Home Archive for category "Armed Conflict" (Page 23)

The Law Applicable to Peacekeepers Deployed in Situations where there is No Armed Conflict

Published on April 10, 2013        Author: 

Siobhán Wills  is Professor of Law at the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland.

I have been researching the peacekeeping operation in Haiti, MINUSTAH, and in doing so coming up against a problem that I would appreciate the  thoughts of EJIL:Talk! readers on. There have been a number of incidents that have raised complaints of excessive use of force and counter arguments that the force was not excessive.  My query is simply ‘what law applies’ to the peacekeeping mission (in particular in the context of the use of force) given that there is not, and never was, an armed conflict in Haiti. When the Security Council authorises use of force (whether in an enforcement action against a State or in a peacekeeping operation) I assume that the coalitions of the willing or UN troops undertaking the action must exercise their authority to use force in accordance with international law. But if there is no armed conflict what law governs peacekeepers’ use of force under Chapter VII?

Reports and commentaries by MINUSTAH personnel suggest that the commanders of MINUSTAH, and their political advisors at the UN, and advisors from the US, France and Canada, believe that since MINUSTAH has a Chapter VII mandate they can use whatever force they deem necessary to carry out that mandate so long as they comply with their Rules of Engagement (ROE). However, presumably the ROE must be drafted to fit within the constraints of the applicable international law framework. MINUSTAH’s ROE are not publicly available but the language used in MINUSTAH reports and commentaries suggests that International Humanitarian Law (IHL) is the overall governing framework within which the mission believes it ought to be operating. (Certainly mission personnel do not appear to be thinking within a Law Enforcement framework and frequent references to ‘collateral damage’ suggest an IHL framework). This would not be surprising since IHL is the law in which peacekeepers are primarily trained ie when peacekeepers initiate use of force they do so within a legal framework (they don’t make up their own rules just because they have a Chapter VII mandate) and that framework is normally IHL.

I have not spoken to anyone from MINUSTAH but I have spoken to commanders that have served in UN peacekeeping missions in other countries where there is no armed conflict (UNMIL in particular) and their view is that, regardless of whether or not there is an armed conflict in the country to which they are deployed, if the mission has a Chapter VII mandate it may use whatever force is necessary to carry out that mandate; and when the mission does use force for this purpose IHL becomes applicable to that particular operation.

I have sympathy for commanders trying to carry out their tasks under a Chapter VII mandate in a violent and volatile situation; but I do not understand how (or on what basis) IHL can be applicable where there is no armed conflict. Read the rest of this entry…

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Are the two Koreas Now at War?

Published on April 1, 2013        Author: 

In recent days the tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen. On 11 March, North Korea claimed  that it had terminated the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War of the 1950s and on 30 March stated that:

“From this time on, the North-South relations will be entering the state of war and all issues raised between the North and the South will be handled accordingly. The long-standing situation of the Korean peninsula being neither at peace nor at war is finally over.” (see this BBC article for a useful timeline of recent events

But does this statement mean that the two Koreas are back at war, despite the absence of hostilities at this point in time? And why might a state of war be important legally, if there are no hostilities? Also has North Korea validly terminated the armistice agreement and what would the legal implications of this be? We examined all of these issues here on EJIL:Talk! back in July 2009, in two posts written during a previous Korean crisis. One post “The Korean War has Resumed !! (Or so we are told)” was written by me. The other – Has North Korea Terminated the Korean Armistice Agreemennt?  –  was by my former student, Seunghyun Sally Nam, who was, at the time of writing, an official in the Korean Peninsula Peace Regime Division at the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs (but writing in her personal capacity). The issues we covered then are perhaps more relevant now and I invite readers to revisit those posts. They are also in the “From the Archives” box to the right.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Some Observations on the Turkel Report and the Investigation of Wrongdoing by the Armed Forces

Published on March 13, 2013        Author: 

Alon Margalit is Research Associate, Hotung Programme for Law, Human Rights and Peace Building in the Middle East, SOAS, University of London.

The long awaited Turkel report which examines Israel’s practice of investigating allegations of wrongdoing during armed conflict by its security personnel was published in early February 2013.  The report (see original in Hebrew and an English translation) was issued by an expert Commission established by the Israeli government in June 2010 and headed by Jacob Turkel, a former judge of the Israeli Supreme Court.  The Turkel Commission produced an earlier report in January 2011 which dealt with legal aspects of the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010 (this report was discussed here).  The second and final report of the Commission considers whether the mechanisms employed by Israel to investigate complaints regarding violations of the Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) attributed to members of its armed forces conform with the state’s obligations under international law.

To a large extent, the Turkel report is a response to the report of the UN Human Rights Council Fact-Finding Mission (the Goldstone Report) that was published in September 2009 and looked into alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law during the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza Conflict (codenamed by Israel as ‘Operation Cast Lead’).  The Goldstone Report, which was later endorsed by the UN General Assembly, found “major structural flaws” in the Israeli military justice system responsible for handling complaints of serious wrongdoing by Israeli soldiers, and further concluded that Israel’s investigation policies do not meet the required international standards.  The main concerns were the use of internal military investigations by the chain of command to examine complaints, as well as the dual role of the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG).  The Fact-finding Mission was troubled that the MAG’s responsibility to provide legal advice to the military authorities creates a potential conflict of interest with the parallel responsibility to order the investigation and prosecution of unlawful actions which at times might be based on the MAG’S own legal advice.

Those issues were addressed by the Turkel Commission.  Four Israeli members and two non-Israeli observers prepared the report for two years.  They examined evidence provided by Israeli officials, academics and human rights NGOs, and further consulted several international law experts.  The comprehensive report which analyses the duty to investigate under LOAC and the relevant Israeli practice includes a significant comparative element.  To use the Commission’s own words, the report stands out in the sense that “is the result of considerable efforts to derive the main principles of international law from sources that are often vague and unclear”.  It is therefore a valuable document which might have a meaningful impact beyond the concrete Israeli context. Read the rest of this entry…

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The UK’s Use of Drones in Afghanistan and Its Definition of “Civilians”

Published on January 31, 2013        Author: 

Last week, Ben Emmerson QC, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights announced that he was establishing a panel which will investigate allegations that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties. The panel is charged with making recommendations regarding the obligation of States to conduct independent and impartial investigations into such allegations with a view to securing accountability and reparations. Most of the attention regarding the use of drones for targeted killing has, been focused on the United’s States drone programme. This is understandable as the vast majority of drone operations for targeted killing have been carried out by the US. However, it is implicit in Ben Emmerson’s statement that he also intends to examine the use of drones by other countries, and particularly by Israel and by the United Kingdom (see report by the Guardian).  This is because he mentions the use of drones in the “State of Palestine” and also refers to co-operation he has received from the government of the UK.

It is not well known that the UK also uses drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for targeted killing and there has been little analysis of casualties arising from UK drone strikes.  A recent report by the UK House of Commons Library provides an overview of the:

“The strengths and weaknesses of UAVs, the different types of UAVs in use by the UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan, rules of engagement and highlights some of the points raised by those concerned about their development and use.”

The report points out that:

“Reaper is the only armed remotely piloted aircraft system used by the UK. It is only deployed in Afghanistan. Defence Minister Andrew Robathan has confirmed the UK does not use armed UAVs against terrorist suspects outside Afghanistan. Defence Minister Philip Dunne has confirmed it has not been used in Pakistan or Somalia. The MOD has not made a decision as to whether to retain Reaper once combat operations end in Afghanistan. As of 1 November 2012, 297 Hellfire precision guided missiles and 52 laser guided bombs have been employed by Reaper since operations began in Afghanistan. Reaper deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 but only had the capability to deploy air-to-ground weapons since May 2008.” (p. 11)

Civilian Casualties from UK Drones

One of the criticisms of the US drone programme is the US claim that few or indeed no civilians are harmed by drone strikes. This is a claim that has been disputed by journalists and others (see for example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism). The UK makes a similar claim in relation to its programme. Read the rest of this entry…

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People’s Justice: Addressing the 1988 Massacre of Political Prisoners in Iran

Published on October 2, 2012        Author: 

 Parisa Zangeneh is currently finishing her LL.M. at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and she completed her LL.B. at the University of Edinburgh and her B.A. at McGill University. She would like to thank those who provided assistance on previous drafts of this note.

“It is far better for an Imam to err in clemency than to err in punishment.”  Ayatollah Montazeri


The victims of bloodshed, torture, and horror deserve justice, and selective justice is no remedy. The humanitarians of the world have exercised a discriminatory approach in selecting which human rights atrocities on which to focus, yet this does not provide redress to the invisible suffering of those who, for perhaps political reasons, have been overlooked. This is the case of those who suffered and died in the 1988 massacre of political prisoners in Iran, and this is why the establishment of a People’s Tribunal to address what happened to them, their families, and Iran is so important. To think that this happened in 1988, but that work is actively underway to address these atrocities only at this late stage, in 2012, highlights the need for uniform and intense scrutiny on all crimes on this scale – especially those that have been ignored by the international community.

 An important consideration before the People’s Tribunal will be the international criminal implications of the 1988 political prisoner massacre. The crime of genocide will likely feature in this discussion, considering that some of those who died were atheists or agnostics, and there is an unanswered question of whether these groups fulfill the “religious group” criterion in the 1948 Genocide Convention definition of that crime. Alternatively, or perhaps concurrently, charges of war crimes and/or crimes against humanity may be easier to prove. Read the rest of this entry…

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ICC Delivers Its First Judgment: The Lubanga Case and Classification of Conflicts in Situations of Occupation

Published on March 16, 2012        Author: 

On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court delivered its first ever judgment. The Trial Chamber in the Lubanga Case delivered a judgment of over 600 pages by which it convicted Thomas Lubanga of the war crime of conscripting and enlisting children under the age of 15 and using them to participate actively in hostilities. It has taken nearly a decade for the Court to reach the point where it has finally completed a trial (though expect an appeal). That is quite a long time to get to this point and the course of this particular trial has, at times, been particularly unfortunate.

As I haven’t read the entire judgment I am not in a position  to provide comprehensive comments on it at this point. I really want to focus on two issues. The first issue is the length of the judgment. It is a shame that the ICC has followed the trend of other international criminal tribunals in issuing these excessively long decisions. I fail to see why the decisions of these tribunals need to be as long as they are. I would be grateful if someone can explain why the judgments are so long. Sure, these tribunals deal with complex cases. However, domestic courts, at least the ones that I’m familiar with, do not issue judgments anywhere near this length and they do deal with complex matters as well. I agree completely with Dov Jacobs point on his blog when he says:

The Lubanga Judgment, including the separate opinions is over 600 pages. For one accused, and essentially one count! One can only have nightmares at the thought of having to read the judgment in the Katanga and Chui case, with two accused and some 10 counts, or an hypothetical Bashir Judgment with its long list of charges… Something needs to be done about this judicial logorrhea. What is amazing is that I’ve heard some of the staff of these tribunals justify the length of judgments for reasons of pedagogy. Of course. It makes total sense that a layperson is more likely to read a 600 page judgment than a 200 page judgment…

The second, and main, issue I want to deal with is the way in which the Trial Chamber dealt with the classification of the armed conflict. Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the ICC sets out different lists of war crimes depending on whether an armed conflict is international or non-international. In general, an international armed conflict is one that takes place between States. In addition, the law regarding international armed conflicts applies to the occupation by a State of the territory of another State. But how should conflicts which take place in occupied territory and which involve non-State group be classified? In the Lubanga case, the question was whether Uganda’s occupation of the Ituri region in the Democratic Republic of Congo was relevant to the classification of the conflicts involving Lubanga’s militia – a militia that was found not to be under the control of any of the State’s fighting in that area. Where one State is in occupation of the territory of another State, should that fact mean that an armed conflict that takes place in the occupied territory is classified as an international conflict, even if that conflict relates to hostilities against or between non-State groups? On this point, the Trial Chamber disagreed with the view that the Pre-Trial Chamber had taken at the confirmation of charges stage of this same case. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Taxonomy of Armed Conflict

Published on January 23, 2012        Author: 

My friend Vidan Hadzi-Vidanovic and I just finished an article on the classification of armed conflicts in modern IHL, which is forthcoming in a book collection edited by Christian Henderson and Nigel White. The draft is available here on SSRN, and the abstract is below. Particularly because the piece draws upon many discussions we have had on this blog, any comments would be most welcome.

With some relatively minor exceptions international humanitarian law (IHL) applies only when a certain threshold is met: the existence of an armed conflict or belligerent occupation. The purpose of this chapter is to explore the many difficulties surrounding the classification of armed conflicts in modern IHL. While the two main archetypes – international armed conflict (IAC) and non-international armed conflict (NIAC) – are reasonably clear in their basic forms, their boundaries are complex and obscure. Many recent conflicts do not fit the classical archetypes well, provoking debates on spill-over, internationalized, mixed or hybrid and even transnational armed conflicts.

The chapter strives to show that there are some differences between IACs and NIACs that cannot be erased simply by reasoning from analogy or from moral imperative, and that therefore the classification of armed conflict is an issue that matters and will continue to matter for the considerable future. The principal goal of the chapter is clarity, clarity in a conceptual and doctrinal framework which can enable legal and policy debates to be properly had and argued without their participants talking past each other. In attempting to advance such clarity, the chapter discusses the framework of war and peace in classical international law, the conceptual revolution brought about by the aftermath of the Second World War, and finally the modern law, by developing a comprehensive taxonomy of armed conflict.


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Are Extraterritorial Armed Conflicts with Non-State Groups International or Non-International?

Published on October 18, 2011        Author: 

From time to time we have had discussions on this blog about the classification of extraterritorial or transnational conflicts between States and non-State groups. In other words, when States use force abroad against non-State groups, does this lead to an armed conflict between the State and the non-State group? If so, what law applies to that armed conflict, the law of international armed conflict or that of non-international armed conflicts. In most cases, when we’ve had this discussion the focus has been the situation between the US and Al Qaeda.  Earlier discussions of this issue can be found in comments to Marko’s post of May 2010 on What Exactly Internationalizes an Internal Armed Conflict?; to Constantin von der Groeben’s post of April 2010 and to my post of March 2009 on the Obama’s Administrations Interpretation of the Authority to Detain At Guantanamo: Some Areas of Progress. As readers will have seen there was renewed discussion of this issue in the comments on Alon Margalit’s recent post on the killing of Bin Laden .

I have given quite a lot of thought to this issue and have recently set out my thoughts on the issue as part of a chapter I am writing on the classification of armed conflicts. The chapter is part of a project on Classification of Conflicts being undertaken under the auspices of the International Law Programme at Chatham House. The project is led by Elizabeth Wilmhurst and includes distinguished academics and practitioners of  international humanitarian law (mainly on this side of the Atlantic). Members of the group include Michael Schmitt (now at the US Naval War College), Jelena Pejic at the ICRC, Professor Francoise Hampson (Essex University), Professor Iain Scobbie (SOAS) and Dr Noam Lubell (now also at Essex). I am a member of the group. Each of us is tasked with writing a chapter and most chapters deal with issues relating to the classification of particular conflicts (eg Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza, Lebanon, Colombia, DRC, Al Qaeda). However, some of the chapters deal with general conceptual issues. We have had several delightful meetings at Chatham House to discuss and revise our chapters. Earlier this year, we also held a weekend workshop in Oxford (hosted by the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict).  My own chapter seeks to provide a general overview of the legal concepts relevant to classification. The chapter (and indeed the result of the entire project) are not yet published but should be soon. We expect the essays to be collected in a book on Classification of Conflicts. In my chapter, I deal with the history of the distinction between international and non-international armed  conflict, the consequences of the distinction and whether it still has validity.  The chapter then discusses legal concepts relevant to the two categories, including the differences between a non-international conflict and other  violence and conflicts in which UN ‘blue helmets’ are engaged. I conclude with a discussion of extraterritorial conflicts between States and non-State groups.

Those who have read our earlier discussions will know that my view is that where a State uses force against a non-State group on the territory of another State, without the consent of that latter State, the State using force is bound by the law applicable in international armed conflicts. In summary, the use of force by one State on the territory of another, without the consent of the latter leads to an international armd conflict between the two States. Also that conflict is inextricably linked with any conflict with the non-State actor such that the State using force will have to follow the law applicable in international armed conflicts. In my draft, I provide a sustained defence of this position and how it accords with international practice. I also show how the position has the support of most international tribunals. The relevant section of my draft chapter now follows. I invite your comments. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Bin Laden Killing: Clarifying the Normative Framework(s) Governing the ‘War on Terror’?

Published on October 12, 2011        Author: 

Alon Margalit is Research Associate, Hotung Programme for Law, Human Rights and Peace Building in the Middle East, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London. The author wishes to thank the editors of EJIL:Talk! for their helpful comments on an earlier draft.

It has been almost six months since Osama Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by a US commando team.  It is now worth reviewing some of the legal questions arising from the incident as the heat of the moment has passed.  The May 2011 killing of Bin Laden marked an operational apex in the US ‘War on Terror’ and was favourably received by the overwhelming majority of States.  Shortly after the raid on a residential compound in Abbottabad was concluded, and before its exact details were disclosed, a statement by the President of the Security Council welcomed “the news on 1 May 2011 that Osama Bin Laden will never again be able to perpetrate such acts of terrorism” and urged all States to intensify their fight against terrorism in compliance with international law.  UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared that “justice has been done to such a mastermind of international terrorism”.

Similar statements were made by the EU which described the American operation as “a major achievement”.  Afghan President Karzai said Bin Laden “had paid for his actions”, and Saudi Arabia, the national State of Bin Laden, expressed the hope that his killing “would be a step toward supporting international efforts aimed at fighting terrorism“.  In Pakistan, where the operation took place presumably without its consent, President Zardari chose to stress the “satisfaction that the source of the greatest evil of the new millennium has been silenced, and his victims given justice.”

If the question of where this operation stood in terms of international law were to be answered according to States’ responses, the killing of Bin Laden apparently did not raise any legal concerns.  States hailed the American operation, did not question its legality, and thus signalled that they saw no violation of international law.  Within this almost universal favourable discourse, two independent experts of the UN Human Rights Council, the Special Rapporteurs on summary executions and on human rights and counter-terrorism, issued an exceptional statement.  They urged the US to disclose the facts supporting the use of deadly force against Bin Laden in order “to allow an assessment in terms of international human rights law standards”.  They emphasised that “the norm should be that terrorists be dealt with as criminals, through legal processes of arrest, trial and judicially decided punishment”.

This statement reflected – contrary to what seemed to be the consensus shared by States – the ‘legal buzz’ among international lawyers, triggered by the American operation and concerned with its legality: was the US allowed to plan and execute a shoot-to-kill operation, or were its troops obliged to try and capture Bin Laden and give him an opportunity to surrender before turning to lethal force?  A significant discussion on this question emerged immediately after the incident, debating the applicable law and whether the operation had adhered to the required standards.  Different, at times opposite, views were expressed including on EJIL:Talk!, here and here.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Should the Geneva Conventions Apply to the “War on Terror”

Published on September 5, 2011        Author: 

Last week I took part in a BBC radio programme (“Iconoclasts”) debating whether the Geneva Conventions should apply to the war against terrorism. The programme (which can be heard by clicking here) addressed three issues:

– Do the Geneva Conventions apply to ‘the war on terror’?
– What is the difference between ‘tough interrogation’ and torture?
– If the Geneva Conventions needs updating or replacing, what should the new rules be?

The Iconoclast in the programme was Charlie Wolf, an American radio presenter and commentator based in the UK. He was formerly communications director of Republicans Abroad UK. In the programme, he took a similar position to that  first taken by the Bush Administration after September 11, i.e. that the”war on terror” was not within the contemplation of the drafters of the Geneva Convention and that the terrorists did not deserve the protections of the Geneva Convention as they did not respect them. These issues were addressed by the US Supreme Court in 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld when it ruled that at least one provision of the Geneva Conventions, namely Common Article 3, applies to the US conflict with Al Qaeda. After that case, the Bush Administration changed its position and argued that it was engaged in a non-international armed conflict with Al Qaeda to which the rules of international humanitarian law applicable in non-international conflicts applied.  Of course, there is a broader question as to whether it can be properly argued that there is a global war on terror or even a global war with Al Qaeda which qualifies as an armed conflict under international law.

My co-panelists in the programme, in addition to Charlie Wolf, were Richard Norton-Taylor, the Guardian Newspaper’s Security Editor and Robert Barnidge Jr who teaches international law at the University of Reading in the UK.

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