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Home Archive for category "Sources of International Law"

Is the International Law Commission Elevating Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice?

Published on August 30, 2018        Author: 
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At its most recent (70th) session, the International Law Commission adopted two important sets of “restatements” on two important sources of international law on second reading, namely the Draft Conclusions on the Identification of Customary International Law and the Draft Conclusions on Subsequent Agreements and Subsequent Practice in Relation to the Interpretation of Treaties (see the ILC’s 2018 Report (UN Doc A/73/10) here). This post concerns the second of these restatements, subsequent agreements and subsequent practice (see Chapter IV of the Report).  In particular, this post expresses a concern about an apparent, almost surreptitious, attempt by the Commission to elevate subsequent agreements and subsequent practice as tools of interpretation to the same level as the more objective tools outlined in article 31(1) of the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties. The concern may seem like a storm in a cup – and I hope that is the case.  However,  there is a real possibility – a possibility which could risk the stability of treaties – that the ordinary meaning of the words of a treaty, in their context and in light of the object and purpose of the treaty could give way to ever-changing moods of States expressed through subsequent agreements and subsequent practice. If states don’t like the terms of the treaties they have adopted, they should amend it through the means provided for in the treaty or in the customary rules on amendments of treaties. Amendment through interpretation, a real likelihood if subsequent agreements and subsequent practice were elevated to an independent status of equal value – perhaps some day even greater – to ordinary meaning, in context and in light of the object and purpose, would be a dangerous course.  It is hoped that this implicit suggestion in the work of the Commission is not taken up the practice of courts in the application of article 31.

I should begin by two caveats.  First, this post, like the draft conclusions themselves, concerns only subsequent agreements and subsequent practice in relation to treaty interpretation.  Thus, what is said here does not affect the role that subsequent agreements or subsequent practice might have, say for modification of treaties in general. Second, there is, admittedly, nothing in the draft conclusions themselves that can be interpreted as the elevation of subsequent agreements and subsequent practice.  The (attempted) elevation comes in the commentaries to a number of provisions in the set of draft conclusions.  I should note, in connection with the last-mentioned caveat, that the commentaries themselves seem to have been elevated to a higher position than before – not quite on par with the draft conclusions but certainly approaching that level.  While in the past, it has been understood that the draft texts adopted by the Commission were to be read with commentaries, during the 70thsession, the Commission inserted language as the first paragraph in the general commentary of both second reading topics to emphasise this point, which had not been emphasised in this manner before. Read the rest of this entry…

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Right of Access to a Court in Civil Claims for Torture Committed Abroad: The European Court Grand Chamber Decision in Naït-Liman

Published on April 3, 2018        Author: 
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The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights has announced its judgment in the case of Naït-Liman v Switzerland, confirming that the refusal of the Swiss courts to examine a refugee’s civil claim for torture in Tunisia was not a violation of Article 6 § 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The decision addresses the concepts of forum of necessity and universal civil jurisdiction, and has important implications for civil claims arising out of wrongful acts that have taken place abroad.

Initial Proceedings

In April 1992, Tunisian national and political activist Abdennacer Naït-Liman was arrested in Italy and flown to Tunis, where he was handed over to members of the Tunisian authorities. Naït-Liman subsequently alleged that on the orders of the then Minister of the Interior, Abdallah Kallel, he was detained for 40 days and brutally tortured with bats, electric shocks, and suspension. He escaped Tunisia in 1993 and travelled to Switzerland with his wife and children, where he was granted refugee status in 1995 and Swiss nationality in 2007.

Naït-Liman learned on 14 February 2001 that Abdallah Kallel was in Switzerland receiving treatment at a hospital, and filed a criminal complaint against him. Kallel was, however, able to leave Switzerland before he was apprehended by the Swiss authorities. Read the rest of this entry…

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Active Hostilities and International Law Limits to Trump’s Executive Order on Guantanamo

Published on March 13, 2018        Author:  and
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In his State of the Union speech on January 30, 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his signing of a new executive order aimed at keeping open the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as well as approving its repopulation. This post considers how the law of war governing detention in armed conflicts constricts the ability of the U.S. to hold persons in military prisons at Guantanamo in the manner suggested by this new order.

Formally speaking, Trump’s executive order repeals a critical portion of President Obama’s 2009 order calling for the Guantanamo prison site to be closed “as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order.” The 2018 order also provides that the U.S. may “transport additional detainees” to the facility “when lawful and necessary to protect the nation.”

On the one hand, this executive order simply makes explicit what has already been President Trump’s de facto Guantanamo policy since taking office. While the Obama Administration worked to reduce the Guantanamo population considerably, resettling 197 of the 242 detainees remaining at the facility, President Trump has resettled none — not even five detainees cleared for release by the Department of Defense prior to Trump’s taking office. On the other hand, the order reflects a radical shift in policy. Read the rest of this entry…

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Decline and crisis: a plea for better metaphors and criteria

Published on March 7, 2018        Author: 
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Note from the Editors:  This week we hold the first EJIL:Talk! Contributing Editors’ Debate, where some or all of our distinguished Contributing Editors lend their views on broad themes of international law and the state of the art, science, and discipline of international law.  Our thanks to Andreas Zimmermann (Co-Director of the Berlin-Potsdam Research Group, ‘The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?’) for leading the charge with Monday’s post, and to Monica Hakimi (Tuesday posts here and here), Christian Tams, and Lorna McGregor for thought-provoking responses throughout this week’s Debate.

Andreas Zimmermann’s introductory post offers an intriguing mix of grand theme and technical detail. It certainly prompted me to reflect on changes both great and small, and their impact on international law. Unlike Monica Hakimi, I have no issue with the thrust of Andreas’ argument; I notably share the feeling that (if I read his opening Dylan quote correctly) animated his post: “the waters around us seem to have grown”.  Perhaps more than Andreas, I remain uncertain whether that feeling is well-founded. More particularly, I wonder how much of our current talk about crises, dark times, disorder & contestation, new isolationism is just noise, perhaps even a reflex. (Ours is a ‘discipline of crisis’ after all; we “revel” in a good one, as Hilary Charlesworth noted perceptively two decades ago.) And how much is based on real, measurable changes in what Andreas refers to as “the social fabric of international law”, or its role in international relations.  It is to this question that my comments in the following are directed. They are an attempt to take the debate further, and they seek to do so by making two pleas: a plea for better metaphors, and a plea for criteria as we discuss ‘International Law in Dark Times’. Read the rest of this entry…

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Times Are Changing – and What About the International Rule of Law Then?

Published on March 5, 2018        Author: 
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Note from the Editors:  This week we hold the first EJIL:Talk! Contributing Editors’ Debate, where some or all of our distinguished Contributing Editors lend their views on broad themes of international law and the state of the art, science, and discipline of international law.  Our thanks to Andreas Zimmermann (Co-Director of the Berlin-Potsdam Research Group, ‘The International Rule of Law – Rise or Decline?’) for leading the charge, and to Monica Hakimi, Christian Tams, and Lorna McGregor for thought-provoking responses throughout this week’s Debate.

 

Come gather around people, wherever you roam
And admit that the waters around you have grown
And accept it that soon you’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Bob Dylan, The Times They Are Changing, 1964

In 2013, I, as a member of a group of Berlin-Potsdam-based international law scholars, together with colleagues from political science, applied for major funding for what we considered an evolving and growing research question in international law, namely whether the international legal order is facing a significant structural change, which we referred to as a possible ‘Rise or Decline of the International Rule of Law’. What we could not and did not expect (or in order to be cynical: did not hope for) was that major political developments such as, to name but a few, inter alia, the crisis in Ukraine; the election of US President Trump (as to effects on international law thereof see here) and his ensuing political steps such as the termination of US participation in the Paris Agreement to provide but one example; or the growing critique vis-à-vis the International Criminal Court, and other developments we have witnessed in recent years would prove that indeed this is a valid research question to be asked.

What is even more striking is that a significant number of academic events that have recently taken place such as a seminar on ‘International Law in a Dark Time’, a workshop on “International Organizations in Crisis? Rising Authority and Perceptions of Decline”, a conference on a “New International Order in an Isolationist World”, the 2018 ESIL Research Forum on ‘International Law in Times of Disorder and Contestation’ follow a similar, or at last closely related, research agenda. That clearly indicates that the debate as to the rise or decline of the international rule of law is in itself also on the rise, rather than in decline.

It is this setting that provides the background for this EJIL Talk contribution, in which I will set out some of my own ideas underlying this research focus, albeit obviously only with a broad brush, and hence also in a more general fashion, to arouse discussion. Read the rest of this entry…

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Security Council Resolutions as Evidence of Customary International Law

Published on March 1, 2018        Author: 
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In 2012 the International Law Commission began to address one of the last major uncodified areas of public international law: how norms of customary law (CIL) are to be identified.  The exercise at the ILC has not been an easy one.  States commenting in 2016 on the Commission’s “draft conclusions” expressed concerns on a variety of issues.  One of the most contentious was the role of international organizations (IOs) in the creation of custom. 

The topic has been the subject of academic conferences at the University of Manchester, the University of Michigan and elsewhere, as well as a growing volume of law review commentary (see here, here, here, here and here).  And in early January, the United States submitted comments on the draft conclusions that were, to put it mildly, opposed to any role for IOs.  Closer to home, Kristen Boon, Isaac Jenkins and I have just published an article on the role of the Security Council in generating evidence of custom related to non-international armed conflicts (NIACs), an area of intense Council involvement. In this post I’ll describe the ILC’s view of IOs, the United States’ response, and then our affirmative arguments specific to the Security Council. Read the rest of this entry…

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From Babel to Esperanto and Back Again: The Fate of International Law (or of International Lawyers?)

Published on February 8, 2018        Author: 
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This post is part of the Joint Symposium that we are co-hosting with Opinio Juris on Anthea Roberts’ new book Is International Law International? (OUP, 2017). 

While I’ve been reading, I have wondered about the exact nature of Anthea Roberts’ book. A sociological inquiry? A manifesto? A plea? Against arrogance? Against a new Empire? For comparison? For pluralism? Maybe a bit of all this? In any case, it is a polite call for lucidity. It seems the author has tried to confirm some hunches she picked up along the way.

In one sense, writing such a book was a risky enterprise. Contrary to what the title might suggest, Anthea Roberts writes less about international law than about international lawyers, who are in constant danger of thinking of international law in a parochial way while claiming its universality. Indeed this book might be a good way to displease many people, although everyone has the choice between identifying with the tendencies she uncovers or considering themselves an exception. But past that, Anthea Roberts comes out with some statements which can be felt as more or less dreadful, depending on one’s situation. She does not propose a miracle cure but at least a realization. To this extent, her approach is not a pessimistic one.

Admittedly, it is possible to criticize this or that angle of the study, such as the choice – even motivated – to focus on the P5 or the presentation of the specifics of a domestic system which does not seem perfectly understood, or else the delimitation of what is “western”. But what I found most interesting is the way in which Anthea Roberts was able to present an analysis which turns out to be very political, as a project as well as in its outcome. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Parochialism of Western Cosmopolitanism in a Competitive World Order

Published on February 7, 2018        Author: 
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This post is part of the Joint Symposium that we are co-hosting with Opinio Juris on Anthea Roberts’ new book Is International Law International? (OUP, 2017). 

We are familiar with the question: Is international law law? In my new book, I ask instead: Is international law international? Not particularly, is my answer—at least, not in the way that it tends to be conceptualized by international law academics in different states and in the international law textbooks and casebooks that they use.

When asked to reflect on the professional community of international lawyers, Oscar Schachter memorably called it an “invisible college” whose members were “dispersed throughout the world” yet “engaged in a continuous process of communication and collaboration.” But in rendering that college visible, I find that international lawyers may be better understood as constituting a “divisible college” whose members hail from different states and regions and who often form separate (though overlapping) communities with their own understandings and approaches.

In tracing these divisions and considering their consequences, I make three arguments. First, international lawyers are often subject to differences in their incoming influences and outgoing spheres of influence in ways that affect how they understand and approach international law. Second, actors, materials and approaches from some states and regions have come to dominate certain transnational flows and forums in ways that make them disproportionately instrumental in constructing the “international.” Third, existing understandings of the field are likely to be disrupted by factors such as changes in geopolitical power, making it increasingly important for international lawyers to understand the perspectives of those from unlike-minded states.

My book invites international lawyers to look in the mirror to discern and become more reflective about their blind spots and parochialism. It encourages international lawyers to recognize and speak openly about some of the socializing factors, incentives and power dynamics that shape their divisible college. It suggests that they try to see the field through the eyes of others and to diversify their sources, networks and perspectives. This call is particularly appropriate for Western international lawyers—myself included—who often study, work and publish in a Western bubble, which makes it harder for us to understand and adjust to the newly emerging competitive world order. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Turkish Operation in Afrin (Syria) and the Silence of the Lambs

Published on January 30, 2018        Author: 
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Operation Olive Branch

On 20th January 2018, the Turkish military started to attack the Kurdish-populated region of Afrin in Syria (“Operation Olive Branch“). With its letter to the Security Council of 22nd January 2018, Turkey justified this action as self-defence in terms of Art. 51 UN Charter. The relevant passage of the letter is: “[T]he threat of terrorism from Syria targeting our borders has not ended. The recent increase in rocket attacks and harassment fire directed at Hatay and Kilis provinces of Turkey from the Afrin region of Syria, which is under the control of the PKK/KCK/PYD/YPG terrorist organization, has resulted in the deaths of many civilians and soldiers and has left many more wounded.” (UN Doc. S/2018/53; emphasis added). Two elements are troublesome in this official Turkish justification.

Non-state armed attacks?

First, it is controversial whether armed attacks of the YPG, a non-state actor, suffice to trigger self-defence in terms of Article 51 UN Charter and underlying customary law. The current law (both Charter-based and treaty-based) is in flux, and still seems to demand some attribution to the state from which the attacks originate. (See for a collection of diverse scholarly opinion, ranging from “restrictivists” to “expansionists”: Anne Peters, Christian Marxsen (eds), “Self-Defence Against Non-State Actors: Impulses from the Max Planck Trialogues on the Law of Peace and War”, Heidelberg Journal of International Law 77 (2017), 1-93; SSRN-version in Max Planck Research Papers 2017-17).

The ICJ case-law has not fully settled the question (see for state-centred statements: ICJ, Oil platforms 2003, paras. 51 and 61; ICJ Wall opinion 2004, para. 139). Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL Debate. Thirlway’s Rejoinder

Published on January 19, 2018        Author: 
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I am grateful to Professor d’Aspremont for his interesting and courteous response to my somewhat critical piece. I think we agree . . . that there is plenty on which we agree to differ! However, may I mention a few points?

A minor linguistic matter: the terms ‘the logic of sources’ and ‘the logic of interpretation’ seem to me unfortunate. I trust that Prof. d’Aspremont will agree that the rules of logic, or if you like of logical argument, are surely identical whatever the subject under discussion. The postulates and the facts are unique to the context and the problem examined, but to arrive at an intellectually correct result, the reasoning processes must follow the universal rules of logic; the expressions quoted seem to undermine this universality.

Prof. d’Aspremont does not find my use of the concept of opposability helpful. Maybe my point will be clearer if expressed in this way: in the relevant part of the ICJ Whaling judgment, the Court was, in his view engaged in a process of interpretation, but applied to it the intellectual approach appropriate to a problem of sources.  But was it a process of interpretation? Before the Court could enquire into what exactly were the obligations of Japan under the Whaling Convention as interpreted by the challenged resolution – a matter of interpretation – it had to decide whether the resolution was relevant at all – a question of sources (consent to a treaty-instrument). If the resolution was relevant, its effect on the reading of the Convention would be a matter of interpretation; but that stage was never reached.

Prof. d’Aspremont denies that he is ‘thinking from the Bench’; but surely whenever a scholar criticises a judicial decision, he is in effect saying ‘This is what the Court ought to have said: this is what my dissenting opinion would have said had I been among the judges?’ And to my mind this is so whether the critic is saying ‘The Court was wrong on its own premises’, or contending that ‘The matter should have been approached in a different way, viz. .  . .’

Read the rest of this entry…

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