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Facts, Alternative Facts, and International Law

Published on May 29, 2017        Author: 

On October 3, 2015, at 2:08a.m., a U.S. Special Operations AC-130 gunship attacked a Doctors Without Borders [Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF] hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, with heavy fire. Forty-two people were killed, mostly patients and hospital staff members. Dozens of others were injured, and the hospital building was severely damaged and subsequently closed. When the dust finally settled, the question that pre-occupied the press and most pundits was whether this was a war crime.

Attempts to answer this question prompted discussions about the relevant laws and their proper interpretation, which, in turn, fueled disputes about specific facts relevant to these laws. Recent news stories about the Trump administration’s plan to relax some of the battlefield rules further intensified the legal controversies. Unfortunately this focus on questions of law, guilt, and blame divert attention from the more basic questions of what actually happened, why it happened, and what might be done to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The attack on the Kunduz hospital and the controversy that followed it exemplify a broader phenomenon. Legal fact-finding reports set to resolve factual disputes often trigger more controversies, and are poorly equipped to mobilize domestic sanctioning and condemnation of war criminals by their societies. People are motivated to believe what they already know, and to reject facts that are inconsistent with their prior beliefs and political ideology. Legal fact-finding reports are susceptible to social biases just as any other source of information. Therefore, they often fail to create a shared understanding of ‘what happened’ or to combat denialism of crimes. They also lack the emotional appeal, participatory value, and social cues that moral expressions or other types of social truth-telling entail. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, War Crimes
 
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Evacuation of Civilian Populations and Criminal Complicity: A Critical Appraisal of the February 2017 Report of the Syria Commission of Inquiry

Published on May 24, 2017        Author: 

In its February 2017 Report (A/HRC/34/64), the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria made the bold statement that the evacuation of the civilian population from Eastern Aleppo, pursuant to an agreement between the Syrian government and the armed groups “amounts to the war crime of forced displacement” since it was made “for strategic reasons” and “not for the security of civilians or imperative military necessity.” (para. 93). A – perhaps unintended – consequence of this proposition would be that staff of NGOs or other non-state actors who assisted in this evacuation may be criminally liable as accomplices in this war crime.

I will argue here that this proposition is incorrect for basically two reasons. First, the Report does not make a persuasive argument that a war crime has been committed and thus there is no criminal conduct to which other individuals could have been contributed. Secondly, even if, arguendo, one assumes that the evacuation amounted to a war crime, to provide assistance in the evacuation of civilians does not constitute criminally relevant complicity.

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Chechnya’s Anti-Gay Purge: Crimes Against Humanity

Published on May 9, 2017        Author: 

Despite widespread condemnation from the U.N., Council of Europe, E.U., United States, and other countries, a brutal campaign against gay men in Chechnya continues. The abuses take the form of abduction-style detention, enforced disappearances, torture, and killings. Considering the systematic features and the brutality of the abuses, Chechnya’s anti-gay campaign amounts to crimes against humanity, and it demands proper condemnation and response from the international community.

Crimes against humanity, as an international crime, has been defined in various statues and law commissions’ proposals since 1945. They each have their own distinctive feature tailored to the specific historical context during which they were drafted. For example, the Nuremberg Charter and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) Statute’s definition require the element “in armed conflicts”, while the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) Statute requires a discriminatory intent. This note uses the definition in Article 7 of the Rome Statue of the International Criminal Court (ICC): “any of the acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack,” followed by specific acts listed in sub-paragraphs. This definition has been almost entirely adopted by the International Law Commission in its latest version of draft articles on crimes against humanity (note: the proposed draft articles are still in work progress).

Murder, Imprisonment, Torture, Enforced Disappearance, and Other Inhumane Acts

The argument that the Chechnya’s campaign against gay men constitutes crimes against humanity as the criminal acts listed in Article 7.1 (a), (e), (f), and (i) is quite straightforward. There has been credible reporting on abuses committed against gay men in Chechnya, including abduction, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, torture, and killings. All the described abuses have been approved by Chechen local government, with Moscow turning a blind eye to them. In many cases, violations were directly committed by Chechen security forces. Read the rest of this entry…

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United States’ Missile Strikes in Syria: Should International Law Permit Unilateral Force to Protect Human Rights?

Published on April 18, 2017        Author: 

A bounty of recent blog posts have poured over the legality of the Trump administration’s missile strikes against a Syrian airbase in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons (see, e.g, here, here, here, here and here). Possible justifications have recently come to light, but do not provide a sufficient basis for the administration’s actions under international law (which is the focus of this post). Most commentators conclude that, absent UN Security Council authorisation or a justifiable claim of self-defence, international law provides no clear right for states to use force in response to such grave violations of human rights. Therefore, the strikes most likely contravene Article 2(4) UN Charter. With that analysis, I agree. The question that then arises, and which has received much less attention (although, see here and here), is the normative question: should international law permit such unilateral action (either individually or collectively) outside of the UN Charter framework?

The understandable response is that ‘something’ must be done and at least President Trump has acted where the international community has previously failed to do so. This sentiment is reflected in the opinions of a number of world leaders who appear to be supportive of the strikes against the Assad regime. Yet, notably, where countries have expressed support for the United States’ actions, they have not presented a legal justification for it. Regardless of whether we agree that the missile strikes are the right thing to do in response to a criminal regime gassing its own people (and there are serious doubts as to whether these strikes are an adequate or effective response), how should international law respond to such horrors as a general matter? What is the legal framework on which states can rely to do what they think is right? Read the rest of this entry…

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“Complicity in International Law”: Author’s Response

Published on April 14, 2017        Author: 

This post is the final part of our book discussion on Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law“.

Introduction

I am grateful to Oxford University Press and the editors of EJIL:Talk! for putting together this discussion and to Elies, Elizabeth, and Helmut for their contributions. I appreciate their engagement with my work. In this piece, I consider the central points in each of their pieces.

State Assistance in Practice

Elizabeth’s three examples – the provision of arms, the use of military bases, and the grant of financial and other assistance to the justice and human rights sectors – provide a helpful grounding for considering how often questions of complicity are arising in practice. Her contribution zeroes in on the difficulties relating to the nexus element and the fault element. Taking them in turn, there are slightly different difficulties here.

As to the nexus element, even if we agree on the normative standard there is the challenge of applying that standard across the myriad ways that states provide assistance to other states. We can quite easily imagine situations where the assistance is insufficiently connected to the principal wrong, just as we can easily imagine situations where the standard is met. Beyond those poles, things are very difficult. That might seem unsatisfactory, but here it is worth emphasising the relative newness of the rule – it is still embedding itself into customary practice. As it does so, we are likely to see the incremental development and clarification of a regime-specific test.

As to the fault element, by contrast, the initial problem lies on the normative level itself – the potential discrepancy between the textual standard of knowledge and the commentary’s reference to intent. Read the rest of this entry…

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Testing Jackson’s Discussion of State Responsibility in the Context of Government Assistance. Book Discussion

Published on April 13, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of our book discussion on Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law“.

Criticisms of western governments for aiding and assisting other states to act in breach of international law are now common. While such criticisms may sometimes be as much to do with the policy of the thing, there is also increasing focus on the law. The ongoing judicial review in the English courts regarding the provision of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia in the context of the conflict in the Yemen (The Queen on the application of Campaign against the Arms Trade v. The Secretary of State for International Trade) illustrates the possibility of litigation on the issue in domestic courts. Miles Jackson’s book on ‘complicity’ gives an introduction and a foundation for thinking about this highly topical subject, in the context both of international criminal law and of state responsibility, and adds to the growing literature. This brief note considers, in the context of state responsibility, whether the book is also of use to the practitioner – whether government adviser, non-governmental organisation, or advocate – who has to apply the law before or after the event.

Jackson’s discussion of state responsibility can be tested in the context of three examples of government assistance; the choice of examples here is unashamedly UK-centric, but instances can be found in many other countries. The first is the provision to other governments of arms and other materiél in a conflict to which the assisting government is not a party and where the assisted government is alleged to be in breach of international humanitarian law in the conduct of the conflict. The second example stems from allowing other governments the use of airfields and military bases on the assisting government’s territory. Here there may be allegations of breaches of ius ad bellum by an assisted state which uses a loaned base to launch an armed conflict, or of human rights abuses such as unlawful rendition of individuals from the base. The third example is the provision of financial and practical aid to improve another state’s justice or human rights sectors. In such a case the relevant sectors of the assisted government are unlikely to have a good record: is it lawful to assist them to improve, or will the aid make the assisting state complicit? Read the rest of this entry…

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A Path towards the Moral Sophistication of International Law? Some Remarks on Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law”

Published on April 13, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of our book discussion on Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law“.

It is a great pleasure to contribute to this mini-symposium on Miles Jackson’s monograph on the notion of complicity in international law. The book is a further testament to the growing importance of questions of ‘shared responsibility’ in international law, ie the harmful cooperation of several actors.

In his elegantly written book, Miles Jackson makes several important contributions. In particular, he has brought a comparative approach to questions of complicity in international law. Whereas most existing books on complicity focus either on state responsibility or international criminal law, Jackson aims to transcend this boundary and develop an overarching framework for complicity in international law. While Jackson is of course mindful of the structural differences between the two areas, his comparative approach nonetheless calls for some further discussion.

A second most original aspect of the book is its move beyond an inter-state focus in its treatment of state complicity. Jackson analyses if and to what extent international law imposes state responsibility for complicity with non-state actors. In this latter regard, he convincingly argues against an approach based on attribution. Read the rest of this entry…

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New Insights and Structural Clarity: Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law”

Published on April 12, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of our book discussion on Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law“.

Recently, a number of studies have been published on complicity in international criminal law. In 2014, Neha Jain published a study on Perpetrators and Accessories in International Criminal Law. More recently, Marina Aksenova published a book on Complicity in International Criminal Law. As the titles of both books suggest, the main focus is on international criminal law (ICL). Aksenova, by way of contrast to individual complicity, does dedicate a chapter to State complicity.

Miles Jackson’s work, published in 2015, entitled Complicity in International Law takes a broader and a narrower approach than the books of Jain and Aksenova. While the latter conduct in-depth comparative criminal law analysis, Jackson’s focus is narrower; it is firmly on the international concept of complicity, as the title of the book appropriately suggests. His approach is broader in that, alongside individual complicity, he discusses State complicity. In comparative law terms, this could be qualified an ‘internal’ comparative analysis; discussing a legal concept of a different nature (criminal/individual v. civil/state) but within the same legal system: international law. This terminology is however misleading bearing in mind international law’s pluralist nature. The cross-disciplinary analysis of complicity, across ICL and IL, is more ‘external’ than any ICL-domestic criminal law comparison. And this is exactly the intriguing feature of the book: the juxtaposition of individual and state complicity. Do these concepts have enough in common to be usefully discussed within one and the same analytical framework? It is interesting to note that Helmut Aust in his fine and thorough study on Complicity and State Responsibility does not, by way of analogy, touch upon individual complicity in international law. Having said that, the fact that an emerging strand of scholarship approaches questions on international legal responsibility from a ‘shared perspective’ may be sufficient justification for this cross-disciplinary approach. Read the rest of this entry…

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“Complicity in International Law”: An Overview. Book Discussion

Published on April 12, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of our book discussion on Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law“.

Introduction

No one is ever accused of being complicit in something good. Across areas of law, complicity – the idea of participation in another’s wrong – has received increased attention in the last decade. To take one domestic jurisdiction, England and Wales, accessorial liability in private law and criminal law has been subject to detailed re-evaluation. In international criminal law, the acquittal of Momcilo Perisic by the ICTY Appeals Chamber brought deep recrimination and comment. And in the law of state responsibility, the complicity rule in Article 16 of the Articles on State Responsibility is increasingly invoked in the context of the arms trade, counter-terrorism, and development aid.

This increased attention forms the background to the book. My overarching aim is to understand and analyse how international law regulates individual and state complicity. This overarching aim is supplemented by, where appropriate, critique as to the scope of the relevant rules and a normative claim as to how complicity rules ought to be structured. To this end, the book is structured as follows. Part A builds an analytical framework for understanding complicity rules and defends the normative claim mentioned above. Part B addresses complicity in international criminal law, including complicit omissions and command responsibility. Part C does two things. First, it considers state participation in the wrongdoing of other states and tracks the move from what I call specific complicity rules to the general rule on aid or assistance in Article 16 of the Articles on State Responsibility. Second, it addresses state participation in the actions of non-state actors. In doing so, it appraises the claim that complicity has permeated the secondary rules on the attribution of conduct in international law and proposes a non-state analogue to the rule in Article 16. Part D concludes. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Evacuation of Eastern Aleppo: Humanitarian Obligation or War Crime?: A Reply

Published on March 27, 2017        Author: 

 

This post is written as a reply to the interesting contribution made by Elvina Pothelet on the topic of forced displacement in Syria. In her article, Elvina examined the legal foundation for the claim that the evacuation of Eastern Aleppo amounts to the war crime of forced displacement. I would like to build on this work, but distinguish my arguments in two respects. First, by also approaching the case from the perspective of a charge of crimes against humanity, under Article 7(1)(d) and second, by arguing that contrary to Elvina’s interpretation, the ‘ordering’ requirement found in Article 8 (2)(e)(viii) should in fact be interpreted more liberally, in light of three counter arguments.

Forced Displacement as a Crime Against Humanity – Article 7(1)(d)

As with any assessment of this nature, it is undertaken on the basis of information freely available. With those responsible for displacing, in my view being the Syrian regime officials for their actions in Eastern Aleppo, not those who brokered or signed the evacuation agreement. With this in mind, I shall outline how the elements of Article 7(1)(d) are satisfied.

Contextual Elements

With respect to the contextual elements, the campaign launched by Syrian forces to retake Eastern Aleppo was an organised state policy. A legitimate question however, can be raised as to whether the civilian population was the primary object of the attack, (Kunarac Appeals Judgment para 91) or merely an “incidental victim of the attack’’, (Bemba Confirmation of Charges para 76). Given the means and methods used in Aleppo, (Kunarac Appeals Chamber Judgment para 91)  which are alleged to include “killing people, including women and children, on the spot in their homes and on the street,” there is at least a reasonable basis to believe that the civilian population were the object of the attack. Read the rest of this entry…

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