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Home Archive for category "Study of International Law"

United States’ Missile Strikes in Syria: Should International Law Permit Unilateral Force to Protect Human Rights?

Published on April 18, 2017        Author: 

A bounty of recent blog posts have poured over the legality of the Trump administration’s missile strikes against a Syrian airbase in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s use of chemical weapons (see, e.g, here, here, here, here and here). Possible justifications have recently come to light, but do not provide a sufficient basis for the administration’s actions under international law (which is the focus of this post). Most commentators conclude that, absent UN Security Council authorisation or a justifiable claim of self-defence, international law provides no clear right for states to use force in response to such grave violations of human rights. Therefore, the strikes most likely contravene Article 2(4) UN Charter. With that analysis, I agree. The question that then arises, and which has received much less attention (although, see here and here), is the normative question: should international law permit such unilateral action (either individually or collectively) outside of the UN Charter framework?

The understandable response is that ‘something’ must be done and at least President Trump has acted where the international community has previously failed to do so. This sentiment is reflected in the opinions of a number of world leaders who appear to be supportive of the strikes against the Assad regime. Yet, notably, where countries have expressed support for the United States’ actions, they have not presented a legal justification for it. Regardless of whether we agree that the missile strikes are the right thing to do in response to a criminal regime gassing its own people (and there are serious doubts as to whether these strikes are an adequate or effective response), how should international law respond to such horrors as a general matter? What is the legal framework on which states can rely to do what they think is right? Read the rest of this entry…

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“Complicity in International Law”: Author’s Response

Published on April 14, 2017        Author: 

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

Introduction

I am grateful to Oxford University Press and the editors of EJIL:Talk! for putting together this discussion and to Elies, Elizabeth, and Helmut for their contributions. I appreciate their engagement with my work. In this piece, I consider the central points in each of their pieces.

State Assistance in Practice

Elizabeth’s three examples – the provision of arms, the use of military bases, and the grant of financial and other assistance to the justice and human rights sectors – provide a helpful grounding for considering how often questions of complicity are arising in practice. Her contribution zeroes in on the difficulties relating to the nexus element and the fault element. Taking them in turn, there are slightly different difficulties here.

As to the nexus element, even if we agree on the normative standard there is the challenge of applying that standard across the myriad ways that states provide assistance to other states. We can quite easily imagine situations where the assistance is insufficiently connected to the principal wrong, just as we can easily imagine situations where the standard is met. Beyond those poles, things are very difficult. That might seem unsatisfactory, but here it is worth emphasising the relative newness of the rule – it is still embedding itself into customary practice. As it does so, we are likely to see the incremental development and clarification of a regime-specific test.

As to the fault element, by contrast, the initial problem lies on the normative level itself – the potential discrepancy between the textual standard of knowledge and the commentary’s reference to intent. 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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New Insights and Structural Clarity: Miles Jackson’s “Complicity in International Law”

Published on April 12, 2017        Author: 

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

Recently, a number of studies have been published on complicity in international criminal law. In 2014, Neha Jain published a study on Perpetrators and Accessories in International Criminal Law. More recently, Marina Aksenova published a book on Complicity in International Criminal Law. As the titles of both books suggest, the main focus is on international criminal law (ICL). Aksenova, by way of contrast to individual complicity, does dedicate a chapter to State complicity.

Miles Jackson’s work, published in 2015, entitled Complicity in International Law takes a broader and a narrower approach than the books of Jain and Aksenova. While the latter conduct in-depth comparative criminal law analysis, Jackson’s focus is narrower; it is firmly on the international concept of complicity, as the title of the book appropriately suggests. His approach is broader in that, alongside individual complicity, he discusses State complicity. In comparative law terms, this could be qualified an ‘internal’ comparative analysis; discussing a legal concept of a different nature (criminal/individual v. civil/state) but within the same legal system: international law. This terminology is however misleading bearing in mind international law’s pluralist nature. The cross-disciplinary analysis of complicity, across ICL and IL, is more ‘external’ than any ICL-domestic criminal law comparison. And this is exactly the intriguing feature of the book: the juxtaposition of individual and state complicity. Do these concepts have enough in common to be usefully discussed within one and the same analytical framework? It is interesting to note that Helmut Aust in his fine and thorough study on Complicity and State Responsibility does not, by way of analogy, touch upon individual complicity in international law. Having said that, the fact that an emerging strand of scholarship approaches questions on international legal responsibility from a ‘shared perspective’ may be sufficient justification for this cross-disciplinary approach. Read the rest of this entry…

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“Complicity in International Law”: An Overview. Book Discussion

Published on April 12, 2017        Author: 

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

Introduction

No one is ever accused of being complicit in something good. Across areas of law, complicity – the idea of participation in another’s wrong – has received increased attention in the last decade. To take one domestic jurisdiction, England and Wales, accessorial liability in private law and criminal law has been subject to detailed re-evaluation. In international criminal law, the acquittal of Momcilo Perisic by the ICTY Appeals Chamber brought deep recrimination and comment. And in the law of state responsibility, the complicity rule in Article 16 of the Articles on State Responsibility is increasingly invoked in the context of the arms trade, counter-terrorism, and development aid.

This increased attention forms the background to the book. My overarching aim is to understand and analyse how international law regulates individual and state complicity. This overarching aim is supplemented by, where appropriate, critique as to the scope of the relevant rules and a normative claim as to how complicity rules ought to be structured. To this end, the book is structured as follows. Part A builds an analytical framework for understanding complicity rules and defends the normative claim mentioned above. Part B addresses complicity in international criminal law, including complicit omissions and command responsibility. Part C does two things. First, it considers state participation in the wrongdoing of other states and tracks the move from what I call specific complicity rules to the general rule on aid or assistance in Article 16 of the Articles on State Responsibility. Second, it addresses state participation in the actions of non-state actors. In doing so, it appraises the claim that complicity has permeated the secondary rules on the attribution of conduct in international law and proposes a non-state analogue to the rule in Article 16. Part D concludes. 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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Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia in the High Court: what is a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”?

Published on April 3, 2017        Author: 

As readers will be aware, the UK High Court is presently considering a high-profile case challenging UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Arguments in the judicial review proceedings brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade were heard in February and judgment is awaited.

Although brought under English law, the case potentially implicates various international law questions. This post focuses on the interpretation of the expression “serious violation of international humanitarian law” (“IHL”) which the government appears to be advancing in the case. By narrowing the concept to include only war crimes, its position has significant implications for the international law regulation of the arms trade in general. This post will argue that the proposed definition should be rejected.

For further information on this and other international law issues arising in the case, the claimant has posted much of the open documentation produced by both sides on its website. This post draws heavily on those documents, and on the author’s notes of the open hearings.

The Issue Before the Court

The claimant challenges the government’s decisions to continue granting licences (and not to suspend existing licences) for arms exports to Saudi Arabia. That challenge is based primarily on alleged breaches of IHL by Saudi forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen. Criterion 2(c) of the UK statutory guidance applicable to arms exports (the “Consolidated Criteria”) prohibits granting a licence “if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”. The claimants argue that given the evidence of previous breaches, the government should have concluded that such a clear risk existed. Read the rest of this entry…

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On Theory-Bashing: Why It Happens and What It (Probably) Says About Us

Published on March 17, 2017        Author: 

Introduction

This post is a response (of sorts) to an earlier post made last month by Andrea Bianchi, in which he discusses the widespread aversion and prejudice shared by most international lawyers against the idea of ‘theory’ and the disempowering effects this attitude has had on the contemporary discipline of international legal studies. Whether or not one agrees with the ‘most international lawyers’ part of the claim, the argument Professor Bianchi presents deserves attention and careful consideration. It raises a whole series of important points, not least about the fundamental naivety of the assumption that law as a craft requires no special theoretical awareness on the part of its practitioners. At the same time, however, it also leaves out a number of questions that in a context like this one would, ideally, expect to be given as much, if not more, critical attention.

In this post, I propose to explore some of these questions. The argument offered below is intended to complement and develop Professor Bianchi’s broader point, viz., that theory-bashing is a highly disconcerting tradition that has negative consequences not only for those international lawyers whose main field of work falls in the area of theoretical scholarship, but for the international legal profession as a whole.

Multiple meanings of ‘theory’

To begin with, let us note, firstly, that in modern academic practice the term ‘theory’ is typically used in three fundamentally different senses: Read the rest of this entry…

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International Law in the Age of Trump

Published on February 28, 2017        Author: 

In the second month of Donald Trump’s presidency, we still know little about his foreign policy agenda. He regularly said things during the campaign that suggested a radical departure from longstanding tenets of U.S. foreign policy. And during his first month in office, he caused more than his fair share of diplomatic offense and confusion. But as the New York Times has reported, Trump’s foreign policy has already become more centrist. It’s fair to say, then, that we don’t really know what Trump will do on the international stage.

Still, there’s good reason to believe that the Trump administration will pose unprecedented challenges to international law. In this post, I’ll discuss the three principal ways in which the administration is likely to undercut the existing international legal order. My goal is simply to outline the distinct risks so that we can better appreciate them. I don’t at this point propose any solutions.

  1. Corroding Legal Norms

The first possibility is the most obvious one and has already received some attention: the United States might more readily violate substantive rules of international law or disregard accepted processes for making legally relevant decisions. International legal theorists sometimes claim that legal violations—particularly, high-profile violations by one of the most powerful countries—risk unraveling the entire enterprise of international law. For example, this is how Thomas Franck expressed his concerns about the George W. Bush administration in 2006: “When a community loses faith in law’s power to restrain and channel conduct, this perception propels the descent into anarchy.”

Even if that rhetoric is hyperbolic (and I think it is), repeat violations might corrode specific legal norms. After all, any interaction that puts a particular norm at issue communicates not only whether the norm was effective in the case at hand but also what the norm requires going forward and to what extent it reflects an operative commitment. If the United States repeatedly and blatantly violates a norm, and suffers little repercussion, it will, if nothing else, weaken that norm. In my view, this process of normative evolution is not necessarily bad. Eroded norms might be replaced by new ones that better reflect current problems or expectations. Even so, the transition could be destabilizing. And it would be undesirable if its effect is to increase the threats to global security or human lives.

To be sure, the United States has violated international law before. Reasonable people can disagree about the frequency of those violations, but they are all but certain to accelerate under the Trump administration. President Trump has made clear that he intends to put “America first.” He has also indicated that he defines America’s interests very differently than his predecessors. It’s not a stretch, then, to assume that putting America first means exploiting U.S. power to evade legal rules and processes that the United States has long accepted. Moreover, while other global actors might at times push back against the United States—while they might use international law to try to condemn or constrain it—its raw power could well frustrate these efforts. Read the rest of this entry…

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