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Home Archive for category "Sources of International Law"

President Erdogan versus Jan Böhmermann: Do Bad Poems Make Bad Law? – Reforming the Defamation of Foreign Heads of States under German Criminal Law

Published on June 23, 2017        Author:  and

Note: Revised and translated version of a statement made before the Legal Committee of the German Bundestag at an expert hearing on 17 May 2017, further elaborating on questions that were raised by Veronika Bílková in her EJIL:Talk! post “Thouh shalt not Insult the (Foreign) Head of State?”, dated 28 April 2016 and commenting on subsequent developments.

1. Prologue

In 2016, after the Turkish government had requested the deletion of a satirical song about Turkish President Erdogan, aired on a German TV show, the Turkish Head of State became the subject of another, rather vulgar, satirical poem fittingly titled “Schmähkritik” (“defamatory critique”), recited by the German comedian Jan Böhmermann on his TV show in March, 2016. This in turn led to the initiation of a criminal investigation against the said German comedian, instigated both by the Turkish government, as well as by Turkish President Erdogan personally. Thereafter, President Erdogan also pressed civil charges against Böhmermann before German courts. As far as the criminal proceedings initiated by the Turkish government were concerned, a violation of Section 103 Criminal Code was claimed which currently still provides as follows:

Section 103 German Criminal Code
Defamation of organs and representatives of foreign states

(1) Whosoever insults a foreign head of state, or, with respect to his position, a member of a foreign government who is in Germany in his official capacity, or a head of a foreign diplomatic mission who is accredited in the Federal territory shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine, in case of a slanderous insult to imprisonment from three months to five years.

Section 104a German Criminal Code further provides that before any such criminal proceedings under Section 103 German Criminal Code may be initiated, the German government has to formally authorize such proceedings: Read the rest of this entry…

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40th Anniversary of the Additional Protocols of 1977 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949

Published on June 8, 2017        Author: 

On 8 June 1977, at the invitation of Switzerland, plenipotentiaries of more than one hundred States gathered at the “Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts” to finalize and adopt Additional Protocols I and II (APs I and II) to the 1949 Geneva Conventions (GCs). Together with the GCs, APs I and II form the core of international humanitarian law.

Their adoption forty years ago marks a milestone in the regulation of armed conflicts. By developing and supplementing the GCs, AP I and II significantly improved the legal protection of victims of armed conflicts. A key achievement of the APs I and II was codifying and developing rules on the conduct of hostilities and those related to the protection of civilians from the effect of hostilities. In treaty law, these rules had remained untouched since the Hague Conventions of 1907. Another crucial enhancement lies in the extension of the protection granted under the GCs to all medical personnel, units and means of transport, whether civilian or military. Read the rest of this entry…

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Back to Old Tricks? Italian Responsibility for Returning People to Libya

Published on June 6, 2017        Author: 

On 10/11 May 2017 various news outlets reported a maritime operation by the Libyan authorities, in coordination with the Italian Search and Rescue Authority, in which 500 individuals were intercepted in international waters and returned to Libya. This operation amounted to refoulment in breach of customary international law and several treaties (including the Geneva Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights), and an internationally wrongful act is one for which Italy bears international legal responsibility.

According to reports, the migrant and refugee boat called the Italian Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCCC) whilst it was still in Libyan territorial waters. MRCC contacted both the Libyan coastguard and an NGO vessel (Sea Watch-2) with the latter sighting the boat after it had left Libyan waters and was in international waters. During preparations for the rescue, the NGO boat was informed by the Italian authorities that the Libyan coastguard boat which was approaching had “on scene command” of the rescue operation. Attempts by the NGO vessel to contact the Libyan authorities were not picked up. The Coastguard proceeded instead to cut the way of the Sea Watch 2 at high speed and chase its rescue boat. It then stopped the refugees and migrant boat. Reports indicate that the Libyan coastguard captain threatened the refugees and migrants with a gun and then proceeded to take over the migrant boat. Read the rest of this entry…

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Macron’s Threat of Reprisals and the Jus ad Bellum

Published on June 2, 2017        Author: 

A few days ago, French President Macron reportedly said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a “red line” for France and result in reprisals. Macron’s statement comes less than two months after the United States conducted airstrikes against Syria for its use of chemical weapons. The vast majority of states that spoke about the U.S. operation supported or were non-committal about it. Very few states condemned it as unlawful. By contrast, most commentators contended that the operation was unlawful. (See the blog posts collected here.) The operation was inconsistent with the longstanding interpretation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and not covered by either of the Charter exceptions. Moreover, though there is an ongoing debate about whether the jus ad bellum contains a third exception for humanitarian interventions, the majority view is that it does not. The reason for this view is that, even when states (as a group) appear to condone particular operations that might be characterized as unilateral humanitarian interventions, states decline to articulate the opinio juris that is necessary to establish a new, generally applicable exception to Article 2(4). And in any event, the U.S. operation in April seemed more like a reprisal than like a humanitarian intervention.

So, what should we make of Macron’s statement? When news of it broke, I tweeted this comment:

Several people objected to my tweet. I am continuing the conversation here because I thought it might be of interest to a broader audience, and because its implications go far beyond Macron’s statement. It has to do with how we understand and assess the jus ad bellum. Read the rest of this entry…

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Forcible Humanitarian Action in International Law- part II

Published on May 18, 2017        Author: 

Part II of a Two-Part Post

Interpreting Article 2 (4) of the UN Charter

According to the concept of representation noted in Part I, forcible humanitarian action is not intervention or a prima facie unlawful use of force, given the actual or implied consent of the true sovereign. However, even if forcible humanitarian action is considered an instance of the use of force that requires justification, it is still lawful.

Article 2(4) of the UN Charter precludes the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any state, or in any manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations. The reach of that obligation has been debated since the inception of the Charter. Some argue that Article 2(4) did not affect pre-existing customary law, which permitted forcible humanitarian action, much like Article 51 of Charter on self-defence has not overturned the conditions for the exercise of that right expressed in the Caroline formula of 1841/2.

Others claim that Article 2(4) was meant to impose a blanket prohibition of the use of force, save for self-defence and action mandated by the UN Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter. This is countered, however, with reference to the fact that Chapter VII never came into full operation, at least during the Cold War years.

Even after the termination of the Cold War, collective action has often been precluded by the particular interest of the one or other permanent member of the Council holding a veto. This would leave populations without the protection of international action which was assumed to be available when Article 2(4) was drafted. It would be manifestly unreasonable to leave them exposed to destruction merely due to the peculiar interest of the one or other powerful state exercising a capricious veto. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Brexit Bill and the Law of Treaties

Published on May 4, 2017        Author: 

As has been widely reported in the media (e.g. The Guardian, the BBC), the House of Lords reached two main legal conclusions in its March 2017 report on Brexit and the EU budget:

  1. Article 50 TEU allows the UK to leave the EU without being liable for outstanding financial obligations under the EU budget and related financial instruments, unless a withdrawal agreement is concluded which resolves this issue.(para. 135).
  2. The jurisdiction of the CJEU over the UK would also come to an end when the EU Treaties ceased to have effect. Outstanding payments could not, therefore, be enforced against the UK in the CJEU. (para. 133).

The UK government appears to have adopted a similar position on the Brexit bill as the House of Lords. The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung published an account of a ‘disastrous Brexit dinner’ at the end of April 2017 between UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in which PM May reportedly argued that the UK does not owe anything to the EU upon its departure. The fact that this dinner conversation was leaked led to strong criticism, particularly in the UK as the campaign for the general election in June is currently underway (see for example here and here).

On 3 May 2017, the UK’s Brexit Secretary David Davis in a TV interview emphasized that he had not seen any official figure of the EU’s demands, and left open room for compromise:

[The UK] have said we will meet our international obligations,  but there will be our international obligations including assets and liabilities and there will be the ones that are correct in law, not just the ones the Commission want.

However, he indicated that the UK would not pay €100 billion upon leaving the EU.

The Commission’s draft negotiating directives for Article 50 negotiations with the UK, published later on the same day, emphasize the need for a ‘single financial settlement’ of the UK’s financial obligations as a member ‘in full’ – referring to it as a ‘settling of accounts’, rather than ‘punishment’. In February, the EU Commission claimed that the UK owes the EU around €60 billion as a result of its EU membership since 1973 Read the rest of this entry…

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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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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…

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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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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…

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