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Home Archive for category "States and Statehood"

Disentangling the Knots: A Comment on Ambos’ ‘Palestine, ‘Non-Member Observer’ Status and ICC Jurisdiction’

Published on May 27, 2014        Author: 

2014.05.25.Valentina PhotoValentina Azarov (pictured left) is Lecturer in Human Rights and International Law, Al-Quds Bard College, Al-Quds University, Palestine. Chantal Meloni2014.05.22.FotoTessera2 (pictured right) is Adjunct Professor of International Criminal Law, University of Milan, Italy and Alexander von Humboldt fellow, Humboldt University of Berlin.

In a recent post on ‘Palestine, non-Member Observer Status and ICC Jurisdiction’, Kai Ambos raises important points that require, in our view, some basic clarifications. While many of these arguments have been made previously by eminent experts and practitioners, they have become particularly relevant with the recent accessions by Palestine to 20 international treaties (see here and here) including some of the most important international human rights and humanitarian law instruments, as well as a letter dated 8 May 2014 addressed to President Abbas by 17 human rights groups calling for Palestine to seek access to the ICC.

Arguably the most critical issue raised by Ambos concerns the 2009 Declaration lodged by the Palestinian government pursuant to Article 12(3) of the International Criminal Court Statute accepting the jurisdiction of the ICC. Ambos claims that this Declaration is void because, in his view UN General Assembly Resolution 67/19 (2012), which granted “non-member observer state status” to Palestine does not possess retroactive effect. However, as explained below, a GA resolution is not constitutive, nor even declarative of the existence of a ‘State’, since, strictly speaking, formal recognition is a state act (Crawford 2006, 27-28). It merely provides further indication of Palestine’s treatment as a ‘State’ by international actors. In fact, as will be argued, the ICC could have exercised its jurisdiction over Palestine on the basis of the 2009 Declaration, even prior to the UN GA Res 67/19.

Validity and ‘Retroactivity’ of the 2009 Declaration 

At the outset, Ambos claims that the 2009 Declaration was “not validly lodged,” citing a November 2013 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities by the ICC Prosecutor’s Office (OTP). However, there are conspicuous differences in the language used by the ICC Prosecutor in this report and in its decision of 3 April 2012 not to open an investigation. The official 2012 decision does not hold that the declaration was not validly lodged. Rather, in that ‘decision not to decide’ (see Dapo Akande), the Prosecutor stated that the ‘Office could in the future consider allegations of crimes committed in Palestine, should competent organs of the United Nations or eventually the Assembly of States Parties resolve the legal issue relevant to an assessment of article 12.’  The 2013 report quoted by Ambos is a communication of the office’s activities that clearly carries less weight than an official decision. It is not meant to have dispositive value but is merely part of the OTP’s regular reporting duties: “In order to promote transparency of the preliminary examination process the Office aims to issue regular reports on its activities and provides reasoned responses for its decisions either to proceed or not proceed with investigations” (par. 13).

As pointed out elsewhere, there are well-grounded reasons to believe that the Prosecutor’s 2012 decision was wrong.   Read the rest of this entry…

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Crimea after Cyprus v. Turkey: Just Satisfaction for Unlawful Annexation?

Published on May 19, 2014        Author: 

On 13 March 2014 Ukraine lodged an inter-state application under Article 33 of the European Convention against the Russian Federation. Philip Leach has addressed in this forum the likely implications, suggesting that the occupation of Crimea will present a situation for the European Court similar to that in Ilaşcu v. Moldova and Russia.

The other decided case of the European Court that writers are speculating may be relevant to Ukraine is Cyprus v. Turkey. The Court’s just satisfaction judgment in Cyprus v. Turkey, adopted on 12 May 2014, is the first ever to award just satisfaction in an inter-State case under the Convention. Judge Pinto de Albuquerque and Judge Vučinić declared the judgment “the most important contribution to peace in Europe in the history of the European Court of Human Rights.”

What is important about Cyprus v. Turkey? And how, if at all, might Ukraine use the just satisfaction judgment to advance its own application against Russia?

Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine, UN Non-Member Observer Status and ICC Jurisdiction

Published on May 6, 2014        Author: 

ICCOn 22 January 2009, the Palestinian Minister of Justice, on behalf of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), lodged a declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) (pictured left) ‘for the purpose of identifying, prosecuting and judging the authors and accomplices of acts committed on the territory of Palestine since 1 July 2002.’ On 3 April 2012, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor concluded that the preconditions to the exercise of jurisdictionwere not met, arguing that Palestine had only been granted ‘observer’, not ‘Non-member State’ status by General Assembly (GA). The Prosecutor considered that the Declaration ‘was not validly lodged’ (Report on Preliminary Examinations Activities 2013, para. 236). However, the Prosecutor also said that ‘allegations of crimes committed in Palestine’ could be considered ‘in the future’ if the ‘competent organs of United Nations … resolve the legal issue relevant to an assessment of article 12 …’. On 29 November 2012 the UN GA – by 138 votes to 9, with 41 abstentions – decided ‘to accord to Palestine non-member observer State status.’ (GA Res. 67/19 of 4 Dec. 2012, para. 2) (see previous EJIL:Talk! Posts here, here and here)

With this decision, the legal issue raised in the Prosecutor’s decision has been resolved. Palestine has been ‘upgraded’ from a mere ‘observer’ to a ‘Non-member State’. The formal declaration of statehood, which some previously considered a missing precondition to Palestine’s status as a State (Ronen, JICJ 8(2010), 26; Shany, JICJ 8 (2010), 337), has been produced by the GA. And this notwithstanding the possible lack of complete fulfilment of the Montevideo criteria (in particular the effective government criterion; cf. Shaw, JICJ 9 (2011), 307 ff.). The view that Palestine is now a State is not only the prevailing view among scholars (Zimmermann, JICJ 11(2013), 303; Ronen, JICJ 12 (2014) 8; contra still Kontorovich, JICJ 11 (2013), 979), but above all has been confirmed by treaty practice since the GA Resolution, i.e., the accession of Palestine to at least 15 international treaties (accepted by the respective depositaries). This means that Palestine, represented by its government, can now not only trigger ICC jurisdiction by way of a declaration under Article 12(3) of the ICC Statute but also directly accede to the ICC Statute (albeit without retroactive effect, cf. Articles 11(2), 126(2)). While there is no longer a need to overcome the lack of statehood by way of a functional interpretation of Article 12(3) (Shany, JICJ 8 (2010), 329; Pellet, JICJ 8(2010), 981, the new Article 12(3) power suffers from several limitations. Those limitations will be the focus of this post (leaving aside the subsequent ‘ordinary’ obstacles, especially gravity, admissibility and interests of justice, to turn an ICC situation into a formal investigation of a case). Here are the four problems with Article 12(3) that I see.

First, Article 12(3) is premised on a delegation-based theory of jurisdiction (Shany, JICJ 8(2010), 331-2), i.e., the ‘State’ within the meaning of the provision delegates a part of its jurisdiction to the ICC. Of course, this presupposes that the State possesses the jurisdiction it wants to delegate in the first place. Here Annex II of the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement (‘Oslo II’) comes into play. According to its Article I, the Palestinian criminal jurisdiction is limited to ‘offenses committed by Palestinians and/or non-Israelis in the Territory’. ‘Territory’ refers to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in principle including East Jerusalem. Indeed, this is the Palestinian territory internationally recognized as a ‘single territorial unit’ (Art. IV Declaration of Principles 1993 [Oslo I]; Art  XI(1) Oslo II). Of course, on the one hand, Palestinian jurisdiction does not extend to the Area C in the West Bank (including Israeli settlements and military installations). On the other hand, while Israel does not, in principle, claim sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza, it does so with regard to East Jerusalem. Thus, on the basis of Oslo, Palestinian criminal jurisdiction is severely limited both ratione personae and ratione loci.

To get around these limitations one may argue that Oslo, having been agreed between Israel and the PLO, as the representative of the Palestinian people (GA Res. 67/19, para. 2), can neither bind the PNA, which only came into existence with Oslo, nor, a fortiori, the government of the now formally recognized State of Palestine. Read the rest of this entry…

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Crimea: Does “The West“ Now Pay the Price for Kosovo?

Published on April 22, 2014        Author: 

There is a lingering sentiment on this blog (see the posts by Nico Krisch and Christian Marxsen) that “the Kosovo issue” has facilitated the blatant violations of international law recently committed by Russia with regard to Crimea (notably the unlawful annexation of that territory), and that “the West’s” behaviour in the Kosovo context now prevents clear condemnations and robust reactions towards these violations. That view has also been espoused elsewhere (see, e.g., Marcelo Kohen, “L’ Ukraine et le respect du droit international”, Le Temps, 13 March 2014 and Bruno Simma, “The West is hypocritical” (interview), Der Spiegel, 7 April 2014). The basic idea is that “the West” now pays the price for Kosovo, and that such a situation was predictable (and has been predicted) by those who now deplore it, and allows them to think (or even to say): “Well, we warned you from the beginning on, and this is now what comes out of it … so we were right”.

In this post, I would like to investigate the soundness of this position. We first have to ask what is meant by “the Kovoso issue”. Actually “Kosovo” refers to two events: not only to the sponsoring of Kosovo’s independence in 2008, but also to the possible unlawfulness of NATO’s military intervention of 1999. Both events were politically linked, and they concerned three different core norms of international law: the prohibition on the use of force, territorial integrity/inviolability of boundaries, and the self-determination of peoples.

In the Crimea crisis, all three norms are again at stake: Russia both relies on its right or even responsibility to intervene with military means to prevent human rights abuses committed against ethnic Russians and Russian citizens (humanitarian type /R2P-type intervention) and on the Crimean (or even Eastern Ukrainian) right to secession based on the right to self-determination whose exercise in Crimea led to a disruption of Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Did Russia abuse these norms? Read the rest of this entry…

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Recognition of States in International Law: For Sale

Published on April 21, 2014        Author: 

alfonso-portillo-1-sizedNews reports indicate that former Guatemalan president Alfonso Portillo (pictured left) recently pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to accepting $2.5 million in bribes from Taiwanese officials in exchange for assurances of continued diplomatic recognition during his tenure in office (see here, here and here). To what extent is the recognition of a state undermined by charges of corruption? In the context of Taiwan, the recognition of a government, and not a state, was at issue. But as an analytical exercise it is interesting to think through the implications of corruption on the recognition of statehood in international law.

Statehood and recognition are distinct legal concepts, but in practice recognition can be dispositive of whether an entity is a state.  In light of the importance of recognition for the creation and existence of states, the possibility of corruption influencing the recognition process is disconcerting. In the case of Taiwan, “dollar diplomacy” is an established phenomenon, and allegations similar to those raised against Guatemalan president Portillo seem to be surfacing in El Salvador as well. Nor does it seem implausible that other instances of recognition, of and by other states, may have been similarly motivated.

To be clear, the issue discussed here is not recognition based on inducement or incentive to the recognising state, but recognition based on inducement or incentive to key officials in the recognising state. States routinely make binding political and legal decisions based on political and economic, tangible and intangible, inducements and incentives: defence deals, monetary aid, concession agreements and diplomatic manoeuvres just a few examples.

The issue that forms the subject of this post is whether the validity of an act of recognition can be impugned on the grounds that it was induced through the corruption of key government officials? Is it possible for Guatemala, or China to argue that the original act of recognition is invalid by reason of President Portillo’s corruption? This question of possible invalidity has two aspects. First, does the act of recognition bind the recognising state, notwithstanding the fact that it was a result of a mala fide exercise of powers by a key government official? Second, does the act of recognition vest an irrevocable right or status in the recognised state, such that notwithstanding the taint of corruption on the act of recognition, it cannot be invalidated?

The first question deals with the effect of the act of recognition on the recognising state. I would argue that such recognition, even if motivated by the corruption of a particular official, retains its validity. To begin with, it is well established that “the conduct of an organ of a State or of a person or entity empowered to exercise elements of the governmental authority shall be considered an act of the State under international law if the organ, person or entity acts in that capacity, even if it exceeds its authority or contravenes instructions” (Art. 7, ILC’s draft articles on state responsibility). Further, analogies from other areas of international law support this conclusion. In the matter of ‘full powers’ for the conclusion of treaties, the actions of persons who appear to represent the state with the state’s consent bind the state (Art. 7, VCLT). Similarly, the concepts of immunity rationae personae and rationae materiae, in protecting senior government officials from prosecution by other states, assume that the senior officials of a state act in the name of the state and bind the state by their actions.

Conversely, it might perhaps be possible to analogise from the doctrine of ‘odious debt’ that actions taken by corrupt government leaders in the recognising state, in their own interest, against the interest of the people they represent, when the recognised state knows that the actions benefit the officials and not the recognising state, should not bind the recognising state. There are two problems with this argument: first, it is unclear whether the odious debt doctrine applies outside of government debts, strictly construed; second, in relation to the recognition of states, it would be rather onerous to prove damage to the interests of the people of the recognising state and knowledge by the recognised state of this damage.

Therefore, the recognising state probably cannot seek to void its recognition because it was induced by individual corruption. To be clear, Guatemala is not restrained from separately revoking its recognition of Taiwan; it is, however, constrained from arguing that its original recognition was invalidated by the corruption of President Portillo. This is a narrow distinction in theory, but a broad distinction in practice. For instance, the difference between revocation and invalidation will have an effect on the scope of involvement of third states. If the validity of the original act of recognition is capable of being impugned, it may be possible for third states (for instance, China in this case) to challenge the recognition. But if the original act of recognition can only be revoked and not challenged, then it is only Guatemala that can revoke the recognition.

The second question deals with the effects of the recognition on the recognised state. Is it possible for the recognised state to argue that the act of recognition vests an irrevocable right or status? At least two possible arguments to this effect come to mind.

First, it could be argued that such a revocation amounts to denial of self-determination, but this argument is not persuasive. The right to self-determination does not include an unqualified right to independent statehood. Moreover, the impact of a singular instance of revocation of recognition on the self-determination of a recognised state would probably be difficult to determine, and would require an analysis of how many states have recognised the state, what the effect of a single revocation would be, whether that revocation would produce a knock-on effect, and so on. A second, more plausible, argument focuses on the violation of sovereign equality. Once an entity meets the criteria of statehood, and is recognised as such, the ability of individual states, or the international community, to revoke recognition and statehood would infringe the fundamental right of sovereign equality. International law does provide for such ability in limited circumstances, for instance through directives of the UNSC, but those circumstances are very limited, and restricted to situations involving threats to international peace and security.

Neither of these arguments is ultimately persuasive. The recognition of states in international law is a political act; there is no duty in international law to recognise a state, nor a right to be recognised. Similarly, the revocation of recognition is a political act. However, if these two arguments, or other similar arguments, were to be accepted, they would have the effect of preventing the revocation of recognition of statehood. And that is contrary to the accepted position in international law.

In conclusion then, an act of recognition of statehood induced by the personal corruption of individuals in the recognising state is valid in international law. But it is difficult for the recognised state to argue that the recognition is permanently irrevocable, and it is possible tor the recognising state to separately revoke its recognition.

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Sense and Nonsense of Territorial Referendums in Ukraine, and Why the 16 March Referendum in Crimea Does Not Justify Crimea’s Alteration of Territorial Status under International Law

Published on April 16, 2014        Author: 

Referendum in Crimea

Yesterday, on 15 April 2014, Ukrainian interim president Turtschinov considered to hold, simultaneously with the presidential elections, a referendum on regional competences in Ukraine. On 8 April 2014, separatists in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk proclaimed that they would hold a referendum on the independence of that Eastern region of Ukraine. Some days before, representatives of the Crimean Tatars announced that they sought to hold a referendum on their political autonomy within Crimea.

On 16 March 2014, the population of Crimea had overwhelmingly voted in favour of joining the Russian Federation. The population was asked to choose between the following alternative: “1) Are you in favour of Crimea joining the Russian Federation as a subject of the Russian Federation?” or “2) Are you in favour of re-establishing the 1992 constitution of the Republic of Crimea and Crimea’s status as a part of Ukraine?” The maintenance of the territorial and status quo was not given as an option in that referendum, and no international observers were admitted. With a voter turnout of 83.1 %, 93 % answered with a “Yes” to the second question, and thus pronounced themselves in favour of joining the Russian Federation.

The spokespersons of the Tatars now declare that their ethnic group had boycotted the referendum of 16 March, and assert that the majority of Tatars would have preferred to stay within Ukraine. Tatars currently form about 10 percent of the Crimean population. Probably hundreds of thousands of Tatars were killed, starved, and were deported from the 1920s to the 1940s under Soviet policy. The new government of Crimea rejects the idea of a politically autonomous territory for the Crimean Tatars but holds that the Tatars can only claim “cultural autonomy”.

The 16 March referendum, and announced further territorial referendums in Ukraine, place in the limelight the problématique of this legal institution. Are not the outcomes of referendums in ethnically mixed units most often ethnically pre-determined? And does not the resort to a referendum lead to ever smaller subgroups which again seek to detach themselves from a larger one? After all, the Ukrainian people, including the Crimean population, had some 20 years ago voted in favour of independence from the Soviet Union. (See on the 1991 referendum in Ukraine Anne Peters, Das Gebietsreferendum im Völkerrecht (Baden-Baden: Nomos 1995), 184-88; specifically on previous Crimean referendums ibid., 190-91, 211-15). That Ukrainian referendum of 1 December 1991 had been at the time widely appreciated as having rung the death knell for the dissolution of the USSR one week later, when the Agreement Establishing the Commonwealth of Independent States of Minsk of 8 December 1991 declared that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. But even before that date, and later, Crimean politicians had several times (in 1991, 1992, 1994, and so on) planned and sometimes held “polls” on a special status of Crimea.

This post postulates that, as a matter of international customary law, and as a matter of legal consistency and fairness, a free territorial referendum is emerging as a procedural conditio sine qua for any territorial re-apportionment. However, the 16 March referendum was not free and fair, and could not form a basis for the alteration of Crimea’s territorial status. Read the rest of this entry…

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Crimea and (the Lack of) Continuity in Russian Approaches to International Law

Published on March 28, 2014        Author: 

On 27 March 2014, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling upon states not to recognize changes in status quo of Crimea region. 100 states voted in favor, 11 were against and 58 abstained. In terms of international law, Ukraine’s continued sovereignty over Crimea is supported by the absolute majority of states, even though Crimea is now de facto annexed by the Russian Federation. In this post I want to make two points: one concerning the Russian scholarship on international law and the second on the history of Russia’s treaty practice regarding Crimea.

The first point is that the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation goes against pretty much everything that has been written in Russia over the last twenty years (plus during the Soviet period) on the legality of the use of military force and the right or peoples to self-determination in international law in non-colonial contexts. Suffice it to say that the Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, approved by President Putin on 12 February 2013, emphatically criticizes and condemns the use of military force outside the framework of the UN Charter.

My comment focuses on the Russian scholarship of international law because its most prominent representatives have until now argued that, in international law, the principle of state sovereignty clearly trumps the right of peoples to self-determination. (See e.g. I.I. Lukashuk, Mezhdunarodnoe pravo. Obshaya chast’ (2001), 280, 300; V.I. Kuznetsov, B.R. Tuzmukhamedov (eds) Mezhdunarodnoe pravo, 2nd ed. (2007), 215; G.G. Shinkaretskaya, ‘Polozhenie fakticheski sushestvuyushikh rezhimov (nepriznannykh gosudarstv)’, in: A.G. Lisitsyn-Svetlanov (ed.) Novye vyzovy i mezhdunarodnoe pravo (2010), 168-172; A.Ya. Kapustin (ed.) Mezhdunarodnoe pravo (2008), 105; A.A. Kovalev, S.v. Chernichenko (eds) Mezhdunarodnoe pravo, 3rd ed. (2008), 58.)

Read the rest of this entry…

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Crimea, Kosovo, Hobgoblins and Hypocrisy

Published on March 20, 2014        Author: 

One of the more remarkable aspects of the whole unfortunate Ukraine episode is the rampant hypocrisy on part of all of the major players involved in the dispute. Those same Western states that unlawfully invaded Iraq, and supported Kosovo’s secession from Serbia while endlessly repeating that Kosovo was somehow a really super-special sui generis case, are now pontificating about the sanctity of the UN Charter and territorial integrity.  On the other hand, that same Russia that fought two bloody wars in the 1990s to keep Chechnya within its fold, that same Russia that to this day refuses to accept the independence of Kosovo, has now rediscovered a principle of self-determination that apparently allows for the casual dismemberment of existing states.

I am not saying that no distinctions can be drawn between the various situations I just mentioned. In particular, I agree with many of the arguments in the recent posts by Christian Marxsen and Jure Vidmar about the differences between Crimea and Kosovo, the critical one being that Crimea’s secession is the direct result of Russia’s unlawful military intervention against Ukraine, whereas Kosovo’s secession was not tainted to the same extent by NATO’s 1999 intervention due to the subsequent adoption of Resolution 1244, which authorized the presence of international forces in Kosovo while disabling Serbia from taking military action to suppress Kosovo’s secession. I would also note that it is more difficult to levy charges of hypocrisy against international lawyers, rather than states or politicians – and I hope that speaks well of our profession. Most international lawyers after all considered the 1999 intervention against Serbia or the 2003 invasion of Iraq to have been unlawful, and most justifiably feel the same way with regard to Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

But even if Kosovo and Crimea are legally distinguishable, they are still close enough. The West’s position on Crimea is undeniably undermined by their previous stance regarding Kosovo, and they can only blame themselves for that. Just consider President Putin’s speech justifying the annexation of Crimea by reference to Kosovo and the ICJ’s advisory opinion:

Read the rest of this entry…

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Crimea’s Referendum and Secession: Why it Resembles Northern Cyprus More than Kosovo

Published on March 20, 2014        Author: 

On 16 March 2014, Crimea held a referendum on its future legal status. Reportedly, the choice to join Russia was supported by an overwhelming 95.5 per cent of all votes cast, with the turnout of 83 per cent. A day earlier, Russia vetoed a draft Security Council resolution which sought to declare the referendum as ‘having no legal validity’ and urge the international community not to recognise its results. The draft resolution was otherwise supported by 13 members of the Security Council, with China abstaining. On 17 March 2014, the Crimean parliament declared independence and applied to join Russia.  This contribution explains that while the referendum itself was not illegal in international law, the shift of territorial sovereignty would be illegal. Moreover, in the legal circumstances underlying the situation in Crimea, even the declaration of independence violated international law. As a result, the obligation to withhold recognition of the effective situation is applicable under general international law. No Chapter VII Resolution is required. This is not because international law would see territorial integrity of states as an absolute norm, but because the effective situation was created by Russia’s use or threat of force. Although parallels have been drawn to Kosovo (see the discussion in Christian Marxsen’s post) and even Scotland, in terms of international law Northern Cyprus would be a more accurate comparison.

Secession and neutrality of international law

Groups seeking independence usually present self-determination as an absolute entitlement. Conversely, states countering secession usually present territorial integrity as an absolute entitlement of states. Neither camp is right. As follows from the General Assembly’s Declaration on Principles of International Law (GA Res 2625), the Quebec case (Supreme Court of Canada) and partly also from the Kosovo Advisory Opinion (ICJ), international law is actually neutral on the question of unilateral secession. This means that unilateral secession is neither prohibited nor an entitlement. Furthermore, for the purposes of international law, it does not matter whether or not secession is explicitly prohibited under domestic law. As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Quebec case, an entity may declare independence extra-constitutionally and yet nevertheless become independent if other states are willing to recognise it (the Quebec case, para 155). This further confirms that unilateral secession unto itself does not trigger an obligation to withhold recognition. [I explain this further here].Yet states are very rarely willing to grant recognition on a widespread basis to entities seeking independence unilaterally. By holding a referendum and declaring independence, such an entity in most circumstances does something that remains legally ineffective, yet not internationally wrongful. The burden of changing the territorial status quo lies on the secession-seeking entity and this exercise is very rarely successful if the parent state does not agree. However, a declaration of independence may be given effectiveness through foreign military assistance. This is where neutrality of international law ends. International law is neutral only with respect to a declaration’s unilateral character, but not in general, where territorial illegality is attached to the situation.

When are declarations of independence illegal?

Territorial illegality arises under a serious breach of certain fundamental norms of international law, in particular jus cogens. Read the rest of this entry…

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