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Home Archive for category "Sanctions"

Excusing Humanitarian Intervention – A Reply to Jure Vidmar

Published on April 27, 2017        Author: 

The US strikes in Syria, for which the US offered no legal justification, have once again ignited the debate on the qualification of such acts as illegal but legitimate – a label that had been used, in its day, to describe NATO’s use of force in Kosovo. Legally speaking, what does this sentence mean? Jure Vidmar, in his post on this blog, attempted to explain it by means of the distinction between justification and excuse. As Vidmar explains, excuses usually (but by no means always) cover situations in which conduct, while illegal, is nevertheless the morally right thing to do in the circumstances. He sees this type of reasoning behind the reactions of other States to the US action – expressing support for the action as the right thing to do, but unwilling to go as far as to say that the conduct was permitted or lawful.

The argument is certainly plausible (although note that no State has used the language of excuse in these circumstances which is, in my view, somewhat problematic for the argument). However, it raises a number of important issues which may, ultimately, undermine the very purpose of excusing an actor engaged in humanitarian intervention. I want to consider three of these here: (i) the current recognition of excuses in international law; (ii) the availability of excuses in respect of the breach of peremptory rules; and, (iii) the potential effects of excusing states for humanitarian intervention. I will address each of these in turn.

Excuses in International Law

Excuses are defences that arise from properties or characteristics of actors which, while having no effect on the illegality of the act, shield that actor from responsibility for its (illegal) actions. By contrast, justifications are defences that arise from properties or characteristics of acts and have the effect of rendering those acts lawful, despite apparently breaching a rule of the legal order. Read the rest of this entry…

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United States’ Missile Strikes in Syria: Should International Law Permit Unilateral Force to Protect Human Rights?

Published on April 18, 2017        Author: 

A bounty of recent blog posts have poured over the legality of the Trump administration’s missile strikes against a Syrian airbase in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons (see, e.g, here, here, here, here and here). Possible justifications have recently come to light, but do not provide a sufficient basis for the administration’s actions under international law (which is the focus of this post). Most commentators conclude that, absent UN Security Council authorisation or a justifiable claim of self-defence, international law provides no clear right for states to use force in response to such grave violations of human rights. Therefore, the strikes most likely contravene Article 2(4) UN Charter. With that analysis, I agree. The question that then arises, and which has received much less attention (although, see here and here), is the normative question: should international law permit such unilateral action (either individually or collectively) outside of the UN Charter framework?

The understandable response is that ‘something’ must be done and at least President Trump has acted where the international community has previously failed to do so. This sentiment is reflected in the opinions of a number of world leaders who appear to be supportive of the strikes against the Assad regime. Yet, notably, where countries have expressed support for the United States’ actions, they have not presented a legal justification for it. Regardless of whether we agree that the missile strikes are the right thing to do in response to a criminal regime gassing its own people (and there are serious doubts as to whether these strikes are an adequate or effective response), how should international law respond to such horrors as a general matter? What is the legal framework on which states can rely to do what they think is right? Read the rest of this entry…

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Echoes of Kadi: Reforms to Internal Remedies at INTERPOL

Published on January 20, 2017        Author: 

In November 2016, the international police body INTERPOL adopted major reforms to its internal complaints mechanism, the Commission for the Control of INTERPOL’s Files (CCF) (see the new Statute of the CCF, entering into force in March 2017 (CCF Statute)). The reforms respond to campaigning by the NGO Fair Trials (see its response), and are welcome news for practitioners. They will also be of particular interest to observers of the case-law concerning international organisations (IOs), UN sanctions and the role of international-level remedies systems as a substitute for judicial review in municipal-level courts. The CCF Statute represents a serious effort to ensure effective access to justice within INTERPOL and, thereby, justify INTERPOL’s immunity before national courts. However, as discussed below by reference to one key aspect of the new rules (disclosure of evidence), the success of these reforms depends upon their interpretation and application by the CCF itself.

The back story: IOs and the doctrine of alternative remedies

Since the second world war, sovereign states have transferred numerous tasks to IOs such as the UN and (controversially for some) the EU. By their nature, IOs cannot be governed by the national law of a single country and are granted immunity (typically in their Headquarters Agreements) from the jurisdiction of national courts. The problem arises when the IO acts in such a way as to impact on the fundamental rights of an individual: without a court to turn to, where does he seek a remedy?

The issue first arose before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in cases relating to other IOs. In Waite and Kennedy v Germany, the German employment courts had upheld such an immunity and refused to hear a claim brought by contractors against the European Space Agency (ESA). The contractors argued a breach of their right of access to a court, protected by Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The ECtHR found that the restriction did not impair the essence of the right, in that an appeals board within the ESA offered ‘reasonable alternative means to protect effectively their rights’ (at 68-69). That is the basic principle: the IO may escape national court jurisdiction, provided it offers an alternative system ensuring access to justice. Read the rest of this entry…

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