Home 2012 January

The ICJ Destroys the Jessup Competition

Published on January 30, 2012        Author: 

Yep, you read that right. On Friday this week the ICJ will be handing down its much anticipated judgment in the Jurisdictional Immunities of the State (Germany v. Italy: Greece intervening) case, dealing with the whole Ferrini and Distomo immunity saga. Coincidentally, that same saga forms a large chunk of this year’s Jessup moot court competition, with hundreds of law students around the globe having toiled away at their memorials over the past few months and now busily preparing themselves for the national and international oral rounds of the competition (the latter taking place in the last week of March in Washington, DC). The compromis this year is a rather good one (read it here), dealing not just with immunities but also with the legitimacy of governments, attribution of conduct to international organizations, use of force, etc. All the more pity the ICJ is now poised to throw a wrench in it – judicial comity regrettably does not seem to extend to its pretend counterparts around the globe. I can just imagine the pain of all those students who will be forced to ‘distinguish’ the Court’s freshly-minted judgment in their oral pleadings (Germany is widely expected to win the case, but of course who knows). Bad karma for everybody involved. But the poor students mights still have their revenge, as the Court’s website may well crash from the Jessup hordes trying to access the live video feed and/or the judgment on Friday… Happy times.

(On a slightly more serious note, we’ll try to have commentary on the judgment as soon as possible).


Permanent Contributors

Published on January 30, 2012        Author: 

I am happy to announce that EJIL: Talk! will be joined by Douglas Guilfoyle (UCL), Joanna Harrington (Alberta), and Michael Waibel (Cambridge) as permanent contributors. All three are of course well-known to our readers both for their scholarship and their posts on this blog. Other authors will be joining our roster of permanent contributors in the year to come. We will also be improving the functionality of the website, on which more soon. For now, however, please join me in welcoming Douglas, Joanna, and Michael – we await their contributions with much anticipation!

Filed under: EJIL, EJIL Reports
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Deadline Approaching: ILA Conference in Nottingham

Published on January 27, 2012        Author: 

The deadline for the submission of abstracts is approaching for the Conference on “Security and International Law” (Nottingham, 20-21 April 2012) and Pre-Conference MPhil/PhD Workshop on research methods in public and private international law (Nottingham, 19 April 2012).

The International Law Association (ILA) British Branch invites submissions for papers for its Annual Spring Conference on “Security and International Law”, which will be hosted by the University of Nottingham School of Law from 20-21 April 2012.  The theme of the conference is open to broad interpretation in terms of human, political, military, socio-economic, environmental and energy security as well as security issues arising from the operation of international law in territorial and extra-terrritorial spaces, such as the high seas, aerospace, or the Internet. Full details of the Call for Papers are available here. Details of the Pre-Conference MPhil/PhD Workshop are listed in the Call for Papers in the same document.

Submissions for the Annual Spring Conference should be received by 31 January 2012 and expressions of interest for the Pre-Conference by 1 February 2012.

Filed under: Conference, EJIL Reports
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Judge Al-Khasawneh Resigns

Published on January 26, 2012        Author: 

I’ve reported in November that in October Judge Al-Khasawneh of the ICJ was appointed Prime Minister of Jordan. I’ve noted how, oddly enough, the ICJ website made no mention of this nor of any resignation by Judge Al-Khasawneh from the Court, even though his new position was clearly incompatible with the judicial function. The ICJ has now issued a press release confirming Judge Al-Khasawneh’s resignation, some three months after his prime-minisiterial appointment. I doubt that this was due to any tardiness by the Court’s press officers: note how the press release says that Judge Al-Khasawneh resigned, but does not say when exactly he resigned, which is again somewhat odd. The Security Council has fixed 27 April as the date for the election of Judge Al-Khasawneh’s replacement, who will complete his term until 2018.


Interim Measures Requests and the UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies: Canada and the Mugesera Case

Published on January 25, 2012        Author: 

Joanna Harrington is a Professor with the Faculty of Law and an Associate Dean with the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Alberta in Canada.

As I write this post, college instructor and former politico Léon Mugesera has, at last, been placed on a plane to Rwanda by Canadian government officials to face charges of inciting genocide stemming from an inflammatory anti-Tutsi speech delivered almost twenty years ago, and which was replayed during the height of the genocide. (Twitter has been used by Rwanda’s Foreign Minister to confirm that Mugesera is en route to Kigali.) For many Canadians – and many Rwandans – the departure of this accused genocidaire will not be mourned, with many saying that he should never have been admitted into Canada in the first place. But the latest round in the Mugesera saga does raise concerns for the domestic significance, and thus impact, of the individual complaints procedure found replicated in each of the UN human rights treaties, as well as the need for greater transparency and detailed guidance from the UN human rights treaty bodies themselves with respect to the issuance of requests for interim measures.

 The Mugesera saga

After Mugesera’s speech in November 1992, Rwandan authorities did seek the equivalent of an arrest warrant, but Mugesera had fled the country, and by mid-1993, he had secured permanent residence for himself and his family in Canada. Two years later, Canada’s Minister of Immigration and Citizenship commenced proceedings to send Mugesera back to Rwanda, having learnt of the allegations against him. Under Canadian law, a permanent resident (but not a citizen) may be deported if it is determined that before or after being granted permanent residency, the individual committed a criminal act or offence. In this case, the speech was the alleged criminal act that was committed (and not disclosed), with the speech said to constitute an act of incitement to murder, hatred and genocide, and a crime against humanity. Several years of legal proceedings then ensued, culminating with a unanimous Supreme Court of Canada decision in 2005, which also reproduces Mugesera’s speech as an appendix for all to read.

The speech, however, is not what is at issue in the latest installment in the Mugesera saga. What is at issue appears to be the issuance of a request for interim measures by the Committee Against Torture, asking Canada to hold off deporting Mugesera while a claim is pending before the Committee that Mugesera will face torture in Rwanda. (I say “appears to be” as many reports simply state that an amorphous “UN” has asked Canada to hold off deporting Mugesera, which does no favours for the UN’s reputation among its critics, while those reports that specify the Committee Against Torture, do not use the interim measures terminology.)  Read the rest of this entry…

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A Taxonomy of Armed Conflict

Published on January 23, 2012        Author: 

My friend Vidan Hadzi-Vidanovic and I just finished an article on the classification of armed conflicts in modern IHL, which is forthcoming in a book collection edited by Christian Henderson and Nigel White. The draft is available here on SSRN, and the abstract is below. Particularly because the piece draws upon many discussions we have had on this blog, any comments would be most welcome.

With some relatively minor exceptions international humanitarian law (IHL) applies only when a certain threshold is met: the existence of an armed conflict or belligerent occupation. The purpose of this chapter is to explore the many difficulties surrounding the classification of armed conflicts in modern IHL. While the two main archetypes – international armed conflict (IAC) and non-international armed conflict (NIAC) – are reasonably clear in their basic forms, their boundaries are complex and obscure. Many recent conflicts do not fit the classical archetypes well, provoking debates on spill-over, internationalized, mixed or hybrid and even transnational armed conflicts.

The chapter strives to show that there are some differences between IACs and NIACs that cannot be erased simply by reasoning from analogy or from moral imperative, and that therefore the classification of armed conflict is an issue that matters and will continue to matter for the considerable future. The principal goal of the chapter is clarity, clarity in a conceptual and doctrinal framework which can enable legal and policy debates to be properly had and argued without their participants talking past each other. In attempting to advance such clarity, the chapter discusses the framework of war and peace in classical international law, the conceptual revolution brought about by the aftermath of the Second World War, and finally the modern law, by developing a comprehensive taxonomy of armed conflict.



US Fourth ICCPR Report, IHRL and IHL

Published on January 19, 2012        Author: 

The US Government recently submitted to the Human Rights Committee its fourth periodic report on its compliance with the ICCPR. On the issues near and dear to my heart – the extraterritorial application of the ICCPR and the relationship between IHRL and IHL – the new report presents a significant softening of the US position. Or, to be more precise, the report leaves the door open for a shift in the US position in the relatively near future (assuming, I imagine, that Obama manages to win re-election). Thus, paras. 504-505 of the report on extraterritoriality summarize the previous US position and those of the HRC and the ICJ, but do not contest the latter.  Paras. 506-507 on IHL are a bit more meaningful, and bear quoting in full:

506. With respect to the application of the Covenant and the international law of armed conflict (also referred to as international humanitarian law or “IHL”), the United States has not taken the position that the Covenant does not apply “in time of war.” Indeed, a time of war does not suspend the operation of the Covenant to matters within its scope of application. To cite but two obvious examples from among many, a State Party’s participation in a war would in no way excuse it from respecting and ensuring rights to have or adopt a religion or belief of one’s choice or the right and opportunity of every citizen to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections.

507. More complex issues arise with respect to the relevant body of law that determines whether a State’s actions in the actual conduct of an armed conflict comport with international law. Under the doctrine of lex specialis, the applicable rules for the protection of individuals and conduct of hostilities in armed conflict are typically found in international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949, the Hague Regulations of 1907, and other international humanitarian law instruments, as well as in the customary international law of armed conflict. In this context, it is important to bear in mind that international human rights law and the law of armed conflict are in many respects complementary and mutually reinforcing. These two bodies of law contain many similar protections. For example prohibitions on torture and cruel treatment exist in both, and the drafters in each area have drawn from the other in developing aspects of new instruments; the Commentaries to Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions make clear that a number of provisions in the Protocol were modeled on comparable provisions in the ICCPR. Determining the international law rule that applies to a particular action taken by a government in the context of an armed conflict is a fact-specific determination, which cannot be easily generalized, and raises especially complex issues in the context of non-international armed conflicts occurring within a State’s own territory.

Note how the US report has now started using the customary buzzwords of the IHL/IHRL project (‘complementary’, ‘mutually reinforcing’), while at the same time presenting its lex specialis argument in less drastic terms than before. The last sentence of para. 507 is particularly noteworthy, as the US now argues that the relationship between the two bodies of law requires a fact-specific determination in any given case, rather than just treating IHL as displacing IHRL wholesale, while it leaves room for complementary application particularly in times of internal armed conflict. (Note the construction ‘non-international armed conflicts occurring within a State’s own territory’, which is presumably meant to exclude cross-border NIACs of the sort that the US claims it is engaged in with Al-Qaeda).

We’ll see whether the US position will continute to evolve – but there is some reason here for optimism. The reference to lex specialis is still unfortunate, in my view, as that pithy Latin phrase has very little to teach on the interaction between norms (see more here, and in a more updated form in the last chapter of my book). In that regard, readers might also be interested in the debate between Gabor Rona and Jens Ohlin at Opinio Juris and Jens’ new blog, the LieberCode.


Call for Papers: Conference on International Law in Africa

Published on January 19, 2012        Author: 

5 & 6 October 2012

Complexo Pedagogico, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane,

Maputo, Mozambique



In anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 2013:

  • the African Foundation of International Law (AFIL)
  • the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa
  • the Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA), University of Pretoria, South Africa
  • Faculdade de Direito, Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique

are pleased to announce a two-day conference on international law in Africa and invite proposals for papers.

This conference aims to provide a forum for reflection on the pan-African organisation in the specific context of human security, peace and development in Africa, and how the OAU/AU has responded to challenges in these areas.

Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: Conference, EJIL Reports

Diplomatic Assurances, Torture and Extradition: The Case of Othman (Abu Qatada) v. the United Kingdom

Published on January 18, 2012        Author: 

Conor McCarthy is Visiting Fellow at the British Institute of International and Comparative Law.

The European Court of Human Rights has handed down its long-awaited judgment in the case of Othman (Abu Qatada) v. the United Kingdom which, despite the initial furore that is likely to surround it in the UK, is also a case of substantial legal significance. The judgment sheds light on the circumstances in which it may be permissible under the ECHR (“the Convention”) to expel an individual to a third state where the use of torture is prevalent on the basis of assurances against torture or ill-treatment. Significantly, the Court also lays down, in emphatic terms, principles as to the permissibility of expelling an individual to face trial in a third state where evidence obtained through torture may be used in trying that person.

The Applicant’s Background

Abu Qatada is a high-profile radical Islamic cleric considered by the United Kingdom to be a threat to its national security and who is sought by Jordanian authorities (and indeed authorities in a number of other countries) in connection with a series of terrorist offences. He arrived in the United Kingdom in 1993 when he was granted asylum, having fled from Jordan where he had been tortured in detention in 1988 and 1990-1991. However, as he is regarded as a threat to national security, the UK has sought to extradite him to Jordan.

Bilateral Assurances on Torture or Ill-Treatment

As regards the question of MOUs or diplomatic assurances, some background is helpful. Following the September 11 attacks in the United States the question of the deportation of terrorist suspects, considered a threat to UK national security, to countries where they may face a risk of torture moved high on the political agenda. In 2001 the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised the government that Article 3 of the Convention precluded the deportation of terrorist suspects to Jordan. However, in 2003 a Government review of the possibility of removing such barriers to removal was conducted and it was proposed that certain key countries, including Jordan, could be approached to determine whether they would be willing and able to provide assurances to guarantee that potential deportees would not be subjected to torture or inhuman and degrading treatment. Following this, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary agreed that seeking specific and credible assurances from foreign governments, in the form of Memoranda of Understanding (“MOU”), could be used to enable the deportation of certain individuals from the United Kingdom and in 2003 the British Embassy in Oman were instructed to seek such assurances from the Jordanian government.

Various negotiations ensued and a MOU was agreed between the United Kingdom and Jordan in 2005. On its face, the MOU provided that a receiving state would respect its obligations under international human rights law with regard to the treatment of persons returned under the MOU. In addition, it was specified that if a returned person was detained within three years of his date of return “he will be entitled to contact, and then have prompt and regular visits from the representative of an independent body nominated jointly by the UK and Jordanian authorities”. The MOU also specified that the receiving state will not impede consular access to the sending state by a person deported under the MOU.

Read the rest of this entry…


Briefly Noted: New Report on Somali Piracy

Published on January 12, 2012        Author: 

The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee released its report on Somali piracy on 5 January 2012.* I acted as a specialist advisor to the committee, so I will not offer a full analysis but simply highlight some points of interest:

  • the report is critical of the failure to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean; however, it acknowledges that absent further naval resources the only effective way to protect vessels is to allow them to protect themselves – it thus supports the use of armed guards in some cases;
  • indeed, the committee notes that UK government policy on armed guards appeared to shift during its inquiry, with the release last December of a Department of Transport policy allowing the use of armed security on UK flag vessels for the first time;
  • the committee calls on the government to issue clear guidance on when armed guards may use potentially lethal force, noting that Crown Prosecution Service guidance on self-defence was not drafted with armed security guards in mind (paras 35-37);
  • the report includes as appendices transcripts of evidence; of particular interest is the evidence of Major General Buster Howes (head of the EU NAVFOR counter-piracy mission), Sally Healey (Somalia expert) and Paul and Rachel Chandler (piracy hostages – though some of their evidence will remain redacted until such time as no British hostages are being held);
  • the committee rejects calls for an international piracy tribunal or an extra-territorial Somali court sitting in Arusha and supports “recent proposals for specialised anti-piracy courts established within regional states under ordinary national law” as the most efficient and practical option (para 92);
  • the explanation of how decisions to prosecute and transfers for prosecution operate in practice is enlightening (see paras 102-3 in particular);
  • the report urges the government to consider prosecuting those piracy suspects intercepted by the Royal Navy in the UK where no other State will accept the case (para 107) but notes UK law may need clarification/updating (para 84 and n. 162);
  • also worth attention are the sections on “solutions on land” (noting that present “[i]nternational capacity to rebuild a Somali state is extremely limited” but supporting “community engagement” as the way forward) and on the UK government response to the Chandler case (recommending a review of procedures and lessons learned); and
  • finally, there are a series of interesting tables and graphs in the report, including those at pages 30 (total attacks against shipping compared to successful hijackings), 39 (numbers of ships and hostages held by pirates over time), 53 (pirate prosecutions internationally), 56 (total ransoms paid).

One statistic evident in, but not highlighted by, the report is the success rate of pirate attacks which halved from 2010 to 2011 (see page 30). This piece of good news is probably due to a mix of factors including naval patrolling, improvements in the passive security measures taken by vessels following Best Management Practices and increasing use of armed security. None of these measures, of course, should be seen as a panacea.

*I note the House of Lords also inquired into Somali piracy, reporting on 14 April 2010.