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Venezuela’s Non-Participation Before the ICJ in the Dispute over the Essequibo Region

Published on June 29, 2018        Author: 
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On 18 June 2018, Venezuela notified the International Court of Justice that it intends not to participate in the proceedings before the Court in the case over the Essequibo region brought by Guyana (for an excellent analysis of Guyana’s application and the complex historical and procedural background on this blog see here). Venezuela’s move is reminiscent of a long series of cases before the PCIJ and then the ICJ in which the defendant State chose not to appear. At its peak in a period in the 1970/80s this phenomenon had almost become the norm rather than the exception, a situation widely seen as symptomatic of a major crisis of confidence in the Court. The Institut de Droit International noted with concern ‘that the absence of a party is such as to hinder the regular conduct of the proceedings, and may affect the good administration of justice’. This short contribution will assess whether similar concerns are warranted now that the Court will once again be confronted with this peculiar procedural situation. It will first briefly evaluate to what extent Venezuela’s announcement may be part of a re-emerging trend of non-participation. It will then consider how Venezuela’s decision will legally impact the proceedings, highlight key challenges for the conduct of the proceedings, and suggest how and to what extent the Court can address these.  

Back to the 1970s?

Since the US ceased participating in the Nicaragua case following the decision on jurisdiction more than thirty years ago, there have only been rare incidents of (temporary) non-participation in contentious proceedings before the ICJ (Bahrain was not represented when the second judgment on jurisdiction and admissibility in Maritime Delimitation and Territorial Questions was delivered, nor at a later meeting of the Court when time limits for submissions at the next stage were fixed; note also in the different context of advisory proceedings Israel’s refusal to take part in the Wall case). Non-participation thus seemed to have gone out of fashion – France, for example, had failed to appear in the Nuclear Tests cases in 1973/74 but chose to participate when New Zealand requested the Court to resume that case in 1995.

Recently, however, Pakistan who had submitted a counter-memorial did not appear in the oral hearings in the Marshall Islands case. Croatia only partially participated in the ad hoc arbitration with Slovenia. And Venezuela’s announcement comes only relatively shortly after China and Russia did not take part in major UNCLOS proceedings (the South China Sea and the Artic Sunrise cases). Even among these States, however, participation at present seems to remain the norm: Russia, for example, is currently participating in cases brought by Ukraine, both before the ICJ and in an UNCLOS Annex VII arbitration. Read the rest of this entry…

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Sanctioning Qatar Continued: The United Arab Emirates is brought before the ICJ

Published on June 22, 2018        Author: 
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On 11 June, Qatar initiated proceedings (“Application”) against the United Arab Emirates (“the UAE”) at the International Court of Justice under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and requested provisional measures. This step is yet another episode in the diplomatic standoff that took the world by surprise last year when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt (“the Quartet” or “Gulf States”) adopted a series of stringent measures against the oil-rich kingdom. When the crisis first erupted the Qatari foreign minister alluded to a violation of the principle of non-intervention when he claimed that the genuine motive behind the sanctions was “about limiting Qatar’s sovereignty, and outsourcing [its] foreign policy”. Rather than resort to retaliatory sanctions Qatar has turned to diplomacy, lobbying and various dispute settlement mechanisms. It has seized the United Nations, notably the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (“OHCHR”), and the International Civil Aviation Organization (see also here and here) in search for support in condemning the coercive measures as unlawful. Qatar added pressure to the sanctioning States when it filed a request for consultation before the WTO’s dispute settlement body in August 2017 but ultimately decided to only pursue the complaint against the UAE. As noted by Johannes Fahner (see here) the proceedings before the WTO could lead to a GATT Article XXI case, which States have tended to avoid. By engaging the ICJ Qatar is taking its dispute against the UAE to the next level. Unlike the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt adopted reservations to the ICJ’s jurisdiction under Article 22 of the Convention upon ratification.

In its Application, Qatar claims the expulsion of Qatari nationals from the UAE’s territory violates General Recommendation 30, adopted by the CERD Committee in August 2004 (para. 59), and have led to human rights violations:

“including the rights to marriage and choice of spouse, freedom of opinion and expression, public health and medical care, education and training, property, work, participation in cultural activities, and equal treatment before tribunals”

solely on the basis of their nationality contrary to CERD Article 5 (para. 63). The Application further lists the travel embargo – which closes off air, sea and land to and from Qatar – among the discriminatory measures as well as the shutting down of local Al-Jazeera offices and the blocking off of transmissions from Al-Jazeera and other Qatari-based media outlets. In addition, Qatar alleges the UAE has encouraged rather than condemned discrimination by:

“allowing, promoting, and financing an international anti-Qatar public and social media campaign; silencing Qatari media; and calling for physical attacks on Qatari entities”

in violation of CERD Articles 2 and 7 (paras 57 and 61 to 63). The UAE is also said to be responsible for breaching CERD Article 4 and inciting hate speech (para. 60). According to Qatar it has “fail[ed] to provide effective protection and remedies to Qataris to seek redress against acts of racial discrimination through UAE courts and institutions” in violation of Article 6 CERD (para. 64). Read the rest of this entry…

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The Dispute between Guyana and Venezuela over the Essequibo Region

Published on April 11, 2018        Author:  and
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Introduction

On 29 March 2018, Guyana filed an Application against Venezuela before the International Court of Justice (‘ICJ’) concerning the two States’ long-standing dispute over the Essequibo region. This Application was filed after the UN Secretary General decided on 30 January 2018 that the dispute between Guyana and Venezuela should be submitted to the Court. The Secretary General’s decision was welcomed in Guyana and received support from Caribbean countries. But it was received with some hostility in Venezuela. A decision by the ICJ could be the final act in a dispute which has, sometimes bitterly, divided the neighbouring countries for over a century. The dispute between the two States includes both procedural and substantive elements.

Procedurally, the parties disagree (and have disagreed for some time) as to whether the ICJ has jurisdiction to hear the dispute. As will be discussed below, the Secretary General’s role in the dispute is based on the provisions of the Geneva Agreement of 1966 between the UK (the colonial power in Guyana at that time) and Venezuela. Under this agreement, in the event that bilateral efforts to solve the dispute fail, the Secretary General is empowered to choose ‘…another of the means stipulated in Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations…’. However, questions arise as to whether the Secretary General may submit the dispute to the ICJ in a manner which is binding on both parties. As for the substantive aspect of the dispute, the parties disagree as to the alleged nullity and invalidity of an arbitral award handed down in 1899 which found that the Essequibo region lies on British Guiana’s side of the border with Venezuela.

The resolution of the dispute is of significant economic interest to the parties, as the area is rich in natural resources: the world’s largest untouched oil reserves lay in the east of Venezuela, around the Orinoco river delta, close to the disputed border with Guyana. Natural resources are also present in the (as yet undelimited) coastal waters, and Guyana’s exploratory activities in the area have been protested by the Venezuelan government. In 2015, a Venezuelan Presidential Decree (1787, as amended by Decree 1859) laid claim to Atlantic waters off the Essequibo coast, and Venezuela’s navy has intervened in the disputed area on numerous occasions. The Decree met with protest from Guyana. As is common in these disputes, nationalist sentiment rides high as sovereignty over the area is seen as a matter of national honour and pride, and the rhetoric concerning the dispute has intensified on both sides. Venezuelan officials and civil society (see here and here) have decried the UNSG’s decision to submit the dispute to adjudication by the ICJ as a ‘hostile’ act against Venezuela. In Guyana, where Venezuela’s conduct is often perceived as a form of bullying by its more powerful neighbour, the Government is organising a public awareness campaign, including educating schoolchildren about the controversy. Read the rest of this entry…

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African Union v International Criminal Court: episode MLXIII (?)

Published on March 23, 2018        Author: 
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It never gets boring. At the latest African Union (AU) summit, which wrapped up recently in Addis Ababa, the AU-ICC controversy went into its next round; this time, however, with a rather constructive proposal for easing the tensions that had built up over the past decade or so as a result of the uneven application of international criminal justice. In this post I will reflect upon the implications of the recent summit decision for the future of international criminal justice, including the debate about immunities, the consequences of potential arrest warrants for high-ranking Burundian officials, as well as the debate about an African mass withdrawal. 

Previous AU responses to what was being perceived as neo-colonial interference on the part of the International Criminal Court had not been very constructive – ranging from issuing shrill statements calling the Court “a political instrument targeting Africa and Africans“, threatening mass withdrawal, blocking the opening of the ICC Liaison Office in Addis, and announcing non-cooperation in the arrest of suspects. This time, by contrast, the AU opted for a more constructive, de-escalatory approach, using the tools of international law – instead of international politics – to make its voice heard: It announced that it would seek, through the UN General Assembly, an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the question of immunity. The AU also decided that it would seek an interpretative declaration from the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) on how Article 27 of the Rome Statute of the ICC, which removes immunity for state officials, and Article 98, which addresses cooperation with respect to a waiver of immunity and consent to surrender relate to one another, and the related question of how a Security Council referral affects the enjoyment of immunities of officials of non-state parties. The proposal to seek an advisory opinion from the ICJ was first made several years ago. It is not clear why this proposal was shelved in the meantime. Perhaps the AU feared the ICJ would find in favor of the ICC’s position. Read the rest of this entry…

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Environmental Damages, Environmental Reparations, and the Right to a Healthy Environment: The ICJ Compensation Judgment in Costa Rica v. Nicaragua and the IACtHR Advisory Opinion on Marine Protection for the Greater Caribbean

Published on February 14, 2018        Author: 
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On 2 February 2018, the International Court of Justice issued a landmark judgment on compensation for environmental damages in Certain Activities Carried Out By Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua), Compensation Owed by the Republic of Nicaragua to the Republic of Costa RicaThe ICJ’s decision was followed shortly thereafter on 9 February 2018 by a significant Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR), declaring the fundamental importance of the right to a healthy environment to human existence and States’ corollary obligations to protect human rights through marine environmental protection in the Greater Caribbean region (summary report of the Advisory Opinion in English found here, while the full text of Colombia’s request for advisory opinion on this question can be found here). The 2 February 2018 ICJ Compensation Judgment follows its 16 December 2015 Judgment declaring Nicaragua liable for activities in Costa Rican territory, such as the excavation of three caños and establishment of military presence in said territory (see my previous comments on evidentiary approaches in this 2015 Merits Judgment here.)

While both the 2 February 2018 ICJ judgment on compensation and the 9 February 2018 IACtHR Advisory Opinion signify the central importance of international environmental norms to international human rights law, the methodological approaches taken by the World Court and the regional human rights court for Latin America reveal some sharp differences between these tribunals.  In adjudging compensation for environmental damages caused by Nicaragua to Costa Rica, the ICJ took a rather ‘incrementalist’ approach to quantification and empirical proof for every head of damage asserted – a methodologically ambiguous and context-sensitive approach which is not easily replicable for future environmental cases, given the complex nature of environmental damages in any given dispute.  The ICJ did not adopt Costa Rica’s theory of an “ecosystem approach” to damage assessment, and neither did it adopt Nicaragua’s position that “replacement costs” be used to estimate environmental damages.  Unlike the IACtHR Advisory Opinion’s broad acceptance of States’ continuing individual obligations towards preventing transboundary harm that could ensue from infrastructure projects in the Greater Caribbean, the ICJ Judgment carefully reduced Costa Rica’s claim of compensation by delineating between Nicaragua’s compensatory duties as part of environmental reparations, and Costa Rica’s own environmental mitigation duties in the presence of foreseeable environmental damage.  These recent developments suggest that, while it is recognized that all States share responsibilities towards environmental protection especially under the precautionary principle, the precise allocation of environmental reparations owed through compensation will not always lie strictly on the side of the State that is the environmental tortfeasor, at least where the ICJ is concerned.

The following subsections summarize the 2 February 2018 ICJ Judgment reasoning on compensation, the 9 February 2018 IACtHR Advisory Opinion, and conclude with some comments on methodologies used for damages assessment and environmental reparations, especially in the thorny form of lump-sum upfront compensation for environmental damage impacting present and future generations.

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EJIL Debate. The Whaling case and the Duty to Cooperate: Responding to Professors Thirlway and d’Aspremont

Published on January 17, 2018        Author: 
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I am puzzled by the very terms of the debate between Professors Thirlway and d’Aspremont for several reasons. First, there is a considerable ambiguity in both Japan’s argument and the Court’s position as to the legal effects yielded by the IWC resolutions. Hence, it is inevitable to have a variation of interpretations. Second, I believe that the determination of the implications of the judgment should not be made dependent on an “objectivised” subjective intention of the Parties or the Court — a task which is no work for legal scholars anyway.

Yet, my main source of puzzlement lies elsewhere. While the focus of Thirlway and d’Aspremont’s debate is on the Court’s position on Article 31 of the VCLT with regards to Japan’s non-assertion to the resolution, I submit that the most ground-breaking part of the judgment is that the Court brought back the legal effect of the resolutions from the backdoor, that is via the concept of ‘the duty to cooperate’. In this post, I would like to draw the attention of the readers to the unique characteristic of the duty to cooperate referred to in the Whaling case, and the possible necessity for a new conceptual framework. In particular, I argue, neither the logic of sources nor the logic of interpretation can sufficiently explain what the Court did with the duty of to cooperate. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Debate. A Reply to Thirlway: I am not Thinking From the Bench

Published on January 16, 2018        Author: 
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Being the object of a public rebuttal in an highly visible on-line blog platform by a prominent author like Professor Thirlway probably constitutes the most generous reward one can receive for “burning the midnight oil“. This also provides a fate for one’s work that is much better than the oblivion and indifference to which most of scholarly outputs are condemned in today’s academic pathologically prolific scene. This is why I could not be more grateful to Professor Thirlway for his comments on my article. Our repeated public debates these last years (for another example, see here) remind me that we share many areas of interest (sources, international dispute settlement, responsibility, etc) but also confirm that our views are simply — and thankfully — irreconcilable. In this short reaction, I want to respectfully show that our views diverge on the structure of legal argumentation related to sources and interpretation (1) as well as on the purpose of international legal scholarship (2).

Saving the Court through opposability

The reading of the judgment of the International Court of Justice (hereafter ICJ or the Court) in the Whaling in the Antarctic case which I have articulated in the European Journal of International Law and with which Professor Thirlway takes issue can be summarized as follows: the Court blurred the lines between the doctrine of sources and the doctrine of interpretation (and the modes of legal argumentation associated with each of them) by calibrating the interpretive value of IWC resolutions for the sake of interpreting the notion of ‘scientific approach’ in Article VIII of the Whaling Convention on the basis of Japan’s assent to those resolutions. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Debate: A whale or a weasel? The Antarctic Whaling case, and a reply to Professor d’Aspremont (Part II)

Published on January 16, 2018        Author: 
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Part II of a two-part post in the discussion of Jean d’Aspermont’s article, ‘The International Court of Justice, the Whales, and the Blurring of the Lines between Sources and Interpretation‘.

 

What did Japan say – and what did it not say? [Cont.]

[…]

What then does this single reference given tell us? What was Japan’s argument?  The text preceding the footnote states that in its Counter-Memorial Japan argues that resolutions of the kind under consideration ‘are not binding, and, therefore, irrelevant for the interpretation of Article VIII’ (d’Aspremont, p.1016). The Chapter of the Counter-Memorial quoted is however more limited: it is addressed to refutation of Australia’s argument that the resolutions rank as ‘subsequent agreement’ or ‘subsequent practice of the parties’ for purposes of Article 12 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (an argument which was, as already noted, to be rejected by the Court). Japan’s argument on the point is in no way novel; and the question of Japan’s consent is not central, and not stressed. It is merely present in the reference to the need, under the terms of Article VI of the Whaling Convention, for consensus, if a resolution is to be anything more than a non-binding recommendation. It is hard to see any invocation of the doctrine of sources here.

Nor is there anything recognisable as reliance on sources in the oral argument of Japan, or even any emphasis on the lack of Japan’s lack of assent. In that argument the IWC resolutions were first dismissed (rather casually), not on the basis of lack of assent, but on the grounds that they were obsolete or superseded (see Boyle in CR 2013/15, pp. 54-55). Emphasis was laid on the freedom of a State to disregard resolutions of international bodies that merely recommend (see Pellet in CR 2013/16, pp.53-54, citing Judge Lauterpacht in Voting Procedure [1955] ICJ Rep 114-115), but with no reference to the lack of Japan’s consent as the reason for purely recommendatory status. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Debate: A whale or a weasel? The Antarctic Whaling case, and a reply to Professor d’Aspremont (Part I)

Published on January 15, 2018        Author: 
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Part I of a two-part post opening the discussion of Jean d’Aspermont’s article, ‘The International Court of Justice, the Whales, and the Blurring of the Lines between Sources and Interpretation‘.

The article by Professor Jean d’Aspremont, ‘The International Court of Justice, the Whales, and the Blurring of the Lines between Sources and Interpretation‘, is directed to the decision of the International Court of Justice in the case of Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan; New Zealand intervening) but is, in a number of ways, an unexpected commentary on that decision. The author concentrates his attention on what would seem to be a rather minor aspect of the controversy between the parties, and leaves aside all other elements of the case. He then builds on that point, an analysis of the parties’ arguments, and of the Court’s conclusions on the point, which, one suspects, both the parties and the Court would have great difficulty in recognizing as their own. The result is that Professor d’Aspremont appears to be criticising a wholly suppositious thesis, a chimera of his own construction, rather than the judgment actually delivered.

This criticism centres around what in the title of the article is called a ‘blurring of the lines between sources and interpretation’. In fuller terms, the distinction is between, in the first place, the ‘doctrine of sources’, which is ‘what allows norms and standards to be formally anchored in a legal order and generate therein the highest form of legal effect – that is, bindingness’ (p.1028). Against this, Professor d’Aspremont identifies a ‘doctrine of interpretation’: ‘legal relations between subjects of an international order can also be affected by interpretative effects’, which result from ‘an act of interpretation that is constrained not by the doctrine of sources but rather a doctrine of interpretation’(ibid.). This formulation, apparently unobjectionable, subsequently proves, however, to generate unnecessary problems, to be examined below. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Debate: Jean d’Aspremont’s Article on the Blurring of Interpretation and Sources in the ICJ Case on Whaling in the Antarctic

Published on January 15, 2018        Author: 
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The blog is happy to announce that over the next few days, we will host a discussion of Jean d’Aspremont’s article, ‘The International Court of Justice, the Whales, and the Blurring of the Lines between Sources and Interpretation‘. The debate will open this afternoon with Professor Hugh Thirlway’s reaction to  d’Aspremont’s article. We will continue the discussion tomorrow with Jean d’Aspremont’s response. On Wednesday, Maiko Meguro will bring the debate to a close with her reaction to the argumentative framework of ‘logic of interpretation’ and ‘logic of sources’ put forward by Professor d’Aspremont in his EJIL article and discussed by Hugh Thirlway in his rebuttal.

d’Aspremont’s article, which was published in the European Journal of International Law in November 2017, argues that the idea that the doctrine of sources enjoys a monopoly on the tracing of bindingness and does not directly constrain the interpretation of those standards and norms that it validates has been seriously eroded by the International Court of Justice in its 31 March 2014 judgment concerning Whaling in the Antarctic. d’Aspremont contends that the Court comes very close to calibrating the interpretive effects of the resolutions of the International Whaling Commission through the doctrine of sources. He explains, how this blurring between sources and interpretation is most unsettling given the efforts that the Court had invested, over the years, in consolidating two distinct doctrines – the doctrine of sources and the doctrine of interpretation.

We are grateful to all of the participants for agreeing to have this discussion here. Readers are invited to join in- comments will of course be open on all posts.

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