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The Distinction between Military and Law Enforcement Activities: Comments on Case Concerning the Detention of Three Ukrainian Naval Vessels (Ukraine V. Russian Federation), Provisional Measures Order

Published on May 31, 2019        Author: 
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International Tribunal for Law of the Sea (ITLOS) issued a provisional measures order to Russian Federation to release three Ukrainian naval vessels and their servicemen on 25 May 2019. In deciding that the Annex VII arbitral tribunal would have prima facie jurisdiction as required under Article 290(5) of United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Tribunal held that the case was not “disputes concerning military activities” as provided under Article 298(1)(b) (see Kraska).

This is an important decision considering that there is no settled definition of “military activities” which allows state parties to be exempted from the compulsory dispute settlement procedure under UNCLOS. This is the first time that ITLOS held its interpretation on the former half of Article 298(1)(b) (while the latter half was dealt in the provisional measures order in Arctic Sunrise, para.45), and South China Sea arbitration case of 2016 before Annex VII Arbitral Tribunal remains the only precedent where a third-party dispute settlement institution held its interpretation of the same text.

There seems to be a common understanding that in this order, the Tribunal interpreted the scope of the “military activities” under Article 298(1)(b) quite narrowly, if not diminished, and thereby lowered its jurisdictional bar. While assessments of this decision have already been posted (see Kraska, Schatz), this post adds some comments on the legal framework that the Tribunal relied upon.

Preliminary Remarks

One thing that should be kept in mind is that, since it is a provisional measures order, it suffices if the provisions invoked by the applicant prima facie appear to afford a basis on which the jurisdiction of the Annex VII arbitral tribunal could be founded, and need not definitively satisfy itself that the tribunal has jurisdiction over the dispute (Order, para. 36; see also ARA Libertad, para. 60). Judge Lijnzaad’s commented that the questions of the applicable law and of whether the issues raised are solely to be understood as being related to the interpretation and application of UNCLOS were left to Annex VII arbitral tribunal at a later stage, as they are “matters that go well beyond the prima facie analysis of a request for provisional measures (Declaration, Lijnzaad, para.8).” Read the rest of this entry…

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FAO Secretary General Elections – Part 2: What is to be Done?

Published on May 7, 2019        Author: 
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In this second post, I want to provide some more details about how the budget works within the FAO. My purpose is to highlight how the majority of Member nations wield political power, while top donors wield financial power.

Today, to win the FAO, is to gain the authority to define the right to food and to significantly influence, if not determine, the right to food’s ability to change the world food regime. Lately, however, the FAO has not invested enough into the right to food for it to even appear as a line item in its budget. Instead, it is buried in a way that is difficult for the public to determine how much is actually spent on the right to food.

The FAO broke new ground in 2004 with the publication of the Right to Food Guidelines. But the work seems to have stopped there. If the right to food is not constantly contested, redefined and operationalized as the world changes, it loses its relevance. In the last two decades, the right to food was re-empowered as a political tool wielded from below by the transnational peasant movements, Indigenous peoples, fisherfolk, pastoralists, and others who overcame their differences to form the food sovereignty movement. But in important spaces such as Committee on World Food Security it remains unclear what role the right to food will play in world’s future food regime. If the FAO continues to disinvest from the right to food, this tool will be blunted from above.

With these normative stakes in mind, I think the political question surrounding the FAO should be: what would a right-to-food budget look like? More specifically: how can the world’s most food insecure have more control over the FAO’s budget? Read the rest of this entry…

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FAO Secretary General Elections – Part 1: What is at Stake?

Published on May 6, 2019        Author: 
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The FAO Member Nations are set to elect a new Director General this 22-29 June. The four candidates, nominated by UN Member States, are Qu Dongyu (China), Catherine Geslain-Lanéelle (France), Davit Kirvalidze (Georgia), and Ramesh Chand (India). Social movements, Indigenous peoples, and NGOs are frustrated because they do not have an opportunity to directly interact with the candidates and engage in a conversation about expectations and plans. They have started a campaign around the hashtag #AskFAO to encourage people from around the world to publicly engage in the process. The implicit purpose is to put pressure on the FAO to make the Secretary General more accountable to the people they serve.

Since the 1990s, a very popular way to engage in questions of democracy and international institutions has been through the language of legitimacy. In these terms, political questions become something you measure as a matter of normative theory, sociological fact, or political reality. This emphasis on measuring makes legitimacy a passive idea. Even when people attack international institutions for being illegitimate or defend it as legitimate, this is still a muddled politics. These argument are often opaque because they rely on a principle that remains implicit and avoids debating the stakes in clearer terms such as power, status, and wealth (but here is a wonderful exception to that generalization).

I want to instead rely on the language of authority and treat the FAO as something someone may want to politically win in order to wield power. In this post I examine what is at stake in the Secretary General elections. In my second blog post I touch upon what is to be done more as an introductory outline than a detailed plan.

My thinking is informed by a very basic notion of fairness: the more vulnerable you are, the more you should be politically empowered. An exemplary Secretary General has to figure out how the FAO can empower all people living with hunger, famine, and starvation. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICC and US Retaliatory Visa Measures: Can the UN Do More to Support the Privileges & Immunities of the Prosecutor?

Published on April 23, 2019        Author:  and
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On 12 April 2019, the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber II decided to reject the Prosecutor’s request to open an investigation into the situation in Afghanistan on the grounds that an investigation would not be “in the interests of justice,” though it found that the case otherwise satisfied the requirements of jurisdiction and admissibility set forth in the Rome Statute (see recent posts here). The ruling came on the heels of the US revocation on 5 April of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s visa for entry to the US, and prior US threats to take action against the ICC for examining the situations in Afghanistan and Palestine.

While the Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) made no direct mention of recent US hostility towards the ICC, it appears to have implied, and others have suggested (here, here, and here), that such pressure played a role in the decision. As the PTC noted, “subsequent changes within the relevant political landscape both in Afghanistan and in key States (both Parties and non-Parties to the Statute), coupled with the complexity and volatility of the political climate still surrounding the Afghan scenario, make it extremely difficult to gauge the prospects of securing meaningful cooperation from relevant authorities for the future […]” (para. 94).

Senior US officials were quick to claim victory and take credit for the development, ostensibly linking US pressure to the outcome. Alluding to a potential appeal of the PTC decision, as well as the Prosecutor’s preliminary examination into the situation in Palestine, President Trump menaced that US actions against the ICC could continue: “any attempt to target American, Israeli or allied personnel for prosecution will be met with a swift and vigorous response.”

This post considers how the United Nations can—and may be obliged to—play a bigger role in helping to protect the Prosecutor and her team from one form of this US hostility towards the Court: visa restrictions. Despite US obligations under the US-UN Headquarters Agreement to allow the transit of individuals conducting business at UN Headquarters, some ambiguity surrounds the question of when and under what conditions the US will allow the Prosecutor access to Headquarters now that her visa has been revoked. Read the rest of this entry…

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Humanitarian Assistance and Security Council Sanctions: Different Approaches to International Humanitarian Law

Published on April 11, 2019        Author: 
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Under the sanctions regimes established by its resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) can currently impose sanctions on those who obstruct the delivery of humanitarian assistance in eight non-international armed conflict situations. This imposition of sanctions stems from the UNSC’s responsibility to maintain peace, security, and stability. Yet, its approach to humanitarian law (IHL) in these eight regimes has been inconsistent. In most of its current sanction regimes, the UNSC arguably has moved beyond the IHL applicable to humanitarian assistance, with the consequence that it can now sanction obstructions, which are broader than those which would constitute a violation of IHL. This post examines what this means for sanctions investigators and for the enhanced protection of civilians. 

Different Approaches of the UNSC with Respect to Imposing Sanctions on Obstructions to Humanitarian Assistance

The UNSC imposes sanctions in order to respond to threats to peace, security and stability. In the eight sanctions regimes discussed in this post, impediments to peace, security and stability explicitly or implicitly include obstructions to the delivery and distribution of humanitarian assistance and access obstructions.

Yet, the UNSC takes two different approaches when it imposes sanctions on obstructions to humanitarian assistance. In the first approach,  which is taken with respect to Libya and Sudan, there is no stand-alone criterion (the basis for listing by the UNSC or for being sanctioned) on humanitarian assistance, and humanitarian assistance and access obstructions may be considered under other listing criteria relating to violations of human rights or IHL. In these cases, Read the rest of this entry…

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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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