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Intelligence Sharing and the Right to Privacy after the European Court Judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK

Published on September 24, 2018        Author: 
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On 13 September 2018, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in three consolidated cases brought by 14 human rights organisations and 2 individuals against the UK government’s mass interception program and its access to the intelligence gathered by other governments, including the United States (Big Brother Watch v. UK, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15.)

As noted already by Marko Milanovic, these cases are nuanced, complex, and long. I intend to focus here on one aspect, namely the way the Court assessed the intelligence sharing claim brought by the applicants (paras 416-449.) This assessment is noteworthy as that claim presents an issue of first impression for the Court. As the judgment itself notes, “this is the first time that the Court has been asked to consider the Convention compliance of an intelligence sharing regime” (para 416). (It is worth noting, however, that the recent judgment in Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden no. 35252/08 also touches upon this issue.)

The applicants’ intelligence sharing claim centred on the revelations, contained in disclosures by Edward Snowden, that the UK government has access to information collected by other foreign intelligence agencies, and most notably the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). In particular, these revelations suggest that the UK government has direct and unfettered access to raw data intercepted by other governments, which it can then filter, store, analyse and further disseminate. They further suggest that the UK government has similarly broad access to information stored in databases by other governments.

From a human rights law perspective, the fundamental question raised in this case is the nature of the interference and therefore the applicable test to apply to such interference. Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: International Law Weekend 2018; CfP Edinburgh-Glasgow International Law Workshop; Legal Resilience in an Era of Hybrid Threats

Published on September 23, 2018        Author: 
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1. International Law Weekend 2018. International Law Weekend, a prestigious annual international law conference co-sponsored by the American Branch of the International Law Association and the International Law Students’ Association, will take place from 18 – 20 October, at Fordham Law School, and at the New York City Bar Association. For a detailed conference program, please see here.  For information regarding registration, please see here.

2. CfP Edinburgh-Glasgow International Law Workshop. The Edinburgh Institute for International and Global Law of Edinburgh Law School and the International Law and Security Research Group of the Glasgow Law School, will convene the first annual Edinburgh-Glasgow International Law Workshop at the Playfair Library Hall of Old College, the University of Edinburgh, on April 8 – 9 2019. The workshop invites applications for paper presentations in any subfield of international law and with any methodological orientation. Abstracts of not more than 750 words should be submitted by interested applicants to EdinGow2019 {at} ed.ac(.)uk by 15 November 2018. More information can be found online.

3. Legal Resilience in an Era of Hybrid Threats – Conference and Call for Papers. The Exeter Centre for International Law and its conference partners, the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats and the Geneva Centre for Security Policy, are delighted to invite you to a conference on ‘Legal Resilience in an Era of Hybrid Threats’, to be held on 8 – 10 April 2019 at the University of Exeter. The aim of the event is to explore the utility of legal resilience as an analytical and policy framework for countering the legal challenges presented by gray zone conflict, hybrid warfare and lawfare. The conference organizers invite proposals for papers, to be submitted by 30 November 2018, addressing subjects including the notion of legal resilience; strategies for rendering the international legal system more resilient against contemporary threats; the legal challenges presented by gray zone conflict, hybrid warfare and lawfare; the impact of influence operations and other indirect forms of intervention; and the legal and ethical implications of counter-lawfare. The full call for papers and more information about the event can be found here

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Part II: The Partition of the Chagos Archipelago and the Haunting Spectre of the South West Africa Cases

Published on September 21, 2018        Author: 
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[Part II of a two-part post]

When consent has been vitiated

One of the most challenging aspects of partition is proving that its representatives’ consent was vitiated due to duress. In nearly all cases of partition duress, coercion, and even fraud has been alleged by one of the parties. In other words, their consent to the loss of territory was not freely given.

In Ireland, it was argued that the threat of force was employed during the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 to ensure the Irish delegation accepted the option of dominion status against that of a republic (A. Carty, Was Ireland Conquered, 1996, p. 84). It was also alleged that the delegation’s consent to the partition was brought about by deceit because of assurances given to them that primary importance would be given by a Boundary Commission to the ‘wishes of the inhabitants’ in the redrawing of the boundary between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State when, in fact, the UK never had any intention of interfering with the integrity of the six counties (A. Carty, Was Ireland Conquered, 1996, pp. 135-140).

In British India, it was argued that Mountbatten held a ‘metaphorical gun’ to Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s head when he ‘consented’ to a ‘moth-eaten Pakistan’ that he had spent his whole career opposing. Mountbatten even admitted that he ‘drove the old man quite mad’ by insisting that the logic of partition, if applied to India, must equally apply to the provinces of the Punjab and Bengal (quoted in M. Zafrulla Khan, The Agony of Pakistan, 1974, p. 47). Nehru agreed with Sardar Patel that ‘it might be possible to frighten Mr. Jinnah into cooperation because of the shortness of time available before partition must be completed’ (M. Zafrulla Khan, The Agony of Pakistan, 1974, p. 47). Read the rest of this entry…

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Part I: The Partition of the Chagos Archipelago and the Haunting Spectre of the South West Africa Cases

Published on September 20, 2018        Author: 
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[Part I of a two-part post] 

The advisory proceedings concerning the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 are over, but an opinion that answers the legal questions raised in the request could have consequences well beyond the Indian Ocean.

Earlier this month, Stephen Allen contributed a post on the self-determination arguments made in relation to the first question asked of the court. Like Allen, I have taken sides in my scholarly work, although unlike Allen, I have argued that self-determination emerged as a customary norm of international law before 1970. As I argued in my article on the arbitration (2010-2015) between the UK and Mauritius (published in volume 19 of The Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, 2016, pp. 419-468), the emergence of a norm prohibiting partition in the decolonization context would have outlawed the division of the archipelago before independence in 1968, unless it could be shown that Mauritius consented to the separation.

In this post, I argue that the legal arguments raised by the Applicants in the South West Africa Cases could be of direct relevance to the opinion, because although the ICJ refused to address the merits, the cases spanned a period of time (1960-1966) that is germane to any contemporary assessment of the legality of the decision to partition the Chagos Archipelago in 1965. While the Applicants did not reference the Colonial Declaration (GAR 1514 (XV) (1960) in their pleadings, they nevertheless argued that international law in the 1960s prohibited partition, demonstrating that there were principles of law at stake that proscribed the non-consensual division of territory.

What remains missing is an authoritative opinion from the world court. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ‘Security Council Route’ to the Derogation from Personal Head of State Immunity in the Al-Bashir Case: How Explicit must Security Council Resolutions be?

Published on September 19, 2018        Author: 
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Last week, the Appeals Court of the International Criminal Court (ICC, the Court) held hearings in relation to Jordan’s Appeal from a decision of Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II holding that it has failed to cooperate with the Court in the arrest and surrender of Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir. As is well known, Al-Bashir is presently subject to an ICC Arrest Warrant for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, following the referral of the situation by the Security Council (SC) to the Court. He has made a series official visits to Jordan and other states parties to the ICC Statute (the Rome Statute). However, none of those states has dared to arrest him to date. Their principal argument is that Al-Bashir enjoys personal immunities from foreign domestic jurisdiction under treaties and customary international law, that these are not covered by the removal of immunity in Art. 27(2) of the Rome Statute, and are thereby safeguarded by Art. 98 of the Statute.

The hearings, together with the Appeals Chamber’s decisions leading to them, represent a unique moment in the history of international criminal law for two main reasons. First, this is the first time in which the ICC has invited, accepted and heard submissions from leading international law scholars as amici curiae, as well as engaged in direct (and sometimes heated!) oral discussions with them. Secondly, some of the legal and policy issues discussed in the hearings are of fundamental importance to international criminal law and public international law in general. They include questions such as the extent of the SC’s powers, a possible customary international law exception to personal immunities before international criminal tribunals, and the practical importance of preserving such immunities for international peace and security. Thus, watching the hearings online has certainly kept some of us entranced during the entire week.

However, aside from the special role attached to academic commentary and from the systemic issues discussed in the hearings and in the written observations, one question seems to have been at the heart of the debates on Al-Bashir’s immunities. This question is whether the SC can implicitly derogate from personal immunities otherwise applicable under treaties or customary international law, or whether it must do so explicitly. Indeed, all parties and participants seem to agree that the SC has the power to displace personal immunities and other rules of treaty or general international law, except for jus cogens norms. Yet they disagree as to how clear the Council must be in order to do so. Read the rest of this entry…

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ECtHR Judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK

Published on September 17, 2018        Author: 
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Last week the European Court of Human Rights issued a highly anticipated blockbuster Chamber judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15.

This is the first mass electronic surveillance case to be decided against the UK after the Edward Snowden revelations, and it touches upon numerous issues. The judgment is nuanced, complex, and long. It addresses key questions such as the proportionality of bulk interception programmes much more directly and with greater sophistication than the recent judgment in Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden no. 35252/08, which was decided by a different Chamber while this case was being deliberated, and which also upheld a bulk surveillance programme (see here for Asaf Lubin’s take on Just Security).

The judgment is too rich to summarize easily, so I will only set out some key takeaways (for an extensive discussion on surveillance and privacy in the digital age, see my 2015 Harvard ILJ piece).

First, and most importantly, the judgment is a mixed bag for privacy activists: while the Court finds that the UK’s surveillance programme under the now-defunct Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was deficient in important respects and in violation of Article 8 and 10 of the Convention, it at the same time normalizes such mass surveillance programmes. In particular, the Court decided that bulk interception programmes are not categorically disproportionate, as privacy activists have argued. Second, in a similar vein, the Court finds that prior judicial authorization is not indispensable for the legality of bulk interception, again contrary to what privacy activists have argued, even if prior judicial authorization could be seen as best practice (note that under the new 2016 Investigatory Powers Act the UK has moved to a double-authorization system which involves both a minister and an independent quasi-judicial commissioner).

Here are the key paragraphs (warning – extracts from the judgment make this a lengthy post):

Read the rest of this entry…

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Slavery in Domestic Work: The Potential for State Responsibility?

Published on September 17, 2018        Author:  and
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On 10 September 2018, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Urmila Bhoola, presented her latest report to the Human Rights Council. The report focuses on an often-hidden aspect of modern slavery – the slavery and servitude of “marginalized women workers in the global domestic economy” (para 11). In this post, we highlight key findings of the report and also indicate areas for further exploration, including the potential use of State responsibility.

11.5 million domestic workers are international migrants, which represent 17.2% of all domestic workers and 7.7% of all migrant workers worldwide (para. 31). To give a sense of the scale, in Hong Kong there are 370,000 domestic workers of which 98.8% are women.

The social, cultural and racial biases these women face are often extreme. To give an example, Sondos Alqattan, an Instagram star and makeup artist with over 2.3 million followers, criticised new laws in Kuwait giving Filipino workers one day off per week and preventing employers from seizing their passports. She said, “How can you have a servant at home who keeps their own passport with them? What’s worse is they have one day off every week”.

The UN Special Rapporteur notes that the domestic work sector accounted for 24% of forced labour exploitation in 2017 (para 43). Exploitative practices include psychological, physical and sexual violence; retention of identity documents preventing freedom of movement; withholding of wages; and excessive overtime (para 42).

There are two aspects of the Report that make a particular contribution to the discussion of slavery in domestic work. Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: Critical Perspectives on Race and Human Rights Conference; UN Audiovisual Library of International Law; Judicial Power of Africa’s Supranational Courts Conference; Politics and the Histories of International Law Conference

Published on September 16, 2018        Author: 
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1. Critical Perspectives on Race and Human Rights Conference. UCLA’s Critical Race Studies Program, Promise Institute for Human Rights, International and Comparative Law Program and Journal of International Law and Foreign Affairs are planning a one-day conference at UCLA School of Law on Friday, 8 March 2019. Critical Perspectives on Race and Human Rights: Transnational Reimaginings will explore critical topics in contemporary international human rights law from the joint perspectives of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL). The deadline for submissions is Monday 1 October, 2018, by 5pm Pacific Time.  The call for papers is available here

2. New Additions to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law. The Codification Division of the UN Office of Legal Affairs has added the following lectures to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law website: Dr. Hussein Hassouna on “The International Law Commission: Challenges and Achievements”, Mr. Pavel Šturma on “Succession of States and State Responsibility” and Mr. Yacouba Cissé on “La problématique de la délimitation des frontières maritimes: généralités et contexte africain”. The UN Audiovisual Library of International Law provides high quality international law training and research materials to users around the world free of charge.

3. The Judicial Power of Africa’s Supranational Courts Conference. Africa boasts a high number of supranational courts, but at the same time there appears to be a widespread lack of willingness among Member States to comply with rulings issued by these courts. The conference will address this paradox and investigate which forms of judicial power are being favoured by African States on the one hand and African supranational courts on the other. The conference will be held at the University of Luxembourg on 21 September 2018. It will analyse to what extent approaches of activism or, conversely, restraint, are being considered as legitimate and effective by these actors. The conference will address dynamics that are potentially common to supranational institutions operating in different fields of law, such as the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Court of Justice and Arbitration of the Organisation pour l’harmonisation en Afrique du droit des affaires (OHADA), and the East African Court of Justice. Further information is here

4. Politics and the Histories of International Law Conference. On 15 and 16 February 2019, an international conference will be held at the Max Planck Institute for International Law in Heidelberg, Germany, under the auspices of the Journal of the History of International Law. The conference deals with the correlation of politics and international law and its implication for the writing of the history of international law. Scholars from all over the world will discuss their thoughts on the subject in a variety of panels. The conference organizers encourage interested scholars to apply for participation as engaged listeners. More information can be found here

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The Bolton Speech: The Legality of US Retaliatory Action Against Judges and Officials of the International Criminal Court?

Published on September 14, 2018        Author: 
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The speech given on Monday by John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, threatening action by the US against the International Criminal Court (ICC) in response to potential ICC investigation of US personnel with regard to the situation in Afghanistan has generated a lot of interest (see herehere, here and here). There are a plethora of policy and political issues raised by the looming clash between the ICC and the US which have been set out on other blogs in recent days (here and here). In terms of the legal issues, we are back to the old debate about whether the ICC is entitled to exercise jurisdiction over nationals of non-party states, in the absence of a referral by the UN Security Council (on which see this 2003 article of mine and this recent post in response). This post addresses whether the actions that Bolton says the US will take against Judges and ICC officials would be lawful under international law. Bolton says that the US:

“… will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law.  We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

In particular, I wish to focus on whether the US would violate international law by banning ICC judges and officials from entering the US. Even if the US were to seek to prosecute ICC personnel, it is unlikely that it would obtain custody over them (unless other states cooperate with the US). The primary effect of such attempted prosecutions would be to prevent those people from entering the US, in fear of being arrested.

Barring ICC personnel from entry into the US is a significant issue because (i) the meetings of the ICC Assembly of States Parties are held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York every other year; (ii) the ICC Prosecutor goes to the Security Council, at its request, to report to the Council on the situations referred to the Court by the Council; and (iii) the President of the ICC presents a report, on the work of the Court, to the UN General Assembly annually. All of these activities and visits will have to stop if the threat by John Bolton (either to prosecute or to ban ICC judges and officials) were to be carried out.

Does the US have International Legal Obligations Preventing  it from taking Retaliatory Action  Against ICC Personnel?

To the extent that US retaliatory actions against ICC personnel  take place within the US, the starting position would be the US can control entry into the US, prosecute people who in its view threaten US security (probably based on the protective principle of jurisdiction) and sanction funds in the US unless such acts are inconsistent with contrary obligations under international law.

Read the rest of this entry…

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From the Indigenous Peoples’ Environmental Catastrophe in the Amazon to the Investors’ Dispute on Denial of Justice: The Chevron v. Ecuador August 2018 PCA Arbitral Award and the Dearth of International Environmental Remedies for Private Victims

Published on September 13, 2018        Author: 
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The recent 30 August 2018 Chevron v. Ecuador arbitral award is yet another example of the ongoing asymmetries of protection in the much-beleaguered investor-State dispute settlement system, in which States have generously afforded protections to foreign investors to bring suits directly against States, without creating parallel avenues for affected local communities and/or indigenous peoples to initiate arbitration proceedings directly against either foreign investors or irresponsible States. Despite all our collective best efforts at ongoing reform in UNCITRAL (see updates on Working Group III’s mission on ISDS Reform here), ICSID (see their latest rules amendment project here) and elsewhere, I retain serious doubts as to whether investor-State dispute settlement could ever symmetrically represent the environmental and cultural interests of indigenous peoples and local communities, as effectively as it does investors’ claims to treaty protection and (significantly substantial) compensatory relief.  Today, environmental plaintiffs have to navigate between an unwieldy, unpredictable, and quite disparate mix of remedies before domestic (administrative or judicial) courts or tribunals of their home States, potentially some regional courts (such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights) or treaty monitoring bodies (whether those specifically created in environmental treaties or human rights treaties), other foreign courts in other countries that permit some environmental tort claims, and possibly, any cases that their home State can bring under diplomatic protection to pursue remedies against foreign nationals or the home States of these foreign nationals.  And all these frequently take place in the context of abject differences of power, resources, and capacities between environmental and human rights victims as claimants against either States and/or foreign investors, vis-a-vis foreign investors as claimants or States as respondents.  It’s not at all hyperbolic to observe that, with respect to the international environmental system, the deck already appears heavily stacked against environmental plaintiffs at the outset.  

The Chevron v. Ecuador arbitration presents a crystal example of how what was originally an environmental dispute seeking remediation for one of the worst environmental disasters in history involving oil spillage into 4,400 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest – ultimately mutated into the investors’ denial of justice claim in investor-State arbitration.  At least, in my view, while  the erudite tribunal in this case thoroughly set out the technical legal reasoning in its award on the precise legal issues of the investment treaty breaches alleged, the award itself more broadly demonstrates that we may well be at the point that a dedicated separate international dispute settlement system might already be necessary to properly adjudicate victims’ claims in human rights and environmental disputes. (Notably, other scholars refer to this dispute to highlight the illegitimacy or alleged exces de poivre of arbitral tribunals making assessments and evaluations of the acts or decisions of domestic courts and judicial systems ipso facto – a significant  heavily disputed structural matter about the current investor-State dispute settlement system, which is, however, not the law and policy observation I make here.) Some efforts looking beyond the narrow ISDS framework, among others, include projects such as the drafting of the new Hague Rules on Business and Human Rights Arbitration; the tentative and non-binding 15 September 2016 policy paper of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court exploring the possibility of prosecuting environmental crimes; as well as the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s suite of environmental dispute resolution procedures (interstate arbitration under environmental treaties, mixed dispute resolution under environmental instruments and contracts, specialized environmental rules for arbitration and conciliation).  To date, these initiatives have not gone much further beyond their incubation.

The most difficult aspect of the Chevron v. Ecuador case is the fact that the arbitration turned on the issue of Ecuador’s investment treaty breaches over what Chevron alleged were very troubling serious acts of fraud and corruption committed by lawyers and judges to produce a favorable 2011 Ecuador court judgment for the environmental plaintiffs.  The fraud and corruption allegations have long since overshadowed the urgency of decades of environmental damage that have largely gone without significant and continuing remedy, alongside ongoing health problems from toxic contamination that have impacted indigenous peoples and local communities for generations. (Note: this pollution disaster originated long before I or generations of current international lawyers were even born.) The Chevron v. Ecuador arbitration succeeded in laying the blame on Ecuador since, for the tribunal, Chevron had already been released from its obligations of remediation under the 1995-1998 Settlement Agreements.  Unfortunately, the arbitral award does not lay out any detailed environmental analysis to explain why contracts such as the 1995-1998 Settlement Agreements would be sufficient to release private parties from short-term, medium-term, and long-term remediation efforts to restore the ecosystem, and whether such releases were at all consistent with international public policy and Ecuador’s own commitments under international law (especially international environmental treaties and customary international environmental law).  Neither did the tribunal explore whether Ecuador alone had the right to conclude the Settlement Agreements on behalf of all the environmental plaintiffs and affected communities, or if Ecuador could indeed effectively and exclusively represent the environmental plaintiffs and affected communities in the investor-State arbitration considering how its government agents exercised oversight (or lack thereof) with respect to the environmental disaster.  Because environmental plaintiffs, indigenous peoples, and affected communities continue to be dependent on the host State of the investment to vindicate their claims against foreign investors, the investor-State dispute settlement system simply cannot lend any of these environmental, indigenous, and local plaintiffs any real, much less effective, voice over their fight to restore the Amazon to health.  While plaintiffs are mired in multiple litigations and arbitrations around the world to seek accountability from either Chevron and its affiliates or their own government in Ecuador, there is virtually no dedicated State, inter-State, regional, or public-private partnership cooperative efforts to try and achieve environmental restoration in the affected 4,400 square kilometers of the Amazon, as depicted in the map below (source here):

Read the rest of this entry…

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