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Home International Tribunals Archive for category "International Court of Justice"

ICJ Indicates Provisional Measures in the Myanmar Genocide Case

Published on January 23, 2020        Author: 

 

Today the International Court unanimously issued its provisional measures order in the case brought by The Gambia against Myanmar under the Genocide Convention. The order is available here, the three separate opinions here. For our previous coverage of the case, see here. The fact that the Court ordered provisional measures and did so unanimously is obviously a win for The Gambia, and for the Rohingya cause more generally, but its impact should not be overstated. A couple of quick noteworthy points:

(1) The Court adopts a rather flexible approach to the issue of plausibility, and relies mainly on the reports of UN fact-finding commission to support the issuance of provisional measures (on the fact-finding commission reports see in particular Mike Becker’s earlier post). The Court specifically rejects Myanmar’s argument that a more rigorous standard of proof should be required at the provisional measures stage of a genocide claim (para. 56). However that doesn’t mean at all that Gambia will succeed on the merits (it likely won’t, as I’ll explain below).

(2) The Court indicated all but two of the provisional measures that Gambia had requested, but it’s interesting how exactly it did so.

(3) First, the principal measures it indicated, at para. 86 (1) and (2), effectively replicate state obligations under the Genocide Convention, i.e. they do not strictly legally speaking add anything new to the corpus of obligations that Myanmar already has. Second, in indicating these measures the Court omitted the references to more specific acts (e.g. rape or the burning of villages) from Gambia’s request (compare at para. 5) – basically the Court didn’t want to give the impression that any of such specific acts were proven, and the final language is more palatable and diplomatic.

Third, the Court specifically ordered Myanmar (para. 86(3)) to ‘take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence,’ but again it avoided the more explicit and specific language from Gambia’s request. Fourth, the Court rather laconically rejected Gambia’s (late) request for a specific measure requiring Myanmar to provide access to UN investigators, saying simply (para. 62) that it ‘does not consider that its indication is necessary in the circumstances of the case.’ This is hardly a surprising result, bearing in mind sovereignty concerns and the intrusiveness of such a measure, but the paucity of the reasoning is difficult to justify. Fifth, the Court (rather surprisingly) decided not to indicate the general, innocuous non-aggravation measure, saying that it was unnecessary due to the specific measures that it did indicate (para. 83). Finally, the Court ordered Myanmar to provide it with periodic reports on its implementation of the measures indicated – this has the potential for some bite, but obviously it remains to be seen with what rigour the Court and the parties will observe this requirement.

(4) Bearing in mind how it handled the prima facie jurisdiction analysis in this order, it seems extremely unlikely that the Court will dismiss this case at the jurisdictional stage. I see no reasonable way in which Myanmar could win on jurisdiction, but its contestation of jurisdiction will of course prolong the Court’s examination of the case.

(5) That said, the most likely outcome of the merits stage is still that Myanmar will win, i.e. that Gambia will not be able to provide clear and convincing evidence that genocide (as opposed to crimes against humanity or war crimes) were committed against the Rohingya – basically the same outcome as in the Bosnian and the Croatian genocide cases. The evidentiary requirements were set so high in those cases (in my view rightly so), that they could not be met even with the existence of a fully-fledged international criminal tribunal that could reliably establish the facts. The Court will not have the luxury of the ICTY’s assistance in this case, and once counsel for Myanmar start probing the specific evidence behind the UN fact-finding reports bit by little bit it seems probable that they’ll raise sufficient doubt as to the existence of genocidal intent. But this outcome, even though in my view highly likely, is still many years down the line.

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The Challenges for the ICJ in the Reliance on UN Fact-Finding Reports in the Case against Myanmar

Published on December 14, 2019        Author: 

 

This past week’s provisional measures hearing in the case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made for a remarkable spectacle (see here, here, and here). Acting as the head of her country’s delegation, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi sat silently as The Gambia’s legal team laid out its case alleging violations of the 1948 Genocide Convention, including brutal descriptions of the atrocities that have been exacted upon the Rohingya minority. When Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the Court herself, she pointedly did not utter the word “Rohingya”—except in a sole reference to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an insurgent group that Myanmar places at the center of what it frames as an internal armed conflict. Instead, she asked the Court to reject the provisional measures request and to resist the efforts by The Gambia and others to “externalize accountability” for alleged war crimes, leaving Myanmar to addresses these matters itself (CR 2019/19, pp 17-18, paras 24-25) .

In brief, The Gambia accuses Myanmar of engaging in a systematic policy of oppression and persecution against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country, that reaches back decades. Based on the Application, the ICJ will be asked to focus on military campaigns (termed “clearance operations” by Myanmar) carried out against the Rohingya since 2016, which are estimated to have caused more than 10,000 deaths and more than 700,000 people to seek refuge in Bangladesh. This is not the first time that a non-injured State has sought to enforce obligations erga omnes partes at the ICJ, but it is the first such case brought under the Genocide Convention.

I wrote previously about the possibility of an ICJ case against Myanmar and some of the attendant challenges. This post aims to highlight a specific challenge that these proceedings will pose for the Court: The Gambia’s extensive reliance on UN fact-finding reports, combined with the absence of prior or parallel international criminal proceedings relating to these events. Read the rest of this entry…

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Bringing Deforestation before an International Court?

Published on December 6, 2019        Author: 

 

Deforestation is a key issue in the fight against climate change. In all areas of the world, forests are being transformed for different uses, all leading to a loss of forest cover “from 31.6 percent of the global land area to 30.6 percent between 1990 and 2015”. Recently, the Amazon fires have caused concern around the globe, not only because of their scale but also because of the importance of the Amazon for everyone, as one of the largest rainforests in the world, and therefore crucial for both mitigating climate change and hosting millions of species. Much concern has been raised at why such fires had intensified compared to previous years. Human-driven deforestation has been shown to be the main reason for the fires, and with less environmental oversight from the current Brazilian government, different political actors have pointed fingers at its responsibility. Brazil is not the only country where important forests are threatened. Other major forested areas in Western and Central Africa and South-East Asia are not spared from large-scale deforestation. The few original forests in Europe are also under threat.

Between legal and illegal deforestation, more forested territory is converted for various uses, from agriculture to mining. Moreover, many areas of major forests are inhabited by indigenous peoples, who suffer directly from the consequences of deforestation. President Bolsonaro has been very clear that he intends to use the land for economic prosperity as he claims that it is his sovereign power to do so. The tension between economic development and environmental protection is not specific to the Amazon and struggles over how to achieve economic development in the forested lands, with people already living and using those lands exist elsewhere too.

One rhetorical question arising from this dramatic situation is whether there are avenues to use the international judicial system to try to hold the states accountable for the deforestation happening in their territory. Is there a chance for interstate litigation to succeed? Read the rest of this entry…

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A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Published on December 4, 2019        Author: 

(Image credit: AFP)

Next week, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and de facto head of government of Myanmar, will appear in person before the International Court of Justice. She will be defending her country in the case brought by Gambia for breaches of the Genocide Convention due to atrocities against the Rohingya. The Court will be holding oral hearings on provisional measures in the case (for our earlier coverage, see here). According to an AFP report:

Ardent fans of Aung San Suu Kyi are snapping up spots on $2,000 tours to The Hague, in a display of moral support as Myanmar faces charges of genocide over the Rohingya crisis at the UN’s top court in December.

Supporter rallies, billboards and outpourings of praise online followed the shock announcement by the country’s civilian leader last week that she would personally represent Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The once-lauded democracy champion will be defending the 2017 military crackdown against the Rohingya minority.

One travel operator is organising a five-day tour to The Hague that includes visa and transportation as part of a $2,150 package, said employee Ma July — a prohibitive rate for most in the developing nation.

Social influencer Pencilo and well-known TV presenter Mg Mg Aye are among the 20 or so people to have already signed up.

“I believe this is our duty as citizens,” Pencilo, 29, told AFP Friday, urging any of her 1.1 million Facebook followers who have the means to do the same.

“It’s important the world knows her compatriots are fully behind her.”

– ‘We stand with you’ –

All of this is so deeply disturbing on so many levels that I genuinely find myself bereft of words. But the image above somehow manages to convey it all – Peace Palace, Photoshop, Facebook. For analysis of why Suu Kyi has decided to appear before the Court in person, perhaps due to her total inability to accept a reality that is not to her liking, or perhaps as part of a cynical strategy to buoy support for her party and herself within Myanmar, see here and here. Either way, it will be a sad spectacle, in more ways than one.

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The Same Thing? Negotiation and Articles 11-13 of the CERD Convention in Ukraine v Russian Federation

Published on November 28, 2019        Author: 

On 8 November 2019, the ICJ issued its preliminary objections judgment in Ukraine v. Russian Federation – see here for an excellent discussion of its importance. This piece focuses on one aspect of the decision, that the “preconditions” of Article 22 of the CERD Convention are alternative rather than cumulative. It looks specifically at the reasoning in the decision, and the understanding that it relies on of the Articles 11-13 inter-state communications procedure before the CERD Committee. It may be recalled that Articles 11-13 applies to all States Parties to the CERD Convention and has an importance beyond the jurisdiction of the Court. In the judgment the right outcome (dispositif) may have been reached, but the reasoning (motif) may be problematic in relation to the Court’s narrow understanding of Articles 11-13 as negotiation.

Article 22 and its alternative/cumulative preconditions

Article 22 of the CERD Convention reads:

Any dispute between two or more States Parties with respect to the interpretation or application of this Convention, which is not settled by negotiation or by the procedures expressly provided for in this Convention, shall, at the request of any of the parties to the dispute, be referred to the International Court of Justice for decision, unless the disputants agree to another mode of settlement.

Three principal arguments on the alternative/cumulative question will be highlighted, as they relate to the eventual decision.

First, Read the rest of this entry…

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Green Light from the ICJ to Go Ahead with Ukraine’s Dispute against the Russian Federation Involving Allegations of Racial Discrimination and Terrorism Financing

Published on November 22, 2019        Author: 

 

On 8 November 2019, the ICJ delivered its highly anticipated judgment in Ukraine v Russia on the preliminary objections raised by the Russian Federation with respect to the Court’s jurisdiction and the admissibility of Ukraine’s claims under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (ICSFT). The ICJ overwhelmingly rejected Russia’s preliminary objections that the Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain Ukraine’s claims under both CERD and ICSFT, and found that Ukraine’s Application in relation to CERD claims was admissible. The ruling was hailed as a victory by Ukraine, as it clearly achieved more than it bargained for at this stage of proceedings, given rather modest provisional measures that were earlier granted by the Court only under CERD (see more here). Ukraine succeeded in avoiding the fate of Georgia, whose case against Russia under CERD – arising out of the 2008 Russia-Georgia war – was rejected on jurisdictional grounds and did not proceed to the merits stage.

The Ukraine v Russia dispute is narrowly limited to Ukraine’s claims under CERD with respect to the situation in Crimea, and claims under ICSFT with respect to the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. However, it touches upon some broader highly contested issues related to the unlawful occupation/annexation of Crimea and Russia’s degree of military involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which are beyond the scope of the judicial inquiry at the ICJ (see more here). The proceedings are complicated by the Parties’ divergent accounts of factual circumstances surrounding the situation in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, which will become even more prominent at the merits stage. In order to determine its jurisdiction ratione materiae under the respective compromissory clauses in both CERD and ICSFT, the Court had to determine whether the acts of which Ukraine complained fall within the provisions of both treaties. Further to this, the Court had to ascertain the fulfilment of the procedural preconditions for the seisin of the Court under both instruments. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Gambia’s gamble, and how jurisdictional limits may keep the ICJ from ruling on Myanmar’s alleged genocide against Rohingya

Published on November 21, 2019        Author: , and

 

On 11 November, The Gambia filed an Application instituting proceedings and requesting provisional measures at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in relation to the genocide allegedly committed by Myanmar against the Rohingya (for a first analysis of the Application, see this post by Priya Pillai). As notably reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post, the application is at least in part a personal quest for justice by The Gambia’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, who acts as The Gambia’s Agent and previously worked for the prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The Gambia’s application is backed by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (of which The Gambia is a member) and its legal team is led by the US law firm Foley Hoag (see here). As we will argue below, the peculiar origins of this quest for justice may well be determinative for the establishment of the ICJ’s jurisdiction.

Regarding the atrocities committed against the Rohingya, the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has found ‘that the factors allowing the inference of genocidal intent are present’ (see here, para 1441). While there appears little reason to disagree with the Fact-Finding Mission’s conclusion, in this post we will not examine substantively whether the atrocities complained of constitute genocide. Instead, we will briefly sketch why it makes sense for The Gambia to seize the ICJ while proceedings relating to the Rohingya are already going on at the International Criminal Court (ICC), after which we will address the request for provisional measures.

Different nature of the ICJ and ICC Proceedings

Just three days after The Gambia submitted its application to the ICJ, Pre-Trial Chamber III of the ICC authorized the Prosecutor to investigate the situation in Myanmar/Bangladesh (see here). As Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute, and as the position of China and Russia make a UN Security Council referral highly unlikely (see eg here), the Prosecutor has opened an investigation on her own initiative. The investigation ‘geographically’ focuses on Bangladesh, Myanmar’s neighbouring country to which over 742.000 Rohingya refugees have fled (see here). Bangladesh is a party to the Rome Statute, and accordingly provides a jurisdictional link to the Court. Read the rest of this entry…

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Provisional Measures in Ukraine v. Russia: From Illusions to Reality or a Prejudgment in Disguise?

Published on November 8, 2019        Author: 

 

On 19 April 2017, the ICJ rendered an Order dealing with Ukraine’s request for provisional measures concerning the alleged violations by Russian Federation of both the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (‘ICSFT’) and International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (‘CERD’).

In assessing the request for provisional measures, the Court moved from requiring plausibility of rights to requiring of plausibility of claims. The latter constitutes a higher threshold compared to the former eloquently described by Judge Abraham in his separate opinion appended to the Pulp Mills judgment and consistently followed by the ICJ as discussed below.

This new test requires the Court, at the provisional measures stage, to consider aspects of the merits, which relates to the probability of the claim’s success, and goes beyond a pure jurisdictional analysis. This post examines the limits of Court’s assessment of the merits of a dispute in the context of a request for provisional measures, in the light of the binding nature of such measures and the need for balance between prejudgment and the protection of adjudication’s consensual nature. Does a requirement of factual plausibility disturbingly blur the distinction between merits and incidental proceedings? Read the rest of this entry…

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The International Court of Justice Releases New Rules of Court

Published on November 4, 2019        Author: 

On 21 October 2019 the International Court of Justice released a series of amendments to its Rules of Court. This is the first substantive change to the Rules since 2005 and marks the fifth time the Rules have been amended since the creation of the Court (discounting the PCIJ years, on which more will be said in a moment).

The 2019 amendments are of interest because they come at a time when practical and academic interest in the Court’s procedure is at an all-time high. I say this not only because it is the focus of my own PhD research. Questions of International Law hosted a conference on procedure in May of this year; the International Law Association Committee on the Procedure of International Courts and Tribunals is in its final year and will be reporting in 2020; and the Max Planck Institute released last month a new encyclopedia dedicated to matters of procedure.

This post will set out a brief history of the Court’s Rules, speculate on the driving forces behind the 2019 amendments, and consider the implications of the new Article 79 on preliminary matters. Read the rest of this entry…

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Abuse of Process and Abuse of Rights Before the ICJ: Ever More Popular, Ever Less Successful?

Published on October 15, 2019        Author: 

Abuse of process and abuse of rights objections seem to have become increasingly popular in cases before the ICJ. While acknowledging that the two concepts have much in common, the Court has distinguished between them by noting that ‘abuse of process’ relates to judicial proceedings and is a preliminary issue that may bar admissibility, while ‘abuse of rights’ relates to the merits, as it ‘cannot be invoked as a ground of inadmissibility when the establishment of the right in question is properly a matter for the merits’ (Equatorial Guinea v. France, paras. 146, 150-151). Simply put, as a general rule, abuse of process relates to the manner of initiating (and conducting) proceedings, while abuse of rights relates to the substance of the dispute.

This apparent trend is taking place despite the fact that the Court almost invariably denies such objections (as in Certain Phosphate Lands in Nauru, paras. 37-38 and Border and Transborder Armed Actions, para. 94). It has repeatedly noted (as in Equatorial Guinea v. France, para. 150; Certain Iranian Assets, para. 114; and Jadhav, para. 49) that an abuse of process plea could only be upheld in ‘exceptional circumstances’. In some instances, the ICJ deferred the issue to a later stage of the proceedings (as in Qatar v. UAE, para. 39 and Equatorial Guinea v. France, para. 151).

In recent ICJ case law, relying explicitly or implicitly on the principle of good faith, parties have accused each other of abuse of process or rights in a range of circumstances. For example, abuse was alleged when two proceedings in relation to the same object were started in Qatar v. UAE; when there was an alleged violation of the dispute settlement mechanisms provided for in the treaty in Qatar v. UAE and Jadhav; when the relief sought was unavailable under the treaty in Equatorial Guinea v. France and Jadhav; and when there was an alleged incompatibility between the application and the object and purpose of the treaty in Certain Iranian Assets and Jadhav. Read the rest of this entry…

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