magnify
Home Archive for category "Sources of International Law"

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…

Print Friendly
 

Taking the ‘Union’ out of ‘EU’: The EU-Turkey Statement on the Syrian Refugee Crisis as an Agreement Between States under International Law

Published on April 20, 2017        Author: 

Almost one year after its conclusion, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has eventually made clear the real nature of the ‘so-called’ EU-Turkey Statement. The ‘Statement’ is a document that was primarily aimed at preventing irregular migrants reaching the EU from Turkey, and established a resettlement mechanism based on the transfer of one vulnerable Syrian from Turkey to the EU “for every irregular Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands”. The case was brought by three asylum seekers who arrived in Greece by boat and risked being returned to Turkey pursuant to this Statement if their request for asylum was rejected. They asked the Court to annul what they identified as an “agreement concluded between the European Council and the Republic of Turkey” (see CJEU, Orders of 28 February 2017, Cases NF v European Council, T‑192/16; NG v European Council, T-193/16; NM v European Council, T-257/16).

According to the CJEU, the ‘EU-Turkey’ Statement is a non-EU agreement. In fact, it is a European agreement between EU Member States and Turkey, which was made at the margin of the European Council’s meeting held in March 2016. As such, according to Article 263 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the CJEU lacks jurisdiction to review its legitimacy, especially in relation to the provisions set out for the conclusion of international treaties by the EU (similarly, CJEU, 30 June 1993, Parliament v Council and Commission, C-181/91 and C-248/91.).

This expected (?) conclusion (see S. Peers here) raises more questions than it answers. After a brief analysis of the CJEU’s order at least two points deserve attention. Firstly, were all aspects of the Statement duly considered in order to exclude the possibility that this is an agreement of the EU with a third country? Secondly, in light of customary international law of treaties, is a different reading of  the EU’s involvement possible? Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

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…

Print Friendly
 

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

Published on April 4, 2017        Author: 

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…

Print Friendly
 

The Evacuation of Eastern Aleppo: Humanitarian Obligation or War Crime?: A Reply

Published on March 27, 2017        Author: 

 

This post is written as a reply to the interesting contribution made by Elvina Pothelet on the topic of forced displacement in Syria. In her article, Elvina examined the legal foundation for the claim that the evacuation of Eastern Aleppo amounts to the war crime of forced displacement. I would like to build on this work, but distinguish my arguments in two respects. First, by also approaching the case from the perspective of a charge of crimes against humanity, under Article 7(1)(d) and second, by arguing that contrary to Elvina’s interpretation, the ‘ordering’ requirement found in Article 8 (2)(e)(viii) should in fact be interpreted more liberally, in light of three counter arguments.

Forced Displacement as a Crime Against Humanity – Article 7(1)(d)

As with any assessment of this nature, it is undertaken on the basis of information freely available. With those responsible for displacing, in my view being the Syrian regime officials for their actions in Eastern Aleppo, not those who brokered or signed the evacuation agreement. With this in mind, I shall outline how the elements of Article 7(1)(d) are satisfied.

Contextual Elements

With respect to the contextual elements, the campaign launched by Syrian forces to retake Eastern Aleppo was an organised state policy. A legitimate question however, can be raised as to whether the civilian population was the primary object of the attack, (Kunarac Appeals Judgment para 91) or merely an “incidental victim of the attack’’, (Bemba Confirmation of Charges para 76). Given the means and methods used in Aleppo, (Kunarac Appeals Chamber Judgment para 91)  which are alleged to include “killing people, including women and children, on the spot in their homes and on the street,” there is at least a reasonable basis to believe that the civilian population were the object of the attack. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

Is the EU really more precautionary than the US? Some thoughts in relation to TTIP negotiations

Published on August 9, 2016        Author: 

On January 26, 2016, during a public meeting organized by the Trans-Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, the European Commissioner for Trade, Cecilia Malmström, said that the precautionary principle (PP), the principle which enables rapid response in the face of a possible danger to human, animal or plant health, or to protect the environment, is a fundamental rule in the European policies and its compliance is ensured both in the legislative process and trade agreements. Therefore, the principle is central to the negotiations surrounding the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Despite verbal assurances given by Commissioner Malmström, who has radically excluded a possible lowering of PP standards in Europe, the issue deserves to be addressed more carefully.

Europe is often considered more precautionary than the US. A comparative analysis demonstrates that the difference between the two approaches rests on the perception of risks that characterize social realities, and not by the will to apply the principle more or less intensely. As the most careful doctrine already showed, if a wide variety of situations where there is a need for precautionary measures are analyzed, it may be found that application of the the principle in US law is not all that dissimilar to what we see in the European context. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

The Supremacy of International Law? – Part One

Published on June 2, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This is the text of the 2nd Annual British Embassy (The Hague) International Law Lecture, delivered on 23 May 2016 (part one of two).

My topic is The Supremacy of International Law? I chose the subject unwisely, seduced by the question mark into the thought that there would be scope for erudition on a subject that, for international lawyers, is the touchstone of the authority and effectiveness of our discipline but dismissed or simply ignored by scholars and practitioners of national law – quaintly described by international lawyers as “municipal lawyers” – as being at odds with the reality of national constitutionalism or the sovereignty of parliament. Having thought about it further, and had the opportunity to look into the scholarship on the subject over recent years, I have settled for the more modest task of trying to illuminate a little more the dimensions of a debate that has both philosophical and practical resonance.

As you will all no doubt be well aware, the UK at the moment is in the throes of a great internal debate. It is at root a debate about identity – whether we are and should be part of Europe or are a mid-Atlantic island with a grand history that should see its future role as a stepping-stone, bridging the western cultural divide. It is about who we are and who we want to be, about harkening back and aspiration in an uncertain world.

But, once we scratch the surface, it is a debate about laws, about where they are made and who has the last say. It is about democracy in law, about the connection between the law and those whom it governs. It is not cast in these terms in the public debates and the fear mongering of politicians but it is in substance a debate about the supremacy of international law.

The international law in focus in this debate is an international law of a special kind, most directly in the frame is European Union law, with its doctrines of supremacy, direct application and direct effect, but following close behind is the Strasbourg law of the European Court of Human Rights that, in living instrument fashion, has turned a treaty into a constitution. The font of both is found in traditional instruments of international law, inter-State treaties of a standard setting and coordinating kind. Both have come a long way since the entry into force of their texts, having shaped and fashioned a community on the continent of Europe that looks to some at times more like a federal society than a collection of nation States. And the issue in both cases is who makes the laws and who has the last say. Most acute of these is who has the last say as there is an appreciation, accurately so, indeed an apprehension (in both senses of this word), that, once the ink on the constitution is dry, it is courts that fashion the society that develops thereon. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

Corporate Liability Debate still Alive and Kicking in US Courts

Published on May 30, 2016        Author: 

While various bodies of the UN continuously work on the issue of the human rights law obligations of multinational corporations, the US courts have been grappling with the question as to whether such entities can be held liable for violations before domestic courts. While some observers lamented the death of the corporate liability debate following the 2013 Supreme Court decision Kiobel II, it appears that the discussion is still very much alive. Continuous disagreement among US courts shows that corporate liability for human rights violations is a complicated issue, as a matter of both domestic and international law.

The Arab Bank Case

In December 2015, a panel of the US Court of Appeals (Second Circuit) ruled on the case of Arab Bank, which concerned claims brought against Arab Bank PLC for its alleged role in financing and facilitating armed attacks that took place in Israel between January 1995 and July 2005. The plaintiffs alleged that Arab Bankʹs involvement with payments to the families of ‘martyrs’ incentivized and encouraged suicide bombings and other killings that harmed the plaintiffs. In its judgment, the Second Circuit confirmed the position taken in Kiobel I (2010), in which it held that corporations cannot be held liable under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS, 28 U.S. Code § 1350).

Arab Bank was heard by a different panel of the same Court of Appeals that had issued Kiobel I. The panel struggled in deciding whether to follow the Court’s own precedent (Kiobel I) or the subsequent Kiobel II decision of the Supreme Court. In that much-debated decision, the Supreme Court affirmed Kiobel I, but on different grounds, namely that a presumption against extraterritoriality applies to ATS cases, without discussing the original question of corporate liability. The Arab Bank panel identified several ways in which Kiobel II had “cast a shadow on Kiobel I”. It nevertheless decided to follow its own precedent in Kiobel I and left it to “either an en banc sitting of [the Second Circuit] or an eventual Supreme Court review to overrule Kiobel I”.

The latest development occurred on 9 May 2016, when seven of the thirteen judges of the Second Circuit rejected a petition for an en banc review of the Arab Bank case. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

Determining Customary International Law: The ICJ’s Methodology and the Idyllic World of the ILC

Published on December 3, 2015        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This is the author’s concluding post in the EJIL:Debate! regarding an article in the current issue of EJIL Vol. 26 (2015) No 2, by Stefan Talmon. The original post is here. See also the posts discussing the article by Omri Sender and Michael Wood, Harlan G. Cohen and Fernando Lusa Bordin.

I am very grateful to Sir Michael Wood and Omri Sender, as well as Harlan G. Cohen and Fernando Lusa Bordin, for their thoughtful comments on my EJIL article. Both Harlan and Fernando seem to agree with my main propositions and, in particular, with the proposition that the ICJ, in order to determine rules of customary international law, uses induction and deduction as well as assertion. They raise interesting questions that I did not address in my article, such as why the ICJ was not more interested in developing a clear methodology and why States might actually prefer ‘methodological mayhem’, or the flexibility of methodological uncertainty, over the strict application of the inductive method or a relaxation of the demands of that method. Their contribution takes the debate further and may be read as a complement to my article.

In the following, I will focus on the comments of Sir Michael Wood and Omri Sender, who are more critical of my propositions. I will only deal with their substantive comments and leave readers to decide for themselves how many eyebrows they would like to raise while considering what the authors identified as ‘some bold statements’ in my article without, however, specifying their concerns. Let me respond to their counter propositions one by one before offering some final remarks on the work of the ILC, and thus Sir Michael’s work as its Rapporteur, on the identification of customary international law. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly