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Home Archive for category "Law of the Sea"

Canute’s Kingdoms: Can small island states legislate against their own disappearance?

Published on February 20, 2019        Author: 
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It was recently drawn to my attention that Tuvalu and Kiribati have in recent years passed legislation, following a relatively common scheme, that removes reference to the low tide line as the baseline for measuring maritime zones and replaces it with a system of fixed geographic coordinates. (The Marshall Islands has taken a somewhat similar approach.) On its face, this may constitute a claim that their maritime baselines are permanently fixed. That is, they will not retreat or be redrawn with rising sea levels.

This might seem a small matter in the range of legal issues implicated by climate change – it is not.

As every public international lawyer probably recalls, at least after the South China Sea arbitration, an island (within the meaning of article 121 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea) generates a full suite of maritime zones but must be more than a mere rock incapable of sustaining human habitation or a maritime feature which is only above water at low tide. Imagine your national territory is composed of a series of islands, some of them quite small but generating extensive maritime zones. Long before you risk becoming completely “de-territorialised” by rising sea levels you might lose much of your national livelihood if islands previously generating exclusive economic zones become mere low tide elevations.

So the question becomes, can a state freeze the baselines from which its maritime zones are projected? 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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The Kerch Strait Incident: Law of the Sea or Law of Naval Warfare?

Published on December 3, 2018        Author: 
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On Sunday 25 November 2018 Russian coast guard patrol boats, including the Don and the 630-ton Izumrud, first intercepted and later fired on three Ukrainian naval ships near the entrance to the Kerch Strait. Two Ukrainian sailors were injured, the Ukrainian ships seized and the crews arrested. The attack has been roundly condemned in the United States and around the world.

The Russian ships intercepted two Ukrainian Gyurza-M-class artillery boats, Berdyansk and Nikopol and a tugboat, Yany Kapu, as they sailed toward the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. Russian forces seized the vessels and arrested 24 crew members. The Don twice rammed the tugboat and the Russian vessels opened fire on the two smaller Ukrainian warships. The incident occurred in the territorial sea along the approaches to the Kerch Strait, which is bordered in the east by Russia and in the west by Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. The Russian government stated that its forces fired only after the Ukrainian ships violated articles 19 and 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerning innocent passage in the territorial sea.

Exploring the legal circumstances of the incident requires selection between peacetime rules of the law of the sea and the law of naval warfare, which applies to international armed conflicts. This post concludes that the actual incident on the water is part of a continuing aggression by Russia against Ukraine, in violation of the UN Charter. While unlawful as a matter of the jus ad bellum, the incident would be a lawful in bello use of force by Russia in accordance with the law of naval warfare, notwithstanding Russia’s unlawful invasion of Crimea in 2014 or subsequent unlawful treatment of the Ukrainian sailors as common criminals rather than prisoners of war. In this case the law of naval warfare is lex specialis and supplants mutatis mutandis the peacetime rules of the international law of the sea for Russia and the Ukraine.

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The 2018 Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean: A Primer

Published on October 26, 2018        Author: , and
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On 3 October 2018, the five Arctic Ocean coastal States (Canada, Denmark (acting on behalf of Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Norway, Russia, and the United States – the ‘A5’) together with China, the European Union (EU), Iceland, Japan, and South Korea (which together with the A5 form the so-called ‘A5+5’) signed the Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean (CAOF Agreement or CAOFA) in Ilulissat, Greenland. In this post, we provide a brief introduction to the CAOFA, highlighting a number of salient issues which we discuss in much greater detail in a forthcoming article (V.J. Schatz, A. Proelss & N. Liu, The Agreement to Prevent Unregulated High Seas Fisheries in the Central Arctic Ocean: A Critical Analysis (2019) International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law).

Background

The CAOFA’s raison d’être is summarized in the preamble of the Agreement:

Recognizing that until recently ice has generally covered the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean on a year-round basis, which has made fishing in those waters impossible, but that ice coverage in that area has diminished in recent years;

Acknowledging that, while the central Arctic Ocean ecosystems have been relatively unexposed to human activities, those ecosystems are changing due to climate change and other phenomena, and that the effects of these changes are not well understood; […]

Believing that commercial fishing is unlikely to become viable in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean in the near future […]

In line with what the preamble states, the objective of the CAOFA is:

to prevent unregulated fishing in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean through the application of precautionary conservation and management measures as part of a long-term strategy to safeguard healthy marine ecosystems and to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of fish stocks (Article 2).

Indeed, the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean (CAO) has previously not been subject to a comprehensive regional fisheries agreement. As shown on the map below (own copyright), only the southern tip of the CAO falls within the Convention Area of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). Other relevant regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) and arrangements (RFMAs) lack either a geographical or substantive mandate for comprehensive fisheries regulation in the CAO. On the other hand, the global legal regime for high seas fisheries applies to the CAO. The A5 admitted as much in their 2008 Ilulissat Declaration by expressing support for the existing global framework provided by “the law of the sea [as] a solid foundation for responsible management by the five coastal States”. The most important global instruments, which are also expressly referred to in the CAOFA’s preamble, are the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement (UNFSA) and the 1995 Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Law of the Sea
 

Insights from the Bifurcation Order in the Ukraine vs. Russia Arbitration under Annex VII of UNCLOS

Published on September 6, 2018        Author:  and
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By Procedural Order of 20 August 2018 (“Bifurcation Order”), the arbitral tribunal established under Part XV and Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in the “Dispute Concerning Coastal State Rights in the Black Sea, Sea of Azov, and Kerch Strait (Ukraine v. the Russian Federation)” ordered a bifurcation of the proceedings so that Russia’s preliminary objections concerning the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction ratione materiae will be examined in a preliminary phase  prior to the merits (see also this statement by Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs). This development brought with it some much needed transparency in the arbitration instituted by Ukraine against Russia on 16 September 2016, since the written submissions of both parties remain confidential. What appears from the public statements of Ukraine’s government (here and here), is that Ukraine is claiming that Russia violated Ukraine’s rights under UNCLOS with respect to Russian activities in the Black Sea, the Sea of Azov and Kerch Strait, in particular, involving issues such as the seizure and exploitation of oil fields on Ukraine’s continental shelf, usurpation of fisheries jurisdiction off the coast of Crimea, issues of navigation through Kerch Strait, the construction of Kerch Bridge and related structures, and the conduct of studies of archeological and historical sites in the Black Sea.

The Bifurcation Order discusses (and cites from) a variety of the parties’ arguments concerning jurisdiction ratione materiae, several of which inevitably disclose some of the parties’ substantive positions. With respect to Russia’s request that the arbitral tribunal “adjudge and declare that it is without jurisdiction in respect of the dispute submitted to this Tribunal by Ukraine”, it should be recalled that, under Article 288(1) UNCLOS, the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction is limited to “any dispute concerning the interpretation or application of [UNCLOS]”. As Russia’s request to decline jurisdiction is not confined to specific issues or narrow questions of fact or law, it appears that Russia is challenging the arbitral tribunal’s jurisdiction in its entirety. The Bifurcation Order lists six separate preliminary objections. Read the rest of this entry…

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Irregular migration after the Aquarius incident: moving beyond the law. A reflection on Fink and Gombeer

Published on July 5, 2018        Author:  and
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Introduction

Last month, EJIL: Talk! published a piece by Fink and Gombeer on the legality of Italy and Malta’s recent failure to provide a safe haven to a rescue vessel Aquarius. Essentially, the authors concluded that the refusal by these states to open their harbours is ‘regrettable, at the very least, but not necessarily unlawful.’ On their view, for the reasons elaborated in their analysis, neither the law of the sea nor human rights law have been ‘evidently’ breached. It follows that these two branches of law, in the context of ‘Aquarius-like incidents’, provide rather no avail to asylum seekers; in other words: law has its own limits.

The fate of Aquarius and her passengers is yet another example of an endless list of scenarios where people from predominantly war-torn, repressed or impoverished territories often attempt to irregularly cross international borders; a large number of them seeking help, safety and a better life. This and similar events illustrate not only that the handling of the arrival of asylum seekers, especially in Europe, has fostered multiple crises, but also that irregular migration will not cease to occur. Hence, the need for a long-term, responsible and visionary solution is evident.

Fink and Gombeer reflect de lege lata, and their diagnosis is valid and all the more relevant nowadays, de lege ferenda, as the governance and management of migration is largely being reformed, on multiple levels, precisely to address contemporary challenges and expectations. Among others, the European Union (EU) attempts to reform its migration and asylum policy, predominantly the so-called Dublin system, and the United Nations (UN) is expected to adopt its Global Compact on Migration by late 2018.

Having read Fink and Gombeer’s analysis, we cannot help but reflect on their main conclusion in light of these reforms. These authors basically identify a ‘gap’: the law has its own limits. We, in turn, reflect further on filling the said ‘gap’. We ask what can be done to overcome the limitations of law in order to ensure more holistic protection of asylum seekers?

Read the rest of this entry…

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The Aquarius Incident and the Law of the Sea: Is Italy in Violation of the Relevant Rules?

Published on June 27, 2018        Author: 
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On 10 June, Italy refused Aquarius, a rescue vessel operated by the German NGO SOS Méditerranée, access to its ports and the disembarkation of more than 600 rescued migrants on Italian territory. This decision of the Italian authorities has elicited a considerable amount of criticism, both by European governments (Malta, Spain, France) and by the academic world (eg, this statement by a group of Italian lawyers). The post by Melanie Fink and Kristof Gombeer offers a valuable review of the incident and sheds light on various issues raised mainly with respect to maritime law and human rights law. Although Aquarius arrived safely in Valencia a week later, on Sunday 17 June, there are serious concerns that this was just the beginning of similar incidents, particularly in view of the announcement of the Italy’s new Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini that this would be Italy’s new policy for NGO vessels rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean. Indeed, there have been reports of another similar denial of access to ports on the part of Italy, which markedly displays the growing importance of this issue. These incidents are just another link in the chain of the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe and, to no surprise, the EU called an Informal working meeting on migration and asylum issues on 24 June in preparation of the European Summit on 28 June regarding migration issues.

This post addresses the international law of the sea applicable to incidents like Aquarius, specifically questions relating to the closing of ports, the disembarkation question and the ordering or warning of vessels not to enter the territorial sea. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Aquarius incident: navigating the turbulent waters of international law

Published on June 14, 2018        Author:  and
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Between Saturday 9 June and Sunday 10 June, 629 migrants were rescued from overcrowded boats in the Central Mediterranean in search and rescue (SAR) operations carried out by NGOs and the Italian navy. They were taken on board by the Aquarius, a rescue vessel operated by the German NGO SOS Méditerranée and flying the flag of Gibraltar. On Sunday, the Aquarius was on its way to Italy, whose Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) had coordinated the operations. Around 35 nautical miles off the southern coast of Italy, Italian authorities ordered the Aquarius to stop. Italy refused the Aquarius access to its ports and prohibited disembarkation of the rescued migrants on Italian territory. This, Italy’s new Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini announced, would be Italy’s new policy for any NGO vessel rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean.

Italy’s instructions ‘manifestly go against international rules’, Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat tweeted on Sunday night, but then himself denied the ship to dock in the port of Valletta. Malta in turn, Muscat claimed, was thereby acting in full compliance with international law. For another 24 hours, the Aquarius remained on stand-by, floating between Malta and Italy. Maltese and Italian vessels supplied the Aquarius with water and food, but neither of them gave in by offering safe haven.

On Monday, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced that Spain could facilitate disembarkation of all 629 rescued individuals in the port of Valencia. When it appeared that this journey would be too dangerous for passengers and crew of the Aquarius and the Valencia-plan seemed off the table again, Italy offered its ships to facilitate safe passage to Spain.

This whole episode raises a broad variety of questions, but one stands out: Are Italy and Malta violating international law by not allowing the Aquarius to find a safe haven in one of their ports? Two legal regimes are particularly relevant in this respect: the law of the sea and international human rights law. As we argue, neither provides much clarity in relation to Aquarius-like incidents. Read the rest of this entry…

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Taking the party line on the South China Sea Arbitration

Published on May 28, 2018        Author: 
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I recently posted here on the extraordinary 500-page “Critical Study” of the Awards in the South China Sea Arbitration published by the Chinese Society of International Law (CSIL) in Oxford University Press’ Chinese Journal of International Law.

The piece drew a number of interesting comments, the most interesting from Professor Bing Ling of the University of Sydney:

This Critical Study is not some spontaneous work by individual academics, but clearly a government-orchestrated project produced in the name of a learned society. The Working Report of the Board of CSIL (2013-18) reports that the work of CSIL, including the Critical Study, was carried out “under the supervision and leadership of the Foreign Ministry” (https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Xv8Kij_bDuqMETULvUfMqg).

That CSIL Working Report makes for interesting reading in Google Translate. It opens with:

In the past five years, under the guidance of the socialist ideology with Chinese characteristics in the new era of Xi Jinping, the current council has united and led the members to work together under the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to earnestly implement the spirit of the 18th and 19th National Party Congress and the Party Central Committee … [including through] adherence to the correct political direction …

In terms of the five years of work the first heading is “Serving the State’s Foreign Affairs and Foreign Affairs Bureau to Promote the International Influence of the Society” and achievement (A)(II) is listed as:

Actively respond to the “Southern Gulf [sic] arbitration case proposed by the Philippines”. From 2016 to 2018 , the Society made a multi-level, multi-channel and multi-perspective speech by organizing domestic and international seminars, writing reports, publishing series of articles, publishing special issues, receiving television interviews, and writing criticism reports. They refuted and exposed the Philippine arbitral tribunal for the South China Sea arbitration case to expand powers, ultra vires, and abuse of power. … Including: 1. Organization of domestic experts and scholars, organized the “Philippine South China Sea Arbitration” academic seminar. 2. Organize domestic experts and scholars to write a report on the “Arbitral Tribunal of the South China Sea Arbitration Court has no legal effect” report and publish it in both Chinese and English; 3. Organize domestic experts and scholars to write a “Critique of the South China Sea Arbitration Award” report in both Chinese and English publishing.  … (Emphasis added.)

A further important piece of context is the following passage:

… [W]e always adhere to the overall situation of serving the country’s diplomacy and foreign affairs. Diplomatic foreign affairs work is an important part of the overall work guilof the party and the country. The work of international law teaching research and associations is also an important component of foreign affairs. In the past five years, the Institute has guided the Chinese international law community to focus on the research direction of the focus of diplomatic work. It closely identifies the actual needs of diplomatic work when organizing various academic conferences to determine the theme of the conference, and effectively plays a role as a bridge between the theoretical and practical world of international law. Under the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Society has always adhered to the mission of the National Foreign Affairs and Foreign Affairs Center, paid close attention to the evolution of the international situation, strengthened theoretical and empirical studies of international law in related fields, and scored a series of important achievements. In particular, in 2016, the Society mobilized the academic community to cooperate with the overall deployment of diplomacy to carry out the juridical struggle and actively responded to the “Philippine South China Sea Arbitration Case” in various ways, effectively refuting and exposing the unlawful practices of the temporary arbitration tribunal. (Emphasis added.)

Allowing for the vagaries of Google Translate, this five year Working Report raises a number of interesting questions including:

  • Given the close association of the CSIL and the Chinese Foreign Ministry – and the apparent integration of the CSIL into the diplomatic effort on this issue – should Foreign Ministry “leadership” of the Critical Study have been acknowledged in a first footnote?
  • Did the CSIL’s self-professed “mobiliz[ation of] the academic community” have any impact (directly or indirectly) on the peer review process for the Critical Study?
  • OUP lists the Chinese Journal of International Law as “An independent, peer-reviewed research journal edited primarily by scholars from mainland China, and published in association with the Chinese Society of International Law, Beijing, and Wuhan University Institute of International Law, Wuhan …” Should that description make some acknowledgement of the seemingly close links between the CSIL and the Foreign Ministry?

In addition, the editorial board includes a substantial number of distinguished scholars who are resident outside China. It would be interesting to know how many of them were involved in the editorial decision-making and peer review process which has resulted in what could potentially be seen as a 500 page government-commissioned or -vetted report being published in a scholarly journal.

If anyone would wish to correct auto-translated passages, please let me know.

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A new twist in the South China Sea Arbitration: The Chinese Society of International Law’s Critical Study

Published on May 25, 2018        Author: 
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On Monday 14 May 2018 the Chinese Journal of International Law, an Oxford University Press journal, published an extraordinary 500 page “Critical Study” of the Awards on jurisdiction and the merits in the South China Sea Arbitration between the Philippines and China. Readers will recall the case was brought under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) by the Philippines against China and that there was an awards on jurisdiction in 2015 and a final award on the merits in 2016 (discussed in many places including here, here, here, here and here). The Critical Study was produced by the joint efforts of some 70 scholars and is listed as having been authored by the Chinese Society of International Law (CSIL). It examines almost every issue raised in the case – and several that weren’t – and concludes the Tribunal was catastrophically wrong on every single point, right down to how many times the Philippines was allowed to amend its pleadings.

The extent to which the Critical Study manages to strike a temperate and balanced tone towards the Awards made by the arbitral tribunal is summed up in the introduction:

“These awards are not conducive to solving the dispute between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea; instead, they have complicated the related issues. They have impaired the integrity and authority of [UNCLOS], threaten to undermine the international maritime legal order, run counter to the basic requirements of the international rule of law, and also imperilled the interests of the whole international community” [para 5].

Like pirates, the Tribunal members it seems are close to hostes humani generis and their award a threat to international legal order. The other blow to any semblance of academic neutrality in the book-length Critical Study is the one issue it studiously chooses not to address: China’s refusal to participate in proceedings. The Critical Study, while challenging almost every other paragraph of the award is entirely silent as to the Tribunal’s plainly correct finding that China – even if it disputed jurisdiction – was bound by its voluntary membership of UNCLOS to participate in proceedings. Further, UNCLOS makes clear China was bound by the result of such proceedings, even in the event of non-appearance. Indeed, this is why in UNCLOS cases where the UK and France disputed jurisdiction, for example, they have nonetheless shown up to make the argument.

In any event, the Critical Study raises a number of very interesting questions both in terms of the legal arguments it makes and in the simple fact of its existence. In the remainder of this (unfortunately long) post I would like to offer some brief and necessarily initial observations on following issues:

  • First, what is the significance of the critical study as an intervention in the debates about the South China Sea award, and what does it tell us about Chinese approaches to international law?
  • Second, is there any merit to the substantive legal arguments advanced by the Critical Study? (And what do these arguments tell us about Chinese approaches to international law?) I will put aside here the issues of both jurisdiction and the legal definition of islands capable of generating significant maritime zones (on which reasonable minds have differed) and focus on arguments regarding Chinese historic rights in the South China Sea and whether the Spratley Islands can be considered an archipelago.

  Read the rest of this entry…

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