptions that have allowed belligerents to assert that the bombing was carried out in accordance with IHL. We argue that belligerents can do this since hospitals occupy a spatial and legal threshold during armed conflict, and that IHL, which is informed by the rigid distinction between combatants and noncombatants, does not have the vocabulary to deal with liminal people and objects. This, we maintain, enables belligerents to use the law to justify the attacks.  

Our assumption throughout the paper is that IHL is subject to constant interpretation and reinterpretation, and that the way states interpret the law — even if we disagree with their interpretation — helps to establish the law’s meaning. International law is, after all, shaped by states, and through their practices, manuals and utterances they help determine the interpretation of its clauses. Hence, the fact that for over a century many states, among them the most powerful ones, have justified the bombing of hospitals by claiming that they were used as shields is not something we can dismiss by simply claiming that they are misinterpreting the law. After all, those very states introduced the hospital shields exception.  Read the rest of this entry…

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More on Public International Law and Infectious Diseases: Foundations of the Obligation to Report Epidemic Outbreaks

Published on August 15, 2019        Author: 

In his recent post on the 2018-2019 Ebola Outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. Villarreal inter alia mentions the connection between the International Health Regulations (IHR) and international human rights law, arguing that states’ obligations under the IHR are to be read in conjunction with those under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Obviously, the right to health enshrined therein is of utmost relevance.

While that point of view deserves full support, a further link could be traced between international human rights law and “international law of infectious diseases” – the obligation of states to report outbreaks of infectious diseases, lying at the very heart of international efforts to cope with pandemics.

This post intends to demonstrate that the reporting obligation for infectious disease outbreaks can be inferred from general legal sources such as the duty of state co-operation and the human right to health as well as from the IHR – a specific regime. The below analysis purports to show how and why this could and should be done.

Disease outbreaks and the duty to co-operate

Although the mentioned Ebola outbreak was originally reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by the Government of the DRC, states may well be disincentivised to notify outbreaks of contagion, especially on crucial early stages. Hence the need for incentives for honesty in this regard, not excluding legal ones.

The IHR (Art. 6) establish the reporting duty, i.e. the obligation of states to assess events occurring within their territories using a special decision-making instrument attached to the IHR and timely notify the WHO of all events which may constitute a public health emergency of international concern (the legal regime for declaring a PHEIC has been discussed in the mentioned post).

The duty (sometimes referred to as the principle) of state co-operation under general international law and the specific obligation of reporting epidemic outbreaks share an obvious fundamental similarity: both pursue the same objective – addressing issues that transcend national borders and are beyond sovereign control. Although individual states are responsible for preserving public health in their territories, their efforts may be rendered meaningless without international co-operation (J. Tobin, The Right to Health in International Law (2012), p. 325). In the WHO’s words, “health is a shared responsibility, involving equitable access to essential care and collective defense against transnational threats” (UNSG, Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health (2010)).

This finding, however, considerably loses in value due to the legal nature of the duty to co-operate. On the one hand, it is enshrined in the United Nations Charter (Arts.1(3), 2, 55, 56), as well as the UNGA’s 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States and has allegedly become a part of customary international law (R. Wolfrum, International Law of Cooperation (2010), para. 13). On the other hand, under the UNC, the principle of state co-operation is said to reflect one of the UN objectives rather than constitute a binding obligation (R. Wolfrum, International Law of Cooperation (2010), para. 16). The mentioned UNGA Resolution adds little clarity.

The duty to co-operate put into context

So, should it be founded upon the duty to co-operate, the obligation to report epidemic outbreaks will end up being no more enforceable than the latter. Still, there is a chance of enhancing the enforceability by putting the duty of co-operation into a specific context. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Jadhav Judgment: Espionage, Carve-Outs and Customary Exceptions

Published on August 8, 2019        Author:  and

On 17 July 2019, the ICJ rendered its judgment in Jadhav. In brief, this case involved an Indian national (Mr Jadhav) who was arrested, tried, and convicted by Pakistan for espionage and terrorism offences and sentenced to death. India made repeated requests to Pakistan to allow consular access to Mr Jadhav during his period of detention, all of which were denied. Before the ICJ, India claimed that Pakistan’s conduct violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR) 1963.

Freya Baetens’ post on this blog provides a useful overview of the ICJ’s judgment. Yet, an aspect of the ICJ’s decision that requires further analysis is the manner in which the Court approached the status of espionage under consular law and customary international law. The interaction between espionage and international law was relevant to this dispute to the extent that Pakistan averred before the Court that, while Article 36 VCCR grants nationals the right to access consular assistance from their home state while detained by a foreign power, states can deny access where the national in question is accused of espionage.

Article 36 VCCR does not expressly state that the right to access consular assistance can be refused where a national is accused of espionage. Nevertheless, Pakistan justified its decision to refuse consular access to Mr Jadhav on three grounds: (1) an espionage carve-out to Article 36; (2) developments in customary international law subsequent to the conclusion of the VCCR; and (3) the 2008 Agreement on Consular Access between Pakistan and India prevails over the VCCR, which allows states to deny consular access where necessary to maintain national security. While the ICJ rejected all three of Pakistan’s submissions, this post focuses specifically upon the Court’s consideration of grounds one and two. Read the rest of this entry…

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Silence and the Use of Force in International Law

Published on July 18, 2019        Author: , and

States frequently take actions and make statements that implicate international law. But because they do not — and, indeed, could not — express a view on each such act or statement by all other states at all times, silence seems to be the norm, rather than the exception, in international relations.

When states and other international actors do not express their views on a particular incident, issue or statement that implicates international law, what is the legal significance, if any, of their silence? Does it denote acquiescence or quiet protest? Might it not have legal significance at all? Who makes this determination? Who benefits, and who loses, from a finding that a particular silence does or does not yield legal consequences?

Over the years, several scholars — despite some calls for caution — have invoked the silence of states and other international actors as proof of support for particular legal views. This practice has been noticeable and increasingly frequent in jus ad bellum — the field of international law governing the threat or use of force in international relations. For example, writings on the following military actions (among others) invoke silence as having some type of legal significance: Read the rest of this entry…

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