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Home Archive for category "Law of the Sea"

The ‘Open Arms’ case: Reconciling the notion of ‘place of safety’ with the human rights of migrants

Published on May 21, 2018        Author: 
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The work of the NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean Sea has been the subject of much controversy. One of the most recent cases regards the NGO Proactiva Open Arms: it has been accused of smuggling migrants during rescue operations at sea, and its rescue ship was impounded by the Italian authorities. This post examines the decision issued on 16 April 2018 by the pre-trial judge of Ragusa (Sicily) that ordered the release of the Open Arms vessel.

The relevance of this case is twofold. It obliquely tackles the legitimacy of the ‘pull-back’ agreement between Italy and Libya, as part of which the two states agree to collaborate with the aim of returning migrants to Libya, and which was recently challenged before the European Court of Human Rights (see this previous EJIL:Talk! post). Secondly, the decision, despite being just a pre-trial order, offers interesting insights into a contested area of international law which is gaining increase salience, i.e. the intersection between the Law of the Sea and the human rights of migrants.

This post argues that the order issued on 16 April is an important step forward in the definition of the notion of ‘place of safety’. International law merely states that people rescued at sea shall be delivered to a ‘place of safety’, but provides no definition of it (3.1.9. of the International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue 1979, “SAR Convention”). The decision by the judge in Ragusa interprets ‘place of safety’ in accordance with the human rights of migrants, and rightly overcomes inappropriate distinctions based on migrants’ statuses. Read the rest of this entry…

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China leans in on international adjudication: Why Beijing’s answer to defeat will be more forceful engagement

Published on May 2, 2018        Author: 
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This year China might suffer the third in a string of stinging defeats at international tribunals that would then cover trade, investment, and law of the sea matters. Contrary to persistent expectations in some policy circles, China’s leaders will not opt for withdrawal. They have resolved to make existing mechanisms work for China, and shape global governance by doubling down on engagement. In line with different degrees of Chinese integration into these systems, Beijing will respond by ratcheting up litigation (trade), upgrading bilateral treaties (investment), and pushing for favourable state practice through diplomacy (law of the sea). The international community will have to deal with a newly powerful legal actor who is very much on the offense.

Failure and Frustration

In two ways, trade law could this year deliver the third bombshell setback in China’s recent engagement with international adjudication. Firstly, there is China’s soon to be decided WTO complaint against the EU’s retention of a distinct (although modified) antidumping methodology for (states like) China. A similar case against the United States is in the consultation stage. Beijing had expected that its Accession Protocol would deliver automatic ‘market economy status’ including more favourable antidumping treatment 15 years after it joined the WTO.

Secondly, a major trade law standoff is unfolding between China and the US, involving the mutual adoption of tariffs and filing of WTO complaints, which could come to a head this year. The US filed a complaint on China’s protection of intellectual property (IP) rights alleging TRIPS Agreement violations. At the same time, the US Trade Representative (USTR) proposed tariffs following a Section 301 US Trade Act of 1974 investigation into Chinese IP practices. Beijing already responded with a WTO complaintalleging that such tariffs would violate the GATT, and its own list of proposed tariffs. Less crucially, China initiated another case alleging GATT and Safeguards Agreement violations through US tariffs on steel and aluminium products.

Previously, giant life insurer Ping An became the first Chinese company to lose an investment arbitration, when its $1 billion claim against Belgium over the Fortisbank nationalization was rejected in 2015. A year later, China suffered an almost total defeat against the Philippinesin an Annex VII UNCLOS law of the sea arbitration on South China Sea issues in July 2016.

Such setbacks trigger angry reactions in China against allegedly biased international institutions that might never give China a fair shake. Many commentators decried China’s supposed second-class membership in the WTO, when the EU decided against granting market economy status, while recent US trade actions are termed severe violations and ‘typical of unilateralism and trade protectionism’ by the Chinese government. Chinese officials were stunned when the investor in Ping Anlost over the ‘technicality’ of whether to rely on the older or the more recent bilateral investment treaty (BIT) between China and Belgium. Following the South China Sea case, it was mooted that Beijing could ‘denounce’ the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to be safe from other states’ attempts to ‘exploit’ the system ‘for political reasons’.

Doubling Down

Yet China is not going to withdraw, and Western governments, as guardians of the current system, will be surprised by how forcefully it will instead lean in to shape existing legal regimes. Tools will differ, but trade litigation, investment treaty making and law of the sea diplomacy to influence state practice serve the same purpose: align the rules further with China’s interests.

This effort is part of the more assertive foreign policy outlined by China’s president Xi Jinping, who just consolidated his power at the First Session of the 13th National People’s Congress. In a major shift, Xi has declared that China will no longer just participate in the international system, but provide ‘guidance’ towards a ‘new international order’. A recent treatise in the People’s Daily confirmed the ambition to seize the ‘historic opportunity’ to shape a new order while US policies under President Trump leave a leadership vacuum.

An underestimated driver of such strategic decisions is a policy elite of Chinese international lawyers who overwhelmingly favour playing offense. Prominent academics and legal counsels to the Chinese leadership have argued that with WTO dispute resolution, just showing up is half the battle. They have called for China to develop the litigious ‘mind set’ and investment treaty framework to go with its new status as major global investor. Lastly, they want China to go around the South China Sea award and influence the law of the sea by shaping state practice through diplomacy.

Bespoke Strategies

After China was refused ‘market economy status’, its Ministry of Commerce immediately struck back at the EU with a complaint at the WTO. Should it now lose the case, its appeal will already be prepared, as will be fresh complaints tackling the broader issue from different angles. At the same time, Beijing encourages Chinese companies to more proactively ‘prove’ to regulatory agencies abroad that they operate under market conditions, and contest adverse decisions at local courts.

Similarly, the Chinese government very quickly responded to recent (partly only proposed) US tariffs, with two fresh complaints. The current overall dispute with Washington will see a Chinese leadership that is more open to negotiated solutions than on antidumping methodology. Should there be any adverse decisions, though, China would again immediately appeal and file further complaints.

Flanking its litigation strategy, China continues massive diplomatic lobbying. Firstly, this serves to gain recognition as a market economy. More than 80 countries have already complied by explicitly providing such recognition, and FTA negotiations in line with theBelt and Road Initiative are to increase that number. President Xi has called for hastened implementation of China’s free trade strategy to strengthen its position in writing global trade rules, after failed Western efforts with TPP and TTIP left the field open.

Secondly, Beijing is actively portraying itself as defender of the WTO trade regime against a protectionist Trump administration onslaught. While many governments share US concerns about IP rights in China, Beijing uses (potential) US tariff implementation without WTO decisions, especially where broadly targeted such as on steel and aluminium, to position itself as the better trade citizen. China’s aim is not only to offset pressure concerning domestic legal changes, but also to shape future coalitions of states in international trade law reform (or rather in blocking reform where existing frameworks suit China).

On investment law, the investor’s defeat in Ping An spurred the Chinese government to quickly improve its investment treaties and seek influence on global investment rules harmonization. Beijing wants to get new investor-friendly treaties in place that include improved transitional clauses, and grant broad access to international arbitration, as well as, quite unusually, appellate bodies. Chinese lawyers argue that such mechanisms may improve legal predictability, but perhaps more importantly they would give the Chinese side another chance in case of defeat.

Wanting to make use of the full arsenal of available measures, the Chinese leadership also acts on the multilateral level. On the path towards a common worldwide investment law system that looks more like the WTO in the trade area, Beijing seeks to set the agenda and touts the ‘Guiding Principles for Global Investment Policymaking’, adopted at the 2016 G20 Summit in Hangzhou, as a first step. The non-binding principles are infused with Chinese wording and interpretations of principles such as legal predictability, transparency, and effective dispute resolution.

Finally, in the third issue area of the law of the sea, after the stunning loss on South China Sea claims, Beijing decided to undermine the award’s authority with a diplomatic push to underline contradictory state practice. Chinese officials aim to prevent the arbitrators’ restrictive interpretations of ‘historic rights’ and ‘island’ status from becoming international customary law. They point out, for example, that the United States and Japan use tiny rocks to make extensive maritime claims, and lobby states worldwide to support China’s interpretation of its islands’ entitlements. Some scholars point out the potential for further UNCLOS implementation agreements(as on deep seabed mining), which could clear up ambiguity in terms favourable to China and override the tribunal’s decisions.

While China may strictly reject compliance with the South China Sea award, it needs UNCLOS to protect its interests and gain influence on maritime governance. Beijing aims to secure a large UNCLOS-sanctioned continental shelf in the East China Sea, based on favourable geography vis-à-vis Japan. It wants Chinese companies to be in a prime position for the coming International Seabed Authority-sanctioned mining bonanza under the high seas worldwide, and it intends to have a seat on the table regarding Arctic governance issues. Indicative of its strategic choice to shape the system from within, China now adopts more UNCLOS-like language for its South China Sea claims and backs away from the ‘Nine-dash Line’.

The Future of China and International Law

So, in a nutshell, what should we expect China to do? Its approach has already evolved considerably. The focus shifted from the international legal order’s ‘hardware’ – joining institutions and equipping them with Chinese judges and staff – to its ‘software’. Now the Chinese leadership wants more influence on the treaties and customary law behind the system. In a parallel process, once it feels confident enough in a particular field, China gradually but inevitably boots up participation at court.

Prominent voices in China, including Prof. Yi Xianhe, member of the Foreign Ministry Consultative Committee on International Law, have argued that China must be a ‘leader country’ on international law, if it is to consolidate economic and political gains. That includes actively engaging with international tribunals. Such statements represent an emerging consensus among Chinese international lawyers that forward-leaning engagement will on balance be a positive for China, and the best protection of its national interests.

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Understanding the Use of Zones and the Concept of Proportionality: Enduring Lessons from the Falklands War

Published on December 13, 2017        Author: 
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On 2 April 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands (alternatively, the Islas Malvinas). The resulting conflict lasted 74 days and claimed the lives of 255 UK military personnel and 652 Argentine servicemen. The conflict raises a myriad of legal issues but at its core is the issue of sovereignty (here). However complicated the issue, disputes over sovereignty did not legally authorise the Argentine invasion (see UNSCR). This post will not go over the vexed issue of sovereignty but will instead focus on two select issues relating to the conduct of hostilities. The Falklands War has largely receded from thought but lingering doubts over the legality of a Total Exclusion Zone (TEZ) established by the UK and its torpedoing of the Belgrano endure. By focusing on the issue of zones and the concept of proportionality this post will seek to provide clarity to two often misunderstood areas of law that are of vital importance to contemporary military operations.

The UK Total Exclusion Zone

A few days after the Argentinian invasion the UK issued a notice indicating that, from 12 April 1982, a Maritime Exclusion Zone (MEZ) would be in force, extending 200 nautical miles from the centre of the Falklands. On 28 April, the UK declared a TEZ that encompassed the same geographical area as the MEZ but was broader in scope regarding ratione personae.  In essence, the TEZ stated that any ship or aircraft entering the TEZ that was not authorised to be there by the UK Ministry of Defence was deemed to be operating in support of the occupation, regarded as hostile, and therefore liable to attack. Read the rest of this entry…

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Repressing Migrant Smuggling by the UN Security Council and EU Naval Military Operation Sophia: Some Reflections on Jurisdiction and Human Rights

Published on November 3, 2017        Author: 
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On 5 October 2017, the UN Security Council through S/RES/2380 (2017) renewed for the second time the enforcement powers that S/RES/2240 (2015) granted to states in order to fight migrant smuggling and human trafficking off the coast of Libya.

In a previous blog post that I wrote here in October 2015, I concluded by wondering what the effects will be of S/RES/2240 (2015) and by questioning, from several standpoints, the use of military action against migrant smugglers and human traffickers and in the overall management of the migrant crisis.

These UN Security Council resolutions provide the legal basis for the EU naval operation mandated with the task of disrupting the business model of migrant smugglers and human traffickers in the Southern Central Mediterranean: EU NAVFOR MED Operation Sophia. Established in 2015 by Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/778, its mandate has been renewed until 31 December 2018.

Criticisms of Operation Sophia are widespread and concerns over its failure to meet its objectives and its human rights implications are no secret (see among others Meijers Committee and Not so Humanitarian after All). On the occasion of the second renewal of the S/RES/2240 (2015), it’s time to take a closer look at Operation Sophia’s results, at the legal shortcomings of the web of legal instruments regulating its actions, and the various consequences these have had. Read the rest of this entry…

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Part II: Analysis of Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean

Published on October 20, 2017        Author:  and
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An overview of the Ghana/Côte d’Ivoire judgment is provided in the first part of this post. The purpose of this second part is to highlight issues of practical significance which flow from the judgment.

In two important ways, the Ghana/Côte d’Ivoire judgment has demonstrated the functionality of dispute resolution processes under Part XV of UNCLOS, both in the context of maritime delimitation disputes and more generally.

Consistency with international delimitation jurisprudence

First, the ITLOS Special Chamber evidenced a desire to contribute to the development of consistent delimitation jurisprudence, and confirmed that the ‘equidistance/relevant circumstances method’ is now standard in a delimitation process – regardless of whether the coasts of claiming States parties are opposite or adjacent to one another. Importantly, it adhered to the three-step methodology identified and employed by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Black Sea. It did so by drawing a provisional equidistance line between the relevant coasts, considering the factors which might warrant adjustment of that line, and then applying an ex-post facto (dis)proportionality test to verify that the delimitation line was equitable. Notably, the Special Chamber maintained consistency with recent maritime delimitation jurisprudence by underscoring the primacy of criteria associated with coastal geography (concavity, coastal length, etc.) and ignoring factors related to offshore oil activities or the presence of seabed resources in the relevant area. Read the rest of this entry…

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Part I: Analysis of Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean

Published on October 19, 2017        Author:  and
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On 23 September 2017, the Special Chamber of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) rendered an award in Ghana/Côte d’Ivoire. It is only the second case, following the Guyana/Suriname Arbitration of 2007, in which an international adjudicating body has ascertained the meaning and scope of Articles 74(3) and 83(3) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) within the context of unilateral oil and gas operations in disputed areas.

The Special Chamber delimited the parties’ territorial sea, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf boundaries within and beyond 200 nautical miles (nm) with the boundary being an unadjusted equidistance line favouring Ghana. Other key questions for adjudication were a) Ghana’s claim regarding a long-standing, tacit agreement as to the existence of a maritime boundary and b) Côte d’Ivoire’s allegation that, by continuing with oil activities in the disputed area, Ghana had violated its Article 83(1) and (3) UNCLOS obligations to negotiate in good faith and to make every effort through provisional arrangements not to jeopardise or hamper arrival at an agreement.

In its judgment, the Special Chamber reached a number of conclusions which, taken with its Order for the prescription of provisional measures of 25 April 2015, will have significant, practical implications for the future conduct of unilateral oil and gas activities in disputed maritime areas, as well as for the associated rights and obligations incumbent upon States concerned. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Commentary on the Maritime Delimitation Issues in the Croatia v. Slovenia Final Award

Published on September 15, 2017        Author: 
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I. Introduction

An arbitral tribunal, constituted under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, issued its final and unanimous award in the Croatia v. Slovenia case on 29 June 2017. The arbitration concerned a territorial and maritime dispute between Croatia and Slovenia. This post will focus on the maritime delimitation issues. The present post will deal with the Arbitration Agreement of 2009 (“AA”) (II), the Junction Area (III), and the maritime boundary (IV) in turn. The questions of contamination of the proceedings and the annulment of inter-state arbitral awards have caused a series of controversies. These fall outside the scope of this post and have already been dealt with by Alison Ross and Peter Tzeng respectively. These issues were determined by the reconstituted arbitral tribunal in its partial award rendered on 30 June 2016.

II. The Arbitration Agreement of 4 November 2009

The dispute between the Parties was submitted to arbitration in accordance with an Arbitration Agreement signed by the parties on 4 November 2009 in Stockholm (Annex HRLA-75, Final Award), and witnessed by the then Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, since Sweden then held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union (“EU”). The Arbitration Agreement is unique because it is the first intra-state arbitration agreement of its kind to be drafted under the auspices of the EU, despite the fact that this is not the first occasion where an international organisation was involved in such a task. [See for example the signature for specific purposes of the World Bank of the Indus Waters Treaty 1960, between India and Pakistan, although that treaty is much more complex and not just a simple arbitration agreement (see Article IX and Annexure G). See also for example the involvement of the African Union, the UN and a few EU member states in the drafting of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement 2005, which was witnessed by the Minister of Development Co-operation of the Netherlands on behalf of the EU, paving the way for the drafting of the Abyei Arbitration Agreement 2008, which was eventually signed by the government of Sudan and the Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement Army only. Brooks Daly has written more on the procedural aspects of the Abyei arbitration.]

The brokering of the Arbitration Agreement by the EU is reflected in Article 9, which requires Slovenia to “lift its reservations as regards the opening and closing of negotiation chapters where the obstacle is related to the dispute”. This was an important provision for Croatia’s accession to the EU. It is to be noted that Slovenia had already been a member of the EU for approximately 5 years at the date of signature of the arbitration agreement, as it had acceded to the EU on 1 May 2004. On the other hand, on the date of signature of the Arbitration Agreement, Croatia was on the path to accession, which was to last for another 4 years, as it eventually became an EU member state on 1 July 2013.

There are two other points worth mentioning regarding the 2009 Arbitration Agreement. First, the applicable law as set out in Article 4 is unusual. The “rules and principles of international law” were applicable to determining the course of the maritime and land boundary (Article 3(1)(a)). International law, equity and “the principle of good neighbourly relations in order to achieve a fair and equitable result” were applicable to determining Slovenia’s junction to the High Sea and the regime for the use of the relevant maritime areas (Article 3(1)(b) and (c)). This is probably a rare instance of the principle of good neighbourly relations for the achievement of a “fair and just result” being encountered in a modern Arbitration Agreement. While it is doubtful whether such a principle could count as a “general principle of law recognised by civilized nations” within the meaning of Article 38(1)(C) of the Statute of the International Court of Justice, it might be regarded as similar to a requirement to determine a case ex aequo et bono under Art. 38(2) of the ICJ Statute. The inclusion of this source of “applicable law” is a curious addition, which can probably be explained by the fact that it was a product of negotiations under the auspices of the EU.

The second point worth mentioning regarding the Arbitration Agreement is that one of the tasks of the arbitral tribunal, as per Article 3 (b)-(c), was to determine “Slovenia’s junction to the High Sea” and “the regime for the use of the relevant maritime areas”. This is a peculiar insertion, and apparently led the arbitral tribunal to determine that starting point of the present arbitration was not whether Slovenia should have a junction to the high sea, but rather where the junction would be and what would be the package of rights given to Slovenia over that area. Read the rest of this entry…

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Itamar Mann Concludes the Discussion on “Humanity at Sea”

Published on August 7, 2017        Author: 
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This symposium brought together four of my favorite scholars to engage with Humanity at Sea, and I couldn’t be more thankful. I learned a great deal from each of the reviews and entirely agree with Jaya Ramji-Nogales when she writes, in an understatement, that they leave me with “ongoing questions to address.” I will only begin to lift the burden here.

The Place of Human Rights  

If human rights are to be conceptualized around a dyadic encounter, asks Chantal Thomas, must this encounter be a physical one? “Perhaps the horrific reports of Mediterranean crossings on television or in other media might stage a form of virtual encounter […] that serves as the catalyst for generating human rights.” In the book, I try to provide a starting point for approaching such questions.

Chapter 5 examines the use of surveillance systems and other technologies both by states engaged in “migration management”– and by migrants, refugees, and smugglers. Using such technologies, relevant actors re-construct and manipulate the physical encounter at sea (which is discussed in previous chapters). They are thus able to partake in the transformation of human rights jurisdiction. Since I completed the book, the use of these technologies has developed quickly and there are many more examples to discuss: Read the rest of this entry…

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Review of Itamar Mann’s ‘Humanity at Sea’

Published on August 4, 2017        Author: 
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Itamar Mann’s Humanity at Sea is bold, engaging, and wide-ranging. Perhaps most importantly, it is not afraid to confront standard clichés about the conceptual underpinnings and normative architecture of international refugee law and international human rights law. In addition to specifically legal sources, it marshals a wide range of materials from a number of disciplines, particularly moral and political philosophy, in order to develop an original argument about the centrality of the refugee “encounter”—the physical and symbolic meeting between those seeking protection and those empowered to accept or reject them—to the nature of human rights generally.

On Mann’s account, human rights are non-positive norms of universal value or implication; they cannot be reduced to the rights and duties enumerated in conventional human rights instruments, whether domestic or international. Far from being ineffective or of merely marginal significance, they are one of the two “foundations” of international law, the other being sovereignty. Read the rest of this entry…

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Human Rights Adrift from Natural Law: A Review of Itamar Mann’s ‘Humanity at Sea’

Published on August 3, 2017        Author: 
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What is the source of human rights law?  Itamar Mann’s new book, Humanity at Sea: Maritime Migration and the Foundations of International Law, offers a thoughtful and original answer to this age-old question.  He suggests that human rights law is neither positive law nor natural law, but rather a “commitment to paradoxically and counterfactually regard some form of imperative as extra-political.” (13)  Mann argues that this imperative originates in a dyadic (rather than collective) encounter with the presence of another person, presenting the “universal boatperson” to illustrate this concept. (12-13)

The book is structured as a series of rich case studies, which Mann utilizes exceptionally effectively.  Through exegesis and context, he provides new understanding of and insights into familiar situations and cases, including the stories of Jewish displaced persons traveling to Palestine, refugees fleeing Vietnam by boat, Haitians pursuing protection in the United States, and African migrants seeking safety on the shores of Europe.  We see here both the political theorist and the human rights reporter in action, drawing in the reader with detailed and fascinating stories, and drawing out the theoretical implications in provocative new ways.  Read the rest of this entry…

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