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Mauritius v. UK: Chagos Marine Protected Area Unlawful

Published on April 17, 2015        Author: 

On 1 April 2010, the UK declared the world’s largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) around the Chagos Archipelago. The Archipelago is one of 14 remaining British overseas territories, administered by the UK as the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT). In contrast to other British overseas territories such as the Falklands/Malvinas and Gibraltar, BIOT is not on the UN list of non-self-governing territories. There is currently no permanent local population because the UK cleared the archipelago of the Chagossians between 1968 and 1973.

Mauritius and the UK both claim sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago. The largest island of the Chagos Archipelago – Diego Garcia – has since the late 1960s housed the most important US military base in the Indian Ocean. The UK leased the island for defense purposes to the US in 1966, prior to Mauritian independence in 1968. The 50-year lease of Diego Garcia is due to be renewed in 2016.

In the Matter of the Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration (Mauritius v. UK), a tribunal constituted under Annex VII of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) issued its award on 18 March 2015. The tribunal found that the UK’s declaration of the MPA disregarded Mauritius’ rights, rendering the MPA unlawful. The award raises the prospect that the renewal of the lease in 2016 will require the UK to meaningfully consult Mauritius.

Mauritius made four submissions to the tribunal:

First: The UK was not entitled to declare a MPA because it was not a coastal state under UNCLOS (the ‘sovereignty claim’, according to the UK)

Second: The UK was prevented from unilaterally declaring the MPA due to Mauritius’ rights as a coastal state under UNCLOS

Third: The UK may not take any steps to prevent the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf from making recommendations to Mauritius in respect of any full submission to the Commission that Mauritius may make

Fourth: The UK’s declaration of the MPA was incompatible with substantive and procedural obligations under UNCLOS

The jurisdictional part of the award is centered on whether the four submissions concern the ‘interpretation or application of UNCLOS’ under Article 288 UNCLOS. This blog entry concentrates on the merits as regards the Fourth Submission. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Right to Regulate for Public Morals Upheld (Somewhat): The WTO Panel Report in EC-Seal Products

Published on January 27, 2014        Author: 

Whitecoat Seal PupThere have been few interpretations of Article XX(a) of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1994) – the  specific exception that justifies what would ordinarily be a State’s GATT-inconsistent measure, unless such measure is deemed “necessary to protect public morals”.  As with any of the ten enumerated exceptions under Article XX of GATT 1994, a State invoking GATT Article XX(a) must first meet the requirements of the specific exception (e.g. demonstrating that the challenged measure is indeed “necessary to protect public morals”), and thereafter show that the challenged measure also complies with the overall requirements of ‘good faith’ (Brazil – Measures Affecting Imports of Retreaded Tyres, Appellate Body Report of 3 December 2007, at para. 215) as contained in the chapeau to Article XX (e.g. demonstrating that the challenged measure is not being applied in a manner which would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination between countries where the same conditions prevail, or a disguised restriction on international trade).  The 25 November 2013 Panel Report in European Communities – Measures Prohibiting the Importation and Marketing of Seal Products [hereafter, “EC-Seal Products“] issued the very first decision upholding a State’s right to regulate for public morals as an exception under Article XX(a) of GATT 1994, in relation to ongoing trade arising from seal hunting (pictured above left,) and seal products.

It may be recalled that the 2009 Panel Report in China- Measures Affecting Trading Rights and Distribution Services for Certain Publications and Audiovisual Entertainment Products [hereafter, “China – Publications and Audiovisual Products“] was the first occasion for a WTO panel to directly interpret the scope and meaning of measures “necessary to protect public morals” under GATT Article XX(a). China had invoked the “public morals” exception in GATT Article XX(a) to justify a set of measures that regulated the entry of foreign publications, audiovisuals and other media forms.  China argued that its regulations were designed to protect public morals in China by reviewing the content of foreign cultural goods and forms of expression that could potentially collide with significant values in Chinese society.  The China – Publications and Audiovisual Products Panel had little trouble accepting the interpretation of “public morals” (China-Publications and Audiovisual Products, para. 7.759) already laid down in the 2004 Panel Report in United States- Measures Affecting the Cross-Border Supply of Gambling and Betting Services [hereafter, “US-Gambling“], which had defined “public morals” in Article XIV of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), as “standards of right and wrong conduct maintained by or on behalf of a community or nation” (US – Gambling, para. 6.465).  However, the Panel ultimately rejected China’s assertion of GATT Article XX(a) exception (China-Publications and Audiovisual Products, para. 7.911), finding that China had failed to show the “necessity” of its challenged measures for the supposed purpose of protecting public morals.  The Appellate Body upheld these findings in its December 2009 Report.

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Incorporating UN General Assembly Declaratory Texts into Domestic Law?

Published on February 4, 2013        Author: 

Last week in Canada, with federal MPs returning to Parliament amidst the continuation of countrywide protests by indigenous peoples, an opposition MP introduced a private member’s bill (Bill C-469) to require the Canadian government to ensure that all federal laws are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (A/RES/61/295). I’ll state clearly at the outset that this isn’t the first such proposal of its kind, with two other private member’s bills with the same general intent of giving domestic legal effect to the Declaration having been introduced in June 2008 (Bill C-569) and February 2009 (Bill C-328), later reinstated in March 2010. But the discussion that has ensued with respect to enacting domestic legislation to give a non-legally binding declaratory text status and pull within domestic law raises interesting questions for our understanding of the sources of international legal obligation (versus the sources of aspiration and political commitment), as well as concerns about the impact of UN efforts that raise unmet expectations. On the other hand, this may simply strike readers in other jurisdictions as very strange, at least in those jurisdictions where there is no chance that a domestic court would ever rely upon, or even cite, a General Assembly resolution text.

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