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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part V: Conclusion

Published on April 18, 2019        Author: 
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The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is in many respects a truly extraordinary case. But it is by no means unique – authoritarian states assassinate journalists and political dissidents with some frequency. The use of consular premises as the scene of the killing is, of course, one special feature of this affair. And while diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities are abused all the time, this is not normally done in so spectacular a fashion.

What makes Khashoggi’s killing so fascinating from the standpoint of an international legal analysis is the interplay between the human right to life and the rules of diplomatic and consular law. However, as I have explained, most of the possible norm conflicts between immunities and the right to life could have been avoided in Khashoggi’s case. This is primarily because Khashoggi was killed on the premises of a consulate and not those of a diplomatic mission, and because consular privileges and immunities are significantly weaker than diplomatic ones.

It is therefore unclear why Turkey acted as if international law laid such obstacles in front of it, when in doing so it actually exposed itself to legal liability under IHRL for failing to effectively investigate Khashoggi’s death. There are several possible explanations. First, Turkey could have genuinely misunderstood the legal position, failing to appreciate the attenuated nature of consular immunities. The confusion of consular privileges and immunities with the more expansive diplomatic versions has certainly been pervasive in the coverage of the Khashoggi affair. In fact, in a speech in parliament President Erdogan lamented the fact that the ‘Vienna Convention’ – he did not specify which – inhibited the investigation through the ‘diplomatic immunity’ it provided for, commenting that it may need to be reviewed or revised.

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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part IV: After the Attack

Published on April 17, 2019        Author: 
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Prior posts in this series examined the legal situation before and during the attack on Khashoggi; this one examines its aftermath. After Khashoggi’s death, the substantive negative and positive obligations were extinguished, but the positive procedural obligation to investigate his death was triggered for both Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Khashoggi was subject to the jurisdiction of both states at the moment of his death. Like the substantive positive obligation to protect life, the procedural obligation to investigate is also one of due diligence, i.e. it does not require the state to do the impossible, but only what could reasonably be expected of it in the circumstances. In other words, it is inherently flexible. Investigations into allegations of violation of the right to life must always be independent, impartial, prompt, thorough, effective, credible and transparent, and in the event that a violation is found, full reparation must be provided.

It is manifest that Saudi Arabia is in violation of its procedural obligation to investigate Khashoggi’s death, on multiple grounds. Its agents covered up the evidence of the murder and actively obstructed Turkish efforts to investigate it. Its own internal investigation has lacked any transparency. It is obvious that Saudi law enforcement authorities have no real independence from the executive, the conduct of which they are supposed to be investigating, particularly with regard to the question of whether the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing or knew that the operation would take place. It is equally obvious that the outcome of the Saudi trial of 11 unnamed individuals charged with Khashoggi’s death, which is shrouded in secrecy, is going to be determined by whatever the Saudi royals want the judges to say rather than by any kind of genuine pursuit for the truth.

In short, there is simply no doubt that Saudi Arabia is in violation of the procedural limb of the right to life. The position of Turkey is, of course, very different. As a general matter Turkish authorities have demonstrated willingness to effectively investigate Khashoggi’s death, and indeed much of what we know of his killing is directly the product of their investigative efforts. Had Turkey wanted to be complicit in the Saudi cover-up of the murder, it easily could have been, but it chose differently.

That said, the work of the Turkish investigators has also been subject to considerations of high politics. In particular, it has been limited and will be limited by whatever goals President Erdogan – no huge champion of the freedom of the press or human rights more generally – wishes to achieve in his management of the Khashoggi affair. And there are a number of specific decisions made by Turkish authorities that are at the very least arguably inconsistent with Turkey’s obligation under the ECHR and the ICCPR to effectively investigate Khashoggi’s death: (1) allowing the members of the Saudi hit-team to leave Turkey; (2) allowing the Saudi consul-general to leave Turkey; (3) delaying the search of the premises of the consulate; (4) delaying the search of the residence of the consul-general; (5) possible issues with searches of the consulate’s vehicles.

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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part III: During the Attack

Published on April 17, 2019        Author: 
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The previous post in the series looked at the situation that preceded the attack on Khashoggi by Saudi agents; in this one we move to the time of the attack itself. Saudi Arabia’s violation of its obligation not to deprive individuals arbitrarily of their life under Article 5 of the Arab Charter and customary IHRL is manifest, in the sense that Saudi Arabia could not offer any kind of justification for Khashoggi’s killing that could be regarded as even potentially legitimate from the standpoint of the right to life. What is not obvious, however, is whether the Charter and the relevant customary rule even applied to Khashoggi, i.e. that they protected him while he was located outside Saudi territory.

Extraterritoriality

This is again a question of extraterritorial application, but this time of the negative obligation to refrain from using lethal force without justification. And this is a question that is in no way unique to the Khashoggi killing. We have confronted it repeatedly in the past couple of decades, whether in the context of the use of lethal force in armed conflict or in plain or not-so-plain state-sponsored assassinations. From drone strikes in the war on terror, to the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan by US special forces, to the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko and the attempted assassination of Sergei and Yulia Skripal by Russian secret agents, to the killing of Kim Jong-nam in Malaysia on the orders of his half-brother, the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un – all of these cases raise the fundamental threshold question of whether the target of the use of force is protected by human rights law at all. As a general matter, powerful states have been reluctant to accept that human rights treaties would apply to kinetic uses of force outside their territory, especially in areas not within their control, because they tend to see IHRL as an excessive constraint on their freedom of action.

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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part II: Before the Attack

Published on April 16, 2019        Author: 
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This post will examine the legal situation before the attack on Khashoggi had materialized. The main obligation of Saudi Arabia in that regard is the same as the one during the attack itself, the negative obligation to refrain from arbitrary deprivations of life, and I will therefore address it in the next post in the series. Here, however, I will look at the positive obligation to protect Khashoggi’s right to life on the part of the United States and Turkey.

The duty to protect life

Three basic questions need to be answered with regard to the positive obligation to protect an individual. First, at what point does it arise, i.e. what is its scope of application. Second, once that threshold is crossed, what is the standard of conduct expected of the protecting state. Third, whether on the facts the state acted accordingly, with due diligence, taking all reasonable steps it could have been expected to take. Human rights bodies have extensively dealt with these questions in their case law, e.g. in the Osman jurisprudence of the ECtHR and recently by the Human Rights Committee in its General Comment 36. The threshold and the standard of conduct issues both require that a balance be struck between, on the one hand, the need for states to act affirmatively to protect the life of individuals from third parties, and, on the other hand, the need to avoid imposing unrealistic and excessive burdens on states.

Threshold inquiry: foreseeability of the threat

On the facts of Khashoggi’s killing, therefore, the first question is whether either the United States or Turkey knew, or ought to have known, of a real and immediate risk to Khashoggi’s life at the hands of the government of Saudi Arabia. Was, in other words, the threat to Khashoggi’s life reasonably foreseeable to either state? The threshold standard does not require actual knowledge or certainty of such a threat; it is an assessment of risk. This assessment will necessarily be contextual, and will always depend on (1) the information the state actually had in its possession at the relevant time and (2) information that it did not possess but could have obtained as a reasonable follow-up from the information it did actually already have.

The issue, therefore, is what the United States and Turkey knew about the Saudi threat against Khashoggi’s life, and when they obtained such information. Obviously, any appraisal of what these governments actually knew can at this moment only be tentative and incomplete, in the absence of some kind of investigatory process, whether internal or external, in that regard. That said, as far as we are able to understand this today, what did the two governments actually know?

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The Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Immunities, Inviolability and the Human Right to Life – Part I: Introduction

Published on April 16, 2019        Author: 
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On 2 October 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a dissident Saudi journalist residing in the United States, where he was a columnist for the Washington Post, was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. He was visiting the consulate to obtain a certificate of divorce from his former wife, so that he could proceed to marry his Turkish fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who was waiting for him in a car outside the consulate. According to media reports relying on the findings of the governments of Turkey and the United States, Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents and his body was then dismembered with a bone saw; his remains are yet to be found.

It has now been six months since Khashoggi’s killing. Saudi Arabia is conducting a secret trial of 11 individuals accused of his murder; the trial is widely regarded as an attempt to whitewash the involvement in the killing of the highest levels of the Saudi government. The UN Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, has launched an investigation into Kashoggi’s death as part of her mandate; as of the time of writing, she has published a set of preliminary observations and plans to submit a final report to the UN Human Rights Council in June. Her report, based inter alia on a field visit to Turkey, concluded (paras. 10 and 7) that the evidence ‘demonstrates a prime facie case that Mr. Khashoggi was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia and others acting under the direction of these State agents,’ a ‘grave violation’ of the human right to life.

Some legal issues that arise in that regard are trivial, even if they are politically extremely controversial. For example, it is legally irrelevant whether, in fact, the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s death or not. Per the customary rule codified in Article 7 of the ILC Articles on State Responsibility, Saudi Arabia incurs state responsibility for an internationally wrongful act committed by its organs acting in their official capacity, such as intelligence and state security officials, even if that act was committed ultra vires. Whether the crown prince’s underlings exceeded his orders or failed to inform him of the supposedly unauthorized operation – which involved a team of 15 agents, including a forensics expert specializing in rapid dissections, and two private jets – simply does not affect the attribution of, and hence responsibility for, the operation to Saudi Arabia.

It is similarly unquestionable, as Steve Ratner explained on Lawfare, that the Saudi operation against Khashoggi was a violation of Turkey’s sovereignty and of its rights under diplomatic and consular law. But while condemning Saudi Arabia for these violations would be both right and without difficulty, for international law to care only about the violations of the rights of the state in which he was killed would also profoundly fail to legally capture our sense of moral outrage over Khashoggi’s death. In addition to any criminal responsibility that may exist under either Turkish or Saudi domestic law, the most serious violation of international law at stake here is that of Khashoggi’s human right to life, and an attempt – ultimately unsuccessful due to the operation’s public exposure – to forcibly disappear him. This violation is compounded by that of the freedom of expression, since the reason for Khashoggi’s killing was his speech critical of the Saudi regime, and that of the prohibition of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment regarding Khashoggi’s next of kin, due to the manner of his killing and the desecration and disappearance of his corpse.

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An Exam Question on Diplomatic and Consular Law

Published on October 7, 2018        Author: 
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Kemal, a journalist and a national of the state of Azovia, is living in the state of Tiberia. One day he goes to the Azovian consulate in Kostantiniyye, a major Tiberian city, in order to obtain a divorce certificate, which he needs to marry his current fiancee. Kemal never emerges from the consulate. A few days later, Tiberian authorities publicly claim that Kemal was murdered by Azovian agents while he was in the consulate. The Azovian government denies these allegations. Assuming that the facts asserted by Tiberia are true, answer the following questions (in doing so, bear in mind that Azovia and Tiberia are both parties to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Tiberia is additionally a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Azovia is not):

(1) Is Azovia responsible for an internationally wrongful act or acts, and if so, which one?

(2) If Tiberia had obtained reliable intelligence that Kemal was about to be murdered in the Azovian consulate in Kostantiniyye, would it have been (i) obliged to or (ii) permitted under international law to forcibly enter the premises of the consulate in order to save Kemal’s life?

(3) Would your answer to question (2) be any different if Kemal was murdered/about to be murdered in the Azovian embassy to Tiberia, rather than in its consulate?

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Slavery in Domestic Work: The Potential for State Responsibility?

Published on September 17, 2018        Author:  and
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On 10 September 2018, UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, Urmila Bhoola, presented her latest report to the Human Rights Council. The report focuses on an often-hidden aspect of modern slavery – the slavery and servitude of “marginalized women workers in the global domestic economy” (para 11). In this post, we highlight key findings of the report and also indicate areas for further exploration, including the potential use of State responsibility.

11.5 million domestic workers are international migrants, which represent 17.2% of all domestic workers and 7.7% of all migrant workers worldwide (para. 31). To give a sense of the scale, in Hong Kong there are 370,000 domestic workers of which 98.8% are women.

The social, cultural and racial biases these women face are often extreme. To give an example, Sondos Alqattan, an Instagram star and makeup artist with over 2.3 million followers, criticised new laws in Kuwait giving Filipino workers one day off per week and preventing employers from seizing their passports. She said, “How can you have a servant at home who keeps their own passport with them? What’s worse is they have one day off every week”.

The UN Special Rapporteur notes that the domestic work sector accounted for 24% of forced labour exploitation in 2017 (para 43). Exploitative practices include psychological, physical and sexual violence; retention of identity documents preventing freedom of movement; withholding of wages; and excessive overtime (para 42).

There are two aspects of the Report that make a particular contribution to the discussion of slavery in domestic work. Read the rest of this entry…

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Foreign Office Certificates and Diplomatic Immunity in the Assange Affair

Published on March 2, 2018        Author:  and
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The Assange saga continues with recent decisions in the English Courts upholding the warrant for Julian Assange’s arrest. Dapo’s recent post on Ecuador’s purported appointment of Julian Assange as one of its diplomats to the UK considered the position on this issue as a matter of international law. However, a related issue is how the relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR) would be applied if the issue were to arise in domestic proceedings in England and Wales. In other words, if Assange were to leave the embassy, and were to be arrested and prosecuted for failing to surrender, would he be able to rely, in an English court, on diplomatic immunity under the VCDR? Thinking through this question involves a degree of speculation, for we don’t yet know what the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s (FCO) posture towards any such claim would be. We will assume, however, that the FCO will maintain an approach consistent with its statement (reported here) of 11 January 2018: ‘The government of Ecuador recently requested diplomatic status for Mr Assange here in the UK. The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter.’ In other words, we will assume that the FCO would not recognise Assange as a diplomat.

How the matter would be resolved in domestic English proceedings is a difficult question. It involves consideration of the respective roles of courts and the executive in matters of foreign affairs, the distinction between questions of fact and questions of law in giving effect to FCO certificates, and the potential continued application of the common law principle that the courts and the executive should speak with one voice.

The Diplomatic Privileges Act

As a matter of domestic law, the starting point is the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964 (DPA), which gives effect to the VCDR. In thinking through how the Assange matter would proceed in a domestic court, Section 4, which sets out the role of the FCO in matters of this kind, is crucial:

‘If in any proceedings any question arises whether or not any person is entitled to any privilege or immunity under this Act a certificate issued by or under the authority of the Secretary of State stating any fact relating to that question shall be conclusive evidence of that fact.’

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Ecuador Seeks to Confer Diplomatic Status on Julian Assange: Does this Oblige the UK to Allow Him to Leave the Embassy & Is the Matter Headed to the ICJ?

Published on January 25, 2018        Author: 
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There is a recent twist in the Julian Assange saga leading to new claims that the UK has the legal obligation to allow Assange to leave the Ecuadorian embassy in London without arresting him. In December, Ecuador granted Assange its nationality following which it then purported, this January, to appoint Julian Assange as one of its diplomats to the UK (see here). Apparently, the UK rejected that appointment. It has now been reported by Reuters that a legal team is working on filing a case at the International Court of Justice in order to have Assange’s Ecuadorean diplomatic status affirmed under international law. The strategy being pursued by Ecuador is a very interesting one raising tricky questions of diplomatic law. Undoubtedly, Ecuador was aware that the UK would seek to deny diplomatic status to Assange. However, Ecuador argues that what has happened is that while it has appointed Assange as a diplomat, what the UK has done is to declare him persona non grata, and that having done that, the UK now has an obligation to allow Assange to leave the UK within a reasonable period of time, whilst enjoying diplomatic immunities within that period of time.

There are a number of issues that arise as a result of these developments. First, is the issue of whether Ecuador has a unilateral right to appoint Assange as a member of its diplomatic staff, or whether instead, the approval of the UK was required for the conferral of diplomatic status on Assange. Second, assuming that Ecuador is right, and that as a matter of international law Assange did at some point in time have diplomatic status because of a unilateral right of appointment of Ecuador, does the rejection of his status by the UK impose an obligation on the UK to allow him to leave the embassy, and indeed leave the UK, with the immunities that a diplomat would ordinarily be entitled to. Third, is there a basis for the ICJ to hear and determine the matter between those two states?

Let me start with the question of ICJ jurisdiction. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Limits of Diplomatic Immunity in the Age of Human Trafficking: The Supreme Court in Reyes v Al-Malki

Published on October 23, 2017        Author: 
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Disclaimer: The author was counsel to the Intervener, Kalayaan, a charity that supports migrant domestic workers, some of whom have been trafficked. This post is written in the author’s personal academic capacity and does not necessarily represent the views of her client.

Last week the UK Supreme Court delivered judgments in two landmark cases on immunity. This post examines the Judgment in Reyes v Al-Malki on diplomatic immunity.

There is much of interest in the Reyes Judgment – the relationship between State and diplomatic immunities, approaches to treaty interpretation (including temporal dimensions), the appeal by Lord Wilson to the International Law Commission to take this issue forward (para 68), and the Court allowing a diplomat to be served by post to their private residence (para 16). I will focus on the approach to diplomatic immunity in the context of human trafficking.

The Court decided that Mr and Mrs Al-Malki, a former member of the diplomatic staff of the Saudi embassy in London and his wife, are not entitled to immunity from the claim brought against them by Ms Reyes, a Philippine national who was their domestic servant for two months in 2011. The appeal proceeded on the basis of assumed facts. Ms Reyes alleges that she had entered the UK with a contract showing that she would be paid £500 per month by Mr Al-Malki. Instead, she says she was paid nothing. She alleges she was made to work excessive hours, had her passport confiscated, did not have proper accommodation, and was prevented from leaving the house or communicating with others (para 1). She eventually escaped.

UK Visas and Immigration had found that there were reasonable grounds for concluding that Ms Reyes was a victim of human trafficking.

The Supreme Court decided on the basis of Article 39(2) of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which sets out the residual immunity enjoyed by diplomats who are no longer in post:

When the functions of a person enjoying privileges and immunities have come to an end, such privileges and immunities shall normally cease at the moment when he leaves the country, or on expiry of a reasonable period in which to do so, but shall subsist until that time, even in case of armed conflict. However, with respect to acts performed by such a person in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission, immunity shall continue to subsist. (emphasis added)

The Judges unanimously held that the employment and maltreatment of Ms Reyes were not acts performed by Mr Al-Malki ‘in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission’ and he was therefore not immune.

Another provision of the Vienna Convention – Article 31(1)(c) – had formed the centrepiece of the parties’ arguments in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. It sets out an exception to immunity for diplomats who are currently in post:

A diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving State. He shall also enjoy immunity from its civil and administrative jurisdiction, except in the case of : 

(c) an action relating to any professional or commercial activity exercised by the diplomatic agent in the receiving State outside his official functions. (emphasis added)

Lord Sumption wrote the lead Opinion (with which Lord Neuberger agreed), disposing of the case on the basis of Article 39(2), but also analysing Article 31(1)(c) in depth. Lord Wilson agreed with Lord Sumption’s analysis of Article 39(2), but expressed ‘doubts’ regarding his interpretation of Article 31(1)(c), with Lady Hale and Lord Clarke sharing these ‘doubts’.

We thus have a straightforward, unanimous decision on the basis of Article 39(2) applicable to former diplomats, but we also have a split within the Court on the interpretation of Article 31(1)(c), with obiter ‘doubts’ on obiter reasoning. Read the rest of this entry…

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