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The Situation of the Rohingya: Is there a role for the International Court of Justice?

Published on November 14, 2018        Author: 
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In April 2017, the UN Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar to investigate alleged human rights abuses by military and security forces. The Fact-Finding Mission issued an initial summary reportin August 2018, followed by a 444-page report of detailed findingsin September.

Among other things, the Fact-Finding Mission found that after an armed group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a series of small-scale attacks against government military outposts on 25 August 2017, a government campaign aimed at Rohingya communities in Rakhine State resulted in at least 10,000 deaths and caused 725,000 Rohingya to flee, mainly to neighbouring Bangladesh. The Myanmar authorities termed their actions “clearance operations” meant to eliminate a terrorist threat. The Fact-Finding Mission described a campaign of indiscriminate killing and maiming, rampant sexual violence, and widespread destruction of Rohingya villages—a “human rights catastrophe”, but one long in the making because of a history of state-sanctioned discrimination against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country.

The Fact-Finding Mission (which Myanmar refused to admit into its territory) concluded that the actions of Myanmar’s forces constituted crimes against humanity and war crimes. It also found sufficient evidence to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials for the crime of genocide. Among other recommendations, the Fact-Finding Mission urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute) or to establish an ad hoc international criminal tribunal. (After the Fact-Finding Mission issued its August report, a Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC determinedthat the ICC has jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of Rohingya individuals from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and possibly over additional other crimes; ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has since announceda preliminary examination into the situation.) The Fact-Finding Mission also recommended targeted sanctions against government officials and an arms embargo. The Chair of the Fact-Finding Mission, Marzuki Darusman, addressed the Security Council last month (over the objections of China and Russia) to reiterate these conclusions. In the meantime, the UN Human Rights Council responded by establishing a mechanismto collect and preserve evidence of international law violations in Myanmar (discussed here).

The emphasis of the Fact-Finding Mission and the UN Human Rights Council on individual criminal accountability is unsurprising. Many other fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry that have investigated large-scale human rights violations have been similarly focused—a reflection of the extent to which international criminal law has become the central or even dominant narrative of the international response to so many crises. Indeed, advocacy groups have long campaigned for an ICC-focused response to the Rohingya crisis, alongside the urgent need to provide humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Rohingya refugees now living in difficult conditions in camps across the border in Bangladesh. (A dealnegotiated by UNHCR and UNDP with Myanmar in May 2018 to facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingya has been widely criticizedand remains unimplemented.)

The increased focus on Myanmar in 2018 is to be welcomed. UN officials and some governments have already characterized the conduct of the Myanmar authorities as acts of genocide (see herehere, here, and here), and the reputation and credibility of Myanmar’s de facto leader, the Nobel peace laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi, has seen a rapid and precipitous decline (see here, here, and here). Yet amidst all of these developments, the almost singular focus on an international criminal justice response to the plight of the Rohingya is striking. The idea of seeking legal accountability at the level of State responsibility has gone largely unmentioned, a further example of what Laurel Fletcher has called the “effacement of state accountability for international crimes”. In that vein, the remainder of this post will consider the prospects for a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Read the rest of this entry…

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Failing the Hague Stress Test

Published on November 6, 2018        Author: 
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On 25 October 2018, the President of the International Court of Justice, Judge Abdulqawi A. Yusuf, made an apparently ordinary announcement in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. In light of the increasing workload of the Court, Judge Yusuf reported towards the end of his speech, “[m]embers of the Court have come to the decision, last month, that they will not normally accept to participate in international arbitration.” This decision appeared on its face simply to add clarity to the mandate set out in the Statute of the Court that judges may not “engage in any other occupation of a professional nature.” But Judge Yusuf went on with his remarks to specify that “[i]n particular, [members of the Court] will not participate in investor-State arbitration or in commercial arbitration.” Neatly separated from this withdrawal, Judge Yusuf confirmed that the Court will “if the circumstances so warrant, authorize its Members to participate in inter-State arbitration cases.”

Here was the signal international legal observers had been waiting for. The reaction on social media belied the apparently ordinary nature of the statement. The Court had taken a stance on one of the partisan issues of international legal politics – the hot potato of investor-State arbitration.

The events surrounding Judge Sir Christopher Greenwood’s re-election bid to the Court brought that hot potato to the Court’s doorstep. Days after Judge Greenwood conceded defeat in his re-election bid to the Court, a think tank associated with opposition to investor-state arbitration, published a study that called out “moonlighting” by ICJ judges in investor-state arbitrations. One of the judges the think tank focused upon was Judge Greenwood. Its reporting more than implied that Judge Greenwood’s work as arbitrator was a further reason speaking against his re-election. One can only imagine that with the political opposition to investor-State arbitration in Europe and elsewhere, this implication landed with rather a loud thud at the Court. The context thus may have been one of judicial acquiescence to the political headwinds rather than one that was purely a question of workload. After all, while resigning politicians do certainly like to spend more time with their families, this desire is hardly if ever the whole story behind their departure. So, too, the Court’s reasoning appears a little too casual when viewed in context. In fact, this topic was one of the most hotly debated issues at the recent Oxford Investment Claims Summer Academy convened by the Oxford University Press at Kellogg College this July. Read the rest of this entry…

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Can’t Fight the Moonlight? Actually, You Can: ICJ Judges to Stop Acting as Arbitrators in Investor-State Disputes

Published on November 5, 2018        Author: 
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The earthquake started in earnest in November 2017. At its epicentre was a report, published in November 2017 by two researchers at the International Institute for Sustainable Development (“IISD“).

In the report, titled “Is ‘Moonlighting’ a Problem? The role of ICJ Judges in ISDS”, researchers Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder and Martin Dietrich Brauch analysed the contents of several public databases of ISDS cases, and found that at least seven judges at the International Court of Justice (“ICJ” or the “Court“) at the time of publishing (and 13 former judges) had worked (or were working at the time of the report) as arbitrators in treaty-based investor state dispute settlement cases during their terms at the ICJ.

Crunching the numbers further, the two IISD researchers looked at the amount of treaty-based cases in which ICJ judges had served as arbitrators. They compared the number against the 817 treaty-based ISDS cases known as of July 2017. The results were surprising: ICJ judges had sat as arbitrators in roughly 10% of all known investment treaty cases during their tenure.

This raises three types of concerns.

First, it seems to contravene the prohibition for ICJ judges to “engage in any other occupation of a professional nature” contained in the Statute of the International Court of Justice (the “ICJ Statute“).

Second, arbitrators are usually paid according to the time (calculated in days or hours) spent working on a case. This means that any ICJ judge who is also appointed as an arbitrator would have an economic incentive to spend more time on the investment treaty case, to the potential detriment of the judge’s Court-related work.

Third, cumulating the roles of ICJ judge and arbitrator (or, as the report called it, “moonlighting”) could potentially impact, or be perceived to impact, the judge’s independence and impartiality. Read the rest of this entry…

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New Restrictions on Arbitral Appointments for Sitting ICJ Judges

Published on November 5, 2018        Author: 
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Editor’s Note: This week, in a trio of posts by Callum Musto, Marie Davoise, and Frederic Sourgens, we facilitate discussion on the nature of the International Court of Justice’s judicial function, and the occasional international arbitration appointments accepted by individual judges of the World Court. In view of H.E. President Yusuf’s October 2018 report to the U.N. General Assembly, what can be expected of the Court with respect to managing future arbitral appointments that could be issued by appointing authorities or party nominations for the Court’s individual jurists – whether in inter-State or mixed arbitral disputes?

On 25 October, in the annual address of the President of the International Court of Justice to the General Assembly, President Yusuf announced that the Court had decided to adopt new restrictions on its sitting Members acting as arbitrators in inter-State and mixed arbitration. He said:

The Court is cognizant of the fact that, while the judicial settlement of disputes offered by the Court is enshrined in the Charter, States may, for several reasons, be interested in settling their disputes by arbitration. In such instances, Members of the Court have sometimes been called upon by States to sit on the arbitral tribunals in question dealing in some cases with inter-State disputes while in others with investor-State disputes – a testament, of course, to the high esteem in which the Court’s Judges are held by the international community. Over the years, the Court has taken the view that, in certain circumstances, its Members may participate in arbitration proceedings. However, in light of its ever-increasing workload, the Court decided a few months ago to review this practice and to set out clearly defined rules regulating such activities. As a result, Members of the Court have come to the decision, last month, that they will not normally accept to participate in international arbitration. In particular, they will not participate in investor-State arbitration or in commercial arbitration. [pp. 11-12, my emphasis]

President Yusuf elaborated that while sitting judges would no longer be allowed to arbitrate in mixed proceedings, they would be permitted to do so in ‘exceptional’ circumstances in inter-State disputes, provided that their judicial activities are given ‘absolute precedence’:

… in the event that they are called upon, exceptionally, by one or more States that would prefer to resort to arbitration, instead of judicial settlement, the Court has decided that, in order to render service to those States, it will, if the circumstances so warrant, authorize its Members to participate in inter-State arbitration cases. Even in such exceptional cases, a Member of the Court will only participate, if authorized, in one arbitration procedure at a time. Prior authorization must have been granted, for that purpose, in accordance with the mechanism put in place by the Court. Members of the Court, will, however, decline to be appointed as arbitrators by a State that is a party in a case pending before the Court, even if there is no substantial interference between that case and the case submitted to arbitration. [pp. 11-12, my emphasis]

It does not appear that the Court has elected to make formal amendments to its Rules or to include a Practice Direction reflecting the new appointment policy, but rather for individual judges and the President to manage appointment requests on an individual basis. The difference in approaches taken between inter-State and mixed arbitration presumably reflects the significant jurisdictional and substantive overlaps between the Court’s activities and many inter-State arbitrations — especially under Annex VII UNCLOS — and the comparatively smaller pool of eligible arbitrators to fill these roles.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Looking for Middle Ground on the Immunity of Al-Bashir? Take the Third ‘Security Council Route’

Published on October 23, 2018        Author: 
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On 10-14 September, the Appeals Chamber (AC) of the International Criminal Court (ICC) held hearings in the appeal of Jordan against the decision of Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) II entitled ‘Decision under article 87(7) of the Rome Statute on the non-compliance by Jordan with the request by the Court for the arrest and surrender o[f] Omar Al-Bashir’ of 11 December 2017’. As Talita De Souza Dias aptly showed in her recent post, one of the most debated issues during the hearings was whether the Security Council (SC) can implicitly waive the immunities of non-party States’ high-ranking officials when it refers a situation to the ICC. I agree with Talita’s findings on the permissibility of implicit derogations from immunities but I will argue that it is not Article 27(2) that renders the immunity of Al-Bashir inapplicable at the domestic level. Rather, it is the effect of Article 89 (1) on ‘Surrender of persons to the Court’ that makes his immunity of no avail before a domestic jurisdiction enforcing the ICC arrest warrant. In making this argument, I will propose a variant of the ‘Security Council Route’ that is different from those hitherto recognised in the literature or by the ICC.

Readers will recall that there are two main theories regarding the (in)applicability of immunities in domestic proceedings for arrest and surrender to the ICC of a state official ordinarily entitled to international law immunities. First, there is the theory that there is a customary exception to the immunity of heads of States for ‘proceedings before certain international criminal courts’. Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine’s Application the ICJ, neither Groundless nor Hopeless. A Reply to Marko Milanovic

Published on October 8, 2018        Author: 
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On Friday 30 September 2018, Palestine introduced an Application before the ICJ against the United States of America for violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), on account of the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is yet another judicial episode of David vs Goliath, like the Military and Paramilitary Activities case (Nicaragua v. US) or the South China Seaarbitration (Philippines v. China) were. But this time the David seems even more fragile, since the Goliath disputes the statehood of Palestine and consequently the many rights attached to it – among them, recognition and respect of sovereign equality in the first place.

The seisin of the ICJ has taken international lawyers aback: the reactions went from enthusiastic excitement to sheer incredulity or scepticism. This is not surprising: the case, whether it is decided on the merits or not, has the potential of becoming one of the great cases of international law, those which will be studied for decades by international law students, which will give guidance on highly debated issues, like statehood and erga omnes obligations. It is not every day that the Court is offered such an occasion.

Now, of course, it is certain that the US will challenge the Court’s jurisdiction. The only question is whether they will formally introduce preliminary objections or opt for non-appearance (like China or Russia have lately done). Non-appearance having rarely served the cause of the recalcitrant State, the US would be well advised not to follow that path; all the more if their case on jurisdiction is as strong as Marko Milanovic considers it to be in his post of 30 Sept. 2018. Non-appearance is generally an epidermal reaction by a super-power to legal challenges against its policy. The US’ infuriated announcement of withdrawal from the Optional Protocol to the VCDR, made on 3 Oct 2018, denotes this attitude. But it has no effect on Palestinian proceedings, which were introduced before the denunciation could become effective. 

One may wonder instead why the United States have not made this move earlier. After all, Palestine did warn them, through a verbal note of 4 July 2018, of the dispute on the VCDR. And on the same day, Palestine deposited with the Secretary General a declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the Court under the Optional Protocol (both texts are available as annexes to Palestine’s Application). Maybe no one in Washington considered that Palestine’s notifications should be taken seriously. Be that as it may, the Application was made on time and the consensual basis of jurisdiction will be difficult to challenge. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICJ’s Provisional Measures Order in Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty (Iran v United States)

Published on October 3, 2018        Author: 
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The ICJ this morning issued its Order regarding Iran’s request for the indication of provisional measures in Alleged Violations of the 1955 Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights (Iran v United States). This post is intended as a brief summary of the reasoning of the Court. After a short introduction, I will outline the Court’s approach to the three core elements required for an indication of provisional measures: prima facie jurisdiction, plausibility of rights and nexus with provisional measures requested, and risk of irreparable prejudice and urgency.

The facts of the case, including the hearings on the request for provisional measures, are covered in an earlier post. In brief, Iran claims that the re-introduction by the United States of sanctions against it following the latter’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in May 2018 violates the 1955 Treaty of Amity between the two States. In its request for the indication of provisional measures, Iran sought the Court’s order that the US shall, inter alia, suspend its reintroduction of the sanctions, as well as allow transactions already licensed to be implemented.

In its Order of this morning, Iran, in part, prevailed, with the Court indicating some of the provisional measures requested by Iran. Thus, the Court required that the US ‘remove, by means of its choosing, any impediments arising from the measures announced on 8 May 2018 to the free exportation to the territory of the Islamic Republic of Iran of (i) medicines and medical devices; (ii) foodstuffs and agricultural commodities; and (iii) spare parts, equipment and associated services (including warranty, maintenance, repair services and inspections) necessary for the safety of civil aviation’. The Court also ordered that the US must ‘ensure that licenses and necessary authorizations are granted and that payments and other transfers of funds are not subject to any restriction’ where they relate to the goods and services noted above, and that both parties ‘refrain from any action which might aggravate or extend the dispute before the Court or make it more difficult to resolve.’

It is interesting to note that the provisional measures in this case were adopted by the Court unanimously, and thus with the support of the US Judge ad hoc Charles Brower. This is, by no means, the first time a US judge has supported a Court ruling against the US, but it is nevertheless interesting (particularly from a judge ad hoc). Judge Thomas Buergenthal supported judgments of the Court against the US in a number of previous cases, including the Oil Platforms merits judgment (after Judge Schwebel had dissented from the Court’s 1996 finding of jurisdiction in that same case).

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

Published on September 20, 2018        Author: 
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[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…

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