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Favourite Readings 2018: Discovering (new) classics, better late than never

Published on December 18, 2018        Author: 
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Editor’s note: Continuing a tradition started by Isabel Feichtner a few years ago, EJIL’s Review Editor, Christian J. Tams, invited members of the EJIL board to offer short reflections on their favourite books of the year 2018. In the following days we will present some selections here on EJIL:Talk! They comprise a wide range of books, from (a few) doctrinal legal texts, to (many more) historical accounts and works of fiction. Unlike in many official book prize competitions, 2018 does not necessarily stand for the year of publication; rather, board members were asked to list books they read or re-read this year, and found inspiring or enjoyable. Today we have Sarah Nouwen’s choices.

Sometimes, writing is easier without reading. Skim-reading the most recent work on a topic, one may find sufficient disagreements to pick a fight with. But truly widely reading about a topic, going back several decades, if not centuries, makes one realise how many of one’s arguments have already been made, and much better. Ultimately, of course, it is such wide reading that allows one’s own work to mature. It is also an act of rebellion against the pressures of quantitative assessments of one’s work, and an inspiring source for the scholar’s primary job: to educate, first oneself, and then others.

So, in the spirit of better late than never, this year’s list includes some books that I should have read long ago.

Karen Knop’s Diversity and Self-Determination in International Law (2002)

I opened this book to develop a stronger grasp on the international law of self-determination. I closed it with an even broader understanding of everything that self-determination could mean, depending on who interprets it, and who gets to participate in the process of interpretation. Putting her finger on one of the paradoxes of self-determination, Knop shows that those most affected by self-determination are often excluded from the process of its legal interpretation. While this may be the case for many legal norms, it is paradoxical for self-determination, which is essentially concerned with people deciding for themselves.

But the book’s significance goes far beyond self-determination. I’ll use it for teaching classes on interpretation: thought you knew what this text meant? Read Knop and you’ll be surprised in how many ways the same few lines can be understood, depending on one’s world view and what we consider coherent or incoherent.

Rita Kesselring, Bodies of Truth: Law, Memory, and Emancipation in Post-Apartheid South Africa (2017) Read the rest of this entry…

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Favourite Readings 2018: The Power of Words

Published on December 17, 2018        Author: 
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Editor’s note: Continuing a tradition started by Isabel Feichtner a few years ago, EJIL’s Review Editor, Christian J. Tams, invited members of the EJIL board to offer short reflections on their favourite books of the year 2018. In the following days we will present some selections here on EJIL:Talk! They comprise a wide range of books, from (a few) doctrinal legal texts, to (many more) historical accounts and works of fiction. Unlike in many official book prize competitions, 2018 does not necessarily stand for the year of publication; rather, board members were asked to list books they read or re-read this year, and found inspiring or enjoyable. Today we have selections from Jan Klabbers.

Somehow, 2018 has been for me a year of epistemic concerns, of wondering about the social, emotional and above all political power of language and words and concepts. Many of my favourite readings of the year are related to the exercise of power, legal and otherwise, by epistemic means: the exercise of power through the ways in which we use our concepts, our words; through the ways we express our thoughts, and the ways in which these thoughts come to lead a life of their own, relatively independent even from the work we originally wanted those thoughts to do. This runs like a red thread through all the academic studies on this list, and even, in perhaps less obvious ways, through the non-academic works as well, characterized as these are by their distinct use of language.

Perhaps the most gratifying book I read during 2018 is written by Guy Fiti Sinclair, To Reform the World: International Organizations and the Making of Modern States (2017). I am not the only one who thinks the book is excellent: a jury of the European Society of International Law awarded it the Society’s ‘book of the year’ prize, so I am in good company. Read the rest of this entry…

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Favourite Readings 2018: Nine Good Reads and One Viewing

Published on December 14, 2018        Author: 
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Editor’s note: Continuing a tradition started by Isabel Feichtner a few years ago, EJIL’s Review Editor, Christian J. Tams, invited members of the EJIL board to offer short reflections on their favourite books of the year 2018. In the following days we will present some selections here on EJIL:Talk! They comprise a wide range of books, from (a few) doctrinal legal texts, to (many more) historical accounts and works of fiction. Unlike in many official book prize competitions, 2018 does not necessarily stand for the year of publication; rather, board members were asked to list books they read or re-read this year, and found inspiring or enjoyable. We are starting off the small series with selections from our Editor-in-Chief,  Joesph Weiler.

For the first time I have managed to prepare my Good Reads to post on EJIL:Talk! well before Christmas. I publish my pick from some of the books that have come my way during the past year. These are not book reviews in the classical and rigorous sense of the word, for which you should turn to our Book Review section. I do not attempt to analyse or critique, but rather to explain why the books appealed to me and why I think you, too, may find them well worth reading.

Marcel Reich-Ranicki, The Author of Himself: The Life of Marcel Reich-Ranicki (Princeton University Press, 2001) 

My German readers will be shaking their head in some wonderment: Marcel Reich-Ranicki? Him again? An autobiography from 1999 of a person who died in 2013? Did he not speak enough about he, him and himself during his lifetime so as to last a few lifetimes? My non-German speakers will be shaking their heads with a different wonderment: Marcel Reich who?

But then, consider that when published this book was the no. 1 best-selling book in Germany for 52 weeks. Must be something there, no? Read the rest of this entry…

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Are “Transparency” Procedures and Local Community “Consultations” Enough? A Human Rights “Feedback Loop” to International Economic Law Reforms of 2018

Published on December 12, 2018        Author: 
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It is nearly the end of 2018, and so many “reform” efforts are underway throughout all realms of international economic law that one is inclined to think all our good intentions must lead somewhere, eventually.  There is an UNCITRAL Working Group for Reforming Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) that involves Member States, and to a different degree, academic inputs through the Academic Forum (see the blog’s series of posts on these authored by Anthea Roberts, found here, here, here, here, and here).  New trade agreements have been announced, such as the NAFTA renamed 2.0 version United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, recently discussed here by the Max Planck Institute’s Pedro Villareal and Franz Ebert), a renegotiated Korea-US trade agreement (details here), or the forthcoming entry into force of the US-less 11-nation bloc of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on 30 December 2018 (see details here).  With the United States having changed its defense and leadership of the WTO and the multilateral trading system towards a policy of not shirking from initiating open bilateral trade wars to force renegotiations – such as the temporary trade truce with China (contents here) and tariffs slapped on the EU, Canada, and other allies (see Joseph Weiler’s ever prescient portents about the precarious US position here, and further discussions here, here, and here), it is not at all surprising that other States this year have been strategically realigning their economic partnerships, whether it be through deepening EU-Africa trade partnerships; Japan recently concluding a new trade pact with the EU; or more countries moving out of the Western orbit of economic influence towards China’s own expansive march with debt-financed investment projects in the Belt and Road Initiative; or China and/or India leading the state of negotiations at the pending 16-member mega-regional agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), allegedly set to be finalized by early 2019.  All these, apart from the uncertainties of securing any prospective UK-EU treaty, which, as of this writing is still up in the air after British PM Theresa May pulled back from forcing a catastrophic vote at the House of Commons (noting, of course, that the European Court of Justice issued a landmark ruling on 10 December 2018 declaring that the UK can voluntarily revoke Brexit).

Political expediencies and treaty negotiation pragmatisms aside, we have to wonder whether the “efficiency” of these developments will indeed result in “efficacy” or “effectiveness”, and for which constituencies of the international economic system.  Despite the multitude of public policy-driven reform efforts (such as expanding amicus participation, transparency guarantees, as well as public consultations in ISDS, setting out more detailed environmental and labor chapters in trade agreements, or announcing more infrastructure financing avenues for developing countries in new institutions and initiatives), what I have not seen in a year of attempted reforms is any deliberate shift towards broadening global economic governance beyond the usual voices at the negotiating table.  The same political, economic, intellectual, or social elites are crafting the new rules and institutions in the international economic system, with the contours of any local community consultations actually left to be operationalized according to the political auspices and national mechanisms of individual States.  To a great extent, this is understandable, since a relentless cacophony of voices might be anathema to achieving any final treaty text or clear institutional decision (e.g. the Aristotelian version of the tyranny of an extreme democracy).  But to a large extent, this “business as usual” approach remains just as discomfiting as the many paeans regularly being made these days (see here, here, here, for example), towards building in some kind of consultations process for local communities that are somehow intended to depict a “more inclusive” international economic system.  Is it enough that local communities are “being heard” by their respective States, or should the new rules and reforming institutions of the international economic system also start making sure that States are indeed listening?  

Once communities have been “consulted”, one way or another, where is the (hopefully objective and largely depoliticized) “feedback loop” that enables local communities to actually see what the State’s ultimate decision-making process has been with respect to reforming international economic treaties, decisions, and institutions?  That process remains shrouded in mystery – owing to the usual fictions of States claiming to need opacity during hard treaty bargaining.  I make the (rather obvious, but surprisingly still ignored) argument, in this post, that States’ human rights obligations to their populations make it imperative to build in a genuine “feedback loop” for any consultations or transparency procedure that may be contemplated in the continuing reform of international economic law.  A feedback loop is a necessary control mechanism in the communication process that enables communicants to verify whether their respective inputs or views have been used, recycled, revised, or discarded by the decision-maker.  To the best of my knowledge, this still doesn’t exist in the architecture of international economic law and its limited spaces for public participation.  There is “consultation” but no meaningful opportunities for communities’ real-time verification of what their States have promised, traded, conceded, or otherwise bargained at the negotiating table.

It is not enough that local communities just be “heard”, but we should all be properly informed of how community views translate (or not) into the State’s international economic decision, so as to ensure that communities can strategically and effectively participate as fellow constituents of the international economic system.  This is all the more urgent as States persist in these reforms through to the new year, when communities are, in the first place, at the frontlines of the international economic system’s felt impacts on environment, health, economic, social, cultural, civil, and political rights.  If there is any constituency that deserves the information on how States have been making all of these reform decisions, it is our communities who have to live through the consequences of these decisions, years after all the politicians and negotiators have come and gone.  With better information as to States’ actual international economic decisions coming from an actual “feedback loop”, communities are better empowered to choose (or reject) leaders who make these lasting decisions.  The “feedback loop” is thus central to a genuine right to self-determination, in its economic and political dimensions.

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Joint Symposium with Justice in Conflict on Human Rights Watch’s Report on The ICC’s Impact on National Justice

Published on December 6, 2018        Author:  and
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While investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC) have received the lions’ share of attention and scrutiny from scholars and observers, there has been a growing interest in the impact of the ICC’s preliminary examinations. The preliminary examination stage requires the ICC Prosecutor to ascertain whether alleged crimes fall within the Court’s jurisdiction, whether the crimes are of sufficient gravity to warrant investigation, whether there are ongoing proceedings related to those alleged crimes, and whether an investigation into alleged atrocities would be in the “interests of justice”. If the answer to each is ‘yes’, then the Prosecutor can seek an official investigation.

There are currently ten open preliminary examinations across four continents: Afghanistan, Colombia, Guinea, Iraq/UK, Nigeria, Palestine, the Philippines, Bangladesh/Myanmar, Ukraine, and Venezuela. But what have the political and legal impacts of these preliminary examinations been? Have they galvanized greater interest in achieving accountability? What lessons can be drawn from preliminary examinations to date in order to improve the prospects of justice?

To answer these and other questions, EJIL:Talk! and Justice in Conflict are delighted to host a discussion of the Human Rights Watch report, Pressure Point: The ICC’s Impact on National Justice – Lessons from Colombia, Georgia, Guinea, and the United Kingdom, and of ICC Preliminary Examinations more generally.

The symposium coincides with the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the ICC, which begins its annual session this week. One of the highlights of the ASP is the release of the Office of the Prosecutor’s (OTP) 2018 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities. The report summarises the activities of the Office with regard to situations which are under preliminary examination by the Prosecutor.  

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The Kerch Strait Incident: Law of the Sea or Law of Naval Warfare?

Published on December 3, 2018        Author: 
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On Sunday 25 November 2018 Russian coast guard patrol boats, including the Don and the 630-ton Izumrud, first intercepted and later fired on three Ukrainian naval ships near the entrance to the Kerch Strait. Two Ukrainian sailors were injured, the Ukrainian ships seized and the crews arrested. The attack has been roundly condemned in the United States and around the world.

The Russian ships intercepted two Ukrainian Gyurza-M-class artillery boats, Berdyansk and Nikopol and a tugboat, Yany Kapu, as they sailed toward the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. Russian forces seized the vessels and arrested 24 crew members. The Don twice rammed the tugboat and the Russian vessels opened fire on the two smaller Ukrainian warships. The incident occurred in the territorial sea along the approaches to the Kerch Strait, which is bordered in the east by Russia and in the west by Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. The Russian government stated that its forces fired only after the Ukrainian ships violated articles 19 and 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerning innocent passage in the territorial sea.

Exploring the legal circumstances of the incident requires selection between peacetime rules of the law of the sea and the law of naval warfare, which applies to international armed conflicts. This post concludes that the actual incident on the water is part of a continuing aggression by Russia against Ukraine, in violation of the UN Charter. While unlawful as a matter of the jus ad bellum, the incident would be a lawful in bello use of force by Russia in accordance with the law of naval warfare, notwithstanding Russia’s unlawful invasion of Crimea in 2014 or subsequent unlawful treatment of the Ukrainian sailors as common criminals rather than prisoners of war. In this case the law of naval warfare is lex specialis and supplants mutatis mutandis the peacetime rules of the international law of the sea for Russia and the Ukraine.

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Appealing the High Court’s Judgment in the Public Law Challenge against UK Arms Export Licenses to Saudi Arabia

Published on November 29, 2018        Author: 
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In May of this year, the Court of Appeal granted leave to appeal the 2017 High Court ruling in Campaign Against the Arms Trade v Secretary of State for International Trade.

The case and the High Court’s 2017 judgment have already received some commentary (see here). Simply put, the case concerns a public law challenge against the government’s continued approval of licenses for arms exports to Saudi Arabia, on the grounds, inter alia, that the Secretary of State’s conclusion that there is not a ‘clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law’, in the context of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, was irrational (criterion 2(c) of the Consolidated Criteria set out in European Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP and adopted by the Secretary of State as the policy to be followed in granting or refusing export licenses). The High Court found against the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, concluding that the determinations made by the Secretary of State permitting continued export of arms to Saudi Arabia were rational.

The present post focuses on what is submitted is an error of law made both by the government in its determinations as to whether to grant or refuse export licenses and by the High Court in its judgment. Specifically, both the government and the High Court appear to have mistakenly taken the view that a certain subjective mens rea threshold necessarily applies before one can say that there has been a serious violation of international humanitarian law. Read the rest of this entry…

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How Trump’s Migration Policy Erodes National and International Standards of Protection for Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Published on November 28, 2018        Author: 
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Early this month, 5,600 US soldiers were deployed to the southern border as a response to an approaching migrant caravan consisting of several thousand Central Americans. U.S. President Donald Trump called the advancing group in official statements a foreign “invasion” that warrants deploying up to 15,000 army members to support the border patrol. He further publicly warned that “nobody is coming in” and once more clarified his stance on migration stating that “immigration is a very, very big and very dangerous, a really dangerous topic”. The latest footage of U.S. officers firing tear gas at migrants of the caravan-including at children- that tried to enter the country, is the disturbing result of Trump’s sketched horror scenario of a violent invasion of Central Americans.

This strict stance on migration is just the most recent example, the tip of an iceberg of the Trump administration’s aim to establish, step by step, a migration policy that erodes national and international standards of protection.

The comprehensive new migration strategy seemingly builds on a set of immediate, as well as long-term measures aiming at those who attempt to enter the United States as well as at those who are already within the state’s territory. For example, last month a new immigration policy was introduced that aimed at restricting immigrants from using public benefits, or else they may be illegible for permanent residency later on. This is just one of numerous examples of how the Trump administration severely restricted or just completely abandoned given standards such as the abolishment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the prevention of dreamers from living and working in the U.S.A., as well as the abrogation of the temporary protective status programs. These turnovers of existing standards affected more than two million regularly residing migrants in the U.S.A. and fostered sentiments of fear, nationalism and division.

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Towards Universality: Activities Impacting the Enjoyment of the Right to Life and the Extraterritorial Application of the ICCPR

Published on November 27, 2018        Author: 
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On October 31st, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) adopted General Comment no 36 on the right to life (GC36, available here) to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR/the Covenant). The Comment includes a number of interesting elements including, the introduction of the right to life as the ‘supreme’ right, and the relationship between the right to life and the environment. This post examines the endorsement in GC36 of the notion of ‘impact’ as constitutive of jurisdiction for the purpose of the extraterritorial application of the Covenant.

Impact as Exercise of Jurisdiction

In para. 63 of GC36, the Human Rights Committee adopts the ‘impact’-approach to the interpretation of Art. 6 in conjunction with Art. 2 (1) of the Covenant:

In light of article 2, paragraph 1, of the Covenant, a State party has an obligation to respect and to ensure the rights under article 6 of all persons who are within its territory and all persons subject to its jurisdiction, that is, all persons over whose enjoyment of the right to life it exercises power or effective control.  This includes persons located outside any territory effectively controlled by the State, whose right to life is nonetheless impacted by its military or other activities in a direct and reasonably foreseeable manner. […]

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the debates on the extraterritorial application of human rights treaties. To quickly recap, the application of human rights treaties Read the rest of this entry…

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A Second Brexit Referendum – What Makes You Think They Will Have You Back?

Published on November 26, 2018        Author: 
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The call for a second Brexit Referendum is still alive, some say more than ever. It is probably unlikely and, even if it were to take place, there is no certainty that the Remain camp would win. But it is somehow based on the assumption that if such a referendum were held, and the Remainers would win (probably a narrow victory) and that if, as a result, the UK Parliament were to change its mind and elect to remain, that on the basis of this unilateral decision of the UK the status quo ante would be restored and British membership of the Union would continue unabated.

This is very unlikely to be the case.

First there is the legal issue regarding such a unilateral withdrawal of the Article 50 notice.

As is well known, a Preliminary Reference from Scotland will be decided this month in an expedited procedure and before a plenary forum of the ECJ, trying to clarify the legal parameters of a British change of mind whether through a referendum or otherwise.

The Reference definitely has some elements of an Affaire Bidon but I predict the ECJ will not opt for inadmissibility in this case. On the merits it is likely that it will  reject the two ‘bookend’ arguments and instead go for the centre. It is most unlikely that it will hold that once Article 50 notice has been served the process is irreversible and that the only way back, even before the deadline for formal exit arrived, is an Article 49 admission procedure. It is, in my view, equally or even more unlikely that it would hold that the UK could unilaterally withdraw its notice and that, with no more, its Membership would continue unabated. The UK drives everyone crazy for close to three years and then, oops, just as the Clock Strikes One, the Mouse is to run down as if nothing happened?

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