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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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Germany and its Involvement in the US Drone Programme before German Administrative Courts

Published on April 8, 2019        Author: 
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On 19th March 2019, the German Higher Administrative Court for North Rhine-Westphalia rendered a highly interesting and important judgment. It addresses no less than the compatibility of US drone strikes in Yemen with international law, the role of domestic courts with regard to international law, and the scope – and limits – of judicial review in foreign affairs.

The case was brought by Yemeni claimants against Germany for its alleged involvement in the US drone programme. While Germany neither publicly supports nor actively participates in the US drone programme, it is nearly undisputed that the US Air Base in Ramstein, Germany, plays a vital role therein (see here). The Court held that, first, Germany is constitutionally obliged to ascertain that the US drone strikes conducted via Ramstein are compatible with international law. Secondly, in case the government finds the US practice to be legally contentious, German authorities have to take efforts in order to ensure that international law is complied with.

The full reasoning of the decision is not yet available in writing, but the press release (see here for an unofficial English translation) and the transcript of the oral pronouncement of the decision (see here) allow for some preliminary remarks. (Note that the Higher Administrative Court on the same day rendered a second judgment that concerned US drone strikes, albeit in Somalia (see here). This contribution, however, focuses on the “Yemen case”.)

The Facts

In 2012, Salem bin Ali Jaber, a Yemeni imam known for openly criticising Al Qaeda was invited to deliver a sermon at the local mosque of Khashamir, Yemen, where he attended a family wedding. In that course he was approached by three members of Al Qaeda requesting a meeting. Salem asked his relative, and local police officer, Waleed to accompany him. Shortly after the meeting commenced, US drones fired a series of four Hellfire rockets on the group killing both Salem and Waleed bin Ali Jaber as well as the three Al Qaeda members.

This prompted Read the rest of this entry…

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Liability of an Assisting Army for Detainee Abuse by Local Forces: The Danish High Court Judgment in Green Desert

Published on January 24, 2019        Author:  and
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This comment sets out to discuss the judgment of the Danish High Court (Eastern Division) in what is known as the Iraq or Green Desert Case (B344808J – HBJ). The judgment, delivered in June 2018 and available in Danish only, has received limited attention outside Denmark. It is significant in that it establishes liability for Danish forces for ill-treatment of Iraqi detainees by Iraqi security forces, in circumstances in which Danish forces were found not to have taken part in the arrests and subsequent abuse of detainees, nor to have exercised command over Iraqi forces. Danish forces had only ‘coordinating authority’ which did not permit the issuing of orders to Iraqi forces. Liability was nonetheless established on the basis that, at the time of the decision to take part in this joint military operation (‘Operation Green Desert’) in November 2004, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Defence Command or the Danish Battalion should have known that there was ‘a real risk that persons detained during the operation would be subject to inhuman treatment in Iraqi custody during the further investigation’ (810-11). The MoD has appealed the decision, but at the time of writing the Supreme Court was yet to schedule a hearing date.

The claimants had submitted that, in light of Article 3 ECHR, the MoD was obliged to conduct a new independent investigation, but the Court rejected the applicant’s request, arguing that such an investigation was not likely to bring about relevant new information.

Taking into account the nature of the abuses and the fact that these were not perpetrated by Danish forces, the Court found that the compensation should be set at 30,000 DKK (appr. 4,000 EUR) each for 18 of the 23 claimants (5 claimants were not awarded compensation).

Having set out key aspects of the judgment, we examine if the judgment is likely to have ramifications for how Denmark will approach joint military operations in Iraq and elsewhere in the future. We also highlight some parallels with civil proceedings in the UK arising from the Iraq War. Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Better Safe Than Sorry: Transferring Detainees Safely to Coalition Partners

Published on January 19, 2019        Author: 
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The third post in our joint series hosted by the ICRC Humanitarian Law & Policy BlogEJIL Talk! and Lawfare, and arising out of the 6th Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, “Better Safe Than Sorry: Transferring Detainees Safely to Coalition Partners” by Tilman Rodenhäuser (ICRC) is available now over on Lawfare.

Here’s a taster of Tilman’s post:

Faithful application of the principle of non-refoulement can mean that it is not possible to lawfully transfer a person to another authority—for instance when the recipient authority is notorious for torturing or otherwise ill-treating detainees, or for executing them without fair trial. Practically, this means that the international forces are stuck with the detainee during extraterritorial operations. Short-term solutions in such situations include keeping a detainee in accordance with applicable procedural safeguards, finding an alternative authority to which transfers are lawful, or releasing the detainee. For longer-term solutions, states should work more systematically with partners to ensure humane treatment of detainees, including through assisting in developing necessary rules and procedures, training partner forces, or jointly managing certain detention facilities.

In light of the various legal and operational challenges that extraterritorial detention may entail, it could seem tempting to avoid taking prisoners at all, for instance by conducting “partnered operations” in which only local partners take detainees.

Read the rest of Tilman’s post over on Lawfare.

Other posts in the series:

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A Quick Holiday Update on Ukraine/Russia Litigation before the ECtHR

Published on December 24, 2018        Author: 
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Last week the European Court of Human Rights published a press release which is worth flagging for readers, with an update on litigation concerning various aspects of the conflict in Ukraine pending before it. As things stand, there are more than 4000 individual cases before the Court with a nexus to the conflict, whether in Eastern Ukraine or Crimea. There are currently five pending interstate cases between Ukraine and Russia, the latest one filed in November, concerning the Kerch Strait incident (see this prior post by James Kraska) and in which the Court has indicted interim measures. The Court has now decided to adjourn many of the individual cases, pending its decision in the interstate cases on the applicability of the Convention, specifically with regard to the Article 1 ECHR jurisdiction of both Ukraine and Russia; for a discussion of this issue, see my recent ICLQ article with Tatjana Papic on the applicability of the ECHR in contested territories.

The full press release is reproduced below.

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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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