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Governance and the UN Global Compact on Migration: Just another Soft Law Cooperation Framework or a New Legal Regime governing International Migration?

Published on March 4, 2019        Author:  and
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Editor’s note: This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law symposium on The UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?

Does the UN Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) fulfill the criteria of a legal regime for international migration or is it just another soft law cooperation framework amidst many? If the GCM is merely a cooperation framework, then what is its contribution to international migration law (IML)? Is it limited to institutional questions, including the quality of follow-up, monitoring and review? What does it mean to ascribe the GCM a “governance capacity”? Does “governance”, as a counter concept to government, feature at the same time as an antidote to anarchy, so that the GCM could be fashioned as the complement to the “missing regime” of IML?

To resolve the ambiguity over the GCM’s governance ambition means for one to reply to the question posed by Aleinikoff in 2007, i.e. to what extent the GCM provides for the long-sought after “architecture” to govern the “substance” of IML. To respond to the challenge secondly means to uncover to what extent the GCM has overcome the “anarchy” underlying the fragmented state of IML, also called the “piecemeal approach” (Opeskin et al. 2012). This approach allowed States in the Global North to keep national sovereignty over territory and borders untouched by design, but also for few exceptions of multilateral cooperation on service providers in the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) and regional schemes on free movement of persons. However, the “management” of population flows from sending countries has led to uncertain outcomes for the protection of migrants’ rights, while rendering their entitlements an often-neglected legal category in international law.

In this post, we will provide a first appraisal of whether the GCM has governance potential – a capacity which may move it beyond the mere “international cooperation framework”, designed by GCM drafters. Read the rest of this entry…

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“We are tidying up”: The Global Compact on Migration and its Interaction with International Human Rights Law

Published on March 1, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law symposium on The UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?

“We are not talking about anything new […] Rather we are tidying up” – said El Salvador’s Representative before the vote at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on the adoption of the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), also known as the Marrakech Compact (GA/12113). Other similar declarations joined the chorus of States in three clear directions: 1) the Compact is not legally binding; 2) the Compact does not create any new international obligations in the form of new customary rules; and 3) the Compact reaffirms States’ sovereignty.

Be that as it may, one cannot but agree with Maria Gavouneli that the GCM, at this stage, will not have a huge impact on the existing legal framework applicable to the mass movements of individuals. However, it is possible to move the critique one step forward looking at some contents of the GCM that might have some normative effects on the sources of international law governing the management of migration.

The GCM and its Legal Nature

As Anne Peters put it on this blog, the GCM is part of the borderless category of international soft law instruments, as States’ will clearly excludes the legal bindingness of its objectives and actions. However, it is no mystery that soft law instruments might have, under certain conditions, normative effects. Read the rest of this entry…

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Legislating by Compacts? – The Legal Nature of the Global Compacts

Published on February 28, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s note: This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law symposium on The UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?

It is not usual to have UN documents splashed across the first pages of the world, exciting animadversion among politicians not known for their respect or knowledge of international law and heated exchanges on the social media; governments (well: one!) collapsing over them; or even having actors read through each word of them on national television. The Global Compact for Refugees (GCR) and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) were stars long before they were formally approved by the 73rd UN General Assembly. With the final text decided a month earlier, the GCR was approved on 17 December 2018 as part of an omnibus resolution on the work of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and with an overwhelming majority (181/2/3): only Hungary and the US voted against, with the Dominican Republic, Eritrea and Libya abstaining. After a highly publicized and politicized gathering in Marrakesh (10-11 December 2018), the GCM was approved by the General Assembly on 19 December 2018 with a less impressive majority (152/5/12): The Czech Republic, Israel and Poland joined the nay-sayers and a dozen others, among which five Member States of the European Union (EU) and Switzerland abstained, the last embarrassingly enough being with Mexico one of the co-convenors of the intergovernmental process leading to its adoption. Both Global Compacts are the product of a political commitment, reflected in the New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants adopted by the UN General Assembly on 19 September 2016, and they constitute the latest acts in a process of rethinking the norms and procedures governing the management of human mobility. Both Compacts proclaim themselves as non-legally binding, the result of a wide cooperative effort among governments and between governments and civil society. The discussion on their legal nature could surely have stopped here. And yet it goes on – even in this blog. Read the rest of this entry…

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Introduction to the Symposium on ‘the UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?’

Published on February 27, 2019        Author: , , and
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Editor’s note: EJIL:Talk! is happy to announce that starting today, the blog will host a symposium on The UN Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees: The Twin Peaks?. In their contribution to this series, five members of the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law will engage with overarching and cross-cutting topics in the context of the recently adopted Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and Global Compact on Refugees.

We thank the authors for their contributions, and for the interesting discussions this symposium is sure to generate!

In this blog symposium, the ESIL Interest Group on Migration and Refugee Law focuses on the recently adopted two United Nations (UN) instruments aiming at reinforcing the (legal) structures of global governance on migration and asylum: the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) as well as the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR). Human migration has been a constant in the history of the world and a defining reality of our time. International migration has been coined as a global “megatrend” by the International Organization for Migration. In this context came the Global Compacts, which are the outcomes of a two-year negotiation process in different formats and settings. After several rounds of inclusive preparatory talks within the UN in New York, the Marrakech Intergovernmental Conference, held on 10-11 December 2018, formally adopted the Global Compact on Migration, which was later endorsed by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on 19 December 2018 (with 152 States voting for it). The Global Compact on Refugees has been prepared in a less transparent way by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), then was presented to the UN General Assembly in September 2018, and was subsequently also endorsed by the UNGA in December last year (181 countries voted in favour of it). Read the rest of this entry…

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The Global Compact for Migration: to sign or not to sign?

Published on November 21, 2018        Author: 
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The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (final draft of 13 July 2018) is scheduled for adoption at an intergovernmental conference in Marrakesh in December 2018. But in the run-up to this conference, several states, beginning with the United States already in 2017, now followed by Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and others, have announced that they will  not sign the text. Will refusal to sign be relevant in terms of international law? What is the juridical quality of the Compact, which legal consequences does it have, and which normative “ripples” might it deploy in the future? The controversy over the Compact sheds light on the legitimacy of international law-making processes and on the precarious normative power of international law.

A Brief Glance at the Contents

The Compact consists of four parts. Following the preamble, the first part contains, “Vision and Guiding Principles”. The second part, “Objectives and Commitments” contains 23 objectives, proceeded by a part on “Implementation” and the final section “Follow-up and Review”. The Compact purports to set out “a common understanding, shared responsibilities and unity of purpose regarding migration” (para. 9). The purpose is mainly to secure that migration “works for all” (para. 13).

The Compact’s “guiding principles” are, inter alia, people-centeredness, international cooperation, national sovereignty, rule of law and due process, and sustainable development (para. 15). These are well-established and to a large extent also legally entrenched principles. The 23 “objectives” are partly generally recognised such as saving lives (objective 8), respond to smuggling (objective 9), or eradicate trafficking (objective 10). Some mainly correspond to interests of states of origin (such as promoting transfer of remittances, objective 20), others basically satisfy interests of receiving states (such as facilitating return and readmission (objective 21). In substance, the Compact partly repeats international law as it stands or refers to existing instruments (see notably preamble para. 2), partly contains platitudes, and partly contains novel ideas. Read the rest of this entry…

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Lost in Space? Gaps in the International Space Object Registration Regime

Published on November 19, 2018        Author: 
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Despite having been operational for over 15 years, the satellites NSS-6 and NSS-7 are missing from the United Nations Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space (‘International Register’). Just as we do not accept unregistered cars on our roads, we should not accept unregistered space objects in orbit. Registration ensures that the state responsible for a specific space object can be readily identified, and, if necessary, presented with a claim under the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.

For this reason, under the international space object registration regime, all space objects must be registered by a state. So which state is shirking their duty to submit NSS-6 and NSS-7 to the International Register?

The two satellites were built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems (‘Lockheed Martin’), a United States-based corporation, for New Skies International NV (‘New Skies’), a Dutch corporation. Launch services were provided by Arianespace SA (‘Arianespace’), a French corporation. Both launches took place from French territory. Once in orbit, ownership of the satellites was transferred from Lockheed Martin to New Skies. So at least three states are involved – and the question is which of these states should register NSS-6 and NSS-7 (spoiler alert: I think it’s the Netherlands). This episode is used as a case study to illustrate the ambiguities and gaps that exist in the international space object registration regime. I conclude the post by making a proposal which seeks to find a way to close these gaps. Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine Sues the United States in the ICJ re Jerusalem Embassy

Published on September 30, 2018        Author: 
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On Friday Palestine instituted proceedings against the United States of America before the International Court of Justice, claiming that the US violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The application is here, the ICJ’s press release here; this is how the press release summarizes Palestine’s claim:

It is recalled in the Application that, on 6 December 2017, the President of the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the relocation of the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The American Embassy in Jerusalem was then inaugurated on 14 May 2018.

Palestine contends that it flows from the Vienna Convention that the diplomatic mission of a sending State must be established on the territory of the receiving State. According to Palestine, in view of the special status of Jerusalem, “[t]he relocation of the United States Embassy in Israel to . . . Jerusalem constitutes a breach of the Vienna Convention”.

As basis for the Court’s jurisdiction, the Applicant invokes Article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes. It notes that Palestine acceded to the Vienna Convention on 2 April 2014 and to the Optional Protocol on 22 March 2018, whereas the United States of America is a party to both these instruments since 13 November 1972.

In brief, Palestine argues that various articles of the VCDR, especially Article 3 thereof, require that the functions of the diplomatic mission be performed ‘in the receiving state,’ which means that the mission must be established in the receiving state. Jerusalem is not Israeli territory, and therefore moving the embassy there meant that it was not established in the receiving state. Ergo, there was a violation of the VCDR.

This case raises numerous issues, some obvious, some not. There are many objections that the US could raise, and will inevitably raise.

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Bolton Speech: The Legality of US Retaliatory Action Against Judges and Officials of the International Criminal Court?

Published on September 14, 2018        Author: 
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The speech given on Monday by John Bolton, US National Security Adviser, threatening action by the US against the International Criminal Court (ICC) in response to potential ICC investigation of US personnel with regard to the situation in Afghanistan has generated a lot of interest (see herehere, here and here). There are a plethora of policy and political issues raised by the looming clash between the ICC and the US which have been set out on other blogs in recent days (here and here). In terms of the legal issues, we are back to the old debate about whether the ICC is entitled to exercise jurisdiction over nationals of non-party states, in the absence of a referral by the UN Security Council (on which see this 2003 article of mine and this recent post in response). This post addresses whether the actions that Bolton says the US will take against Judges and ICC officials would be lawful under international law. Bolton says that the US:

“… will respond against the ICC and its personnel to the extent permitted by U.S. law.  We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

In particular, I wish to focus on whether the US would violate international law by banning ICC judges and officials from entering the US. Even if the US were to seek to prosecute ICC personnel, it is unlikely that it would obtain custody over them (unless other states cooperate with the US). The primary effect of such attempted prosecutions would be to prevent those people from entering the US, in fear of being arrested.

Barring ICC personnel from entry into the US is a significant issue because (i) the meetings of the ICC Assembly of States Parties are held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York every other year; (ii) the ICC Prosecutor goes to the Security Council, at its request, to report to the Council on the situations referred to the Court by the Council; and (iii) the President of the ICC presents a report, on the work of the Court, to the UN General Assembly annually. All of these activities and visits will have to stop if the threat by John Bolton (either to prosecute or to ban ICC judges and officials) were to be carried out.

Does the US have International Legal Obligations Preventing  it from taking Retaliatory Action  Against ICC Personnel?

To the extent that US retaliatory actions against ICC personnel  take place within the US, the starting position would be the US can control entry into the US, prosecute people who in its view threaten US security (probably based on the protective principle of jurisdiction) and sanction funds in the US unless such acts are inconsistent with contrary obligations under international law.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Failure to Protect Civilians in the Context of UN Peace Operations: A Question of Accountability?

Published on September 5, 2018        Author: 
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On 31 July 2018, thirty-two States asked the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres to go a step further in addressing the failures of UN peace operations to protect civilians. In particular, they stressed the importance of holding those accountable who have failed to protect civilians in line with their mission’s mandate (see Letter to the UN Secretary-General). In 2015, the same States already adopted the Kigali Principles, a set of eighteen pledges for the effective implementation of protection of civilians mandates (PoC Mandates) in UN peace operations.

Since the failures of UN peacekeeping in Rwanda and Srebrenica in the 1990s, the UN Security Council has provided UN peace forces with more robust mandates to protect civilians. These PoC Mandates have been carried out with varying degrees of success. To illustrate: in 2013, the UN Security Council authorised the UN Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) to protect civilians by not only deterring violence against civilians (e.g. through proactive deployment and patrols), but also by protecting civilians under imminent threat of physical violence (UNSC Res. 1996 (2011), para. 3(b)). Nevertheless, between 8 and 11 July 2016 hundreds of civilians were killed and raped in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Allegations were made that UNMISS did not respond effectively to protect civilians from the intense fighting that contributed to the collapse of the fragile ceasefire that existed at that time. An Independent Special Investigation established by the UN Secretary-General inter alia found that “a lack of leadership on the part of key senior Mission personnel culminated in a chaotic and ineffective response to the violence” (UN Doc. S/2016/924 (2016), Annex, para. 7). This also echoes the conclusion of the 2014 Evaluation of the implementation and results of PoC mandates in UN peacekeeping operations by the internal oversight body of the UN (OIOS) (UN Doc. A/68/787 (2014), para. 79). Other recent examples whereby UN peace forces failed to intervene to protect civilians took place in Darfur, Sudan (2004) and in North Kivu, the Democratic Repbublic of the Congo (DRC) (2008). Read the rest of this entry…

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Global Pact for the Environment: Defragging international law?

Published on August 29, 2018        Author: 
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A ‘defrag’ computer program that consolidates fragmented files on a hard drive holds metaphorical attraction for international lawyers. Our encounters with international law often seem to be specific to particular legal regimes, which have a functional orientation and professional sensibility that, in the words of the International Law Commission, may be self-contained. International environmental law and human rights, for example, were developed at different times and are supported by different international and domestic institutions. Now, the United Nations is considering a proposal that promises to integrate various parts of international law, thereby improving its performance: the Global Pact for the Environment.

The draft preliminary text for the Global Pact for the Environment entrenches a right to an ecologically sound environment (Article 1), sets out a duty of states and other actors to take care of the environment (Article 2) and requires parties to integrate the requirements of environmental protection into their planning and implementation, especially to fight against climate change, and to help protect the ocean and maintain biodiversity (Article 3). These and other clauses provide a framework that follows the existing international human rights covenants – on civil and political rights and on economic, social and cultural rights – to promote a ‘third generation’ of fundamental rights. On 10 May 2018, a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly established an ad hoc open-ended working group to analyse possible gaps in international environmental law and, if deemed necessary, to consider the scope, parameters, and feasibility of an international instrument (which could include, but is not limited to, a legally binding agreement along the lines of the Global Pact). Two co-chairs were appointed the following month. An accompanying White Paper outlines the Pact’s antecedents, which include the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. In this short post, I consider three ways in which the Pact impacts upon the interaction between regimes and ‘defragments’ international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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