magnify
Home Archive for category "International Tribunals"

Part I: The Partition of the Chagos Archipelago and the Haunting Spectre of the South West Africa Cases

Published on September 20, 2018        Author: 
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

[Part I of a two-part post] 

The advisory proceedings concerning the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 are over, but an opinion that answers the legal questions raised in the request could have consequences well beyond the Indian Ocean.

Earlier this month, Stephen Allen contributed a post on the self-determination arguments made in relation to the first question asked of the court. Like Allen, I have taken sides in my scholarly work, although unlike Allen, I have argued that self-determination emerged as a customary norm of international law before 1970. As I argued in my article on the arbitration (2010-2015) between the UK and Mauritius (published in volume 19 of The Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, 2016, pp. 419-468), the emergence of a norm prohibiting partition in the decolonization context would have outlawed the division of the archipelago before independence in 1968, unless it could be shown that Mauritius consented to the separation.

In this post, I argue that the legal arguments raised by the Applicants in the South West Africa Cases could be of direct relevance to the opinion, because although the ICJ refused to address the merits, the cases spanned a period of time (1960-1966) that is germane to any contemporary assessment of the legality of the decision to partition the Chagos Archipelago in 1965. While the Applicants did not reference the Colonial Declaration (GAR 1514 (XV) (1960) in their pleadings, they nevertheless argued that international law in the 1960s prohibited partition, demonstrating that there were principles of law at stake that proscribed the non-consensual division of territory.

What remains missing is an authoritative opinion from the world court. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

The ‘Security Council Route’ to the Derogation from Personal Head of State Immunity in the Al-Bashir Case: How Explicit must Security Council Resolutions be?

Published on September 19, 2018        Author: 
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

Last week, the Appeals Court of the International Criminal Court (ICC, the Court) held hearings in relation to Jordan’s Appeal from a decision of Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II holding that it has failed to cooperate with the Court in the arrest and surrender of Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir. As is well known, Al-Bashir is presently subject to an ICC Arrest Warrant for committing war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, following the referral of the situation by the Security Council (SC) to the Court. He has made a series official visits to Jordan and other states parties to the ICC Statute (the Rome Statute). However, none of those states has dared to arrest him to date. Their principal argument is that Al-Bashir enjoys personal immunities from foreign domestic jurisdiction under treaties and customary international law, that these are not covered by the removal of immunity in Art. 27(2) of the Rome Statute, and are thereby safeguarded by Art. 98 of the Statute.

The hearings, together with the Appeals Chamber’s decisions leading to them, represent a unique moment in the history of international criminal law for two main reasons. First, this is the first time in which the ICC has invited, accepted and heard submissions from leading international law scholars as amici curiae, as well as engaged in direct (and sometimes heated!) oral discussions with them. Secondly, some of the legal and policy issues discussed in the hearings are of fundamental importance to international criminal law and public international law in general. They include questions such as the extent of the SC’s powers, a possible customary international law exception to personal immunities before international criminal tribunals, and the practical importance of preserving such immunities for international peace and security. Thus, watching the hearings online has certainly kept some of us entranced during the entire week.

However, aside from the special role attached to academic commentary and from the systemic issues discussed in the hearings and in the written observations, one question seems to have been at the heart of the debates on Al-Bashir’s immunities. This question is whether the SC can implicitly derogate from personal immunities otherwise applicable under treaties or customary international law, or whether it must do so explicitly. Indeed, all parties and participants seem to agree that the SC has the power to displace personal immunities and other rules of treaty or general international law, except for jus cogens norms. Yet they disagree as to how clear the Council must be in order to do so. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

ECtHR Judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK

Published on September 17, 2018        Author: 
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

Last week the European Court of Human Rights issued a highly anticipated blockbuster Chamber judgment in Big Brother Watch v. UK, nos. 58170/13, 62322/14, 24960/15.

This is the first mass electronic surveillance case to be decided against the UK after the Edward Snowden revelations, and it touches upon numerous issues. The judgment is nuanced, complex, and long. It addresses key questions such as the proportionality of bulk interception programmes much more directly and with greater sophistication than the recent judgment in Centrum för Rättvisa v. Sweden no. 35252/08, which was decided by a different Chamber while this case was being deliberated, and which also upheld a bulk surveillance programme (see here for Asaf Lubin’s take on Just Security).

The judgment is too rich to summarize easily, so I will only set out some key takeaways (for an extensive discussion on surveillance and privacy in the digital age, see my 2015 Harvard ILJ piece).

First, and most importantly, the judgment is a mixed bag for privacy activists: while the Court finds that the UK’s surveillance programme under the now-defunct Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was deficient in important respects and in violation of Article 8 and 10 of the Convention, it at the same time normalizes such mass surveillance programmes. In particular, the Court decided that bulk interception programmes are not categorically disproportionate, as privacy activists have argued. Second, in a similar vein, the Court finds that prior judicial authorization is not indispensable for the legality of bulk interception, again contrary to what privacy activists have argued, even if prior judicial authorization could be seen as best practice (note that under the new 2016 Investigatory Powers Act the UK has moved to a double-authorization system which involves both a minister and an independent quasi-judicial commissioner).

Here are the key paragraphs (warning – extracts from the judgment make this a lengthy post):

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

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

Published on September 14, 2018        Author: 
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

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…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

From the Indigenous Peoples’ Environmental Catastrophe in the Amazon to the Investors’ Dispute on Denial of Justice: The Chevron v. Ecuador August 2018 PCA Arbitral Award and the Dearth of International Environmental Remedies for Private Victims

Published on September 13, 2018        Author: 
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

The recent 30 August 2018 Chevron v. Ecuador arbitral award is yet another example of the ongoing asymmetries of protection in the much-beleaguered investor-State dispute settlement system, in which States have generously afforded protections to foreign investors to bring suits directly against States, without creating parallel avenues for affected local communities and/or indigenous peoples to initiate arbitration proceedings directly against either foreign investors or irresponsible States. Despite all our collective best efforts at ongoing reform in UNCITRAL (see updates on Working Group III’s mission on ISDS Reform here), ICSID (see their latest rules amendment project here) and elsewhere, I retain serious doubts as to whether investor-State dispute settlement could ever symmetrically represent the environmental and cultural interests of indigenous peoples and local communities, as effectively as it does investors’ claims to treaty protection and (significantly substantial) compensatory relief.  Today, environmental plaintiffs have to navigate between an unwieldy, unpredictable, and quite disparate mix of remedies before domestic (administrative or judicial) courts or tribunals of their home States, potentially some regional courts (such as the Inter-American Court of Human Rights) or treaty monitoring bodies (whether those specifically created in environmental treaties or human rights treaties), other foreign courts in other countries that permit some environmental tort claims, and possibly, any cases that their home State can bring under diplomatic protection to pursue remedies against foreign nationals or the home States of these foreign nationals.  And all these frequently take place in the context of abject differences of power, resources, and capacities between environmental and human rights victims as claimants against either States and/or foreign investors, vis-a-vis foreign investors as claimants or States as respondents.  It’s not at all hyperbolic to observe that, with respect to the international environmental system, the deck already appears heavily stacked against environmental plaintiffs at the outset.  

The Chevron v. Ecuador arbitration presents a crystal example of how what was originally an environmental dispute seeking remediation for one of the worst environmental disasters in history involving oil spillage into 4,400 square kilometers of the Amazon rainforest – ultimately mutated into the investors’ denial of justice claim in investor-State arbitration.  At least, in my view, while  the erudite tribunal in this case thoroughly set out the technical legal reasoning in its award on the precise legal issues of the investment treaty breaches alleged, the award itself more broadly demonstrates that we may well be at the point that a dedicated separate international dispute settlement system might already be necessary to properly adjudicate victims’ claims in human rights and environmental disputes. (Notably, other scholars refer to this dispute to highlight the illegitimacy or alleged exces de poivre of arbitral tribunals making assessments and evaluations of the acts or decisions of domestic courts and judicial systems ipso facto – a significant  heavily disputed structural matter about the current investor-State dispute settlement system, which is, however, not the law and policy observation I make here.) Some efforts looking beyond the narrow ISDS framework, among others, include projects such as the drafting of the new Hague Rules on Business and Human Rights Arbitration; the tentative and non-binding 15 September 2016 policy paper of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court exploring the possibility of prosecuting environmental crimes; as well as the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s suite of environmental dispute resolution procedures (interstate arbitration under environmental treaties, mixed dispute resolution under environmental instruments and contracts, specialized environmental rules for arbitration and conciliation).  To date, these initiatives have not gone much further beyond their incubation.

The most difficult aspect of the Chevron v. Ecuador case is the fact that the arbitration turned on the issue of Ecuador’s investment treaty breaches over what Chevron alleged were very troubling serious acts of fraud and corruption committed by lawyers and judges to produce a favorable 2011 Ecuador court judgment for the environmental plaintiffs.  The fraud and corruption allegations have long since overshadowed the urgency of decades of environmental damage that have largely gone without significant and continuing remedy, alongside ongoing health problems from toxic contamination that have impacted indigenous peoples and local communities for generations. (Note: this pollution disaster originated long before I or generations of current international lawyers were even born.) The Chevron v. Ecuador arbitration succeeded in laying the blame on Ecuador since, for the tribunal, Chevron had already been released from its obligations of remediation under the 1995-1998 Settlement Agreements.  Unfortunately, the arbitral award does not lay out any detailed environmental analysis to explain why contracts such as the 1995-1998 Settlement Agreements would be sufficient to release private parties from short-term, medium-term, and long-term remediation efforts to restore the ecosystem, and whether such releases were at all consistent with international public policy and Ecuador’s own commitments under international law (especially international environmental treaties and customary international environmental law).  Neither did the tribunal explore whether Ecuador alone had the right to conclude the Settlement Agreements on behalf of all the environmental plaintiffs and affected communities, or if Ecuador could indeed effectively and exclusively represent the environmental plaintiffs and affected communities in the investor-State arbitration considering how its government agents exercised oversight (or lack thereof) with respect to the environmental disaster.  Because environmental plaintiffs, indigenous peoples, and affected communities continue to be dependent on the host State of the investment to vindicate their claims against foreign investors, the investor-State dispute settlement system simply cannot lend any of these environmental, indigenous, and local plaintiffs any real, much less effective, voice over their fight to restore the Amazon to health.  While plaintiffs are mired in multiple litigations and arbitrations around the world to seek accountability from either Chevron and its affiliates or their own government in Ecuador, there is virtually no dedicated State, inter-State, regional, or public-private partnership cooperative efforts to try and achieve environmental restoration in the affected 4,400 square kilometers of the Amazon, as depicted in the map below (source here):

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

The Oral Hearings in ‘Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965’

Published on September 11, 2018        Author: 
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

The oral hearings in the advisory proceedings concerning the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 took place at the ICJ last week. Readers will recall the two questions posed by the General Assembly in its request for an Advisory Opinion (Resolution 71/292) and the procedural and propriety issues raised by this case, as discussed by Marko, Dapo and Antonios – here, here and here. A host of States – and the African Union – participated in the proceedings and their voluminous written and oral statements/comments will surely keep interested scholars busy for a long time to come. In this post, I will try to restrict myself to the task of offering a few initial comments on the self-determination arguments made in relation to the first question (essentially, was the decolonization of Mauritius lawfully completed when it acceded to independence in 1968, following the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago?). For this purpose, I will focus on the claims made by the UK and Mauritius for the sake of brevity, and not because I agree with the UK’s contention that Mauritius is the ‘de facto claimant’ in this case (Transcript p. 36).

When approaching the claims and counter-claims concerning the Chagos Archipelago – or the British Indian Ocean Territory (‘BIOT’) – it is worth bearing in mind at least two important considerations. First, the UK is clearly on the wrong side of history as far as both the creation and maintenance of the BIOT are concerned. Secondly, the closest comparable case in the ICJ’s jurisprudence, the Western Sahara Advisory Opinion, is different in one key respect. The Western Sahara Opinion was sought while the General Assembly was actively engaged in a fraught and flawed attempt at decolonization and it was delivered when the crisis was still unfolding. In contrast, in the present proceedings, the ICJ has been invited to answer questions which not only require it to establish the legal significance of events which occurred largely between 1965-1968 but also to assess their present consequences. Undoubtedly, this is a difficult task and we shall have to wait and see whether the Court responds positively to the Request or whether it adopts a more non-committal approach, as it did in its Kosovo Advisory Opinion.

Self-determination and Customary International Law

The UK argued that the right of self-determination had not crystallized as a norm of customary international law (CIL) by either 1965 or 1968 (e.g. Transcript, p. 48). Specifically, it denied that the Colonial Declaration (GAR 1514 (XV)(1960)) generated any binding legal obligations as far as Mauritius’ decolonization was concerned. The 1960 Declaration proclaimed the core right – that ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination’ (para. 2) – while stating that: ‘Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter’ (para. 6). The UK claimed that the right of self-determination only acquired CIL status with the adoption of the Declaration on Friendly Relations (GAR 2625 (XXV)(1970). It relied on voting records, and the statements made, by State representatives, in the context of the development and adoption of these, and other, resolutions (and contemporaneous academic opinions) in support of its preferred interpretation. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

The Bashir Appeal at the ICC

Published on September 10, 2018        Author: 
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

This morning, the ICC Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) begin its hearings in the appeal of Jordan against the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber that Jordan failed to comply with its obligations under the ICC Statute by failing to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir when he visited Jordan. The hearings raise the question whether a party to the Statute must respect the immunity of the head of state of a non-party to the statute when the arrest of the latter is sought by the ICC. These are issues that have been discussed with respect to President Bashir from the moment when the warrant for his arrest was issued by the ICC. They have also been the subject of four (conflicting) decisions by the Pre Trial Chambers. It is now hoped that the Appeals Chamber will issue a decision that will settle the position of the ICC with respect to this issue. Over the course of this week, the Appeals Chamber will hear not only from Jordan and the Prosecutor but also from the African Union, the League of Arab States, and a number of academics that have been permitted to make submissions to the Chamber.

In July, AJIL Unbound, the online supplement to the American Journal of International Law, published a symposium on “The Rome Statute of Twenty”. That symposium, edited by Judge Theodor Meron & Professor Maggie Gardner, is composed of essays mostly by serving and past judges of the ICC and the ad hoc tribunals. It was a pleasure to be asked to contribute to that symposium. In my contribution, titled, “The Immunity of Heads of States of Non-Parties in the Early Years of the ICC”, I chose to write on the issues that have arisen in the Bashir Appeal. I have written on these issues before and summarise my views in the limited space I had in the AJIL Unbound essay. My introduction to the essay is as follows: Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

The Iranian Suit against the US Sanctions and the 1955 Treaty of Amity: Brilliant Plan or Aberration?

Published on September 7, 2018        Author: 
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

The Iranian economy is already feeling the effects of the United States economic sanctions that are successively being reinstated following the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on 8 May 2018. In an attempt to save what can be saved, Iran seized the International Court of Justice in July requesting the latter to order and declare that the 8 May and subsequent sanctions are unlawful; that the United States shall stop its threats with respect to the further announced sanctions and that it shall compensate Iran. The claim is accompanied by a request for provisional measures by which Iran seeks to obtain, in particular, the immediate suspension of the sanctions and the non-implementation of the sanctions announced. Last week, both parties met in court for the hearings on the provisional measures request.

Iran has not claimed a violation of the JCPOA but alleges breaches of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights signed by Iran and the United States in 1955. The reason is simple: neither Iran nor the United States accepts the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, both states having withdrawn their optional clause declarations. A compromis not being in sight, Iran can only ground the ICJ’s jurisdiction on a compromissory clause. While the JCPOA does not contain such a clause, the Treaty of Amity stipulates in its Article XXI (2) that “[a]ny dispute between the High Contracting Parties as to the interpretation or application of the present Treaty, not satisfactorily adjusted by diplomacy, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice, unless the High Contracting Parties agree to settlement by some other pacific means.”

The case, and the provisional measures request, raises many interesting questions, including  for example, whether the mainly economic damages alleged by Iran are irreparable as is required for the indication of such measures, and whether the request could possibly pre-empt the decision on the merits. However, this post is uniquely concerned with whether the idea to rely on the Treaty of Amity helps overcome the hurdle of jurisdiction. While the existence of jurisdiction need only be proved prima facie in the provisional measures phase, the Court will at a later stage have to take a definite decision (assuming the case is not dismissed for manifest lack of jurisdiction at the provisional measures stage). One of the most problematic issues is whether the dispute is about the interpretation or application of the Treaty of Amity despite the existence of the JCPOA. If this is the case, invoking the Treaty of Amity was a smart move by Iran.

The Iranian idea can potentially be attacked in two places: the actual scope of the application and the request, as well as the potential inapplicability of the Treaty of Amity. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

Insights from the Bifurcation Order in the Ukraine vs. Russia Arbitration under Annex VII of UNCLOS

Published on September 6, 2018        Author:  and
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

By Procedural Order of 20 August 2018 (“Bifurcation Order”), the arbitral tribunal established under Part XV and Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the “Dispute Concerning Coastal State Rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and Kerch Strait (Ukraine v. the Russian Federation)” ordered a bifurcation of the proceedings so that Russia’s preliminary objections concerning the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction ratione materiae will be examined in a preliminary phase  prior to the merits (see also this statement by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs). This development brought with it some much needed transparency in the arbitration instituted by Ukraine against Russia on 16 September 2016, since the written submissions of both parties remain confidential. What appears from the public statements of Ukraine’s government (here and here), is that Ukraine is claiming that Russia violated Ukraine’s rights under UNCLOS with respect to Russian activities in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait, in particular, involving issues such as the seizure and exploitation of oil fields on Ukraine’s continental shelf, usurpation of fisheries jurisdiction off the coast of Crimea, issues of navigation through Kerch Strait, the construction of Kerch Bridge and related structures, and the conduct of studies of archeological and historical sites in the Black Sea.

The Bifurcation Order discusses (and cites from) a variety of the parties’ arguments concerning jurisdiction ratione materiae, several of which inevitably disclose some of the parties’ substantive positions. With respect to Russia’s request that the arbitral tribunal “adjudge and declare that it is without jurisdiction in respect of the dispute submitted to this Tribunal by Ukraine”, it should be recalled that, under Article 288(1) UNCLOS, the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction is limited to “any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of [UNCLOS]”. As Russia’s request to decline jurisdiction is not confined to specific issues or narrow questions of fact or law, it appears that Russia is challenging the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction in its entirety. The Bifurcation Order lists six separate preliminary objections. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
 

Balancing between Trade and Public Health Concerns: The Latest Step in the Plain Packaging Saga

Published on August 8, 2018        Author:  and
Twitter
Facebook
Google+
LinkedIn
Follow by Email

The Australian Tobacco Plain Packaging (TPP) measures raised the classic issue of balancing between competing interests. While aiming at improve public health by putting plain packaging requirements on tobacco products, Australia revived an important debate in international economic law concerning whether international obligations have become too intrusive for the State’s policy space, asphyxiating the sovereign right to protect essential interests or values.

On the one hand, Australia’s measures seem to have been encouraged by public health concerns and the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), which is a component of a juridical strategy that purports to construct a consensus in the international legal community on the need to fight the tobacco epidemic. As the preamble to the Convention clearly states, the parties were ‘determinedto give priority to their right to protect public health’. On the other hand, the judicial contestation of the TPP measures nevertheless showed the diversity of competing interests at stake, which made the topic a perfect example of those multifaceted litigations raised before a plurality of international courts and tribunals.

The need to determine a balance between the right of the State to legislate to protect public health and the rights of tobacco companies had appeared already in the case law of the European Court of Human Rights(ECtHR Hachette Filipacchi presse automobile et Dupuy v. France,). Investment arbitration has also been another setting for this sort of litigation, most notably after Philip Morris introduced two claims contesting that the Australian and Uruguayan legislation restricting the presentation and sale of cigarettes was in violation of its rights stemming from BITs. In both cases, these requests remained unsuccessful. The ICSID tribunal used the systemic integration principle of Article 31(3)(c) VCLT to operate a balancing test between the investment protection obligations under the BIT and the State’s right to regulate, established in customary international law, together with its corollary, the police powers doctrine (Philip Morris Brands Sàrl, Philip Morris Products S.A. and Abal Hermanos S.A. v. Oriental Republic of Uruguay, award, para 290).

Ever since the introduction of the complaints in 2012, the question that remained was whether the WTO adjudicatory bodies would have interpreted trade obligations in keeping with this line of reasoning. In an earlier post on the Panel report, Margherita Melillo reflected on how the Panel used the FCTC for evidentiary purposes. This blog post continues this reflection by looking at how the Panel resolved conflicting interests of public health and trade.

Balancing in international trade law

Concerns about the treatment of tobacco control measures under international trade law date back at least to the 1990 GATT case Thailand – Restrictions on importation and internal taxes on cigarettes. While tobacco control measures have also been the subject of two recent trade disputes (i.e. Dominican Republic — Import and Sale of Cigarettesand US — Clove Cigarettes), neither of these disputes drew as much attention to these concerns as Australia – Plain Packaging. At the heart of this dispute was the sharp conflict between the trade interests of the complainants and the public health concerns of Australia. International trade law normally addresses such conflicts through a system of ‘rule and exception’, set out to strike a balance between trade and non-trade interests. However, the two agreements at issue in Australia – Plain Packaging, namely the TBT Agreementand the TRIPS Agreement, do not contain a general ‘exception clause’ equivalent to GATT Article XX. The balancing of competing interests (trade and public health) in this dispute thus took place in the context of determining the consistency, or otherwise, of the TPP measures with Article 2.2 of the TBT Agreement and Article 20 of the TRIPS Agreement.

More trade restrictive than necessary?

The complainants alleged that the TPP measures were more trade restrictive than necessary to achieve their legitimate objective, contrary to Article 2.2 of the TBT Agreement. This provision allows Members to adopt technical regulations that achieve legitimate objectives, insofar as they are not more trade restrictive than necessary to fulfil those legitimate objectives. Parties to the dispute agreed that the objective of the TPP measures, as the Panel put it, was ‘to improve public health by reducing the use of, and exposure to, tobacco products’ (para 7.232). They also accepted that such objectives are legitimate within the meaning of Article 2.2 (para 7.248). Their disagreement was over the trade restrictiveness of the measures and their contribution to the public health objective they pursue. The complainants contended that the measures were more trade restrictive than necessary and proposed four alternative measures that would have been, in their view, reasonably available and less trade-restrictive while making an equivalent contribution to the realization of the legitimate objectives.

Since the objective of the measures at issue was undisputed and such objectives fall within the illustrative list of legitimate objectives under Article 2.2, the main task of the Panel was to determine whether these measures were indeed trade-restrictive but nevertheless contributed to the legitimate objectives. Taking the evidence before it in its totality, the Panel concluded that ‘the TPP measures, in combination with other tobacco-control measures maintained by Australia […], are apt to, and do in fact, contribute to Australia’s objective of reducing the use of, and exposure to, tobacco products’ (para 7.1025). The Panel also found that ‘the TPP measures are trade restrictive, ‘insofar as, by reducing the use of tobacco products, they reduce the volume of imported tobacco products on the Australian market, and thereby have a “limiting effect” on trade’ (para 7.1255).

Having found that the TPP measures are trade-restrictive but make a significant contribution to the protection of public health, the Panel had to weigh and balance the trade and public health interests at stake to determine whether they are more trade-restrictive than necessary to achieve their public health objectives. In doing so, the Panel first considered the risk of non-fulfilment of the objectives and then the reasonable availability of alternative measures that are less trade-restrictive while making an equivalent contribution to the achievement of those objectives. On the ‘risks of non-fulfilment’, it found that ‘the public health consequences of not fulfilling [the] objective are particularly grave’ (para 7.1322). It then examined the proposed alternative measures and found that the complainants failed to demonstrate their proposed alternative measures (individually or collectively) constituted a less trade-restrictive alternative to the TPP measures with an equivalent contribution to Australia’s objective (paras 7.1362-7.1723). Against this background, the panel concluded that the TPP measures are not more trade-restrictive than necessary to achieve their legitimate objective of improving public health (para 7.1732).

Unjustifiable encumbrance?

The complainants also alleged that the TPP measures constitute special regulations that unjustifiably encumber the use of trademarks in the course of trade, contrary to Article 20 of the TRIPS Agreement. The threshold issues here were whether the measures in question constitute ‘special regulation’ and ‘encumbrance’ within the meaning of Article 20. The parties to the dispute agreed that the measures indeed constituted special regulations, but they disagreed over the precise scope of the term ‘encumbrance’. While the complainants argued that it covers all kinds of hindrances and impediments, Australia insisted that it covers only limitations on the use of trademarks. Australia was of the view that a total prohibition on the use of trademarks is outside the scope of Article 20. The Panel agreed with the complainants that it would be ‘counterintuitive’ to consider that a measure that restricts the use of a trademark would be subject to the disciplines of Article 20 while a more far-reaching measure to prohibit such use would not’ (para 7.2238). This consideration has led the Panel to conclude that ‘encumbrances arising from special requirements within the meaning of Article 20 may range from limited encumbrances, […], to more extensive encumbrances, such as a prohibition on the use of a trademark in certain situations’ (para 7.2239). This finding settles the debate over the meaning of the term ‘encumbrance’ in Article 20. While scholars such as Pires de Carvalho have argued that the degree of encumbrance is not to be taken into account for the applicability of the provision, others, most notably McGrady, have argued that a prohibition falls outside the scope of application of Article 20 because the provision deals with whether the trademark could be used and not how it may might be used. The position of Pires de Carvalho seems to have prevailed over the one of McGrady in the eyes of the Panel. On this point, it is also interesting to note that a similar discussion took place concerning what constitutes a technical regulation within the meaning of the TBT Agreement. The Appellate Body in EC – Asbestos reversed the conclusion of the Panel,stating that an absolute prohibition does not qualify as a technical regulation.

Having passed the threshold issues, the Panel then had to determine whether such an encumbrance was unjustified within the meaning of Article 20. No definition or guidance as to what constitutes ‘unjustifiable encumbrance’ exist under the TRIPS Agreement. Nor there is case law on the subject. The Panel had to appreciate the justifiability in concreto, balancing the two conflicting interests.

In the absence of an agreed upon definition or jurisprudence, the Panel interpreted what constitutes ‘unjustifiably’ encumbering the use of trademarks in light of the object and purpose of the TRIPS Agreement. Here the Panel relied mainly on Article 8.1 of the TRIPS Agreement and the Doha Declaration on the TRIPS Agreement and Public Health. Having found that these two provisions authorize WTO Members to take measures for the protection of public health, the Panel concluded that the complainants have not demonstrated that the TPP measures unjustifiably encumber within the meaning of Article 20 (para 7.2605). That is to say that although the measures at issue encumber the use of trademarks within the meaning of Article 20, the encumbrance is justified by virtue of its public health objective. This conclusion resonates with the conclusion of scholars like M. Abbott who have argued  that an interpretation of Article 20 consistent with Article 8 and the Doha Declaration would have acknowledged and given effect to the ‘right to protect public health’ in any implementing action under the TRIPS Agreement and in any dispute settlement proceeding.

In arriving at this conclusion, the Panel also considered the fact that the TPP measures are ‘in line with the emerging multilateral public health policies in the area of tobacco control as reflected in the FCTC and [its] guidelines’ (para 7.2604). The Panel was of the view that the fact FCTC (a non-WTO agreement) endorses the TPP measures reinforces their justifiability. This raises the longstanding question of whether WTO adjudicatory bodies could use non-WTO agreement as an interpretative key. Although the Appellate Body has used such instruments to interpreting WTO agreement in the past, the jurisprudence is far from settled on this matter. This is why Honduras highlighted this issue in its notification of appeal.

A parallel could be made with the Brazil – Tyrescase. Here, the Appellate Body adopted a holistic approach and stressed that, because of their nature, health protection measures had to be analyzed in the larger framework of the State policy action. Looking at the measure as a whole would allow for a clearer overview of the objectives pursued by the State to be identified, in order to facilitate a more accurate balancing. Moreover, the analysis of the effectiveness of the measure had to take a chronologically larger standpoint; the effectiveness of a public policy can in fact take time to emerge (paras 151 and 182). This holistic approach, elaborated in the framework of Article XX GATT, seems to be reiterated in the framework of Articles 20 and 8 TRIPS: the unjustifiability of the encumbrance has be examined in light of all the contextual elements that lead to the adoption of the public health measure, including the reliance on the FCTC and the customary right to regulate. Here we find a strong similarity with the balancing operated in the Philip Morris case, based on an intersystemic and holistic approach.

Conclusion

The WTO Panel’s recent report is the last step in a long saga. This saga has allowed different international courts and tribunals to test the flexibility of international obligations with regard to the State’s regulatory space in health issues. The plain packaging report confirms a general trend in WTO case law, whereby the telosof the measure serves to justify the interference within free-trade obligations. In fact, the Appellate Body had floated an ‘unspoken sympathy for well-intentioned health and safety measures’, an unspoken sympathy that is based on the axiological importance attributed to the policies at stake. This kind of ‘smell test’, as Hudec notoriously defined it, reflects Robert Alexy’s idea of weight formula, intrinsic in the balancing operation operated in different fora. The Panel has extended this technique to two areas of WTO law where its scope of application was doubtful.  

Print Friendly, PDF & Email