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Negotiating Justice at the ASP: From Crisis to Constructive Dialogue

Published on November 29, 2016        Author: 

During the past two weeks, the world came together in The Hague for the Assembly of States Parties (ASP), the annual diplomatic meeting on the International Criminal Court (ICC). It was clear that this session would be crucial for the ICC’s future and its place in the geopolitical constellation. The weeks before had thrown the Court in somewhat of an existential crisis: Burundi, South Africa and Gambia announced their withdrawal from the ICC. Several other states, such as Uganda and the Philippines, announced that they might leave too. Russia withdrew their signature from the ICC a day after the Court called the Crimea situation an international armed conflict and occupation. And US mobilization against the ICC is anticipated following the Court’s announcement that it may soon open full investigation into Afghanistan, including US conduct. Not surprisingly therefore, the main theme of this year’s ASP was (African) critique, cooperation and complementarity (i.e. the relationship between national prosecutions and the ICC as a court of last resort). However, observers of this year’s ASP also noticed a remarkable turn of attitude, language, tone and body language by representatives of the ICC and most state delegations. Like Darryl Robinson pointed out in his post, the discussion on the critique of the ICC during this ASP session could be described as “groundbreaking” – open, respecting and mature – while “constructive”, “dialogue” and “common ground” became this year’s sound-bites.

How the ICC and the project of international criminal justice will affect and be affected by this shifting geopolitical landscape remains to be seen. However, more than merely a technocratic meeting between states on the management and budget of the institution, the ASP functions as an annual diplomatic ritual where stakeholders reconstitute and renegotiate the ICC, and the international criminal justice field more broadly. It is a site of continuous (re)negotiation and political proxy battles on the law and politics, practice and development of international criminal justice. As such, the ASP offers an ethnographic prism for understanding how consensus and contestation in global deliberation processes forms part of the identity project of international criminal justice.

Lost amid polarization

This year was decidedly different from previous years, when polarization grew increasingly tense. Read the rest of this entry…

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Chatham House Paper on Aiding and Assisting by States

Published on November 28, 2016        Author: 

When states engage in armed conflict today, it is often the case that they do so with some support from other states. The same is true with respect to counter-terrorism efforts. That support may come in many forms: from being part of a coalition that engages in actual fighting; to logistical support that enables the fighting to take place; to supply of weapons; to intelligence sharing; or capacity building in one shape or another. One only has to look at the network of state assistance to other states on all sides of the conflict in Syria, and also in Yemen. A couple of weeks ago Chatham House published a paper –  “Aiding and Assisting: Challenges in Armed Conflict and Counterterrorism” – that I would like to commend to readers. The paper, authored by Harriet Moynihan who is Associate Fellow in the International Law Programme at Chatham House, seeks to set out:

“a clear statement of the law on aiding and assisting as it stands, with particular regard to its application in situations of armed conflict and counterterrorism. The paper also aims to provide guidance to governments on best practice in their cooperation in armed conflict and counterrorism, taking into account the legal and policy issues raised by the various rules in this area.” (para. 6)

A central question addressed in the paper is: when will a state that provides assistance that is used by another state to carry out actions that are wrongful in international law, responsible for assisting that wrongful act? The paper addresses this issue by first considering (in Chapter 2) the general rule that is established with regarding to aiding and assisting in Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s Articles on the Responsibility of States 2001. Chapter 3 then pays some attention to more specific rules of international law that deal with aiding and abetting, eg Common Article 1 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, some treaties dealing with weapons transfers and some applicable rules of international humanitarian law.

Much of the analysis in Chapter 2 deals with the tricky question of the mental element that must be fulfilled in order to establish a breach of Article 16 of the ILC Articles on State Responsibility. Read the rest of this entry…


Announcements: CfP Spaces and Places of the Journey to the UK; CfP ESIL Annual Conference; International Immunities – Law in a State of Flux? Conference; Francis Lieber Prize; Additions to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law; Goettingen Journal of International Law New Edition;

Published on November 27, 2016        Author: 

1. Call for Papers: Spaces and Places of the Journey to the UK – Assessing the Legal Framework for People Fleeing Conflict. This conference is motivated by the plight of people fleeing conflict, attempting to reach Europe, and more specifically, the UK. How does the UK government govern (globally) for refugees and how should it govern for refugees? We invite engagement from theoretical, legal and empirical research into refugee journeys to the UK. From the plight of people affected by conflict, to refugee camps, perilous water crossings, the Jungle, UK Border Force and the process of seeking asylum on arrival in the UK (including UK detention centres). This conference will establish an evidence base to help practitioners and to highlight issues specific to the UK government in the current ‘crisis’. Further information on the Call for Papers can be found here, or email Dr Christy Shucksmith at cshucksmith {at}

2. Call for Papers: ESIL Annual Conference, Naples. The 13th Annual Conference of the European Society of International Law will take place in Naples, Italy, on 7-9 September 2017. The conference will be hosted by the University of Naples Federico II, the oldest public university in the world. The theme of the conference is ”Global Public Goods, Global Commons and Fundamental Values: The Responses of International Law”. The Call for Papers is now open. The deadline for submission of abstracts is 31 January 2017Further information is available on ESIL website.

3. International Immunities: Law in a State of Flux? Conference. On 15-16 December 2016, the Ghent Rolin-Jaequemyns International Law Institute (GRILI) at Ghent University will be hosting an international two-day conference entitled ‘International Immunities: Law in a State of Flux?’ The aim of the conference – organized in partnership with the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL), and Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) – is to take stock of recent evolutions pertaining to international immunities and to offer a comprehensive tour d’horizon of outstanding challenges and controversies. The conference will bring together distinguished scholars as well as practitioners, civil servants and other experts (e.g. ICC, ILC, EU, Foreign Affairs), to broach the various issues at stake. Presentations will be grouped into four clusters: jurisdictional immunities; immunity from execution; immunities in the international legal order; and, immunities of the armed forces/in armed conflict. The conference will also feature a roundtable on the immunities of foreign officials, during which the ILC Special Rapporteur Concepción Escobar Hernández will present her views and engage with expert respondents. The conference will conclude with a keynote lecture by Judge Christine Van den Wyngaert of the ICC. Detailed information can be found here. Read the rest of this entry…

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Africa and the ICC: Shattered Taboos, and the Status Quo

Published on November 23, 2016        Author: 

The withdrawals of South Africa, Burundi and the Gambia from the International Criminal Court have generated much discussion in the past few weeks. After shock and despondency, commentary has shifted to new and creative ways of dealing with the ICC’s ‘Africa problem’. Some of these proposals are truly original, for instance Ambassador Scheffer’s suggestion that African states should target non-African states to balance the ICC’s case docket, while others strike a more measured (Mark Kersten here) but ultimately hopeful (Darryl Robinson here and here) tone about the prospects of salvaging the international criminal justice project. As far as I can tell, only one commentator engages head on with the full spectrum of critiques and problems that the ICC faces, making Tor Krever’s conclusion that “little has changed” particularly noteworthy. In this post, I want to suggest that the conflict between the ICC and African states has poisoned the debate in subtle and imperceptible ways that raise troubling questions about the future of the international criminal justice project.

The Shifting Debate

The debate about the ICC’s role in Africa has certainly shifted in the past few weeks. At the ongoing Assembly of States Parties (ASP) in The Hague, civil society representatives are, for the first time, voicing formerly taboo opinions, like the suggestion that Al-Bashir may benefit from immunity under customary international law. To be sure, civil society groups are not endorsing this legalistic argument, which has long been put forward by prominent scholars of international law (see here, here and here), but it is certainly a revolution of sorts when NGOs acknowledge that the African Union (AU)’s denunciation of the ICC’s conflicting case law on Head of State immunity is more than just Machiavellian politicking aimed at shielding dictators.

Whatever the merits of the AU and South Africa’s legalistic position on Bashir’s immunity, it is hard to deny that a major shift may be afoot when the ICC’s President rushes to welcome the justice minister of South Africa, which just repudiated its membership of the Court, in a last-ditch attempt to accommodate his government’s concerns and, hopefully, find a way out of ‘the impasse’.

This is not to suggest that the ICC should not engage in diplomacy. If there is a way to change South Africa’s withdrawal decision, then the Court’s representatives should certainly try. However, in the rush to stem the prospect of diminished membership, the ICC must not lose sight of the bigger picture and the ideals on which it is premised. The real danger is that the ICC vs. Africa quagmire has already irreversibly changed the debate, with negative long-term consequences for the Court and its supporters. Read the rest of this entry…

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Feeling a Way Forward for International Justice – ICC, Africa and the World

Published on November 22, 2016        Author: 

As we all know, 2016 has seen, on many fronts, a surge of isolationism and nativism, as well as a tendency toward polarization and “post-factual” rhetoric. Against this global backdrop, there were reasons to expect dramatic confrontations at the ongoing session of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Assembly of States Parties (ASP). In recent years, discontent with the ICC has been growing, particularly among African states, culminating in three prominent withdrawals (on which see my previous post). If badly handled, the situation could lead to further withdrawals and setbacks for international criminal law.

The ASP has instead offered a promising glimmer of light in the gloom of 2016. On Friday 18 November the ASP held an “open bureau meeting” on the ICC-Africa relationship. The maturity of the discussion renewed my hope in the possibility of respectful listening, open-mindedness, sincere engagement and meaningful change.

Rather than drawing battle lines, delegations from all latitudes generally reached out in a very open and reflective manner. The sensationalist, oversimplified criticisms that are common in media and even academic commentary made little appearance. Instead, delegations generally advanced grounded, focused concerns and possible solutions.

For a great many states, the current impasse was a wakeup call. Instead of reacting to all concerns as attempts to undermine the Statute and the rule of law, delegations showed a sincere readiness for real conversations about the future of international justice. International justice must be inclusive justice. African states helped shape the Rome Statute system and will continue to do so. International justice must also be living and organic, adapting to experience. As the Ugandan delegate explained, a legislature can revise a rule based on experience and changed conditions, which is not necessarily to disrespect the original rule.

The discussion was at times moving. Some delegates at the podium shared heartfelt thoughts, their feelings of connectedness to other states parties, and even the personal tragedies that led them to support international criminal justice. Read the rest of this entry…


Russia’s Withdrawal of Signature from the Rome Statute Would not Shield its Nationals from Potential Prosecution at the ICC

Published on November 21, 2016        Author: 

On 16 November 2016, the president of the Russian Federation issued bylaw № 361-rp “On the Russian Federation’s intention not to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court”.

It follows from paragraph 1 of the bylaw that the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation, after consultations with a number of State organs, including the Supreme Court, the Prosecutor-General’s Office and others, suggested to:

dispatch a notification to the Secretary-General of the United Nations about the Russian Federation’s intention not to become a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which was adopted by a Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries under the auspice of the UN in the city of Rome, on 17 July 1998, and which was signed on behalf of the Russian Federation on 13 September 2000.

As Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) explained in an official statement on the same day, the most immediate effect of bylaw № 361-rp would be the withdrawal of Russia’s signature of 13 September 2000 from, and not proceeding to the ratification of, the Rome Statute in accordance with its Article 126. Officially, the MFA criticised the ICC for its alleged lack of efficiency and independence, biased attitude and high cost:

The ICC as the first permanent body of international criminal justice inspired high hopes of the international community in the fight against impunity in the context of common efforts to maintain international peace and security, to settle ongoing conflicts and to prevent new tensions.

Unfortunately the Court failed to meet the expectations to become a truly independent, authoritative international tribunal. The work of the Court is characterized in a principled way as ineffective and one-sided in different fora, including the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. It is worth noting that during the 14 years of the Court’s work it passed only four sentences having spent over a billion dollars.

In this regard the demarche of the African Union which has decided to develop measures on a coordinated withdrawal of African States from the Rome Statute is understandable. Some of these States are already conducting such procedures.

Read the rest of this entry…


Announcements: CfP Duties, Rights and Powers of Arbitrators; Brexit, Scotland and (Northern) Ireland; CfP ICTY Legacy Dialogues; Brexit and the Future of European Criminal Law Workshop; Maastricht Panel on Brexit; Harvard Law School Human Rights Program Visiting Fellowships

Published on November 20, 2016        Author: 

1. The American Society of International Law’s Dispute Resolution Interest Group and the American University Washington College of Law Call for Papers. The American Society of International Law’s Dispute Resolution Interest Group and the American University Washington College of Law have called for papers for a conference on the duties, rights, and powers of arbitrators in investor-state cases. The conference will take place on 19 September 2017. Papers presented at the conference may be published in a special issue of The Law & Practice of International Courts and Tribunals, a peer-reviewed journal published by Brill. The deadline to submit proposals is 31 December. Proposals must consist of an extended abstract (at least 1000 words) or an unpublished full paper.  More details are available here.

2. Brexit, Scotland and (Northern) Ireland. The City Law School is hosting a panel discussion on 6 December 2016 organized under the aegis of the Jean Monner Chair in European Law on the topic of “Brexit: Implications for Scotland and (Northern) Ireland”. The event takes place at City, University of London, College Building, St John Street, Room A130 at 18:00, and will be followed by a wine reception. Attendance is free. You may sign up here
3. ICTY Legacy Dialogues Call for Papers. As the Tribunal prepares to close in December 2017, ensuring that the work and achievements of the ICTY are accessible and impactful for stakeholders in the region of the former Yugoslavia – and abroad – is more important than ever. In order to best utilise this crucial remaining time, the ICTY is seeking to hold high-profile events, including a Legacy Conference in Sarajevo during the week of 19 June 2017.  The deadline for Submission of abstracts is 15 December 2016, with papers due by 15 April 2017See here to learn more. 
4. Brexit and the Future of European Criminal Law Workshop. This Workshop will be hosted on 17 January 2017 at the Technologie & Tagungszentrum Marburg, Software Center 3, 35037 Marburg, Germany (Room Pascal I). After the Brexit vote, the relationship between the EU and the UK must be radically redefined. This holds also true for the broad field of (European) Criminal Law. What will be the legal and practical effects of the Brexit on EU-derived criminal laws? Will, can and should the UK continue to participate in the European system of police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters? How will Brexit impact on European Institutions like Europol and Eurojust? This international workshop does not pretend to give definitive answer to these questions, but will bring scholars and students from various countries together for a brainstorming exercise, hoping for a fruitful dialectical exchange which might produce some ideas on a possible future after Brexit. For more information please see here or contact Stefanie Bock (stefanie.bock {at} jura.uni-marburg(.)de).

5. Maastricht Panel on Brexit. This panel will be hosted on 25 November 2016. The panel convener is Prof Jure Vidmar (Maastricht). The speakers are Prof Christina Eckes (Amsterdam), Dr Josephine van Zeben (Oxford) and Ines Willemyns (KU Leuven). The panel will be held on 25 November 2016 at 2 pm, at the Hotel Van der Valk, Maastricht. More information is available here.

6. Harvard Law School Human Rights Program Visiting Fellowships for 2017-2018. Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program invites applications for its Visiting Fellows Program in the 2017-2018 academic year. The Visiting Fellows Program gives individuals with a demonstrated commitment to human rights an opportunity to step back and conduct a serious inquiry in the human rights field. Visiting Fellows are usually scholars with a substantial background in human rights, experienced activists, or members of the judiciary or other branches of government. More information is available here. Typically, fellows come from outside the U.S., and spend from one semester to a full academic year in residence at Harvard Law School, where they devote the majority of their time to research and writing on a human rights topic. The Program currently has a preference for fellows working on the UN Treaty Bodies in their research, though applications are not limited in this regard. The Human Rights Program does not generally fund fellows. However, applicants who are nationals of low or middle income countries are eligible for the Eleanor Roosevelt Fellowship, which offers a stipend to help defray the cost of living. Fluent spoken English is essential. The deadline to submit applications is 1 February 2017. See here for more information on how to apply.

Filed under: Announcements and Events
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The Legal Protection of Mass Graves

Published on November 18, 2016        Author: 

Mass graves have been found all around the world, in Uganda, Burundi, The Philippines, Nepal and India. Yet, there is no definition of the term ‘mass grave’ in international law. Our common understanding is derived from pictures of history and news reports according to which ‘mass grave’ describes a site containing a multitude of human remains; a site of harrowing human loss, suffering and unimaginable acts of cruelty.

An Associated Press study published on 30 August 2016 revealed that 72 mass graves have been located in Iraq and Syria as a result of the occupation of the Islamic State. The estimated number of bodies inside them, based on both excavation findings as well as memories of witnesses and survivors, ranges from 5200 to a staggering 15000. The majority of these mass graves were located in Iraq, most in territory too dangerous to excavate. In Syria, once certain areas are secure enough to enter, more previously unreported sites may be identified.

A week after the Associated Press publication, the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats began to advocate for European support to preserve mass graves in Iraq and Syria. Despite this, the response of the international community has been as scarce as academic reflections on the topic.

The protection of mass grave sites and their content is paramount since they provide invaluable information for both the prosecution of perpetrators of international crimes, and the realisation of the right to truth, effective remedies and reparation for families of the deceased. In the following, we draw attention to the lack of legal protection, and the dire need for legal regulation and its effective implementation with respect to the treatment and maintenance of mass grave sites. Read the rest of this entry…


The Trump Presidency and the Iran Nuclear Deal: Initial Thoughts

Published on November 17, 2016        Author: 

Well it’s been a dramatic and, for many of us, soul searching week since last Tuesday’s presidential election in the U.S. resulting in Donald Trump being elected the next U.S. president. I’ll hold back on political editorializing in this space. We all have our views and there are other fora in which to express them.

Among the many issues that will be affected when Trump assumes the U.S. presidency in January is of course the Iran nuclear issue. Trump famously stated on the campaign trail: “My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran.”  I don’t actually think this is his number one priority, but nevertheless a President Trump and his foreign policy team will most definitely not be the champions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have been.

Of course this all comes as a shock to most of us who work in the nuclear nonproliferation area. I genuinely thought that the JCPOA would, under a Hillary Clinton presidency, perhaps not be as positively supported by the U.S. administration as it had been, but that nevertheless the U.S. would seek to keep its commitments under the deal.  And as a side note, I also thought that this meant I probably wouldn’t be writing that much more about the JCPOA, and I welcomed that.

But now we are faced with a new reality and a lot of uncertainty about specifically how President Trump and his foreign policy team will treat the JCPOA, as well as whether Republicans in Congress will now – with Trump as president and willing to sign it into law – be successful in imposing new economic sanctions on Iran through statute.

I thought I would just offer a few initial observations and thoughts about the various questions that we now face relative to the JCPOA:

Read the rest of this entry…


A Further Note on Civility and the Moderation of Comments on EJIL: Talk!

Published on November 17, 2016        Author: 

In a recent Editorial EJIL reconfirmed its commitment to a robust policy of freedom of speech and academic freedom. A few weeks ago I also noted that:

We welcome robust and critical analysis and comment — including the slaughtering of Holy Cows. We welcome both the harsh and the whimsical. But it has always been the policy of EJIL that we endeavor to maintain a tone that does not offend good taste and that in interpersonal exchanges — in our debates in EJIL and in comments on EJIL Talk — disagreements are expressed in a non disagreeable manner.

One’s commitment to the freedom of speech and academic freedom is tested when confronted with speech with which one strongly disagrees and might even consider offensive. The ability to respond, contest and debate, on equal footing and in the same forum, is often time the best form of dealing with these issues — which is the default policy of EJIL in all its outlets — the Journal itself with its policy of EJIL Debates, EJIL Talk! and EJIL Live.

There are limits to all freedoms, especially when they conflict with other equally fundamental values such as dignity or reputation – though where exactly these limits lie is an issue itself hotly contested. Our tendency is to err on the side of academic freedom and freedom of expression. In the libel suit against EJIL we vigorously defended a contested book review, but as we stated there, had we considered that the contested book review had crossed the line into defamatory territory we would have withdrawn the book review. The French judiciary confirmed our assessment that the line had not been crossed, offensive and painful as the author of the book in question found the review.

Censoring the substance and material content of a position is thus something that should be done with great caution and only in extremis, no matter how offending one finds the contested opinion.

EJIL: Talk draws another line, that of civility of discourse, particularly pertinent, given the nature of the forum – unedited, non-refereed, comments – and the habits and customs of unbridled talkbacks rife on the net. We would feel such is inappropriate on the blog of a scholarly journal as we understand ourselves.

The comments in response to the recent post on the future of the SOGI mandate give rise to these issues. To judge from some emails I received, some of our readers considered that the substantive content of some of the views expressed were unacceptable for publication. I do not think that they reached that level. I have placed this type of question on the agenda of the next meeting of the full Editorial Board so that it can be addressed with the necessary deliberation and gravitas.

But on one element in that exchange it is our duty to take a position right now. We are aware that in the passion of a debate on strongly held beliefs, the line might be crossed inadvertently. Be that as it may, the ad personam characterization of Mr Vitit Muntarbhorn  as a “a political ideologue [rather] than a serious human rights lawyer,” crosses, in all the circumstances of the case, the limits of civil discourse to which EJIL aspires. Not surprisingly other similar personal characterizations followed.

In writing to me some readers used very similar characterization of the authors of these comments –  but such views would be equally unacceptable for publication in EJIL Talk!

I have therefore decided, in consultation with the Editors of the Blog, in light of the unfortunate turn in the tone of discussion in the comment thread to the post on the SOGI mandate, to close the thread for further comment. The editors of the blog do not wish to engage in substantive censorship, but incivility will not be tolerated and infringing comments will be moderated as appropriate under the circumstances.

I repeat yet again: We welcome robust and critical analysis and comment — including the slaughtering of Holy Cows. We welcome both the harsh and the whimsical. But it has always been the policy of EJIL that we endeavour to maintain a tone that does not offend good taste and that especially in interpersonal exchanges disagreements be expressed in a non-disagreeable manner. Critical in content, civil in expression.

I have asked the Editors of the EJIL Talk! to be vigilant in ensuring the continued civil tone of the blog. We expect contributors to the blog to respect its sensibilities.

Filed under: Editorials, EJIL, EJIL: Debate!
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