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Home Archive for category "International Humanitarian Law"

War crimes in Afghanistan and Beyond: Will the ICC Weigh in on the “Global Battlefield” Debate?

Published on November 9, 2017        Author: 

The ICC Prosecutor recently announced her decision to request an authorization to open a formal investigation into possible international crimes committed in connection with the conflict in Afghanistan. The outcome of her preliminary examination was long-awaited and expected to be significant because an investigation into the Afghanistan situation would cover all parties involved – that is, not only local actors but also the international coalition, including the US (US nationals would come under the jurisdiction of the Court if they committed crimes in Afghanistan or in any other State party to the Rome Statute).

The Prosecutor’s choice to subject some aspects of the Afghan conflict to judicial scrutiny despite the pressures deserves to be praised as an “act of bravery.” If the Pre-Trial Chamber authorizes this investigation, the road to justice will be long – many have already commented on possible issues of jurisdiction (e.g. here and here), admissibility (e.g. here and here), evidence-gathering and cooperation (e.g. here), etc. In this post, I want to focus on a potential effect of this announcement: the situation in Afghanistan may give the ICC an opportunity to weigh in on the debate over the global applicability of IHL. Fatou Bensouda intends to prosecute acts of torture committed in CIA detention facilities located in Europe, in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan, as war crimes. If she does, ICC judges will have to rule on whether IHL applied to those acts and hence more generally on whether IHL applies beyond the territory of a State where a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) is primarily taking place. The geographical scope of IHL remains one of the most vexing debates in international law (as was clear from a heated discussion on this blog and others, just a month ago) but the Afghanistan investigation may help highlight an overlooked aspect of it. Here is why. Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Jann Kleffner on ‘Wounded and Sick and the Proportionality Assessment’

Published on October 13, 2017        Author: 

The final installment of our joint blog series arising from the 2017 Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, ‘Wounded and Sick and the Proportionality Assessment’- by Jann Kleffner (Swedish Defence University) is now available on Intercross

Here’s a taster of Jann’s post:

For all wounded and sick other than civilian ones, the question looms large how that obligation to respect and protect in all circumstances can be squared with the absence of such persons from the collateral damage side of the proportionality equation. The following possibilities present themselves.

Option 1The obligation to respect and protect such wounded and sick in all circumstances could be interpreted to mean that any incidental harm to them falls foul of the obligation and hence constitutes a violation of the law of armed conflict.

[…]

Option 2: The right of parties to an armed conflict to attack lawful targets could be understood to supersede the obligation to respect and protect the wounded and sick other than civilian ones.

[…]

Option 3The obligation to respect and protect could be interpreted to require a proportionality assessment in which incidental harm to wounded and sick other than civilian ones is legally assimilated to harm to civilians.

Read the rest of the post over on Intercross.

 

Thanks to all who participated in this joint blog series. Special thanks to post authors, readers and commentators, and to our partners over at Intercross and Lawfare. 

 

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Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Geoff Corn on Wounded and Sick, Proportionality, and Armaments

Published on October 11, 2017        Author: 

The fourth post in our joint blog series arising from the 2017 Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, ‘Wounded and Sick, Proportionality, and Armaments’- by Geoffrey Corn (South Texas College of Law Houston) is now available on Lawfare.

Here’s an excerpt: 

Imagine you are commanding forces that have just repulsed a combined arms enemy ground attack. The enemy is now withdrawing, and you observe what are obviously wounded enemy soldiers being loaded onto enemy combat vehicles. You fully anticipate the enemy to regroup in order to continue the offensive. These vehicles are not protected because they are not properly marked nor exclusively engaged in the collection and evacuation of the wounded and sick. Instead, the enemy is employing the common practice of evacuating wounded with any available combat vehicle. While this is occurring, other enemy forces are providing covering fires in support of the withdrawal. You have on-call close air support assets, and your air support coordination liaison asks if the enemy vehicles should be attacked? The enemy vehicles are lawful objects of the attack, but you know that the military wounded and sick must be respected and protected. It is therefore clear that an attack may not be directed against the wounded enemy soldiers. But the ICRC’s updated Commentary asserts that before launching the attack on the withdrawing enemy forces who are not hors de combat you must assess whether the risk created to the wounded enemy personnel is excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.

[…]

Suggesting that such an obligation is logically inferred from the civilian proportionality rule is fundamentally flawed, because unlike military personnel, civilians (who do not take a direct part in hostilities) do not accept the risks of combat. 

Read the rest of this entry…

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On Whether IHL Applies to Drone Strikes Outside ‘Areas of Active Hostilities’: A Response to Ryan Goodman

Published on October 5, 2017        Author: 

Over on Just Security, Ryan Goodman has an excellent post entitled Why the Laws of War Apply to Drone Strikes Outside “Areas of Active Hostilities” (A Memo to the Human Rights Community). In sum, Ryan argues that human rights activists have been too radical in their critique of US drone strike policy, as reflected in the Presidential Policy Guidance adopted during the Obama administration, and in the context of the Trump administration’s recent proposal to revise this standing policy and relax some of its requirements, especially with regard to the procedure for authorizing lethal strikes. In particular, Ryan argues that human rights activists have been portraying as clearly unlawful decisions which legally fall within the bounds of reasonable disagreement.

In that regard, Ryan argues – persuasively in my view – that the mere fact that a drone strike takes place outside an area of active hostilities under the PPG does not mean that the strike takes place outside armed conflict under IHL. The former, as Ryan correctly notes, is not even a legal term of art. I also agree with Ryan that some US positions that used to be regarded as novel or anomalous have become mainstream with time, in part through the acceptance of these positions by European and other states, by the ICRC and scholars – viz., for instance, the idea of ‘spillover’ NIACs (for more on the operation of this mainstreaming process see here; on spillover NIACs see here).

That said, Ryan in some respects significantly overstates his argument. Yes, states have accepted the idea that they can be engaged in an armed conflict with a terrorist group – but I would say that this really was never in doubt. What was in doubt is whether this NIAC can be global in scope, and this US position has not been mainstreamed – or at least I am unaware of any other state which agrees with it. What do I mean by this?

Read the rest of this entry…

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ICRC Commentary of Common Article 3: Some questions relating to organized armed groups and the applicability of IHL’

Published on October 5, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of the joint blog symposium hosted by EJIL:Talk!, Lawfare and Intercross and arising out of the 5th Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held at the European University Institute in Florence this summer.

I was asked during our workshop to discuss some questions related to non-state armed groups raised by the chapeau of Common Article 3 (In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions) and the 2016 ICRC Updated Commentary to Geneva Convention I.

It is well known that for there to be a non-international armed conflict, the violence must involve an organized armed group.  So one of the first questions to arise in this context is what degree of organization of the armed group is required in order to trigger the application of international humanitarian law (IHL)?  

The 2016 ICRC Commentary acknowledges that Article 3 does not provide a detailed definition of its scope of application, nor does it contain a list of criteria for identifying the situations in which it is meant to apply. It is however uncontroversial that armed groups must reach a certain level of organization so as to be bound by IHL. As the well known definition of armed conflicts in the ICTY 1995 decision in the Tadić case reminds: ‘[A]n armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States or protracted armed violence between governmental authorities and organized armed groups or between such groups within a State’ (Prosecutor v. Dusko Tadić (aka ‘Dule’), Decision on the Defence Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on Jurisdiction (Appeals Chamber), ICTY (Case No. IT-94-1), 2 October 1995, §70).

How to determine the appropriate level of organization seems to be the difficult question. Read the rest of this entry…

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Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Ashley Deeks on Common Article 3 and Linkages Between Non-State Armed Groups

Published on October 4, 2017        Author: 

The second post in our joint blog series arising from the 2017 Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, ‘Common Article 3 and Linkages Between Non-State Armed Groups’- by Ashley Deeks (University of Virginia School of Law) is now available over on Lawfare.

Here’s a snippet:

Assume State A finds itself in a NIAC with a NSAG – call it “Group X.”  What happens if and when another NSAG – call it “Group Y” – begins to provide certain assistance to Group X?  At what point does Group Y become part of the State A/Group X NIAC, and thus become subject to military force by State A?  This question has arisen in a variety of scenarios, including in the interactions between core al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and between al Qaeda and al Shabaab.

[…]

Approach 1 – State A should never treat Group X and Group Y as participating in single armed conflict.  Instead, State A should treat its fights with Group X and Group Y as two distinct NIACs.

[…]

Approaches 2 and 3:  These two approaches analogize from the concept of co-belligerency, which originated in international armed conflicts. Approaches 2 and 3 (described below) take different positions on what that concept requires.

[…]

Approach 3 – Assistance by Group Y to Group X in Group X’s NIAC against State A is enough to render Group Y a functional co-belligerent, even if Group Y does not directly engage in hostilities against State A.

[…]

Approach 4 – Use the ICRC’s “direct participation in hostilities” (“DPH”) factors to evaluate Group Y’s efforts in relation to the State A/Group X NIAC.

Read the full post on Lawfare.

 

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The Fifth Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict: Introduction to a Joint Blog Series

Published on September 27, 2017        Author: 

Over the coming weeks, three blogs – IntercrossEJIL:Talk!, and Lawfare – will host a joint blog symposium on International Law and Armed Conflict. The series will feature posts by some of the participants at the Fifth Annual Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, which was held at the European University Institute in Florence in late July. As in previous years, the workshop brought together a group of academic, military, and governmental experts from both sides of the Atlantic. The roundtable, held under the Chatham House Rule, was held over two days and examined contemporary questions of international law relating to military operations.

This summer, there a particular emphasis on issues arising from the ICRC’s updated commentaries to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The publication of the updated commentaries provided an opportunity to revisit some of the core issues that relate to the obligations of parties to conflicts under Common Article1 (the obligation to respect and ensure respect), issues relating to classification of situations of violence as non-international or international armed conflicts under Common Articles 2 and 3, as well as issues relating to humanitarian access which arise under Common Article 3 and Common Articles 9/9/9/10 of the Conventions. The sessions also examined protection of the wounded and sick; cyberspace and the LOAC; and the Common Article 3 concept of non-state armed groups.

Some of those who attended the workshop have agreed to participate in a series of blog posts focusing on specific topics that were addressed during the workshop. Each blog post represents the different authors’ perspectives, and not necessarily those of anyone else at the workshop, nor any of the institutions represented.

Intercross kicked off the series yesterday with a post from Marten Zwanenburg (Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs) on “The Obligation to ‘Ensure Respect’ for IHL: The Debate Continues” (available here). Read the rest of this entry…

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The Legality of the UK / Saudi Arabia Arms Trade: A Case Study

Published on July 20, 2017        Author:  and

On 10 July 2017 the UK High Court delivered its open judgment in a high-profile challenge to the UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia, brought by the Campaign Against Arms Trade. A separate closed judgment was delivered based on the confidential evidence. As readers will be aware, the case involves various domestic and international law considerations.

The primary question was whether the Secretary of State for International Trade (the Government) was legally obliged to suspend extant and cease granting new export licences to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Such an obligation would stem from the requirement to deny such licences where there is “a clear risk that the arms might be used in the commission of a serious violation of International Humanitarian Law”.

This condition is contained in Criterion 2 of the Common Rules Governing the Control of Exports of Military Technology and Equipment (European Council Common Position 2008/944/CFSP, December 2008). The Government adopted much of the Common Position as Guidance under s.9 of the Export Control Act 2002 and it accordingly represents the policy that will be applied when considering the grant of export licences. The Consolidated Criteria are thus intended to ensure the UK’s compliance with the UN Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), and the text of Criterion 2 links to its Article 7.

This blog post sets out initial thoughts on the open judgment, specifically focusing on its approach to ‘serious violation’ and ‘clear risk’, before examining the deference granted to the executive and its implications for the fulfilment of the ATT’s overarching purpose. Ultimately unsuccessful, the claim underscores the narrow ambit of judicial review and the unwillingness of UK courts to become embroiled in the merits of certain government action. Read the rest of this entry…

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Creating International Frameworks for Data Protection: The ICRC/Brussels Privacy Hub Handbook on Data Protection in Humanitarian Action

Published on July 13, 2017        Author:  and

Introduction

The collection and processing of personally-identifiable data is central to the work of both international organisations working in the humanitarian sector (IHOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in protecting and delivering essential aid to hundreds of millions of vulnerable individuals. With the increased adoption of new technologies in recent years, and the increased complexity of data flows and the growth in the number of stakeholders involved in the processing, there has been an increasing need for data protection guidelines that IHOs and NGOs can apply in their work. This was highlighted first in the 2013 report by Privacy International entitled: “Aiding Surveillance”, and was also recognised by the International Conference of Privacy and Data Protection Commissioners in its Resolution on Privacy and International Humanitarian Action adopted in Amsterdam in 2015 (Amsterdam Resolution).

This need has led to publication of the new Handbook on Data Protection in Humanitarian Action prepared jointly by the Data Protection Office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Brussels Privacy Hub, a research institute of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in Brussels. It has been drafted in consultation with stakeholders from the global data protection and international humanitarian communities, including IHOs and humanitarian practitioners, data protection authorities, academics, NGOs, and experts on relevant topics. The drafting committee for the Handbook also included the Swiss Data Protection Authority; the Office of the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS); the French-speaking Association of Data Protection Authorities (AFAPDP); the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); the International Organisation for Migration (IOM); and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Content of the Handbook

The Handbook addresses questions of common concern in the application of data protection in international humanitarian action, and is addressed to staff of IHOs and NGOs who are involved in the processing of personal data, particularly those in charge of advising on and applying data protection standards. It is hoped that it may also prove useful to other parties, such as data protection authorities, private companies, and others involved in international humanitarian action. Read the rest of this entry…

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The NotPetya Cyber Operation as a Case Study of International Law

Published on July 11, 2017        Author:  and

The recent “NotPetya” cyber-operation illustrates the complexity of applying international law to factually ambiguous cyber scenarios. Manifestations of NotPetya began to surface on 27 June when a major Ukrainian bank reported a sustained operation against its network. The Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure soon announced ‘an ongoing and massive attack everywhere’.  By the following day, NotPetya’s impact was global, affecting, inter alia, government agencies, shipping companies, power providers, and healthcare providers. However, there are no reports of NotPetya causing deaths or injuries.

Cybersecurity experts have concluded that despite being initially characterized as a ransomware attack similar to WannaCry and Petya, NotPetya was directed at specific systems with a purpose of ‘causing economic losses, sowing chaos, or perhaps testing attack capabilities or showing own power’. Additionally, most agree that Ukraine was the target of the operation, which bled over into other States. The key question, however, is the identity of the attacker. NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence experts have opined that ‘NotPetya was probably launched by a state actor or a non-state actor with support or approval from a state.’

Although the facts are less than definitively established, the EJIL: Talk! editors have asked us to analyse the incident on the assumption that it is factually and legally attributable to a State.  We begin with a peacetime international law survey and conclude with an international humanitarian law (IHL) analysis. Read the rest of this entry…

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