magnify
Home Archive for category "State Responsibility"

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…

Print Friendly
 

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…

Print Friendly
 

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…

Print Friendly
 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Comments Off on Humanitarian Relief Operations as Countermeasures: Overcoming the Withholding of Consent

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…

Print Friendly
 
Tags: , ,
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Comments Off on What Will a Trump Administration Mean for International Agreements with the United States?

The Kunduz Affair and the German State Liability Regime – The Federal Court of Justice’s Turn to Anachronism

Published on December 5, 2016        Author: 

On 6 October 2016 the Federal Court of Justice (henceforth “Court”) decided on an appeal against the Higher Regional Court of Cologne’s dismissal of two actions for compensation brought against the Federal Republic of Germany (III ZR 140/15, only available in German): Abdul Hannan sought compensation for the death of two of his sons in the amount of 40.000 Euro, Qureisha Rauf, a mother of seven, sought alimentation for the death of her husband and father of her children in the amount of 50.000 Euro. The death of their relatives was the result of a fatal airstrike ordered by Colonel Klein who was in charge of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kunduz in the northern part of Afghanistan. The PRT was institutionally embedded in the framework of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). Whilst Klein was operationally subordinated to the ISAF commander and in the end the NATO Commander-in-Chief he remained within the chain of command of the German Federal Army ultimately being subject to orders of the German Ministry of Defense. The ordered strike was directed against two fuel tanks previously stolen by Taliban from PRT’s premises which were stuck in a sandbank close by. Fearing that these tanks would be used for an attack against the PRT camp Klein commanded their destruction after receiving the information of a military informant that no civilians were present at the relevant location which infrared pictures delivered by US-American fighter aircrafts seemed to support. In retrospect these assumption proved wrong: The attack led to the death of 100 to 150 people, mostly civilians who gathered around the fuel tanks out of curiosity, others were apparently forced by the Taliban to assist with the recovery of the tanks (with regard to the criminal investigation against Klein see here).

A Legal Bombshell

The lower courts were unable to find that Germany incurred liability based on Art. 34 Basic Law in conjunction with § 839 German Civil Code since the claimants failed to establish that Klein violated ius in bello norms – Art. 51, 57 of the First Additional Protocol and Art. 13 of the Second Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions were particualrly in question. The Court, however, went beyond that by asserting that the state liability regime does not apply with regard to actions of the German army in the context of armed conflicts per se. The Court’s finding can be considered a legal bombshell since this question has been left open within previous judgments (see the Court’s “Varvarin” judgment of 2nd November 2006, III ZR 190/05). Until now both the Court itself as well as the Federal Constitutional Court (FCC) applied an “even if” argumentative strategy in similar cases: Not explicitly deciding whether actions within armed conflicts fell into the scope of the liability regime, they limited themselves to finding that even if they did, compensatory claims would remain unsuccessful since other conditions – especially a breach of a duty on part of German state officials – were not met (see FCC, “Varvarin” decision of 3th August 2013 – 2 BvR 2660/06, 2 BvR 487/07 – available in English).

Viewed against the background of German constitutional law as well as obligations stemming from international law – especially the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) – this decision suffers from methodological and substantive deficiencies and is hardly tenable. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

Chatham House Paper on Aiding and Assisting by States

Published on November 28, 2016        Author: 

When states engage in armed conflict today, it is often the case that they do so with some support from other states. The same is true with respect to counter-terrorism efforts. That support may come in many forms: from being part of a coalition that engages in actual fighting; to logistical support that enables the fighting to take place; to supply of weapons; to intelligence sharing; or capacity building in one shape or another. One only has to look at the network of state assistance to other states on all sides of the conflict in Syria, and also in Yemen. A couple of weeks ago Chatham House published a paper –  “Aiding and Assisting: Challenges in Armed Conflict and Counterterrorism” – that I would like to commend to readers. The paper, authored by Harriet Moynihan who is Associate Fellow in the International Law Programme at Chatham House, seeks to set out:

“a clear statement of the law on aiding and assisting as it stands, with particular regard to its application in situations of armed conflict and counterterrorism. The paper also aims to provide guidance to governments on best practice in their cooperation in armed conflict and counterrorism, taking into account the legal and policy issues raised by the various rules in this area.” (para. 6)

A central question addressed in the paper is: when will a state that provides assistance that is used by another state to carry out actions that are wrongful in international law, responsible for assisting that wrongful act? The paper addresses this issue by first considering (in Chapter 2) the general rule that is established with regarding to aiding and assisting in Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s Articles on the Responsibility of States 2001. Chapter 3 then pays some attention to more specific rules of international law that deal with aiding and abetting, eg Common Article 1 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, some treaties dealing with weapons transfers and some applicable rules of international humanitarian law.

Much of the analysis in Chapter 2 deals with the tricky question of the mental element that must be fulfilled in order to establish a breach of Article 16 of the ILC Articles on State Responsibility. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

Launch of Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict

Published on October 31, 2016        Author: 

In many, if not most, armed conflicts, far more deaths occur as a result of the humanitarian crisis created by the conflict rather than from hostilities or the use of force (see this useful study, at p. 842). In addition to those who die as a result of a lack of food, water, access to medical care or adequate sanitation, untold suffering is caused in conflicts across the globe to millions of other civilians. However, in many recent conflicts humanitarian actors have faced serious challenges in delivering much-needed relief supplies and services to civilians in need. The United Nations Secretary-General, in his recent reports to the Security Council on the Protection of Civilians, has identified improving access for humanitarian operation as one of the five “core challenges” to enhancing the protection of civilians in armed conflict (see eg S/2012/376 (paras. 57-63); S/2015/453 (para. 7). In a November 2013 report to the Security Council [S/2013/689, para. 80], the Secretary General called for further analysis of the issue of arbitrary withholding of consent to humanitarian operations and the consequences thereof. He instructed the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to engage with a range of actors to examine the relevant rules and options for guidance in this area. OCHA commissioned the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict and the Oxford Martin Programme on Human Rights for Future Generations (both of which I co-direct) to carry out this exercise. We engaged in a series of expert consultations which took place in Oxford, in addition to informal discussions in Geneva and New York with officials from a number of international agencies and NGOs, with the aim of providing a restatement of the international law rules.

This process has resulted in the production of the Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operation in Situations of Armed Conflict (which is available here). It was a pleasure to launch the Oxford Guidance at UN Headquarters in New York last week, and also in Washington DC. In his May 2016 report [S/2016/447, para. 34] report to the Security Council on the Protection of Civilians, the Secretary General stated that:

“The forthcoming Oxford guidance on the law relating to humanitarian relief operations in situations of armed conflict, which the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs commissioned on my request, should enhance understanding of such a legal framework and inform policies to improve humanitarian access.”

This point was reiterated in the Foreword to the Guidance by the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs who stated that:

“The present Guidance will assist a variety of actors concerned with humanitarian relief operations, including parties to armed conflict, other states, international and non-governmental organizations seeking to provide humanitarian assistance, the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly and other relevant bodies, legal practitioners, scholars and the media.”

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 
 Share on Facebook Share on Twitter
Comments Off on Launch of Oxford Guidance on the Law Relating to Humanitarian Relief Operations in Situations of Armed Conflict

Was the Downing of the Russian Jet by Turkey Illegal?

Published on November 26, 2015        Author: 

There has been much talk of improvement of the relationship between Russia and the West following the deadly terrorist attacks in Paris two weeks ago. Whatever gains have been made on that front will risk being reversed following Tuesday’s incident involving the Russian and Turkish air forces. Although the exact facts are—and likely will remain—disputed, the essence of the incident is known: a Russian fighter jet was shot down in the morning of 24 November by the Turkish military near the Turkish-Syrian border. This post weighs the international law considerations raised by the incident and suggests that on the basis of the available facts, the question from the title should likely be answered in affirmative.

The Russian SU-24 jet was in the region as part of the recent military offensive conducted by the Russian forces with the consent of the government of Syria against a number of armed groups on the Syrian territory, including the notorious Islamic State. The central contested fact is, of course, whether the aircraft had crossed over the border into the Turkish airspace. The Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoğlu emphatically claimed that it had; the Russian president Vladimir Putin denied it in equally strong words. An unnamed US official was reported as having said ‘that the Russian incursion into Turkish airspace lasted a matter of seconds’. Later, a Turkish letter addressed to the President of the Security Council (and duly leaked online) stated the incursion had lasted for exactly 17 seconds.

The legal analysis under international law is reasonably clear if the Russian version of the events is taken as factually accurate. The shooting down of another State’s military aircraft amounts to a use of force against that State. The recognized exceptions of the use of force in self-defence and under the authorization of the Security Council being inapplicable on the facts, the destruction of the jet would be caught by the general prohibition on the use of force under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and thus unlawful.

Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

From Passive Consent to Self-Defence after the Syrian Protest against the US-led Coalition

Published on October 23, 2015        Author: 

Since September 2014, the US and some Arab States have conducted air strikes against Islamic State (IS) in Syria. They have recently been joined by some Western States, including the UK, Canada, Australia and France. The justification given by those States and the US for their military operations in Syria is based on the right of self-defense, enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. Such justification has been contested by some scholars. Yet, this does not mean those air strikes should be considered unlawful. It is argued that they could be justified by the “passive consent” of Syria.

  1. The end of passive consent

Contrary to their reaction to air strikes conducted by States such as Turkey, Syrian authorities did not formally oppose air strikes by the US-led coalition after they occurred – although some limited objections have been formulated in the media. The Assad regime even seems to have welcomed this international effort to fight against IS and expressed its readiness to cooperate with such effort. As a result, although consent has never been expressly given by the Assad regime to the US-led coalition’s airstrikes, the absence of protest by this regime could be interpreted as “passive consent” thereto. Such interpretation could find some support in the DRC v. Uganda case (para. 46), in which the ICJ inferred the DRC’s consent to the presence of Uganda troops on its soil from the absence of any objection to such presence.

Yet, regardless whether “passive consent” is a valid legal basis for justifying the airstrikes conducted by the US-led coalition against IS in Syria, such legal basis seems now to be in great trouble. Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly
 

Embedded Troops and the Use of Force in Syria: International and Domestic Law Questions

Published on September 11, 2015        Author: 

Editor’s Notes: This post was written before the announcement earlier this week that the UK had conducted a drone strike against members of Islamic State in Syria in August. Commentary on that latest development will follow later.

As Rob McLaughlin noted in his post, UK military pilots, (as well as other UK military personnel), embedded with US and Canadian forces have taken part in air strikes in Syria against Islamic State (or ISIL) targets. It has also been reported that Australian pilots embedded with US forces are also due to start taking part in that campaign in Syria. In a written Ministerial Statement of 20 July, the UK Secretary of State for Defense confirmed that: “A small number of embedded UK pilots have carried out airstrikes in Syria against ISIL targets: none are currently involved in airstrikes.”

The involvement of UK military personnel in air strikes in Syria would ordinarily raise a number of international law questions: (i) Is the UK to be considered as using force in Syria, and, if so, what is the legal basis for such action?; (ii) is the UK to be regarded as a party to one or more of the armed conflicts taking place in Syria?; (iii) would the UK bear responsibility if any violations of international law, occur in the conduct of those air strikes? Although these are all important questions of international law, they have not been all that significant in this case. These questions have not been of great importance in the context of the air strikes conducted by embedded personnel largely because (in the case of the first two) they arise apart from the participation in those airstrikes, and because (in the case of the third), it has not been suggested that violations of international humanitarian law occurred in the conduct of those strikes.

In the UK, the significance of UK forces acting in Syria has arisen largely because of domestic political and legal considerations that I set out below. However, as will be seen those domestic legal considerations are intertwined with questions of international law and in particular, with the question whether the UK pilots who have acted in Syria are to be considered as part of the armed forces of the UK, or rather as part of the armed forces of the countries in whose forces they are embedded (the US or Canada). This question, which is important domestically, raises the international law question that Rob McLaughlin refers to: are the acts of those UK pilots attributable, as a matter of international law, to the UK, or attributable only to the US and Canada?

The UK and the Legality of the Use of Force in Syria

The UK has already indicated that it would be prepared to use force against Islamic State in Syria and it has been rumoured that the government would seek parliamentary approval for such a use of force this autumn, perhaps even, this month. In any case, even prior to the revelation that UK embedded personnel had acted in Syria, the UK had already engaged in acts which amount to a use of force in Syria as it is involved in training and equipping Syrian rebel forces Read the rest of this entry…

Print Friendly