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Keep Calm and Call (no, not Batman but …) Articles 31-32 VCLT: A Comment on Istrefi’s Recent Post on R.M.T. v. The UK

Published on June 19, 2014        Author: 

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Panos MerkourisPanos Merkouris, LL.M (Athens) 2004; LL.M (UCL, London) 2005; Dr. iur. (Queen Mary, London) 2010 is Lecturer in Public International Law in the Faculty of Law at the University of Groningen.

In a recent post on R.M.T. v. The UK: Expanding Article 11 of the ECHR Through Systemic Integration’ Kushtrim Istrefi raises important issues with respect to the application and content of Article 31(3)(c) of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT). Although I agree with the general conclusion that Article 31(3)(c) is not a panacea and should not be used as a backdoor for judicial activism, I think it pertinent to highlight certain issues as to the manner in which this conclusion is reached and in particular regarding the presumed content of Article 31(3)(c).

Firstly, let me clarify that this post is not about evolutive interpretation to which the ECtHR seems to be partial. Nonetheless, I agree with Eirik Bjorge’s comment to the above post, that this idea of ECHR as a living instrument is included in the preamble (‘…further realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms’). Furthermore, the connection of evolutive interpretation with Article 31(3)(c) is particularly evident in ‘generic terms’. A ‘generic term’ can be understood either as ouverture du texte or renvoi mobile (Georgopoulos (2004) 108 RGDIP 132-134). In the former case, the openness of the term allows the content of the norm to change alongside the factual situation contemplated (‘evolution of fact’). Such an interpretation probably falls under Article 31(1). In the case of renvoi mobile, the norm, whenever interpreted, reflects the ‘evolution of the law’. As the law changes so does the content of that norm. In this case, evolutive interpretation could be understood as also being based on Article 31(3)(c).

Kushtrim’s main argument is that because ILO Convention No. 87 and the European Social Charter (ESC) are not binding on all member States of the Council of Europe (CoE), they probably do not fall within the scope of Article 31(3)(c). This conclusion is based on a restrictive interpretation of Article 31(3)(c), which holds that the Article should be read as ‘any relevant rules of international law applicable in the relations between the parties to the treaty’ and not expansively, as ‘…between the parties to the dispute’. This restrictive interpretation allegedly finds support in EC-Biotech:

7.68… This understanding of the term “the parties” leads logically to the view that the rules of international law to be taken into account in interpreting the WTO agreements at issue in this dispute are those which are applicable in the relations between the WTO Members…

7.69 … Accordingly, based on our interpretation of Article 31(3)(c), we do not consider that in interpreting the relevant WTO agreements we are required to take into account other rules of international law which are not applicable to one of the Parties to this dispute.

With respect to this restrictive interpretation I would like to raise the following three issues: Read the rest of this entry…

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