In response to the ongoing violent clashes between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Palestinian protesters during the so-called ‘March of Return’ along the Gaza border fence several Israeli human rights organizations petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court, challenging the IDF’s rules of engagement, as well as their implementation. The arguments put forward by the petitioners and the Israeli Government, as well as the legal issues involved were discussed in advance of the Court’s judgment by Eliav Lieblich and Yuval Shany (here and here). Last week, the Israeli Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, handed down its decision, which unanimously rejected the petitions. Although the judgment seems to be flawed on several issues, it nevertheless includes a couple of interesting statements regarding the relationship between law enforcement operations and active hostilities in armed conflict. An initial analysis of the decision has been published by Amichai Cohen and I should say at the outset that I share some of his conclusions. Those aspects of the decision that relate to international law will probably spark mixed feelings. As mentioned by Cohen, the fact that the Court explicitly endorsed the ICRC’s Interpretive Guidance on Direct Participation in Hostilities is certainly a welcome development. However, the fact that the justices refused to discuss the applicability of international human rights law (IHRL) in situations of armed conflict; that they invented an obscure new law enforcement paradigm; and expanded the notion of ‘imminent threat’ to allow for the preventive use of lethal force, less so. Read the rest of this entry…
In his State of the Union speech on January 30, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his signing of a new executive order aimed at keeping open the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as approving its repopulation. This post considers how the law of war governing detention in armed conflicts constricts the ability of the U.S. to hold persons in military prisons at Guantanamo in the manner suggested by this new order.
Formally speaking, Trump’s executive order repeals a critical portion of President Obama’s 2009 order calling for the Guantanamo prison site to be closed “as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order.” The 2018 order also provides that the U.S. may “transport additional detainees” to the facility “when lawful and necessary to protect the nation.”
On the one hand, this executive order simply makes explicit what has already been President Trump’s de facto Guantanamo policy since taking office. While the Obama Administration worked to reduce the Guantanamo population considerably, resettling 197 of the 242 detainees remaining at the facility, President Trump has resettled none — not even five detainees cleared for release by the Department of Defense prior to Trump’s taking office. On the other hand, the order reflects a radical shift in policy. Read the rest of this entry…
Joint Blog Series on International Law and Armed Conflict: Ashley Deeks on Common Article 3 and Linkages Between Non-State Armed Groups
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.
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…
Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court Authorizes Initiation of Investigation in Georgia
On 27 January 2016, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC) authorized the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the situation in Georgia, specifically focusing on allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity during and in the immediate aftermath of the August 2008 armed conflict. In the absence of a state party or the Security Council referral, the OTP filed the request for authorization in October 2015, seven years after initiating its preliminary examination. The investigation can cover alleged crimes by three groups: South Ossetian forces, armed forces of Georgia and armed forces of the Russian Federation. Georgia is a party to the Rome Statute, while the Russian Federation is not.
This post focuses only on the aspects of the PTC decision and the OTP’s request that raise the most questions, namely selection of crimes and of potential cases and admissibility of those cases, with specific emphasis on complementarity.
Crimes within the Jurisdiction of the ICC
The primary targets for the OTP’s investigation appear to be alleged crimes against ethnic Georgians, including forcible displacement and destruction of property, between 8 August and 10 October 2008 in the Russian occupied South Ossetia and adjacent areas. Read the rest of this entry…
Despite the numerous volume on child soldiers in legal literature over the last few decades, very little has been said on targeting child soldiers. It seems to be something international lawyers would rather not talk about. The fact that legal literature doesn’t say much about targeting child soldiers doesn’t mean that no such practice exists, or that soldiers haven’t discuss the matter. In 2002, the US Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory organised a ‘Cultural Intelligence Seminar’ on the implication of child soldiering for US forces. One trigger for that discussion was the fact that the very first US soldier killed in Afghanistan reportedly was a Special Forces Sergeant shot by a 14-year-old boy. The year before, in Sierra Leone, a squad from the Royal Irish Regiment was taken prisoner by a group consisting mostly of armed children called the West Side Boys, as the British soldiers were hesitant to open fire. After they had been held hostage for two weeks, an assault was launched by an SAS unit supported by suppression fire from helicopters, leading to between 25 to 150 dead among the West Side Boys. Finally, during the civil war in Sri Lanka, a Government aircraft bombed what was deemed an LTTE training camp, killing a reported 61 minors, mostly girls. Although the LTTE was widely known to use child soldiers, and the specific facts were contested, the Sri Lanka Government was adamant that if a child took up arms, then he or she could be targeted and killed.
The phenomenon of child soldiers remains widespread, and their activities does include direct participation in hostilities. It is imperative that international humanitarian law provide guidance as to what opposing forces can do if they are confronted with that reality. In this piece, I suggest that there are elements in international humanitarian law that support adapting a child-specific approach to targeting. Under this approach, the fact that a potential target is a child should prima facie raise a doubt as to whether he or she is targetable. Although the doubt may be dissipated in light of available facts, overcoming the presumption of civilian status might require more than would be the case for an adult. In addition, even if a child is deemed targetable, the allowable means and methods must nevertheless reflect the protected status of children in international law. Read the rest of this entry…
Over the next few weeks, three blog – Lawfare, InterCross (the blog of the ICRC) and EJIL:Talk! – will host a joint blog symposium on International Law and Armed Conflict. The series will feature posts by some of the participants at the Third Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict, which was held at the University of Oxford this summer. As with previous years, the Transatlantic Workshop brought together senior government officials, senior military lawyers and leading academics from the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, Israel and Switzerland. The two day workshop focuses each year on a range of critical issues in the law of armed conflict. This summer, there was a particular focus at the workshop on the judicial application of international humanitarian law, with sessions dedicated to the application of the law of armed conflict by human rights tribunals; international criminal tribunals; and by national courts. In addition, the workshop also engaged in discussions on direct participation in hostilities; humanitarian access in armed conflict; and foreign intervention in non-international armed conflicts.
The first post in the series – “Direct Participation in Hostilities- What are the Issues and Where are the Controversies?” – by Marco Sassoli (University of Geneva) is now available on InterCross. In his concluding paragraph he argues that:
” . . . it is this preliminary question whether and in which circumstances someone who is not a combatant may be targeted even while not DPH [taking a direct part in hostilities] that is at the heart of the controversies surrounding the ICRC DPH Guidance, rather than the question of what conduct actually constitutes direct participation. On this latter question the Guidance has suggested a definition. Today several experts and officials criticize some aspects of this definition. Experts representing militaries are however mostly obsessed by – and object to – first, the application, by the ICRC, of the principle of military necessity to the targeting of individuals directly participating in hostilities and second, by what they refer to as the ‘revolving door’ phenomenon. That a civilian regains protection once s/he no longer directly participates, regardless of whether s/he may possibly directly participate in the future, is however, an unavoidable result of the clear wording of Article 51(3) of Protocol I and of Art. 13(3) of Protocol II. If the fact of having directly participated in hostilities once or several times had the effect of turning civilians into combatants or members of armed groups, the crucial criteria relevant to determining whether an individual is a member of an armed group – belonging, responsibility and command – would become irrelevant. From a pragmatic point of view, I wonder how a soldier confronted with a civilian not directly participating can be expected to know that the individual did previously engage in direct participation and/or is likely to do so again. To make such speculations the basis for decisions over life or death is dangerous, including for the great majority of harmless civilians.”
There has been much debate in recent weeks over whether international humanitarian law (IHL) authorizes internment in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) (see posts here, here and here). Both sides have presented convincing arguments but without applying them to concrete situations. In this regard, Russia’s ongoing detention of Ukrainian Air Force officer Nadia Savchenko provides a timely case study. As detailed below, the detention of certain categories of people raises questions during both NIACs and international armed conflicts (IACs), depending on who the detaining authorities are.
Lieutenant Savchenko was allegedly captured in full uniform in Eastern Ukraine on or about June 18, 2014 by the armed forces of the Luhansk People’s Republic during active hostilities. Several days later, the separatists transferred her to Russian special forces, who in turn transported her to Russia. Russia, however, claims that Savchenko crossed the border voluntarily and was detained as an undocumented refugee. In any case, on July 9, 2014, Russian authorities announced that Savchenko was detained in a civilian detention center in Voronezh, Russia, facing charges of directing mortar fire that killed two Russian journalists during an attack on a separatist checkpoint outside of Luhansk. Currently, Savchenko is kept in a detention facility in Moscow, facing an additional charge of trespass.
Savchenko, who is on a hunger strike to protest the charges, has filed a complaint before the European Court of Human Rights alleging that her detention violates her rights to liberty (Article 5) and a fair trial (Article 6) as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECtHR gave Savchenko’s initial application priority, but on February 10 refused to grant Savchenko’s Rule 39 request for interim measures compelling Russia to immediately release the prisoner. The court instead asked Savchenko to end her hunger strike and Russia to provide more facts concerning her detention. Read the rest of this entry…
As noted by Sean and Aurel, the appeals proceedings in Serdar Mohammed v Ministry of Defence have sparked a renewed debate about detention in non-international armed conflict (NIAC). They have set out their arguments in an interesting article and in summary form in this post. I am not convinced by their arguments though, and despite the fact that certain provisions of the law of NIAC address the restriction of liberty or otherwise recognize that on occasion persons will be held by a party to the conflict, I do not see any authorisation for detention in the black-letter, or customary, law of NIAC. In this reply, I address some of the arguments made in favour of finding such authorisation and put forward an opposing view, in support of Leggatt J’s judgment.
Sean and Aurel, and others claiming that authorisation to detain must exist because it is (partially) regulated, fail to acknowledge that the entire body of post-WW2 IHL shows that the regulation of a situation (or behaviour) does not make the occurrence of that situation legal or authorised. The pragmatism of the ICRC and the recognition that conflicts would continue to occur and regulation of the behaviour of warring parties would continue to be necessary, despite the UN’s insistence that no further need for regulation was necessary after the adoption of the UN Charter that outlawed aggression, does not make it legal to wage war. The fact that rules were adopted for NIAC, did not give armed groups any authorisation to fights their governments (or each other). Nor did it authorise governments to take action against such armed groups. Instead, IHL explicitly recognises that sovereign States had that right, independent of IHL. Read the rest of this entry…
Last week, Ben Emmerson QC, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter-Terrorism and Human Rights announced that he was establishing a panel which will investigate allegations that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killing have caused disproportionate civilian casualties. The panel is charged with making recommendations regarding the obligation of States to conduct independent and impartial investigations into such allegations with a view to securing accountability and reparations. Most of the attention regarding the use of drones for targeted killing has, been focused on the United’s States drone programme. This is understandable as the vast majority of drone operations for targeted killing have been carried out by the US. However, it is implicit in Ben Emmerson’s statement that he also intends to examine the use of drones by other countries, and particularly by Israel and by the United Kingdom (see report by the Guardian). This is because he mentions the use of drones in the “State of Palestine” and also refers to co-operation he has received from the government of the UK.
It is not well known that the UK also uses drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for targeted killing and there has been little analysis of casualties arising from UK drone strikes. A recent report by the UK House of Commons Library provides an overview of the:
“The strengths and weaknesses of UAVs, the different types of UAVs in use by the UK Armed Forces in Afghanistan, rules of engagement and highlights some of the points raised by those concerned about their development and use.”
The report points out that:
“Reaper is the only armed remotely piloted aircraft system used by the UK. It is only deployed in Afghanistan. Defence Minister Andrew Robathan has confirmed the UK does not use armed UAVs against terrorist suspects outside Afghanistan. Defence Minister Philip Dunne has confirmed it has not been used in Pakistan or Somalia. The MOD has not made a decision as to whether to retain Reaper once combat operations end in Afghanistan. As of 1 November 2012, 297 Hellfire precision guided missiles and 52 laser guided bombs have been employed by Reaper since operations began in Afghanistan. Reaper deployed to Afghanistan in 2007 but only had the capability to deploy air-to-ground weapons since May 2008.” (p. 11)
Civilian Casualties from UK Drones
One of the criticisms of the US drone programme is the US claim that few or indeed no civilians are harmed by drone strikes. This is a claim that has been disputed by journalists and others (see for example, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism). The UK makes a similar claim in relation to its programme. Read the rest of this entry…