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Russia Defies Strasbourg: Is Contagion Spreading?

Published on December 19, 2015        Author: 

These are undoubtedly troubled times for the European human rights system. We have written previously about the risks that the toxic anti-Strasbourg rhetoric from certain quarters in the UK (frequently, but not exclusively, focused on the question of prisoner voting rights) might have contagious consequences further afield. In his memorandum to the Joint Committee on the Draft Voting Eligibility (Prisoners) Bill in October 2013, Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Nils Muižnieks issued an ominous warning that continued non-compliance with the Hirst and Greens judgments:

‘…would have far-reaching deleterious consequences; it would send a strong signal to other member states, some of which would probably follow the UK’s lead and also claim that compliance with certain judgments is not possible, necessary or expedient. That would probably be the beginning of the end of the ECHR system’.

Ed Bates has recently linked the UK Government’s inaction with the failure to implement cases such as Ilgar Mammadov v Azerbaijan, which concerned the politically-motivated prosecution of an opposition politician, as a result of which the Committee of Ministers has called for his release: ‘It seems hard to resist the conclusion that the continued failure to implement Hirst…saps the Convention’s authority…’

Minister for Human Rights Dominic Raab was unrepentant, arguing that it was a ‘matter of democratic principle’ to maintain the ban on prisoner voting ‘for the foreseeable future’. The next examination of the case by the Committee of Ministers may now be up to a year away.

The uncertainty over the UK’s position vis-à-vis the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) will linger into the new year, because of the further delays in the publication of the government’s proposals for a ‘British bill of rights’ and its continuing equivocation. When asked recently (of all days, on human rights day…) whether the government would rule out introducing legislation that would ‘purport to relieve’ the UK from its obligation to comply with Strasbourg judgments – as proposed in the Conservative Party consultation document released by former Justice Secretary Chris Grayling – the Minister of State, Lord Faulks, replied: ‘While we want to remain part of the ECHR, we will not stay at any cost’.

David Cameron had also previously refused to rule out withdrawal. Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: Pluricourts Call for Papers – Strengthening the Validity of International Criminal Tribunals

Published on December 19, 2015        Author: 

Pluricourts at the University of Oslo are pleased to announce a call for papers for their conference entitled ‘Strengthening the Validity of International Criminal Tribunals’ which will take place in Oslo on 29 – 30 August 2016. The conference will explore different controversies surrounding the field of international criminal law and seeks practical solutions to make international criminal justice more effective and relevant. They are interested in hearing perspectives from both practitioners and scholars, and welcome contributions from different disciplines. Abstracts are to be submitted by 29 February 2016.  Further details can be found on here.

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Self-defense Operations Against Armed Groups and the Jus in Bello

Published on December 16, 2015        Author: 

The Paris shootings and France’s reaction have once again triggered debate on states’ right to self-defense against attacks by non-state actors (see here, here, or here). Discussions normally focus on jus ad bellum issues, such as the ‘unwilling or unable’ test or when a threat is imminent. A question that receives strikingly little attention is whether the invocation of the right to self-defense against a non-state armed group under jus ad bellum would provide a sufficient legal basis for attacking this group by military means. As Marko Milanovic pointed out on this blog, the lawfulness of strikes against a non-state entity does not only depend on jus ad bellum but also on a second layer of legal examination: does the attack form part of an armed conflict and complies with international humanitarian law, or is the attack in questioned governed by international human rights law and possibly infringes on the targeted person’s right to life? This post examines how the use of military force in self-defense against non-state armed groups may be justified under jus in bello. Read the rest of this entry…

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ICTY Appeals Chamber Reverses Stanisic and Simatovic Acquittal, Orders Retrial, Kills Off Specific Direction (Again!)

Published on December 15, 2015        Author: 

Today the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia quashed the acquittal at trial of Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic, the former head and deputy head of the Serbian secret police during the Milosevic regime, for crimes committed in Bosnia and Croatia. This is a big deal – S&S is the only remaining case tying the leadership of Serbia with crimes committed by Bosnian and Croatian Serbs. The trial judgment (itself delivered by a majority) was quashed on two grounds: that the Trial Chamber failed to properly reason its decision regarding the participation of the accused in a joint criminal enterprise, in particular because it could not analyse their mens rea without determining the actus reus of the JCE, and because it committed an error of law regarding the actus reus of aiding and abetting liability. (Appeals judgment here, press release and summary here.)

This latter point is one that will be familiar to our readers, as it is the (final?) nail in the coffin for the whole specific direction saga that we extensively covered on the blog (see here and here). As I explained in my earlier post, the ICTY Appeals Chamber went through an episode of self-fragmentation, with the Sainovic AC overruling the Perisic AC’s finding that specific direction was an element of the actus reus of aiding and abetting. As I also explained in that post, the outcome of S&S with respect to the specific direction point would essentially be determined by the composition of the Appeals Chamber in that case. That’s exactly what happened, with the S&S AC upholding the Sainovic rejection of specific direction by 3 votes to 2. The three votes in the majority were all judges who formed the Sainovic AC majority (Pocar, Liu, Ramaroson), while of the two judges in dissent one (Agius) was in the Perisic majority and the other (Afande) was not involved in the prior cases, and was hence the only unknown quantity.

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Continued Failure to Implement Hirst v UK

Published on December 15, 2015        Author: 

It is over a decade now since the European Court of Human Rights delivered Hirst v United Kingdom (6 October 2005), ruling that the UK’s blanket (legislative) ban on convicted prisoners voting breached Art 3 of Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights (hereafter, the ‘Convention’). Five years ago, in Greens and MT v UK (23 Nov 2010), the Court ordered the UK to table Convention-compliant legislative proposals to secure compliance with Hirst. This resulted in a Report of a special Joint Committee of the UK Parliament (the Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Prisoner Voting (Eligibility) Bill (16 December 2013)), which concluded that the law reform required to secure compliance with the Convention was comparatively minor and agreed that there were sound reasons to amend the law and proposed specific ways forward.

Two years on and the UK government has done no more than acknowledge the Report, which Parliament has not considered. With the law still not amended, on 9 December 2015 a further milestone in the chronology of prisoner voting saga occurred when the Committee of Ministers passed a second interim resolution highly critical of the UK’s inaction. The Daily Telegraph has reported this as a victory for the UK, although, in fact, the Committee of Ministers will return to the matter in December 2016.

This post discusses and criticises the reasons for inaction and non-compliance supplied by the Michael Gove (Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice) when he appeared before the House of Lords’ Select Committee on the Constitution on 2 December 2015 (Q 11, pp17-18 [unrevised version]).

When pressed for answers on the prisoner voting issue, Mr Gove conceded that the Joint Committee on the Draft Prisoner Voting (Eligibility) Bill’s (hereafter the ‘Joint Committee’) Report ‘absolutely’ ‘deserve[d] in due course a fuller answer’. Nevertheless, he would not commit to when this would be, other than to say that it would be ‘after’ the publication of the consultation document on a proposed UK Bill of Rights (replacing the Human Rights Act 1998), which is to be expected in the new year. Read the rest of this entry…

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Strange Angel: Some Reflections on War

Published on December 14, 2015        Author: 

The philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin owned a print, Angelus novus, by Paul Klee. In his essay, Theses on the philosophy of history, Benjamin’s Ninth Thesis recalled that it depicted:

An angel…who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment…to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.

This image and idea has been influential in philosophy and culture, for example, check out this song by Laurie Anderson.

A while ago, I was asked to write some reflections on war and international law. Deadlines whooshed past, but it is finally finished. International law, at least traditionally, saw war and peace as mutually exclusive—“there is no middle ground between war and peace” (Grotius, De iure belli ac pacis (1625) Book III, Ch.XXI, 1), although this dichotomy predated Grotius by centuries. At least since the end of the First World War, peace has been seen as the normal condition in international relations, with war characterised as an abnormal state of affairs. But what is the function of war in the international community? Read the rest of this entry…

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France Derogates from ECHR in the Wake of the Paris Attacks

Published on December 13, 2015        Author: 

On 24 November, France filed a formal notice of derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights with the Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. The notice is available here (and is reproduced in full below), while the French legislation referred to in the notice is available here. As far as I could tell from the UNTC website, France has not (yet) derogated from the ICCPR. The state of emergency in France has been used even with respect to issues that have no bearing on terrorism, for example to curb climate change protests in Paris. The emergency powers have been criticised on civil liberties grounds, e.g. by Human Rights Watch. It seems likely that they will be at issue in litigation before French domestic courts and before the European Court in Strasbourg. In that regard, the derogation notice is remarkably vague and unhelpful, merely stating that some of the emergency measures ‘may involve a derogation from the obligations’ under the ECHR, without explaining which measures exactly do, in fact, require a derogation and to what extent, let alone why precisely were those specific measures strictly required by the exigencies of the situation. What Strasbourg will make of this rather pro forma derogation if and when a relevant case comes before it is anyone’s guess.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: RGSL Seeking New Rector; Chatham House Event; Ethiopian Yearbook of International Law; UN Audiovisual Library of International Law

Published on December 13, 2015        Author: 

1. RGSL Seeking New Rector. Riga Graduate School of Law (RGSL) is seeking candidates for the position of Rector. The position requires residence in Riga and is offered for a three year period with the possibility of renewal. The Rector is responsible for the academic management of the School and shall contribute to its further growth and strategic development. See here for further details, including the main tasks and responsibilities of the position and qualifications required. Applications are required by no later than 15 January 2016. For further information, contact Karina Kulberga, Director of RGSL: karina.kulberga {at} rgsl.edu(.)lv.

2. Chatham House Event. The International Law Programme at Chatham House will be hosting a meeting on ‘Shaping the Law: Civil Society Influence at International Criminal Courts’ on 25 January 2016 at Doughty Street Chambers. The meeting will consider the role of civil society interventions in proceedings concerning international criminal justice. For further details and to enquire about registering see here.

3. The Ethiopian Yearbook of International Law. The Ethiopian Yearbook of International Law (EtYIL) is a peer-reviewed academic journal that publishes scholarly works of the highest standard in the field of international law broadly defined, but with a focus on Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region. For more information please see here. The first edition of the EtYIL is due for publication in 2016. It is a pleasure to invite you to submit ideas, abstracts and manuscripts for the 2017 edition of the Yearbook. To do so please contact the Editorial Team at  ethiopianyearbook {at} gmail(.)com. Read the rest of this entry…

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The United Kingdom Ministerial Code and International Law: A Response to Richard Ekins and Guglielmo Verdirame

Published on December 11, 2015        Author: 

Until very recently, little attention had been paid by academic international lawyers to the United Kingdom’s Ministerial Code (though see this discussion of the role of the Code with respect to legal advice relating to the Iraq War of 2003). The Code, is a document issued by the Cabinet Office, but effectively by the Prime Minister. It sets out the standards of conduct expected of ministers with respect to the discharge of their duties. As was recently stated in this House of Commons Briefing Paper on the Code [p.3],”It has become the convention for the Code to be released at the beginning of a new administration and at a new Parliament.” Paragraph 1.2 of the 2010 version of the Code (as well as some earlier versions) stated that the Code was to be read against “the background of overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law including international law and treaty obligations . . .” However, in October 2015, Paragraph 1.2 was changed to state that: “The Ministerial Code should be read against the background of the overarching duty on Ministers to comply with the law . . .” without any reference to international law or treaty obligations. Much has been written in the British media and in legal blogs about this change (see here for posts on the UK Constitutional Law blog and here, here and here for pieces in the Guardian and on the BBC).

This post responds to just one of the pieces that have been written in support of the change. We argue that the position set out in the piece by our colleagues, Richard Ekins and Guglielmo Verdirame (and in a twin piece by the same authors) misconceives the role of the reference to international law in the previous version of the Ministerial Code; misunderstands the relevance of international law to the rule of law; and goes too far in drawing a distinction between the binding force of international law on the state and on state officials. Read the rest of this entry…

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Trade Agreements, EU Law, and Occupied Territories (2): The General Court Judgment in Frente Polisario v Council and the Protection of Fundamental Rights Abroad

Published on December 11, 2015        Author: 

This is a follow-up to my July post on Action for Annulment Frente Polisario v Council (Case T-512/12), a case before the General Court of the European Union (GC) in which Frente Polisario – the National Liberation Movement for Western Sahara – seeks the Annulment of the EU Council decision adopting the 2010 EU-Morocco Agreement on agricultural, processed agricultural and fisheries products. The GC delivered its judgment yesterday, both recognizing the standing of Frente Polisario and granting the (partial) annulment of the decision, with implications for EU-Morocco relations and for EU external relations law more broadly.

(1) Standing of Frente Polisario under Article 263 TFEU

As regards standing, the most striking aspect of the judgment is that the Court accepted the Frente’s entitlement to plead as a ‘moral person’, with the ‘necessary autonomy’ to challenge a decision of the EU legislator (paras. 50-53), without reference to the sui generis character of Frente Polisario or to the unique situation of Western Sahara. This would seem to open the door for other ‘autonomous entities’, even those with no claim to international legal personality, to challenge EU decisions under Article 263 TFEU.

By the same token, the Court fell short of recognizing the Frente’s legal personality under international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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