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Callamard Report on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Part II

Published on June 26, 2019        Author: 

In my second post on the report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, I will discuss some of its most interesting legal findings. The key finding, obviously, is that Saudi Arabia is responsible for committing an extrajudicial execution in violation of Mr Khashoggi’s right to life. The Special Rapporteur notes in that regard, quite correctly, that it is ultimately legally irrelevant whether Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated, ordered at the highest levels of the Saudi state, or was done as part of some ‘rogue’ operation. Saudi Arabia bears responsibility for the conduct of its organs, done in their official capacity, even if it was committed ultra vires (para. 219).

In addition to finding Saudi Arabia responsible for violating Khashoggi’s right to life and for failing to comply with obligations towards Turkey under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the report also finds that Khashoggi’s killing constituted an unlawful use of force by Saudi Arabia against Turkey, contrary to the prohibition in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter (paras. 227-230). The report’s analysis in this regard focuses somewhat excessively on whether the killing of a journalist would be an act contrary to the purposes of the United Nations, but does not really engage with the prior question of whether the furtive assassination of a single individual can constitute ‘force’ in the sense of Article 2(4). This is in effect the question of whether there is any de minimis, lowest limit to the concept of force in Article 2(4), and is a point of some controversy, since a finding that interstate force has been used has a number of important implications. Most recently the same issue was raised with regard to the Salisbury chemical attack, when the UK government formally accused Russia for violating the prohibition on the use of force (which, as far as I’m aware, Turkey did not do here). For detailed discussions in this respect see this post by Tom Ruys on Just Security and Dapo’s post here on EJIL: Talk.

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Callamard Report on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi: Part I

Published on June 25, 2019        Author: 

Last week the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Agnes Callamard, submitted to the Human Rights Council her long-awaited final report on the investigation she conducted on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. In this post I’ll offer a few thoughts on some of the legal and factual findings of this report, which is the result of the only independent inquiry to-date into Khashoggi’s assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October last year. Readers may recall that I’ve recently written extensively on the blog on the international legal aspects of Khashoggi’s murder, based on my forthcoming article in the Human Rights Law Review.

The Callamard report is extensive, detailed and rich in its legal and factual analysis. Indeed it is far too extensive to be summarized and discussed in a blog post, which I will not attempt to do. Rather, this two-part post will focus on a selection of the report’s most novel factual and legal findings; the first part will examine the former, and the second, to be published tomorrow, will look at the report’s legal analysis.

The report itself is comprised of two documents. First, the formal report to the Human Rights Council, submitted for its 41st regular session starting this week – UN Doc. A/HRC/41/36. Second, a one-hundred page annex to that report, which contains the Special Rapporteur’s detailed factual and legal findings with regard to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi – UN Doc. A/HRC/41/CRP.1. The former document by and large summarizes the contents of the latter, while emphasizing some important points of principle, e.g. regarding the duty to warn (on which more tomorrow). I will hereinafter thus only refer to the annex, i.e. whenever I cite a paragraph of the report, I mean to refer to the longer document, A/HRC/41/CRP.1.

Again, I will not cover the report exhaustively. The media coverage of the report, including succinct summaries of its main findings, has been extensive (e.g. here and here; see also this VoA interview with Ms Callamard). In a nutshell, the Special Rapporteur found that Saudi Arabia bears state responsibility for the extrajudicial killing of Mr Khashoggi, in violation of his human right to life, and that it has similarly violated its positive obligation to effectively investigate his killing. She has inter alia called on the UN Secretary-General, the Human Rights Council, and the Security Council, to establish an independent international criminal investigation into Khashoggi’s murder, and has specifically found that credible evidence existed for the potential responsibility of the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and his principal henchman, Saud al-Qahtani.

As one could expect, Saudi Arabia has already rejected the report, alleging that it is biased, contains ‘nothing new,’ repeats allegations already made in the media, and is based on ‘false accusations confirmed as stemming from Callamard’s preconceived ideas and positions towards the kingdom.’ In reality, however, there are quite a few new significant factual findings in the report, which have been made with a commendable degree of care and rigour – all the more commendable in light of the very limited resources that the Special Rapporteur had at her disposal. In fact, the report expressly tries not to rely on media reporting, whenever possible, and acknowledges possible sources of bias when appropriate (see paras. 36-37, 42-47). The Special Rapporteur established as proven or credible only those facts that she herself could independently substantiate. And, of course, she applied in great detail the applicable rules of international law to the facts that she has established. As we will see, most of her legal findings are (at least in my view) unassailable, while others are somewhat more tenuous.

What, then, of the report’s novel factual findings?

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Russian Agents Charged with Downing of MH17; MH17 Cases in Strasbourg

Published on June 20, 2019        Author: 

Yesterday international investigators charged three Russian nationals and one Ukrainian national before Dutch criminal courts for the 2014 downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine. According to a report in the Guardian:

The suspects were named as Igor Girkin, a former colonel of Russia’s FSB spy service; Sergey Dubinskiy, employed by Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency; and Oleg Pulatov, a former soldier with the GRU’s special forces spetsnaz unit. All were Russian soldiers previously sent abroad.

A fourth suspect, Leonid Kharchenko, is a Ukrainian. He led a military combat unit in the city of Donetsk as a commander, it was alleged.

Girkin was minister of defence in the Moscow-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR). He was the commander of the DNR when the plane was shot down on 17 July 2014. Dubinskiy served as Girkin’s deputy in the DNR, and Pulatov was Dubinskiy’s deputy. Kharchenko was under their command.

Investigators said the soldiers “formed a chain linking DNR with the Russian Federation”. This link was how the separatists obtained heavy equipment from Russia including the Buk launcher used to fire at MH17 with “terrible consequences”.

The accused did not push the button themselves but were responsible for bringing the anti-aircraft system to eastern Ukraine. They could therefore be held criminally liable and charged with murdering 298 people, investigators said.

Readers will recall that last year the investigators and the Dutch and Australian governments formally attributed the downing of MH17 to Russia. Yesterday, however, saw the first criminal charges brought against specific individuals. Obviously, it remains highly unlikely that any of them will face trial in the Netherlands in the foreseeable future, unless they are unwise enough to travel abroad, although they will likely be tried in absentia.

There have also been interesting developments about litigation regarding MH17 in the European Court of Human Rights. Back in 2014 I suggested that the families of the victims may decide to bring cases against both Russia and Ukraine:

In addition to whatever direct involvement these states may have had in the destruction of the aircraft, they could also be held liable for other internationally wrongful acts. For example, Ukraine could be responsible for failing to secure the right to life of the victims and failing to comply with its substantive positive obligations under Article 2 ECHR by deciding not to close the relevant airspace for civilian traffic. Russia could be held responsible for providing the rebels with anti-aircraft weaponry without sufficient safeguards (e.g. appropriate training of the missile crews), thus creating the risk that this weaponry could be used against civilian targets. Both states could be held responsible for failing to secure an effective investigation into the incident. Obviously the facts could yet develop and some very complex preliminary issues could arise (e.g. the extent of Russia’s control over the Ukrainian rebels and the question of the ECHR’s extraterritorial application), but all these points seem arguable.

At least two such cases have indeed been brought and have been communicated by the Court to the respondent governments for pleadings on admissibility and merits.

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More on the Duty to Warn Persons Threatened by Foreign Intelligence Services

Published on June 10, 2019        Author: 

I recently wrote on the blog about the obligation of states, arising from their duty to protect the right to life under human rights law, to warn individuals subject to their jurisdiction of any real and immediate risk to their life, bodily integrity, or liberty and security of person, posed by foreign intelligence services. That duty arises if the state knows, or ought to know, of such a threat, i.e. if the threat is reasonably foreseeable to it. I’ve argued in that regard how it cannot be conclusively established, but may be so established after further factual inqury, that the United States or Turkey had enough relevant information in their possession to trigger their protective obligation with regard to Jamal Khashoggi and the threat posed to his life by agents of Saudi Arabia. If that obligation was triggered, however, the duty to warn Khashoggi arose, whereas no such warning was given to him before his assassination in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

As I have explained in my previous post, and in more detail in my full paper, the duty to warn does not impose unreasonable burdens on states engaged in intelligence-gathering activities. First, it is subject to a jurisdictional threshold, which may be looser, per the Human Rights Committee’s new functional approach to the extraterritorial application of the right to life, or stricter, per the more traditional spatial or personal conceptions of jurisdiction. Opinions will clearly differ in this regard as to which approach should prevail. The key point here, however, is that a state lacking the capacity to fulfil the duty to warn will never be expected to have to do so. Second, the duty will only be engaged if a specific unlawful threat to the life of an individual was reasonably foreseeable to the state. Third, the duty to warn is one of due diligence, and the state can take a number of relevant considerations into account in deciding on how to fulfil it. It might, for example, choose to convey the substance of the threat in a way that will avoid any risk of compromising intelligence-gathering sources and methods. It might choose to do so through an intermediary, such as a relevant agency of a partner state. In the vast majority of conceivable circumstances the state will be able to convey a warning without compromising its essential interests in any meaningful way. Granted, the state will have to devote some resources towards actually complying with the obligation. But such an expectation is not unreasonable, especially bearing in mind that this rather modest burden will usually fall on the wealthiest, most powerful states in possession of an extensive foreign intelligence apparatus, whose ultimate purpose should after all be the safeguarding of human life.

Importantly, in the past month or so, the CIA and partner security services have actually warned three associaties of Khashoggi of a Saudi threat against them, demonstrating that the duty to warn does not, in fact, impose unreasonable burdens on state authorities and that it can effectively be complied with.

First, after obtaining information about a specific threat from the CIA, the Norwegian security services warned a prominent Arab pro-democracy activist and vocal critic of the Saudi crown prince, who has been granted asylum and is living in Norway. As the Guardian reports:

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A Hypothetical on Deprivation of Liberty and Torture

Published on May 31, 2019        Author: 

In light of today’s rather extraordinary statement by Prof. Nils Melzer, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, that Julian Assange has been subjected not only to arbitrary deprivation of liberty, but also to a sustained campaign of collective persecution, the results of which were tantamount to psychological torture, here’s a brief hypothetical that can hopefully shed some light on Assange’s legal situation:

Variant 1: A is a human rights defender living and working in Dystopia, a highly authoritarian police state. He has helped countless people in his work, to much international acclaim. One day he receives reliable information that a Dystopian court has ordered his arrest, on charges of sedition, and that if convicted (which seems very likely) he could spend many years in prison. A decides to evade the police seeking to arrest him.  With the help of friends, A finds refuge in a cave in a remote location. He spends 7 years in that cave, with very little human contact, fearful that if he ever left the cave the police would find him and arrest him. The years take their toll. A starts suffering from a number of physical ailments. Even worse, the virtually total separation from his family, friends and the outside world eventually leads to serious impairment to his mental health, including severe anxiety and depression. After 7 years, the Dystopian police discover A’s hiding place and arrest him.

Questions: (1) While A was in the cave, was he subjected to a deprivation of liberty by the state of Dystopia? (2) If so, was that deprivation of liberty arbitrary? (3) In any event, do the accumulated consequences to A’s mental and physical health, due to the extended period of time he spent in the cave hiding from Dystopian authorities, qualify as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of A on the part of the state of Dystopia?

Variant 2: R is the highest-ranking general of the army of a separatist regime in Anarchia, a country ravaged by a sectarian civil war. The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for R’s arrest for war crimes and crimes against humanity on a massive scale; he is suspected of leading a campaign of ethnic cleansing which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people. After the Anarchian civil war ends in the victory of his opponents, R decides to go into hiding. With the help of friends, R finds refuge in a cave in a remote location. He spends 7 years in that cave, with very little human contact, fearful that the Anarchian government authorities will arrest him and send him to The Hague for trial. The years take their toll. R starts suffering from a number of physical ailments. Even worse, the virtually total separation from his family, friends and the outside world eventually leads to serious impairment to his mental health, including severe anxiety and depression. After 7 years, the Anarchian police discover R’s hiding place and arrest him.

Questions: (1) While R was in the cave, was he subjected to a deprivation of liberty by the state of Anarchia? (2) If so, was that deprivation of liberty arbitrary? (3) In any event, do the accumulated consequences to R’s mental and physical health, due to the extended period of time he spent in the cave hiding from Anarchian authorities, qualify as torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of R on the part of the state of Anarchia? (4) If you have answered any of the preceding questions differently than their counterparts in Variant 1, please explain why you have done so.

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Passportisation: Risks for International Law and Stability – Response to Anne Peters

Published on May 30, 2019        Author: 

Introduction

Anne Peters’ EJIL Talk! blog post Passportization: Risks for International Law and Stability regarding actions of the Russian Federation as regards applications for Russian nationality for persons living in certain parts of Ukraine (see here and here) raises important and interesting questions. With respect I believe that (i) the post overstates the assistance available from the international law concerned directly with nationality, (ii) evaluating the extent of that law is a worthwhile endeavour, and (iii) something like Prof Dr Peters’ final conclusion may be ultimately reached by a different route, by reference not to the particular principles related to nationality in international law but to the actions of the Russian Federation taken in their overall factual context.

International law re nationality: background

Nationality is closely linked to sovereignty, and nationality issues may well become a source of conflict between or amongst States. Since the Advisory Opinion of the Permanent Court of International Justice in Nationality Decrees Issued in Tunis and Morocco on 8 November 1921, Advisory Opinion, 1923, PCIJ (ser B) No 4 (7 February 1923) questions regarding nationality are no longer considered, as was often the case earlier, to lie exclusively within the ambit of each State. The 1930 Convention on Certain Questions Relating to the Conflict of Nationality Laws records respectively at article 1 that:

It is for each State to determine under its own law who are its nationals’ and that nationality ‘shall be recognised by other Statesso far as it is consistent with international conventions, international custom, and the principles of law generally recognised with regard to nationality.

By article 2:

Any question as to whether a person possesses the nationality of a particular State shall be determined in accordance with the law of the State.

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An Unforeseen Pandora’s Box? Absolute Non-Refoulement Obligations under Article 5 of the ILC Draft Articles on Crimes Against Humanity

Published on May 20, 2019        Author: 

Introduction

In 2013, the International Law Commission (ILC) added to its long-term work programme the topic of a convention on the prevention and punishment of crimes against humanity. This proposed convention is meant to join sibling conventions addressing genocide and war crimes and would stand in the tradition of other conventions addressing serious crimes, such as torture and enforced disappearance. So far, the ILC has adopted 15 Draft Articles which include a wide range of obligations for future State parties regarding the prevention of crimes against humanity, as well as on measures relating to domestic criminalization, mutual legal assistance and extradition. This blog post, however, focusses on Draft Article 5, which includes an absolute non-refoulement obligation with regard to crimes against humanity:

Article 5 Non-refoulement 

  1. No State shall expel, return (refouler), surrender or extradite a person to territory under the jurisdiction of another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he or she would be in danger of being subjected to a crime against humanity.
  2. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations, including, where applicable, the existence in the territory under the jurisdiction of the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights or of serious violations of international humanitarian law.

While the commentary on the Draft Articles argues that most States consider Article 5 to be a mere codification exercise and consistent with existing obligations under international human rights law (IHRL), some states such as the USA, UK and Jordan have expressed their concern that Draft Article 5 constitutes a progressive development of the law and introduces new, mandatory standards of non-refoulement protection. This post makes three main claims. First, that Draft Article 5 does indeed constitute a progressive development of the law and would supersede the current non-refoulement regime under both refugee and human rights law. Second, that although the proposed new regime would increase the protection of individuals from refoulement, it does so in a rather arbitrary fashion. Lastly, that this new regime will further restrict the ability of states to expel or return unwanted individuals who have committed serious crimes or constitute a danger to their community and could therefore trigger a significant political backlash once the Draft Articles reach the level of political decision makers in the future member states of the Convention. Read the rest of this entry…

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Application of the CERD Convention (Qatar v UAE) and “Parallel Proceedings” before the CERD Committee and the ICJ

Published on May 17, 2019        Author: 

Last week, the International Court of Justice held hearings to consider the United Arab Emirates request for provisional measures in the Case concerning the Application of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Qatar v. UAE).  The UAE’s requests are unusual in at least two ways. First these requests constitute the second request for provisional measures in the case, with the first requests considered by the Court last year. Second, and more unusually, this is a rare instance of the respondent state (and one which challenges the jurisdiction of the Court to hear the case) requesting provisional measures. 

The UAE has made requests under four grounds, but I would like to focus on the first, that: ‘(i) Qatar immediately withdraw its Communication submitted to the CERD Committee [the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] pursuant to Article 11 of the CERD on 8 March 2018 against the UAE’. The request raises the question of whether international law has developed a principle of lis pendens such that parallel proceedings before different international bodies should be disallowed. It also engages the issue in previous caselaw of whether the preconditions of Article 22 are alternative or cumulative.

Two mechanisms for inter-state disputes under the CERD

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (the CERD Convention) contains two mechanisms for inter-state “complaints”. First, Articles 11-13 provide for inter-state communications whereby one state party, considering that another state party is not giving effect to the provisions of the Convention, may bring the matter to the attention of the CERD Committee. Second, Article 22 provides that any dispute between two or more states parties with respect to the interpretation or application of the Convention, which is not settled by negotiation or by the procedures expressly provided for in the Convention, can be referred to the ICJ for decision. Read the rest of this entry…

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Passportisation: Risks for international law and stability – Part II

Published on May 10, 2019        Author: 

Editor note: This is Part II of a two-part post. See Part I here.

Part One of the blogpost examined the recent Russian decrees on a fast track procedure for conferring Russian nationality on inhabitants of Eastern Ukraine and explained international legal principles which govern such extraterritorial naturalisations. 

III. Striking the Balance: International Legal Limits on Passportisation

The conflicting individual and governmental interests and the overarching global value of a stable repartition of jurisdictions are reconciled by posing specific legal limits on the power of a state to naturalise citizens of another state.

The Prohibition of an Arbitrary Refusal to Release One’s Nationals

The prohibition of arbitrary decisions concerning nationality issues has emerged as a standard of reference in the international law of nationality. The Report of the UN Secretary General, Human Rights and Arbitrary Deprivation of Nationality, 14 December 2009 (A/HRC/13/34), stated that “[T]he notion of arbitrariness could be interpreted to include not only acts that are against the law but, more broadly, elements of inappropriateness, injustice and lack of predictability also” (para. 25).

A state may not categorically and without any legitimate reason (i.e. arbitrarily) prevent its citizens from acquiring a different citizenship. Inversely, a state may validly oppose the naturalisation of its citizens if its governmental interests outweigh both the interests of the concerned natural persons and the interests of the naturalising state. In that case, the refusal to release its national would not be arbitrary. A state’s refusal to release a national who continues to reside within its own territory is presumptively not arbitrary.

The Requirement of a Factual Connection

International law has traditionally required that there be a factual relationship between the person to be naturalised and the naturalising state. It has never allowed a state to confer its nationality by naturalisation upon persons possessing the nationality of another state and to whom the conferring state has no factual relation at all. Read the rest of this entry…

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