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Home Sources of International Law Archive for category "Customary International Law"

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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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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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…

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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…

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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…

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Induction, Assertion and the Limits of the Existing Methodologies to Identify Customary International Law

Published on December 2, 2015        Author: 

Professor Talmon’s article on the methodologies employed by the International Court of Justice to ascertain custom is as important as it is timely now that the International Law Commission is advancing with its study on the identification of customary international law. To contribute to the debate, I propose to elaborate on a crucial question that the piece raises. Why is it that the Court so often resorts to ‘asserting’ customary international law instead of providing more robust reasoning to back up the rules that it identifies? Though the precise reasons why the Court takes the approach it does are a matter for speculation, I suspect that this has to do with limitations that are inherent to the standard methodology to establish custom (the ‘inductive method’, to use Professor Talmon’s terminology), in the shaping of which the Court itself has played a large part.

As Professor Talmon suggests, systemic reasoning – argument by principle and argument by analogy – has been a major catalyst for development in international law, filling gaps that would be left behind if the inductive method were applied. Yet, the inductive method is the best accepted methodology to identify custom insofar as it encapsulates the prevailing view as to what is required by the ‘rule of recognition’ of international law.

The problem with that ‘rule of recognition’ is that it does not allow us to reach any firm conclusions as to the existence of particular rules of custom. That becomes clear when one dissects the inductive method as defined and applied by the International Court. Read the rest of this entry…

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Methodology and Misdirection: Custom and the ICJ

Published on December 1, 2015        Author: 

In Determining Customary International Law: The ICJ’s Methodology between Induction, Deduction and Assertion, Stefan Talmon revisits the old debate over inductive and deductive methods for finding customary international law (CIL) to see whether we can now, fifty years after the original debates, learn any lessons about whether, when, and how the International Court of Justice uses each. What Talmon finds is that there are no clear patterns in how the ICJ uses each method, and that in fact, it is a third method, assertion, that best exemplifies the Court’s approach. What Talmon only hints at though are much broader lessons—that the ICJ’s failure to adopt a clear methodology for finding customary international law is only a symptom of a much broader problem, that the ICJ has never articulated a clear, coherent explanation of its authority to interpret customary international law or for whom. The ICJ’s efforts to find customary international law may simply be incoherent, a mirage, or even impossible.

The questions that Talmon’s study begs are why. Why isn’t the ICJ more interested in developing a clear methodology and why are there no patterns in the ICJ’s use of deductive or inductive methods? And why aren’t states more concerned? Why haven’t states demanded a clear methodology before treating ICJ decisions on custom as authoritative?

Methodology as Justification

Starting with the first question, the lack of clear methodology hints that the ICJ’s choice of induction, deduction, or assertion has little to do with methodology and everything to do with justification. When the Court invokes each one, it is attempting to justify its authority to interpret or find rules of CIL. Assertion makes this clearest—in the absence of any real evidence of a customary rule, the Court justifies it rules with appeals to “obviousness.” As Talmon wisely observes, both inductive and deductive methods are claims of derivative authority—the Court is not “making” or “choosing” a rule, but merely “finding” the rule made by states themselves in their interaction with one another. This is true whether the Court counts practice and weighs opinio juris or attempts to deduce a specific rule from recognized more general ones. It also tracks the requirement of article 38 of the ICJ Statute that the Court apply “international custom, as evidence of general practice accepted as law.” In essence, the Court‘s claim is that it is simply stepping into the shoes of states and making the same judgment they would make about specific rules and actions.

Negotiated Law and Adjudicated Law

The problem reflected in the ICJ’s methodological muddle is that this task may be impossible and the justification something of a fib. A court cannot step into a state’s shoes. A court forced to find a rule to decide a case is engaged in a fundamentally different activity than a state discerning a rule to guide its actions or jockeying for its favoured interpretation in relations with other states. Read the rest of this entry…

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The International Court of Justice and Customary International Law: A Reply to Stefan Talmon

Published on November 30, 2015        Author: 

There is much to agree with in Professor Talmon’s article, which addresses the International Court of Justice’s methodology for the determination of rules of customary international law, and concludes that “the main method employed by the Court is neither induction nor deduction but, rather, assertion.” But there are some questionable aspects, including its conclusion.

The Court’s approach to the identification of rules of customary international law

Professor Talmon regrets the lack of discussion, both by the Court itself and by writers, of the methodology used by the Court to determine the existence, content and scope of rules of customary international law. But the Court has of course stated in its 2012 Jurisdictional Immunities of the State judgment that in order to determine the existence of a rule of customary international law “it must apply the criteria which it has repeatedly laid down for identifying a rule of customary international law” – as indeed it has. The Court recalls its pronouncements in the North Sea Continental Shelf and Continental Shelf (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya/Malta) cases, where it “made clear” that “the existence of a rule of customary international law requires that there be “a settled practice” together with opinio juris” (I.C.J. Reports 2012, p. 99, at p. 122, para. 55). It could well have cited to other decisions as well, among them Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua and Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons. A coherent methodology does come into sight in these (individually and even more so in the aggregate), even if not all questions relating to it have been fully addressed. It is one thing to suggest, as some have, that the Court does not consistently adhere to this stated methodology; it is a different thing altogether to argue, as Professor Talmon does, that the Court “has hardly ever stated” such methodology. Read the rest of this entry…

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Determining Customary International Law: The ICJ’s Methodology between Induction, Deduction and Assertion

Published on November 27, 2015        Author: 

Methodology is probably not the strong point of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) or, indeed, of international law in general. Unlike its approach to methods of treaty interpretation, the ICJ has hardly ever stated its methodology for determining the existence, content and scope of the rules of customary international law that it applies. There are only isolated references in the ICJ’s jurisprudence to the inductive and deductive method of law determination. In the Gulf of Maine case, a Chamber of the Court stated that ‘customary international law […] comprises a set of customary rules whose presence in the opinio juris of States can be tested by induction based on the analysis of a sufficiently extensive and convincing practice and not by deduction from preconceived ideas’ ([1984] ICJ Rep 246 [111]). The use of the words ‘can be’, rather than ‘is’, implies that customary international law rules can also be discovered deductively. That deduction is part of the ICJ’s methodological arsenal is demonstrated by the fact that in the North Sea Continental Shelf cases five judges used the deductive method in their separate or dissenting opinions. For example, Judge Tanaka stated that ‘[i]n the event that the customary law character of the principle of equidistance cannot be proved, there exists another reason which seems more cogent for recognizing this character. That is the deduction of the necessity of this principle from the fundamental concept of the continental shelf’ ([1969] ICJ Rep 179). In the ICJ’s more recent jurisprudence, the Arrest Warrant case is widely seen an example of deductive reasoning, while the Jurisdictional Immunities of the State case is regarded as a prime example of the Court using the inductive method.

It is not only the ICJ itself that has largely remained silent on its methodology for the determination of customary international law. The legal literature has also had little to say on this subject. The great debate in the 1960s between Georg Schwarzenberger and Wilfred Jenks over the right method in international adjudication remains an isolated incident. [See Jenks, The Prospects of International Adjudication (1964), at 617–662 (‘Inductive and Deductive Reasoning in International Adjudication’) & Georg Schwarzenberger, The Inductive Approach to International Law (1965), at 115–164 (‘The Inductive Approach Refuted?’)]  Jenks saw in Schwarzenberger’s inductive approach to international law ‘a challenge to creative jurisprudence’, while, for Schwarzenberger, the deductive method was nothing more than ‘judicial legislation’ in disguise. In view of the fact that determining the law always also means developing and, ultimately, creating the law, it is surprising that the question of the ICJ’s methodology has attracted such little interest.

The article aims to refocus attention on the methodology used by the ICJ when determining the rules of customary international law that it applies, and to highlight the role played by methodology in the development of customary international law. Read the rest of this entry…

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