When (Not) to Write a Book Review?

Published on August 24, 2011        Author: 

Consider the following hypo:

Let’s say I accept the request from a journal to review a particular book. I know the author, I might consider him a friend, but he is hardly an intimate (I would say there is/should be an absolute ban at least on reviewing books by one’s close personal friends and one’s departmental colleagues; this hypothetical person is neither). Having read the book, however, I think it’s positively awful, with few if any redeeming qualities. If I write the review, be polite but honest and say what I mean it is likely that I will lose or offend a friend. If I blunt my remarks and write something anodyne, I will have kept the friend but I will have failed my professional duty to give the audience my full and honest opinion.

Would it then be ethical for me to tell the journal that I’ve decided not to write the review at all, and renege on my previous commitment? In other words, is it right to have a policy whereby I refuse point-blank to write a review when there is a real conflict of interest, but at the same time write reviews, but only (honest) positive/mildly critical reviews, for people who I’m on friendly terms with? Or should I simply have a policy not to write reviews at all for books by people who I’m friends with – a commitment which obviously gets harder as one’s circle of colleagues expands?

Comments by readers most welcome.

Print Friendly

President Obama Creates US Atrocities Prevention Board

Published on August 22, 2011        Author: 

Earlier this month, US President Barrack Obama directed the National Security Advisor to create an Atrocities Prevention Board which will be tasked with co-ordinating the US government’s policies on the prevention of mass atrocities and genocide. In addition, the President also launced a US interagency review which will, inter alia, develop the membership, mandate and structure of the Atrocities Prevention Board but which will also identify:

steps toward creating a comprehensive policy framework for preventing mass atrocities, including but not limited to:  conducting an inventory of existing tools and authorities across the Government that can be drawn upon to prevent atrocities; identifying new tools or capabilities that may be required; identifying how we can better support and train our foreign and armed services, development professionals, and build the capacity of key regional allies and partners, in order to be better prepared to prevent and respond to mass atrocities or genocide.

In a Presidential Study Directive on Mass Atrocities, issued on 4 August, the President stated that:

Preventing mass atrocities and genocide is a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States.

Our security is affected when masses of civilians are slaughtered, refugees flow across borders, and murderers wreak havoc on regional stability and livelihoods.  America’s reputation suffers, and our ability to bring about change is constrained, when we are perceived as idle in the face of mass atrocities and genocide.  Unfortunately, history has taught us that our pursuit of a world where states do not systematically slaughter civilians will not come to fruition without concerted and coordinated effort.

Governmental engagement on atrocities and genocide too often arrives too late, when opportunities for prevention or low-cost, low-risk action have been missed.  By the time these issues have commanded the attention of senior policy makers, the menu of options has shrunk considerably and the costs of action have risen.

In the face of a potential mass atrocity, our options are never limited to either sending in the military or standing by and doing nothing.  The actions that can be taken are many    they range from economic to diplomatic interventions, and from non combat military actions to outright intervention.  But ensuring that the full range of options is available requires a level of governmental organization that matches the methodical organization characteristic of mass killings.

Sixty six years since the Holocaust and 17 years after Rwanda, the United States still lacks a comprehensive policy framework and a corresponding interagency mechanism for preventing and responding to mass atrocities and genocide.  This has left us ill prepared to engage early, proactively, and decisively to prevent threats from evolving into large scale civilian atrocities.

The work of this Review and Board will be of great interest to those academics working on prevention of genocide and other international crimes. In recent years, there has been renewed focus on the question of prevention of mass atrocity. Indeed, the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict (of which I am Co-Director) is engaged in a project on “Prevention and Responsibility to Protect” which is looking at these very questions. The project is led by my colleague, Prof. Jennifer Welsh.

Print Friendly

The Iranian Response to the UK Riots

Published on August 20, 2011        Author: 

Earlier this week, Bill Schabas had a very interesting post considering whether the recent riots in the UK amounted to crimes against humanity. He reflects on the Rome Statute’s requirement for a “State or organizational policy”, on how complementarity would apply when persons are prosecuted for ordinary domestic crimes and on the gravity threshold applied by the ICC prosecutor. It is well worth a read.

Also worth a read is the response of the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the riots in the UK. This response was published in the Guardian over a week ago. Here are some extracts.

Having already offered to send an expert team to investigate human rights abuses amid the riots, the Iranian regime has gone one step further and called on the UN security council to intervene over the British government’s handling of the unrest rocking the country.

Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, condemned the British government for its “violent suppression” of the protesters and called for an end to what he described as the “killing and brutal beating” of “the opposition” angry with the government’s financial policies.

“The real opposition are the people who are beaten up and killed on the streets of London, those whose voices are not heard by anyone,” Iran’s Irna state news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

The foreign ministry, went so far as to issue a statement advising against any unnecessary travel to the UK.

On Tuesday night, conservative websites sympathetic to the Islamic regime called on the Iranian government to offer refuge in its embassy in London to “UK protesters in need of protection”.

In the aftermath of Iran’s disputed presidential election in 2009, some European embassies in Tehran opened their doors to opposition protesters.

Iranian officials infuriated by the UK’s condemnation of Iran’s human rights violations in recent years, have found a unique opportunity with recent events to get back at the British government by criticising the police force for “exercising violence”.

… Ahmadinejad criticised the UN security council for remaining silent over the riots in Britain. “What else should happen for the security council to react and condemn one of its own members?”

He accused the UK authorities of portraying its opposition as a group of “looters, rioters and drug dealers”, adding: “Does Britain have this extent of drug dealers? If this is the case, they should be tried and UN should build walls surrounding their country.”

… He asked Britain to listen to the demands of its people and criticised human rights organisations for remaining silent over the violence used against British protesters.

Wonderful isn’t it?

Print Friendly
Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Iran

Greek Rescue – Act II

Published on August 12, 2011        Author: 

Michael Waibel is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge.

After losing a disastrous war to the Ottoman Empire in 1898, Greece was unable to service its existing debt or to pay an indemnity. The major European powers, alongside private bondholders pushed for the establishment of an international commission of financial control. Greece reluctantly agreed. The commission, consisting of representatives appointed by Austria-Hungary, Italy, Germany, France, Russia, and Britain asserted direct control over the main sources of Greek public revenue to ensure their debt was serviced. They also imposed other limits on Greek fiscal autonomy such as control over public borrowing and the money supply.

Fast-forward 113 years. Greece is at the epicentre of yet another sovereign debt crisis. On May 2010, Eurozone governments and the International Monetary Fund, in Act I of the newest Greek debt crisis, devised a 110 billion € ad hoc assistance package to prevent a possible default by Greece, but it failed convince financial markets. By covering the Greek wound with one insufficient plaster after another for the past 18 months, the Eurozone doctors have allowed the contagion to spread to major Eurozone economies, such as Spain and Italy. Policymakers have been fighting a rearguard action to get ahead of an increasingly systemic debt crisis that threatens Europe’s decade-old single currency itself.

On 21 July 2011, in Act II of the Greek Debt crisis, the European Council proposed emergency measures to shore up financial stability in the Euro area. These measures include additional financing of more than 100 billion € for Greece, lengthening of maturities and reduction in interest rates to about 3.5 percent on existing programmes for Greece, Ireland and Portugal, plus technical assistance on measures to increase competitiveness and structural reforms designed to boost economic growth.

Eurozone leaders also called upon the private sector to contribute, on a voluntary and exceptional basis, to restoring Greek debt sustainability by swapping Greek bonds maturing between 2012 and 2020. Given the implicit threat of a Greek default, it is doubtful whether the exchange is free from elements of coercion – an important factor for the rating agencies assessing the country’s creditworthiness and for whether credit default swaps, essentially insurance against sovereign defaults, will be triggered. If they are, large payment obligations by banks, insurance companies and others could be an additional channel for contagion.

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Comments Off

Darryl Robinson on Self-Referrals: Is the International Criminal Court Really a Court of Last Resort?

Published on August 10, 2011        Author: 

The Journal of International Criminal Justice has recently published a very interesting article by Darryl Robinson titled “The Controversy over Territorial State Referrals and Reflections on ICL Discourse“. In the article, Darryl takes issue with those who criticise the practice by which the ICC Prosecutor has accepted referrals by States of situations occuring within that State. The first three situations before the ICC (the Democratic Rep. of Congo, Uganda and the Central African Republic) came to the Court in this way.  In particular Darryl disputes the account (for example by Bill Schabas) which suggests that this practice is an unforeseen invention developed after the Rome Statute came into force and perhaps even an undesirable perversion of Rome Statute. An undesirable perversion in that it allows States to manipulate the Court, wrongly focusses attention on non-State actors (rather than State agents) and allows States to foist on the ICC their obligations to prosecute international crimes. The abstract of his article is as follows:

“This article examines some of the prominent critiques concerning territorial state referrals to the ICC (also known as ‘self-referrals’), in order to test and refine the arguments. Despite wide acceptance of the drafting history claim that such referrals were not contemplated in the negotiation of the Statute, the records expressly show the opposite. Critiques about the potential for political manipulation are significant, but reflect a tension inherent to all international criminal justice efforts, regardless of trigger mechanism. The concern about ‘selective externalization’ of prosecutions is compelling; however, the legal and normative implications are more subtle and multi-faceted than is commonly assumed. The article also ventures some preliminary observations about international criminal law (ICL) discourse in general. One observation is that although discourse focuses on points of disagreement, the interpretive community also implicitly absorbs assumptions that limit and shape legal debate. For example, the widespread but incorrect assumption that territorial state referrals were ‘not contemplated’ by the drafters has eclipsed the actual drafting history, and has framed the present legal debate concerning the supposed ‘innovation’. A related observation concerns the prospect of assuming a single vision or model of the Court and allowing that model to dictate interpretation. Multiple plausible models are compatible with the Statute, and open-minded assessment of the merits and implications of each is needed. Such models of the Court may include, for example, an ‘antagonistic’ model, a ‘catalyst’ model, a ‘reverse cooperation’ model and a ‘facility’ model.”

Darryl is a Canadian academic who has been intimately involved in the creation of the ICC, first as a Legal Officer in the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs where he took part in the negotiations of the Rome Statute , and then as adviser to the ICC Prosecutor. He is also a friend of EJIL:Talk! and dia a great job blogging for us a the ICC Review Conference in Kampala in the summer of 2010 (see here). Given his background, Darryl is in as good a position to know, as anyone, whether self referrals were contemplated during the drafting of the Statute. I must say that I find his account to be compelling. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Comments Off

UK Secret Overseas Torture Policy Leaked

Published on August 5, 2011        Author: 

Yesterday the Guardian published a top secret policy in place for the UK intelligence service since 2002 in several versions, dealing with their obtaining intelligence from detainees in the custody of foreign services who may be subject to mistreatment. The document is entitled ‘Agency Policy on Liason with Overseas Security and Intelligence Services in Relation to Detainees Who May Be Subject to Mistreatment,’ and is available with a few redactions here. The policy is sure to be prove controversial; as readers are aware, an inquiry is underway in the UK regarding complicity of UK services in overseas torture, while a judicial review case has recently been brought before the High Court (see Dapo’s recent post). The policy has been replacedy a more anodyne and public version in 2010 by the new coalition government.

Note that there is at least one more prior policy that is yet to be disclosed, which covered circumstances in which UK agents were ‘directly involved’ in the questioning of a detainee in the custody of a foreign intelligence service (see para. 2 of this policy). That other document may prove to be at least as interesting.

One may find a number of things morally objectionable upon reading the policy – and it’s precisely these parts of the document that caught the eyes of the press, e.g. the explicit reference to negative publicity for the UK as a factor in a balancing exercise in deciding whether or not to give permission for UK agents to provide information to the overseas agency even when there is a risk of mistreatment. But what I found striking about the old policy was how legalistic it was, i.e. how legal advice was used to put limits (or not) on UK participation in overseas interrogation. The new 2010 policy is very different – it seemingly quite deliberately omits any substantial legal discussion.

What is even more striking is how the policy concludes that human rights law as such does not apply to the issues at hand, although it then proceeds to import some human rights standards in the rules it sets out. Crucially, as Dapo pointed out in his earlier post and as I mentioned in a post from a couple of years ago, the key question here is the extraterritorial application of human rights treaties. Do, say, detainees in Pakistani custody questioned by a Pakistani intelligence officer who are being fed questions or information by UK agents have rights vis-a-vis the UK under the human rights treaties to which it is a party, or is it only Pakistan which has obligations in this situation?

In para. 21, the policy answers that question in the negative:

Under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 it is unlawful for a public authority to commit torture , or to inflict inhuman or degrading treatment, as this would be incompatible with a Convention right [Article 3 ECHR]. However, in order for the Act to apply to a detainee held overseas, the UK would need to have “effective control” of the area in which the detainee is located, as the primary jurisdiction of the Act is territorial. The Act is therefore unlikely to apply in situations covered by this policy.


Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea Gets Busier

Published on August 2, 2011        Author: 

Last summer, I wrote a piece on this blog noting that the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), which had been underutilised for some years, was finally getting some substative cases to decide. Although ITLOS had decided a number of cases dealing with provisional release of vessels, and had handled requests for provisional measures in cases where the merits had been submitted to an arbitral tribunal, ITLOS had only decided one case on the merits before 2010. But in a 6 month period before the summer of 2010, 2 cases were submitted to ITLOS: one a maritime delimitation case between Bangladesh and Myanmar  and the other a request for an advisory opinion. Not a lot of activity but nonethess signifcant. Nearly one year on, the Court has had two further cases submitted to it!! Last month, Panama and Guinea Bissau agreed to submit a dispute to ITLOS relating to the detention of a vessel (see press release). In November last year, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines initiated a case against Spain at ITLOS also relating to detention of a vessel. Neither of these cases are provisional release cases (see here). That means four new cases in just over 18 months!

It is worth taking a moment to reflect on this new found confidence in ITLOS. In two of the new cases (the Bangladesh/Myanmar and the Panama/Guinea Bissau cases), the parties have agreed to refer to ITLOS, disputes which ordinarily were within the jurisdiction of arbitral tribunals under the dispute settlement system of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In other words, rather than going to an arbitral tribunal with compulsory jurisdiction over the dispute, the parties have instead agreed to go to ITLOS.  This raises questions as to whyStates might choose a standing court over an arbitral tribunal and why the new found confidence in ITLOS (since the ICJ would also have been an option for these States). One might argue that there are a number of advantages of arbitration over judicial proceedings. For example, the parties have more influence over the composition of the tribunal, the tribunal will be much smaller - usually 5 arbitrators - than ITLOS which has 21 judges. Both these points perhaps make ITLOS’ decisions less predictable for parties. But are there advantages to resorting to ITLOS (or other standing judicial bodies) over arbitration? Clearly these four State think so.  I can think of two possible advantages. Decisions of judicial bodies may be regarded as carrying greater (political rather than legal) authority than that of arbitral tribunals. While this may be true of the ICJ, I wonder about ITLOS. Also, developing countries may get financial assistance for using ITLOS. Are there other advantages?  Also, are there advantages of using ITLOS over the ICJ? I would be interested in readers’ comments on these issues.

Print Friendly

Launch of Annual Junior Faculty Forum for International Law

Published on July 31, 2011        Author: 

Today Anne Orford of the University of Melbourne Law School, JHH Weiler of the NYU School of Law, and Dino Kritsiotis of the University of Nottingham School of Law launched the Annual Junior Faculty Forum for International Law. The Forum is designed to assist junior faculty, i.e. those within the first six years of their academic careers, with their research by staging an annual competition in which six to nine individuals will be selected and asked to make presentations to the Forum in a given year: these presentations will then be paired with senior international legal scholars, who will comment on each of the presentations given to the Forum, so that the papers are eventually worked up and prepared for publication. The Forum will be an annual event on the international law calendar, and the inaugural Forum will be hosted in New York City by the Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law & Justice; it will occur in May 2012.

Further particulars of the process are now available on . Selected presentations from the inaugural forum will be published in a special issue of the EJIL.

Print Friendly
Filed under: Conference, EJIL Reports
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Comments Off

Can Libya Sue the UK on Recognition of the National Transitional Council?

Published on July 30, 2011        Author: 

Earlier this week, the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague announced that the UK now recognises the Libyan National Transitional Council (the rebels fighting Colonel Gaddafi’s forces) as the sole governmental authority in Libya. This was an implementation of the decision reached in the context of the Libya Contact Group meeting which I spoke about last week (see here). As part of the UK’s decision, the UK has expelled those Libyan diplomats in the UK appointed by Gaddafi and has invited the Libyan NTC to appoint a new diplomatic envoy to the UK. As indicated in my previous post, one of the consequences of the recognition decision (and perhaps one of the drivers of the decision) is that the UK is willing to release some Libyan assets in the UK for use by the NTC. In particular, the UK is unfreezing £91 million belonging to a Libyan oil company which is controlled by the NTC. However, the vast majority of the Libyan State’s assets in the UK remain frozen.

In response to all of this the Libyan Deputy Foreign Minister (by which I mean the Gaddafi govt’s Deputy Foreign Minister) declared that these moves by the UK are illegal and that Libya will sue the UK in the International Court of Justice and in British domestic courts. Libya has been involved in quite a few cases before the ICJ – recall the maritime delimitation cases with Tunisia and with Malta in the 1980s, the Lockerbie cases against the UK and the US in the 1990s - so it is perhaps no surprise to hear that they are considering another suit at the ICJ. But are there jurisdictional grounds for such a suit and what exactly might such a claim involve? Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly

Commonwealth Revises its Model Law on the International Criminal Court

Published on July 28, 2011        Author: 

The Commonwealth has recently revised and updated its Model Law on the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  The Commonwealth is an organization of 54 States that were, in the main, formerly part of the British empire. 35 of those States are parties to the Rome Statute. The Model Law provides a template that Commonwealth member States may use (and have used) in drafting their own national ICC Statutes.The Revised Model Law of 2011, updates the Commonwealth Model Law of 2004. The revision was called for by a high level expert meeting held in October 2010 (chaired by Akbhar Khan, Commonwealth Legal Director) in order to take account of the experience since the Rome Statute came into force. An expert group, consisting of representatives from States and civil Society was set up to undertake the revision. This group was chaired by Professor Charles Garraway and I had the pleasure and honour of taking part in the group. The revised Model Law and the report of the Group were adopted on July 14 by the Commonwealth Law Ministers meeting in Sydney Australia. The full text of the revised Model Law can be found here on the website of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

A summary of the key revisions can be see in the Chair’s Report to the Commonwealth Law Ministers. The group took account of developments in the Kampala Review Conference and

considered whether to include provisions on the crime of aggression in the Commonwealth model law at the present time. After considerable discussion, it was decided by the majority of the Group that further work is required and inclusion would be premature. It considered that the issue should be revisited before 2017.

One area where a change was made to the Model Law was the provision dealing with immunity. The Bashir and Gaddafi cases have highlighted the importance of clarifying the position on immunity in situations referred to the ICC by the Security Council. Section 25 of the previous Commonwealth Model Law stated that any immunity by reason of a connection with a State Party to the Rome Statute does not prevent domestic action taken in support of ICC proceedings (such as arrest and surrender to the ICC).  This provision is reflected in the domestic law of a number of commonwealth States (including the UK). However, this provision has now been extended in the revised Commonwealth Model Law, to exclude application of  immunity attaching by reason of a State with respect to which the United Nations Security Council has made a referral to the ICC or a State which, whilst not a State Party has accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC. That provision would now explicitly deal with the Bashir and Gaddafi cases.

In addition to the revised Model Law, the Commonwealth signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Criminal Court (see here and here).  The agreement is intended to enhance cooperation between the two organizations in particular in supporting domestic implemention of international criminal law.

Print Friendly
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Comments Off