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Home Archive for category "Syria" (Page 6)

The Drowning Child

Published on September 3, 2015        Author: 

If you haven’t already – read, look, and weep. Then reflect, perhaps, on why and how it is that such images are able to penetrate the walls we erect to shield ourselves from an uncomfortable reality, even while we are rationally fully aware of that reality. Having done so, I could not help but remember this other, hypothetical drowning child (see also here and here):

To challenge my students to think about the ethics of what we owe to people in need, I ask them to imagine that their route to the university takes them past a shallow pond. One morning, I say to them, you notice a child has fallen in and appears to be drowning. To wade in and pull the child out would be easy but it will mean that you get your clothes wet and muddy, and by the time you go home and change you will have missed your first class.

I then ask the students: do you have any obligation to rescue the child? Unanimously, the students say they do. The importance of saving a child so far outweighs the cost of getting one’s clothes muddy and missing a class, that they refuse to consider it any kind of excuse for not saving the child. Does it make a difference, I ask, that there are other people walking past the pond who would equally be able to rescue the child but are not doing so? No, the students reply, the fact that others are not doing what they ought to do is no reason why I should not do what I ought to do.

Once we are all clear about our obligations to rescue the drowning child in front of us, I ask: would it make any difference if the child were far away, in another country perhaps, but similarly in danger of death, and equally within your means to save, at no great cost – and absolutely no danger – to yourself? Virtually all agree that distance and nationality make no moral difference to the situation. I then point out that we are all in that situation of the person passing the shallow pond: we can all save lives of people, both children and adults, who would otherwise die, and we can do so at a very small cost to us: the cost of a new CD, a shirt or a night out at a restaurant or concert, can mean the difference between life and death to more than one person somewhere in the world – and overseas aid agencies like Oxfam overcome the problem of acting at a distance.

At this point the students raise various practical difficulties. Can we be sure that our donation will really get to the people who need it? Doesn’t most aid get swallowed up in administrative costs, or waste, or downright corruption? Isn’t the real problem the growing world population, and is there any point in saving lives until the problem has been solved? These questions can all be answered: but I also point out that even if a substantial proportion of our donations were wasted, the cost to us of making the donation is so small, compared to the benefits that it provides when it, or some of it, does get through to those who need our help, that we would still be saving lives at a small cost to ourselves – even if aid organizations were much less efficient than they actually are.

I have always found this argument in its essence to be incredibly compelling, even if I am no utilitarian, and even if Singer’s argument when brought to its fullest is far too demanding of most of us. But even so, as the “migrant” crisis is sweeping Europe, as children are drowning on its shores, I feel that some people who are not moved by the big picture (like this guy) might, perhaps, be moved if they were asked a smaller, more human-scale question: what would you do if you saw a child drowning in a pond?

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The Use of Force Against People Smugglers: Conflicts with Refugee Law and Human Rights Law

Published on June 22, 2015        Author: 

On 18 May, EU ministers agreed on a military operation (EU NAVFOR Med) that could comprise, in its final phase, the boarding, seizure and destruction of suspected migrant smuggling vessels, subject to approval by the UN Security Council. Negotiations before the Security Council appear to have halted until both the Libyan government in Tobruk and the ruling authorities in Tripoli give consent. Meanwhile, a diplomatic source involved in the EU internal talks on the matter stated that a military operation could be decided on 22 June at the Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg.

In earlier EJIL talk! posts, Melanie Fink and Sergo Mananashvili argued that a Security Council Resolution would be questionable under the law of the use of force. But a resolution would also raise issues of compliance with refugee and human rights law and thus would produce a norm conflict between a Security Council Resolution and other international law.

The Likely Need to Have Forces Close to the Libyan Shore

Let’s look at the most likely scenarios around the use of force, were the EU move forward and the UN Security Council to approve of the plans.

An earlier EU strategy paper had foreseen ‘intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; boarding teams; patrol units (air and maritime); amphibious assets; destruction air, land and sea, including special forces units.’ Since then, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, has pointed out that the operation would not include ‘boots on the ground’ in Libya. At the same time, it is clear that EU diplomats seek more than approval to destroy vessels intercepted at sea, and from which all migrants have disembarked. The EU seeks a UN resolution for destroy smuggling vessels before they have departed.

Identifying smuggling vessels before they have departed will be challenging without deploying people on the ground in Libya. Smuggling vessels can clearly be identified as such only at or shortly before the time they are being used for smuggling. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Situation Concerning the Islamic State: Carte Blanche for the ICC if the Security Council Refers?

Published on May 27, 2015        Author: 

At a meeting of the UN Security Council held on 27 March 2015, the possibility of a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the situation relating to the so-called Islamic State (IS aka ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) was vigorously discussed. At that meeting, which was convened by France and chaired by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (who had travelled to New York specifically to preside over the meeting), more than a dozen of States lined up to call for a Council referral. However, confusion seemed to rein over what should be referred to the ICC. While most States appealed for a referral of the situation in Syria, some urged a referral of the situation in Iraq, others called for a referral of the situation in both States, and, finally, a few remained purposefully vague by calling for a referral of ‘the situation’, ‘the matter’, and even ‘the cases’ to the ICC. One issue was, however, clear: the reason to refer a situation to the ICC would be to make members of IS accountable for the crimes they committed.

This discussion about the possibility of prosecuting IS members at the ICC raises the question whether “situations” referred to the ICC must be defined by reference to a given territory. Is it possible to refer a worldwide situation relating to a group to the Court? Or must the situation referred be one occurring in a particular geographical location or in a particular state?

On 8th April 2015, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that she will not open a preliminary examination concerning alleged crimes committed by IS, unless Iraq or Syria or the Security Council (SC) provide jurisdiction to the ICC. As Barrie Sander has noted this statement was an attempt by the Prosecutor to pressure States and, especially, the Security Council, to assume their responsibility and confer jurisdiction on the ICC over this situation.

Despite the Prosecutor’s ‘clarification’, neither Iraq nor Syria or the Security Council has yet taken action. Subsequent to her statement, Lithuania, Chile and the UK’ representatives at the UN have continued to push for a Council referral of the situation in Syria to the ICC – but to no avail. The position of Russia and China concerning a referral of Syria is known. They vetoed a similar attempt last year. One may think that the recent attempts to refer IS are trying to push through the window what some members of the Council were unable to push through the door in 2014. However, there is a difference. A Security Council referral of the crimes committed by IS tout court would enable the Prosecutor to charge members of IS not only for crimes committed in Syria or in Iraq but also for crimes committed in Libya, Yemen, Tunisia, France, and why not in the United States. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Alleged Prohibition on Intervening in Civil Wars Is Still Alive after the Airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq: A Response to Dapo Akande and Zachary Vermeer

Published on February 12, 2015        Author: 

In a recent post on ‘The Airstrikes against Islamic State in Iraq’ (hereafter “the post”), Dapo Akande and Zachary Vermeer argue that the legal justifications given by the states intervening in Iraqseem to count against the existence of [a prohibition on intervening in civil wars] as part of contemporary international law”. The aim of this post is to question such a conclusion. It will deal with three main issues: the alleged generality of those legal justifications (1); their ability to reveal the opinio juris of the intervening states (2); and the situation in Iraq as a “civil war” in the sense of the 1975 resolution of the Institut de Droit International (IDI), which prohibits any intervention in civil wars (3).         

Generality of the legal justifications

Dapo Akande and Zachary Vermeer’s above-mentioned conclusion is based notably on the alleged “generality” of the legal justifications given by the intervening states in Iraq. After positing that Iraq is engaged in a civil war under the 1975 IDI resolution (an assumption I challenge below), they conclude that the “general” justifications offered for intervention imply that states consider that it is always legal under international law to intervene at the request of a government during a civil war. However, a closer look at the legal justifications offered, including those not mentioned in the post, reveals that, when justifying their intervention, all the states expressly referred to the objective of fighting against the Islamic State (ISIL) as the specific purpose of the consent given by the Iraqi authorities for their intervention. In other words, in the Iraqi case, the consent given by Iraq to intervene on its territory was generally considered only in relation to this specific purpose.

In the declaration of the senior US administration official quoted in the post, as in President Obama’s notification to Congress (also and only partially quoted), “[the] actions” that the United States had been invited to take at the request of the Iraqi government were clearly actions against ISIL. More precisely, in Obama’s words, they were the “necessary actions against these terrorists in Iraq and Syria”. With regard to the declaration of France, in particular the speech by the French Minister for Defence before the French Senate, the French Minister clearly stated (after the passage reproduced in the post): “I remind you: we are responding to the request for support of the Iraqi authorities to weaken the terrorist organization Daesh.” (translated from French, emphasis added). Moreover, on 19 September 2014, the French President expressly stated in an official declaration: “Yesterday . . . I announced my decision to respond to the request of the Iraqi authorities and to grant them the support necessary to fight against terrorism.” (translated from French, emphasis added). Read the rest of this entry…

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Why the ICC Should Be Cautious to Use the Islamic State to Get Out of Africa: Part 2

Published on December 4, 2014        Author: 

Leadership accountability or symbolic responsibility?

Using nationality jurisdiction to focus on the accountability of ‘foreign fighters’ is likely to entail a fundamental shift in prosecutorial policy. The OTP has traditionally defended a focus on leadership accountability, i.e. prosecution of ‘those who bear the greatest responsibility for the most serious crimes’. This concept was a cornerstone of prosecutorial strategy during the Ocampo era, and has been applied in early prosecutorial practice (e.g., Prosecutorial Strategy 2009-2012). The OTP has slightly adjusted its strategy in its Strategic Plan 2012-2015 (para. 22) where it recognized the need to gradually build cases upwards. It defended a bottom-up approach based on ‘limitations in investigative possibilities and/or a lack of cooperation and the required evidentiary standards’. It argued that the Office would first investigate and prosecute ‘a limited number of mid- and high-level perpetrators’ in order to ultimately ‘have a reasonable chance to convict the most responsible’. It also noted that the Office would consider ‘prosecuting lower level perpetrators where their conduct has been particularly grave and has acquired extensive notoriety’ since such a strategy would ‘in the end be more cost-effective than having unsuccessful or no prosecutions against the highest placed perpetrators’.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Why the ICC Should Be Cautious to Use the Islamic State to Get Out of Africa: Part 1

Published on December 3, 2014        Author: 

It is tempting to say that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should open a preliminary examination into the violence of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (‘Islamic State’, hereinafter IS). IS has branded itself as an enemy of the West. Its atrocities are attacks on the very foundation of human dignity and conceptions of civilization. They shock the conscience of humankind. Some of the rhetoric denies the very norms and rules on which international law has been built for centuries. Evidence of atrocities is displayed publicly to illustrate power and spread fear. Records indicate that high numbers of nationals of ICC State Parties have been mobilized as so-called foreign fighters, including nationals of Western countries, North Africa (e.g., Tunisia) and the Middle East (e.g., Jordan). The ICC is in a position of vulnerability. It is under perceived pressure to ‘get out of Africa’.

At first sight, all of the factors make IS a perfect target for ICC intervention. Prosecutor Bensouda noted in an interview on 20 November that the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) would consider options of ICC engagement. ICC assessment is at an early stage, i.e. Phase 1 of preliminary examinations where the OTP makes an initial assessment of all information to analyse the seriousness of information received and identify the crime base. But taking IS crimes to the ICC poses particular problems that deserve careful consideration. Starting it on a wrong premise might compromise some of the very foundations on which the legitimacy of the ICC is based.

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Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014): The “Foreign Terrorist Fighter” as an International Legal Person, Part II

Published on November 21, 2014        Author: 

This is Part II of a two-part post. Read Part I here.

Res. 2178 is no basis for criminal sanctions

Resolution 2178 is not in itself the basis for criminalising the behaviour it seeks to suppress. On the contrary, it resembles the classic suppression conventions, i.e. international treaties imposing the obligation on contracting parties to prohibit individual forms of conduct in their national law and, where applicable, to criminalise and punish them.

So no foreign fighter-suspect could be tried and sentenced on the legal basis of Res. 2178 alone. But the reason is not, I submit, that a Security Council resolution could never – from the perspective of international law − function as a “lex” in the sense of the principle nulla poena sine lege. The reason is that the “lex” here does not in itself explicitly establish the crime, but on the contrary explicitly asks states to do to, through their domestic criminal law. Res. 2178 makes it amply clear in its wording that it does not intend to establish the criminal offence directly. It may well be that under the domestic law of some countries, the understanding of nulla poena is stricter. However, if we want to uphold a functioning system of global governance, states and scholars must develop an “internationalised” principle of legality that need not consist only in the lowest common denominator but which is informed by values of global constitutionalism.

Previous Security Council resolutions directly addressing individuals

Resolutions combatting terrorism and piracy

Previous Security Council resolutions had not imposed any obligations on terrorists or terror-suspects as such; they addressed only states (for instance, res. 1624 (2005), para. 1(a); res. 1540 (2004) on weapons of mass destruction). The same is true of all UN Security Council resolutions on piracy (e.g., UNSC res. 1838 (2008)). Read the rest of this entry…

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Security Council Resolution 2178 (2014): The “Foreign Terrorist Fighter” as an International Legal Person, Part I

Published on November 20, 2014        Author: 

This is Part I of a two-part post. Read Part II here.

Introduction

At a summit meeting of 24 September in which over 50 government representatives were heard, the Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2178 (2014) which foresees measures to contain the travel of and support for persons intending to participate in terror acts, notably against the background of the rise of the group “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant” (ISIL) and the Al-Nusra front and other affiliates of Al-Qaida.

Resolution 2178 “reaffirms” what previous resolutions since 9/11 had found, namely that “terrorism [normally committed by natural persons] … constitutes one of the most serious threats to international peace and security” (preamble first indent; see previously, e.g., UNSC res. 1368 (2001)). In preamble indent 12, the Council defines a “new threat”, namely the “foreign terrorist fighter threat” which “includes, among others, individuals supporting acts or activities of Al-Qaida and its cells”.

Most paragraphs of the res. 2178 are, in their structure, not novel. They oblige states to adopt measures, and “ensure in their domestic laws” (para. 6) to suppress, combat, prosecute, and penalise the recruiting, organising, transporting, and equipping of individuals travelling for the purpose of perpetrating terrorist acts, e.g. in paras 2, 5, 6, 8. The obligations to criminalise certain behaviour seem, however, quite far reaching as also pointed out by Kai Ambos.

One interesting feature of res. 2178 is that it directly addresses individuals: Operative para. 1 “demands that all foreign terrorist fighters disarm and cease all terrorist acts and participation in the conflict”. The three interrelated questions discussed in this post are whether res. 2178, firstly, creates binding international legal obligations for individuals themselves; secondly, whether (some of) the resolution’s provisions are directly applicable in the domestic order of the UN Member states; and thirdly, whether the non-observance of these individual obligations constitute a crime by virtue of the resolution itself.

International individual obligations flowing from Res. 2178?

The question is whether Res. 2178 is able to impose legally binding international obligations on the individuals addressed. Is the resolution itself the legal basis for an obligation of “foreign terrorist fighters” to desist from forging identity papers, to desist from travelling to the combat field of ISIS, to recruit volunteers, and of course to refrain from committing terrorist acts, and the like? Read the rest of this entry…

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The Security Council and Humanitarian Relief in Opposition-Held Territories

Published on August 12, 2014        Author: 

TilmanTilman Rodenhäuser (pictured left) is a researcher at the Geneva Center for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces, and a PhD candidate at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. Jonathan Somer (pictured right) is the founderJonathan Somer of Persona Grata Consulting, advising on international law and policy in fragile states. Until recently he was Legal Adviser for Geneva Call and has previously worked with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Over the past year, the Security Council has repeatedly demanded all parties to the armed conflict in Syria, particularly the Syrian authorities, to allow and facilitate humanitarian relief operations across conflict lines and across borders (see resolution 2139 and a presidential statement) – but with little success. In its latest resolution the UN Security Council decided – for a period of 180 days – “that the United Nations humanitarian agencies and their implementing partners are authorized to use routes across conflict lines and [specific] border crossings … in order to ensure that humanitarian assistance” reaches people in need in Syria. The Security Council also decided to establish a monitoring mechanism in neighbouring countries in order to confirm the humanitarian nature of the relief consignments.

Resolution 2165 was adopted as international humanitarian law experts continue to debate whether aid may be lawfully delivered cross-border to opposition-held territories without the consent of the host state. While some (here and here) contend that the issue is clear-cut – with consent being required – the only thing that does seem clear-cut is the lack of consensus. Others, including one of the present authors, argue a case exists for cross-border assistance without consent under certain conditions. This latter view has been supported by the former President of the International Humanitarian Fact Finding Commission and co-author of an authoritative commentary on the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, Professor Bothe, in an unpublished study provided to the UN. A group of prominent legal experts have made even bolder claims in a recently published open letter. So while international lawyers continue to sharpen their pencils, resolution 2165 supplements IHL by invoking the authority of the Security Council to fill in the gaps left by IHL’s uncertainties on cross-border aid in non-international armed conflict.
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Syria and the Law of Humanitarian Intervention (Part III – A Reply)

Published on October 12, 2013        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on Just Security.

My recent two-part essay on Syria, posted on this blog, made both a policy claim and a legal claim. My policy claim was that despite undeniable political miscues, President Obama’s recent threat of force catalyzed a long-stalemated diplomatic process for securing Syrian chemical weapons. The Russians finally joined a landmark Security Council resolution to remove chemical weapons from Syria, but a long road still lies ahead. Maintaining a continued threat of force, I argued, remains critical if that diplomatic process is to progress. My legal point was that Obama’s threat to attack the Syria’s chemical weapons program, which catalyzed stalled diplomacy, was neither illegal under U.S. law– even without congressional authorization– nor illegal under international law– even without U.N. Security Council approval. But to the extent that Obama remains in a legal gray zone, we should treat this as a lawmaking moment. The President’s lawyers should now clarify –as they pointedly did not do in Kosovo–when and under what circumstances the U.S. would consider it lawful to use force for humanitarian purposes outside the Security Council framework.

Focusing narrowly on the international legal aspect of my argument, several thoughtful commentators—including Professors David KayeKevin Jon Heller and Carsten Stahn —have now repeated the absolutist view that absent a self-defense rationale, Article 2(4) of the U.N. Charter bars use of force outside the Security Council. They essentially suggest that the original intent of the framers and the text of Article 2(4) permit no other reading. Kaye acknowledges,  “[a] legal system in which the veto power of five states is at the center may be out of date, but until the time of mutual restraint and good faith, or until the United States and others offer outright reform, this legal system at the heart of the Charter is unlikely to change.” So we may not like Article’s 2(4) absolute bar against the use of force outside the Security Council framework, but a rule is a rule is a rule. The U.S. has no lawful option but to accept that rule, unless we can change the Security Council, which of course will not likely happen for many, many years.  The policy implications of this approach are clear: should Syria fail to comply with the latest Security Council resolution, it would still be illegal for Obama to keep a threat of force on the table. This would be true even if that threat finally got multilateral diplomacy in Syria going, and even if it seems critical to keeping the diplomatic process moving in the weeks ahead. Read the rest of this entry…

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