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Disobeying the Security Council—Some Responses

Published on May 30, 2011        Author: 

Many thanks to Erika de Wet, Marko Milanović, and Matthew Happold, who took the time to read Disobeying the Security Council and write such carefully considered criticisms of what are indeed the central arguments in the book. In what follows I try to respond to some of these criticisms and comments, mainly be reiterating points made in the book, but also trying to take some of them further. Erika de Wet notes, in her review, that the relevant arguments put forward in the book are not ‘watertight’ and require further motivation. No argument there (excuse the pun)—I doubt that any argument (of mine?) could ever be watertight. What I sought to do in Disobeying the Security Council was to offer an interpretation of state practice in response to legally problematic Security Council sanctions, and to legally qualify the admittedly rare instances of principled disobedience of such sanctions that are perceived by states as being wrongful. In that, the book does not really seek to advance a normative argument (‘this is how things should look’) but rather to offer how things actually do look—even if only in its author’s eyes. So much by way of introduction to my responses. Read the rest of this entry…

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Some Remarks on Disobeying the Security Council

Published on May 27, 2011        Author: 

Matthew Happold is Professor of Public International Law at the University of Luxembourg.

 I greatly enjoyed Dr Tzanakopoulos’ Disobeying the Security Council.  The book displays a richness of argument backed by a depth of research.  At point after point, I found myself in agreement with the author.  Yet, sympathetic though I am to his approach, I was unable to follow his argument to the end.

In the first two parts of Disobeying the Security Council, Dr Tzanakopoulos examines how the imposition of non-forcible measures under Article 41 of the UN Charter can engage the international responsibility of the United Nations, and how – and by whom – such responsibility is determined.  Some minor points aside, I agree with Dr Tzanakopoulos.  Whatever the situation as regards the implementation of binding resolutions of the Security Council, it seems evident that their promulgation is attributable to the United Nations, of which the Council is one of the principal organs. And absent a few provocateurs, there seems general agreement that the Council’s powers are not unlimited.  Rather, differences exist regarding what the extent of those powers is and who is entitled to determine whether the Council stepped beyond them.  The International Court of Justice seems unable – and has definitely shown itself unwilling – to judicially review Council decisions. Other courts and tribunals apply their own law, whether that is national law or that mandated by their constituent treaty, so in most cases they are not concerned with whether a particular Council resolution is in breach of the United Nations Charter or of general international law.  Indeed, it is usually not the relevant Council resolution that they are reviewing but the act implementing it within their own legal system.  Moreover, only a certain limited class of questions concerning the legal effect of Council resolutions tend to come before national courts, that is, those where resolutions directly affect individual rights.  Hence the concentration of cases on the ‘blacklisting’ of individuals and the freezing of their assets under the sanctions regimes established by Council resolutions 1267 and 1333.

Given this, one can only fall back on the general rule in international law: that States retain the power to auto-determine the legality of measures issued by the Council. It is no more than stating the obvious that UN member States have an entitlement to interpret Security Council decisions.   Interpretation must be undertaken, at least in the first instance, by member States, because it is they who implement Council resolutions and they must ascertain what they are obliged to do in order to do it.  Indeed, to a large extent the distinction between interpretation and determination of one’s legal obligations is a distinction without practical difference. For example, the conclusion of the Organization of the Islamic Conference that paragraph 6 of Security Council resolution 713 (which imposed an arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia) did not ‘legally’ apply to Bosnia-Herzegovina was premised on the view that to interpret the embargo as applicable to Bosnia would render the resolution ultra vires because the Council could not legally prevent a State from seeking to exercise its ‘inherent’ right of self-defence (not un-coincidentally this was the argument put by Bosnia before the ICJ).

However, in the final part of the book Dr Tzanakopoulos argues that when States disobey the Security Council what they are engaging in are countermeasures in response to illegal conduct by the Council. Here the hinge on which matters seem to pivot is Article 25 of the UN Charter, which Dr Tzanokapoulos interprets are making any disobedience of binding Council decisions illegal. Hence, the only way such an illegality can be justified is as a response to another prior illegality, the resolution itself.  I confess to having problems with this characterisation.  Read the rest of this entry…

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A Comment on Disobeying the Security Council

Published on May 26, 2011        Author: 

Antonios Tzanakopoulos has written a powerful book in Disobeying the Security Council. It is a rich – at times very rich – piece of scholarship, covering a range of complex issues. The book makes two important arguments (and at that ones I agree with!). First (a point of course already made before), that it is states themselves which are the ultimate judges of the legality of the Security Council’s decisions. In a decentralized system lacking any compulsory and systematic means of judicial control and dispute resolution, self-help may turn out to be the only game in town. It is by choosing to openly disobey (or more frequently, very narrowly interpret) decisions of the Security Council that they regard as unlawful that states act as a check against the Security Council abusing its powers. Second (and relatedly), that much of the scholarly discussion regarding the legality of Security Council action tends to adopt a domestic public law mindset, whether quite consciously or at times uncritically, a mindset which is inappropriate when some of the underpinnings of domestic public law, such as compulsory adjudication, are lacking

In order to advance these arguments, and to offer a solution that would both provide a meaningful check on the UNSC’s powers and yet not suffer from the perils of domestic law-thinking, Antonios makes several crucial conceptual and doctrinal moves. It is with some of these that I have to part ways. Most importantly, he changes the focus from the validity of the decisions of the UNSC to the UN’s responsibility for illegal UNSC decisions as internationally wrongful acts, measured against the law binding on the organization. As always in the decentralized international system, states have the right of auto-determination, i.e. of deciding for themselves that the organization is responsible, and then have the right to take countermeasures against it, including disobeying its decisions and refusing to pay their allocated dues to it. In doing so, of course, states as always assume the risk that they might be wrong in their own assessment, and if they are they must suffer the consequences.

In essence, Antonios’ approach is very much one of classical international law, relying on established legal institutions and methods of this decentralized system such as responsibility and countermeasures, and avoiding the pitfalls of constitutionalization or domestic law-thinking generally. This critical effort is certainly a laudable one – but whether it ultimately succeeds is not as clear.

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Debating Disobeying the Security Council – is it a matter of ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’?

Published on May 25, 2011        Author: 

Erika de Wet is Co-Director and Professor of International Law, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa, University of Pretoria (South Africa); Professor of International Constitutional Law, University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands). The author’s critique is based on views developed in Chapters 4 and 10 of her monograph entitled The Chapter VII Powers of the United Nations Security Council (Hart Publishing, 2004).

The book by Antonions Tzanakopoulos examines how and by whom the responsibility of the United Nations for unlawful Security Council sanctions can be determined. Its central thesis is that States can respond to unlawful sanctions imposed by the Security Council by disobeying the Security Council’s command in a manner that constitutes countermeasures to the Security Council’s unlawful action. The book is very well written, creative and  intellectually challenging in the way it attempts to align the law of State responsibility with the Law of the United Nations Charter.

However, like with other theories developed in an attempt to curb illegal action by the United Nations Security Council, closer scrutiny reveals that the arguments presented are not water-tight and may require further motivation. The subsequent paragraphs will focus on two such issues. The first concerns the reason why Antonios resorts to the concept of countermeasures in the first place, whereas the second relates to the analogy that he draws between Security Council sanctions and countermeasures.

A cornerstone of Antonios’ argument centres around his submission (pp 164-166) that all member States remain bound to decisions under article 25 of the United Nations Charter, which determines that ‘[t]he Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council in accordance with the present Charter’. This article remains controversial due to the question whether the phrase ‘in accordance with the present Charter’ refers only to the member States or the organisation as well. If it referred only to the member States they would be obliged to carry out decisions of the Security Council under all circumstances. If, however, the phrase referred to the organisation as well, it is arguable that the member States would only be obliged to carry out those decisions that were adopted in accordance with the Charter, i.e. intra vires.

Antonios does not accept that the controversial phrase ‘in accordance with the present Charter’ should be interpreted as meaning that member States are only bound by those Security Council decisions that remain within the competencies of the Council (i.e. intra vires decisions). He rejects this position on the basis of two arguments. First, he claims (with rather cursory arguments) that the ambivalence surrounding the meaning of this phrase cannot be resolved through interpretation. His second and perhaps more intriguing argument is that no constitutional system can operate unless there is some final instance that promulgates acts with which all the addressees must comply, irrespective of their lawfulness. In the subsequent paragraph he acknowledges that the term constitutionalization is problematic (without attempting to suggest a definition of his own) and doubts whether the Charter was meant to be a constitution. Even so, he seems to adhere to the argument that the Charter system, in order to operate, requires States to remain bound to all Security Council decisions, regardless of their legality (until such a time as they are revoked by the Security Council itself).

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An Overview of Disobeying the Security Council

Published on May 24, 2011        Author: 

I. Introduction

Disobedience of an illegal or unjust command has long been a source of inspiration and scholarly excitement for lawyers, philosophers, and even dramatists, among many others. One of the best known tragedies of Sophocles, Antigone, sees the heroine defy the edict of Creon, the ruler of Thebes, in order to comply with the superior (in her view) rule that requires that she bury her dead brother in accordance with holy rites. How to qualify and/or justify disobedience in extreme cases has ever since featured as one of the most hotly debated jurisprudential issues. The book that will be discussed here deals with the legal qualification of disobedience of binding Security Council sanctions resolutions that are perceived by States as being in violation of the UN’s obligations.

At the outset I should like to thank EJIL:Talk! for hosting a debate on Disobeying the Security Council. I am in particular grateful to the editors-in-chief and to OUP for so kindly and diligently organizing this, as well as to the commentators who took the time to read and engage with the book (at least now I can plausibly argue it has been read by more than the proverbial average of two people who read most academic monographs: the author, and their mother). The book is an updated version of my DPhil thesis at the University of Oxford, which was submitted under the rather uninviting title ‘Responsibility of the United Nations for Wrongful Security Council Non-forcible Measures’ (ie Article 41 measures or simply ‘sanctions’).

The first move is to explain why I am focusing on the international responsibility of the United Nations rather than discuss its ‘accountability’. The term has attracted a lot of attention in the scholarship dealing with the question of limits on the ever-augmenting powers and impact of international organizations, despite its less-than-obvious ambit. The opening chapter of the book is devoted to discussing the definition and substance of the term, and to showing that international (legal) responsibility is the most pertinent (and the ‘hardest’) form of accountability that can be employed in the case of the United Nations when the latter is acting through the Security Council. This leads into the discussion of the specifics of UN responsibility for Council sanctions that follows. The discussion is structured in three parts, which follow by-and-large the structure of the ILC Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (‘ASR’), as well as the Draft Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations (‘DARIO’): the first part deals with the ‘engagement of responsibility’, ie the requirements for the UN to become responsible under international law (II). The second part proceeds to question who is to determine the engagement of UN responsibility, ie who is to decide whether the UN has become responsible under international law for Security Council ‘sanctions’ (III). The final part deals with the consequences of the UN having engaged its responsibility (IV).

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Book Discussion: Disobeying the Security Council

Published on May 21, 2011        Author: 

I am happy to announce that this week we will be hosting a discussion on Antonios Tzanakopoulos’ new book with OUP, Disobeying the Security Council: Countermeasures against Wrongful Sanctions. Antonios is lecturer in international law at the University of Glasgow School of Law, and is of course well-known to the readers of this blog as author of many insightful posts. He will start the discussion on Monday by outlining the main arguments of his book. Comments by Erika de Wet, professor of international law at the universities of Pretoria and Amsterdam, Matthew Happold, professor of international law at the University of Luxembourg, and myself will follow over the course of the week, while Antonios will then have an opportunity to respond.

I hope the readers will enjoy the discussion, and they are invited to join in if they wish to do so; comments will of course be open on all posts.

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Interpreting and Applying the UNSC sanctions on Iran in the Admiralty Context: The Sahand [2011] SGHC 27

Published on April 22, 2011        Author: 

Seow Zhixiang is an officer in the Singapore Legal Service. The views here are his own.

 The High Court of Singapore has recently delivered its grounds of decision in a case which considers the impact of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran in an admiralty context. The Sahand [2011] SGHC 27 (available at Singapore Law Watch) involved three merchant vessels – the Sahand, the Tuchal and the Sabalan – which were owned by German companies and arrested in Singapore waters. The German companies were wholly-owned subsidiaries of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL), the state shipping line of Iran. Certain IRISL entities are subject to the asset freeze imposed by the UNSC on Iranian entities, and the Sahand case illustrates the difficulties that may arise in interpreting the broad language of the relevant resolutions for the purposes of applying them to specific cases, and in identifying links to expressly sanctioned entities. The case also  gives an idea of the disruptive effect that sanctions may have on commercial activities, both by a sanctioned entity and those dealing with it.  These points are not only relevant to the UNSC resolutions on Iran, but also to other similarly worded sanctions.

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The UN/French Use of Force in Abidjan: Uncertainties Regarding the Scope of UN Authorizations

Published on April 9, 2011        Author: 

Antonios Tzanakopoulos is Lecturer in Public International Law at the University of Glasgow.

In this post I analyse the legal basis for the current use of force by the UN and France in Côte d’Ivoire, examining how that use of force impacts the status and exceptions of the prohibition of the use of force in Article 2(4) of the Charter and in customary law. In particular, I want to discuss the scope of the authorizations by the UN Security Council to use force, comparing the situation in Côte d’Ivoire with the on-going situation in Libya. The similarity between the two cases is more obvious than has been observed, as in both cases the UN has authorized the use of force in order to protect civilians, and in both cases those authorised by the Security Council to use force have directed that force against one side in an ongoing civil war, including targeting buildings belonging to the leader of that side who claims to be head of State (Col. Gaddafi & Laurent Gbagbo, see here and here). In both cases, questions have arisen as to the scope of the mandate and to whether recent uses of force overstep that mandate (see here with regard to Côte d’Ivoire).

I. The History of the Conflict in Côte d’Ivoire

Côte d’Ivoire has been in a state of turmoil since an attempted coup led to the country being split into southern areas, controlled by the government, and northern areas, controlled by rebels, in 2002. At the time, France used force in Côte d’Ivoire, allegedly to protect its nationals in the country, but was accused by both the government and the insurgents as taking sides (BBC). An eventual cease-fire in 2003 proved to be fragile, with the rebels refusing to disarm, and the French intervening in response to government attacks on French troops stationed in Côte d’Ivoire in 2004. ECOWAS, AU, and UN efforts facilitated an agreement between the factions, and elections were scheduled to take place in 2005 (see SCRs 1464 [2003] and 1479 [2003]). These kept being postponed due to the precarious security, but were finally held in November 2010.

Ouattara, Gbagbo’s rival, won the very close election, the results of which were certified by the UN (see SCR 1765 [2007] para 6), and accepted by the EU, the AU, ECOWAS, and most States that cared to form an opinion (with the notable exception of Angola and Lebanon). However, Gbagbo refused to accept defeat (see for further background Jean d’Aspremont’s excellent post). In the aftermath of the election, both leaders were inaugurated in separate ceremonies, and claimed to be the President of Côte d’Ivoire. Since there seemed to be no forthcoming solution in the impasse, the AU gave Gbagbo an ultimatum, inviting him to hand over power to Ouattara by 24 March, while the EU, the US, and ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire, a move welcomed by the UN Security Council (see SCR 1962 [2010] preamble). When the ultimatum expired with Gbagbo still refusing to leave, pro-Ouattara forces marched from their strongholds in the north towards Abidjan to seize power by force. They are now in Abidjan, having taken over most of the rest of the country, and are laying siege to the Presidential compound, where Gbagbo has taken refuge. Read the rest of this entry…

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Does SC Resolution 1973 Permit Coalition Military Support for the Libyan Rebels?

Published on March 31, 2011        Author: 

In his post of yesterday, Marko notes the debate surrounding whether the Coalition now taking military action in Libya can arm the rebels fighting in that country. This question is perhaps part of a broader question of whether the coalition can provide other military aid to the rebels, for example, by providing close air support for rebel advances into towns under the control of Col Gaddafi’s forces. As Marko notes, while the US and UK  have both denied that they have made a decision to provide arms to the rebels (see here and here), they have both argued that providing arms to the rebels would not be a breach of the arms embargo imposed by Security Council Resolution 1970. In fact media reports today indicate that President Obama has authorised covert aid to the rebels. Likewise, though there have been denials of direct support from the air for rebel operations on the ground, the media reported that rebel advances on towns like Ajdabiya (and others) was only made possible because of coalition attacks against Libya military forces defending those towns. So, is this direct support for the rebels lawful? When I was asked about the legality of providing arms to the rebels at the start of this week I was of the view that this would be contrary to the arms embargo. Having thought about it a bit more, I have changed my mind about the legality question. Politically, I don’t think it ought to be done unless we know who these people are and what their aims are. The approach that my enemy’s enemy is my friend doesn’t always turn out for the best. We need only think of the experience of arming the Afghan mujahadeen in the 1980s to know that caution is required. But others know far more than I do about whether it is a wise thing to do politically and militarily. As far as law is concerned, such assistance is not, in my view, excluded by the relevant Security Council resolutions. However, the assistance that can be given is also limited by the mandate that Security Council Resolution 1973 confers. The assistance must be directed, solely, at protection of civilians and civilian populated areas.

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Can the Allies Lawfully Arm the Libyan Rebels?

Published on March 30, 2011        Author: 

My friend Claus Kress yesterday brought to my attention a most pertinent legal issue: In Resolution 1970, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Lybia. The embargo was reaffirmed and strengthened in op. paras. 13-16 of Resolution 1973. The embargo appears to be comprehensive; no explicit exception is made for the possible distribution of arms to the rebels. However, both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have deliberately left open the possibility of supplying arms to the rebels, even though they have not done so for now. What then is the legal argument in support of supplying the rebels with armaments? Yesterday Secretary Clinton remarked that “It is our interpretation that [UN Security Council resolution] 1973 amended or overrode the absolute prohibition on arms to anyone in Libya.” She was echoed today by the PM in Parliament, who said that “The legal position is clear that the arms embargo applies to the whole territory of Libya. But at the same time UNSCR 1973 allows all necessary measures to protect civilians and civilian-populated areas… We do not rule it out but we have not taken the decision to do so.” This position was confirmed by the UK foreign secretary.

This argument raises serious questions of interpretation and of the deliberate ambiguity in the drafting of UNSC resolutions. On the one hand, there are specific provisions imposing an arms embargo without exceptions. On the other, a broad phrase such as ‘all necessary measures’ is taken as overriding the embargo, thus allowing foreign powers to favour one of the parties to the armed conflict. I am not saying that this argument is necessarily wrong, but its correctness is also far from obvious. It is of course tantamount to saying that the provision of arms to organized armed groups can be a method of protecting civilians or civilian populated areas; it also has the Council taking sides in a conflict, without saying so explicitly. I am not aware of similar arguments being made so forcefully by states with regard to UNSC arms embargos – though of course recall the embargo imposed on Bosnia, and the Bosnian argument that it was void as it disabled the Bosnian Muslims to defend themselves from genocide, in conflict with a norm of jus cogens.

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