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Ukraine v Russia at the ICJ Hearings on Indication of Provisional Measures: Who Leads?

Published on March 16, 2017        Author: 

From the day Ukraine submitted its case against Russia at the ICJ, one could expect that the case would be extremely politicized and difficult to adjudicate. Oral proceedings on the request for provisional measures held on 6th -9th March 2017 not only demonstrated that parties disagreed on the major points of the dispute, but also revealed that both parties had adopted “alternative facts”, at times making it difficult to grasp if they actually had the same dispute in mind. Ukraine’s position is that Russia violates ICSFT by continuing to support pro-Russian separatist armed groups in eastern Ukraine that engage in the commission of terrorist acts against the civilian population. Ukraine also claims that Russia pursues “policies of cultural erasure and pervasive discrimination” against non-Russian ethnic population in Crimea (see my blog). In its counter-arguments, Russia submits that the supply of weaponry originated from the old Soviet stockpiles inherited by Ukraine as well as the retreating Ukrainian army. Although widespread reports on the human rights situation in Crimea indicate marginalization of non-Russian ethnic population, as do the hundreds of pending individual applications before the ECtHR, Russia maintains that it is fully compliant with CERD and that “the views [of international organizations] on the status of Crimea often prejudge the attitude towards the situation in Crimea itself”.

Oral proceedings provide valuable insights into Russia’s litigation strategy. Russia maintains that there is no factual or legal basis for the ICJ to adjudicate, claiming that the issues between Ukraine and Russia relate to the legality of the use of force, sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination and therefore go beyond the jurisdiction of the Court. Russia accused the Ukrainian government of using the Court “to stigmatize a substantial part of the Ukrainian population” in eastern Ukraine as terrorists, and Russia as a “sponsor of terrorism and persecutor”.

Prima facie jurisdiction

The ICJ has to be satisfied on a prima facie basis that its jurisdiction is well founded in order to indicate provisional measures. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Strangest ICJ Case Got Even Stranger, Or the Revision That Wasn’t

Published on March 13, 2017        Author: 

As Dapo explains in his post from this morning, the President of the International Court of Justice last week sent what was probably one of the weirdest letters to a government (and one of the weirdest related press releases) in its history, and it is only appropriate that it pertains to one of the Court’s strangest cases. The Court essentially dismissed in limine an attempt to make an application to institute proceedings for the revision of the 2007 Bosnian Genocide judgment, finding that the application was not made by an authorized state representative.

In a 2008 article, the late Vojin Dimtrijevic and I wrote about the strange story of the Bosnian Genocide case, a case which was more than any other, from its very beginning, subservient to its political context. It was a case pursued by a changing applicant against a changing respondent before a changing Court. It was a case which one part of the applicant state actively tried to subvert, which all segments of the political elite constantly miscast and misinterpreted, which witnessed some truly unprecedented procedural manoeuvres, and which was indeed from the Bosnian side not even funded from the state budget. So many hopes were pinned on it, that when the ultimately completely predictable and underwhelming, jurisdictionally severely constrained judgment was handed down, it was perceived by most Bosniaks as a massive disappointment and by most Serbs as a kind of exoneration, despite the finding of a violation of Article 1 of the Genocide Convention by Serbia. Today, after the Court’s swift termination of the revision application and the lapse of the time-limits for any further application, the case has gone away with finality, if only with a whimper.

Over on Just Security, David Scheffer, the ranking international expert in the revision team appointed by the Bosniak leader, Mr Izetbegovic, purports to explain to an equally expert audience ‘some realities’ behind the revision request. In so doing, he calls the President’s letter and a previous letter by the Registrar ‘shallow exercises that fail to explain the legal reasoning of their conclusions,’ and concludes that ‘History will not look kindly on the ICJ’s decision to reject the Application for Revision.’

Oh, please; history, humbug. History really won’t care one whit about this whole episode, which after a few days even the Bosnian and Serbian media won’t be writing about. And while I myself normally wouldn’t write critical comments about cases which I litigated and lost, or engage in debates with people who conversely think that it is sensible to do so, this kind of self-righteous, pontificating pooh-poohing of the ICJ is something I feel compelled to respond to. Here are, to quote Mr Scheffer, some (very hard) realities about this whole episode.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Applications for Revision of the International Court of Justice Judgments: The Curious “Case” for Revision of the Bosnian Genocide Judgment

Published on March 13, 2017        Author: 

Last Thursday, the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made a statement announcing that the Court was “not properly” seised of a request for revision of the Court’s merits Judgment of 26 February 2007 in the Bosnian Genocide Convention Case (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia). The key question was whether the request for revision should have been considered as one made by Bosnia and Herzegovina and this depended on whether the person who made the request was to be considered as Agent for Bosnia. In coming to its decision not to take any action with regard to the request for revision, the Court concluded “that no decision has been taken by the competent authorities, on behalf of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a State, to request the revision of the Judgment of 26 February 2007 in the case concerning the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v. Serbia)”.

In effect, the Court rejected the request for revision on the grounds that the person who claimed to be the Agent for Bosnia, Mr. Sakib Softić, had not in fact been appointed as Agent by the state for the purpose of these particular proceedings. Mr Softić had been appointed the Agent for Bosnia, in 2002, in the original Bosnian Genocide Convention case. The present controversy surrounding his authority arose from the nature of the Presidency of Bosnia – the Head of State – which is not a single individual but rather composed of 3 individuals: one Bosniac, one Serb and one Croat. As it emerged from separate letters written to the Court by each of the members of the Presidency, no decision was made by the Presidency to request revision and only the Bosniac member of the Presidency, Mr. Bakir Izetbegović, was of the view that the appointment of Mr Softić as Agent in the original case remained valid.

Whether the Court was right to reject the “request” for revision in this case depends on whether a request for revision is to be considered as a new case as opposed to a separate phase of a previous case. If a request for revision is simply a separate phase of a prior case – a form of incidental proceedings – then the authority of the previous Agent would extend to that new phase as Agents exercise their functions throughout a case, unless they are replaced by the state. However, if a request for revision is a new case the Court would be right to require a new indication from the state as to who the Agent is, thus impliedly confirming that the state has authorised the initiation of those new proceedings.

In my view, the Court was right to hold, if only implicitly, that requests for revision are new proceedings and not simply continuations of a previous case. There is a qualitative difference between a request for revision (or indeed interpretation) of a prior judgment arising from proceedings that have essentially concluded with the case removed from the Court’s list of pending cases, on the one hand, and the initiation of incidental proceedings (such as provisional measures for interim protection or making preliminary objections) in an on-going case, on the other hand. Read the rest of this entry…

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The ICJ’s Preliminary Objections Judgment in Somalia v. Kenya: Causing Ripples in Law of the Sea Dispute Settlement?

Published on February 22, 2017        Author: 

On 2 February 2017, the International Court of Justice handed down its Judgment on preliminary objections in the case concerning Maritime Delimitation in the Indian Ocean (Somalia v. Kenya). Somalia had brought the case to request that the Court determine its single maritime boundary with neighbouring Kenya. The ICJ held that it may proceed to the merits phase, thereby rejecting the respondent’s submissions. Among other arguments, Kenya raised an objection rooted in Part XV (“Settlement of disputes”) of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC). It contended that the Convention’s dispute settlement system is an agreement on the method of settlement for its maritime boundary dispute with Somalia and therefore falls within the scope of Kenya’s reservation to its optional clause declaration made pursuant to Art. 36(2) of the ICJ Statute, which excludes “[d]isputes in regard to which the parties to the dispute have agreed or shall agree to have recourse to some other method or methods of settlement”.

The fact that Kenya relied on this argument is noteworthy in and of itself, as it was the first time that the Court faced a LOSC-based jurisdictional challenge. Moreover, we believe that the way in which the Court disposed of this argument has far-reaching implications since it casts a long shadow over dispute resolution in the law of the sea. But before delving into the ICJ’s reasoning and its ramifications, we will highlight some essentials of the LOSC dispute settlement system.   Read the rest of this entry…

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The South China Sea moves to the Indian Ocean: Conflicting Claims Over the Tromelin Islet and its Maritime Entitlements

Published on February 8, 2017        Author: 

The small, isolated, inhospitable (and inhabited) island of Tromelin, located in the Indian Ocean north of Mauritius and the French Reunion island, and east of Madagascar (see map), has been the subject of passionate debate in recent weeks in France, both in the media (here and here) and within the Parliament (transcript of the debate before the French National Assembly).

Tromelin is a flat and small feature, about 1,700 metres long and 700 metres wide, with an area of about 80 hectares (200 acres). Its flora is limited, while the site is known to host significant numbers of seabirds. There is no harbour nor anchorages on the island, but a 1,200-metre airstrip, and there appears to be no continuous human presence.

Tromelin was discovered by a French navigator in 1722, and France today claims sovereignty over it by virtue of historical title (discovery of terra nullius) dating back to that date. The islet was the scene of a sad – and little known – episode of history as the place where approximately 60 Malagasy men and women were abandoned for 15 years in the 18th century after a French ship transporting slaves eschewed on the island. Most of the slaves died within a few months. The survivors were finally rescued in 1776, when Bernard Boudin de Tromelin, captain of the French warship La Dauphine, visited the island and discovered seven women and an eight-month-old child. Captain Tromelin also raised a French flag on the island – and his name was given to it.

French possession of Tromelin was interrupted by Britain which took control of the island in 1810. Then in 1954, the British gave their consent to France’s effective control over Tromelin. But sovereignty over Tromelin is still disputed, and the island has been claimed by the newly independent Mauritius since 1976, and reportedly also by Madagascar and the Seychelles (see V. Prescott, ‘Indian Ocean Boundaries’ at 3462-63). The controversy in France over Tromelin has led to the postponing of the ratification by the Parliament of a framework agreement entered into by France and Mauritius in June 2010, providing for joint economic, scientific and environmental management (cogestion) of the island and of surrounding maritime areas. Read the rest of this entry…

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Turkish Military Intervention in Mosul: A Legal and Political Perspective

Published on January 27, 2017        Author: 

In October 2016, Turkey deployed hundreds of its armed troops to the Iraqi town of Bashiqa, 12 kilometers northeast of Mosul held by Islamic State. Meanwhile, Iraqi officials have called for Turkey to withdraw its forces from Iraq’s territory. Relevantly, one of the most important questions is whether Turkish military intervention in Northern Iraq has a legal basis.

First of all, it should be noted that, although there have been serious violations of human rights (mainly sectarian and ethnic divisions within the area) during the internal armed conflicts in Iraq, legally any reason cannot be accepted as a justification for military interventions and violations of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of a State. From this point of view, Turkish intervention in Iraq is a violation of the principle of respect for territorial integrity and political independence of the States which includes the inviolability of the territory of the State. As stated by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) (for example in Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence of Kosovo, Advisory Opinion, 2010, para. 80), the principle of territorial integrity, which is underpinned by the prohibition of the use of force in customary international law  and Art. 2(4) of the United Nations Charter is an important part of the international legal order and its scope is confined to the sphere of relations between States. By the way, although the recent Turkish military intervention in Mosul is not its first-time violation in Iraq –it has consistently attacked PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê) militants in Iraq since 2003– it should be noted that the justification given by Turkey for the violation of the principle of territorial integrity that it has just conducted in Northern Iraq, is self-defense against Islamic State and the PKK. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ukraine Takes Russia to the International Court of Justice: Will It Work?

Published on January 26, 2017        Author: 

In a much-anticipated move, on 17 January 2017 Ukraine submitted the lawsuit against Russia at the ICJ alleging the violations of the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (Terrorism Financing Convention) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD). The move did not come as a surprise, since Ukraine earlier announced its plans to take Russia to the ICJ over the annexation of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine. Although the major issue at stake is the unlawful use of force by Russia by annexing Crimea and conducting the war by proxy in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine invokes the breach of the two UN conventions that, although are relevant to the issues at stake, however, do not directly address the core of the dispute with Russia. The issues pertaining to terrorism financing and racial discrimination are largely peripheral to the major issue at stake. It is hard not to draw an obvious parallel between Ukraine’s and Georgia’s action before the ICJ. Following Russia-Georgia military standoff in 2008 in Georgia’s breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Russia viewed as a peacekeeping operation to protect human rights of its nationals, Georgia launched the lawsuit against Russia before the ICJ on the basis of the violation of CERD. Similar to Ukraine v Russia, the issues with respect to violation of CERD were not central to the dispute. Undoubtedly, Ukraine was inspired by the Georgian example and, while preparing its submission to the ICJ, attempted to avoid pitfalls that were encountered by Georgia and led to the dismissal of the case on jurisdictional grounds.

Jurisdictional Issues

The exercise of the ICJ jurisdiction in contentious proceedings is premised on state consent. As Russia does not recognize the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, the only avenue for bringing the action before the ICJ is to rely upon a treaty that provides for the possibility of judicial settlement in the ICJ and has been ratified by both parties. Given that both Ukraine and Russia are parties to the Terrorism Financing Convention and CERD, Ukraine invoked those two instruments as the basis for its action before the ICJ. Read the rest of this entry…

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How the Awareness Criterion for Establishment of Dispute is Antithetical to Judicial Economy

Published on November 10, 2016        Author: 

The International Court of Justice recently in the case concerning the Negotiations relating to Cessation of the Nuclear Arms Race and Nuclear Disarmament ruled that it lacked the necessary jurisdiction, due to the absence of a ‘legal dispute’ between the parties. The Republic of Marshall Islands had sued the nuclear world powers (the application was admitted only against the UK, India and Pakistan) for non-compliance with the treaty obligation and customary law obligation to pursue in good faith, and bring to a conclusion, negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament and cessation of the nuclear arm race at an early date. It is the first time in the history of the ICJ that it has refused jurisdiction on the grounds of the absence of a dispute, underlining a further move towards increasing formalism and positivism of the international court.

The court has defined legal dispute as “a disagreement on the point of law or fact, a conflict of legal views or of interests” between the contending parties. The Republic of Marshall Islands rooted the existence of a dispute between the parties in the “positive opposition” by the Respondent States in the present proceedings, and their engagement in a conduct of “quantities build-up” and “qualitative improvement” of their nuclear arsenal.

However, to the dismay of much of the international community, the majority in this case adduced an additional subjective limb of the ‘awareness’ of the Respondent regarding the claims of the Applicant, holding it quintessential to establish a legal dispute between the parties. Paragraph 38 of the judgment states:

“a dispute exists when it is demonstrated, on the basis of the evidence, that the respondent was aware, or could not have been unaware, that its views were ‘positively opposed’ by the applicant”.

The introduction of the ‘awareness’ criterion for the establishment of a dispute not only goes against the jurisprudential constante of the Court to adjudicate the existence of a dispute on an objective basis, but also severely undermines judicial economy and sound administration of justice. The formalistic requirement of ‘awareness’ can be met by merely instituting a fresh application on the same grounds against the Respondent, who would then be aware of the dispute and contention of the Applicant as a result of the previous dismissed suit. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Doctrine of Indispensable Issues: Mauritius v. United Kingdom, Philippines v. China, Ukraine v. Russia, and Beyond

Published on October 14, 2016        Author: 

On 14 September 2016, Ukraine instituted proceedings against Russia under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Ukraine is requesting that an UNCLOS tribunal declare, inter alia, that Russia has violated the Convention by interfering with Ukraine’s rights in maritime zones adjacent to Crimea.

At first, there appears to be no jurisdictional problem. Aside from the exceptions laid out in Part XV of UNCLOS, the tribunal has jurisdiction over “any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of [the] Convention” (Art. 288(1) UNCLOS), which would permit a declaration that Russia has violated the Convention. Nevertheless, such a declaration would necessarily require a preliminary determination that Ukraine still has sovereignty over Crimea (under the “land dominates the sea” principle), and the tribunal does not have jurisdiction over territorial sovereignty disputes. Therefore, the tribunal must decide whether it may still exercise jurisdiction over the dispute concerning Russia’s violation of the Convention.

Ukraine v. Russia presents what one may call the “implicated issue problem.” Generally speaking, the implicated issue problem arises when an international court or tribunal has jurisdiction over a dispute, but the exercise of such jurisdiction would implicate an issue over which the court or tribunal does not have jurisdiction ratione materiae. The court or tribunal must therefore determine whether it may still exercise jurisdiction over the dispute. Read the rest of this entry…

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Capitulation in The Hague: The Marshall Islands Cases

Published on October 10, 2016        Author: 

When questions around nuclear weapons are brought before the ICJ, we don’t expect easy answers – too far apart are the realities of power politics from any defensible conception of what the world ought to look like, and international law is caught in the middle. In the 1996 Advisory Opinion on the legality of the use of nuclear weapons, the Court gave this fundamental tension an expression, even if it came up with answers (or non-answers) that left many dissatisfied. In this week’s judgment in the cases brought by the Marshall Islands – on the obligation to pursue nuclear disarmament – it does not take up the challenge at all. It instead evades the problem, and hides its evasion behind a façade of formalist legal reasoning.

As Christian Tams has already sketched in his first reaction to the judgment on this blog, the cases were dismissed on the grounds that no ‘dispute’ existed between the Marshall Islands and the UK, India and Pakistan. This is novel not only because never before has an entire case been dismissed on these grounds by the ICJ, but also because it stretches the interpretation of a ‘dispute’ beyond previous understandings: a dispute now requires some form of ‘objective awareness’ of the respondent state prior to the filing of the case. It is true that the requirement of an existing dispute has gained greater relevance in recent years, has played a consequential role in a number of cases, and has taken on a somewhat wider meaning than in earlier jurisprudence. Read the rest of this entry…

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