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Home Archive for category "Treaty Law"

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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Could International Law Stop a No-Deal Brexit?

Published on October 16, 2019        Author: 

At the time of writing – less than 3 weeks until the current ‘Brexit day’ of 31 October 2019 –  all options relating to the UK’s departure from the European Union appear to be on the table. Leaving with a deal, ‘crashing out’, not leaving at all, or anything in between seem equally possible. Much attention has been paid to the UK’s constitutional requirements governing the executive’s actions in relation to Brexit, as well as the domestic legal consequences of flouting them. The possibility of Prime Minister Johnson going to jail for violating these requirements has even been considered. However, not much has been said about the potential international law consequences. Here I explore whether international law could prevent a No-Deal Brexit – or, more precisely, whether a failure to comply with domestic constitutional requirements may prevent the UK’s withdrawal from the EU from taking effect in international law. This discussion draws on my recent work exploring the role of domestic law in the international legal validity of treaty withdrawal more generally.

The starting point for this discussion is Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) – by now, likely the most famous treaty exit clause in legal history. Art 50 states, in part:

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.

  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. …

  3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

For our purposes,  Art 50(1) is the key provision. This, unusually, makes the triggering of withdrawal from the EU explicitly contingent on compliance with the State’s domestic constitutional requirements.  Thus, in principle, if there is a failure to comply with those constitutional requirements, the decision to withdraw is invalid according to the TEU. In the 2018 Wightman decision, the ECJ affirmed that “the decision to withdraw is for that Member State alone to take, in accordance with its constitutional requirements, and therefore depends solely on its sovereign choice” (at para. 50).

While a full dissection of the UK’s constitutional requirements for leaving the EU is not possible here, there are two clear domestic law limitations constraining the UK executive’s prerogative in relation to Art 50. Read the rest of this entry…

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To be a Party or not to be a Party: Malaysia’s envisaged ‘withdrawal’ from its (pending) accession to the Rome Statute

Published on May 14, 2019        Author:  and

As inter alia confirmed by its recent judgments concerning the Afghanistan situation and the Al Bashir case, the ICC currently finds itself in truly turbulent times. What is more, is that the Rome Statute has turned out to be a real treasure trove when it comes to the international law of treaties. This includes, inter alia, the ratification of the Rome Statute by Palestine and the ensuing question as to whether the accession by Palestine ought to be counted towards the quorum of 30 ratifications of the Kampala Amendment so as to provide for its entry into force (see here), as well as other intriguing questions of treaty law raised by the Kampala compromise on the crime of aggression and the way in which to eventually amend the Rome Statute (see here). The withdrawals by Gambia and South Africa, which both later, albeit for different reasons, ‘withdrew from their respective withdrawals’ before they even became effective (see here and here), as well as Burundi’s withdrawal in October 2017 (see here), and most recently that by the Phillipines, again raised various issues of treaty law. 

Yet another question of treaty law relating to the Rome Statute is emerging. After having submitted its instrument of accession to the UN Secretary General on 4 March 2019 (see here), which in accordance with Art. 126 (2) of the Rome Statute means that Malaysia would have formally become a State Party on 1 June 2019, the Malaysian Prime Minister announced on 5 April 2019 the Malaysian government’s decision to, as he put it, ‘rescind its membership of the Statute’. Read the rest of this entry…

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Brexit, the Northern Irish Backstop, and Fundamental Change of Circumstances

Published on March 18, 2019        Author: 

If, dear readers, you have any doubts that the parliamentary politics of Brexit have emerged from the fever dream of some demented game theorist, I would just ask you to take a very quick look at the events of last week. In their second meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, British MPs voted it down by 391 votes to 242, a majority of 149. This was an improvement of sorts on the first meaningful vote, which May lost by a majority of 230. MPs also voted to reject a no-deal Brexit and to instruct the government to ask the other EU states for an extension to the Article 50 withdrawal period. At the same time, by a majority of only 2 votes they defeated the Benn amendment, which would have allowed Parliament to express its preferences as to the outcome of the Brexit process in a series of indicative votes, and thus overcome the current impasse.

This week Theresa May seems poised to take her deal to the Commons for a third meaningful vote, most likely on Tuesday or Wednesday, before the EU Council meets on Thursday. She has worked furiously over the past few days to lobby the Northern Irish DUP and the hard-core Brexiteers within her party to vote for her deal, or risk either a very long extension to Article 50 or the UK remaining in the EU after all. This fear is of course the main incentive to bring the various pro-Brexit factions within Parliament and the Tory party to support May’s deal, and it is growing in power as the Article 50 deadline approaches. But because some of these factions have effectively painted themselves into a corner over the supposed downsides of May’s deal, they need something more than fear itself to justify a change of mind to their electorate. They need, well, a fundamental change of circumstances, like re-revised legal advice from the UK Attorney-General, Geoffrey Cox QC. And they may well eventually find that in the customary rule on fundamental change of circumstances, rebus sic stantibus, codified in Article 62 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.

Now, if even after two full years into this whole MCFoHP someone told me that Brexit could ultimately depend on Art. 62 VCLT, I would have been perplexed, to put it politely. This is, for all its Roman pedigree, a rule that has never successfully been applied in real life, I would have said. Its requirements are almost impossibly strict. How could something as important as Brexit depend on an international law doctrine of such relative obscurity that even international law textbooks standing at more than a thousand pages devote it less than two? To paraphrase the late Ian Brownlie’s pithy assessment of jus cogens, the rule on fundamental change of circumstance is a car that has never left the garage.

But – but – over the past week the garage doors have creaked open, with a whiff of something tart and pungent. The stillness of things has become disturbed.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Negotiating Brexit in the Shadow of the Law of Treaties

Published on March 12, 2019        Author: 

It is an extraordinary day in British politics today, with the Prime Minister’s ‘enhanced’ Brexit deal to be voted on in Parliament later this evening. The outcome of today’s vote, and the votes that may follow later in the week, is of course anyone’s guess (although the WA will likely be voted down). I have now read through the Attorney-General’s new legal advice on the revised deal and have been following the debate in the House of Commons, and was struck by how remarkably the various issues being debated turned around the customary law of treaties, which operates by default, in the background, unless the UK and EU agree differently. Here are just some – readers are of course invited to discuss any relevant matter in the comments:

(1) What is the legal nature of the Joint Instrument relating to the Withdrawal Agreement, and what are its legal effects? Is it an agreement in the sense of Art. 31(2)(a) VCLT, which defines the ‘context’ of the treaty? Is it something even stronger, an ‘authentic interpretation’ of the WA? Is is also a separate treaty, even though it is not called such, because it is a written agreement between a state and an IO governed by international law, which sets out further obligations that were not in the WA? (The latter is the position of the UK government).

(2) Note in that regard the superb example of constructive ambiguity of the final paragraph of the Instrument, which allows the EU to say, on one hand, that the WA was not reopened or changed as the Instrument simply interprets the WA, and for the UK to argue that meaningful legally binding changes were made to the deal:

Note that this instrument provides, in the sense of Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, a clear and unambiguous statement by both parties to the Withdrawal Agreement of what they agreed in a number of provisions of the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Therefore, it constitutes a document of reference that will have to be made use of if any issue arises in the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement. To this effect, it has legal force and a binding character.

(3) Similarly, what is the legal nature and effects of the UK’s Unilateral Declaration? Is it simply an interpretative declaration by the UK, which is of itself incapable of having any direct legal effects, being simply a statement of the UK’s position? Or is it something more, especially because the EU has not objected to it?

(4) There seems to be consensus that the customary rules on denunciation and suspension of treaty obligations have been displaced by the express dedicated provisions of the WA. This seems to apply also for termination or suspension due to material breach. The WA does not allow the UK to exit the backstop unilaterally; it can only suspend obligations arising from it if the EU is shown to be acting in bad faith and this is determined by the arbitral tribunal established by the WA.

(5) However, the UK’s position is that it CAN unilaterally terminate the WA or the backstop Protocol in case of fundamental change of circumstance/rebus sic stantibus. The Attorney General was explicit on the point repeatedly in the Commons. Never has more been at stake, it seems, regarding the interpretation of the rule in Art. 62 VCLT.

We’ll obviously have to wait and see how this will play out, but again it is clear that Brexit is being shaped critically by the background operation of the law of treaties. It is also remarkable how much importance has been given to questions of form, i.e. how crucial it is for many MPs whether a particular obligation is political or legally binding. Readers may also be interested in the Attorney’s new advice; the Attorney’s prior advice on the WA; an opinion by David Anderson QC, Jason Coppel QC, and Sean Aughey; and an opinion by Philippe Sands QC and David Edward QC.

 

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Non-Precluded Measures Clause: Substance or Procedure? A comment on Certain Iranian Assets

Published on March 6, 2019        Author: 

On 13 February 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its Judgment on the preliminary objections raised by the US to Iran’s claims in the Certain Iranian Assets case. The dispute involves the exercise of jurisdiction over Iran by US courts and the seizure of assets of Iranian state-owned companies to satisfy those court’s judgments. According to Iran, these actions are in breach of the US obligations under the 1955 Iran-US Treaty of Amity. The background to the case and the Court’s recent decision have been analysed elsewhere (see, eg, here). In this post, I want to comment on one specific element of the Court’s reasoning: its decision in relation to the US objection based on Article XX(1) of the Treaty of Amity.

Article XX(1) states, in relevant part, that:

The present treaty shall not preclude the application of measures …

(c) regulating the production of or traffic in arms, ammunition and implements of war, or traffic in other materials carried on directly or indirectly for the purpose of supplying a military establishment; and

(d) necessary to fulfil the obligations of a High Contracting Party for the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security, or necessary to protect its essential security interests.

The US argued that the function of this provision was to exclude certain matters from the substantive scope of the Treaty, with the consequence that they fell outside the Court’s jurisdiction which is limited, under Article XXI, to disputes relating to the interpretation and application of the Treaty. The Court rejected the US preliminary objection and decided, as it had done on previous occasions, that the provision in question constituted a ‘defence on the merits’ (para 47). This seems to be the right approach: Read the rest of this entry…

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Legislating by Compacts? – The Legal Nature of the Global Compacts

Published on February 28, 2019        Author: 

Editor’s note: This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law symposium on The UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?

It is not usual to have UN documents splashed across the first pages of the world, exciting animadversion among politicians not known for their respect or knowledge of international law and heated exchanges on the social media; governments (well: one!) collapsing over them; or even having actors read through each word of them on national television. The Global Compact for Refugees (GCR) and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) were stars long before they were formally approved by the 73rd UN General Assembly. With the final text decided a month earlier, the GCR was approved on 17 December 2018 as part of an omnibus resolution on the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and with an overwhelming majority (181/2/3): only Hungary and the US voted against, with the Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya abstaining. After a highly publicized and politicized gathering in Marrakesh (10-11 December 2018), the GCM was approved by the General Assembly on 19 December 2018 with a less impressive majority (152/5/12): The Czech Republic, Israel and Poland joined the nay-sayers and a dozen others, among which five Member States of the European Union (EU) and Switzerland abstained, the last embarrassingly enough being with Mexico one of the co-convenors of the intergovernmental process leading to its adoption. Both Global Compacts are the product of a political commitment, reflected in the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants adopted by the UN General Assembly on 19 September 2016, and they constitute the latest acts in a process of rethinking the norms and procedures governing the management of human mobility. Both Compacts proclaim themselves as non-legally binding, the result of a wide cooperative effort among governments and between governments and civil society. The discussion on their legal nature could surely have stopped here. And yet it goes on – even in this blog. Read the rest of this entry…

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Canute’s Kingdoms: Can small island states legislate against their own disappearance?

Published on February 20, 2019        Author: 

It was recently drawn to my attention that Tuvalu and Kiribati have in recent years passed legislation, following a relatively common scheme, that removes reference to the low tide line as the baseline for measuring maritime zones and replaces it with a system of fixed geographic coordinates. (The Marshall Islands has taken a somewhat similar approach.) On its face, this may constitute a claim that their maritime baselines are permanently fixed. That is, they will not retreat or be redrawn with rising sea levels.

This might seem a small matter in the range of legal issues implicated by climate change – it is not.

As every public international lawyer probably recalls, at least after the South China Sea arbitration, an island (within the meaning of article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) generates a full suite of maritime zones but must be more than a mere rock incapable of sustaining human habitation or a maritime feature which is only above water at low tide. Imagine your national territory is composed of a series of islands, some of them quite small but generating extensive maritime zones. Long before you risk becoming completely “de-territorialised” by rising sea levels you might lose much of your national livelihood if islands previously generating exclusive economic zones become mere low tide elevations.

So the question becomes, can a state freeze the baselines from which its maritime zones are projected? Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine v United States: Why the ICJ does not need to decide whether Palestine is a state

Published on November 22, 2018        Author: 

Palestine’s institution of proceedings against the United States before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has already drawn much attention on this blog (see here and here) and elsewhere. A great deal has already been said on Monetary Gold and admissibility. My post will focus on the Article 34(1) ICJ Statute requirement that ‘[o]nly states may be parties in cases before the Court’. Contrary to some arguments that have been made on this blog and elsewhere, I will argue that for the purposes of Article 34(1) the ICJ does not need to decide whether Palestine is a state, let alone weigh the Montevideo criteria. An entity may be a ‘state’ for the functional purposes of certain treaties and procedures created by those treaties, but such procedures have no implications for the substantive legal status of the entity under general international law. I will also argue that Palestine’s access to these procedural treaty mechanisms is UNESCO membership and not the status of a non-member observer state in the UN.

When a treaty uses the word ‘state’

The ICJ proceedings are only open to states. But this does not mean that the legal status of an entity can be determined as a side-effect of the ICJ’s procedural rules. The logic of such an argument would go as follows: the ICJ can only hear cases between states, so if the ICJ exercises its jurisdiction, the parties in the proceedings must be states. This would be an implicit reading of the requirement contained in an international treaty that an entity be a state. Such implicit readings are not uncommon in international legal scholarship.  We indeed often read in leading textbooks that since UN membership is only open to states, this is the ultimate confirmation that a UN member indeed is a state. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Global Compact for Migration: to sign or not to sign?

Published on November 21, 2018        Author: 

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (final draft of 13 July 2018) is scheduled for adoption at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakesh in December 2018. But in the run-up to this conference, several states, beginning with the United States already in 2017, now followed by Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and others, have announced that they will  not sign the text. Will refusal to sign be relevant in terms of international law? What is the juridical quality of the Compact, which legal consequences does it have, and which normative “ripples” might it deploy in the future? The controversy over the Compact sheds light on the legitimacy of international law-making processes and on the precarious normative power of international law.

A Brief Glance at the Contents

The Compact consists of four parts. Following the preamble, the first part contains, “Vision and Guiding Principles”. The second part, “Objectives and Commitments” contains 23 objectives, proceeded by a part on “Implementation” and the final section “Follow-up and Review”. The Compact purports to set out “a common understanding, shared responsibilities and unity of purpose regarding migration” (para. 9). The purpose is mainly to secure that migration “works for all” (para. 13).

The Compact’s “guiding principles” are, inter alia, people-centeredness, international cooperation, national sovereignty, rule of law and due process, and sustainable development (para. 15). These are well-established and to a large extent also legally entrenched principles. The 23 “objectives” are partly generally recognised such as saving lives (objective 8), respond to smuggling (objective 9), or eradicate trafficking (objective 10). Some mainly correspond to interests of states of origin (such as promoting transfer of remittances, objective 20), others basically satisfy interests of receiving states (such as facilitating return and readmission (objective 21). In substance, the Compact partly repeats international law as it stands or refers to existing instruments (see notably preamble para. 2), partly contains platitudes, and partly contains novel ideas. Read the rest of this entry…

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