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Home Archive for category "States and Statehood"

The Kerch Strait Incident: Law of the Sea or Law of Naval Warfare?

Published on December 3, 2018        Author: 
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On Sunday 25 November 2018 Russian coast guard patrol boats, including the Don and the 630-ton Izumrud, first intercepted and later fired on three Ukrainian naval ships near the entrance to the Kerch Strait. Two Ukrainian sailors were injured, the Ukrainian ships seized and the crews arrested. The attack has been roundly condemned in the United States and around the world.

The Russian ships intercepted two Ukrainian Gyurza-M-class artillery boats, Berdyansk and Nikopol and a tugboat, Yany Kapu, as they sailed toward the Ukrainian port of Mariupol. Russian forces seized the vessels and arrested 24 crew members. The Don twice rammed the tugboat and the Russian vessels opened fire on the two smaller Ukrainian warships. The incident occurred in the territorial sea along the approaches to the Kerch Strait, which is bordered in the east by Russia and in the west by Russian-occupied Ukrainian Crimea. The Russian government stated that its forces fired only after the Ukrainian ships violated articles 19 and 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) concerning innocent passage in the territorial sea.

Exploring the legal circumstances of the incident requires selection between peacetime rules of the law of the sea and the law of naval warfare, which applies to international armed conflicts. This post concludes that the actual incident on the water is part of a continuing aggression by Russia against Ukraine, in violation of the UN Charter. While unlawful as a matter of the jus ad bellum, the incident would be a lawful in bello use of force by Russia in accordance with the law of naval warfare, notwithstanding Russia’s unlawful invasion of Crimea in 2014 or subsequent unlawful treatment of the Ukrainian sailors as common criminals rather than prisoners of war. In this case the law of naval warfare is lex specialis and supplants mutatis mutandis the peacetime rules of the international law of the sea for Russia and the Ukraine.

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How Trump’s Migration Policy Erodes National and International Standards of Protection for Migrants and Asylum Seekers

Published on November 28, 2018        Author: 
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Early this month, 5,600 US soldiers were deployed to the southern border as a response to an approaching migrant caravan consisting of several thousand Central Americans. U.S. President Donald Trump called the advancing group in official statements a foreign “invasion” that warrants deploying up to 15,000 army members to support the border patrol. He further publicly warned that “nobody is coming in” and once more clarified his stance on migration stating that “immigration is a very, very big and very dangerous, a really dangerous topic”. The latest footage of U.S. officers firing tear gas at migrants of the caravan-including at children- that tried to enter the country, is the disturbing result of Trump’s sketched horror scenario of a violent invasion of Central Americans.

This strict stance on migration is just the most recent example, the tip of an iceberg of the Trump administration’s aim to establish, step by step, a migration policy that erodes national and international standards of protection.

The comprehensive new migration strategy seemingly builds on a set of immediate, as well as long-term measures aiming at those who attempt to enter the United States as well as at those who are already within the state’s territory. For example, last month a new immigration policy was introduced that aimed at restricting immigrants from using public benefits, or else they may be illegible for permanent residency later on. This is just one of numerous examples of how the Trump administration severely restricted or just completely abandoned given standards such as the abolishment of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the prevention of dreamers from living and working in the U.S.A., as well as the abrogation of the temporary protective status programs. These turnovers of existing standards affected more than two million regularly residing migrants in the U.S.A. and fostered sentiments of fear, nationalism and division.

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Palestine v United States: Why the ICJ does not need to decide whether Palestine is a state

Published on November 22, 2018        Author: 
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Palestine’s institution of proceedings against the United States before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has already drawn much attention on this blog (see here and here) and elsewhere. A great deal has already been said on Monetary Gold and admissibility. My post will focus on the Article 34(1) ICJ Statute requirement that ‘[o]nly states may be parties in cases before the Court’. Contrary to some arguments that have been made on this blog and elsewhere, I will argue that for the purposes of Article 34(1) the ICJ does not need to decide whether Palestine is a state, let alone weigh the Montevideo criteria. An entity may be a ‘state’ for the functional purposes of certain treaties and procedures created by those treaties, but such procedures have no implications for the substantive legal status of the entity under general international law. I will also argue that Palestine’s access to these procedural treaty mechanisms is UNESCO membership and not the status of a non-member observer state in the UN.

When a treaty uses the word ‘state’

The ICJ proceedings are only open to states. But this does not mean that the legal status of an entity can be determined as a side-effect of the ICJ’s procedural rules. The logic of such an argument would go as follows: the ICJ can only hear cases between states, so if the ICJ exercises its jurisdiction, the parties in the proceedings must be states. This would be an implicit reading of the requirement contained in an international treaty that an entity be a state. Such implicit readings are not uncommon in international legal scholarship.  We indeed often read in leading textbooks that since UN membership is only open to states, this is the ultimate confirmation that a UN member indeed is a state. Read the rest of this entry…

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Reforming Land Restitution – A Concerted Effort to Derail Colombia’s Transitional Justice System?

Published on November 2, 2018        Author: 
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Recently, Kai Ambos alerted readers of two attempts to weaken Colombia’s transitional justice system (see here and here). A third development fortifies suspicions that the country’s newly elected government intends to derail it. This time, a legislative proposal threatens Colombia’s land restitution process. Changes in the treatment of secondary occupants of reclaimed land could especially frustrate this integral part of the elaborate reparation efforts.  

Land Restitution in Colombia

The struggle over land has long been at the core of the Colombian conflict. With 7.7 million people, Colombia hosts the world’s largest population of internally displaced persons. IDPs constitute the vast majority of the 8.7 million registered survivors of the armed conflict. Studies estimate that displacement has affected 11.4 million hectares of land. Accordingly, former President Santos included land restitution as a central element in the 2011 Law on Victims and Land Restitution – the largest reparation program in the world. To manage the massive caseload, a newly created entity, the Land Restitution Unit (Unidad de Restitución de Tierras, URT) administers a special three-phase restitution process. In the first administrative phase, the URT decides on a survivor’s request to have his or her land entered into the Register of Evacuated or Forcibly Abandoned Land (Registro de Tierras Despojadas y Abandonadas Forzosamente). The URT collects evidence and evaluates whether the survivor convincingly demonstrates his or her displacement and a legal relationship to the land they seek to reclaim. Once registered, the survivor proceeds to the judicial phase, in which a specialized judge decides the claim with finality. A positive sentence constitutes a legal title to the land. The judge can further order any measures necessary to guarantee an effective return to the restituted land in conditions respectful to the survivor’s human rights. Among these measures are debt relief, and technical and financial assistance for economic projects. In the post-sentence phase, the judge remains seized and can issue further orders if the survivor encounters problems in the return process.

Secondary Occupants

Of course, the process is not perfect. Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine’s Application the ICJ, neither Groundless nor Hopeless. A Reply to Marko Milanovic

Published on October 8, 2018        Author: 
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On Friday 30 September 2018, Palestine introduced an Application before the ICJ against the United States of America for violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR), on account of the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This is yet another judicial episode of David vs Goliath, like the Military and Paramilitary Activities case (Nicaragua v. US) or the South China Seaarbitration (Philippines v. China) were. But this time the David seems even more fragile, since the Goliath disputes the statehood of Palestine and consequently the many rights attached to it – among them, recognition and respect of sovereign equality in the first place.

The seisin of the ICJ has taken international lawyers aback: the reactions went from enthusiastic excitement to sheer incredulity or scepticism. This is not surprising: the case, whether it is decided on the merits or not, has the potential of becoming one of the great cases of international law, those which will be studied for decades by international law students, which will give guidance on highly debated issues, like statehood and erga omnes obligations. It is not every day that the Court is offered such an occasion.

Now, of course, it is certain that the US will challenge the Court’s jurisdiction. The only question is whether they will formally introduce preliminary objections or opt for non-appearance (like China or Russia have lately done). Non-appearance having rarely served the cause of the recalcitrant State, the US would be well advised not to follow that path; all the more if their case on jurisdiction is as strong as Marko Milanovic considers it to be in his post of 30 Sept. 2018. Non-appearance is generally an epidermal reaction by a super-power to legal challenges against its policy. The US’ infuriated announcement of withdrawal from the Optional Protocol to the VCDR, made on 3 Oct 2018, denotes this attitude. But it has no effect on Palestinian proceedings, which were introduced before the denunciation could become effective. 

One may wonder instead why the United States have not made this move earlier. After all, Palestine did warn them, through a verbal note of 4 July 2018, of the dispute on the VCDR. And on the same day, Palestine deposited with the Secretary General a declaration recognizing the jurisdiction of the Court under the Optional Protocol (both texts are available as annexes to Palestine’s Application). Maybe no one in Washington considered that Palestine’s notifications should be taken seriously. Be that as it may, the Application was made on time and the consensual basis of jurisdiction will be difficult to challenge. Read the rest of this entry…

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Palestine Sues the United States in the ICJ re Jerusalem Embassy

Published on September 30, 2018        Author: 
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On Friday Palestine instituted proceedings against the United States of America before the International Court of Justice, claiming that the US violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations by moving its embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The application is here, the ICJ’s press release here; this is how the press release summarizes Palestine’s claim:

It is recalled in the Application that, on 6 December 2017, the President of the United States recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and announced the relocation of the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The American Embassy in Jerusalem was then inaugurated on 14 May 2018.

Palestine contends that it flows from the Vienna Convention that the diplomatic mission of a sending State must be established on the territory of the receiving State. According to Palestine, in view of the special status of Jerusalem, “[t]he relocation of the United States Embassy in Israel to . . . Jerusalem constitutes a breach of the Vienna Convention”.

As basis for the Court’s jurisdiction, the Applicant invokes Article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the Vienna Convention concerning the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes. It notes that Palestine acceded to the Vienna Convention on 2 April 2014 and to the Optional Protocol on 22 March 2018, whereas the United States of America is a party to both these instruments since 13 November 1972.

In brief, Palestine argues that various articles of the VCDR, especially Article 3 thereof, require that the functions of the diplomatic mission be performed ‘in the receiving state,’ which means that the mission must be established in the receiving state. Jerusalem is not Israeli territory, and therefore moving the embassy there meant that it was not established in the receiving state. Ergo, there was a violation of the VCDR.

This case raises numerous issues, some obvious, some not. There are many objections that the US could raise, and will inevitably raise.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Part II: The Partition of the Chagos Archipelago and the Haunting Spectre of the South West Africa Cases

Published on September 21, 2018        Author: 
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[Part II of a two-part post]

When consent has been vitiated

One of the most challenging aspects of partition is proving that its representatives’ consent was vitiated due to duress. In nearly all cases of partition duress, coercion, and even fraud has been alleged by one of the parties. In other words, their consent to the loss of territory was not freely given.

In Ireland, it was argued that the threat of force was employed during the negotiation of the Anglo-Irish Treaty in 1921 to ensure the Irish delegation accepted the option of dominion status against that of a republic (A. Carty, Was Ireland Conquered, 1996, p. 84). It was also alleged that the delegation’s consent to the partition was brought about by deceit because of assurances given to them that primary importance would be given by a Boundary Commission to the ‘wishes of the inhabitants’ in the redrawing of the boundary between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State when, in fact, the UK never had any intention of interfering with the integrity of the six counties (A. Carty, Was Ireland Conquered, 1996, pp. 135-140).

In British India, it was argued that Mountbatten held a ‘metaphorical gun’ to Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s head when he ‘consented’ to a ‘moth-eaten Pakistan’ that he had spent his whole career opposing. Mountbatten even admitted that he ‘drove the old man quite mad’ by insisting that the logic of partition, if applied to India, must equally apply to the provinces of the Punjab and Bengal (quoted in M. Zafrulla Khan, The Agony of Pakistan, 1974, p. 47). Nehru agreed with Sardar Patel that ‘it might be possible to frighten Mr. Jinnah into cooperation because of the shortness of time available before partition must be completed’ (M. Zafrulla Khan, The Agony of Pakistan, 1974, p. 47). Read the rest of this entry…

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Part I: The Partition of the Chagos Archipelago and the Haunting Spectre of the South West Africa Cases

Published on September 20, 2018        Author: 
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[Part I of a two-part post] 

The advisory proceedings concerning the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 are over, but an opinion that answers the legal questions raised in the request could have consequences well beyond the Indian Ocean.

Earlier this month, Stephen Allen contributed a post on the self-determination arguments made in relation to the first question asked of the court. Like Allen, I have taken sides in my scholarly work, although unlike Allen, I have argued that self-determination emerged as a customary norm of international law before 1970. As I argued in my article on the arbitration (2010-2015) between the UK and Mauritius (published in volume 19 of The Max Planck Yearbook of United Nations Law, 2016, pp. 419-468), the emergence of a norm prohibiting partition in the decolonization context would have outlawed the division of the archipelago before independence in 1968, unless it could be shown that Mauritius consented to the separation.

In this post, I argue that the legal arguments raised by the Applicants in the South West Africa Cases could be of direct relevance to the opinion, because although the ICJ refused to address the merits, the cases spanned a period of time (1960-1966) that is germane to any contemporary assessment of the legality of the decision to partition the Chagos Archipelago in 1965. While the Applicants did not reference the Colonial Declaration (GAR 1514 (XV) (1960) in their pleadings, they nevertheless argued that international law in the 1960s prohibited partition, demonstrating that there were principles of law at stake that proscribed the non-consensual division of territory.

What remains missing is an authoritative opinion from the world court. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Oral Hearings in ‘Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965’

Published on September 11, 2018        Author: 
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The oral hearings in the advisory proceedings concerning the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 took place at the ICJ last week. Readers will recall the two questions posed by the General Assembly in its request for an Advisory Opinion (Resolution 71/292) and the procedural and propriety issues raised by this case, as discussed by Marko, Dapo and Antonios – here, here and here. A host of States – and the African Union – participated in the proceedings and their voluminous written and oral statements/comments will surely keep interested scholars busy for a long time to come. In this post, I will try to restrict myself to the task of offering a few initial comments on the self-determination arguments made in relation to the first question (essentially, was the decolonization of Mauritius lawfully completed when it acceded to independence in 1968, following the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago?). For this purpose, I will focus on the claims made by the UK and Mauritius for the sake of brevity, and not because I agree with the UK’s contention that Mauritius is the ‘de facto claimant’ in this case (Transcript p. 36).

When approaching the claims and counter-claims concerning the Chagos Archipelago – or the British Indian Ocean Territory (‘BIOT’) – it is worth bearing in mind at least two important considerations. First, the UK is clearly on the wrong side of history as far as both the creation and maintenance of the BIOT are concerned. Secondly, the closest comparable case in the ICJ’s jurisprudence, the Western Sahara Advisory Opinion, is different in one key respect. The Western Sahara Opinion was sought while the General Assembly was actively engaged in a fraught and flawed attempt at decolonization and it was delivered when the crisis was still unfolding. In contrast, in the present proceedings, the ICJ has been invited to answer questions which not only require it to establish the legal significance of events which occurred largely between 1965-1968 but also to assess their present consequences. Undoubtedly, this is a difficult task and we shall have to wait and see whether the Court responds positively to the Request or whether it adopts a more non-committal approach, as it did in its Kosovo Advisory Opinion.

Self-determination and Customary International Law

The UK argued that the right of self-determination had not crystallized as a norm of customary international law (CIL) by either 1965 or 1968 (e.g. Transcript, p. 48). Specifically, it denied that the Colonial Declaration (GAR 1514 (XV)(1960)) generated any binding legal obligations as far as Mauritius’ decolonization was concerned. The 1960 Declaration proclaimed the core right – that ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination’ (para. 2) – while stating that: ‘Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter’ (para. 6). The UK claimed that the right of self-determination only acquired CIL status with the adoption of the Declaration on Friendly Relations (GAR 2625 (XXV)(1970). It relied on voting records, and the statements made, by State representatives, in the context of the development and adoption of these, and other, resolutions (and contemporaneous academic opinions) in support of its preferred interpretation. Read the rest of this entry…

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Not Appropriate:  PTC I, Palestine and the Development of a Discriminatory ICC Jurisprudence

Published on July 26, 2018        Author:  and
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On 13 July, Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC I) issued an unprecedented decision in which it ordered the Registry to establish unique public information and outreach activities for the “benefit of the victims in the situation in Palestine”, as well as to report on its situation activities on an ongoing basis.  No Pre-Trial Chamber has made the same orders with respect to victim outreach in a situation under preliminary examination before, and the legality, timing, and singular nature of the decision all give rise to concern. 

The decision singles out victims of one situation whilst ignoring others, reflecting a double standard which forms the basis of Israel’s complaints that its rights to equal treatment are systematically violated before 21st century international organisations and tribunals. In this sense, the decision is illuminating as it demonstrates to international criminal law practitioners how PTC I has substantiated Israel’s complaint of double standards in the Chambers’ first substantive engagement with the Situation in Palestine. Given the unique way that the Situation in Palestine has been singled out, PTC I’s decision will be viewed by many as a political one.  This is an accusation which, especially after the collapse of the Kenya cases, the ICC should be more wary of making itself susceptible to.

The Legality of the PTC Decision Read the rest of this entry…

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