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Home Archive for category "Armed Conflict"

Understanding the Use of Zones and the Concept of Proportionality: Enduring Lessons from the Falklands War

Published on December 13, 2017        Author: 
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On 2 April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands (alternatively, the Islas Malvinas). The resulting conflict lasted 74 days and claimed the lives of 255 UK military personnel and 652 Argentine servicemen. The conflict raises a myriad of legal issues but at its core is the issue of sovereignty (here). However complicated the issue, disputes over sovereignty did not legally authorise the Argentine invasion (see UNSCR). This post will not go over the vexed issue of sovereignty but will instead focus on two select issues relating to the conduct of hostilities. The Falklands War has largely receded from thought but lingering doubts over the legality of a Total Exclusion Zone (TEZ) established by the UK and its torpedoing of the Belgrano endure. By focusing on the issue of zones and the concept of proportionality this post will seek to provide clarity to two often misunderstood areas of law that are of vital importance to contemporary military operations.

The UK Total Exclusion Zone

A few days after the Argentinian invasion the UK issued a notice indicating that, from 12 April 1982, a Maritime Exclusion Zone (MEZ) would be in force, extending 200 nautical miles from the centre of the Falklands. On 28 April, the UK declared a TEZ that encompassed the same geographical area as the MEZ but was broader in scope regarding ratione personae.  In essence, the TEZ stated that any ship or aircraft entering the TEZ that was not authorised to be there by the UK Ministry of Defence was deemed to be operating in support of the occupation, regarded as hostile, and therefore liable to attack. Read the rest of this entry…

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A “Compliance-Based” Approach to Autonomous Weapon Systems

Published on December 1, 2017        Author:  and
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A Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) on the topic of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS) concluded its first meeting in Geneva on 17 November 2017. The meeting was held under the auspices of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) and built upon on three informal meetings of experts held between 2014 and 2016 (for reports of those meetings, see here). In December 2016, the Fifth Review Conference of the High Contracting Parties of the CCW had tasked the GGE “to explore and agree on possible recommendations on options related to emerging technologies in the area of LAWS” (see Decision 1 here and the agreed recommendations contained in this report).

At the heart of the debate is the question how States should respond to the emergence of such weapons. While some highlight legal, ethical or moral concerns of delegating life and death decisions to machines and advocate for a preventive prohibition of autonomous weapons systems, others pinpoint potential benefits for the way wars are fought in the future and deem any policy options, including regulation, to be premature.

As often in such multilateral discussions, it is hard to make progress and to get all States to agree on a common approach. The topic of autonomous weapon systems is no different. Indeed, perhaps it is particularly difficult because we do not yet fully understand what robotics and artificial intelligence truly harbor for the future of warfare, and for humanity in general. In an initial step, the GGE in its first session affirmed that international humanitarian law (IHL) applies to all weapons, including the potential development and use of autonomous weapon systems, and that responsibility for their deployment remains with States (see report here). This is a welcome step but obviously cannot be understood to exhaust the topic.

In an effort to generate momentum and identify common denominators, Switzerland presented a working paper at the beginning of the GGE, in which it is argued that ensuring compliance with international law, notably IHL, could and should be common ground among States and that this could form a constructive basis for further work. Accordingly, it should, at least as one element, be central to discussions of the GGE about autonomous weapon systems and should figure prominently in the report of the GGE as well as in the way forward. In the following, we recapitulate requirements for compliance with IHL and on that basis identify elements for a “compliance-based” approach aimed at advancing the debate within the CCW in an inclusive and constructive manner. 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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Guantanamo Surrealism

Published on November 2, 2017        Author: 
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The surrealism of the moment defies description. Who would have thought, even only a short while ago, that on a nice November morning a US military commission judge in Guantanamo would be holding a Marine general and chief defense counsel for the commissions in contempt, sentencing him to 21 days of confinement in, well, Guantanamo? Who would have thought that on that same day the President of the United States would be deriding the US criminal justice system as a “joke” and a “laughingstock,” while suggesting that the “animal” who perpetrated a deadly vehicular terrorist attack in New York City be sent to that same Guantanamo, with its oh-so-successful, cost-effective military commissions? That he and his White House would, in 2017, be calling this individual an “enemy combatant”?  That he would be joined in doing so by prominent US senators, lamenting the fact that the individual concerned has not yet been shipped off to Gitmo, despite the fact that he essentially committed his crime in full public view and on camera, so that the likelihood of his acquittal before any regular civilian court would effectively be nil? 

Surrealism is by definition unexpected. Slippery slopes  are not. They can often be seen from a very, very long way off. And many of us have spent years warning some of our US colleagues of the dangers of some of the theories they have been advancing in the pursuit of the global conflict against terror. Just a few weeks ago we had just such an “IHL party” on the blog, provoked by a post of Ryan Goodman on Just Security. I pointed out in that discussion that while there was a measure of agreement on the geographic scope of application of IHL, that issue was part of a broader package, and that some items in that package – above all the definition of the relevant armed conflict and the classification of individuals with a nexus to that conflict – continued to attract controversy, inter alia because of the manifest possibility of abuse of some of the lines of argument put forward and their lack of basis in conventional and customary IHL.

So I therefore have a question for our American colleagues, including my friends on Just Security and Lawfare – let us assume that the facts about the New York terrorist continue to be as we know them today, i.e. that he essentially self-radicalized by looking at ISIS materials on the Internet and that he, beyond professing allegiance to ISIS, was at no point subject to the chain of command of that armed group fighting in Iraq and Syria. On these facts, are we in agreement that there is no way that this individual could be qualified, under the relevant rules of international law, as a fighter in any IHL-cognizable armed conflict? I am not asking what consequences this would have under US domestic law, including the AUMF; I am only interested in IHL. Under IHL, it seems to me that there is not even a remotely plausible, let alone genuinely persuasive, argument that this individual has a nexus to any armed conflict/was a member of a non-state armed group engaging in hostilities in such a conflict. He is not an “enemy combatant” in any international legal sense of the word; he is only a (vicious) criminal. This is not a hard or difficult case – it’s an easy, obvious one, again assuming the facts as we know them today. Do we agree? 

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Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Jann Kleffner on ‘Wounded and Sick and the Proportionality Assessment’

Published on October 13, 2017        Author: 
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The final installment of our joint blog series arising from the 2017 Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, ‘Wounded and Sick and the Proportionality Assessment’- by Jann Kleffner (Swedish Defence University) is now available on Intercross

Here’s a taster of Jann’s post:

For all wounded and sick other than civilian ones, the question looms large how that obligation to respect and protect in all circumstances can be squared with the absence of such persons from the collateral damage side of the proportionality equation. The following possibilities present themselves.

Option 1The obligation to respect and protect such wounded and sick in all circumstances could be interpreted to mean that any incidental harm to them falls foul of the obligation and hence constitutes a violation of the law of armed conflict.

[…]

Option 2: The right of parties to an armed conflict to attack lawful targets could be understood to supersede the obligation to respect and protect the wounded and sick other than civilian ones.

[…]

Option 3The obligation to respect and protect could be interpreted to require a proportionality assessment in which incidental harm to wounded and sick other than civilian ones is legally assimilated to harm to civilians.

Read the rest of the post over on Intercross.

 

Thanks to all who participated in this joint blog series. Special thanks to post authors, readers and commentators, and to our partners over at Intercross and Lawfare. 

 

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Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Geoff Corn on Wounded and Sick, Proportionality, and Armaments

Published on October 11, 2017        Author: 
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The fourth post in our joint blog series arising from the 2017 Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, ‘Wounded and Sick, Proportionality, and Armaments’- by Geoffrey Corn (South Texas College of Law Houston) is now available on Lawfare.

Here’s an excerpt: 

Imagine you are commanding forces that have just repulsed a combined arms enemy ground attack. The enemy is now withdrawing, and you observe what are obviously wounded enemy soldiers being loaded onto enemy combat vehicles. You fully anticipate the enemy to regroup in order to continue the offensive. These vehicles are not protected because they are not properly marked nor exclusively engaged in the collection and evacuation of the wounded and sick. Instead, the enemy is employing the common practice of evacuating wounded with any available combat vehicle. While this is occurring, other enemy forces are providing covering fires in support of the withdrawal. You have on-call close air support assets, and your air support coordination liaison asks if the enemy vehicles should be attacked? The enemy vehicles are lawful objects of the attack, but you know that the military wounded and sick must be respected and protected. It is therefore clear that an attack may not be directed against the wounded enemy soldiers. But the ICRC’s updated Commentary asserts that before launching the attack on the withdrawing enemy forces who are not hors de combat you must assess whether the risk created to the wounded enemy personnel is excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

[…]

Suggesting that such an obligation is logically inferred from the civilian proportionality rule is fundamentally flawed, because unlike military personnel, civilians (who do not take a direct part in hostilities) do not accept the risks of combat. 

Read the rest of this entry…

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On Whether IHL Applies to Drone Strikes Outside ‘Areas of Active Hostilities’: A Response to Ryan Goodman

Published on October 5, 2017        Author: 
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Over on Just Security, Ryan Goodman has an excellent post entitled Why the Laws of War Apply to Drone Strikes Outside “Areas of Active Hostilities” (A Memo to the Human Rights Community). In sum, Ryan argues that human rights activists have been too radical in their critique of US drone strike policy, as reflected in the Presidential Policy Guidance adopted during the Obama administration, and in the context of the Trump administration’s recent proposal to revise this standing policy and relax some of its requirements, especially with regard to the procedure for authorizing lethal strikes. In particular, Ryan argues that human rights activists have been portraying as clearly unlawful decisions which legally fall within the bounds of reasonable disagreement.

In that regard, Ryan argues – persuasively in my view – that the mere fact that a drone strike takes place outside an area of active hostilities under the PPG does not mean that the strike takes place outside armed conflict under IHL. The former, as Ryan correctly notes, is not even a legal term of art. I also agree with Ryan that some US positions that used to be regarded as novel or anomalous have become mainstream with time, in part through the acceptance of these positions by European and other states, by the ICRC and scholars – viz., for instance, the idea of ‘spillover’ NIACs (for more on the operation of this mainstreaming process see here; on spillover NIACs see here).

That said, Ryan in some respects significantly overstates his argument. Yes, states have accepted the idea that they can be engaged in an armed conflict with a terrorist group – but I would say that this really was never in doubt. What was in doubt is whether this NIAC can be global in scope, and this US position has not been mainstreamed – or at least I am unaware of any other state which agrees with it. What do I mean by this?

Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Ashley Deeks on Common Article 3 and Linkages Between Non-State Armed Groups

Published on October 4, 2017        Author: 
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The second post in our joint blog series arising from the 2017 Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, ‘Common Article 3 and Linkages Between Non-State Armed Groups’- by Ashley Deeks (University of Virginia School of Law) is now available over on Lawfare.

Here’s a snippet:

Assume State A finds itself in a NIAC with a NSAG – call it “Group X.”  What happens if and when another NSAG – call it “Group Y” – begins to provide certain assistance to Group X?  At what point does Group Y become part of the State A/Group X NIAC, and thus become subject to military force by State A?  This question has arisen in a variety of scenarios, including in the interactions between core al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and between al Qaeda and al Shabaab.

[…]

Approach 1 – State A should never treat Group X and Group Y as participating in single armed conflict.  Instead, State A should treat its fights with Group X and Group Y as two distinct NIACs.

[…]

Approaches 2 and 3:  These two approaches analogize from the concept of co-belligerency, which originated in international armed conflicts. Approaches 2 and 3 (described below) take different positions on what that concept requires.

[…]

Approach 3 – Assistance by Group Y to Group X in Group X’s NIAC against State A is enough to render Group Y a functional co-belligerent, even if Group Y does not directly engage in hostilities against State A.

[…]

Approach 4 – Use the ICRC’s “direct participation in hostilities” (“DPH”) factors to evaluate Group Y’s efforts in relation to the State A/Group X NIAC.

Read the full post on Lawfare.

 

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The Defense of ‘Obedience to Superior Orders’ in the Age of Legal Clearance of Military Operations

Published on August 24, 2017        Author: 
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A military pilot receives an order to bomb a building in a densely populated city. He is told that the order has received legal “clearance” from military legal advisors. Can the pilot refuse to obey the order without being punished, since he feels that the order is manifestly unlawful? Will the pilot be held criminally responsible if he obeys, and the order is determined, after the bombing, to be manifestly unlawful?

In our brave new world in which many military operations routinely receive legal clearance by military lawyers, these questions have become highly relevant. Last month’s judgment of the Israeli Supreme Court in HCJ 1971/15 Al-Masri v. The Chief Military Advocate General (in Hebrew) offers interesting answers to these questions in an obiter dictum. In the first section of this post, I briefly introduce the legal dilemma at the heart of these questions. Then I present the new Israeli judgment. In the third section, I analyze the obiter dictum and the response offered in it to the legal dilemma. Thereafter I conclude by fleshing out the gist of my criticism on the Al-Masri obiter.   Read the rest of this entry…

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The Al-Werfalli Arrest Warrant: Denial of Fair Trial as an Additional Allegation and a Hint at a Possible Defence

Published on August 23, 2017        Author: 
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Last week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant in the Libya Situation against Mahmoud Al-Werfalli. The arrest warrant alleges that Al-Werfalli is criminally responsible for the war crime of Murder, in a non-international armed conflict, pursuant to Article 8(2)(c)(i) of the Rome Statute, in relation to the alleged summary execution of 33 persons. Based on the facts laid out in the arrest warrant, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) could also have alleged that Al-Werfalli is criminally responsible for the war crime of “sentencing or executing without due process” (“denial of fair trial”) pursuant to Article 8(2)(c)(iv) of the Rome Statute. This choice would be novel in modern international criminal law practice. However, it has been done in other jurisdictions (See J. DePiazza, “Denial of Fair Trial as an International Crime — Precedent for Pleading and Proving it under the Rome Statute” 15 Journal of International Criminal Justice (2017)). Another interesting element of the arrest warrant is that it hints at a possible defence to any eventual charge of murder or denial of fair trial – mistake of fact.

According to the arrest warrant, Al-Werfalli is a Commander in the Al-Saiqa Brigade, an elite unit reported to comprise 5,000 soldiers. In May 2014, the Brigade joined “Operation Dignity”, with other armed elements, for the reported purpose of fighting terrorist groups in Benghazi. The operation continued until at least 18 March 2017. In this context, the arrest warrant alleges that, in seven separate incidents, 33 persons who were either civilians or persons hors de combat, were detained and then executed. It is alleged that they were either executed personally by Al-Werfalli or on his orders. The arrest warrant further alleges that “[t]here is no information in the evidence to show that they have been afforded a trial by a legitimate court, whether military or otherwise” (Arrest Warrant, para. 10). Read the rest of this entry…

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