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What on Earth is Happening to Space Law?

Published on July 31, 2018        Author: 
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In 2015 and 2017, respectively, the United States of America and Luxembourg enacted bills granting property rights on resources collected in outer space. The potential beneficiaries of these laws are hi-tech companies investing in the exploration and exploitation of space resources. Even though robotized mining of precious metals, rare earths and other raw materials on the Moon or on near-Earth asteroids is said to be at least 20-25 years away, an economy of space resources is already developing at a brisk pace. The stakes are in fact high: mining a few large asteroids may change world market conditions for some crucial raw materials. One may be tempted to see these new developments as intimations, not only of a new space race, this time driven by private actors, but also of the space law to come – and possibly as an occasion to let space law flow back into the main stream of international legal scholarship.

Space law began to take shape as a branch of public international law some time around the late 1950s. In the next two decades it struggled to define its identity by analogy with the law of the sea and the legal regimes of other remote places (yet not as remote) like Antarctica or the deep ocean seabed. The law-of-the-sea analogy has always been a powerful motif in the making of and theorizing about the law of outer space. But it is also potentially misleading, as Rolando Quadri was ready to point out in 1959. Epitomized by the adoption in 1979 and subsequent failure of the Moon Agreement, space law’s arrested development left it with an uncertain, coarse-grained legal ontology that compares unfavourably to that of the law of the sea. While the latter distinguishes between low-tide elevations, islands, and uninhabitable rocks, space law works with an inchoate notion of ‘celestial body’ encompassing anything between the Sun and the tiniest asteroid. The legal status of space resources, both living and non-living, is likewise uncertain and no agreement has as yet been reached as to the exact boundary between airspace and outer space, let alone on the limits of humanity’s jurisdiction to prescribe or on protocols governing the encounter with other sentient beings. Tomorrow’s spacefarers will not be leaning over a legal void. It is clear, though, that some rethinking of the fundamentals is required, as well as some change.

Unilateral initiatives like those recently taken by the US and Luxembourg may well set in motion processes of legal change, no matter if these States describe their acts as fully compliant with the existing law of outer space. Although understandable as a matter of diplomatic tactics, this defensive stance is nonetheless based on a disputed interpretation of the law in force (for overviews and detailed analyses of the different positions see Pop, Tronchetti, De Man, Jakhu et al.Su and Hofmann).

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Is Ukraine a “Stranger” to the EU? OPAL Case

Published on August 28, 2017        Author: 
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In their recent contribution to the Global Trust Working Paper Series, Professor Eyal Benvenisti and Dr. Sivan Shlomo Agon raise one conspicuous, though rarely asked, question within a broader topic of state sovereignty in a globalised world. They wonder how sovereign decision-making powers can be restrained in the face of interests of “strangers”, i.e. third countries, as well as natural and legal persons, to which the effects of national policies “radiate” without allowing them to hold the decision-makers politically accountable. The authors make the first proposition that:

“international courts can and in fact do play a role in promoting the duties of states towards strangers affected by their policies, thereby alleviating some of the democratic and accountability deficits associated with globalization” (p.2).

Their second proposition is that international courts have developed ways to account for the “interests of affected others from within and outside” their host systems. Both propositions are then tested against the ample practice of the WTO dispute settlement system.

The article echoes well in the universe of “global administrative law” (GAL), i.e. a normative paradigm promoted by Professor Benvenisti which introduces practices of accountability (transparency, good process, reasoned decision-making, and basic legality) in what would otherwise be a non-democratic process of global administration. (For early conceptualizations of GAL, see the EJIL’s symposium issue).

The article is also provocative as it resonates far beyond the ambit of the WTO law. The present note offers to look for the advanced propositions in a group of energy-related cases currently pending before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU).

Admittedly, international energy law is rarely scanned for general international law trends and patterns. This may be due to the highly technical complexity of the underlying field of study, combined with the traditional view of energy as a nation state prerogative (recall General Assembly resolution 1803 (XVII) of 14 December 1962 “Permanent sovereignty over natural resources”). Yet, the intensity of present-day energy cooperation, spurred by critical socio-economic and even geopolitical needs, has effectively isolated exclusively national areas of regulation (e.g., access to upstream energy resources) and produced a layer of new, inherently international rules of community building. Read the rest of this entry…

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Philippines v China: first thoughts on the Award in the South China Seas Case

Published on July 12, 2016        Author: 
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Any international lawyer looking at a news site in the last few hours will have seen that the final award has been handed down at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Philippines v China dispute brought under the UN Convention on the Law Sea Annex VII procedure. The arbitral tribunal’s decision is simply historic. While Philippines has lost on a number of smaller points, the scale of its win overall is much greater than most commentators were expecting.

What follows is a very preliminary comment – and I stress that faced with a 500 page decision I may well revise my views later. It is also more in the nature of an explainer than a deep dive on any of the many legal questions already highlighted below. (This is also an excessively long post, for which I apologise.) However, on a first, quite brief, examination the tribunal has attempted to be meticulously fair to China and has applied the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea strictly and thoroughly. It has delivered a result which was, by and large, predictable.

James Kraska of the US Naval College has summarised the key holdings as:

  • the nine dash line has no basis in law,
  • there are no islands in the disputed area within the meaning of Article 123, UNCLOS,
  • China has interfered in the Philippines’ EEZ; and
  • China’s actions have aggravated the dispute.

I would add to this list three matters. First, the Tribunal has concluded that Mischief Reef is a low tide elevation over which no State can claim sovereignty or possession. This means it is simply a maritime feature within the Philippines exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Chinese island-building activities there are thus not merely without legal effect but are in violation of the sovereign rights of the Philippines.

Second, it has found that China has breached various obligations under UNCLOS regarding the protection and preservation of the marine environment by having caused severe and irreparable harm to coral reef ecosystems in its construction of artificial islands in the South China Seas.

Third, international tribunals normally bend over backwards to avoid findings of bad faith against a state. That is, one cannot act in bad faith without violating some other substantive right. So most tribunals consider it sufficient to stop at determining that a right or duty has been violated. This tribunal has found China violated Article 300 of UNCLOS: the duty to act in good faith. This is an extraordinary rebuke and a clear indication that the law of the sea dispute resolution system will not be cowed by the posturing of the superpower. As a matter of principle, it takes a principled stand on the supremacy of the rule of law. As a matter of pragmatism, it flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that angering China over this dispute could jeopardise the stability of the law of the sea system.
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The Philippines v. China Arbitral Award on the Merits as a Subsidiary Source of International Law

Published on July 12, 2016        Author: 
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“Great Game” politics in the Asia-Pacific has just changed irrevocably, especially for all parties, claimants, and affected constituencies in the South China Sea, after the Annex VII UNCLOS arbitral tribunal released its 12 July 2016 Award in Republic of the Philippines v. People’s Republic of China (Permanent Court of Arbitration Case No. 2013-19).  While we will be featuring posts over the coming days on this award that dissect and analyze the award, its international legal significance, and its larger geopolitical consequences for all claimants to the South China Sea dispute and third-party actors (such as the United States), for now, a close read of all 479 pages of this arbitral award reveals it to be an extremely rich and fertile piece of international jurisprudence, one that will certainly have far-ranging doctrinal impacts as an international judicial decision that is also an authoritative subsidiary means for determination of the international law rules under UNCLOS, especially on questions such as the:
1) normative weight of “historic rights” and differentiating the same from “historic title” and “historic rights short of sovereignty”, and clarifying what could still possibly amount to historic rights that States could still validly assert within the UNCLOS treaty regime;

2) authoritative criteria for determining the existence of low-tide elevations (LTEs), noting that the legal consequences of which were not completely settled in the International Court of Justice’s judgment in Qatar v. Bahrain;

3) objective criteria for the authoritative interpretation of Article 121 UNCLOS;

4) objective and subjective criteria for testing the lawfulness and unlawfulness of a coastal State’s asserted ‘enforcement’ activities; and the

5) objective or scientific factors that could be taken into account to determine the existence of actionable environmental damage to the marine environment under Articles 192 and 194 UNCLOS.

Interestingly, the arbitral tribunal did not assume jurisdiction in this case over the interpretation of “military activities” within the meaning of Article 298 of UNCLOS, which the Philippines had asserted in regard to various military and paramilitary incidents with China over Second Thomas Shoal. It would be interesting to see, in the coming days, how the United States reacts to this development, since it has frequently insisted on the prerogative of the coastal State to make the authoritative determination of what “military activities” could be justifiably excluded from compulsory dispute settlement under UNCLOS Article 298(1)(b).

The evidentiary rules and fact-finding procedures of this tribunal will also, I suspect, also provoke considerable commentary, if not critique, since the tribunal drew heavily from numerous statements, published views, and opinions that were attributed to the respondent in this case. One can also expect questions to be raised on why the respondent never chose to participate in the proceedings if only to challenge jurisdiction, to contest the veracity or authoritativeness of the Philippines’ technical, environmental, hydrographical, and other expert submissions under protest, or to otherwise set its own narrative, instead of permitting China’s narrative to be formed from the tribunal’s reconstruction of innumerable media statements and statements of officials.

Clearly, this award has greater consequences beyond China’s repeated refusal to recognize it (at least for now). As a subsidiary means for determining international law, it is conceivably difficult for any of the claimants – the Philippines included – to ignore the legal effect of this ruling and its impact on all future steps to be undertaken in the actual maritime boundary delimitation negotiations. The ruling will likely affect the landscape of interpretation for the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties to the South China Sea, and the ongoing work agenda of the ASEAN-China Working Group on the Code of Conduct for the Parties to the South China Sea. Whatever the stated preferences may be of China or the new Duterte administration in the Philippines, and regardless of objections to the veracity of factual findings of the tribunal, the very existence of the Philippines v. China arbitration award as a subsidiary means for determining the rules of international law arguably changes the very scope and interpretation of actual applicable law to be considered by parties to this dispute.

We look forward to featuring a broad spectrum of views from various international lawyers and scholars on this landmark arbitral award, as we track contemporaneous developments in the Asia-Pacific region, and invite further discussion especially on next steps ahead for the actual disputes between the claimants on maritime boundary delimitation. Read the rest of this entry…

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Trade Agreements, EU Law, and Occupied Territories (2): The General Court Judgment in Frente Polisario v Council and the Protection of Fundamental Rights Abroad

Published on December 11, 2015        Author: 
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This is a follow-up to my July post on Action for Annulment Frente Polisario v Council (Case T-512/12), a case before the General Court of the European Union (GC) in which Frente Polisario – the National Liberation Movement for Western Sahara – seeks the Annulment of the EU Council decision adopting the 2010 EU-Morocco Agreement on agricultural, processed agricultural and fisheries products. The GC delivered its judgment yesterday, both recognizing the standing of Frente Polisario and granting the (partial) annulment of the decision, with implications for EU-Morocco relations and for EU external relations law more broadly.

(1) Standing of Frente Polisario under Article 263 TFEU

As regards standing, the most striking aspect of the judgment is that the Court accepted the Frente’s entitlement to plead as a ‘moral person’, with the ‘necessary autonomy’ to challenge a decision of the EU legislator (paras. 50-53), without reference to the sui generis character of Frente Polisario or to the unique situation of Western Sahara. This would seem to open the door for other ‘autonomous entities’, even those with no claim to international legal personality, to challenge EU decisions under Article 263 TFEU.

By the same token, the Court fell short of recognizing the Frente’s legal personality under international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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Trade Agreements, EU Law, and Occupied Territories – A Report on Polisario v Council

Published on July 1, 2015        Author: 
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Speaking of occupied territories, an interesting judgment should soon come from the General Court of the European Union (GC) in Action for Annulment Frente Polisario v Council (Case T-512/12), a case with fascinating international law aspects. I attended the hearing last week and think it warrants a report.

Frente Polisario is a national liberation movement (NLM) that claims sovereignty for Western Sahara – the area between Morocco and Mauritania that has been on the UN list of non-self-governing territories since 1963, and in 1975 was the subject of a fairly inconclusive ICJ Opinion. The Frente sees Morocco as an occupying power, and challenges the EU Council decision approving the 2010 EU-Morocco Agreement on agricultural, processed agricultural and fisheries products. Given that the 2010 Agreement is a development of the 2000 EU-Morocco Association Agreement, the decision will have significant implications for the application of the latter agreement, and may thwart negotiations of the so-called “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement”.

These agreements are all silent on the question of what constitutes Moroccan territory. However, Frente Polisario claims, de facto Morocco has been applying the 2000 Association Agreement to Western Sahara. If applied the same way, the 2010 Agreement will facilitate the export to the EU of agricultural products grown in Sahrawi land and fish caught in Sahrawi waters. If Morocco’s control of Western Sahara is illegitimate, this would violate the right of the Sahrawi people to self-determination and to permanent sovereignty over their natural resources.

The case raises a number of interesting questions:

Standing of NLMs

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The Continental Shelf Delimitation Agreement Between Turkey and “TRNC”

Published on May 26, 2014        Author: 
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nicholasioanNikolaos A. Ioannidis is a PhD candidate in Public International Law at University of Bristol.

Last month, Turkey submitted a note verbaleto the Secretary-General of the United Nations setting out the geographical coordinates of its continental shelf in the Eastern Mediterranean, as established by a delimitation agreement with the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” (“TRNC”). The agreement was signed on 21 September 2011 and ratified by the Turkish government on 29 June 2012. A map published by the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs depicting the agreement is pictured below. (The reasons why the “TRNC” is in quotation marks will be elaborated below.) By transmitting this document to the UN Secretary-General, Turkey sought to achieve the publication of the agreed coordinates in the Law of the Sea Bulletin (LSB), where official submissions by states regarding the law of the sea are published. Although Turkey has not acceded the UN Law of the Sea Convention (‘LOSC’), it acted in accordance with article 84(2) LOSC (due publicity of charts or lists of geographical coordinates regarding continental shelf delimitation). Nonetheless, the submission of Turkey was not listed as an official deposit on the website of the Department of Oceans and the Law of the Sea (DOALOS).TRNC

The Turkish approach on the regime of islands

The delimitation agreement outlines some of Turkey’s longstanding positions on the law of the sea. It deals only with the continental shelf and does not provide for the delineation of an exclusive economic zone (EEZ). While there is nothing precluding coastal states from choosing which maritime zones to claim and/or to delimitate, Turkey’s choice not to delimit an EEZ with the “TRNC” alludes to the Turkish position that islands in certain regions (implying the Aegean Sea) should not be entitled to claim maritime zones of their own other than territorial sea or should have reduced capacity to generate such zones. This stance was formulated in the context of the dispute between Turkey and Greece concerning sovereignty over the maritime space of the Aegean Sea;  since the 1970s, Turkey has sustained that the Aegean islands are situated on the continental shelf of Anatolia (Turkey) and, consequently, do not have a continental shelf of their own. This matter was an apple of discord between the Turkish and the Greek delegations over the course of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (‘UNCLOS III’). In the end, by virtue of article 121(2) LOSC, the Conference recognised the rights of islands to generate maritime zones. Article 121 LOSC reflects customary law (ICJ, Nicaragua v Colombia (2012), para 139) and, accordingly, applies to non-states parties as well.

Turkey’s resentment at the provisions on the regime of islands was one of the reasons it voted against and has not yet acceded to the LOSC (see Plenary Meetings 160 and 189). For the sake of clarity, it should be pointed out that when it comes to maritime delimitation, the maritime space an island can claim may be diminished depending on the circumstances (see, e.g., Anglo-French Arbitration 1977, Tunisia v Libya 1982, Black Sea Case 2009, Bangladesh/Myanmar 2012). Therefore, although in principle islands are not deprived of the rights bestowed on them by article 121 LOSC, they may not always be granted full effect in maritime boundary delimitations. However, islands cannot be denied their capacity to generate maritime zones and/or to be given decreased effect a priori;each case should be scrutinised according to its own unique terms. In any event, the Turkish argument that the Greek islands in the Aegean are located on the continental shelf of Turkey has been severely emaciated by the introduction of the EEZ concept and the prevalence of the “distance criterion” of maritime delimitation over the “geological” one. The distance criterion provides that the breadth of the maritime space afforded to a state should be calculated according to a fixed distance measured from the coast. The geological criterion, by contrast, would permit a state to claim the sea waters lying over the “natural prolongation” of its territory irrespective of the distance from its coastline. In the Nicaragua v Colombia case (2012), the ICJ put an end to the argument that one state’s islands cannot have their own continental shelf because they are located on another state’s continental shelf:

“The Court does not believe that any weight should be given to Nicaragua’s contention that the Colombian islands are located on “Nicaragua’s continental shelf”. It has repeatedly made clear that geological and geomorphological considerations are not relevant to the delimitation of overlapping entitlements within 200 nautical miles of the coasts of States.” (para 214).

The delimitation agreement

According to its well-established position that islands should not have the capacity to claim extended maritime zones when facing a bigger coastline, Turkey holds the view that Cyprus, being an island, has lesser effect in terms of maritime delimitation than the longer Turkish coastline, which is opposite the northern coast of Cyprus. Hence, as the agreement provides, the continental shelf delineation was carried out in accordance with equitable principles, resulting in a delimitation line closer to Cyprus at some points, which gives Turkey a more extensive maritime space than that allocated to the “TRNC”. Turkey was a fervent advocate of the equitable principles/relevant circumstances method during UNCLOS III, vehemently rejecting the median line/special circumstances method (UNCLOS III, Negotiating Group 7). The “equitable principles” method, which was elaborated in the 1969 Continental Shelf cases, stipulates that all relevant factors should be considered in order to reach an equitable result; however, the Court gave no further guidance as to how such an equitable result would be reached, rendering this method equivocal. Read the rest of this entry…

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Mackerel War Called Off?

Published on April 9, 2014        Author: 
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In November 2013 we wrote about a remarkable WTO dispute initiated by Denmark against the EU (The ‘Mackerel War’ Goes to the WTO). The case is remarkable because it has pitted one EU Member state against the other 27. Denmark, a member of the EU, brought the case “in respect of the Faroe Islands” which are part of Denmark, but not of the European Union.

The dispute concerns fishing quotas jointly managed by the Faroes, Iceland, Norway, Russia, and the EU under the Atlanto-Scandian Herring Management Arrangements. In annual negotiations, the parties decide on the division of the total allowable catch (TAC). In 2013 parties were unable to reach agreement, largely due to refusal to accommodate the Faroe Islands request for a larger part of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC).

When the Faroe Islands unilaterally decided to increase their catch, the EU responded by prohibiting import of herring and mackerel from the Faroe Islands. Denmark then brought a WTO dispute as well as arbitration proceedings under Annex VII of UNCLOS. In its request for consultations to the WTO, Denmark claimed the EU’s response to be in breach of GATT Article I:1, V:2 and XI:1. Denmark also reserved its rights under UNCLOS.

The parties have recently settled their dispute in respect of mackerel. On 12 March 2014, the Faroe Islands, Norway and EU concluded a joint arrangement for the conservation and management of the North East Atlantic mackerel stock for the next five years. The arrangement allocated 13% of the TAC between the parties (not including Russia and Iceland) to the Faroe Islands. This is a sizeable increase compared with the 5% that had been previously allocated to the Faroese, and the proportion is set to increase again next year.

The WTO dispute, however, is centered on herring, whereas the new agreement only deals with mackerel. Pending an agreement on herring, the WTO complaint and the UNCLOS Annex VII arbitration continue, and EU Regulation 793/2013, establishing sanctions against the Faroe Islands, remains in force. Read the rest of this entry…

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Evidence in Environmental/Scientific Exceptions: Some Contrasts between the WTO Panel Report in China-Rare Earths and the ICJ Judgment in Whaling in the Antarctic

Published on April 7, 2014        Author: 
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Rare earths imageTwo significant international decisions involving environmental protection claims were issued within the last few days of March 2014.  On 26 March 2014, a World Trade Organization (WTO) Panel issued its Report in China-Measures Related to the Exportation of Rare Earths, Tungsten, and Molybdenum (hereafter, China-Rare Earths), which held, among others, that “China may not seek to justify the export duties it applies to various forms of rare earths, tungsten, and molybdenum [pictured above left, credit] pursuant to Article XX(b) [exception for measures “necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health”] of the GATT 1994.” (Panel Report, para. 8.11b)  On 31 March 2014, the International Court of Justice issued its Judgment in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan: New Zealand intervening) (hereafter, the Whaling case) where the Court held, among others, that “the special permits granted by Japan in connection with JARPA II [Japanese Whale Research Programme under Special Permit in the Antarctic Phase II] do not fall within the provisions of Article VIII, paragraph 1 [, of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.” [Judgment, para. 247(2)].  In China-Rare Earths, China sought to justify export duties that facially violated Paragraph 11.3 of China’s Accession Protocol to the WTO, by essentially alleging that these duties were justifiable as measures “necessary to protect human, animal, or plant life or health” within the purview of Article XX(b) of GATT 1994.  In the Whaling case, Japan sought to justify JARPA II as a programme “undertaken for purposes of scientific research and is therefore covered by the exemption provided for in Article VIII, paragraph 1, of the [International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling].” (Judgment, para. 49).  While both decisions contain rich analyses of numerous issues of treaty interpretation, one can also look at significant methodological contrasts between the ICJ and the WTO Panel on the treatment of scientific evidence and assignment of evidentiary burdens for the environmental/scientific issues in each case.

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