Irini Papanicolopulu is Marie Curie Fellow, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford and a Senior Researcher in international law at the University of Milano-Bicocca (on leave).
In his book, Marko Milanovic addresses the fascinating topic of the extraterritorial application of human rights treaties. The strengths of this book are numerous. In a style that is clear, well-structured and captivating, the author engages in an in-depth analysis of the relevant provisions of the main human rights treaties as well as an analysis of the case-law produced by international courts and quasi-judiciary bodies in applying these provisions. The examination does not shy away from sensitive, complex, or dangerous topics, such as the policy considerations which often underlie treaty making and treaty interpretation or the unwelcome consequences of excessively broadening the scope of application of human rights treaties. Marko Milanovic is not only aware of these and other problematic aspects, but honestly acknowledges them and bravely engages in their discussion. He is not afraid of acknowledging the inconsistencies, drawbacks or limitations of the different approaches – even his own! But this is not all; he also goes further and proposes an alternative model for the determination of the scope of human rights treaties, intended to ensure that considerations of effectiveness do not curtail excessively the aspiration to universality.
One of the greatest merits of this book is that it finally provides order where there was confusion, especially at the time when it was written but also, to some extent, after the European Court of Human Rights decisions in the Al-Skeini and Al-Jedda cases. The extensive and attentive discussion and evaluation of the territorial and personal concepts and their constituent elements is one such example. The taxonomy of the different meanings that the word ‘jurisdiction’ may assume in the human rights context is another. With respect to the latter point, the author rightly distinguishes between the meanings of jurisdiction under general international law and the notion of the same term in the context of determining the applicability of human rights treaties. Attribution of the power to legislate, enforce, or judge, indeed, is different from the actual exercise of the legislative, enforcement or judicial function by a state. Similarly relevant is the distinction between positive and negative obligations pending on States. The consequence is that negative obligations bind states whenever their agents act, irrespectively of the place and person addressed, while positive obligations require that there should be jurisdiction by the state. While the means used for reaching this result may benefit from further elaboration, in particular with respect to the textual analysis, the conclusion itself appears unassailable.
The one point with which I have some difficulties is however the inference that the author draws from the distinction between different notions of jurisdiction, in combination with his distinction between positive and negative obligations of states. As the author poses it, there is jurisdiction when a state exercises power and:
‘This power is a question of fact, of actual authority and control. Despite its name, it is not a legal competence, and it has absolutely nothing to do with that other notion of jurisdiction in international law which delimits the municipal legal systems of states’. (p. 53).
The conclusion is that one should completely disregard the ‘legal’ notion of jurisdiction, in favour of a purely factual one and that the application of human rights treaties ‘should never depend on naked title over a territory, but on actual power exercised over it’ (p. 61).
This thesis however brings with it some problems that do not seem to be sufficiently addressed. Read the rest of this entry…