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The Bolton Speech: The Legality of US Retaliatory Action Against Judges and Officials of the International Criminal Court?

Published on September 14, 2018        Author: 
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The speech given on Monday by John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, threatening action by the US against the International Criminal Court (ICC) in response to potential ICC investigation of US personnel with regard to the situation in Afghanistan has generated a lot of interest (see herehere, here and here). There are a plethora of policy and political issues raised by the looming clash between the ICC and the US which have been set out on other blogs in recent days (here and here). In terms of the legal issues, we are back to the old debate about whether the ICC is entitled to exercise jurisdiction over nationals of non-party states, in the absence of a referral by the UN Security Council (on which see this 2003 article of mine and this recent post in response). This post addresses whether the actions that Bolton says the US will take against Judges and ICC officials would be lawful under international law. Bolton says that the US:

“… will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law.  We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

In particular, I wish to focus on whether the US would violate international law by banning ICC judges and officials from entering the US. Even if the US were to seek to prosecute ICC personnel, it is unlikely that it would obtain custody over them (unless other states cooperate with the US). The primary effect of such attempted prosecutions would be to prevent those people from entering the US, in fear of being arrested.

Barring ICC personnel from entry into the US is a significant issue because (i) the meetings of the ICC Assembly of States Parties are held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York every other year; (ii) the ICC Prosecutor goes to the Security Council, at its request, to report to the Council on the situations referred to the Court by the Council; and (iii) the President of the ICC presents a report, on the work of the Court, to the UN General Assembly annually. All of these activities and visits will have to stop if the threat by John Bolton (either to prosecute or to ban ICC judges and officials) were to be carried out.

Does the US have International Legal Obligations Preventing  it from taking Retaliatory Action  Against ICC Personnel?

To the extent that US retaliatory actions against ICC personnel  take place within the US, the starting position would be the US can control entry into the US, prosecute people who in its view threaten US security (probably based on the protective principle of jurisdiction) and sanction funds in the US unless such acts are inconsistent with contrary obligations under international law.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Freeing up the Rules on The Treatment of Detainees from the Debate on the Geographical Scope of International Humanitarian Law

Published on January 3, 2018        Author: 
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A few weeks ago, my great friend Elvina Pothelet analysed, on this blog, the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor’s to request authorization to investigate, inter alia, acts of ill-treatment of detainees allegedly committed since 2002 by the CIA in black sites in Poland, Romania and Lithuania, in connection with the armed conflict occurring in Afghanistan. Elvina affirmed that there may be an added value in qualifying these alleged behaviours as war crimes, but she also hinted that such qualification might support the idea that International Humanitarian Law (IHL) applies globally, even outside the borders of the States where active hostilities take place. In this post I will argue that a wide geographical scope of application of the IHL rules on the treatment of detainees — especially those contained in common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions and reflected in customary international law — does not necessarily imply an equally wide applicability of the rules on the conduct of hostilities.

To put my intervention in context, I should recall the obvious: a war crime presupposes a serious violation of an IHL rule. And for a rule of IHL to be applicable, there must be a sufficient link of correlation (so-called ‘nexus’) between the behaviour in question and an armed conflict (see ICTY AC, Kunarac, § 57 ff., referring to acts that are ‘closely related to the armed conflict’; see also Cassese). Although these sources refer to international criminal law (ICL), they build on the principle that IHL only applies to conducts and events which are sufficiently related to an armed conflict, as recognized e.g. in the ICRC Introduction to IHL, at pp. 28 and 59 (see also Practitioners’ Guide to Human Rights Law (HRL) in Armed Conflict, § 4.23). When such behaviour occurs outside the theatre of hostilities — e.g. where acts of torture were allegedly perpetrated in Poland/Romania/Lithuania, but the supposedly related hostilities took place in Afghanistan — one should ask whether such ‘sufficient nexus’ exists and, additionally, whether are there any geographical limitations to its establishment. In other words, is IHL applicable to conduct or an event as soon as it is sufficiently connected to an armed conflict, regardless of the territory where it took place (as contended, e.g., by Lubell-Derejko)? Or should the applicability of IHL be limited only to behaviour occurring in the area where active hostilities are being fought, or in the territory of a State party to the conflict (as deemed preferable by the ICRC in its 2015 report, at p. 15)?

Like ‘global battlefield’ theorists, I am convinced that geographical considerations per se do not necessarily limit the applicability of IHL. But, as also accepted by Lubell and Derejko, I believe that they are a fundamental factor to be taken into account when assessing the existence of the necessary nexus between an event under scrutiny and an armed conflict. Geographical distance from the actual conflict may be an indication that the relevant conduct or event is sufficiently ‘closely related to the hostilities’. And that is where I think the difference between the rules on the treatment of detainees and other IHL rules (especially those on the conduct of hostilities) lies. Read the rest of this entry…

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War crimes in Afghanistan and Beyond: Will the ICC Weigh in on the “Global Battlefield” Debate?

Published on November 9, 2017        Author: 
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The ICC Prosecutor recently announced her decision to request an authorization to open a formal investigation into possible international crimes committed in connection with the conflict in Afghanistan. The outcome of her preliminary examination was long-awaited and expected to be significant because an investigation into the Afghanistan situation would cover all parties involved – that is, not only local actors but also the international coalition, including the US (US nationals would come under the jurisdiction of the Court if they committed crimes in Afghanistan or in any other State party to the Rome Statute).

The Prosecutor’s choice to subject some aspects of the Afghan conflict to judicial scrutiny despite the pressures deserves to be praised as an “act of bravery.” If the Pre-Trial Chamber authorizes this investigation, the road to justice will be long – many have already commented on possible issues of jurisdiction (e.g. here and here), admissibility (e.g. here and here), evidence-gathering and cooperation (e.g. here), etc. In this post, I want to focus on a potential effect of this announcement: the situation in Afghanistan may give the ICC an opportunity to weigh in on the debate over the global applicability of IHL. Fatou Bensouda intends to prosecute acts of torture committed in CIA detention facilities located in Europe, in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan, as war crimes. If she does, ICC judges will have to rule on whether IHL applied to those acts and hence more generally on whether IHL applies beyond the territory of a State where a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) is primarily taking place. The geographical scope of IHL remains one of the most vexing debates in international law (as was clear from a heated discussion on this blog and others, just a month ago) but the Afghanistan investigation may help highlight an overlooked aspect of it. Here is why. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Trio of Blockbuster Judgments from the UK Supreme Court

Published on January 17, 2017        Author: 
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This morning the UK Supreme Court delivered three important judgments dealing with various claims alleging wrongful acts by the UK when fighting international terrorism (UK Supreme Court page; Guardian news report). In Belhaj and Rahmatullah No. 1 the Court unanimously dismissed the Government’s appeal, and found that the claim against the UK for its alleged complicity in torture and mistreatment of the claimants was not barred by rules of state immunity and the foreign act of state doctrine (press release; judgment). In Rahmatullah No. 1 and Mohammed the Court unanimously allowed the Government’s appeals, holding that, insofar as the respondents’ tort claims are based on acts of an inherently governmental nature in the conduct of foreign military operations by the Crown, these were Crown acts of state for which the Government cannot be liable in tort (press release; judgment). Finally, and perhaps of greatest interest to most of our readers, in Al-Waheed and Serdar Mohammed the Court, by 7 votes to 2 in a set of very complex judgments, held that British forces had power to take
and detain prisoners for periods exceeding 96 hours if this was necessary for imperative reasons of security, but that its procedures for doing so did not comply with ECHR article 5(4) because they did not afford prisoners an effective right to challenge their detention (press release; judgment). We will be covering these judgments in more detail soon.

I have only had the time to read Serdar Mohammed, which I am yet fully to digest, but here are some initial thoughts (we have of course extensively covered this case on the blog before). The two key judgments are those of Lord Sumption for the majority and Lord Reed for the minority; I must say that by and large I incline towards the latter. I am also troubled by some of the ipse dixit, rather casual references in the judgments of the majority justices to the lex specialis principle; the supposedly restrictive original intentions of the drafters of the ECHR with regard to its application extraterritorially and in armed conflict, which are in reality completely unknowable; similarly casual constructions of coherent narratives of a very messy field that confirm one’s own predispositions (e.g. that in Al-Skeini the Strasbourg Court unprecedentedly expanded the reach of the Convention to extraterritorial armed conflicts, when one could just as easily say that in Bankovic the Court unprecedentedly restricted the Convention’s reach); or the supposed unavailability of extraterritorial derogations, on which see more here.  That said, the judgments are thoughtful and rigorous even when one might disagree with them, which brings me to the Court’s main findings.

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The Kunduz Affair and the German State Liability Regime – The Federal Court of Justice’s Turn to Anachronism

Published on December 5, 2016        Author: 
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On 6 October 2016 the Federal Court of Justice (henceforth “Court”) decided on an appeal against the Higher Regional Court of Cologne’s dismissal of two actions for compensation brought against the Federal Republic of Germany (III ZR 140/15, only available in German): Abdul Hannan sought compensation for the death of two of his sons in the amount of 40.000 Euro, Qureisha Rauf, a mother of seven, sought alimentation for the death of her husband and father of her children in the amount of 50.000 Euro. The death of their relatives was the result of a fatal airstrike ordered by Colonel Klein who was in charge of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz in the northern part of Afghanistan. The PRT was institutionally embedded in the framework of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Whilst Klein was operationally subordinated to the ISAF commander and in the end the NATO Commander-in-Chief he remained within the chain of command of the German Federal Army ultimately being subject to orders of the German Ministry of Defense. The ordered strike was directed against two fuel tanks previously stolen by Taliban from PRT’s premises which were stuck in a sandbank close by. Fearing that these tanks would be used for an attack against the PRT camp Klein commanded their destruction after receiving the information of a military informant that no civilians were present at the relevant location which infrared pictures delivered by US-American fighter aircrafts seemed to support. In retrospect these assumption proved wrong: The attack led to the death of 100 to 150 people, mostly civilians who gathered around the fuel tanks out of curiosity, others were apparently forced by the Taliban to assist with the recovery of the tanks (with regard to the criminal investigation against Klein see here).

A Legal Bombshell

The lower courts were unable to find that Germany incurred liability based on Art. 34 Basic Law in conjunction with § 839 German Civil Code since the claimants failed to establish that Klein violated ius in bello norms – Art. 51, 57 of the First Additional Protocol and Art. 13 of the Second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions were particualrly in question. The Court, however, went beyond that by asserting that the state liability regime does not apply with regard to actions of the German army in the context of armed conflicts per se. The Court’s finding can be considered a legal bombshell since this question has been left open within previous judgments (see the Court’s “Varvarin” judgment of 2nd November 2006, III ZR 190/05). Until now both the Court itself as well as the Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) applied an “even if” argumentative strategy in similar cases: Not explicitly deciding whether actions within armed conflicts fell into the scope of the liability regime, they limited themselves to finding that even if they did, compensatory claims would remain unsuccessful since other conditions – especially a breach of a duty on part of German state officials – were not met (see FCC, “Varvarin” decision of 3th August 2013 – 2 BvR 2660/06, 2 BvR 487/07 – available in English).

Viewed against the background of German constitutional law as well as obligations stemming from international law – especially the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) – this decision suffers from methodological and substantive deficiencies and is hardly tenable. Read the rest of this entry…

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China’s View of International Litigation: Is the WTO Special?

Published on November 13, 2015        Author: 
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Yesterday, Geraldo Vidigal put up a really interesting post looking at recent patterns of use of the World Trade Organization’s dispute settlement system. One thing that was particularly striking to me was the extent to which China has participated in the WTO dispute settlement system given its previous position on resolution of disputes by international tribunals. Geraldo’s chart of the latest 100 disputes at the WTO shows that only the United States, the EU and Japan have initiated more cases at the WTO in recent years than China (with Japan initiating just one more case than China in this period). Given that the WTO system is the most widely used inter-state dispute settlement system, it might not even be an exaggeration to say that: in terms of numbers of cases brought before international tribunals by states, China is one of the most enthusiastic state users of international tribunals! Of course, that enthusiasm is only before one particular system.

In October 2010 I posted here on EJIL:Talk a piece titled “Is China Changing its View of International Tribunals?“in which I noted that China’s view on international tribunals more broadly seemed to be changing. At the time, I noted China’s participation in the Kosovo Advisory Opinion at the ICJ, which was the first time that the People’s Republic appeared in oral hearings before the ICJ. I also pointed out China’s participation, around the same time, in the written and oral phases of International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea’s (ITLOS) first advisory proceedings –  the Responsibilities and obligations of States sponsoring persons and entities with respect to activities in the Area (Request for Advisory Opinion submitted to the Seabed Disputes Chamber). In 2014, China submitted a substantial written statement in the Request for an advisory opinion submitted by the Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SRFC) though it did not take part in the oral hearings.

Of course, we have non-participation by China with respect to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea Annex VII arbitration initiated by the Philippines (in respect of which the tribunal issued an award on jurisdiction a couple of weeks ago). Read the rest of this entry…

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Will the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Awaken? The Kunduz Hospital Attack and the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission

Published on October 15, 2015        Author: 
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Editors Note: Following the attack earlier this month in Kunduz on a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières, we  are  today posting two articles on the potential role of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) in any investigation. The two posts, the first by Ove Bring (Professor Emeritus of International Law at Stockholm University & Swedish National Defence University, and former member of the IHFFC) and the second by Catherine Harwood (Ph.D. Researcher at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies at Leiden University), present different views on the debate regarding the IHFFC’s role.

The horrific attack on 3 October 2015 on a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in Kunduz province, Afghanistan, has turned the world’s attention back to the enduring armed conflict in Afghanistan and the need for full and transparent investigations of incidents that ostensibly violate international humanitarian law (IHL). Following the attack, MSF called on the US to “consent to an independent investigation led by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) to establish what happened in Kunduz, how it happened, and why it happened.”

The IHFFC, established by Article 90 of Additional Protocol I (1977) to the Geneva Conventions (AP I), is the only permanent international fact-finding body with a specific mandate to investigate violations of IHL. Its President, Dr. Gisela Perren-Klingler, has confirmed that the Commission is ready to undertake an investigation of the attack. Despite its potential value to promote compliance with IHL, the IHFFC has never been used. Back in 2002, Professor Frits Kalshoven questioned whether the Commission had become a ‘Sleeping Beauty’, suggesting that its disuse was due to its independence and the general reluctance of parties to armed conflicts to have the truth about certain facts exposed.

This incident appears at first sight to provide an eminently suitable opportunity to put the Commission to good use. However, this contribution argues that the distinctive contours of the Commission’s jurisdiction, combined with political factors, mean that it is unlikely to be roused from its fact-finding slumber just yet. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Kunduz Hospital Attack: The Existence of a Fact-Finding Commission

Published on October 15, 2015        Author: 
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Editors Note: Following the attack earlier this month in Kunduz on a hospital run by Médecins Sans Frontières, we  are  today posting two articles on the potential role of the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC) in any investigation. The two posts, the first by Ove Bring (Professor Emeritus of International Law at Stockholm University & Swedish National Defence University, and former member of the IHFFC) and the second by Catherine Harwood (Ph.D. Researcher at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies at Leiden University), present different views on the debate regarding the IHFFC’s role.

The accidental bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, on 3 October 2015, epitomizes the need for fact-finding with regard to possible violations of the international humanitarian law of armed conflict (IHL). President Obama has ordered a national investigation, but from the perspective of IHL an international process of fact-finding would be a more credible and impartial option. Since 1992, the 1977 First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (the Protocol) has established an International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC, Commission). The Commission has been contacted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF, Doctors Without Borders) in the Kunduz matter (see news reports here). The Secretariat of the Commission, seated in Berne, Switzerland, has reported on the Commission website that it has taken appropriate steps and is in contact with MSF, but cannot give any further information at the present stage.

The Protocol aims at increasing the protection of civilians in international armed conflicts and improving the implementation of IHL. Article 90 of the Protocol lays down the competence and procedure for the IHFFC, which became operational following acceptance of its competence by 20 States Parties to the Protocol. This group of states, parties to the Commission, has since, at five-year intervals, elected the prescribed 15 members of the Commission. Such members should be of “high moral standing and acknowledged impartiality”. They serve in their personal capacity for five-year terms. A list of the current members is available on the IHFFC website.

So far, 76 states have accepted the Commission´s competence and thus become parties to it. The number includes several major military powers and several states that have been involved in armed conflicts. They are from all parts of the world. Read the rest of this entry…

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Some Thoughts on the Serdar Mohammed Appeals Judgment

Published on August 10, 2015        Author: 
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In this post I’d like to add a few thoughts on the recent Court of Appeal judgment in Serdar Mohammed, that we already covered on the blog last week (here and here). The case is now heading to the UK Supreme Court, and may also eventually end up in the European Court of Human Rights – although Strasbourg will be looking carefully at the Supreme Court’s judgment even if the case doesn’t find its way to it.

First off, I think everything that can be said about the ‘big issue’ of authority to detain in NIAC has already been said; those already committed to either view are not going to be dissuaded by some novel argument. For my part, I only wish to note that after the Court of Appeal’s (unanimous!) judgment it looks increasingly unlikely that the Supreme Court will overturn the finding of the lower courts (although that of course may still happen), especially bearing in mind the rigour and detail of these lower judgments. It is very difficult for any court to essentially make up rules (in reasoning by implication/analogy/structure or whatever) on who precisely can be detained in NIACs, for how long and under what exact process, in the absence of any meaningful legislative guidance. This is not a gap that most judges would feel comfortable in filling, especially when easy analogies to IACs or (much worse, between targeting and detention) break down.

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The UK Court of Appeal in Serdar Mohammed: Treaty and Customary IHL Provides No Authority for Detention in Non-international Armed Conflicts

Published on August 6, 2015        Author: 
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Last week’s judgment in Mohammed v. Secretary of State for Defence is rich in analyses and observations concerning detention in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). One of the key issues assessed concerns the power to detain in NIACs under IHL.

The Secretary of State’s position on this point commenced with a challenge to traditional classifications of armed conflict, contrasting purely internal conflicts with armed conflicts between two States (para 168). It was contended that the legal position concerning the authority to detain in a NIAC now reflects a more complex factual position than that captured under traditional classifications. A third classification must now be recognized: ‘internationalised’ NIACs. This echoes the ICRC’s Opinion Paper on internment, which speaks of ‘NIACs with an extraterritorial element’, in which “the armed forces of one or more State, or of an international or regional organization, fight alongside the armed forces of a host State, in its territory, against one or more organized non-State armed groups” (page 7).

To paraphrase, ‘if it looks and feels like an international armed conflict, let us apply IHL rules on international armed conflicts by analogy’. This is a dangerous approach that the Court of Appeal carefully avoided, instead focusing on its proposed implications.

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