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The Rise and Rise of Political Backlash: African Union Executive Council’s decision to review the mandate and working methods of the African Commission

Published on August 2, 2018        Author: 
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The latest African Union (AU) Summit, held in Nouakchott, Mauritania, from 25 June to 2 July 2018, has left the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) severely undermined. The Executive Council adopted Decision EX.CL/Dec.1015(XXIII), which endorses some worrying recommendations that emanated from the joint retreat, held in June, by the ACHPR and the Permanent Representatives’ Committee (PRC). The adoption of the Decision has turned the recommendations into binding AU decisions or directives (see Executive Council Rules of Procedure, Rule 34 and Art. 23(2) of the Constitutive Act of the AU). This post reflects on the political motivations for, the legality of, and potential implications of three of these decisions or directives, namely:

  1. The decision to review the interpretative mandate of the ACHPR “in light of a similar mandate exercised by the African Court [on Human and Peoples’ Rights] and the potential for conflicting jurisprudence”;
  2. The directive to the ACHPR to align its guidelines for granting observer status to NGOs with “the already existing criteria on the accreditation of NGOs to the AU”; and
  3. The directive to the ACHPR formulate a code of conduct, in consultation with the AU Legal Counsel.

These decisions are seemingly noble or harmless. However, their underlying motive and impact dovetail into the broader backlash against human rights bodies in Africa (Alter et al 2016). Indeed, the decisions are based on a misconception about the nature of ACHPR’s independence. Read the rest of this entry…

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Supreme Court of Spain: UN Treaty Body individual decisions are legally binding

Published on August 1, 2018        Author: 
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The Spanish Supreme Court has established that the views expressed by UN Human Rights Treaty Bodies in individual complaints are binding on the State. The Court ordered Spain to pay €600,000 in compensation to Ángela González for the responsibility of its authorities in relation to the death of her daughter. Her daughter was murdered by her father in an unsupervised visit authorised by a judge. National courts dismissed Ángela’s case, but the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW Committee) found a breach of her human rights. The Supreme Court has now affirmed that the State must comply with the Committee’s decision. This article discusses the significance of the case and the principle established by it.

Ángela González:  from domestic violence up to the United Nations (1996-2014)

Ángela’s daughter Andrea was born in 1996. Ángela’s partner subjected her to frequent physical and psychological violence. Ángela lodged no less than 30 complaints to the police and to the court. Her partner was convicted for one minor offence and ordered to pay a small penalty for harassment. Only one judicial order protected the minor and lasted for two months.

Marital separation was ordered in November 2001. The judge did not mention the violence as the cause of separation. The order allowed unsupervised visits between father and daughter, and the father was granted the use of the family dwelling. Ángela appealed the decision but was unsuccessful. Andrea had repeatedly expressed her desire not to see her father. In April 2003, the father killed the 7-year-old girl and then committed suicide during an unsupervised visit. Read the rest of this entry…

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Unlawful Killing or Self Defence? Some Thoughts on the ECHR Decision in Makarova v. United Kingdom

Published on July 31, 2018        Author: 
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The admissibility decisions of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) do not usually attract larger attention. There are, of course, well-known exceptions, such as Banković and Others v. Belgium and Others. The recent decision in Makarová v. the United Kingdom (see here), rendered on 5 July 2018 by a committee composed of three judges, will certainly not become one of these exceptions. Although the decision has made front pages news in the Czech Republic, the country of origin of the applicant, this has more to do with the factual background of the case than with any legal intricacies involved in it. Despite that, the decision, while not necessarily incorrect, has some interesting and possibly controversial aspects that might deserve closer scrutiny.

Facts of the Case

The facts are well-known and largely uncontested. The Czech citizen Zdeněk Makar, a 31-year-old brother of the applicant, was killed in September 2016 in London, where he had been living for 10 years. The person responsible for his death was a 29-year-old UK citizen Raymon Scully. Makar met Scully, who was in the company of younger friends, in a local takeaway restaurant. They had a dispute, after which Makar left the restaurant. Scully and his friends followed him down the street, where Scully attacked the unarmed Makar with a bite lock. According to a witness, “he swung the improvised weapon and struck Mr Makar to the left side of his head, catching him behind the ear and knocking him to the ground where he then struck him at least twice more”. While Mr Makar was dying in the street, Scully and his friends left without providing first aid or calling ambulance.

The trial with Scully took place between 21 March and 3 April 2017 at the Central Criminal Court in London, and involved a jury composed of twelve lay persons. The members of the jury had to decide whether the act committed by Scully was to be qualified as a murder (intentional killing), manslaughter (unintentional killing) or self-defence. They were informed about the legal requirements of these three qualifications. The trial judge also explained to them that Scully’s good character (i.e. lack of previous criminal convictions) could be taken into account when considering the case. On 3 April 2017, the jury delivered a majority verdict concluding that the defendant had acted in self-defence (defending one of his friends). Scully was acquitted of both murder and manslaughter and set free.

The verdict caused outcry in the Czech Republic, where it was interpreted as a sign that in the pre-Brexit UK, the lives of migrant workers from Central Europe were not given much weight. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a diplomatic note, in which it requested the documents related to the case and “assurance that the nationality /…/ had no influence on the judgment”. The Ministry furthermore announced that it would provide assistance to Makar’s sister, Adéla Makarová, in bringing the case to the ECHR. Makarová lodged the application to the Court on 4 September 2017. On 5 July 2018, the Court declared the application manifestly ill-founded and, hence, inadmissible.

ECHR Decision

The application relied on Articles 2 (right to life) and 13 (right to an effective remedy) of the European Convention on Human Rights. With respect to the former, the applicant argued that the UK (i.e. England and Wales) criminal system exhibited structural deficiencies in that: a) the proceedings failed to produce clear reasons for the defendant´s acquittal; b) the UK test for self-defence allowed instances of unlawful killing to go unpunished; c) the UK law did not criminalize intentional omissions to provide first aid. Alternatively, the applicant argued that a proper application of the domestic could not have led the jurors to the conclusion they had reached. With respect to Article 13, the applicant complained about the absence of an appeal against an acquittal by a jury in criminal proceedings.

The Court rejected all these arguments. It concluded that the UK satisfied the procedural obligation under Article 2(1), because: a) the Convention does not require jurors to give reasons for their decision; b) the subjective test of self-defence used in the UK does not violate Article 2;c) Article 2 does not impose a positive obligation to criminalise intentional omissions. As to the alternative argument, the Court repeated that there had been sufficient safeguards against arbitrariness.

With respect to Article 13, the Court simply recalled that this provision only applied where an individual had an arguable claim to be the victim of a violation of a Convention right. Since the Court already found the applicant’s complaint under Article 2 manifestly ill-founded, there was no such arguable claim and the complaint under Article 13 was declared manifestly ill-founded as well. Read the rest of this entry…

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What on Earth is Happening to Space Law?

Published on July 31, 2018        Author: 
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In 2015 and 2017, respectively, the United States of America and Luxembourg enacted bills granting property rights on resources collected in outer space. The potential beneficiaries of these laws are hi-tech companies investing in the exploration and exploitation of space resources. Even though robotized mining of precious metals, rare earths and other raw materials on the Moon or on near-Earth asteroids is said to be at least 20-25 years away, an economy of space resources is already developing at a brisk pace. The stakes are in fact high: mining a few large asteroids may change world market conditions for some crucial raw materials. One may be tempted to see these new developments as intimations, not only of a new space race, this time driven by private actors, but also of the space law to come – and possibly as an occasion to let space law flow back into the main stream of international legal scholarship.

Space law began to take shape as a branch of public international law some time around the late 1950s. In the next two decades it struggled to define its identity by analogy with the law of the sea and the legal regimes of other remote places (yet not as remote) like Antarctica or the deep ocean seabed. The law-of-the-sea analogy has always been a powerful motif in the making of and theorizing about the law of outer space. But it is also potentially misleading, as Rolando Quadri was ready to point out in 1959. Epitomized by the adoption in 1979 and subsequent failure of the Moon Agreement, space law’s arrested development left it with an uncertain, coarse-grained legal ontology that compares unfavourably to that of the law of the sea. While the latter distinguishes between low-tide elevations, islands, and uninhabitable rocks, space law works with an inchoate notion of ‘celestial body’ encompassing anything between the Sun and the tiniest asteroid. The legal status of space resources, both living and non-living, is likewise uncertain and no agreement has as yet been reached as to the exact boundary between airspace and outer space, let alone on the limits of humanity’s jurisdiction to prescribe or on protocols governing the encounter with other sentient beings. Tomorrow’s spacefarers will not be leaning over a legal void. It is clear, though, that some rethinking of the fundamentals is required, as well as some change.

Unilateral initiatives like those recently taken by the US and Luxembourg may well set in motion processes of legal change, no matter if these States describe their acts as fully compliant with the existing law of outer space. Although understandable as a matter of diplomatic tactics, this defensive stance is nonetheless based on a disputed interpretation of the law in force (for overviews and detailed analyses of the different positions see Pop, Tronchetti, De Man, Jakhu et al.Su and Hofmann).

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Geographical Remoteness in Bemba

Published on July 30, 2018        Author: 
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Introduction

The ICC Appeals Chamber’s acquittal of Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo continues to provoke discussion. In a previous post, I addressed the Appeals Chamber’s treatment of the relevance of a commander’s motivation in taking measures to prevent or punish the crimes of his subordinates. This issue of motivations was one of two putative errors emphasised by the Appeals Chamber in its summative paragraph – paragraph 191 – on the Trial Chamber’s finding that Mr Bemba failed to take all necessary and reasonable measures. The second putative error identified in that paragraph concerned the Trial Chamber’s failure to properly take into account the difficulties that Mr Bemba would have faced as a remote commander sending troops to a foreign country.

The description of Mr Bemba as a remote commander has been emphasised in numerous media reports, as well as in academic commentary. A concern raised in the latter is that the decision introduces a new distinction into the law of command responsibility – a distinction between remote and non-remote commanders, with the former being held to a lower standard than the latter. This post analyses how the Appeals Chamber dealt with the remoteness issue. First, it sets out the Majority Judgment’s findings on Mr Bemba’s status as a remote commander and suggests that it is not clear whether it intended to draw a legal distinction between commanders. Second, it argues that the drawing of such a distinction would be indefensible as a matter of principle – geographical position ought not be used to distinguish between commanders. Third, and happily, it shows that even if the Majority Judgment is unclear, President Oboe-Osuji’s Concurring Separate Opinion and the Joint Dissenting Opinion of Judges Hofmanski and Monageng indicate that there weren’t three votes for the introduction of any such distinction. In other words, the decision in Bemba does not stand for the proposition that we are now faced with an additional distinction in the law of command responsibility. Finally, it returns to Bemba itself, and the Majority Judgment’s reasoning on this point. That reasoning is not convincing. Read the rest of this entry…

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Not Appropriate:  PTC I, Palestine and the Development of a Discriminatory ICC Jurisprudence

Published on July 26, 2018        Author:  and
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On 13 July, Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC I) issued an unprecedented decision in which it ordered the Registry to establish unique public information and outreach activities for the “benefit of the victims in the situation in Palestine”, as well as to report on its situation activities on an ongoing basis.  No Pre-Trial Chamber has made the same orders with respect to victim outreach in a situation under preliminary examination before, and the legality, timing, and singular nature of the decision all give rise to concern. 

The decision singles out victims of one situation whilst ignoring others, reflecting a double standard which forms the basis of Israel’s complaints that its rights to equal treatment are systematically violated before 21st century international organisations and tribunals. In this sense, the decision is illuminating as it demonstrates to international criminal law practitioners how PTC I has substantiated Israel’s complaint of double standards in the Chambers’ first substantive engagement with the Situation in Palestine. Given the unique way that the Situation in Palestine has been singled out, PTC I’s decision will be viewed by many as a political one.  This is an accusation which, especially after the collapse of the Kenya cases, the ICC should be more wary of making itself susceptible to.

The Legality of the PTC Decision Read the rest of this entry…

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The Quandaries of Data Analysis and Methodologies in Rule of Law, Development, and Human Rights Assessments: New Challenges for UN Special Rapporteurs

Published on July 20, 2018        Author: 
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If Professor Hans Rosling’s famous last opus, Factfulness (April 2018)is to be believed (as well as Bill Gates’ effusive review here), we all tend to have grimmer views of the state of economic development in the world than actually borne out by reality – especially on issues of global health and poverty.  Referring to the “developed world” and the “developing world” is a meaningless and unhelpful binary that glosses over significant welfare, health, life expectancy, education, and human capabilities differences between and among the hugely diverse “middle income countries” (e.g. the World Bank divides them into “lower middle-income economies – those with a GNI per capita between $1,006 and $3,955;  and upper middle-income economies –  those with a GNI per capita between $3,956 and $12,235 (2018)). Even the World Bank stopped using the distinction between “developing” and “developed” countries starting with its 2016 World Development Indicators, ultimately concurring with the view that the “developing country” and “developed country” distinction was not useful and too broad for targeting international development programs for partner countries, especially when assessing progress in all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations does not have a formal definition of “developed countries” versus “developing countries”, instead insisting that its classifications in UN methodology are “for statistical convenience and does not express a judgement about the stage reached by a particular country or area in the development process”.  However, these categories are widely used in the UN system anyway, including in the UN’s 2017 Sustainable Development Goals Report as well as in the datasets used for the 2018 SDG16 Data Initiative Global Report (on the goal of achieving peaceful, just, and inclusive societies). If the distinction between “developing country” and “developed country” is operationally meaningless for formulating and evaluating development programming, shouldn’t international lawyers and scholars also take note of the imprecision of this category when putting forward their observations and assessments of the state of rule of law, economic development, poverty, and human rights in the world?  (Note:  I do plead guilty to having, in previous works, alluded to the same classifications.)

Professor Rosling’s opus came to mind recently after the debate spurred from recent sharp criticisms issued by US Ambassador Nikki Haley and by experts from the Heritage Foundation, against UN Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights and NYU Law Professor Philip Alston, who had issued several statements (see here, here, and here) and his full 4 May 2018 report on the state of poverty within the United States (finding, among others, that 40 million people across the United States live in poverty, while 18.5 million live in extreme poverty, and an additional 5 million in conditions of absolute poverty; or alternatively put, “1 in 8 Americans now live in poverty, with half of this population living in extreme poverty, according to U.S. government estimates.”).  While Ambassador Haley alleged that the report “categorically misstated the progress the United States has made in addressing poverty and purposely used misleading facts and figures in its biased reporting”, the Heritage Foundation challenged the income-based poverty measures used by Professor Alston and charged that “these “official” income figures exclude substantial off-the-books earnings among low-income households and omit roughly 95 percent of the $1.1 trillion U.S. taxpayers provide in means-tested cash, food, housing, and medical benefits for low-income persons each year.”  Professor Alston has criticized the United States’ withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council, and charged that the Trump Administration was exacerbating poverty for millions of Americans.  The Special Rapporteur has not yet responded to the challenges against the data sources used, and the quantitative and qualitative methodologies used for this fact-finding mission and its conclusions.

When I examined the index of currently publicly available Reports of the Special Rapporteur for Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, it was somewhat surprising that there was no separate initial report on the quantitative or qualitative methodologies adopted for the country assessments on the state of extreme poverty and human rights (although each country assessment thus far discusses observations from anecdotal evidence, official statistics from government sources, and other sources).  Considering the very difficult remit of Professor Alston – who as Rapporteur is an unpaid expert and admittedly not an official of the United Nations – I wondered why it did not appear from the reports that the UN’s considerable resources on SDG monitoring and assessment (especially SDG1 on eradicating poverty), as well as on economic vulnerability and risk monitoring, had been deployed and allocated to assist in the Special Rapporteur’s challenging fact-finding mandate.  Note that Professor Alston has himself championed interdisciplinarity and cross-verification in human rights fact-finding and yet, the UN remains unable to reasonably coordinate its resources, data, and interdisciplinary expertise before it dispatches its unpaid experts for overwhelmingly difficult fact-finding missions as “Special Rapporteurs”. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Applicability of the ECHR in Contested Territories; Two Other ECHR Cases Against Russia

Published on July 19, 2018        Author: 
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Earlier this week the European Court of Human Rights decided Sandu and Others v. the Republic of Moldova and Russia, nos. 21034/05 etc, the latest in its Ilascu line of cases (see here and here for more background). As in its previous case law, the Court in Sandu found that both Moldova and Russia exercised jurisdiction in the sense of Article 1 ECHR over the contested separatist territory of Transdniestria, the former on the basis of sovereign title, and the latter on the basis of its control over the area. In this case, which concerned property rights, the Court found Moldova to have discharged its positive obligations towards the applicants, and Russia not to have done so, thus incurring responsibility for violating the Convention. Like in its previous case law, it remains unclear whether the Court is attributing to Russia the conduct of Transdniestrian separatist authorities, or whether Russia is responsible for its own conduct of failing to exercise influence over these authorities so as to protect the applicants’ rights.

Coincidentally, Tatjana Papic and I have recently posted on SSRN the draft of an article on the applicability of the ECHR in contested territories, forthcoming in the ICLQ , in which we provide a critique of the Court’s Ilascu jurisprudence. The abstract is below, and any comments are welcome:

This article examines the applicability of the European Convention for Human Rights (ECHR) when a State loses control over parts of its territory. Such situations have increasingly arisen in cases before the European Court of Human Rights. For instance, the Court currently has on its docket an interstate case between Georgia and Russia, three interstate cases between Ukraine and Russia, and thousands of individual applications which concern either Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. The article argues that the jurisprudence of the European Court, which insists on residual positive obligations based in sovereign title over territory, is problematic and needs to be rethought. The Court’s current approach is not only likely to provoke backlash, since it requires it to decide politically explosive questions of sovereign title, but does so for very little practical benefit for the protection of human rights. The article therefore explores more preferable alternatives.

Also this week the Court rendered two unrelated but very important judgments against Russia. First, regarding the 2006 killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the Court found Russia responsible under Article 2 ECHR for failing to conduct a fully effective investigation into the killing, specifically because Russian authorities did not explore all feasible lines of investigation into the person or persons who contracted Politkovskaya’s assassination (Mazepa and Others v. Russia, no. 15086/07).

Second, the Court found Russia responsible for the violation of several human rights of three members of the Pussy Riot band, who were arrested, convicted and sentenced to two years of imprisonment for (very briefly) performing their song Punk Prayer – Virgin Mary, Drive Putin Away in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow (Mariya Alekhina and Others v. Russia, no. 38004/12). Pussy Riot were of course very much in the news last weekend, after their pitch invasion at the World Cup final in Moscow.

(Image: Sportimage/PA Images)

The most interesting part of the Pussy Riot judgment is the Article 10 analysis; the Court is not content with saying simply and easily that the sentence of imprisonment imposed on the applicants was disproportionate, but engages in line-drawing between hate speech and offensive speech, which is particularly relevant because the domestic crime that the applicants were convicted of incorporated a hatred element. The judgment also has a rather glorious appendix with several Pussy Riot songs (oh so very du jour, and reproduced below for entertainment value, together with the song at issue in the case itself).

 

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UK Extraterritorial Financial Sanctions: Too Much, Too Little, Too Late?

Published on July 17, 2018        Author: 
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The US practice of the extraterritorial application of sanctions was criticised for years as, at best, the illegitimate abuse of its particular position in the world’s economy. Despite its fully comparable position in international finance, the United Kingdom was shielded from such criticism predominantly thanks to the transfer of respective decision-making to Brussels. The nature and scope of sanctions were delineated by EU laws. As the UK prepares its (financial) sanctions regime for Brexit, could it draw criticism similar to the US for both giving too broad discretionary powers to the government and preventing it from meeting UK international obligations at the same time? I suggest the new regime for the extraterritorial application of sanctions possibly opens the UK to international liability for, both, the lack of a legal basis for a legal restriction upon states as well as inevitable omissions to prevent gross violations of international law.

Since analysis of legal sanctions under international law is a very complex, multi-stage exercise, I focused on relatively easier cases of discretionary goals of foreign policy and extraterritorial sanctions, where the legal threshold for an internationally wrongful act is lower. Accordingly, I highlight the normative basis for adopting financial sanctions against third-state persons not covered by exceptions, British BITs, or the most relevant multilateral treaties. As for possible breaches of international law by omission, I focus on tolerating the provision of financial services contributing towards gross violations of international law. Because of length limitations, I do not discuss anti-money laundering per se, which is subject to yet another chapter of the law in question.

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Lessons from the WTO Plain Packaging reports: The use of the evidence-based WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control as evidence in international litigation

Published on July 16, 2018        Author: 
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Introduction

The WTO Plain Packaging reports have finally been published. The four reports (merged in a single document) contain the findings of the WTO panel in the disputes launched in 2012-2013 by Honduras, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Indonesia. The disputes were directed against some tobacco control measures adopted by Australia – so-called ‘the plain packaging’ (TPP) laws. In a nutshell, TPP mandates that all tobacco products be sold in unattractive standardised packaging, thereby curtailing the use of colours, design and trademarks by tobacco manufacturers. As it was already leaked one year ago, the panel has ruled in favour of Australia.

The 884 pages of the final reports contain a lot of food for thought, and will keep many of us busy for long. This post focuses on a relatively narrow issues, namely the role of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in the case.  Despite being often overlooked in mainstream international scholarship, the FCTC is a remarkable treaty. It is the first (and so far, only) treaty ever negotiated under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO). Adopted by the World Health Assembly in May 2003, it has now reached the massive number of 181 ratifications. The FCTC is also a living treaty: it established a set of institutions, including a Conference of the Parties (COP) that meets biannually and has adopted 9 sets of guidelines.The FCTC was conceived in the ‘90s as an ‘international regulatory strategy’ to ‘promote national action on tobacco control’ (in the words of one of its main promoters, Allyn Taylor), in the face of the growing tobacco epidemic. To this end, the treaty (and later its guidelines) have been developed as ‘evidence-based’ instruments, i.e. as texts that require the adoption of tobacco control measures whose effectiveness has been established by evidence (see Taylor and Bettcher 2000). The set of measures is a comprehensive one, encompassing measures for the reduction of supply and measures for the reduction of demand of tobacco products. TPP measures are also part of this comprehensive set; specifically, they are recommended by the Guidelines to Article 11 and in the Guidelines to Article 13 of the FCTC.

In addition to their role in domestic implementation, the FCTC and its guidelines have proved to be useful instruments in the international disputes launched against the tobacco control measures adopted by its parties (see my earlier report as well as the more recent article by Zhou, Liberman and Ricafort). In some cases, the FCTC and its guidelines have been relied upon for their evidential value, while in others they have been considered ‘evidence’ by reason of their ‘evidence-based’ nature. The TPP reports prepared by the WTO panel are the latest cases in this series. The following sections review the approach taken by the panel on the role of the FCTC, and briefly compare it to the previous international disputes.

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