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Home Archive for category "Universal Jurisdiction"

Misunderstanding of International Aviation Law May be Behind Iran’s Shootdown of the U.S. Global Hawk Drone

Published on July 1, 2019        Author: 
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On Thursday, June 20, the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) shot down an unarmed U.S. surveillance drone, nearly igniting open conflict between the United States and Iran. The $180 million U.S. Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk was struck by an Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGCN) surface-to-air missile launched from near Goruk, Iran. With strained relations over new U.S. sanctions against the regime and coming after weeks of drama over evidence suggesting Iran was emplacing limpet mines on commercial oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, the incident caused President Trump to order – and then to abruptly cancel – strikes against Iranian military facilities. After first promising quick retaliation, President Trump took a step back, stating, “ have a feeling — I may be wrong and I may be right, but I’m right a lot — I have a feeling that it was a mistake made by somebody that shouldn’t have been doing what they did.”

Apparently, the decision to cancel the counterattack was made because U.S. intelligence assessed that the shootdown was made by a local IRGCN commander and was not sanctioned by the regime in Tehran. Intelligence reports suggest that the Iranian regime was “furious” with the wayward commander’s decision to attack the drone, and the U.S. President deescalated the situation.

The U.S. has suffered decades of Iranian violations of the freedom to transit through and above the oceans near Iran. The IRGCN appears as a matter of policy to selectively harass foreign commercial and naval ships conducting lawful transit in the Strait of Hormuz, and in 2016 it unlawfully detained two U.S. small boats and their crews, which were exercising innocent passage in Iranian territorial seas. Yet the recent shootdown of the U.S. drone likely arose from a lack of understanding of international aviation law and Iran’s rights and responsibilities as a party to the 1944 Convention on Civil Aviation (the Chicago Convention) and the rules promulgated by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

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Callamard Report on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Part II

Published on June 26, 2019        Author: 
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In my second post on the report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, I will discuss some of its most interesting legal findings. The key finding, obviously, is that Saudi Arabia is responsible for committing an extrajudicial execution in violation of Mr Khashoggi’s right to life. The Special Rapporteur notes in that regard, quite correctly, that it is ultimately legally irrelevant whether Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated, ordered at the highest levels of the Saudi state, or was done as part of some ‘rogue’ operation. Saudi Arabia bears responsibility for the conduct of its organs, done in their official capacity, even if it was committed ultra vires (para. 219).

In addition to finding Saudi Arabia responsible for violating Khashoggi’s right to life and for failing to comply with obligations towards Turkey under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the report also finds that Khashoggi’s killing constituted an unlawful use of force by Saudi Arabia against Turkey, contrary to the prohibition in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter (paras. 227-230). The report’s analysis in this regard focuses somewhat excessively on whether the killing of a journalist would be an act contrary to the purposes of the United Nations, but does not really engage with the prior question of whether the furtive assassination of a single individual can constitute ‘force’ in the sense of Article 2(4). This is in effect the question of whether there is any de minimis, lowest limit to the concept of force in Article 2(4), and is a point of some controversy, since a finding that interstate force has been used has a number of important implications. Most recently the same issue was raised with regard to the Salisbury chemical attack, when the UK government formally accused Russia for violating the prohibition on the use of force (which, as far as I’m aware, Turkey did not do here). For detailed discussions in this respect see this post by Tom Ruys on Just Security and Dapo’s post here on EJIL: Talk.

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Ruling of the Spanish Constitutional Court Legitimising Restrictions on Universal Criminal Jurisdiction

Published on February 6, 2019        Author: 
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A short history of universal jurisdiction in Spain

Last 20 December, the Spanish Constitutional Court (hereinafter, TC) issued a ruling rejecting an application made by more than fifty Socialist Members of Parliament to strike out a bill introduced by the Conservative Party in 2014. In practice, the aforementioned bill put an end to a law of 1985 which provided for one of the broadest universal jurisdiction regimes for criminal matters in the world. Spain had been at the centre of human rights litigation, with well-publicized cases against former presidents Pinochet and Jiang Zemin or top officials of the Israeli Government. Needless to say, such cases had caused a few diplomatic headaches to the Spanish Government, in the course of time. However, a former minister of justice had admitted that in twenty years there had actually been only one conviction in application of universal jurisdiction rules.

A first reform to restrict the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Spanish criminal courts came about in 2009 by an agreement between Socialists and Conservatives. Contrary to the original law of 1985, after 2009 the accused had to be found in Spain, the victim had to be Spanish or there had to be some other relevant connection with the forum. Subsequently, the abovementioned reform of 2014 granted jurisdiction for a larger number of crimes committed abroad but made it practically impossible to prosecute if the crime was completely unrelated to Spain. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Road Less Traveled: How Corporate Directors Could be Held Individually Liable in Sweden for Corporate Atrocity Crimes Abroad

Published on November 13, 2018        Author:  and
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On 18 October 2018, the Swedish Government authorized the Swedish Prosecution Authority to proceed to prosecution in a case regarding activities of two corporate directors within Swedish oil company Lundin Oil, and later within Lundin Petroleum, in Sudan (now South Sudan) between 1998 and 2003. The company’s chief executive and chairman could be charged with aiding and abetting gross crimes against international law in accordance with Chapter 22, Section 6 of the Swedish Penal Code. Charges of such kind carry a sentence of up to ten years or life imprisonment. The case has the potential of furthering accountability of corporate actors for their involvement in international crimes abroad.

Lundin’s alleged involvement in international crimes in South Sudan

Sudan was ravaged by a non-international armed conflict which lasted from 1983 until 2005, between the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – as well as a variety of other armed groups. Meanwhile, beginning with the signing of contracts in 1997, Lundin formed a consortium which carried out oil exploration and production in an oil concession area located south of Bentiu on the West Bank of the White Nile in Western Upper Nile/Unity State called Block 5A in the southern part of the country. According to a report by the European Commission on Oil in Sudan (ECOS), the oil exploration brought exacerbated conditions while setting off a battle for control of the disputed region, leading to thousands of deaths and the forced displacement of local populations – with the Nuer people being the most affected. Additionally, reported crimes against civilians by the Sudanese army as well as associated militias of both parties, include indiscriminate attacks, unlawful killing, rape, enslavement, torture, pillage and the recruitment of child soldiers. The consortium’s interaction with local counterparts has come under criminal investigation after the ECOS report was submitted to Swedish prosecutors in 2010. The long time span of the investigation is at least in part due to on-going conflict in the region in 2013, when the International Office of the Prosecutor had scheduled its visit to South Sudan. Furthermore, the case came with some political connotations since Carl Bildt, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, had served as a member of the Board of Directors of Lundin from 2000 to 2006.

In the United States, a case comprised of a similar set of facts was brought by the Presbyterian Church of Sudan against the Republic of Sudan and Talisman Energy Inc., a Canadian oil company, which commenced its activities in the area one year after Lundin. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in a judgment of 2 October 2009 that the claimants had failed to establish that Talisman “acted with the purpose to support the Government’s offences”. Under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) the plaintiffs needed to show that “Talisman acted with the – purpose – (one could argue that such mens rea standard had been set unreasonably high) to advance the Government’s human rights abuses”. On 15 April 2010, the plaintiffs petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, supported by an amicus curiae submitted by Earth Rights International on 20 May 2010, asking to revert the decision of the Second Circuit. On October 2010 the Supreme Court declined to grant certiorari and respectively to hear the appeal in this case. In contrast to the rather broad universal and extraterritorial jurisdiction provided for in the Swedish Penal Code, the Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Co. remarkably restricted the application of the ACTA in cases involving allegations of abuse – outside – the United States by finding that presumptively it does not apply extraterritorially. Read the rest of this entry…

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Chechnya’s Anti-Gay Purge: Crimes Against Humanity

Published on May 9, 2017        Author: 
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Despite widespread condemnation from the U.N., Council of Europe, E.U., United States, and other countries, a brutal campaign against gay men in Chechnya continues. The abuses take the form of abduction-style detention, enforced disappearances, torture, and killings. Considering the systematic features and the brutality of the abuses, Chechnya’s anti-gay campaign amounts to crimes against humanity, and it demands proper condemnation and response from the international community.

Crimes against humanity, as an international crime, has been defined in various statues and law commissions’ proposals since 1945. They each have their own distinctive feature tailored to the specific historical context during which they were drafted. For example, the Nuremberg Charter and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Statute’s definition require the element “in armed conflicts”, while the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Statute requires a discriminatory intent. This note uses the definition in Article 7 of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC): “any of the acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack,” followed by specific acts listed in sub-paragraphs. This definition has been almost entirely adopted by the International Law Commission in its latest version of draft articles on crimes against humanity (note: the proposed draft articles are still in work progress).

Murder, Imprisonment, Torture, Enforced Disappearance, and Other Inhumane Acts

The argument that the Chechnya’s campaign against gay men constitutes crimes against humanity as the criminal acts listed in Article 7.1 (a), (e), (f), and (i) is quite straightforward. There has been credible reporting on abuses committed against gay men in Chechnya, including abduction, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, and killings. All the described abuses have been approved by Chechen local government, with Moscow turning a blind eye to them. In many cases, violations were directly committed by Chechen security forces. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ‘Mistrial’ of Kumar Lama: Problematizing Universal Jurisdiction

Published on April 6, 2017        Author: 
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‘We know the grave can cry out after 50 years’. Kumar Lama, a colonel in the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), sat in his hut in Gorusinghe Barracks opposite Amnesty official Daniel Alderman in May 2005. The Amnesty visit was prompted by on-going reports of serious human rights violations in the course of the people’s war between the CPN (Maoist) and the RNA. Alderman described the colonel as ‘a man of the world’, friendly and forthcoming, who clearly understood the laws of war and (as his comment to Alderman reflected) the possibility of bringing violators to justice, even many years later. In 2009, years after his visit to Nepal, Alderman received an email with the title ‘From a Nepalese friend’. The email was from Lama, then doing an MA in International Relations at Sussex University, inquiring about an Amnesty research job on Nepal, ‘a job’, Lama wrote confidently, ‘I could easily do’.

Colonel Lama was never offered the Amnesty job. In January 2013, he was arrested at his home in East Sussex and charged with two counts of torture under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act, relating to incidents that had allegedly occurred between April and May 2005 at the Gorusinghe Barracks. The Act vested British courts with ‘universal jurisdiction’ over the offence of torture, meaning the offence could be prosecuted in the UK whatever the offender’s nationality and wherever the crime was committed. The arrest was the result of a sensible wager on the UK’s part, bargaining relatively low diplomatic cost for diplomatic credit in fulfilling its obligation under the Torture Convention to prosecute those suspected of torture found on its territory. While Nepal reacted angrily to the arrest, this served merely to expose the unholy (and inverse) relationship between justice and power. The most the Nepalese government could do in reaction to Lama’s arrest was to reject the offer of RAF chinook helicopters to help in the relief effort following the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April 2015.

The trial of Kumar Lama took place in the Old Bailey from June to July 2016. It can hardly be said there was a public appetite for the trial. Public and press galleries were consistently empty – I often sat there alone with Lama’s wife and daughters (disrupted occasionally by bored and bemused school groups, interested pensioners or tourists who had taken a wrong turn in the Lonely Planet guide). The Lama trial proceeded, like many trials in the Old Bailey, as something of a private conversation between judge and lawyers, upon which the public gallery were intrusive eavesdroppers. Trial observation is not easy in a system increasingly geared to see public access as less an aspiration of than a threat to the justice system. Even the jury seemed cast in the role of vexatious bystanders in a trial in which they were ultimately expected to be judges of facts affecting a family, victims, a country in which they had no apparent interest and of which they had no apparent knowledge. Read the rest of this entry…

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Justice for Syria? Opportunities and Limitations of Universal Jurisdiction Trials in Germany

Published on August 12, 2016        Author: 
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During the ongoing conflict in Syria, horrific international crimes are being committed on a daily basis. With impunity for these crimes prevailing on an international level, the attention of Syrian and international actors is turning towards trials under the principle of universal jurisdiction in national courts. This blog post provides a systematic overview of current trials and investigations in Germany relating to Syria and discusses the possibilities and limitations of such trials.

Impunity Prevailing on International Level

Many of the grave human rights violations in Syria are well documented by international bodies, international NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (which rely on evidence from Syrian activists who are documenting these kind of crimes under great personal risk), and national organizations such as the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Violations Documentations Centre.

However, geopolitical concerns impede effective and timely prosecution of human rights violations and international crimes: The hands of the International Criminal Court (ICC) appear to be tied and a double Security Council Veto by the permanent members, Russia and China, blocked a resolution to refer the situation to the Court. Despite the draft of a Statute as early as 2013, the call for the establishment of a hybrid tribunal by the UN Commission of Inquiry and academic support for this approach as the next best alternative (Van Schaack, Just Security; Sayapin, EJIL Talk), no tangible mechanism has resulted thus far. It follows that the only remaining and realistic avenue to seek justice for international crimes perpetrated in Syria is for other countries to prosecute these crimes by way of universal jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…

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Universal Jurisdiction or Regional Lawfare

Published on June 1, 2016        Author: 
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This article reflects on Relja Radović’s article “A Comment on Croatia’s Concerns over Serbia’s So-Called “Mini-Hague.

The major point of contention

As a major point of contention between Croatia and Serbia in the current “jurisdictional debate”, Radović rightly pinpoints Article 3 of the Law on the Organization and Competence of State Authorities in War Crime Proceedings (the “LWC”) (see here) by which Serbia extended its criminal jurisdiction in proceedings for the most serious violations of IHL committed on the territory of the former SFRY (LWC Article 2), regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim (LWC Article 3). Radović also summarizes Croatia’s objections to LWC Article 3 and the jurisdiction it introduced, which argue that it is incompatible with international law (including international criminal law) and “European standards”, as well as contrary to the very notion and basic principles of universal jurisdiction. For the sake of clarity, it should be noted that LWC Article 2, which introduces the aforementioned territorial extension of the Serbian criminal jurisdiction, and Article 3, which reasserts this extension and simultaneously cuts any links to the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim, must be read in conjunction. However, for the purposes of this article, reference will be made to Article 3 to cover both, as was Radović’s approach.

In his analysis of the dispute, Radović fully and unreservedly accepts the official Serbian narrative, which equates LWC Article 3 to universal jurisdiction as it is commonly understood or – as Radović later in his contribution dubs it – to “real” universal jurisdiction. Namely, according to Radović:

“the contested Article 3 does not, in itself, create Serbian criminal jurisdiction over crimes committed during the Yugoslav conflict based on the universality principle” … but “… this jurisdiction exists independently of the contested Law … and is provided by the virtue of … Article 9 para 2 in conjunction with Article 10 para 3 of the Serbian Criminal Code … regulating “real” universal jurisdiction for international crimes”.

The author therefore concludes that there is no difference between the two (LWC Article 3 and “real” universal jurisdiction), that “it seems that Croatia has totally misinterpreted the whole issue”, and that by opposing LWC Article 3 Croatia is blindly and unreasonably opposing a form of jurisdiction (“real” universal jurisdiction) accepted in criminal legislation in many EU Member States, as well as other States, including Croatia’s own criminal legislation. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Comment on Croatia’s Concerns over Serbia’s So-Called “Mini-Hague”

Published on April 22, 2016        Author: 
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As recently reported, Croatia has blocked the opening of Chapters 23 and 24 of the accession negotiations between Serbia and the European Union (EU). One of the reasons given relates to Serbia’s law establishing the jurisdiction of Serbian prosecutors and courts over war crimes committed anywhere on the territory of the former Yugoslavia. Justifying their actions, Croatian officials have said that Serbia must follow “European standards”, with some Croatian officials and media reports referring to Serbia’s extension of jurisdiction as the creation of a “mini-Hague” (a media report in Serbo-Croatian is available here). Croatia has asserted that such jurisdiction is incompatible with international law and that it actually constitutes a “hybrid”, rather than universal, jurisdiction (available here in Serbo-Croatian). From the perspective of States whose national legislation provides for universal jurisdiction over international crimes, the issues arising here are quite interesting.

The involvement of the European Commission and its request that the Croatian government cease its opposition has added further complexity to the matter. In a ‘non-paper’, the European Commission has expressed its opinion that the arguments advanced by Croatia are not justified. Commenting on the document, a Croatian official has described it as an old document meant for internal use, and one that the Croatian public should not be bothered with.

Jurisdiction over Croatian Nationals

Croatia’s criticism seems to be aimed at the statutory provisions themselves. In particular, Croatia takes issue with Article 3 of the Serbian Law on Organization and Jurisdiction of State Organs in War Crimes Proceedings, which provides:

The government authorities of the Republic of Serbia set out under this Law shall have jurisdiction in proceedings for criminal offences specified in Article 2 hereof, committed on the territory of the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, regardless of the citizenship of the perpetrator or victim. (An older English version of the law is available here; the quoted provision remains unchanged.)

Croatia thus appears concerned with the possibility of Serbia exercising its jurisdiction over Croatian nationals. No accusations of discriminatory or systematic prosecutions by Serbian prosecutors against Croatian nationals have been advanced by Croatia.  To date, universal jurisdiction has not been extensively used to prosecute foreign nationals for war crimes allegedly perpetrated in the Yugoslav conflict; reported cases include both an acquittal and a rejection of a request for extradition (for the reason of an allegedly politically motivated process) of two Bosnians. In 2015, a Croatian national sentenced in Serbia for war crimes was transferred to serve his sentence in Croatia.

Compliance with “European Standards” and International Law

The Croatian government is targeting a particular statutory provision, which in its opinion, marks Serbia’s intention to act as a “regional policeman”. Read the rest of this entry…

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Domesticating the Law of Immunity: The Supreme Court of Canada in Kazemi v Iran

Published on November 7, 2014        Author: 
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International lawyers typically think that when a case deals with a matter of international law, once you know the position under international law, then this will give you the answer. Unfortunately, before domestic courts, that is not always the case. Late last month, the Canadian Supreme Court issued its judgment in Kazemi Estate v. Islamic Republic of Iran [2014] SCC 62 (the Quebec Superior Court Judgment was discussed on the blog here). The case, following on the Ontario Court of Appeal’s earlier judgment in Bouzari, serves as a stark reminder that the application of international legal principles in domestic proceedings will frequently be governed or mediated by domestic legislation, which often reflects domestic priorities in addition to international principles. The role that international law should play in such cases, as either a source or a means of interpretation, may be contested. The Kazemi v Iran Judgment is the latest instalment in a series of important domestic court decisions on the law of State immunity.

Background

Ms. Zahra Kazemi was a Canadian citizen and freelance photographer and journalist who died in custody in Iran in 2003, following her detention, torture and sexual assault in prison The authorities refused to return her body to Canada and buried her in Iran. Although a domestic investigation reported links between the Iranian authorities and her torture and death, only one person was charged and he was acquitted after a trial which lacked transparency.

Seeking justice for his mother’s death, Ms. Kazemi’s son, Mr. Stephan Hashemi, sued the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei (Iran’s Head of State), Mr. Mortazavi (Chief Public Prosecutor of Tehran), and Mr. Bakhshi (former Deputy Chief of Intelligence at the prison where Ms. Kazemi was detained), claiming damages for his mother’s suffering and death, and for the emotional and psychological harm that this caused him. Predictably, the defendants sought to dismiss the motion based on claims of state immunity, which is implemented in Canada by the State Immunity Act (SIA). This challenge ultimately reached the Supreme Court of Canada, Read the rest of this entry…

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