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The Situation Concerning the Islamic State: Carte Blanche for the ICC if the Security Council Refers?

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At a meeting of the UN Security Council held on 27 March 2015, the possibility of a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the situation relating to the so-called Islamic State (IS aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) was vigorously discussed. At that meeting, which was convened by France and chaired by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (who had travelled to New York specifically to preside over the meeting), more than a dozen of States lined up to call for a Council referral. However, confusion seemed to rein over what should be referred to the ICC. While most States appealed for a referral of the situation in Syria, some urged a referral of the situation in Iraq, others called for a referral of the situation in both States, and, finally, a few remained purposefully vague by calling for a referral of ‘the situation’, ‘the matter’, and even ‘the cases’ to the ICC. One issue was, however, clear: the reason to refer a situation to the ICC would be to make members of IS accountable for the crimes they committed.

This discussion about the possibility of prosecuting IS members at the ICC raises the question whether “situations” referred to the ICC must be defined by reference to a given territory. Is it possible to refer a worldwide situation relating to a group to the Court? Or must the situation referred be one occurring in a particular geographical location or in a particular state?

On 8th April 2015, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that she will not open a preliminary examination concerning alleged crimes committed by IS, unless Iraq or Syria or the Security Council (SC) provide jurisdiction to the ICC. As Barrie Sander has noted this statement was an attempt by the Prosecutor to pressure States and, especially, the Security Council, to assume their responsibility and confer jurisdiction on the ICC over this situation.

Despite the Prosecutor’s ‘clarification’, neither Iraq nor Syria or the Security Council has yet taken action. Subsequent to her statement, Lithuania, Chile and the UK’ representatives at the UN have continued to push for a Council referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC – but to no avail. The position of Russia and China concerning a referral of Syria is known. They vetoed a similar attempt last year. One may think that the recent attempts to refer IS are trying to push through the window what some members of the Council were unable to push through the door in 2014. However, there is a difference. A Security Council referral of the crimes committed by IS tout court would enable the Prosecutor to charge members of IS not only for crimes committed in Syria or in Iraq but also for crimes committed in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, France, and why not in the United States. (more…)

The ICJ’s Provisional Measures Order in Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty (Iran v United States)

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The ICJ this morning issued its Order regarding Iran’s request for the indication of provisional measures in Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights (Iran v United States). This post is intended as a brief summary of the reasoning of the Court. After a short introduction, I will outline the Court’s approach to the three core elements required for an indication of provisional measures: prima facie jurisdiction, plausibility of rights and nexus with provisional measures requested, and risk of irreparable prejudice and urgency.

The facts of the case, including the hearings on the request for provisional measures, are covered in an earlier post. In brief, Iran claims that the re-introduction by the United States of sanctions against it following the latter’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018 violates the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the two States. In its request for the indication of provisional measures, Iran sought the Court’s order that the US shall, inter alia, suspend its reintroduction of the sanctions, as well as allow transactions already licensed to be implemented.

In its Order of this morning, Iran, in part, prevailed, with the Court indicating some of the provisional measures requested by Iran. Thus, the Court required that the US ‘remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018 to the free exportation to the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran of (i) medicines and medical devices; (ii) foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; and (iii) spare parts, equipment and associated services (including warranty, maintenance, repair services and inspections) necessary for the safety of civil aviation’. The Court also ordered that the US must ‘ensure that licenses and necessary authorizations are granted and that payments and other transfers of funds are not subject to any restriction’ where they relate to the goods and services noted above, and that both parties ‘refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.’

It is interesting to note that the provisional measures in this case were adopted by the Court unanimously, and thus with the support of the US Judge ad hoc Charles Brower. This is, by no means, the first time a US judge has supported a Court ruling against the US, but it is nevertheless interesting (particularly from a judge ad hoc). Judge Thomas Buergenthal supported judgments of the Court against the US in a number of previous cases, including the Oil Platforms merits judgment (after Judge Schwebel had dissented from the Court’s 1996 finding of jurisdiction in that same case).

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The Alleged Prohibition on Intervening in Civil Wars Is Still Alive after the Airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq: A Response to Dapo Akande and Zachary Vermeer

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In a recent post on ‘The Airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq’ (hereafter “the post”), Dapo Akande and Zachary Vermeer argue that the legal justifications given by the states intervening in Iraqseem to count against the existence of [a prohibition on intervening in civil wars] as part of contemporary international law”. The aim of this post is to question such a conclusion. It will deal with three main issues: the alleged generality of those legal justifications (1); their ability to reveal the opinio juris of the intervening states (2); and the situation in Iraq as a “civil war” in the sense of the 1975 resolution of the Institut de Droit International (IDI), which prohibits any intervention in civil wars (3).         

Generality of the legal justifications

Dapo Akande and Zachary Vermeer’s above-mentioned conclusion is based notably on the alleged “generality” of the legal justifications given by the intervening states in Iraq. After positing that Iraq is engaged in a civil war under the 1975 IDI resolution (an assumption I challenge below), they conclude that the “general” justifications offered for intervention imply that states consider that it is always legal under international law to intervene at the request of a government during a civil war. However, a closer look at the legal justifications offered, including those not mentioned in the post, reveals that, when justifying their intervention, all the states expressly referred to the objective of fighting against the Islamic State (ISIL) as the specific purpose of the consent given by the Iraqi authorities for their intervention. In other words, in the Iraqi case, the consent given by Iraq to intervene on its territory was generally considered only in relation to this specific purpose.

In the declaration of the senior US administration official quoted in the post, as in President Obama’s notification to Congress (also and only partially quoted), “[the] actions” that the United States had been invited to take at the request of the Iraqi government were clearly actions against ISIL. More precisely, in Obama’s words, they were the “necessary actions against these terrorists in Iraq and Syria”. With regard to the declaration of France, in particular the speech by the French Minister for Defence before the French Senate, the French Minister clearly stated (after the passage reproduced in the post): “I remind you: we are responding to the request for support of the Iraqi authorities to weaken the terrorist organization Daesh.” (translated from French, emphasis added). Moreover, on 19 September 2014, the French President expressly stated in an official declaration: “Yesterday . . . I announced my decision to respond to the request of the Iraqi authorities and to grant them the support necessary to fight against terrorism.” (translated from French, emphasis added). (more…)

Why the ICC Should Be Cautious to Use the Islamic State to Get Out of Africa: Part 1

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It is tempting to say that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should open a preliminary examination into the violence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (‘Islamic State’, hereinafter IS). IS has branded itself as an enemy of the West. Its atrocities are attacks on the very foundation of human dignity and conceptions of civilization. They shock the conscience of humankind. Some of the rhetoric denies the very norms and rules on which international law has been built for centuries. Evidence of atrocities is displayed publicly to illustrate power and spread fear. Records indicate that high numbers of nationals of ICC State Parties have been mobilized as so-called foreign fighters, including nationals of Western countries, North Africa (e.g., Tunisia) and the Middle East (e.g., Jordan). The ICC is in a position of vulnerability. It is under perceived pressure to ‘get out of Africa’.

At first sight, all of the factors make IS a perfect target for ICC intervention. Prosecutor Bensouda noted in an interview on 20 November that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) would consider options of ICC engagement. ICC assessment is at an early stage, i.e. Phase 1 of preliminary examinations where the OTP makes an initial assessment of all information to analyse the seriousness of information received and identify the crime base. But taking IS crimes to the ICC poses particular problems that deserve careful consideration. Starting it on a wrong premise might compromise some of the very foundations on which the legitimacy of the ICC is based.

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Intergenerational Reflections on International Law: An Essay from Pierre Marie Dupuy

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The international legal system established in 1945 can be seen, in its very design, as an incarnation of western rationalism.  Like that rationalism, it implicitly embodies a certain ideology of progress. In terms of its philosophical underpinnings, it would seem to be heir to the philosophy of the Enlightenment and the Aufkärung despite the fact that a number of its most influential advocates came from countries closer to Anglo-Saxon utilitarianism than to Kantian constitutionalism. This immediately poses a question therefore: could this set of norms claim in the long term to be truly universal in scope ?

Despite the ideological neutrality traditionally professed by the proponents of legal positivism, contemporary international law is founded on a particular western tradition. That tradition is itself based on the belief that subordinating the conduct of States to a common law of nations, recognised by all as valid and legitimate, will progressively bring about a gradual move away from if not ultimately a renunciation of any recourse to force.  Kant seems to be its most inspired prophet in that regard, in particular in his essay Perpetual Peace which seeks precisely to lay the foundations of a true legal cosmopolitanism, propounded in the name of all peoples. Kant remains moreover one of the crucial inspirations behind a shift away from metaphysics, in particular in terms of his philosophy of knowledge. Nevertheless, the project for perpetual peace he inspires, itself has a prophetic dimension found again in the Charter of the United Nations: that instrument, proclaimed in the name of “the peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war … and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person …,” presents itself as a Promise.  It is an ideal purpose assigned to the community of peoples, implicitly founded on the sediments laid down in the collective conscience by a particular tradition, one which is primarily Christian but also discernible in other monotheistic systems.

At the same time, the text adopted in San Francisco in 1945 took the risk of claiming to be valid here and now, that is to say, from entry into force of the law which the Charter of the United Nations represents, ideally affirmed as a universal constitution in the Kantian sense updated in that regard by Habermas. There is therefore in any event a tension and a temporal contradiction between the law and the promise or, to put it another way, between the time needed to bring the project to fruition and the immediacy it claims.

The rationale behind this wish not to stop but to stabilise history by subjecting it permanently to the reign of reason has much to do with the horror, albeit in the beginning partly underestimated, of the Holocaust. Never again! We cannot go backwards without the risk that the unthinkable which nevertheless came true will happen again. This Promise is therefore also founded on a turning back, turning back Barbarism, which the Second World War had just shown could reach previously unparalleled dimensions, even in one of the countries which had contributed most to western humanist philosophy.

A “directional predication”, to borrow an expression from Alain Badiou, the Charter not only announced a new era but affirmed a rupture, a new departure in the history of peoples and their States at the same time as it enshrined a universal dimension of the human person (prefiguring the emergence of humanity as a subject of international law, which appeared gradually from the 1970s). It is in that aspect that we must look for its constructive value which would lead Habermas to conclude that it is constitutional, a term admissible in particular admissible when used metaphorically.

There were many who from the outset have thought that the project enshrined in the Charter was merely an unattainable ideal. Nevertheless, in the first decades, the myth of progress applied to the law if not always to international relations could more or less give the impression that it was working. Admittedly, the Cold War brought back tensions, but at the same time it kept out of direct conflicts, at least among the permanent members of the Security Council. The Security Council, it must be said, remained paralysed for most of its life, but it was in certain, especially normative, respects, beneficially replaced by the dramatic rise of the General Assembly taken as a World Forum, at least until the mid-1980s. The “outlawry of war” movement  had crumbled, but official recognition by all parties of the fundamental legitimacy of the principle of the renunciation of force in international relations, enshrined in Article 2.4 of the Charter, nevertheless remained in place. The right of the “international community as a whole” took over from claims for the “right to development”, the new incarnation of the right of peoples. There was a growing impression, then, at least after the Cuban missile crisis (1963), that albeit not ruling out all danger of war, the Charter, supplemented by the United Nations Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States (1970), gave all parties a renewed basis for “peaceful coexistence” and even more “cardinal” and “intransgressible” principles, as the International Court of Justice would call them in 1986 and ten years later.

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For Whom the Bell of the European Convention on Human Rights Tolls? The Curious Case of Slovenia v. Croatia

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“This case is unusual, yet important and also familiar”, was the opening statement by Mr. Jeremy McBride (Croatian counsel) at the admissibility hearing before the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (the Court or ECtHR) in the case of Slovenia v. Croatia held on June 12. The case is also hot since Slovenia expects the Court’s decision on the admissibility by the end of 2019 or in the first half of 2020.

The case is unusual because it is the first EU inter-state application case and it is all about the rights of a legal person which can be classified as a governmental organization. Namely, Slovenia sued Croatia before the Court for alleged human rights violations of the state-owned bank Ljubljanska banka (LB) in Croatia. The case is familiar because the Court previously decided that LB is a governmental organization and therefore it does not have locus standi under Art 34 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the Convention) (see cases Ališić and Ljubljanska banka). The problem occurred during the era of Socialist Federal Republic Yugoslavia. It concerns Yugoslav banking system problems which emerged after the dissolution of Yugoslavia.

Slovenia states that the purpose of the case is a just solution for the old foreign-currency savings problem. By virtue of the Ališić judgment, Slovenia was obliged to pay the vast majority of old foreign-currency savings in Yugoslavia. Relying on the findings in that case, Slovenia expects the Court to remedy violation of LB’s rights committed by Croatia.

The factual background and the Court’s findings in Ališić and Ljubljanska banka cases are explained in detail in Janja Hojnik’s post on this blog. Therefore, I will not elaborate on the facts further, nor will I consider whether Croatian courts violated LB’s rights and denied justice. Instead, I will focus on one issue of importance: whether a state can bring an inter-state application before the ECtHR while at the same time the alleged victim cannot file an individual application

One important issue for the Court to resolve

Can Slovenia claim that Croatia violated LB’s rights under the Convention even though LB itself is not authorized to file an individual application? (more…)

The Gambia’s gamble, and how jurisdictional limits may keep the ICJ from ruling on Myanmar’s alleged genocide against Rohingya

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On 11 November, The Gambia filed an Application instituting proceedings and requesting provisional measures at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in relation to the genocide allegedly committed by Myanmar against the Rohingya (for a first analysis of the Application, see this post by Priya Pillai). As notably reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post, the application is at least in part a personal quest for justice by The Gambia’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, who acts as The Gambia’s Agent and previously worked for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The Gambia’s application is backed by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (of which The Gambia is a member) and its legal team is led by the US law firm Foley Hoag (see here). As we will argue below, the peculiar origins of this quest for justice may well be determinative for the establishment of the ICJ’s jurisdiction.

Regarding the atrocities committed against the Rohingya, the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has found ‘that the factors allowing the inference of genocidal intent are present’ (see here, para 1441). While there appears little reason to disagree with the Fact-Finding Mission’s conclusion, in this post we will not examine substantively whether the atrocities complained of constitute genocide. Instead, we will briefly sketch why it makes sense for The Gambia to seize the ICJ while proceedings relating to the Rohingya are already going on at the International Criminal Court (ICC), after which we will address the request for provisional measures.

Different nature of the ICJ and ICC Proceedings

Just three days after The Gambia submitted its application to the ICJ, Pre-Trial Chamber III of the ICC authorized the Prosecutor to investigate the situation in Myanmar/Bangladesh (see here). As Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute, and as the position of China and Russia make a UN Security Council referral highly unlikely (see eg here), the Prosecutor has opened an investigation on her own initiative. The investigation ‘geographically’ focuses on Bangladesh, Myanmar’s neighbouring country to which over 742.000 Rohingya refugees have fled (see here). Bangladesh is a party to the Rome Statute, and accordingly provides a jurisdictional link to the Court. (more…)

A Court that Dare Not Speak its Name: Human Rights at the Court of Justice

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Editor’s Comment: The adequacy of the ECJ jurisprudence in the area of human rights has been the subject of extensive critical comment in recent times, not least since its much commented upon decision in Opinion 2/13. I have invited one of the most authoritative, knowledgeable and sober voices in the EU law interpretative community, Daniel Sarmiento to contribute a Guest Editorial on this topic. We are honoured to publish it in this issue. 

‘We are not a human rights court.’ This phrase has been repeated over and again by judges and advocates general of the Court of Justice of the EU for many years. To the question of why does the Court not rely more on Strasbourg case law on human rights in the field of, say, competition, the reply was a classic: ‘we are not a human rights court’. If the Court was accused of ignoring international human rights instruments in cases with a strong tie with international law, the response sounded familiar: ‘we are not a human rights court’. If human rights were put aside or restricted in the name of free movement rules, the explanation was always ready to go: ‘we are not a human rights court’.

Indeed, the Court of Justice was not designed in its early days to be a human rights court, but its current role as the lead player of the European judicial landscape has put it in an unprecedented situation. There is no area of policy that escapes the scrutiny of the Court of Justice: the digital world has found in the Court an uncompromising upholder of private life that will not tolerate intrusions in the sphere of individuals’ privacy; the effectiveness of asylum policy depends on the Court’s readiness to interpret asylum rules as procedural or substantial guarantees in light of human rights; consumers throughout the continent rely on the Court’s judgments to rule on how banks, digital titans or retailers treat their clients; criminal procedures have come under the umbrella of EU harmonization instruments, putting the Court in a privileged position to set standards and guarantees of criminal procedure in all Member States.

These are only a few examples of how the Court has been transformed from a modest international jurisdiction into a supranational hegemon, whose decisions have a direct and significant impact on the rights and lives of millions of Europeans. (more…)

Prosecuting ‘The Beatles’ before the ICC: A Gateway for the Opening of an Investigation in Syria?

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Calls have been mounting for Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh, two fighters captured by the Syrian Kurds, to be tried in the UK, the US, or at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Kotey and Elsheikh were part of a group of four Islamic State militants known as ‘the Beatles’ (because of their British accents). Although not particularly high ranking within ISIS, the Beatles are infamous for their role in the imprisonment, torture and killing of Western hostages. There is reason to believe that they are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

The purpose of this post is to examine the feasibility and propriety of bringing the Beatles before the ICC for trial. Kotey and Elsheikh have been stripped of their British citizenship so as to stop them from re-entering the UK. The UK defence minister, Tobias Ellwood, is however arguing that Kotey and Elsheikh should be tried by the ICC. Kotey himself affirmed that a trial at the ICC ‘would be the logical solution.’ As of now, the Syrian Kurds do not seem to have received a request for the surrender of the two fighters to the Court.

The Temporal Scope of the ICC’s Personal Jurisdiction (more…)

JASTA Keeps Saudi Arabia on Trial for 9/11 Terror Attacks: The US and its Foreign Sovereign Immunity Issue

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In its decision of 28 March 2018 the US District Court for the Southern District of New York denied Saudi Arabia’s motion to dismiss a high-profile lawsuit for its alleged involvement in the September 11 terror attacks, In Re Terrorist Attacks on September 11, 2001 (03-MDL-1570(GBD)) (“the Decision”). In doing so, the Court applied the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, 28 USC §1605B (“JASTA”), for the first time since it was passed by the US Congress on 27 September 2016.

The JASTA created, inter alia, a new exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunity Act, 28 USC §1602 (“FSIA”), to the effect that sovereign immunity under the FSIA is waived:

“in any case in which money damages are sought against a foreign state for physical injury to person or property or death occurring in the United States and caused by –

(1) an act of international terrorism in the United States; and

(2) a tortious act or acts of the foreign state, or of any official, employee, or agent of that foreign state while acting within the scope of his or her office, employment, or agency, regardless of where the tortious act or acts of the foreign state occurred.” (“JASTA exception”)

The Bill generated significant debate both within and outside the US, and whilst under consideration by Congress, Victor Grandaubert warned in a well-reasoned post on this blog that if passed the JASTA would “entrench the isolated and unlawful position of the US in this area”. We take the opportunity of this first application of the Act to provide an update on the recent developments. The post will examine first the Decision, and will then move to address the position of the US in relation to customary international law on sovereign immunity. (more…)