Over the past few days, there has been discussion of whether the attempt to murder Sergei Skripal and his daughter, in the UK, by the use of a nerve agent amounts to an unlawful use force by Russia in breach of Art. 2(4) of the United Nations Charter and customary international law (see posts by Marc Weller, Tom Ruys, and Ashley Deeks). There is agreement that if the action was attributable to Russia, it would amount to a breach of at least some obligation under international law. Marc Weller, points out that the act would amount to an unlawful intervention and a violation of the territorial sovereignty of the UK. Marko argues that these acts would also be a violation of the human rights of the individuals concerned. However, the British Prime Minister characterised the act as an unlawful use of force. What I wish to do in this post is to ask why this categorisation might matter in international law. What exactly are the implications, as a matter of law, of characterising the act as a use of force? This was an issue that was raised in the comments to Marc Weller’s post and some of the points I make below have already been made in that discussion though I expand on them. As discussed below, this characterisation might have far reaching implications in a number of areas of international law, extending beyond the possibility of self-defence, to the possibility of countermeasures, the law relating to state responsibility, the qualification of a situation in the law of armed conflict, and international criminal law. I accept that many of the points discussed below are not clear cut, and some are even contentious. However, I think that having a catalogue of the possible consequences of the arguments relating to the use of force helps us to see more clearly what is at stake when we make these arguments.
The Use of Nerve Agents in Salisbury: Why does it Matter Whether it Amounts to a Use of Force in International Law?
The Assange saga continues with recent decisions in the English Courts upholding the warrant for Julian Assange’s arrest. Dapo’s recent post on Ecuador’s purported appointment of Julian Assange as one of its diplomats to the UK considered the position on this issue as a matter of international law. However, a related issue is how the relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) would be applied if the issue were to arise in domestic proceedings in England and Wales. In other words, if Assange were to leave the embassy, and were to be arrested and prosecuted for failing to surrender, would he be able to rely, in an English court, on diplomatic immunity under the VCDR? Thinking through this question involves a degree of speculation, for we don’t yet know what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) posture towards any such claim would be. We will assume, however, that the FCO will maintain an approach consistent with its statement (reported here) of 11 January 2018: ‘The government of Ecuador recently requested diplomatic status for Mr Assange here in the UK. The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter.’ In other words, we will assume that the FCO would not recognise Assange as a diplomat.
How the matter would be resolved in domestic English proceedings is a difficult question. It involves consideration of the respective roles of courts and the executive in matters of foreign affairs, the distinction between questions of fact and questions of law in giving effect to FCO certificates, and the potential continued application of the common law principle that the courts and the executive should speak with one voice.
The Diplomatic Privileges Act
As a matter of domestic law, the starting point is the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 (DPA), which gives effect to the VCDR. In thinking through how the Assange matter would proceed in a domestic court, Section 4, which sets out the role of the FCO in matters of this kind, is crucial:
‘If in any proceedings any question arises whether or not any person is entitled to any privilege or immunity under this Act a certificate issued by or under the authority of the Secretary of State stating any fact relating to that question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact.’
We are delighted to announce that over the next few days we will be co-hosting with Opinio Juris a discussion of our contributing editor, Anthea Roberts’ new and prize-winning book Is International Law International? (OUP, 2017). The book has recently been awarded the American Society of International Law’s 2018 Certificate of Merit for “Preeminent Contribution to Creative Scholarship” and we extend our congratulations to Anthea! As the ASIL Book Awards Committee states:
“In this book, Professor Roberts takes us along as she chases the title’s question down an international law rabbit-hole to reveal a topsy-turvy world in which international law is parochial and the invisible college is rendered visible. Roberts turns a beguilingly simple question into a globe-trotting, multi-method quest for a map of international law’s players and meanings. Simultaneously irreverent and serious-minded, Roberts develops an original research agenda that takes her and the reader through the migratory flows of international lawyers around the world, the divergent methods through which they are educated, and the different professional tracks through which they are socialized. The book does not just dissolve international law’s myths of universality; it is a nascent sociology of the field of international law and the beginning of a new field of comparative international law. In an era in which Western dominance over international law no longer looks certain, this book provides the tools for a more nuanced understanding of international law’s politics, revealing the deeper meanings and stakes of current debates.”
To discuss the book’s findings and main claims, EJIL:Talk! and Opinio Juris have assembled a distinguished group of international lawyers from all over the world. The discussants on EJIL:Talk! will be Professors Hélène Ruiz Fabri (Max Planck Institute Luxembourg for Procedural Law) , Vera Rusinova (National Research University ‘The Higher School of Economics’, Moscow), Bing Bing Jia (Tsingua University, Beijing). On Opinio Juris, the discussants will be Professors Paul Stephan (University of Virginia), Julian Ku (Hofstra Law School) and Marko Milanovic (University of Nottingham). The symposium will open with a post later today by Anthea introducing her book. We are grateful to all of them for taking part in this discussion. Readers are invited to join the discussion with comments on the posts.
Ecuador Seeks to Confer Diplomatic Status on Julian Assange: Does this Oblige the UK to Allow Him to Leave the Embassy & Is the Matter Headed to the ICJ?
There is a recent twist in the Julian Assange saga leading to new claims that the UK has the legal obligation to allow Assange to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London without arresting him. In December, Ecuador granted Assange its nationality following which it then purported, this January, to appoint Julian Assange as one of its diplomats to the UK (see here). Apparently, the UK rejected that appointment. It has now been reported by Reuters that a legal team is working on filing a case at the International Court of Justice in order to have Assange’s Ecuadorean diplomatic status affirmed under international law. The strategy being pursued by Ecuador is a very interesting one raising tricky questions of diplomatic law. Undoubtedly, Ecuador was aware that the UK would seek to deny diplomatic status to Assange. However, Ecuador argues that what has happened is that while it has appointed Assange as a diplomat, what the UK has done is to declare him persona non grata, and that having done that, the UK now has an obligation to allow Assange to leave the UK within a reasonable period of time, whilst enjoying diplomatic immunities within that period of time.
There are a number of issues that arise as a result of these developments. First, is the issue of whether Ecuador has a unilateral right to appoint Assange as a member of its diplomatic staff, or whether instead, the approval of the UK was required for the conferral of diplomatic status on Assange. Second, assuming that Ecuador is right, and that as a matter of international law Assange did at some point in time have diplomatic status because of a unilateral right of appointment of Ecuador, does the rejection of his status by the UK impose an obligation on the UK to allow him to leave the embassy, and indeed leave the UK, with the immunities that a diplomat would ordinarily be entitled to. Third, is there a basis for the ICJ to hear and determine the matter between those two states?
Let me start with the question of ICJ jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…
In addition to the activation of the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression (see previous post), the recently concluded Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the Statute of the ICC, also adopted three amendments adding to the list of war crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court. These new war crimes relate to the use of prohibited weapons in international as well as non-international armed conflicts. However, in the lead-up to the ASP there was controversy regarding the wisdom and even the legality of adding to the list of war crimes. One of the concerns was that there would be fragmentation of the Rome Statute system with different crimes applicable in differing situations to different individuals. This is because under the amendment procedure to the Rome Statute (Art. 121(5)) these new crimes would not apply to nationals of, or conduct on the territory of, non-ratifying states parties. Another concern was that the new crimes (or at least some of them) are, in the view of some states, not criminalised under customary international law and thus not suitable for addition for inclusion in the ICC Statute. It is this latter issue that I focus on this post, though as I will explain later, the issue overlaps with the question of fragmentation of the Rome Statute regime. In this post, I discuss the implications of criminalising conduct under the ICC Statute which do not amount to customary international law crimes. I take no position on whether the crimes that have been added are, or are not, crimes under customary international law (though I think few would doubt that the use of biological weapons is such a customary international crime), but explain why this is an important question that states are right to pay attention to.
The new war crimes to be inserted into the Rome Statute are as follows (see Resolution ICC-ASP/16/Res.4):
- Employing weapons, which use microbial or other biological agents, or toxins, whatever their origin or method of production [to be inserted as Art. 8(2)(b)xxvii) and Art. 8(2)(e)(xvi)]
- Employing weapons the primary effect of which is to injure by fragments which in the human body escape detection by X-rays [to be inserted as Art. 8(2)(b)(xxviii) and Art. 8(2((e)(xvii)];
- Employing laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices [to be inserted as article 8(2)(b)(xxix) and Art. 8(2)(e)(xviii)].
As 2017 comes to an end we would like to thank our readers for coming back to us time and again over the course of the year. This year we have had more readers than in any previous year and more page views.
I would like to welcome Gail Lythgoe to our editorial team. Gail joins us as Associate Editor with particular responsibility for managing our social media presence. She is currently a PhD Candidate at the University of Glasgow and Managing Editor of Oxford International Organizations. Hopefully, readers have already noticed a difference in our activity on Twitter and Facebook.
To conclude 2017, I set out below our 20 most read posts of the year. We strive to cover a very wide range of international law issues on this blog, but of course it is up to readers to decide on which issues resonate more with them at particular moments. As is often the case, many of those most read pieces are those which offer timely (and may I add insightful) commentary on the big issues of the day raising questions of international law. The US missile strikes in Syria in April, Catalonia’s bid for independence and some of the issues relating to Brexit are leading examples this year. However, the list of most read pieces this year include, one by Douglas Guilfoyle and another by Marko from several years ago. Those two pieces feature as the most read post and the third most read post since the blog was established 9 years ago (with this piece being the second most read post).
Two other remarkable pieces in our top 20 for 2017 are the speeches by the UK Attorney General and another by the Australian Attorney-General setting out the understanding of those states on the law relating to self-defence and in particular, their views on issues relating to self defence in anticipation of armed attacks. We are grateful to the Attorneys General for choosing EJIL:Talk! as a forum for dissemination of the official position of their governments.
The top 20 posts are here in reverse order with the top 10 below the fold. Happy New Year to all of you for 2018!
20) Jure Vidmar, Catalonia: The Way Forward is Comparative Constitutional Rather than International Legal Argument (Oct. 2017)
18) Marko Milanovic, Self-Defense and Non-State Actors: Indeterminacy and the Jus ad Bellum (Feb. 2010)
17) Marko Milanovic, European Court Decides Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda (July 2011)
16) Monica Hakimi, US Strikes against Syria and the Implications for the Jus ad Bellum (April 2017)
15) Monica Hakimi, North Korea and the Law on Anticipatory Self-Defense (Mar. 2017)
13) Senator George Brandis QC (Attorney-General of Australia), The Right of Self-Defence Against Imminent Armed Attack In International Law, (May 2017)
The Assembly of States Parties to the Statute of the International Criminal Court has, overnight (New York time), adopted a resolution which activates the jurisdiction of the Court over the crime of aggression. This was the culmination of intense negotiations at the ICC’s 16th ASP which has been meeting in New York over the past 2 weeks. Indeed, activation of the crime of aggression today brings to a close negotiations which have taken place over decades regarding the jurisdiction of the Court over that crime. States Parties agreed in Rome in 1998 to include the crime of aggression in the ICC Statute but suspended ICC jurisdiction over the crime until they could agree on a definition and conditions for the exercise of jurisdiction. This they did at the Kampala Review Conference in 2010 but again agreed to suspend jurisdiction over the crime until at least 30 States had ratified or accepted the amendments, and until a decision of the ASP to activate jurisdiction with that decision not to take place before 1 January 2017. So, activation of jurisdiction was the final step in a long journey and it was this momentous step taken by the ASP overnight. The text of the resolution adopted, by consensus, is available here. By paragraph 1, the ASP
“Decides to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression as of 17 July 2018.”
This means the Court will be able to exercise jurisdiction over aggression 20 years, to the day, after the adoption of the ICC Statute in Rome in 1998.
The key issue that divided the parties leading up to the ASP and was whether the Court would be able to exercise jurisdiction with respect to the crime of aggression over the nationals of states parties to the Statute who have not ratified the aggression amendments and who also do not opt out. Many states, led by Liechtenstein, had taken the view that nationals of such states would be subject to the Court’s jurisdiction if they committed the crime of aggression on the territory of a state party that had ratified or accepted the Kampala Amendments (the wide view). However, another group of states, led by the UK, France, Japan, Canada, Norway, Colombia had taken a narrow view. They argued that in the case of state referrals or proprio motu investigations the Court would not have jurisdiction over aggression committed by nationals of non-ratifying states or on their territory. The competing arguments on this question were set out in previous posts by me (arguing for the narrow view) and by Stefan Bariga (arguing for the wide view). Ultimately, after very fraught negotiations on this issue, which extended well into the night and beyond the original time scheduled for completion of the ASP, the ASP adopted a resolution confirming the narrow view. Read the rest of this entry…
ICJ Elections 2017: UN General Assembly and Security Council Elect Four Judges to the ICJ But fail to Agree on a Fifth, yet again! + Trivia Question
On Thursday (Nov. 9), the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council elected four judges to the International Court of Justice (see UN Press Releases here and here). Judges Ronny Abraham (France), the incumbent President; Abdulqawi Yusuf (Somalia), the incumbent Vice-President; and Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade (Brazil) were all re-elected. Nawaf Salam who is currently the Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations was also elected to the Court for the first time. They were elected in accordance with Articles 4 and 8 of the Statute of the ICJ which stipulate that judges are to be elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council meeting separately but concurrently. For a candidate to be elected each judge has to obtain an absolute majority in each of those organs, meaning that they need 8 votes in favour in the Security Council and, in 2017, 97 votes in the General Assembly. There are regular elections to the ICJ every three years, with five vacancies each time around. In the election held on Thursday, the General Assembly (GA) and the Security Council (SC) have, thus far, been unable to agree on the fifth judge to be elected to the Court, and voting has been suspended until Monday November 13. This scenario of the GA and SC being unable to agree in a single “meeting” (a term which has a special meaning for this purpose) on the list of Judges that are elected to the Court is relatively rare in the history of elections to the ICJ. However, that scenario has now occurred for a third successive time (after the events in 2011 and 2014 which I describe in the previous posts here and here).
This 2017 election has been particularly remarkable for a number of reasons. There were only six candidates for the five positions. However, and this is rare, all five judges whose terms were expiring had been nominated for re-election. What is perhaps most remarkable about this election, at least thus far, is that Judge Christopher Greenwood, the judge of British nationality, was not re-elected in the first “meeting”. The two remaining candidates for re-election, who must now fight it out on Monday are Judge Greenwood and Judge Bhandari (India), both sitting judges on the Court. Were Judge Greenwood not to be re-elected on Monday this would be a very significant break from the past with regard to the composition of the ICJ. Read the rest of this entry…
The latest issue of the European Journal of International Law will be published next week. Over the coming days, we will have a series of editorial posts by Joseph Weiler – Editor in Chief of EJIL. These posts will appear in the Editorial of the upcoming issue. Here is the Table of Contents for this new issue:
Those Who Live in Glass Houses …; In this Issue
Andrew D. Mitchell and James Munro, Someone Else’s Deal: Interpreting International Investment Agreements in the Light of Third-Party Agreements
Gracia Marín Durán, Untangling the International Responsibility of the European Union and its Member States in the World Trade Organization Post-Lisbon: A Competence/Remedy Model
Sergio Puig and Anton Strezhnev, The David Effect and ISDS
Focus: Human Rights and the ECHR
Merris Amos, The Value of the European Court of Human Rights to the United Kingdom
Susana Sanz-Caballero, The Principle of Nulla Poena Sine Lege Revisited: The Retrospective Application of Criminal Law in the Eyes of the European Court of Human Rights
Oddný Mjöll Arnardóttir, Res Interpretata, Erga Omnes Effect, and the Role of the Margin of Appreciation in Giving Domestic Effect to the Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights
Vera Shikhelman, Geography, Politics and Culture in the United Nations Human Rights Committee
Thomas Kleinlein, Consensus and Contestability: The European Court of Human Rights and the Combined Potential of European Consensus and Procedural Rationality Control
Emma Nyhan, A Window Apart
Jonathan Bonnitcha and Robert McCorquodale, The Concept of ‘Due Diligence’ in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights
John Gerard Ruggie and John F. Sherman, III, The Concept of ‘Due Diligence’ in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: A Reply to Jonathan Bonnitcha and Robert McCorquodale Read the rest of this entry…
New EJIL:Live! Interview with Niels Petersen on his Article “The International Court of Justice and the Judicial Politics of Identifying Customary International Law”
In this latest episode of EJIL: Live! the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, Professor Joseph Weiler, speaks with Professor Niels Petersen of the University of Münster, whose article, “The International Court of Justice and the Judicial Politics of Identifying Customary International Law”, appears in Volume 28, Issue 2 of the journal.
In the article, Professor Petersen explores International Court of Justice decisions confirming the existence of customary international law. The abstract of the article states that:
It is often observed in the literature on customary international law that the identification practice of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for customary norms deviates from the traditional definition of customary law in Article 38 (1) lit. b of the ICJ Statute. However, while there are many normative and descriptive accounts on customary law and the Court’s practice, few studies try to explain the jurisprudence of the ICJ. This study aims at closing this gap. I argue that the ICJ’s argumentation pattern is due to the institutional constraints that the Court faces. In order for its decisions to be accepted, it has to signal impartiality through its reasoning. However, the analysis of state practice necessarily entails the selection of particular instances of practice, which could tarnish the image of an impartial court. In contrast, if the Court resorts to the consent of the parties or widely accepted international documents, it signals impartiality.
The EJIL:Live! discussion focuses on the principal empirical findings of the article, and Petersen’s novel conceptualization of those arguments in terms of “judicial politics”, explicable by the institutional constraints that the Court faces. This conversation offers a reflection on how this assessment of the jurisprudence could alter scholars’ normative conceptions of the Court’s decisions, particularly in regards to customary international law.