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Palestine’s Application the ICJ, neither Groundless nor Hopeless. A Reply to Marko Milanovic

Published on October 8, 2018        Author: 
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On Friday 30 September 2018, Palestine introduced an Application before the ICJ against the United States of America for violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), on account of the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is yet another judicial episode of David vs Goliath, like the Military and Paramilitary Activities case (Nicaragua v. US) or the South China Seaarbitration (Philippines v. China) were. But this time the David seems even more fragile, since the Goliath disputes the statehood of Palestine and consequently the many rights attached to it – among them, recognition and respect of sovereign equality in the first place.

The seisin of the ICJ has taken international lawyers aback: the reactions went from enthusiastic excitement to sheer incredulity or scepticism. This is not surprising: the case, whether it is decided on the merits or not, has the potential of becoming one of the great cases of international law, those which will be studied for decades by international law students, which will give guidance on highly debated issues, like statehood and erga omnes obligations. It is not every day that the Court is offered such an occasion.

Now, of course, it is certain that the US will challenge the Court’s jurisdiction. The only question is whether they will formally introduce preliminary objections or opt for non-appearance (like China or Russia have lately done). Non-appearance having rarely served the cause of the recalcitrant State, the US would be well advised not to follow that path; all the more if their case on jurisdiction is as strong as Marko Milanovic considers it to be in his post of 30 Sept. 2018. Non-appearance is generally an epidermal reaction by a super-power to legal challenges against its policy. The US’ infuriated announcement of withdrawal from the Optional Protocol to the VCDR, made on 3 Oct 2018, denotes this attitude. But it has no effect on Palestinian proceedings, which were introduced before the denunciation could become effective. 

One may wonder instead why the United States have not made this move earlier. After all, Palestine did warn them, through a verbal note of 4 July 2018, of the dispute on the VCDR. And on the same day, Palestine deposited with the Secretary General a declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the Court under the Optional Protocol (both texts are available as annexes to Palestine’s Application). Maybe no one in Washington considered that Palestine’s notifications should be taken seriously. Be that as it may, the Application was made on time and the consensual basis of jurisdiction will be difficult to challenge. Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine Sues the United States in the ICJ re Jerusalem Embassy

Published on September 30, 2018        Author: 
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On Friday Palestine instituted proceedings against the United States of America before the International Court of Justice, claiming that the US violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The application is here, the ICJ’s press release here; this is how the press release summarizes Palestine’s claim:

It is recalled in the Application that, on 6 December 2017, the President of the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the relocation of the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The American Embassy in Jerusalem was then inaugurated on 14 May 2018.

Palestine contends that it flows from the Vienna Convention that the diplomatic mission of a sending State must be established on the territory of the receiving State. According to Palestine, in view of the special status of Jerusalem, “[t]he relocation of the United States Embassy in Israel to . . . Jerusalem constitutes a breach of the Vienna Convention”.

As basis for the Court’s jurisdiction, the Applicant invokes Article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes. It notes that Palestine acceded to the Vienna Convention on 2 April 2014 and to the Optional Protocol on 22 March 2018, whereas the United States of America is a party to both these instruments since 13 November 1972.

In brief, Palestine argues that various articles of the VCDR, especially Article 3 thereof, require that the functions of the diplomatic mission be performed ‘in the receiving state,’ which means that the mission must be established in the receiving state. Jerusalem is not Israeli territory, and therefore moving the embassy there meant that it was not established in the receiving state. Ergo, there was a violation of the VCDR.

This case raises numerous issues, some obvious, some not. There are many objections that the US could raise, and will inevitably raise.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Not Appropriate:  PTC I, Palestine and the Development of a Discriminatory ICC Jurisprudence

Published on July 26, 2018        Author:  and
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On 13 July, Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC I) issued an unprecedented decision in which it ordered the Registry to establish unique public information and outreach activities for the “benefit of the victims in the situation in Palestine”, as well as to report on its situation activities on an ongoing basis.  No Pre-Trial Chamber has made the same orders with respect to victim outreach in a situation under preliminary examination before, and the legality, timing, and singular nature of the decision all give rise to concern. 

The decision singles out victims of one situation whilst ignoring others, reflecting a double standard which forms the basis of Israel’s complaints that its rights to equal treatment are systematically violated before 21st century international organisations and tribunals. In this sense, the decision is illuminating as it demonstrates to international criminal law practitioners how PTC I has substantiated Israel’s complaint of double standards in the Chambers’ first substantive engagement with the Situation in Palestine. Given the unique way that the Situation in Palestine has been singled out, PTC I’s decision will be viewed by many as a political one.  This is an accusation which, especially after the collapse of the Kenya cases, the ICC should be more wary of making itself susceptible to.

The Legality of the PTC Decision Read the rest of this entry…

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The Israeli Strikes on Iranian Forces in Syria: a case study on the use of force in defence of annexed territories

Published on June 8, 2018        Author: 
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Factual Background and Legal Issue

The extensive air strikes launched by Israel on Iranian forces and assets across Syria in the early morning of 10 May 2018 present a complex case study which deserves proper legal scrutiny. According to the reconstruction given by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), the strikes were decided in retaliation for a rocket barrage fired some hours earlier from Syrian territory on IDF forward outposts in the Israeli-controlled Golan. Despite denials by Iranian officials of any direct involvement of their military in Syria, the rockets were immediately attributed by the IDF to the Quds Force, the special unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in charge of extraterritorial operations.

Reacting to the alleged Iranian attack and to Syria and Iran’s condemnation of Israel’s response as an act of aggression against Syria, the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany explicitly referred to Israel’s right to act in self-defence against Iran. The same Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, before the operation could take place, had invoked ‘Israel’s obligation and right to defend itself against Iranian aggression from Syrian territory’. This claim, although phrased in legal terms, was not formalised in an Article 51 letter filed with the UN Security Council, which should include a justification for the use of force against both Syria (whose territorial integrity was violated) and Iran (whose forces and facilities were targeted). A self-defence argument however would raise in the present case a legal issue related to the status of the territory attacked: the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel after the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed in 1981. Can an annexing state invoke Article 51 UN Charter to justify the use of force in self-defence against an armed attack directed exclusively at a territory that it annexed? This post submits that the answer to this question, which appears unsettled and largely unexplored, cannot overlook the situation of manifest illegality that a self-defence argument would purport to preserve and protract. Read the rest of this entry…

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Lost Between Law Enforcement and Active Hostilities: A First Glance at the Israeli Supreme Court Judgment on the Use of Lethal Force During the Gaza Border Demonstrations

Published on June 4, 2018        Author: 
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In response to the ongoing violent clashes between the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) and Palestinian protesters during the so-called ‘March of Return’ along the Gaza border fence several Israeli human rights organizations petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court, challenging the IDF’s rules of engagement, as well as their implementation. The arguments put forward by the petitioners and the Israeli Government, as well as the legal issues involved were  discussed in advance of the Court’s judgment by Eliav Lieblich and Yuval Shany (here and here). Last week, the Israeli Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, handed down its decision, which unanimously rejected the petitions. Although the judgment seems to be flawed on several issues, it nevertheless includes a couple of interesting statements regarding the relationship between law enforcement operations and active hostilities in armed conflict. An initial analysis of the decision has been published by Amichai Cohen and I should say at the outset that I share some of his conclusions. Those aspects of the decision that relate to international law will probably spark mixed feelings. As mentioned by Cohen, the fact that the Court explicitly endorsed the ICRC’s Interpretive Guidance on Direct Participation in Hostilities is certainly a welcome development. However, the fact that the justices refused to discuss the applicability of international human rights law (IHRL) in situations of armed conflict; that they invented an obscure new law enforcement paradigm; and expanded the notion of ‘imminent threat’ to allow for the preventive use of lethal force, less so. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Prudential, Policy-Based Approach to the Investigation of Nationals of Non-States Parties

Published on May 30, 2018        Author:  and
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On 22 May, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki submitted a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding the situation in Palestine since 13 June 2014, with no end date.  This follows the Prosecutor’s statements on 8 April and 14 May responding to the situation on the Gaza border (which were themselves unusual, if not unique, examples of OTP practice).  As with the proposed investigation of US nationals in the Situation in Afghanistan, the Myanmar and Bangladesh issue that is under consideration and the investigation of Russian conduct in Georgia and Ukraine, the question of whether, and if so how, the ICC may exercise jurisdiction over nationals of non-state parties absent a Security Council referral is pressing once again.

By proceeding with investigation of Russian conduct in Georgia and Ukraine, Israeli conduct in Gaza and the West Bank, and American conduct in Afghanistan, legal issues which arise upon exercise of the Court’s enforcement jurisdiction will foreseeably give rise to challenges both before the ICC, as well as in national jurisdictions during surrender proceedings. This contribution suggests that a prudential, even cautious, policy-based approach to the investigation of nationals of non-states parties may help the OTP avoid pitfalls resulting from proceeding without sufficient regard to non-states parties’ jurisdictional objections. Read the rest of this entry…

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Prolonged Occupation or Illegal Occupant?  

Published on May 16, 2018        Author: 
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An unresolved question in international humanitarian law is whether an occupying power – whose authority as occupant may have initially been lawful – can cross a bright red line into illegality because it is acting contrary to the fundamental tenets of international law dealing with the laws of occupation.  This question has become especially relevant in light of several prolonged occupations in the modern world, including the 50-year-old Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory.

The principal instruments of international humanitarian law, including the 1907 Hague Regulations, the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention and the 1977 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, are silent on this question. However, a purposive reading of these instruments, together with the foundational tenets of international humanitarian and human rights law, leads to the conclusion that an occupying power whose intent is to turn occupation into annexation and conquest becomes an illegal occupant.

In my October 2017 report to the United Nations General Assembly as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, I argue that a four-part test can be derived from general principles of international law, including the laws of occupation, to determine whether the status of an occupying power has become illegal. Violating any one of these four parts of the test could establish the occupying power as an illegal occupant. Read the rest of this entry…

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ICERD and Palestine’s Inter-State Complaint

Published on April 30, 2018        Author: 
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On 23 April, The Guardian reported that Palestinian diplomats had filed an inter-state complaint against Israel for breaches of its obligations under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates of the State of Palestine:

Palestine is a State whose territory remains under a belligerent colonial occupation. For its part, Israel, the occupying Power, has maintained its colonial occupation over the past fifty years by imposing racist and discriminatory policies against Palestinian citizens.  Confronting this pervasive reality of racism and discrimination is a priority. This cannot wait. It should not. No person or people should be asked to tolerate racism or the violence and injustice it breeds.

The Guardian writes that “the submission is believed to be the first interstate complaint filed under the treaty”. This is true in relation to ICERD, and also the entirety of the UN international human rights treaties; as the OHCHR highlights in its portal on inter-state complaints: “Note: these procedures have never been used.”

The inter-state procedure is not found in every treaty – there is no formal procedure for filing inter-state complaints under CEDAW and its Optional Protocol. The procedure is found in ICCPR, ICESCR, CAT, CMW, CED and Optional Protocols, but it is generally optional and both States have to have recognised the competence of the Committee to receive such communications. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Consequence of the UN Resolution on Israeli Settlements for the EU:  Stop Trade with Settlements

Published on April 4, 2017        Author: 
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The recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) reaffirmed that the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory has no legal validity and that Israel’s settlement enterprise is a flagrant violation of international law. The resolution also calls upon all States “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. This part of the resolution is of great significance with regard to the question of trading with settlements.

While the content of the resolution might seem novel, Secretary of State John Kerry was right to remind us in his landmark speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the end of 2016 that:

this resolution simply reaffirms statements made by the Security Council on the legality of settlements over several decades. It does not break new ground”. In 1980 UN Security Council Resolution 465 had called upon all States “not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in occupied territories.

Trading with settlements offers an economic lifeline that allows the settlement enterprise to survive and develop. This reality and the aforementioned UN Security Council Resolutions make a good case not to trade with settlements. But is the withholding of such settlement trade truly an obligation under international law?

In an earlier piece I argued that there is indeed such an obligation, and the lack of state compliance does not seriously shake the legal foundations of this argument. Just last year in an open letter, 40 legal experts (myself included) called upon the European Parliament, and the office of the High Representative and the Trade Commissioner to stop trade with settlements in compliance with the EU’s international legal obligations. Signatories included two former UN rapporteurs, a former President of the International Law Commission, a former judge on the ICTY, and dozens of professors in international law.

Our main argument was that the EU has the obligation to end trade with Israeli settlements based on the duties of non-recognition and non-assistance. This post will describe the legal argumentation underlying these duties. Read the rest of this entry…

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Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) and its Legal Repercussions Revisited

Published on January 20, 2017        Author: 
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Security Council 2334 (2016), adopted by the Security Council on December 23, 2016 with 14:0:1 votes, the United States abstaining, and dealing with the issue of Israel’s settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory, and the broader issue of the international legal status of the West Bank and East Jerusalem will, just like Security Council resolution 242 (1967) beforehand, probably become one of those seminal Security Council resolutions every international law professor will have to deal as part of his or her international law class since, apart from its immediate context and its political repercussions, it by the same token raises, and relates to, fundamental issues of international law.

While various of those issues, and namely the question of its binding effect have already been dealt with here, there still remain quite a number of open issues that require further clarification, some of which will be discussed hereinafter.

  1. Relationship of Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) with prior Security Council resolutions, in particular Security Council resolution 242 (1967)

The claim has been made that Security Council resolution 2334 (2016), as adopted, is incompatible with the content of Security Council resolution 242 (1967) (see here) given that Security Council resolution 2334 (2016) in its preambular paragraph 5, as well as in its operative paragraph 3, takes as a starting point for any final territorial arrangements between the parties to the conflict the 4 June 1967 lines, i.e. the so-called ‘Green line’, any changes to which would require a negotiated agreement between the two sides. Read the rest of this entry…

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