So, some time ago I wrote a post directed at those considering a PhD in international law. This post is aimed at those holding an acceptance letter in their hands. Congratulations: you’ve got into a doctoral programme, that’s no small achievement. However, let’s consider what’s ahead of you. My main themes here are: funding, timing, the emotional challenge, your relationship with your supervisor and a final word on the joys of the process. (Future posts will probably deal with questions of career planning and viva preparation.) Again, my aim is not to be off-putting but to highlight some of the things I think many PhD students don’t consider in advance.
I’ve become frustrated recently at the lack of practical information for those contemplating PhD level study, especially in my own field. Information about the practical pitfalls, perils and joys of further study. So I decided to write a series of blog posts on the topic, pointing to relevant resources. (This is aimed at graduate students in the English speaking Commonwealth: Europe, the US and elsewhere I can’t necessarily vouch for.)
This will be a longish post, and you probably think: ‘Ah, this will be about writing a killer application to my preferred school!’ Yes, that will be covered briefly. But first, grab a seat, we need to share a few home truths – and ask some hard questions.
What’s my motivation?
If you do want to do a PhD in international law the first question to ask yourself is: ‘Why?’
An important case before US Courts at present is US v Ali, where the defendant is accused of, among other offences, aiding and abetting piracy by acting as an interpreter. (See the ruling on a preliminary motion here.) The case clearly has implications for other facilitators of piracy, such as financiers and the bosses of pirate gangs.
However, it now appears the presiding judge, US District Judge Ellen Huvelle, has described the aiding and abetting piracy charge as an “outrage” given that US prosecutors can only place the defendant as present on a hijacked vessel – while it was still on the high seas – for less than 30 minutes. (See reports here and here.) The defendant did, however, allegedly spend 69 days on the vessel after its capture in his role as translator and intermediary for ransom negotiations (presumably while it was detained closer to shore).
The case may raise a number of features some would find objectionable (including the fact that US authorities lured the defendant to a “conference” on Somalia in order to arrest him), but this aiding and abetting charge should not be one of them.
At international law, piracy can be committed on dry land.
Francesco Messineo referred below to the incident in which Italian marines, embarked aboard an oil tanker to protect it, appear to have killed two Indian fishermen mistaking them for pirates.
There has been a lively debate about how best to manage armed security for vessels transiting the high-risk piracy area off Somalia. The two options usually advocated are: embarking military forces to act as a Vessel Protection Detachment (VPD); and private armed security guards (PASGs). The usual issues for discussion are questions of jurisdiction, immunity and state responsibility.
What follows is a preliminary sketch of the issues as I see them.
Vessel Protection Detachments
In any such fatal shooting episode the first question is which State has jurisdiction: Italy or India? The answer is, of course, both States do.
As Francesco pointed out, if this episode occurred on the high seas (as it appears to have done), it is governed by the Lotus Case. In Lotus the PCIJ found, unremarkably and by analogy with crimes that cross land borders, that an offence commenced on a vessel of flag State A which has fatal consequences aboard the vessel of flag State B can be subject to the criminal law of both A and B. A treaty law exception was later created for the masters of vessels in respect of crimes resulting from collision and incidents of navigation. In such cases a master can only be prosecuted by his state of nationality or license-issuing authority (UNCLOS, Art. 97). Otherwise the general principle stands. In this sense the principle of the “exclusive jurisdiction” on the flag State can mislead those unfamiliar with the law of the sea. It is not an absolute prohibition on concurrent jurisdiction.
As Indian courts have jurisdiction, the next question is immunity. The easy thing to assume about VPDs is that they will enjoy State immunity for their official actions. While this is true, it falls for other States’ courts to respect it in practice – and there will always be pressure to look for exceptions where the death of a national is involved.
I have surveyed the relevant State practice elsewhere. I will confine myself to observing that that comparable cases are usually resolved in favour of State immunity, but often not swiftly. The issue is complicated by the fact that the modern law is dominated by Status of Forces Agreements – treaties concluded in advance which (broadly) settle the questions of immunity for forces stationed abroad from local criminal jurisdiction. This is a situation where no such treaty applies so the applicable law is customary international law, and the relevant cases tend to be old. Nonetheless, my reading of them suggests State immunity is not lost in fatal injury cases even where a defendant’s conduct was: careless, reckless, involved excessive force, or was contrary to instructions (in the narrow sense of carrying out an authorised act in an unauthorised manner). Immunity is unlikely to be upheld where a State agent has abused their authority out of malice or for personal gain (though in such cases State responsibility will still apply e.g. Mallen). Otherwise, especially in cases of genuine mistake, immunity should generally be upheld.
Obviously, the State remains responsible for the official acts of its agents irrespective of the determination regarding immunity. The question therefore arises as to whether Italy is obliged to compensate the victims or their families. Read the rest of this entry…
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to any oil embargo or other unilateral sanctions taken against it. The Strait of Hormuz, depending on the reports you read, is at its narrowest somewhere between 17 and 30 nautical miles wide. The bordering States Oman and Iran both assert 12 nautical mile territorial seas. However, the deep water channels that are safe for tankers, used under an International Maritime Organization traffic separation scheme, are only two miles wide each. The outbound lane from the Persian Gulf passes through waters off Oman, the inbound lane through Iranian territorial waters. (Please correct me if I have any of this factual material wrong.)
What legal regime applies to the route through Iranian territorial waters? The ordinary starting point would be that a State may temporarily suspend innocent passage its territorial waters, without discrimination, for essential security reasons (Article 25(3), UN Convention on the Law of the Sea). However, as Hormuz is a strait used for international navigation, Iran lacks that ordinary power.
Under UNCLOS, where a strait is used for international navigation and there is no equally convenient route through open high seas waters, then “all ships and aircraft enjoy the right of transit passage, which shall not be impeded” (Art. 38(1)). This would seem decisively against Iran, but for the fact it is only a signatory to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and has never ratified it. The precise legal regime applying to Iran and the Strait of Hormuz is thus open to debate.
Some States, especially the US and UK, contend the UNCLOS regime of unimpeded transit passage is customary international law. The alternative is that outside UNCLOS there is only a customary international law right of non-suspendable innocent passage. The Corfu Channel case established in 1949 that warships, and a fortiori merchant ships, have a right of innocent passage through international straits which the coastal State may not suspend.
It was certainly held under the Corfu Channel case that in a time of heightened tensions Albania would have been entitled to regulate (though not prohibit or effectively nullify) the passage of warships through its waters. (See further the discussion in Churchill and Lowe.) Thus it is clearly arguable that under the non-suspendable innocent passage regime a coastal State retains its right to prevent non-innocent passage by individual foreign vessels; while under the UNCLOS transit passage regime it would lack any such rights of enforcement (though it would retain the right to formally regulate certain matters).
Thus, there is some basis for an argument that Iran could seek to restrictively regulate passage through its territorial sea short of suspending innocent passage – provided that as a matter of custom the Corfu Channel and not the UNCLOS rule applies.
However, in the comments to Sahib Singh’s recent post on Iranian sanctions Dan Joyner raised the question whether Iran could take countermeasures in the Strait in response to illegal interventions against its nuclear programme. Rather than close the Strait, Dan suggested Iran might be justified in seizing and confiscating vessels of the nationality of the States responsible for various illegal interventions against its nuclear programme (presuming these acts could be proven the responsibility of Israel and the United States).
Ordinarily, under the ILC Articles on State Responsibility, countermeasures must:
- be targeted only against the responsible State;
- be preceded by an offer to negotiate;
- consist only of the injured State withholding performance of one or more international obligations owed to the responsible State;
- be proportionate and readily reversible; and
- not involve the use of force.
Technically, seizing individual vessels under Dan’s scenario would not involve closing the Strait. Could it be described as suspending the right of innocent passage of certain targeted States? Perhaps, though I have some (possibly formalistic) qualms about the idea that suspending a freedom from interference can create a positive right to interfere. That aside, would seizing merchant vessels involve a prohibited use of force under the UN Charter? The majority view among scholars would appear to be that such a “police action” is not usually tantamount to a use of force (see e.g. Guyana v. Suriname), though much might depend on how such an interdiction operation was carried out.
The suggestion some vessels could be seized as a countermeasure is thus not implausible, but the real question would be sufficient proof of attribution of the complained of conduct to the targeted States.
Finally, one might note that actually closing the whole of the Strait by force could constitute a blockade of the ports of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq. This would appear to be a prima facie act of aggression against these States as the General Assembly’s Definition of Aggression (UNGAR 3314) includes blockade of ports under Article 3(c). Such an act of aggression would, at a minimum, justify Security Council intervention though we could debate what other action might be permissible in such a case.
This is far from a fully developed analysis, so thoughts are welcome. My apologies if my replies to comments are less than timely.
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee released its report on Somali piracy on 5 January 2012.* I acted as a specialist advisor to the committee, so I will not offer a full analysis but simply highlight some points of interest:
- the report is critical of the failure to contain piracy in the Indian Ocean; however, it acknowledges that absent further naval resources the only effective way to protect vessels is to allow them to protect themselves – it thus supports the use of armed guards in some cases;
- indeed, the committee notes that UK government policy on armed guards appeared to shift during its inquiry, with the release last December of a Department of Transport policy allowing the use of armed security on UK flag vessels for the first time;
- the committee calls on the government to issue clear guidance on when armed guards may use potentially lethal force, noting that Crown Prosecution Service guidance on self-defence was not drafted with armed security guards in mind (paras 35-37);
- the report includes as appendices transcripts of evidence; of particular interest is the evidence of Major General Buster Howes (head of the EU NAVFOR counter-piracy mission), Sally Healey (Somalia expert) and Paul and Rachel Chandler (piracy hostages – though some of their evidence will remain redacted until such time as no British hostages are being held);
- the committee rejects calls for an international piracy tribunal or an extra-territorial Somali court sitting in Arusha and supports “recent proposals for specialised anti-piracy courts established within regional states under ordinary national law” as the most efficient and practical option (para 92);
- the explanation of how decisions to prosecute and transfers for prosecution operate in practice is enlightening (see paras 102-3 in particular);
- the report urges the government to consider prosecuting those piracy suspects intercepted by the Royal Navy in the UK where no other State will accept the case (para 107) but notes UK law may need clarification/updating (para 84 and n. 162);
- also worth attention are the sections on “solutions on land” (noting that present “[i]nternational capacity to rebuild a Somali state is extremely limited” but supporting “community engagement” as the way forward) and on the UK government response to the Chandler case (recommending a review of procedures and lessons learned); and
- finally, there are a series of interesting tables and graphs in the report, including those at pages 30 (total attacks against shipping compared to successful hijackings), 39 (numbers of ships and hostages held by pirates over time), 53 (pirate prosecutions internationally), 56 (total ransoms paid).
One statistic evident in, but not highlighted by, the report is the success rate of pirate attacks which halved from 2010 to 2011 (see page 30). This piece of good news is probably due to a mix of factors including naval patrolling, improvements in the passive security measures taken by vessels following Best Management Practices and increasing use of armed security. None of these measures, of course, should be seen as a panacea.
*I note the House of Lords also inquired into Somali piracy, reporting on 14 April 2010.
The Palmer Report on the Mavi Marmara Incident and the Legality of Israel’s Blockade of the Gaza Strip
Overall, the Palmer Report is of high quality and merits close attention. I would strongly urge those interested to read, at the least, the very concise summary of its findings at pages 1-6, where the conduct of Israel, the Mavi Marmara protestors and Turkey all come in for criticism. Israel in particular is found to have used “excessive and unreasonable” measures in boarding the Mavi Marmara resulting in “unacceptable” loss of life; and to have subsequently engaged in “significant mistreatment” of those detained (pages 4-5). There is also an excellent summary of the essential steps in the legal logic of both the Turkish and Israeli national inquiry reports (at paras. 23 and paras. 46-47). The Palmer Report itself, however, concludes the blockade of Gaza to be legal. On this essential point, I consider there to be serious gaps in the Report’s logic. Before turning to this, a few points should be noted.
First, the inquiry had no direct mandate to examine legal issues or render an opinion on the applicable law (as the report notes inter alia at paras 3, 5, 6, 14 and 15). Its task was to review the reports and findings of two widely divergent national inquiries into the incident, and to: “(a) examine and identify the facts, circumstances and context of the incident; and (b) consider and recommend ways of avoiding similar incidents in the future.” It was not asked, for example, to render an opinion on the applicable law to the Secretary-General. The key legal analysis is thus contained in an appendix and represents only the views of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman; indeed, the whole report predominantly reflects the conclusion of the Chairman and Vice-Chairman, with the Israeli and Turkish panel members appending a partial concurrence and a dissent, respectively.
My own analysis of the blockade is available in the current pre-publication British Yearbook of International Law. I only sketch the path of my analysis here, but to my mind these are the questions that any balanced assessment of the legality of the blockade must address. Starting from the proposition that blockade is ordinarily only available in an international armed conflict (IAC), the relevant questions are:
On August 17, a US District Court handed down a fascinating piece of statutory interpretation that apparently means that unless a Somali pirate succeeds in stealing something, he cannot be charged with piracy under US law.
There have been a number of national piracy trials taking place in Western States, notably in the US and the Netherlands. (I have written on piracy trials in Kenya elsewhere.) In the Netherlands a group of Somali pirates was sentenced to five years in prison. I have not seen either the judgement in Dutch or a summary of it in any other language yet. (If you have it, do let me know). In New York, the young Somali suspect pirate Abdiwali Abdiqadir Muse, sole survivor of the gang that attempted to hijack the Maersk Alabama, entered a guilty plea in a deal that removed piracy from the charges against him.
This leaves US v Said et al, the trial of 11 suspects before the US District Court in Norfolk, Virginia who were alleged to have (rather foolishly) attacked the naval vessel the USS Ashland, an amphibious landing craft transport, in April this year. The New York Times has helpful posted a copy of the interlocutory decision in this case which Justice Jackson struck out the charges of piracy against them. The decision finds that the alleged facts, which involve drawing alongside another vessel and starting a fire-fight with it, do not fall within the US statutory concept of “piracy as defined by the law of nations” (18 USC §1651). The reason for this is that the classic case, US v Smith 18 US 153 (1820), remains the governing authority and it held piracy to be “robbery at sea”. The alleged facts disclose no robbery, ergo no piracy.
The decision raises a host of issues. I will concentrate more here on points of methodology and issues of national prosecutions of international crimes. I have discussed the international law framework surrounding piracy in a previous post on this blog and will attempt not to repeat matters covered there. Nonetheless, I cannot resist the obvious quote from the Privy Council in Re Piracy Jure Gentium  AC 586, which responded to the suggestion that robbery is a necessary ingredient of piracy by saying:
“[when confronted with the argument that] armed men, sailing the seas on board a vessel without any commission from any state, could attack and kill everybody on board another vessel … without committing the crime of piracy unless they stole, say, an article worth sixpence, … [one is] almost tempted to say that a little common sense is a valuable quality in the interpretation of international law.” Read the rest of this entry…
Dr Douglas Guilfoyle is a Lecturer in Law at University College London. His research has focussed on the law of the sea and international and transanational criminal law. His book Shipping Interdiction and the Law of the Sea was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. His previous EJIL Talk! posts can be found by clicking on his name in the tab on the right.
The application of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to law-enforcement operations at sea raises a number of issues concerning the scope of the ECHR’s extra-territorial application and how ECHR rights are to be interpreted and applied extra-territorially. The limited case law to date has concerned maritime migrant and narcotics smuggling, but has significant implications for counter-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden, an issue I have explored in a recent article in the Int. & Comp. Law Quarterly (see here).
We now have a European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) Grand Chamber authority on point, Medvedyev v France (Application no. 3394/03), which illuminates some of these issues. In Medvedyev French authorities interdicted a Cambodian vessel (inaptly named the Winner) suspected of drug smuggling on the basis of Cambodian consent; those aboard were confined aboard during the 13 day voyage into a French port. The suspects were later convicted in France of drug-smuggling offences and brought proceedings before the ECtHR challenging the legality of their detention at sea and the delay involved in bringing them before a court under articles 5(1) and (3), ECHR. An earlier ECtHR case, Rigopoulos, similarly involved a Spanish high-seas interdiction of drug smugglers and a 16-day voyage to port. In both cases the Court held that such delays, where materially impossible to avoid, did not violate ECHR article 5(3). In Medvedyev, however, a violation of article 5(1) was found. France appealed to the Grand Chamber, and the decision was handed down on 29 March 2010. The Grand Chamber held, unanimously, that the applicants were within the jurisdiction of France; upheld, by 10 votes to seven, the decision that there had been a violation of article 5(1); and denied (by nine votes to eight) the claim that there had been a violation of article 5(3). The focus here will be on the jurisdictional and article 5(1) issues.
Extra-territorial application of the ECHR
The Grand Chamber shed little new light on the ECHR’s extra-territorial application (paras 63-66). It reiterated the Banković proposition that the ECHR’s extra-territorial application based on State jurisdiction is exceptional. It did not cite any State agent authority and control cases, but did note that exceptionally “the acts of the Contracting States performed or producing effects, outside their territories can constitute an exercise of jurisdiction”. It then resorted to the rather tired line that “clearly defined and recognised” cases of extra-territorial jurisdiction at international law included consular activities abroad and jurisdiction over flag vessels. Without more it concluded that French special forces boarding the Winner constituted an exercise of jurisdiction engaging the ECHR. It is hard to fault the result, but the lack of intermediate logic is odd given the judgment’s stress elsewhere on the ordinary rule of exclusive flag State jurisdiction. What in the act of placing forces aboard a foreign vessel (with flag State consent) transforms that vessel into a space analogous to an embassy or those forces into officials similar to consular agents? The desire to avoid the issue seems creakingly obvious. Nonetheless, it now seems firmly established that exercising coercive law-enforcement jurisdiction over a foreign vessel on the high seas will bring it within ECHR jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…
I’d like to offer a small “think piece” contribution to a bigger debate, in which I try and tease out a question that has troubled me: do we need a positive right of humanitarian intervention? What would happen if we conceded it was prima facie an unlawful use of force, but was legally (not just morally) justifiable or excusable in a particular case? My tentative conclusion is that the defence of necessity might prima facie be available to justify a use of force in an humanitarian intervention but would face some significant problems on close scrutiny.
We’re all by now familiar with a certain account of the development of the idea of humanitarian intervention. Let me offer a stylised version of this narrative, with its inevitable oversimplifications by way of introduction.
On one account humanitarian intervention begins as an idea supported by academics, is then invoked (not always consistently) by a small handful of States in concrete cases from the 1990s onwards, is opposed by the 170 member States of the Group of 77 and has now been at least partially supplanted by the “responsibility to protect” (R2P). Paragraph 139 of the World Summit Outcomes Document, however, would appear to reduce R2P to an agreement that the UN is the only legitimate forum for authorising intervention and that the Security Council should act in cases of humanitarian catastrophe. There is very little sign, though, of UN practice in support of this vision of R2P as a collective, institutional responsibility. On this stylised account, what began as an attempt to modify the positive rules on the use of force and non-intervention appears to have been folded back in to the status quo ante. (Albeit that a caveat might have to be entered regarding interventions endorsed or carried out by regional organisations.)
What has always puzzled me about the debate over forceful humanitarian intervention is that proponents and critics have invariably cast it being either a right or a duty. Are there any obstacles to conceptualising it as a justification or excuse for an otherwise illegal use of force? After all, the “right” of self-defence is easily considered such a “circumstance precluding wrongfulness” (i.e. a defence), and is categorised as such in the ILC Articles on State Responsibility. Read the rest of this entry…