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Russian Agents Charged with Downing of MH17; MH17 Cases in Strasbourg

Published on June 20, 2019        Author: 
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Yesterday international investigators charged three Russian nationals and one Ukrainian national before Dutch criminal courts for the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. According to a report in the Guardian:

The suspects were named as Igor Girkin, a former colonel of Russia’s FSB spy service; Sergey Dubinskiy, employed by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency; and Oleg Pulatov, a former soldier with the GRU’s special forces spetsnaz unit. All were Russian soldiers previously sent abroad.

A fourth suspect, Leonid Kharchenko, is a Ukrainian. He led a military combat unit in the city of Donetsk as a commander, it was alleged.

Girkin was minister of defence in the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). He was the commander of the DNR when the plane was shot down on 17 July 2014. Dubinskiy served as Girkin’s deputy in the DNR, and Pulatov was Dubinskiy’s deputy. Kharchenko was under their command.

Investigators said the soldiers “formed a chain linking DNR with the Russian Federation”. This link was how the separatists obtained heavy equipment from Russia including the Buk launcher used to fire at MH17 with “terrible consequences”.

The accused did not push the button themselves but were responsible for bringing the anti-aircraft system to eastern Ukraine. They could therefore be held criminally liable and charged with murdering 298 people, investigators said.

Readers will recall that last year the investigators and the Dutch and Australian governments formally attributed the downing of MH17 to Russia. Yesterday, however, saw the first criminal charges brought against specific individuals. Obviously, it remains highly unlikely that any of them will face trial in the Netherlands in the foreseeable future, unless they are unwise enough to travel abroad, although they will likely be tried in absentia.

There have also been interesting developments about litigation regarding MH17 in the European Court of Human Rights. Back in 2014 I suggested that the families of the victims may decide to bring cases against both Russia and Ukraine:

In addition to whatever direct involvement these states may have had in the destruction of the aircraft, they could also be held liable for other internationally wrongful acts. For example, Ukraine could be responsible for failing to secure the right to life of the victims and failing to comply with its substantive positive obligations under Article 2 ECHR by deciding not to close the relevant airspace for civilian traffic. Russia could be held responsible for providing the rebels with anti-aircraft weaponry without sufficient safeguards (e.g. appropriate training of the missile crews), thus creating the risk that this weaponry could be used against civilian targets. Both states could be held responsible for failing to secure an effective investigation into the incident. Obviously the facts could yet develop and some very complex preliminary issues could arise (e.g. the extent of Russia’s control over the Ukrainian rebels and the question of the ECHR’s extraterritorial application), but all these points seem arguable.

At least two such cases have indeed been brought and have been communicated by the Court to the respondent governments for pleadings on admissibility and merits.

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The Legal Status and Characterisation of Maritime Militia Vessels

Published on June 18, 2019        Author: 
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A recent report has described how Royal Australian Navy helicopter pilots were targeted with lasers during a night flight in the South China Sea. The lasers were allegedly directed from Chinese fishing vessels – the primary cadre from which the so-called Chinese ‘maritime militia’ is drawn. Further, the incident occurred – according to another report – shortly after a US admiral warned that the paramilitary force could be treated as ‘combatants’. 

What is the Chinese maritime militia? As described below it is a hybrid body (or bodies), but in essence it is a civilian reserve force (often of fisherman) capable of being called upon to conduct military or governmental activities. A number of recent official reports (eg, US, and Japan), have specifically commented upon the rise in China’s employment of this force multiplier in the South and East China Sea regions. At a certain level such a force may be benign, called upon to assist in search and rescue efforts. The concern, however, is that militia vessels are also being used to further Chinese strategic claims in disputed waters by – for example – harassing the fishermen of other states – including by sinking their vessels, as is reported to have occurred with a Philippines fishing vessel just a few days ago. In another episode, Chinese fishing vessels formed a cordon around Chinese oil exploration vessels operating off Vietnam.

The concept of a ‘maritime militia’ is relatively recent, but not without historical parallel. There has long been (and remains) well settled law around the practices of privateering, use of merchant vessels as auxiliaries to naval forces, and conversion of merchant vessels into warships. In this post, however, I will briefly outline two status and characterisation challenges ahead – or rather, already with us – presented by the increased use of maritime militia by China in the current geo-political and legal context: The status and characterisation of militia vessels under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the customary law of the sea; and their status under the Law of Naval Warfare (LoNW). Read the rest of this entry…

 

Announcements: UN Audiovisual Library of International Law; Professor of International Law and Human Rights, Lund (Sweden); ILaW Discussion on ICC Decision in the Al-Bashir Case; CfP Exploratory Workshop on Constitutions of Value

Published on June 16, 2019        Author: 
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1. New Additions to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law. The Codification Division of the Office of Legal Affairs recently added the following lectures to the Lecture Series of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law (AVL) website: Mr. Manuel Monteagudo Valdez on “The Singularity and Limitations of Contemporary International Economic Law” and on “Perspectives on International Economic Law: Searching for an Anthropological Approach” (in Spanish). The Audiovisual Library is also available as a podcast, which can be accessed through the preinstalled applications in Apple or Google devices, through Soundcloud or through the podcast application of your preference by searching “Audiovisual Library of International Law”.

2. Professor of International Law and Human Rights, Lund (Sweden). The Faculty of Law at Lund University intends to appoint full-time Professor of International Law and Human Rights with a starting date of 1 April 2020. Applications are to be submitted by 12 September 2019. The duties of the appointed professor include teaching on the professional law degree programme and on the international Master’s programme in International Human Rights Law (in collaboration with the Raoul Wallenberg Institute for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law), in the PhD-education, and within the Faculty’s distance learning and commissioned education courses. The further particulars can be accessed here.
 
3. ILaW Discussion on ICC Decision in the Al-Bashir Case. ILaW (International Law at Westminster), in co-operation with the ILSA at Westminster Chapter, is organising a rapid response event to discuss the recent decision of the International Criminal Court on head of state immunity in the Al-Bashir case. The event will take place on Wednesday 19 June 2019, 17.30 – 19.30 at the University of Westminster (4-12 Little Titchfield Street, Room 2.05C). It will gather scholars and practitioners to address the many contentious issues that are at the centre of the decision, taking into account customary international law, the mandate of the International Criminal Court in the fight against impunity, and the relationship between the Court and the UN. Register interest here
 
4. Call for Papers: Exploratory Workshop on Constitutions of Value. This workshop, which will take place 12 – 13 December 2019 at the University of Würzburg, has been convened by Isabel Feichtner (Würzburg) and Geoff Gordon (The Hague). This symposium intends to take a view of value not as exogenous to law and society, not merely something to be identified, promoted and protected by law. Rather, it will begin from a view of value, value production and measurement as endogenous. It is proposed to engage in a constitutional study of value that not only looks to the role of law, but also to the material dimensions of value production. The organisers seek to examine the ways in which value is (co-)constituted, structured and shaped by law, politics, science and technology, and thus hope to advance understanding of the foundational role of value in political economy as well as the law like effects of values and value measurements so constituted. For further information, see here
 
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Interests of Justice? The ICC urgently needs reforms

Published on June 11, 2019        Author: 
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The demands for an “independent evaluation” through a small group of experts, formulated by four former presidents of the Assembly of State Parties of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and accompanied by several critical blogs (see, inter alia, here, here, here and here) is the outcome of several controversial court decisions and the Court’s manifest problem in its decision-making process, i.e., its serious governance problems.

Probably the most controversial decision, made on 12 April 2019, concerns the rejection by Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II of the Prosecutor’s application of the initiation of a (formal) investigation into the Afghanistan situation involving crimes allegedly committed by the Taliban, Afghan and US military forces. The PTC based its decision on a broad interpretation of the ambiguous concept of “interests of justice” (Art. 53(1)(c) Rome Statute) and the expected lack of cooperation by Afghanistan and the USA, allegedly resulting in limited chances of a successful investigation. Thereby the Chamber converts the interests of justice concept into a utilitarian efficiency clause which is predicated on the possible success of the proceedings. Not only is this difficult to reconcile with the rationale of the said concept but also incompatible with the wording of Art. 53(1)(c) which links the “interest of justice” to, inter alia, the gravity of the crime and the interests of the victims. Yet, both of these criteria speak for the opposite result than that reached by the Chamber, namely the opening of the formal investigation. For the gravity of the crimes is acknowledged by the Chamber itself and the victims’ interests are reflected by the submission of information by hundreds of them during the preliminary examination. If a Chamber considers that despite the existence of gravity and interests of victims “an investigation would not serve the interests of justice”, i.e. “nonetheless” (Art. 53(1)(c)) the existence of these criteria, it must show that there are more important “substantial reasons” which displace the prima facie interests of justice (derived from gravity and victims’ interests) in favour of opening a formal investigation. In other words, while the term “nonetheless” makes clear that there may be countervailing considerations which may speak against the opening of an investigation despite gravity and victims’ interests, these countervailing considerations must be thoroughly substantiated and, at any rate, do not turn the interests of justice clause into a mere, free floating policy factor which gives a Chamber an unfettered discretion (see also Ambos, Treatise International Criminal Law Vol. III, 2016, p. 390). The present Chamber fails to grasp these complexities and therebyshows a lack of sensibility with regard to the “interests of justice” concept. Thus, it is not surprising that the decision has met serious criticisms in the international criminal law blogsphere (see here, here, here and here) and the Prosecutor filed a leave to appeal request on 7 June 2019. The most recent Appeals Chamber decision from the 6 May 2019, denying the personal immunity of the then Sudanese President Al-Bashir and interpreting the non-immunity rule of Art. 27 Rome Statute as one of customary law, has also received some criticism (see here and here) but ultimately deserves support (see here and here) since it confirms the historical (Nuremberg) trend of non-immunity in international criminal justice. Read the rest of this entry…

 

More on the Duty to Warn Persons Threatened by Foreign Intelligence Services

Published on June 10, 2019        Author: 
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I recently wrote on the blog about the obligation of states, arising from their duty to protect the right to life under human rights law, to warn individuals subject to their jurisdiction of any real and immediate risk to their life, bodily integrity, or liberty and security of person, posed by foreign intelligence services. That duty arises if the state knows, or ought to know, of such a threat, i.e. if the threat is reasonably foreseeable to it. I’ve argued in that regard how it cannot be conclusively established, but may be so established after further factual inqury, that the United States or Turkey had enough relevant information in their possession to trigger their protective obligation with regard to Jamal Khashoggi and the threat posed to his life by agents of Saudi Arabia. If that obligation was triggered, however, the duty to warn Khashoggi arose, whereas no such warning was given to him before his assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

As I have explained in my previous post, and in more detail in my full paper, the duty to warn does not impose unreasonable burdens on states engaged in intelligence-gathering activities. First, it is subject to a jurisdictional threshold, which may be looser, per the Human Rights Committee’s new functional approach to the extraterritorial application of the right to life, or stricter, per the more traditional spatial or personal conceptions of jurisdiction. Opinions will clearly differ in this regard as to which approach should prevail. The key point here, however, is that a state lacking the capacity to fulfil the duty to warn will never be expected to have to do so. Second, the duty will only be engaged if a specific unlawful threat to the life of an individual was reasonably foreseeable to the state. Third, the duty to warn is one of due diligence, and the state can take a number of relevant considerations into account in deciding on how to fulfil it. It might, for example, choose to convey the substance of the threat in a way that will avoid any risk of compromising intelligence-gathering sources and methods. It might choose to do so through an intermediary, such as a relevant agency of a partner state. In the vast majority of conceivable circumstances the state will be able to convey a warning without compromising its essential interests in any meaningful way. Granted, the state will have to devote some resources towards actually complying with the obligation. But such an expectation is not unreasonable, especially bearing in mind that this rather modest burden will usually fall on the wealthiest, most powerful states in possession of an extensive foreign intelligence apparatus, whose ultimate purpose should after all be the safeguarding of human life.

Importantly, in the past month or so, the CIA and partner security services have actually warned three associaties of Khashoggi of a Saudi threat against them, demonstrating that the duty to warn does not, in fact, impose unreasonable burdens on state authorities and that it can effectively be complied with.

First, after obtaining information about a specific threat from the CIA, the Norwegian security services warned a prominent Arab pro-democracy activist and vocal critic of the Saudi crown prince, who has been granted asylum and is living in Norway. As the Guardian reports:

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Announcements: UN Audiovisual Library of International Law; CfS Trade, Law and Development

Published on June 9, 2019        Author: 
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1. New Addition to the UN Audiovisual Library of International Law. The Codification Division of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs recently added the following lecture to the Lecture Series of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law (AVL) website: Ms Michelle Reyes Milk on “The Ad Hoc International Criminal Tribunals and their Legacy” (in Spanish). The Audiovisual Library is also available as a podcast, which can be accessed through the preinstalled applications in Apple or Google devices, through Soundcloud or through the podcast application of your preference by searching “Audiovisual Library of International Law”.

2. Call for Submissions: Trade, Law and Development. The Board of Editors of Trade, Law and Development invites original, unpublished manuscripts for publication in the Winter ’19 Issue of the Journal (Vol. 11, No. 2) in the form of Articles, Notes, Comments and Book Reviews. Manuscripts received pertaining to any area within the purview of international economic law will be received for publication. Founded in 2009, the philosophy of TL&D has been to generate and sustain a constructive and democratic debate on emergent issues in international economic law and to serve as a forum for the discussion and distribution of ideas. Manuscripts may be submitted via e-mail or ExpressO. For further information about the journal please click here. For submission guidelines, please click here. In case of any queries, please feel free to contact us at editors[at]tradelawdevelopment[dot]com. Last date for submissions is 30 September 2019.

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A Hidden Reading of the ICC Appeals Chamber’s Judgment in the Jordan Referral Re Al-Bashir

Published on June 6, 2019        Author: 
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On 6 May 2019, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued the Judgment in the Jordan Referral re Al-Bashir Appeal. It found that Jordan had no ground to refuse to execute the request by the ICC for arrest and surrender of Omar Al-Bashir, the then Head of State of Sudan – a State not party to the Rome Statute.  In this highly controversial judgment, the Appeals Chamber held that ‘[t]here is neither State practice nor opinio juris that would support the existence of Head of State immunity under customary international law vis-à-vis an international court.’ (par. 1, 113) Endorsing the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I’s 2011 Malawi Non-Cooperation Decision, the Appeals Chamber furthermore held that ‘[t]he absence of a rule of customary international law recognising Head of State immunity vis-à-vis international courts is relevant […] also for the horizontal relationship between States when a State is requested by an international court to arrest and surrender the Head of State of another State.’ (par. 114)  

The Chamber could have ended its judgment on the issue of immunities there, as this finding on customary international law, if correct, would seem to dispose of the matter. However, it decided to also consider the position taken  by Pre-Trial Chamber II in the Jordan Non-Cooperation Decision, that the immunity of the Sudanese President was removed by virtue of the Security Council (SC) resolution referring the situation in Darfur to the ICC.

In this post, I will argue that the Chamber not only confirmed the legal validity of what has been termed the ‘Security Council route’ – as developed in the Jordan & South Africa Non-Cooperation Decisions – but actually upheld that it is such reasoning that must be applied at the horizontal level to displace the immunity of a Head of State of a non-party State. I will show that this conclusion flows from the Joint Concurring Opinion of 4 of the 5 Appeals Chamber judges (Judges Eboe-Osuji, Morrison, Hofmański and Bossa) – constantly referred to in the main Judgment for further elaboration – and the recently issued Q&A regarding the Appeals Chamber Judgment. Read the rest of this entry…

 

CETA Opinion – Setting Conditions for the Future of ISDS

Published on June 5, 2019        Author:  and
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The April 2019 New York UNCITRAL Meeting of Working Group III did not discuss the then forthcoming Opinion 1/17 (CETA Opinion) on the compatibility of CETA’s investment court system with EU law. For some the dangers this Opinion could pose to ISDS were altogether non-existent – the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) might as well have considered ISDS in CETA as incompatible with EU law. To others ISDS reform negotiations without the EU, and probably without its Member States, might have seemed a more appealing prospect. The CETA Opinion was rendered on 30 April 2019 and confirmed that the treaty’s investment court system is compatible with EU law. Reaction to it has been immediate, but the real consequences of this (probably explosive or even implosive) opinion will take time to absorb, and a lot of in-depth analysis will certainly follow.

In the past years the CJEU was seemingly headed down a narrow one-way street: its Opinions on a Patent Court, the EU accession to the ECHR or even the Achmea Judgement questioned the participation of the EU and its Member States in international dispute settlement placed outside the control of the EU judicial system. With the CETA Opinion the Court took a U-turn out of the one-way street, back into the path of international dispute settlement. But as the Court managed to turn – and immense pressure was brought to bear – it drafted the conditions for the new multilateral court system that the EU is currently pursuing in international fora. In the remainder of this short contribution we will not canvass the possible contradictions between the Opinion and previous CJEU decisions – although there might be some. We focus on the future instead. In light of the EU’s role as a major investment treaty negotiator and its push for the creation of an MIC, we ask two questions: what this Opinion might mean for the future of ISDS and what open questions remain.

  1. Conditions for the Future of ISDS

Although the CJEU only dealt with the narrow question of whether CETA’s investment court system is compatible with EU primary law, its Opinion will likely have consequences well beyond this context, including notably in relation to a future Multilateral Investment Court (MIC). When the CJEU was deciding, the MIC was the invisible elephant in the room: first, because in CETA the EU commits to pursuing the establishment of an MIC; second, because the European Commission in its contributions to UNCITRAL’s WGIII promotes this option as at least at this time the only possible future for ISDS involving the EU. Read the rest of this entry…

Filed under: EJIL Analysis
 
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Delineating the Exclusivity of Flag State Jurisdiction on the High Seas: ITLOS issues its ruling in the M/V “Norstar” Case

Published on June 4, 2019        Author: 
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On 10 April 2019, the International Tribunal of the Sea (ITLOS) gave its judgment in the long-awaited – though somewhat quietly received – M/V “Norstar” (Panama v Italy) case. The Tribunal ruled (by 15 votes to 7) that by arresting and detaining the Panamanian-flagged vessel, the M/V “Norstar”, Italy had violated Article 87(1) of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by undermining the vessel’s freedom of navigation. This is the first time that Article 87 has been in direct contention before an international tribunal, and in ruling that Italy contravened the principle the judgment arguably buttresses a quite expansive reading of the exclusive flag state jurisdiction principle under Article 92 UNCLOS.

Whilst the case had previously thrown up interesting jurisdictional and procedural questions at the preliminary objections stage – discussed elsewhere by Mirko Forti here – in this post I will confine my discussion primarily to the ruling on freedom of navigation, insofar as the Tribunal found that Italy’s attempt to exert prescriptive jurisdiction over what were otherwise lawful activities on the high seas violated Article 87(1). In doing so, I will highlight how the Tribunal’s understanding of the exclusive flag state jurisdiction principle arguably runs counter to a notable trend in the academic literature, which was reflected in a somewhat forceful seven-judge dissenting opinion, to treat the principle in a much more circumscribed way. I will also comment on the way in which Italy’s argument in the case seems to put it somewhat at odds with its position in the ongoing Enrica Lexie arbitration – discussed previously by Douglas Guilfoyle here, and Hari Sankar here.

I will first set out the background to and facts of the case before turning to discuss the contentious position on high seas jurisdiction. I also offer a few final thoughts on the contrasting, arguably conflicted positions adopted by Italy in this case versus its position in Enrica Lexie. Read the rest of this entry…