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Home Archive for category "Jurisdiction"

Non-Precluded Measures Clause: Substance or Procedure? A comment on Certain Iranian Assets

Published on March 6, 2019        Author: 
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On 13 February 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its Judgment on the preliminary objections raised by the US to Iran’s claims in the Certain Iranian Assets case. The dispute involves the exercise of jurisdiction over Iran by US courts and the seizure of assets of Iranian state-owned companies to satisfy those court’s judgments. According to Iran, these actions are in breach of the US obligations under the 1955 Iran-US Treaty of Amity. The background to the case and the Court’s recent decision have been analysed elsewhere (see, eg, here). In this post, I want to comment on one specific element of the Court’s reasoning: its decision in relation to the US objection based on Article XX(1) of the Treaty of Amity.

Article XX(1) states, in relevant part, that:

The present treaty shall not preclude the application of measures …

(c) regulating the production of or traffic in arms, ammunition and implements of war, or traffic in other materials carried on directly or indirectly for the purpose of supplying a military establishment; and

(d) necessary to fulfil the obligations of a High Contracting Party for the maintenance or restoration of international peace and security, or necessary to protect its essential security interests.

The US argued that the function of this provision was to exclude certain matters from the substantive scope of the Treaty, with the consequence that they fell outside the Court’s jurisdiction which is limited, under Article XXI, to disputes relating to the interpretation and application of the Treaty. The Court rejected the US preliminary objection and decided, as it had done on previous occasions, that the provision in question constituted a ‘defence on the merits’ (para 47). This seems to be the right approach: Read the rest of this entry…

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‘Open for Business’: The Special Criminal Court Launches Investigations in the Central African Republic

Published on February 8, 2019        Author: 
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On 22 October 2018, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) held its inaugural session in Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR). Several weeks later, the Special Prosecutor, Col. Toussaint Muntazini, announced his long-awaited prosecutorial strategy. Coming three years after Parliament initially requested a specialist ‘war crimes’ tribunal for CAR, these two acts mark a watershed in the country’s fight against impunity. After providing some background on the SCC, this post examines the prosecutorial strategy and the prospects of accountability in CAR.

The Legal Framework

Established by domestic legislation in June 2015, the SCC is a hybrid tribunal fully integrated into the Central African justice system. It is staffed by national and international prosecutors and judges, and relies on logistical and technical support from the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR. Funded by voluntary contributions, the SCC is functionally independent from both the United Nations and CAR government. Its five-year mandate, which officially began on 22 October 2018, is renewable.

Prosecutorial Strategy

Why did the SCC publicize its prosecutorial strategy? Other tribunals, for instance the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, never made their strategies public (to the extent such strategies existed). The SCC’s decision to ‘go public’ is more in line with the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s practice of adopting formal policies on a variety of matters. Read the rest of this entry…

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The China-Japan and Venezuela-Guyana Maritime Disputes: how the law on undelimited maritime areas addresses unilateral hydrocarbon activities

Published on January 25, 2019        Author: 
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In December 2018, two incidents brought to the fore the importance of the rules addressing activities in undelimited maritime areas.  The first incident occurred between China and Japan in the East China Sea, and the second took place between Venezuela and Guyana in the Atlantic Ocean. Whereas the establishment of maritime boundaries is the optimum choice when it comes to the creation of a stable and secure environment for the conduct of maritime activities, the UN Law of the Sea Convention 1982 (‘LOSC’ or ‘the Convention’) provides for the regulation of operations even in the absence of maritime delimitation. With a view to avoiding tension, Articles 74(3) and 83(3) LOSC impose two obligations upon states having overlapping entitlements/claims in a given undelimited maritime area. This post scrutinises the behaviour of the parties involved in the aforementioned disputes through the lens of the LOSC.

The factual background

On the 3rd of December 2018, Japan protested China’s deployment of a jack-up rig and the drilling of boreholes near the provisional median line between the two states in the East China Sea. In response, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that China was carrying out hydrocarbon activities in waters falling within its jurisdiction and that it does not recognise the provisional median line with Japan.

It is worth mentioning that China has been engaged in hydrocarbon activities in the area since 2003 (a deal on the establishment of a joint development zone reached in 2008 has not been implemented). Furthermore, it is recalled that in 2014 China performed unilateral oil and gas ventures in an undelimited maritime area within 200M of the coasts of Vietnam, triggering the latter’s vehement reaction. China had attempted to justify its activities back then by invoking its claims according to the ‘9-dash line’, a claim which was put in doubt by the Award of the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea (Philippines v China) case (2016). Read the rest of this entry…

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Towards Universality: Activities Impacting the Enjoyment of the Right to Life and the Extraterritorial Application of the ICCPR

Published on November 27, 2018        Author: 
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On October 31st, the Human Rights Committee (HRC) adopted General Comment no 36 on the right to life (GC36, available here) to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR/the Covenant). The Comment includes a number of interesting elements including, the introduction of the right to life as the ‘supreme’ right, and the relationship between the right to life and the environment. This post examines the endorsement in GC36 of the notion of ‘impact’ as constitutive of jurisdiction for the purpose of the extraterritorial application of the Covenant.

Impact as Exercise of Jurisdiction

In para. 63 of GC36, the Human Rights Committee adopts the ‘impact’-approach to the interpretation of Art. 6 in conjunction with Art. 2 (1) of the Covenant:

In light of article 2, paragraph 1, of the Covenant, a State party has an obligation to respect and to ensure the rights under article 6 of all persons who are within its territory and all persons subject to its jurisdiction, that is, all persons over whose enjoyment of the right to life it exercises power or effective control.  This includes persons located outside any territory effectively controlled by the State, whose right to life is nonetheless impacted by its military or other activities in a direct and reasonably foreseeable manner. […]

Readers of this blog will be familiar with the debates on the extraterritorial application of human rights treaties. To quickly recap, the application of human rights treaties Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine v United States: Why the ICJ does not need to decide whether Palestine is a state

Published on November 22, 2018        Author: 
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Palestine’s institution of proceedings against the United States before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has already drawn much attention on this blog (see here and here) and elsewhere. A great deal has already been said on Monetary Gold and admissibility. My post will focus on the Article 34(1) ICJ Statute requirement that ‘[o]nly states may be parties in cases before the Court’. Contrary to some arguments that have been made on this blog and elsewhere, I will argue that for the purposes of Article 34(1) the ICJ does not need to decide whether Palestine is a state, let alone weigh the Montevideo criteria. An entity may be a ‘state’ for the functional purposes of certain treaties and procedures created by those treaties, but such procedures have no implications for the substantive legal status of the entity under general international law. I will also argue that Palestine’s access to these procedural treaty mechanisms is UNESCO membership and not the status of a non-member observer state in the UN.

When a treaty uses the word ‘state’

The ICJ proceedings are only open to states. But this does not mean that the legal status of an entity can be determined as a side-effect of the ICJ’s procedural rules. The logic of such an argument would go as follows: the ICJ can only hear cases between states, so if the ICJ exercises its jurisdiction, the parties in the proceedings must be states. This would be an implicit reading of the requirement contained in an international treaty that an entity be a state. Such implicit readings are not uncommon in international legal scholarship.  We indeed often read in leading textbooks that since UN membership is only open to states, this is the ultimate confirmation that a UN member indeed is a state. Read the rest of this entry…

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Lost in Space? Gaps in the International Space Object Registration Regime

Published on November 19, 2018        Author: 
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Despite having been operational for over 15 years, the satellites NSS-6 and NSS-7 are missing from the United Nations Register of Objects Launched into Outer Space (‘International Register’). Just as we do not accept unregistered cars on our roads, we should not accept unregistered space objects in orbit. Registration ensures that the state responsible for a specific space object can be readily identified, and, if necessary, presented with a claim under the Convention on International Liability for Damage Caused by Space Objects.

For this reason, under the international space object registration regime, all space objects must be registered by a state. So which state is shirking their duty to submit NSS-6 and NSS-7 to the International Register?

The two satellites were built by Lockheed Martin Commercial Space Systems (‘Lockheed Martin’), a United States-based corporation, for New Skies International NV (‘New Skies’), a Dutch corporation. Launch services were provided by Arianespace SA (‘Arianespace’), a French corporation. Both launches took place from French territory. Once in orbit, ownership of the satellites was transferred from Lockheed Martin to New Skies. So at least three states are involved – and the question is which of these states should register NSS-6 and NSS-7 (spoiler alert: I think it’s the Netherlands). This episode is used as a case study to illustrate the ambiguities and gaps that exist in the international space object registration regime. I conclude the post by making a proposal which seeks to find a way to close these gaps. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Road Less Traveled: How Corporate Directors Could be Held Individually Liable in Sweden for Corporate Atrocity Crimes Abroad

Published on November 13, 2018        Author:  and
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On 18 October 2018, the Swedish Government authorized the Swedish Prosecution Authority to proceed to prosecution in a case regarding activities of two corporate directors within Swedish oil company Lundin Oil, and later within Lundin Petroleum, in Sudan (now South Sudan) between 1998 and 2003. The company’s chief executive and chairman could be charged with aiding and abetting gross crimes against international law in accordance with Chapter 22, Section 6 of the Swedish Penal Code. Charges of such kind carry a sentence of up to ten years or life imprisonment. The case has the potential of furthering accountability of corporate actors for their involvement in international crimes abroad.

Lundin’s alleged involvement in international crimes in South Sudan

Sudan was ravaged by a non-international armed conflict which lasted from 1983 until 2005, between the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) – as well as a variety of other armed groups. Meanwhile, beginning with the signing of contracts in 1997, Lundin formed a consortium which carried out oil exploration and production in an oil concession area located south of Bentiu on the West Bank of the White Nile in Western Upper Nile/Unity State called Block 5A in the southern part of the country. According to a report by the European Commission on Oil in Sudan (ECOS), the oil exploration brought exacerbated conditions while setting off a battle for control of the disputed region, leading to thousands of deaths and the forced displacement of local populations – with the Nuer people being the most affected. Additionally, reported crimes against civilians by the Sudanese army as well as associated militias of both parties, include indiscriminate attacks, unlawful killing, rape, enslavement, torture, pillage and the recruitment of child soldiers. The consortium’s interaction with local counterparts has come under criminal investigation after the ECOS report was submitted to Swedish prosecutors in 2010. The long time span of the investigation is at least in part due to on-going conflict in the region in 2013, when the International Office of the Prosecutor had scheduled its visit to South Sudan. Furthermore, the case came with some political connotations since Carl Bildt, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, had served as a member of the Board of Directors of Lundin from 2000 to 2006.

In the United States, a case comprised of a similar set of facts was brought by the Presbyterian Church of Sudan against the Republic of Sudan and Talisman Energy Inc., a Canadian oil company, which commenced its activities in the area one year after Lundin. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held in a judgment of 2 October 2009 that the claimants had failed to establish that Talisman “acted with the purpose to support the Government’s offences”. Under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) the plaintiffs needed to show that “Talisman acted with the – purpose – (one could argue that such mens rea standard had been set unreasonably high) to advance the Government’s human rights abuses”. On 15 April 2010, the plaintiffs petitioned for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court, supported by an amicus curiae submitted by Earth Rights International on 20 May 2010, asking to revert the decision of the Second Circuit. On October 2010 the Supreme Court declined to grant certiorari and respectively to hear the appeal in this case. In contrast to the rather broad universal and extraterritorial jurisdiction provided for in the Swedish Penal Code, the Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, Co. remarkably restricted the application of the ACTA in cases involving allegations of abuse – outside – the United States by finding that presumptively it does not apply extraterritorially. Read the rest of this entry…

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Understanding the State Party Referral of the Situation in Venezuela

Published on November 1, 2018        Author: 
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Since 8 February 2018, the situation in Venezuela has been the subject of an ongoing preliminary examination by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. On Wednesday 26 September 2018, however, a coalition of States Parties to the Rome Statute composed of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru jointly submitted a referral of the situation in Venezuela to the Prosecutor. In this referral, it was requested that the Prosecutor open an investigation into the commission of crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Venezuela under the government of President Nicolás Maduro, beginning on February 12, 2014. This referral, the ninth referral received by the Prosecutor, is not only the first referral to be submitted by a “coalition” of States Parties, but also one (directly) concerning a situation occurring on the territory of another State Party.

Pursuant to article 13 and 14 of the Rome Statute, a referral by a State Party is one of the three triggering mechanisms under which the Court may exercise its jurisdiction. It represents a formal request by a State Party (or in this case States Parties) for the Prosecutor to initiate an investigation on crimes allegedly committed in a situation. Furthermore, it gives the referring State Party the opportunity to present supporting documentation regarding the situation in question. It does not, as explained by the Prosecutor in her response to the Venezuela referral, automatically lead to the opening of an investigation. Instead, as a triggering mechanism, it leads the Prosecutor to apply the statutory criteria to assess whether the referred situation warrants investigation. This process, otherwise referred to as a preliminary examination, entails an evaluation of the criteria set out in article 53(1) of the Statute. In the event that the Prosecutor decides to initiate an investigation on a situation referred to her by a State Party, she is not required to seek authorisation from the Pre-Trial Chamber to proceed.

The legal effect of a State Party referral is therefore limited to three key aspects: it can trigger a preliminary examination by the Prosecutor; it can act as a formal submission of new information vis-à-vis article 14(2); as well as allowing for the initiation of an investigation (if the Prosecutor decides so) without the need for judicial authorization by the Pre-Trial Chamber.

In applying these aspects to the Venezuela referral, it appears that its legal effect is rather limited. Read the rest of this entry…

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Iranian Suit against the US Sanctions and the 1955 Treaty of Amity: Brilliant Plan or Aberration?

Published on September 7, 2018        Author: 
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The Iranian economy is already feeling the effects of the United States economic sanctions that are successively being reinstated following the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on 8 May 2018. In an attempt to save what can be saved, Iran seized the International Court of Justice in July requesting the latter to order and declare that the 8 May and subsequent sanctions are unlawful; that the United States shall stop its threats with respect to the further announced sanctions and that it shall compensate Iran. The claim is accompanied by a request for provisional measures by which Iran seeks to obtain, in particular, the immediate suspension of the sanctions and the non-implementation of the sanctions announced. Last week, both parties met in court for the hearings on the provisional measures request.

Iran has not claimed a violation of the JCPOA but alleges breaches of the Treaty of Amity, Economic Relations, and Consular Rights signed by Iran and the United States in 1955. The reason is simple: neither Iran nor the United States accepts the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ, both states having withdrawn their optional clause declarations. A compromis not being in sight, Iran can only ground the ICJ’s jurisdiction on a compromissory clause. While the JCPOA does not contain such a clause, the Treaty of Amity stipulates in its Article XXI (2) that “[a]ny dispute between the High Contracting Parties as to the interpretation or application of the present Treaty, not satisfactorily adjusted by diplomacy, shall be submitted to the International Court of Justice, unless the High Contracting Parties agree to settlement by some other pacific means.”

The case, and the provisional measures request, raises many interesting questions, including  for example, whether the mainly economic damages alleged by Iran are irreparable as is required for the indication of such measures, and whether the request could possibly pre-empt the decision on the merits. However, this post is uniquely concerned with whether the idea to rely on the Treaty of Amity helps overcome the hurdle of jurisdiction. While the existence of jurisdiction need only be proved prima facie in the provisional measures phase, the Court will at a later stage have to take a definite decision (assuming the case is not dismissed for manifest lack of jurisdiction at the provisional measures stage). One of the most problematic issues is whether the dispute is about the interpretation or application of the Treaty of Amity despite the existence of the JCPOA. If this is the case, invoking the Treaty of Amity was a smart move by Iran.

The Iranian idea can potentially be attacked in two places: the actual scope of the application and the request, as well as the potential inapplicability of the Treaty of Amity. Read the rest of this entry…

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