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Home Archive for category "International Humanitarian Law"

The Consequence of the UN Resolution on Israeli Settlements for the EU:  Stop Trade with Settlements

Published on April 4, 2017        Author: 

The recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) reaffirmed that the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory has no legal validity and that Israel’s settlement enterprise is a flagrant violation of international law. The resolution also calls upon all States “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. This part of the resolution is of great significance with regard to the question of trading with settlements.

While the content of the resolution might seem novel, Secretary of State John Kerry was right to remind us in his landmark speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the end of 2016 that:

this resolution simply reaffirms statements made by the Security Council on the legality of settlements over several decades. It does not break new ground”. In 1980 UN Security Council Resolution 465 had called upon all States “not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in occupied territories.

Trading with settlements offers an economic lifeline that allows the settlement enterprise to survive and develop. This reality and the aforementioned UN Security Council Resolutions make a good case not to trade with settlements. But is the withholding of such settlement trade truly an obligation under international law?

In an earlier piece I argued that there is indeed such an obligation, and the lack of state compliance does not seriously shake the legal foundations of this argument. Just last year in an open letter, 40 legal experts (myself included) called upon the European Parliament, and the office of the High Representative and the Trade Commissioner to stop trade with settlements in compliance with the EU’s international legal obligations. Signatories included two former UN rapporteurs, a former President of the International Law Commission, a former judge on the ICTY, and dozens of professors in international law.

Our main argument was that the EU has the obligation to end trade with Israeli settlements based on the duties of non-recognition and non-assistance. This post will describe the legal argumentation underlying these duties. Read the rest of this entry…

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Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia in the High Court: what is a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”?

Published on April 3, 2017        Author: 

As readers will be aware, the UK High Court is presently considering a high-profile case challenging UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Arguments in the judicial review proceedings brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade were heard in February and judgment is awaited.

Although brought under English law, the case potentially implicates various international law questions. This post focuses on the interpretation of the expression “serious violation of international humanitarian law” (“IHL”) which the government appears to be advancing in the case. By narrowing the concept to include only war crimes, its position has significant implications for the international law regulation of the arms trade in general. This post will argue that the proposed definition should be rejected.

For further information on this and other international law issues arising in the case, the claimant has posted much of the open documentation produced by both sides on its website. This post draws heavily on those documents, and on the author’s notes of the open hearings.

The Issue Before the Court

The claimant challenges the government’s decisions to continue granting licences (and not to suspend existing licences) for arms exports to Saudi Arabia. That challenge is based primarily on alleged breaches of IHL by Saudi forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen. Criterion 2(c) of the UK statutory guidance applicable to arms exports (the “Consolidated Criteria”) prohibits granting a licence “if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”. The claimants argue that given the evidence of previous breaches, the government should have concluded that such a clear risk existed. Read the rest of this entry…

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North Korea and the Law on Anticipatory Self-Defense

Published on March 28, 2017        Author: 

Media reports over the last few weeks indicate that the already tense relationship between North Korea and the United States is getting worse. Now that North Korea is nearly ready to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, the United States has said that it will get more confrontational. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson even suggested that U.S. military action against North Korea is “on the table.” Such talk is sometimes part of a broader strategy to pressure other countries to negotiate, whether at the Security Council or elsewhere. But it can also be a precursor to war. And it comes at an acute time for the law on anticipatory self-defense.

As readers of this blog no doubt know, Article 51 of the UN Charter recognizes that states have an “inherent” right to use force in self-defense “if an armed attack occurs.” There is an ongoing debate about whether and, if so, when Article 51 permits states to use force to avert an attack that has not yet occurred. Claims for interpreting Article 51 expansively—to permit defensive force even if the attack is only speculative—have been made with respect to “rogue” states that are developing nuclear weapons. In this post, I situate the North Korea case within that debate and explain why the United States might find it to be a particularly challenging case in which to press its expansive claim.

I. The Law on Anticipatory Self-Defense

A. A Restrictive Position

 The majority view on anticipatory self-defense is probably a restrictive one: that anticipatory self-defense can be lawful only if an attack is truly “imminent”—as in, about to occur. Under this view, states may not use force unilaterally to nip in the bud latent threats or attacks that are still conjectural. They must instead address those situations using non-forcible means or by obtaining the UN Security Council’s authorization. Read the rest of this entry…

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The International Legal Framework Regulating Armed Drones

Published on March 25, 2017        Author: 

Last week I had the pleasure and honour of delivering the International and Comparative Law Quarterly’s Annual Lecture for 2017 together with Lawrence Hill-Cawthorne. Our lecture was based on an article – “International Legal Framework Regulating Armed Drones” – that we co-authored with Professor Christof Heyns and Dr Thompson Chengeta which was published in Volume 65 (2016) of the ICLQ. The article arose out of a project to support Christof’s work in his capacity as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions. We began the collaboration in the summer of 2013 in the lead up to Christof preparing a report for the 68th session of UN General Assembly on “Armed Drones and the Right to Life”. The project commenced with an expert workshop organized by the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations and has concluded with this article which is an expanded version of the UN GA report.

As the abstract of the article sets out:

This article provides a holistic examination of the international legal frameworks which regulate targeted killings by drones. The article argues that for a particular drone strike to be lawful, it must satisfy the legal requirements under all applicable international legal regimes, namely: the law regulating the use of force (ius ad bellum); international humanitarian law and international human rights law. It is argued that the legality of a drone strike under the ius ad bellum does not preclude the wrongfulness of that strike under international humanitarian law or international human rights law, Read the rest of this entry…

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

Published on March 14, 2017        Author: 

On March 1, the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (“the Commission”) released a report on the horrific events that unfolded in Aleppo last year until it was captured by the Syrian governmental forces. The Aleppo report covers acts which may amount to violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law (IHL), committed by all warring parties between 21 July and 22 December 2016. The Commission, whose reports will be instrumental for ongoing and future efforts to hold perpetrators accountable, should be commended for collecting and analyzing such an impressive amount of information in so little time.

The Aleppo report contains an appalling catalogue of allegations of egregious violations, including attacks against civilian infrastructures, hospitals, a UN/SARC humanitarian convoy and the use of chemical weapons. One allegation in particular caught the attention of the media: the Commission argues that the evacuation of eastern Aleppo amounts to the war crime of forced displacement. The Commission’s claim may at first seem astonishing not only because it stands in stark contrast with the then prevailing narrative of a humanitarian evacuation designed to alleviate human suffering, but also because the evacuation was based on an agreement between the warring parties – which means that opposing parties would have jointly committed a war crime. This post examines, on the basis of publicly available information, the legal foundation of this serious allegation.

The evacuation agreement

The evacuation of the rebel-held parts of the eastern districts of Aleppo was agreed between the warring parties as part of a cease-fire deal brokered by Russia and Turkey on 15 December 2016. The fall of this key rebel stronghold marked a major victory for the government forces, but it also offered rebels a safe passage into other rebel-held areas elsewhere in Syria. By 22 December, more than 35,000 people had been evacuated from the besieged areas of Aleppo to Idlib province (for the most part) or to western Aleppo. Read the rest of this entry…

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Opening the Floodgates, Controlling the Flow: Swedish Court Rules on the Legal Capacity of Armed Groups to Establish Courts

Published on March 10, 2017        Author: 

 

A Swedish District Court (SD Court) has recently ruled that non-state armed groups have the capacity under international law to establish courts and carry out penal sentences, but only under certain circumstances. While the issue has been widely debated by legal scholars over the past decade (Somer, Sivakumaran, Hakimi), this may very well be the first time that any domestic or international court has made a definitive ruling.

The implications at stake are as clear as the facts of the case. A member of an armed group admits to executing enemy detainees, but argues his actions were lawful as he was carrying out a sentence to punish war criminals as a result of a fair trail of a legitimate (but non-state) court. Notwithstanding the veracity of the claim, does this act amount to summary execution or the execution of justice?

International Humanitarian Law (IHL) prohibits the passing of sentences without fair trail guarantees for acts or omissions related to an armed conflict. For armed groups, this poses two existential challenges to the establishment of criminal courts. First, common article 3 to the Geneva Conventions requires courts to be ‘regularly constituted’. Second, the due process principle of legality (nullum crimen sine lege) requires that criminal offenses be established ‘under the law’.

The SD Court quite remarkably rules that armed group may establish courts in principle, but then seemingly aware of the vast public policy implications of this decision, attempts to rein it in by imposing conditions on armed group trials that seem more attuned to the court’s policy concerns than sound legal reasoning. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Polisario case: Do EU fundamental rights matter for EU trade policies?

Published on February 3, 2017        Author: 

On 10 December 2015, the General Court of the European Union (GC) rendered a judgment in the Council v. Front Polisario case that was revolutionary in many regards: not only did a national liberalization movement successfully challenge an EU trade agreement, the Court also considered the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) applicable to non-EU citizens on a non EU-territory and in the context of trade policies (see previously, Geraldo Vidigal in EJILTalk).

A month ago and a year later, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) quashed the decision of the GC and denied legal standing for the Front Polisario. However, the door for a role of EU fundamental rights as a benchmark for EU trade policies is not yet closed. To the contrary, the ECJ’s conclusions brought to the fore an ugly truth that shows that the extraterritorial effects of EU trade policies are in urgent need of closer scrutiny.

Read the rest of this entry…

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A Trio of Blockbuster Judgments from the UK Supreme Court

Published on January 17, 2017        Author: 

This morning the UK Supreme Court delivered three important judgments dealing with various claims alleging wrongful acts by the UK when fighting international terrorism (UK Supreme Court page; Guardian news report). In Belhaj and Rahmatullah No. 1 the Court unanimously dismissed the Government’s appeal, and found that the claim against the UK for its alleged complicity in torture and mistreatment of the claimants was not barred by rules of state immunity and the foreign act of state doctrine (press release; judgment). In Rahmatullah No. 1 and Mohammed the Court unanimously allowed the Government’s appeals, holding that, insofar as the respondents’ tort claims are based on acts of an inherently governmental nature in the conduct of foreign military operations by the Crown, these were Crown acts of state for which the Government cannot be liable in tort (press release; judgment). Finally, and perhaps of greatest interest to most of our readers, in Al-Waheed and Serdar Mohammed the Court, by 7 votes to 2 in a set of very complex judgments, held that British forces had power to take
and detain prisoners for periods exceeding 96 hours if this was necessary for imperative reasons of security, but that its procedures for doing so did not comply with ECHR article 5(4) because they did not afford prisoners an effective right to challenge their detention (press release; judgment). We will be covering these judgments in more detail soon.

I have only had the time to read Serdar Mohammed, which I am yet fully to digest, but here are some initial thoughts (we have of course extensively covered this case on the blog before). The two key judgments are those of Lord Sumption for the majority and Lord Reed for the minority; I must say that by and large I incline towards the latter. I am also troubled by some of the ipse dixit, rather casual references in the judgments of the majority justices to the lex specialis principle; the supposedly restrictive original intentions of the drafters of the ECHR with regard to its application extraterritorially and in armed conflict, which are in reality completely unknowable; similarly casual constructions of coherent narratives of a very messy field that confirm one’s own predispositions (e.g. that in Al-Skeini the Strasbourg Court unprecedentedly expanded the reach of the Convention to extraterritorial armed conflicts, when one could just as easily say that in Bankovic the Court unprecedentedly restricted the Convention’s reach); or the supposed unavailability of extraterritorial derogations, on which see more here.  That said, the judgments are thoughtful and rigorous even when one might disagree with them, which brings me to the Court’s main findings.

Read the rest of this entry…

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What Is An Imminent Armed Attack? A Hopefully Helpful Hypo

Published on January 12, 2017        Author: 

Yesterday we had the privilege to publish the speech by the UK Attorney General, Jeremy Wright QC MP, setting out some of the UK Government’s views on the law of self-defence. The speech focused in particular on the criteria for assessing the imminence of an armed attack by a non-state actor, and essentially endorsed some of the principles set out in Daniel Bethlehem’s 2012 AJIL article. Thus, the Attorney stated in particular (following a speech by the US State Department Legal Adviser, Brian Egan, at last year’s ASIL meeting) that:

[Bethlehem’] Principle 8 on imminence, as part of the assessment of necessity, is a helpful encapsulation of the modern law in this area.

Sir Daniel’s proposed list of factors was not exhaustive, but included (at Principle 8), the following:

  • The nature and immediacy of the threat;
  • The probability of an attack;
  • Whether the anticipated attack is part of a concerted pattern of continuing armed activity;
  • The likely scale of the attack and the injury, loss or damage likely to result therefrom in the absence of mitigating action; and
  • The likelihood that there will be other opportunities to undertake effective action in self-defense that may be expected to cause less serious collateral injury, loss or damage.

It is my view, and that of the UK Government, that these are the right factors to consider in asking whether or not an armed attack by non-state actors is imminent and the UK Government follows and endorses that approach.

In each exercise of the use of force in self-defence, the UK asks itself the questions that flow from that articulation. Questions like – how certain is it that an attack will come? How soon do we believe that attack could be? What scale of attack is it likely to be? Could this be our last clear opportunity to take action? And crucially – is there anything else we could credibly do to prevent that attack?

I don’t think the Attorney broke any new ground here, nor do I wish to dispute the accuracy or normative desirability of this analysis. But what struck me most about it is the lack of conceptual clarity, in particular the lack of clear delineation between the concepts of imminence, necessity and proportionality and the legal role that these concepts are playing. (I would highly recommend, in that regard, this piece in the AJIL by Dapo and Thomas Liefländer). For example, what is the work that the idea of imminence does here? Is its main purpose to delineate between permissible anticipatory and prohibited preemptive self-defence, which goes around the Article 51 Charter language ‘if an armed attack occurs‘? Or is imminence an aspect of the broader concept of necessity? And can a word such as imminence encompass non-temporal elements? Conceptual clarity matters because without a common understanding of the words we are using we cannot actually properly debate the soundness or desirability of any given approach. Without it, it is hard to even have a conversation.

So here’s a hypo that I hope might be helpful in this regard. Again, the point of the hypo is not to argue for any particular interpretation of self-defence, whether expansive or restrictive. It is only to help us understand how people use particular words, such as imminence, and for what precise purpose.

Dr. Evil is a very capable terrorist, who has decided to attack the United Kingdom, even though he has never done so before. He manages to get his hands on a mid-range cruise missile with a 150 kt thermonuclear warhead, in perfect working order. He places the missile launching system in a building in a Paris suburb, and uploads a video of himself to YouTube showing him arming a very specific firing mechanism. The missile is aimed at London, and will launch in exactly 30 days; there is no off-switch, code or remote signal that can disarm it. Absent forcible intervention in the causal chain, there is complete certainty that the missile will fire in 30 days and that it will destroy a substantial part of London.

Is this armed attack ‘imminent’ in any legally relevant jus ad bellum sense?

Note that this hypo is specifically designed to eliminate most of the real-world uncertainties about armed attacks – the reliability of the intelligence, the likelihood of the attack, not knowing the exact time, location or scale of the attack. In this hypo, we know everything with absolute certainty. And if you have a problem with the non-state actor nature of the attacker, we can easily turn him into a French state agent. Again, the main point here is that a causal chain has been set in motion which, without some further action, as its certain end has the destruction of London. Does this mean that the attack is ‘imminent’? If so, would it be imminent even if the timer was set to 60 days, 120 days, or 10 years? At what point (if any) is there a switch from an anticipatory to a preemptive scenario? When does imminence end, and necessity begins?

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The Inevitable Benefits of Greater Clarity in Relation to Humanitarian Relief Access

Published on December 16, 2016        Author: 

The Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict is, as we know from the tragic images of human suffering in Syria broadcast almost daily, both timely and beneficial. Greater clarity on how international law frames the rights and obligations related to humanitarian relief efforts can only be positive. Indeed, this effort will ideally contribute to the objective of mitigating civilian suffering caused by the deprivations that seem almost inevitable during armed conflict.

It was therefore with great interest that I reviewed the Oxford Guidance. I was generally familiar with the effort, having discussed the project with several of the authors last summer. At that time, I expressed my strong support for any effort that aids in clarifying legal aspects of humanitarian relief efforts. Clarity in this area is, as many know, sorely lacking, which produces inevitable uncertainty as to when, where, how, and under what conditions humanitarian efforts may be conducted in the midst of armed conflict. This effort will ideally enhance the humanitarian effect of these efforts, which is an objective that no reasonable person could conceivably object to.

Still, even these best efforts are unlikely to completely bridge the gap between the aspiration of maximizing humanitarian relief efforts and the reality of achieving this aspiration in the complex and chaotic environment of military operations. So in this comment I will seek to focus on several aspects of the Guidance that I consider most significant to achieving the obvious primary objective of this effort: to reduce impediments that prevent or delay humanitarian relief operations and thereby exacerbate civilian suffering.

It seems that the true, “decisive point” of the Guidance is the discussion of consent: when and under what circumstances is a party to an armed conflict lawfully permitted to deny consent for the conduct of humanitarian relief operations? And as the Guidance indicates, there is no easy answer to this question. I’m sure the drafters would have preferred to propose an interpretation of international law that indicated an absolute obligation to facilitate such relief efforts when needed to avert severe humanitarian suffering. To their credit, they did not, because they cannot. Read the rest of this entry…

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