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Home Archive for category "State Responsibility"

The NotPetya Cyber Operation as a Case Study of International Law

Published on July 11, 2017        Author:  and

The recent “NotPetya” cyber-operation illustrates the complexity of applying international law to factually ambiguous cyber scenarios. Manifestations of NotPetya began to surface on 27 June when a major Ukrainian bank reported a sustained operation against its network. The Ukrainian Minister of Infrastructure soon announced ‘an ongoing and massive attack everywhere’.  By the following day, NotPetya’s impact was global, affecting, inter alia, government agencies, shipping companies, power providers, and healthcare providers. However, there are no reports of NotPetya causing deaths or injuries.

Cybersecurity experts have concluded that despite being initially characterized as a ransomware attack similar to WannaCry and Petya, NotPetya was directed at specific systems with a purpose of ‘causing economic losses, sowing chaos, or perhaps testing attack capabilities or showing own power’. Additionally, most agree that Ukraine was the target of the operation, which bled over into other States. The key question, however, is the identity of the attacker. NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence experts have opined that ‘NotPetya was probably launched by a state actor or a non-state actor with support or approval from a state.’

Although the facts are less than definitively established, the EJIL: Talk! editors have asked us to analyse the incident on the assumption that it is factually and legally attributable to a State.  We begin with a peacetime international law survey and conclude with an international humanitarian law (IHL) analysis. 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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Excusing Illegal Use of Force: From Illegal but Legitimate to Legal Because it is Legitimate?

Published on April 14, 2017        Author: 

The US missile strikes on Syria have, inter alia, revived the debates on humanitarian intervention, the argument of ‘illegal but legitimate’ and more generally on the exceptions to the prohibition of the use of force. For some examples see here, here and here. Some contributors have pointed out that the US did not even try to bring this action within the ambit of the Charter rules on the use of force, and that the absence of Charter-based arguments may even be a good thing as it preserves the strength of Article 2(4). Others have cautioned that the strength of the rules on the use of force might nevertheless be undermined, as singular ‘exceptional’ cases result in a pattern.

This post argues that, analogous to the concept of defences in municipal legal systems, international law on the use of force should adopt a systematic distinction between justifications and excuses. As responses to the US missile attack in Syria demonstrate, the two concepts are conflated. The result is that legality is often assessed on the basis of excuses. If the trend of conflation continues, the controversial doctrine of ‘illegal but legitimate’ will move toward an even more controversial doctrine of ‘legal because it is legitimate’.

Justifications are legally-warranted exceptions to the general prohibition. As such, they are a way out of illegality. Excuses, on the other hand, are not a way out of illegality, but act as mitigating circumstances that preclude responsibility for an otherwise illegal conduct. Under some circumstances, breaching the law may indeed be the choice of a lesser evil. As noted by Vaughan Lowe in his 1999 EJIL article, a legal system may wish to provide a defence for emergency drivers who breach the speed limit on the way to hospital. There are two ways of achieving this goal. One way is to give them an explicit authorization to breach the speed limit. The other one, however, does not authorize speeding, but rather ensures that emergency drivers are not prosecuted upon such a breach of traffic rules. The first (justification) relaxes the norm itself and may well result in wider disobeying of the speed limit than the second, which merely provides for a carefully weighed excuse of culpability where the norm was doubtlessly breached. In other words, it is better if the general norm is strong and ‘catches’ more violators whose excuses are then considered on a case-by-case basis. I elaborate on these issues in more details in this 2015 concept paper. In the present context, might the ‘emergency driver logic’ apply to the US strike in Syria? Even if it did, it would not make this action legal. Possibly, the US could only escape responsibility for this internationally wrongful act.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Testing Jackson’s Discussion of State Responsibility in the Context of Government Assistance. Book Discussion

Published on April 13, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of our book discussion on Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law“.

Criticisms of western governments for aiding and assisting other states to act in breach of international law are now common. While such criticisms may sometimes be as much to do with the policy of the thing, there is also increasing focus on the law. The ongoing judicial review in the English courts regarding the provision of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia in the context of the conflict in the Yemen (The Queen on the application of Campaign against the Arms Trade v. The Secretary of State for International Trade) illustrates the possibility of litigation on the issue in domestic courts. Miles Jackson’s book on ‘complicity’ gives an introduction and a foundation for thinking about this highly topical subject, in the context both of international criminal law and of state responsibility, and adds to the growing literature. This brief note considers, in the context of state responsibility, whether the book is also of use to the practitioner – whether government adviser, non-governmental organisation, or advocate – who has to apply the law before or after the event.

Jackson’s discussion of state responsibility can be tested in the context of three examples of government assistance; the choice of examples here is unashamedly UK-centric, but instances can be found in many other countries. The first is the provision to other governments of arms and other materiél in a conflict to which the assisting government is not a party and where the assisted government is alleged to be in breach of international humanitarian law in the conduct of the conflict. The second example stems from allowing other governments the use of airfields and military bases on the assisting government’s territory. Here there may be allegations of breaches of ius ad bellum by an assisted state which uses a loaned base to launch an armed conflict, or of human rights abuses such as unlawful rendition of individuals from the base. The third example is the provision of financial and practical aid to improve another state’s justice or human rights sectors. In such a case the relevant sectors of the assisted government are unlikely to have a good record: is it lawful to assist them to improve, or will the aid make the assisting state complicit? Read the rest of this entry…

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A Path towards the Moral Sophistication of International Law? Some Remarks on Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law”

Published on April 13, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of our book discussion on Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law“.

It is a great pleasure to contribute to this mini-symposium on Miles Jackson’s monograph on the notion of complicity in international law. The book is a further testament to the growing importance of questions of ‘shared responsibility’ in international law, ie the harmful cooperation of several actors.

In his elegantly written book, Miles Jackson makes several important contributions. In particular, he has brought a comparative approach to questions of complicity in international law. Whereas most existing books on complicity focus either on state responsibility or international criminal law, Jackson aims to transcend this boundary and develop an overarching framework for complicity in international law. While Jackson is of course mindful of the structural differences between the two areas, his comparative approach nonetheless calls for some further discussion.

A second most original aspect of the book is its move beyond an inter-state focus in its treatment of state complicity. Jackson analyses if and to what extent international law imposes state responsibility for complicity with non-state actors. In this latter regard, he convincingly argues against an approach based on attribution. 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 Use of Cluster Munitions by Saudi Arabia in Yemen and the Responsibility of the United Kingdom

Published on March 7, 2017        Author: 

In December 2016, after repeated denials, Ahmed Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen, said: ‘It has become apparent that there was limited use by the coalition of the UK-manufactured BL755 cluster munition in Yemen’. This admission opened up questions about the United Kingdom’s potential responsibility for the use of cluster munitions by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Britain’s Defence Secretary Michael Fallon informed the Commons that the munitions used by Saudi Arabia had been delivered in the 1980s, well in advance of the entry into force for the United Kingdom of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (‘the Convention’) on 1 November 2010. The treaty was implemented through the Cluster Munitions (Prohibitions) Act 2010 (‘the Act’).

 A judicial review of the granting of export licences to Saudi Arabia is currently taking place in the English High Court, following an application by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (see here). The application focuses on export licences for weapons in general, and follows allegations of violations of international humanitarian law by Saudi Arabia, including, but not limited, its use of cluster munitions.

In this post, I focus on the specific responsibility of the UK arising under the Convention on Cluster Munitions for the use by Saudi Arabia of UK-provided aircraft, and support by British personnel.

The post addresses three issues: first, whether issuing export licences for aircraft to Saudi Arabia can be construed as a breach of Article 1(c) of the Convention; second, whether the exception on interoperability in Article 21 of the Convention covers the acts by the UK in respect to the use of cluster munitions by Saudi Arabia; and third, whether the UK’s responsibility could also arise also under Article 16 of the Draft Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (‘the 2001 Articles’). Read the rest of this entry…

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Due Diligence Obligation in Times of Crisis: A Reflection by the Example of International Arms Transfers

Published on March 1, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on International Human Rights Law blog symposium on ‘The Place of International Human Rights Law in Times of Crisis’.

In this blog post, I would like to take up a question that I discussed at the ESIL Human Rights Interest Group in Riga and analyze whether the due diligence obligation under international human rights law (IHRL) plays a role in the regulation of crisis in order to prevent or mitigate state action that has a negative impact on human rights, and what role that might be.

In doing so, I will use the debate emerging in the wake of the ongoing ‘crisis’ in the Middle East on international arms transfers by foreign governments, for instance, to the Syrian rebels or the Kurdish forces in Northern Iraq, to support the fight against IS. International arms transfers in the form of emergency military aid has drawn into the limelight the issue as to whether the recipients of the supplied arms would be able to control them or if these weapons may fall into the hands of non-intended end-users, such as private parties, likely be used to commit human rights violations on the recipient’s territory (which is what in fact happened, see here or here).

The Problématique: Attribution of Conduct

As a general principle, the acts of non-state actors fall out of the scope of the rules of state responsibility, unless they are acting under the direction or control of a state (see Article 8 of the ILC Draft Articles on State Responsibility). Crisis-related scenarios are especially characterized in a way that human rights abuses occur either due to a general situation where the wrongful conduct in question is not identifiable (e.g. in armed conflicts, natural disasters or disease outbreaks) or where acts of non-state actors are not attributable to a state due to lack of control. This might be the case in armed conflicts where third states do not engage in direct attacks but are interfering indirectly by means of state assistance (e.g. military aid in the form of arms transfers). Read the rest of this entry…

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Humanitarian Relief Operations as Countermeasures: Overcoming the Withholding of Consent

Published on December 16, 2016        Author: 

In the Oxford Guidance, the authors make a careful exposition of the legal framework relating to humanitarian relief operations in situations of armed conflict. Responding to the unseemly practice of some states impeding humanitarian relief operations, they make the compelling, practice-based argument that states have an obligation under international law not to arbitrarily withhold consent to such operations (pp. 21-25). That states have such an obligation does however not necessarily mean that humanitarian relief actors have a right to conduct relief operations absent such consent. The primary rules of international humanitarian law, in any event, while providing for the former obligation, do not provide for the latter right. Secondary rules of international law on state responsibility may come to the rescue here. As the authors of the Oxford Guidance correctly point out, the doctrines of necessity and countermeasures under the general law of state responsibility may also apply as circumstances precluding the wrongfulness of “third” states’ relief operations on the territory of the non-consenting state (pp. 51-55). In this post, I will critically reconstruct the authors’ application of the law on countermeasures. I will limit myself to countermeasures taken by third states. I have addressed the taking of humanitarian relief-based countermeasures taken by non-state humanitarian actors (NGOs) in an earlier publication. 

The main obstacle to a third state conducting relief operations as a countermeasure is that this state is not itself ‘injured’ by the territorial state’s withholding of consent. Indeed, the better position is that the non-relieved civilians are the injured parties, and that the state wishing to conduct the relief operation is a non-injured state. This begs the question whether in that capacity it is entitled to take countermeasures in the face of the territorial state’s arbitrarily withholding consent to the relief operation. The authors of the  Oxford Guidance take the ‘progressive’ position that they can. Read the rest of this entry…

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What Will a Trump Administration Mean for International Agreements with the United States?

Published on December 13, 2016        Author: 

On 20 January 2017, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. During the campaign, he spoke often about terminating landmark international agreements concluded by the Obama administration, including the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the normalization of relations with Cuba. Predicting what might actually happen in a Trump administration is difficult, because his statements as a private citizen, candidate and president-elect have been inconsistent. Should he wish to follow through on the campaign rhetoric to take immediate action on these issues, what can the president actually do unilaterally? Decisions to terminate these agreements raise questions under both international and domestic law. The United States is bound under international law when it becomes a party to an international agreement, and also has some limited obligations upon signature. Under US constitutional law, the presidency is at its most independent and powerful in dealing with foreign relations. While that power is not unlimited, soon-to-be President Trump could arguably fulfil all of those campaign promises without violating domestic or international law.

Paris Agreement on Climate Change

On 3 September 2016, the United States ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change which entered into force on 4 November 2016. The agreement was concluded under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) which was ratified by the United States in 1992 and entered into force in 1994. The Paris Agreement establishes no binding financial commitments or emissions targets. The states party are bound only to formulate and publish national plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to reduce the increase to 1.5°C. The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and its participation in the Paris Agreement was critical to bringing other states, particularly China, on board. Read the rest of this entry…

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