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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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ICJ Elections 2017: UN General Assembly and Security Council Elect Four Judges to the ICJ But fail to Agree on a Fifth, yet again! + Trivia Question

Published on November 11, 2017        Author: 
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On Thursday (Nov. 9), the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council elected four judges to the International Court of Justice (see UN Press Releases here and here). Judges Ronny Abraham (France), the incumbent President; Abdulqawi Yusuf (Somalia), the incumbent Vice-President; and Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade (Brazil) were all re-elected. Nawaf Salam who is currently the Permanent Representative of Lebanon to the United Nations was also elected to the Court for the first time. They were elected in accordance with Articles 4 and 8 of the Statute of the ICJ which stipulate that judges are to be elected by the General Assembly and the Security Council meeting separately but concurrently. For a candidate to be elected each judge has to obtain an absolute majority in each of those organs, meaning that they need 8 votes in favour in the Security Council and, in 2017, 97 votes in the General Assembly. There are regular elections to the ICJ every three years, with five vacancies each time around. In the election held on Thursday, the General Assembly (GA) and the Security Council (SC) have, thus far, been unable to agree on the fifth judge to be elected to the Court, and voting has been suspended until Monday November 13. This scenario of the GA and SC being unable to agree in a single “meeting” (a term which has a special meaning for this purpose) on the list of Judges that are elected to the Court is relatively rare in the history of elections to the ICJ. However, that scenario has now occurred for a third successive time (after the events in 2011 and 2014 which I describe in the previous posts here and here).

This 2017 election has been particularly remarkable for a number of reasons. There were only six candidates for the five positions. However, and this is rare, all five judges whose terms were expiring had been nominated for re-election. What is perhaps most remarkable about this election, at least thus far, is that Judge Christopher Greenwood, the judge of British nationality, was not re-elected in the first “meeting”. The two remaining candidates for re-election, who must now fight it out on Monday are Judge Greenwood and Judge Bhandari (India), both sitting judges on the Court. Were Judge Greenwood not to be re-elected on Monday this would be a very significant break from the past with regard to the composition of the ICJ. Read the rest of this entry…

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Populist International Law? The Suspended Independence and the Normative Value of the Referendum on Catalonia

Published on October 12, 2017        Author: 
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In his speech before the Catalan regional parliament on 10 October 2017, the Catalan President Carles Puigdemont suspended a declaration of independence but stated that the referendum of 1st October gave the Catalans a mandate for creating a sovereign state. This post examines whether this assertion is borne out by international law. I submit that neither the Catalans and their leaders nor the central government act in an international law-free zone.

A declaration of independence would not violate international law

The International Court of Justice, in its Kosovo opinion of 2010, found that a unilateral declaration of independence does “not violate general international law” (para. 122) ─ if such a declaration is not “connected with the unlawful use of force or other egregious violations of norms of general international law, in particular those of a peremptory character (jus cogens)” (para. 81; see also paras 84, 119-121 on non-violation). The ICJ in that Opinion inverted the legal question placed before it (which had been whether the declaration of independence was “in accordance with international law” (para. 1)). The Court had also shied away from saying anything meaningful on secession (as opposed to the speech act of declaring independence). In result, the Advisory Opinion came out as a parsimonious if not meagre restatement of the law.

Disproportionate use of force (police and military) is prohibited by international law

However meek, the Kosovo Advisory Opinion is relevant for Catalonia also with regard to the prohibition on the use of force. The Court here said that “unlawful use of force” would taint a declaration of independence and make it violative of international law (para. 81), but did not say when such resort to force would indeed be “unlawful”. Also, the ICJ did not say whose use of force although it probably had the separatists themselves in mind. Read the rest of this entry…

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