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Treaty Interpretation and The Child in International Refugee Law

Published on August 30, 2017        Author: 

Jason Pobjoy explains in The Child in International Refugee Law (CUP 2017) how the rule set out in Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), the ‘general rule of interpretation’, in his words, ‘comprises a single holistic “rule” of interpretation’, and that the adoption, by the International Law Commission (ILC),

of a “single, closely integrated rule”’ underscores the need to look beyond a literal construction of the text and to consider the terms of the treaty in light of their object and purposes, in their context and taking into account subsequent extrinsic sources (p 34).

He goes on to explain that this ‘rejection of strict literalism has found favour in domestic refugee jurisprudence’ and then sets out how Articles 31–33 mandate a ‘systemic approach’ to the interpretation and application of the Refugee Convention, with the Convention on the Rights of the Child naturally playing a particularly important role (p 34–43). It is extremely well done.

This approach, clearly and convincingly set out in Chapter 1 of the book, is undoubtedly correct. It is of a feather with the dictum of the International Court of Justice in Interpretation of the Agreement of 25 March 1951 between the WHO and Egypt, according to which a treaty ‘does not operate in a vacuum’ but rather ‘in the context of a wider framework of legal rules of which it forms only a part’ (ICJ Rep 1980, p 73, 76, para 10). Against this background, the book in Chapter 6 develops the argument that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a complementary source of protection for children, going into some detail on state practice to make out the argument.

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The Legitimate Requirements of Justice

Published on June 30, 2015        Author: 

As readers have pointed out, the Grand Chamber in Lambert has now rectified its error, by amending paragraph 138 so that it now says in respect of Glass that: ‘in its judgment of 9 March 2004 it held that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention’. The excellent blog post by Grégor Puppinck on Lambert nonetheless raises the broader question of the inherent power of international courts and tribunals to reopen their judgments.

All international courts and tribunals have the inherent power, in certain circumstances, to reopen their judgments. It has always been recognized that, as the report of the Advisory Committee of Jurists drafting the Statute of the Permanent Court of Justice, put the matter, although the principle of res judicata is underpinned by the fundamental value that ‘for the sake of international peace [a matter decided] should be considered as finally settled’, ‘[j]ustice, however, has certain legitimate requirements’ (Procès-Verbaux of the Proceedings of the Committee (Van Langenhuysen Brothers 1920) 744).

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The Fogmachine of War: A Comment on the Report “Clearing the Fog of Law”

Published on April 13, 2015        Author: 

In the Policy Exchange report Clearing the Fog of Law: Saving Our Armed Forces from Defeat by Judicial Diktat, Richard Ekins, Jonathan Morgan, and Tom Tugendhat criticize the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg for not disapplying the rights of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in cases where British troops act abroad. Together the authors have written a report which impresses with its eloquence and conviction, but ultimately leaves something to be desired in terms of how it treats the sources and the method of international law.

The authors focus their attention on what they refer to as ‘a new form of judicial imperialism’(p 7), ‘the cavalier expansion’ of the ECHR (p 46), a development which, in their view, has at least two problematic aspects. First, the provisions of the ECHR, a convention which in their view was meant to be applicable only in time of peace, have been allowed to apply in war. Second, not only has the ECHR, in their view, illegitimately been allowed to apply; it ‘is supplanting and undermining the older and far more suitable body of International Humanitarian Law’ (p 9), for this purpose the four Geneva Conventions.

According to the report, the Strasbourg Court is wrong to have applied the ECHR to the actions of British troops acting abroad, and the Strasbourg Court is wrong to have let the ECHR supplant the rules of international humanitarian law. Such developments, the authors say, are not ‘properly supported by sound legal method’ but rather ‘an instance of over-bearing judicial power’ (p 9), the report arguing in essence that the courts have discarded what the authors term the traditional interpretation of the ECHR which could be summed up as ‘the general understanding that the ECHR did not apply extraterritorially’ (p 11& 46).

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A Response to the Discussants on the Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties

Published on December 18, 2014        Author: 

I begin by saying that I am extremely grateful to the contributors to this book symposium for kindly having taken the time to read my book The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties, and to commit to writing their very stimulating views of it. Given the richness of the comments provided by my colleagues, it would I think be impertinent for me to do more, at this stage, than to try to set out the reflections that their comments have prompted with me.

In writing my book, one of the things I tried to do was to stress the striking interpretative potential with which the Vienna Convention rules are pregnant. It is worth remembering that when counsel for the United Kingdom in what Lord Hoffmann in Matthews [2003] UKHL 4 at [28] referred to as ‘the great case of Golder’ tried to reign in the European Court of Human Rights, they did so by exhorting the Court that it was bound by the rules set out in Articles 31–33 of the Vienna Convention. It is safe to say that the strategy backfired.

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Introducing The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties

Published on December 15, 2014        Author: 

image windows Den Haag 0061 (NL)(1)Although the issue may have become obscured at some point after the drafting of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, it is increasingly acknowledged in international law that the goal of treaty interpretation is, as the International Law Commission’s first Special Rapporteur on the law of treaties JL Brierly put it, ‘to give effect to the intention of the parties as fully and fairly as possible’ (The Law of Nations (OUP, 1928) 168; A Clapham, Brierly’s Law of Nations (7th edn, OUP, 2013) 349).

The question of the intention of the parties in treaty interpretation might be thought to take on a particular interest in connection with the evolutionary interpretation of treaties. Though there is no standard definition of the term ‘evolutionary interpretation’, the upshot is that the meaning of treaty terms may be liable to change over time, without the specific intervention of the parties to amend or modify the treaty terms.

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The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Obaidullah v United States and the Mainstream of International Law

Published on October 7, 2013        Author: 

Photo BjorgeEirik Bjorge is the Shaw Foundation Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) is the only body in the international human rights system with a specific mandate to receive and examine cases on arbitrary deprivation of liberty. In this capacity it has, since 1991, interpreted and enforced the international legal rules on deprivation of liberty as they have developed in domestic, regional and international jurisdictions. Its jurisprudence can be accessed via its search engine. Earlier this year one of the members of the WGAD, Professor Mads Andenas, presented before the UN Human Rights Council the report 2012 WGAD activities.

Obaidullah v United States

obaidullah-785x1024Potential applicants and counsel are becoming increasingly aware of the opinions which make up the WGAD’s body of jurisprudence. A recent illustrative example is the opinion handed down by the WGAD in Obaidullah v United States on the detention of Bertola Obaidullah at Guantánamo Bay (distributed on 3 June 2013; to be published in December). In its opinion in Obaidullah the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found against the United States in relation to the arbitrary detention of Obaidullah (pictured above right, credit).

Obaidullah, a twenty-nine-year-old ethnic Pashtun Afghan citizen resident in the village of Milani, Khost province, had on 21 July 2002 been taken into custody during a raid on his family home. He was interned at a US military station and subsequently held for three months. In its opinion the WGAD made clear that ‘while imprisoned in Afghanistan, Mr. Obaidullah was not informed of the reasons for his detention. He was threatened, coerced into making false statements and tortured’ (at [4]). The WGAD said the following about Obaidullah’s later detention at Guantánamo Bay: ‘In October 2002, United States military forces transferred Mr. Obaidullah to the United States detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he continued to be subjected to torture and inhuman treatment. More than ten years later, Mr. Obaidullah continues to be detained at Guantánamo Bay. He was not provided any reasons for his detention nor charged’ (at [5]).

The opinion of the Working Group concluded that: ‘The deprivation of liberty of Mr. Obaidullah is arbitrary and in contravention of articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.’ (See the excellent blog post by Marine Farshian on La Revue des Droits de l’Homme.) Read the rest of this entry…

 
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