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Home Human Rights Archive for category "Deprivation of Liberty" (Page 3)

Non-State Armed Groups in NIAC: Does IHL Provide Legal Authority for the Establishment of Courts?

Published on June 4, 2014        Author: 

The recent Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defencecase has prompted a number of interesting and insightful posts addressing the issue of whether international humanitarian law (IHL) provides a legal basis for detention in Non-International Armed Conflicts (NIAC) (see, for example, here, here, here and here). This discussion offers an opportunity to address the issue of non-State armed groups, something not discussed in detail so far, with the notable exception of Aurel Sari’s post. In particular, the existing debate with regard to detention raises, more broadly, the issue of the legal authority extended to non-State armed groups party to a NIAC. In this post, I present an argument in support of one of the most controversial issues in this area: the authority of armed groups to establish courts.

Does IHL regulate armed group courts?

As is well known, IHL does not provide an explicit basis for the establishment of courts in NIAC, but rather regulates their operation in the event they are in fact established. In this regard IHL contains two relevant rules. Common Article 3(1)(d) of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 prohibits ‘the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court’, while Article 6 of Additional Protocol II (AP II) requires that ‘[n]o sentences shall be passed and no penalty shall be executed on a person found guilty of an offence except pursuant to a conviction pronounced by a court offering the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality’. Regarding the common Article 3 requirement that a court be ‘regularly constituted’, sources such as the ICRC Customary IHL Study note that a court may satisfy this requirement ‘if it has been established and organized in accordance with the laws and procedures already in force in a country.’ This would appear to support the argument that IHL does not provide a specific legal basis for the establishment of courts (authority is derived from the municipal law in force). At the same time, this reasoning also appears to preclude the convening of armed group courts since domestic law is (almost certainly) unlikely to establish a legal basis for non-State armed group courts. That said, it should be noted that the Pictet Commentary to the Geneva Conventions does not equate the regularly constituted requirement with a basis in municipal law, but rather focuses on the prohibition of ‘summary justice’.

Article 6(2) AP II – which ‘develops and supplements’ common Article 3 – dispenses with the ‘regularly constituted court’ provision, requiring instead that a court offer ‘the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality.’ The ICRC Commentary notes that this was a deliberate act during drafting, as ‘some experts argued that it was unlikely that a court could be “regularly constituted” under national law by an insurgent party’. Read the rest of this entry…

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Locating the Legal Basis for Detention in Non-International Armed Conflicts: A Rejoinder to Aurel Sari

Published on June 2, 2014        Author: 

Last month, in response to the decision of the English High Court in Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence (see Marko’s commentary here), we wrote a piece arguing that Mr Justice Leggatt correctly concluded that international humanitarian law (IHL) does not provide a legal basis to detain in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). We argued (contrary to Kubo Macak) that authorization to detain in a NIAC does not come from IHL, but rather must be found either in domestic law or in other branches of international law. In particular, we explained that the fact that IHL applicable in NIACs recognises that detention will occur and regulates such detention does not mean that this body of law provides an authority to detain in NIACs. Locating the legal basis for detention has significant implications for assessing the legality of detention in a NIAC, under international human rights law (IHRL). Aurel Sari has written an articulate and thought-provoking response to our post. We wish here to respond to the key points of Aurel’s critique of our view.

The Distinction between IAC Law and NIAC Law

Aurel begins by responding to our claim that the regulation of internment by IHL does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that IHL authorises it. However, his main criticism ignores the distinction we draw between the law applicable in NIACs and that applicable in IACs. He argues that to ‘conclude that IHL does not authorize any of the activities it regulates takes the argument too far.’ We agree, and in fact we do not make such a claim. Rather, we consider this issue to reflect one of the key differences between the law of international armed conflicts (IACs) and that of NIACs. As we noted in our post, whereas IHL applicable in IACS specifically authorises combatants to engage in hostilities (Art 43(2) Additional Protocol I) and to intern combatants (Art 21(1) Geneva Convention III) and civilians (Arts 27(4), 42-3 and 78 Geneva Convention IV), in NIACs IHL is silent on all of these issues and instead merely regulates certain aspects of them.

The reason for this difference between the two bodies of law is partly a consequence of the context of the two types of armed conflict. Since IACs concern two or more states, one state or the other is going to be acting on the territory of a foreign state and acting with respect to individuals who are foreign nationals.  In these circumstances, only an explicit norm of international law can provide the legal authority for targeting, detention, etc. Without such a rule of international law, these actions would be unlawful as a matter of international law since states do not have authority to take such action on the territory of another state and have obligations to other states with respect to how they treat nationals of those other states.

However, the position in NIACs is very different since such conflicts relate (mainly) to intra-state, as opposed to inter-state, relations. Read the rest of this entry…

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Sorry Sir, We’re All Non-State Actors Now: A Reply to Hill-Cawthorne and Akande on the Authority to Kill and Detain in NIAC

Published on May 9, 2014        Author: 

The recent High Court judgment in the case of Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence [2014] EWHC 1369 (QB) has sparked a lively debate about the authority to detain individuals in the context of a non-international armed conflict (NIAC). In response to a post by Kubo Mačák offering a critical perspective on Mohammed, Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne and Dapo Akande have lent their support to the judgment in arguing that no legal basis for lethal targeting and detention exists in IHL.

Essentially, Lawrence and Dapo advocate an understanding of IHL which conceives it as a purely regulatory framework in the sense that its sole purpose is to impose constraints on how States and non-State actors conduct hostilities, without recognising or conferring any rights on them to engage in such hostilities in the first place. On this view, killing and detention is permissible in armed conflict not because it is authorized by the rules of IHL, but because, and only in so far as, it is not prohibited by other rules of international law. In this post, I intend to demonstrate why this ‘Lotus approach’ to IHL is not compelling.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Does IHL Provide a Legal Basis for Detention in Non-International Armed Conflicts?

Published on May 7, 2014        Author: 

In their excellent posts on Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence [2014] EWHC 1369 (QB), both Kubo Mačák and Marko recognise the importance and hugely impressive analysis of Mr Justice Leggatt’s judgment. We will not reiterate the coverage of the judgment. Rather, we wish to focus on one part of it, that is, the question of whether international humanitarian law (IHL) provides a legal basis for detention in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs). Whilst Kubo also focuses on this issue in his post, we will take the opposite view to him, and thus will argue that Mr Justice Leggatt correctly concluded that IHL does not contain a legal basis to detain in NIACs. To be clear, our argument is not that detention in NIACs is necessarily unlawful. The argument is simply that authorization to detain in a NIAC cannot be found in IHL, but must rest elsewhere, principally in domestic law (either of the state that detains or of the state on whose territory the detention occurs). Exceptionally, the authorization to detain may arise out of other branches of international law, in particular, it may be contained in United Nations Security Council resolutions authorizing the use of force.

It is worth spending a few moments considering why we are even asking the question whether IHL contains a legal basis for detention in NIACs. In the particular context of the Sedar Mohammed case – and other detention in armed conflict cases brought under the European human rights system – the question is relevant in considering whether Art 5 ECHR might be regarded as inapplicable in NIACs by virtue of the argument that more specific rules of IHL apply to regulate those detentions. More generally, international human rights law (IHRL) requires that any deprivation of liberty be both lawful and non-arbitrary and in the context of NIACs, it is natural to ask first whether the legal basis might be found in IHL, as it can for international armed conflicts (Arts 27(4), 42-3 and 78 GCIV; Art 21 GCIII).

In the Serdar Mohammed case, Mr Justice Leggatt provided a number of reasons for rejecting the MoD’s contention that IHL provides a sufficient legal basis for detention in the context of NIACs. We will address the key ones here. First, he considered that such a legal basis would have been made explicit in the relevant treaty provisions (common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II) had that been intended. This is a reasonable point – coercive powers should not too readily be read into applicable treaty rules without clear evidence that this is the collective intentions of the states parties. Read the rest of this entry…

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No Legal Basis under IHL for Detention in Non-International Armed Conflicts? A Comment on Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence

Published on May 5, 2014        Author: 

On any account of the events that transpired one early April morning four years ago in northern Helmand in Afghanistan, the plight of Mr Serdar Mohammed is not to be envied. For reasons that are still in dispute, he was captured by the UK armed forces close to his home. Shot at, bitten by a military dog, and finally caught, he was brought into UK custody on suspicion of being an insurgent, perhaps even a Taliban commander. In the end, he was detained on British military bases for over 100 days before being handed over to the Afghan authorities.

Mr Mohammed brought a claim before the High Court of Justice of England and Wales for unlawful detention, seeking compensation from the UK government. In Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence [2014] EWHC 1369 (QB), a judgment delivered last Friday, Mr Justice Leggatt decided that Mr Mohammed’s detention after the initial 96 hours violated Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights and that he was therefore entitled to compensation.

The judge openly says at the outset of the ruling that it is ‘a long judgment which discusses many issues and arguments’ (para. 2). Unlike Marko’s excellent post, which provides a more comprehensive overview of the judgment, my text takes a closer look at one of the key issues in the judgment only. This is the question of lawfulness of detention of persons in non-international armed conflicts under international humanitarian law (IHL), summarised by Marko in section 5 of his post.

It is well known that while the law of international armed conflict (IAC) provides an express legal basis for the detention of civilians in Articles 42 and 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, there is no counterpart in the treaty norms regulating non-international armed conflict (NIAC). The MOD argued that a power to detain is nonetheless implicit in Common Article 3 and Additional Protocol II. Although Mr Justice Leggatt acknowledged academic opinion in support of the MOD view, quoting extensively from texts written by Jelena Pejić and Jann Kleffner (see para. 240), he eventually came down against it on the basis of five very articulate reasons (paras. 241–251).

I will not revisit the academic debate on this topic (for which, in addition to the texts quoted in the judgment, see, e.g., here, here, or here), but rather subject the specific reasons advanced by Mr Justice Leggatt to somewhat closer scrutiny. It appears to me that even though the reasons are very well made, there are strong considerations not reflected in the judgment, which militate in favour of the opposite view.

Read the rest of this entry…

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High Court Rules that the UK Lacks IHL Detention Authority in Afghanistan

Published on May 3, 2014        Author: 

Yesterday the High Court of England and Wales, per Mr Justice Leggatt, delivered a comprehensive judgment in Serdar Mohammed v. Ministry of Defence [2014] EWHC 1369 (QB), holding that the United Kingdom lacks detention authority under international humanitarian law/law of armed conflict with regard to individuals it captures in the course of the non-international armed conflict in Afghanistan, and that any detention of such individuals longer than 96 hours violates Article 5 ECHR, as well as relevant Afghan law. The judgment is on any account a heroic effort, with the single judge grappling with a host of complex, intertwined issues of international law and acquitting himself admirably in the process. Para. 6 contains a summary of the judgment for those who don’t want to read the whole thing.

Here are some of the highlights of the Court’s analysis:

(1) The ECHR applies extraterritorially to any person detained by the UK in Afghanistan.

(2) Derogations under Article 15 ECHR could also be used in an extraterritorial context.

(3) The detention of SM by UK forces in Afghanistan was attributable to the United Kingdom, and not to the UN .

(4) No conflict arose between relevant UNSC resolutions, which did not authorize SM’s continued detention, and Article 5 ECHR, and Article 103 of the Charter was inapplicable.

(5) SM’s detention was not authorized by IHL either, since IHL in NIACs contains no detention authority, and cannot prevail over Article 5 ECHR as lex specialis.

(6) SM’s detention violated Article 5 ECHR. While the detention up to 96 hours was Article 5-compliant, the 110 days that SM spent in UK detention were not.

The Court makes it clear that the position the UK government found itself in is largely its own doing (para. 417 ff). This is exactly right. The government’s own legal advisers informed it of the limited extant legal authority for prolonged detention. The UK government failed to enact its own domestic legislation on detention in Afghanistan, or to come to different arrangements with Afghan authorities. Similarly, the UK government chose not to derogate from the Convention, preferring instead to argue that the Convention does not apply. And now that this strategy has failed (and on several levels), much of what it has been doing is exposed as unlawful.

I imagine that the judgment will be appealed, and we shall we see what happens there. But whatever the appellate courts’ conclusions, I can only hope that their judges will show as much diligence and analytical precision as Mr Justice Leggatt.

Here are the highlights, with some commentary:

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Extraterritorial Seizure of Individuals under International Law – The Case of al-Liby: Part II

Published on November 7, 2013        Author: 

In this second of two posts I intend to continue the analysis of the extraterritorial seizure of individuals under international law, with a particular focus upon the recent arrest, detention and now trial of the al-Qaida leader al-Liby by the United States, who was wanted in connection with the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. In the previous post I addressed the prescriptive jurisdiction of the US over these offences and, noting that its enforcement was territorially limited, looked at two possibilities as to how enforcement may occur; the consent of the Libyan authorities and in self-defence. While the existence of the former would have justified the entering of Libyan territory, question marks still existed in connection with al-Liby’s human rights in such operations. This issue will be addressed in this post. By contrast, while it is at least possible that extraterritorial seizures could be justified as self-defence, the US has thus far failed to demonstrate that the Libyan authorities were unable or unwilling to apprehend and hand-over al-Liby to the US, instead basing the operation broadly upon the ‘laws of war’.  As such, whether this branch of the law permits such operations will be addressed first.

Arrest and detention as part of an armed conflict

Assuming here for the sake of argument that the US is in a state of war/armed conflict with al-Qaida, and similarly assuming for the sake of argument that given the absence of two state parties this is a non-international armed conflict per the ambiguous Hamdan judgment, the law of armed conflict says very little about powers of detention in such conflicts, as opposed to the rather extensive provision it makes for the issue (particularly in GCIII) in armed conflicts of an international nature.

It could be argued that there is a power of extrajudicial detention in non-international armed conflicts under customary international law. Indeed, this appears to be the view of the US and certain other states. Yet, the rules that do exist in the law of non-international armed conflicts governing detention are concerned with the general treatment and trial of individuals after they have been detained, as opposed to providing prior grounds for detention and thus ensuring that any deprivation of liberty is not of an arbitrary nature. Instead, such issues are left to the domestic law of the state where the non-international armed conflict is taking place and/or international human rights law. In this respect, regardless of whether the claim of the US in regards to its armed conflict with al-Qaida is well-founded or not, given the extraterritorial nature of the arrest and detention of al-Liby questions are raised as to whether, and if so how, international human rights law provides a form of regulation to the actions of the US. Read the rest of this entry…

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The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Obaidullah v United States and the Mainstream of International Law

Published on October 7, 2013        Author: 

Photo BjorgeEirik Bjorge is the Shaw Foundation Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) is the only body in the international human rights system with a specific mandate to receive and examine cases on arbitrary deprivation of liberty. In this capacity it has, since 1991, interpreted and enforced the international legal rules on deprivation of liberty as they have developed in domestic, regional and international jurisdictions. Its jurisprudence can be accessed via its search engine. Earlier this year one of the members of the WGAD, Professor Mads Andenas, presented before the UN Human Rights Council the report 2012 WGAD activities.

Obaidullah v United States

obaidullah-785x1024Potential applicants and counsel are becoming increasingly aware of the opinions which make up the WGAD’s body of jurisprudence. A recent illustrative example is the opinion handed down by the WGAD in Obaidullah v United States on the detention of Bertola Obaidullah at Guantánamo Bay (distributed on 3 June 2013; to be published in December). In its opinion in Obaidullah the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found against the United States in relation to the arbitrary detention of Obaidullah (pictured above right, credit).

Obaidullah, a twenty-nine-year-old ethnic Pashtun Afghan citizen resident in the village of Milani, Khost province, had on 21 July 2002 been taken into custody during a raid on his family home. He was interned at a US military station and subsequently held for three months. In its opinion the WGAD made clear that ‘while imprisoned in Afghanistan, Mr. Obaidullah was not informed of the reasons for his detention. He was threatened, coerced into making false statements and tortured’ (at [4]). The WGAD said the following about Obaidullah’s later detention at Guantánamo Bay: ‘In October 2002, United States military forces transferred Mr. Obaidullah to the United States detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where he continued to be subjected to torture and inhuman treatment. More than ten years later, Mr. Obaidullah continues to be detained at Guantánamo Bay. He was not provided any reasons for his detention nor charged’ (at [5]).

The opinion of the Working Group concluded that: ‘The deprivation of liberty of Mr. Obaidullah is arbitrary and in contravention of articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and 9 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.’ (See the excellent blog post by Marine Farshian on La Revue des Droits de l’Homme.) Read the rest of this entry…

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