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Home Archive for category "International Organisations"

Who controls WTO dispute settlement? Reflections on the Appellate Body’s crisis from a socio-professional perspective

Published on January 13, 2020        Author: 

 

Last month marked a crucial moment in the history of the World Trade Organization (WTO)’s dispute settlement system. On 10 December 2019, the terms of office of Appellate Body (AB) members Ujal Bhatia and Thomas Graham came to an end, thereby leaving the World Trade Court without the minimum complement of adjudicators necessary to carry out its functions.

As is well known, this paralysis was triggered by the United States (US)’ consistent veto on the appointment of new appellate judges, justified on grounds of the court’s ‘overreach’, its undue reliance on ‘precedent’, and its alleged disregard for the rules set forth under the Dispute Settlement Understanding (DSU). In November 2019, the US doubled down by threatening to freeze the WTO’s 2020 budget absent draconian cuts to the AB’s funding. Predictably, this prompted the vehement reaction of numerous other Members, which accused the US of holding the WTO appellate system hostage of its own concerns.

Much has been written about this institutional crisis. Yet, the notion of ‘crisis’ deserves some further… critical examination. The very utterance of the word is seldom value-neutral, but rather reflects the perceptions, the preoccupations, and sometimes the agenda of the utterer. If it is indeed true that the World Trade Court is at a critical juncture, then it bears asking: critical for whom? Who are the actors involved in the struggle? How do they articulate their claims and pursue their strategies? To what ends? And who stands to gain and who to lose from the present impasse?

The WTO as a conflictive socio-professional field

Scholars tend to appraise the ongoing conflict in either of two ways. Some consider it as a normative disagreement over the appropriate boundaries of WTO adjudication vis-à-vis the regulatory authority of Members. This narrative typically focuses on the extent of the AB’s implicit powers, the role of past jurisprudence in its legal interpretations, the viability of alternatives to the appellate process, and the like. Others conceive the conflict as part of a struggle for political supremacy against the evolving landscape of international economic relations. This narrative tackles issues like US-China trade wars, the breakdown of multilateralism, the resurgence of sovereigntist economic policies, etc.

To complement these accounts, I suggest that the ongoing struggle surrounding the AB reflects a confrontation between competing socio-professional groups within the WTO legal field. The multilateral trade regime is not only a legal or a political construct. It is also the site of a contest among social actors endowed with unequal professional and technical capital, who compete for supremacy in the system. To prevail in this struggle is to secure one’s authority, impose one’s vision of the law as the dominant paradigm—in one word, to control WTO dispute settlement. Exploring the interplay and power relations among the various socio-professional actors involved in WTO adjudication is, therefore, key to understanding understanding the tensions that currently agitate the field. Read the rest of this entry…

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State-Empowered Actors in the European Court of Human Rights – State Sovereignty and Council of Europe Authority

Published on December 24, 2019        Author: 

 

Human rights conventions constitute a particular category of international law in respect of which individuals, exceptionally, are empowered to act because of their status as rights holders. Nowhere is this more evident than in regional bodies, such as the Council of Europe, which are founded on human rights conventions the ratification of which is a necessary criterion for membership. For the Council of Europe this convention is the European Convention on Human Rights. It is also mandatory for members States of the Council of Europe to accept the right of individuals aggrieved that their rights as contained in the ECHR have been violated to petition the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) for redress. Decisions of the ECtHR regarding applications are binding on the member State concerned and generally followed by other member States. The centrality of the individual as an applicant before the ECtHR is evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of the ECtHR’s case load consists of such applications. But individuals are not the only actors which participate in the interpretation of human rights. Non-state actors, in particular state-empowered actors, in the language of Sivakumaran, are increasingly relevant to making and shaping international law including its interpretation, application and development.

This blog examines the development of human rights interpretation by the ECtHR from a specific point of view: to what extent do instruments relevant to the rights contained in the ECHR, but adopted in Council of Europe institutions which consist of members appointed by the member States that are independent of those states and who do not represent them, establish evidence of agreement among the states? Read the rest of this entry…

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The Challenges for the ICJ in the Reliance on UN Fact-Finding Reports in the Case against Myanmar

Published on December 14, 2019        Author: 

 

This past week’s provisional measures hearing in the case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made for a remarkable spectacle (see here, here, and here). Acting as the head of her country’s delegation, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi sat silently as The Gambia’s legal team laid out its case alleging violations of the 1948 Genocide Convention, including brutal descriptions of the atrocities that have been exacted upon the Rohingya minority. When Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the Court herself, she pointedly did not utter the word “Rohingya”—except in a sole reference to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an insurgent group that Myanmar places at the center of what it frames as an internal armed conflict. Instead, she asked the Court to reject the provisional measures request and to resist the efforts by The Gambia and others to “externalize accountability” for alleged war crimes, leaving Myanmar to addresses these matters itself (CR 2019/19, pp 17-18, paras 24-25) .

In brief, The Gambia accuses Myanmar of engaging in a systematic policy of oppression and persecution against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country, that reaches back decades. Based on the Application, the ICJ will be asked to focus on military campaigns (termed “clearance operations” by Myanmar) carried out against the Rohingya since 2016, which are estimated to have caused more than 10,000 deaths and more than 700,000 people to seek refuge in Bangladesh. This is not the first time that a non-injured State has sought to enforce obligations erga omnes partes at the ICJ, but it is the first such case brought under the Genocide Convention.

I wrote previously about the possibility of an ICJ case against Myanmar and some of the attendant challenges. This post aims to highlight a specific challenge that these proceedings will pose for the Court: The Gambia’s extensive reliance on UN fact-finding reports, combined with the absence of prior or parallel international criminal proceedings relating to these events. Read the rest of this entry…

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To Forget, But Not Forgive: Why the CJEU’s Latest Ruling on Google and the ‘Right to Be Forgotten’ is Not at All a Win for US Tech Giants

Published on November 29, 2019        Author: 

 

Google has recently triumphed in the fight against a worldwide application of the European “right to be forgotten” following the European Court of Justice’s ruling that Google does not have to take down search results revealing sensitive personal information of EU citizens worldwide, rejecting demands by the French Data Protection Authority. The long anticipated judgment by Europe’s top Court in Google v CNIL, delivered on 24th September 2019, was a test of the ‘right to be forgotten’, which allows EU citizens to request, among other things, the removal of search engine results that reveal their personal information. This right is now explicitly recognised in Article 17 of the influential EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The ruling has been welcomed by US tech giants as an iconic curb of what they see as a ‘European overreach’- extension of its laws beyond borders.  However, not many have noticed that the Court intentionally left a glaring loophole – an opportunity for EU countries to force worldwide de-listing if they deem so fit. In other words, EU countries could still compel Google to de-list beyond Europe, and this decision comes as no surprise in light of the broader context of EU’s pushback against US tech giants.

In the wake of Edward Snowden’s 2013 mass-surveillance revelations about US spying on ordinary citizens and world leaders alike, Europe’s top Court demonstrated leadership by taking a hard line stance on the enforcement of data privacy law, even against other EU bodies. Although many have perceived the latest judgment as a restraint on the Court’s expansive interpretation of EU law, the CJEU  has in fact continued its hard line data privacy crusade with this judgment, which has significant implications for data privacy law, US tech companies, and Internet users. Read the rest of this entry…

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Reconciling new interpretations of the UN Charter with the customary international law on the use of force

Published on November 26, 2019        Author: 

 

In a recent lecture, published as a post on this blog, Professor Dapo Akande analysed the diversity of the rules on the use of force in international law and the implications for the evolution of the law in this area. In this post I wish to address one issue arising from this discussion but not directly addressed in Dapo’s lecture: the impact of changes to the UN Charter on the customary international law rules on the use of force.

In his lecture, Dapo argues persuasively that there are structural difficulties surrounding the evolution of Charter rules, and that these could be avoided if UN members were to interpret the UN Charter through subsequent practice under Article 31(3)(b) VCLT so that a ‘Uniting for Peace’ resolution of the UN General Assembly ‘would be deemed not to be a breach of the prohibition of force under Art. 2(4) in the same way that a Council resolution authorizing force would have that effect.’ However, while this route would avoid the obstacles Dapo discusses that make it difficult to imagine customary international law bringing about a change in the Charter rules on the use of force, it raises the opposite question: how would modification of the Charter rules impact the customary prohibition on force?

As clarified by the ICJ in Nicaragua (Merits, para 179), customary law continues to exist and apply separately alongside even identical treaty provisions. Since the customary and treaty prohibitions exist independently, even if the Charter were to be interpreted so that force authorised through Uniting for Peace was no longer considered a breach of Article 2(4), this interpretation of the Charter wouldn’t automatically change custom to match. A priori, force lawfully authorised by the General Assembly under the Charter would therefore still be in violation of the customary prohibition on force. One could argue that the new treaty rule would simply prevail over the customary prohibition to the extent they conflict, but this seems difficult when the customary prohibition is probably also a jus cogens norm. Indeed, it seems rather that the purported interpretation of the Charter would – by analogy with a new treaty amendment conflicting with jus cogens which would presumably be caught by Article 53 VCLT – be invalid. Read the rest of this entry…

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Is the UN Violating International Labour Standards?

Published on October 29, 2019        Author: 

The recent controversy regarding UNOPS consultants in Geneva has triggered a much larger and long-overdue debate on the use of ´non-staff personnel´ in the UN system and the asymmetries in their working conditions with respect to UN staff.

On 2012, the United Nations’ Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) published a report on a survey aimed at assessing the practices of individual consultancies and other non-staff personnel in the UN System, including various specialized agencies. The investigation revealed that use of non-staff personnel in the UN amounts to approximately 40 percent of its total workforce. One of the key reasons for the use of non-staff personnel, according to the report, is the lack of sufficient resources to pay for a staff position in conjunction with the strain of having to deliver with scarce funding. A further 2014 report specified another reason to hire non-staff personnel: greater flexibility in the recruitment process in comparison to staff recruitment. In spite of numerous recommendations made by the JIU to UN agencies, regarding contracting practices, no real progress has been made to address the aforementioned issues and solve them.

Consultants in the UN, generally maintain a contractual relationship with a UN Agency but are not considered formal ’employees’. While the use of consultants does not appear prima facie to be a breach of human rights standards on labour, I argue in this post, that the manner in which consultancy contracts are being implemented by the UN is inconsistent with the ‘equal pay for equal work’ principle.

UN Consultancy Schemes and the ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ Principle

Article 7 of the ICESCR stipulates that members of the Convention should guarantee fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value “without distinction of any kind”. As for the scope of the term “remuneration”, in the ICESCR drafting sessions there was a general consensus that the term comprises other benefits “beyond monetary wages” such as social security, family and child benefits, as was later established in the ILO Convention 100. Therefore the ‘equal pay for equal work’ principle not only involves a monthly salary but it also includes other social benefits. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Implementation of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights: Worse Than You Think – Part 2: The Hole in the Roof

Published on October 8, 2019        Author: 

Part 1 of this blog post addressed the current narratives concerning the implementation of ECtHR judgments. Part 2 below attempts to set out what the current state of implementation might really be.

Imagine you are told that there is a hole in the roof of your house. You go out to buy the materials to fix it, come home and begin work. However, half-way through the repairs you realise that the hole is far larger than you thought. It turns out that you do not have enough materials to mend it properly.

If we are not careful, this is what is going to happen with the challenge of non-implementation of ECtHR judgments and the response that is made towards it in the next era of the Convention system. The scale of the problem is being underestimated – so there is a serious danger that the response will be insufficient. The scale of non-implementation can be demonstrated by looking at the best metrics available to assess the issue.

Overall judgments vs. Leading judgments

The number of overall pending ECtHR judgments is mostly filled by repetitive cases. In order for these to be closed, justice has to be carried out for the individual applicant in the case. This usually involves the payment of compensation; or perhaps a retrial or proper investigation into the relevant events. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Implementation of Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights: Worse Than You Think – Part 1: Grade Inflation

Published on October 7, 2019        Author: 

Part 1 of this blog post will explore how the current narratives about the implementation of ECtHR judgments paint a misleading picture. In Part 2, a different set of statistics will be examined, in order to explore how well the implementation system is really functioning.

In some countries, exam results in schools and universities are improving every year. However, many doubt that this is because the students are actually doing better in their studies. The accusation is made that, though exam marks are improving, this is the result of tests being made easier, rather than the students becoming better educated. This “grade inflation” allows schools and universities to publish better results, but without the performance behind the results actually improving.

What applies to schools and universities can also apply to international institutions.

Over the last few years, the Council of Europe has advanced a consistent narrative about the state of implementation of judgments from the European Court of Human Rights. This narrative suggests that implementation is going very well indeed. Read the rest of this entry…

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International Civil Servants and Their Unexplored Role in International Law

Published on October 3, 2019        Author: 

2019 marks the centenary of the foundation of the League of Nations. While the early intergovernmental organizations (IOs) founded before WWI were often staffed by seconded officials, Eric Drummond, the British diplomat and the first Secretary-General of the League, set the ground for creation of an ‘international’ secretariat, composed of professional public servants of various backgrounds, who were ready to commit to the goals of the League and carry out their functions under the sole direction of a non-national leader. The concepts and approaches introduced by Drummond were later inherited by the United Nations and other IOs. Later on, the second UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld played a major role in concertizing the concepts and principles of international civil service, introducing ‘independence’ and ‘international responsibility’, as the pillars of the work of the secretariat.

Today, the backbone of international bureaucracies are individuals with expertise and diplomatic tact, who altogether constitute a unique body of human resources known as ‘international civil servants’. International civil servants perform their duties in complex legal and political environments; in refugee camps, humanitarian missions, post-conflict administrations, and sometimes in calmer environment of headquarters. The status, rights and obligations of employees of IOs are rooted in the constituent instruments of their respective organizations, concluded under international law. However, this is not a one-way road. Indeed, international civil servants actively contribute to formation of international norms, monitor and report on their implementation at macro and micro levels. In a broader perspective, they collectively shape the vision of ‘good life’ for the world population, using an expert language, which enhances the persuasive force of their narratives. Nevertheless, the role of individuals behind the wheels of IOs in development of international law is, to a great extent, absent from the international legal discourse. A better understanding of the changes in international law necessitates an in-depth inquiry into the role of international civil servants in constructing the narratives that influence the spheres of global and national governance. Read the rest of this entry…

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Does the European Court of Human Rights Have to Decide on Sovereignty over Crimea? Part II: Issues Lurking on the Merits

Published on September 24, 2019        Author: 

In my previous post I explained how the European Court’s Article 1 jurisprudence allows it to avoid the question of sovereignty over Crimea, since it can ground Russia’s jurisdiction over the territory, and thus the applicability of the ECHR, simply on the fact of its control and need not say anything else. But there are at least two issues on the merits of the Ukraine v. Russia re Crimea case that could directly engage the question of sovereignty over the territory. As a preliminary matter, I now need to say that I have not had the benefit of reading the pleadings of either party in the case – the Court has an inexplicable policy of not putting the pleadings online, but only allowing them to be consulted in its building in Strasbourg. That said, I am reasonably certain that the two issues I examine here are properly raised in the case. I will therefore now turn to the first of these, the mass imposition of Russian citizenship on the people of Crimea.

Read the rest of this entry…

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