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Home Archive for category "Terrorism"

War crimes in Afghanistan and Beyond: Will the ICC Weigh in on the “Global Battlefield” Debate?

Published on November 9, 2017        Author: 
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The ICC Prosecutor recently announced her decision to request an authorization to open a formal investigation into possible international crimes committed in connection with the conflict in Afghanistan. The outcome of her preliminary examination was long-awaited and expected to be significant because an investigation into the Afghanistan situation would cover all parties involved – that is, not only local actors but also the international coalition, including the US (US nationals would come under the jurisdiction of the Court if they committed crimes in Afghanistan or in any other State party to the Rome Statute).

The Prosecutor’s choice to subject some aspects of the Afghan conflict to judicial scrutiny despite the pressures deserves to be praised as an “act of bravery.” If the Pre-Trial Chamber authorizes this investigation, the road to justice will be long – many have already commented on possible issues of jurisdiction (e.g. here and here), admissibility (e.g. here and here), evidence-gathering and cooperation (e.g. here), etc. In this post, I want to focus on a potential effect of this announcement: the situation in Afghanistan may give the ICC an opportunity to weigh in on the debate over the global applicability of IHL. Fatou Bensouda intends to prosecute acts of torture committed in CIA detention facilities located in Europe, in connection with the armed conflict in Afghanistan, as war crimes. If she does, ICC judges will have to rule on whether IHL applied to those acts and hence more generally on whether IHL applies beyond the territory of a State where a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) is primarily taking place. The geographical scope of IHL remains one of the most vexing debates in international law (as was clear from a heated discussion on this blog and others, just a month ago) but the Afghanistan investigation may help highlight an overlooked aspect of it. Here is why. Read the rest of this entry…

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Guantanamo Surrealism

Published on November 2, 2017        Author: 
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The surrealism of the moment defies description. Who would have thought, even only a short while ago, that on a nice November morning a US military commission judge in Guantanamo would be holding a Marine general and chief defense counsel for the commissions in contempt, sentencing him to 21 days of confinement in, well, Guantanamo? Who would have thought that on that same day the President of the United States would be deriding the US criminal justice system as a “joke” and a “laughingstock,” while suggesting that the “animal” who perpetrated a deadly vehicular terrorist attack in New York City be sent to that same Guantanamo, with its oh-so-successful, cost-effective military commissions? That he and his White House would, in 2017, be calling this individual an “enemy combatant”?  That he would be joined in doing so by prominent US senators, lamenting the fact that the individual concerned has not yet been shipped off to Gitmo, despite the fact that he essentially committed his crime in full public view and on camera, so that the likelihood of his acquittal before any regular civilian court would effectively be nil? 

Surrealism is by definition unexpected. Slippery slopes  are not. They can often be seen from a very, very long way off. And many of us have spent years warning some of our US colleagues of the dangers of some of the theories they have been advancing in the pursuit of the global conflict against terror. Just a few weeks ago we had just such an “IHL party” on the blog, provoked by a post of Ryan Goodman on Just Security. I pointed out in that discussion that while there was a measure of agreement on the geographic scope of application of IHL, that issue was part of a broader package, and that some items in that package – above all the definition of the relevant armed conflict and the classification of individuals with a nexus to that conflict – continued to attract controversy, inter alia because of the manifest possibility of abuse of some of the lines of argument put forward and their lack of basis in conventional and customary IHL.

So I therefore have a question for our American colleagues, including my friends on Just Security and Lawfare – let us assume that the facts about the New York terrorist continue to be as we know them today, i.e. that he essentially self-radicalized by looking at ISIS materials on the Internet and that he, beyond professing allegiance to ISIS, was at no point subject to the chain of command of that armed group fighting in Iraq and Syria. On these facts, are we in agreement that there is no way that this individual could be qualified, under the relevant rules of international law, as a fighter in any IHL-cognizable armed conflict? I am not asking what consequences this would have under US domestic law, including the AUMF; I am only interested in IHL. Under IHL, it seems to me that there is not even a remotely plausible, let alone genuinely persuasive, argument that this individual has a nexus to any armed conflict/was a member of a non-state armed group engaging in hostilities in such a conflict. He is not an “enemy combatant” in any international legal sense of the word; he is only a (vicious) criminal. This is not a hard or difficult case – it’s an easy, obvious one, again assuming the facts as we know them today. Do we agree? 

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On Whether IHL Applies to Drone Strikes Outside ‘Areas of Active Hostilities’: A Response to Ryan Goodman

Published on October 5, 2017        Author: 
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Over on Just Security, Ryan Goodman has an excellent post entitled Why the Laws of War Apply to Drone Strikes Outside “Areas of Active Hostilities” (A Memo to the Human Rights Community). In sum, Ryan argues that human rights activists have been too radical in their critique of US drone strike policy, as reflected in the Presidential Policy Guidance adopted during the Obama administration, and in the context of the Trump administration’s recent proposal to revise this standing policy and relax some of its requirements, especially with regard to the procedure for authorizing lethal strikes. In particular, Ryan argues that human rights activists have been portraying as clearly unlawful decisions which legally fall within the bounds of reasonable disagreement.

In that regard, Ryan argues – persuasively in my view – that the mere fact that a drone strike takes place outside an area of active hostilities under the PPG does not mean that the strike takes place outside armed conflict under IHL. The former, as Ryan correctly notes, is not even a legal term of art. I also agree with Ryan that some US positions that used to be regarded as novel or anomalous have become mainstream with time, in part through the acceptance of these positions by European and other states, by the ICRC and scholars – viz., for instance, the idea of ‘spillover’ NIACs (for more on the operation of this mainstreaming process see here; on spillover NIACs see here).

That said, Ryan in some respects significantly overstates his argument. Yes, states have accepted the idea that they can be engaged in an armed conflict with a terrorist group – but I would say that this really was never in doubt. What was in doubt is whether this NIAC can be global in scope, and this US position has not been mainstreamed – or at least I am unaware of any other state which agrees with it. What do I mean by this?

Read the rest of this entry…

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Port State Jurisdiction Beyond Oceans Governance: The Closure of Ports to Qatar in the 2017 ‘Gulf Crisis’

Published on July 3, 2017        Author: 
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5 June 2017 witnessed numerous states severing diplomatic ties with Qatar, including Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia (see also part 2, part 3) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). These were later joined by the Comoros, Libya (Provisional Government), the Maldives, Mauritania and Yemen. Others have downgraded relations with Qatar to a lesser degree (e.g. recalling ambassadors), including Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Jordan, Niger and Senegal. However, as a sign of rising tensions, the measures adopted go further than the previous 2014 breakdown of relations. A number of territorial restrictions in the Persian Gulf region were adopted against persons, vessels or aircraft with a link to Qatar. The most interesting measures for discussion here are those adopted in a port state capacity. The key question concerns the jurisdictional basis on which these port states have taken measures against foreign vessels – especially given the imposition of denial of entry on the basis of purely extraterritorial conduct (visited Qatar), or future conduct (destined for Qatar)?

Since adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the formal role of port states in ocean governance has been increasing. Port states had played a role prior to UNCLOS, focused upon issues of marine pollution, but this has been expanded upon by subsequent treaties further addressing pollution, labour standards and the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing (on which see the recent post by Diane Desierto). In this post I cover a further direction in the use of regional port state measures that has been highlighted by recent events within the Persian Gulf: the shaping of another state’s foreign and domestic policies.

A port state may be defined as the state with territorial sovereignty over a port to which a foreign vessel is requesting entry, or currently resides within. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), as a port state, closed all seaports to Qatari vessels and banned all Qatari means of transportation (sea and air) from entering or leaving its territory. To implement this decision, Fujairah, Abu Dhabi (and also see here), Ras Al Khaimah, and Sharjah ports have prohibited entry to Qatari flagged or owned vessels, all vessels destined to, or coming from, Qatari ports, and all vessels carrying cargo destined for or coming from Qatar (subsequently, slightly eased). Bahrain (and also see here) similarly closed all its ports to vessels coming from or going to Qatar. Saudi Arabia (and also see here) closed all sea ports to Qatari flagged or owned vessels, and denied port unloading/loading services to all vessels carrying cargo to/from Qatar. While UAE stated it would prevent “means of transportation” leaving its territory, reports only indicate containers being stuck in port. In contrast, the Saudi Port Authority confirmed vessels “destined for Qatar” will not be given clearance to leave port. According to Intertanko, there are “conflicting reports regarding the use of ports in Egypt”. In contrast, other port states, including Iran and Oman, who object to the economic pressures imposed, have offered access and use of their ports necessary for vessels destined to Qatar. Read the rest of this entry…

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Sanctioning Qatar: Coercive interference in the State’s domaine réservé?

Published on June 30, 2017        Author:  and
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On 23 May, the Qatar News Agency published content attributing statements to Qatar’s Emir which laid bare simmering regional sensitivities and quickly escalated into a full-blown diplomatic row between Qatar and other regional Powers.

Indeed, on Monday 5 June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt adopted what has been dubbed a ‘diplomatic and economic blockade’ (to the annoyance of some). Not only did these States close their land, naval and aerial borders for travel and transport to and from Qatar, the three Gulf States also appeared to expel Qatari diplomats and order (some) Qatari citizens to leave their territory within 14 days. In addition, websites from the Al Jazeera Media Network, as well as other Qatari newspapers, were blocked and offices were shut down in several countries. At the end of a feverish week, on Friday 9 June, targeted sanctions were furthermore adopted against Qatari organizations and nationals believed to have links to Islamist militancy.

In justification of the measures, the sanctioning States invoked the Gulf Cooperation Council’s 2013 Riyadh Agreement and its implementation mechanisms as well as the Comprehensive Agreement of 2014. Although the contents of these agreements are not public, it is believed that the Gulf States expected Qatar to curtail its support to groups that purportedly pose a threat to the region’s stability, such as Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Read the rest of this entry…

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Ukraine v Russia (Provisional Measures): State ‘Terrorism’ and IHL  

Published on May 2, 2017        Author: 
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On 16 January 2017, Ukraine filed an Application against Russia before the International Court of Justice (‘ICJ’ or ‘the Court’), founding the Court’s jurisdiction (in part) on the compromissory clause (Article 24) of the Terrorism Financing Convention (‘ICSFT’). On the very same day, Ukraine filed a Request for the indication of measures of protection. On 19 April 2017, in respect of the claim based on the ICSFT, the Request was rejected, although the Court did order provisional measures in support of the claim based on CERD.

The Application and the Court’s Order on provisional measures (‘Order’) have been the subject of several blog posts, including here,  here and here, and I will not revisit their content.  Instead, I’d like to further consider some of the issues raised by the Court’s refusal to award provisional measures in respect of the ICSFT.  As noted in the terrific post by Vincent-Joel on ‘Terrorism and the World Court’, this dispute presents an important opportunity for the Court not only to clarify the nature of certain counter-terrorism obligations, but equally to interpret the ICSFT in a ‘forward-looking and purposive’ manner which reflects the post-9/11 counter-terrorism climate.  It also bears noting that this case is an opportunity for the Court to address the increasingly common – and increasingly dangerous – State practice of materially supporting non-State armed groups (‘NSAGs’), even if, for jurisdictional reasons, it must do so through the prism of terrorism financing.

There are two substantive issues which were at stake in making the case for provisional measures that I want to address:  First, Ukraine had to establish the Court’s prima facie jurisdiction under the ICSFT, in part based on whether ‘the acts complained of […] are prima facie capable of falling within the provisions of [the ICSFT]’.  Second, given that most of the NSAG conduct underlying the Application took place within the context of an armed conflict (‘AC’), the characterization of that conduct as ‘terrorist’ and falling within the scope of the ICSFT, or as merely in breach of (or at least governed by) International Humanitarian Law (‘IHL’), is put in issue.  Read the rest of this entry…

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Ukraine’s Dashed High Hopes: Predictable and Sober Decision of the ICJ on Indication of Provisional Measures in Ukraine v Russia

Published on April 24, 2017        Author: 
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There has been a lot of speculation on the possible outcome of Ukraine’s request for indication of provisional measures in the highly politicized case of Ukraine v Russia, in particular following the parties’ heated exchange of arguments during oral proceedings that took place on 6-9 March 2017 before the ICJ (see my blog here and another blog here). Last week, the Court delivered a highly anticipated decision in which it indicated provisional measures with respect to Ukraine’s claims under CERD by requesting Russia “to refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of Crimean tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis” (by 13 to 3) and “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language” by a unanimous vote (p. 106). In addition to those specific measures aimed at preserving specific rights, the Court chose to indicate an additional measure of general nature with the view of ensuring the non-aggravation of the dispute between the Parties (paras 103, 106).

In rather mild language, the Court also spoke of its ‘expectation’ for the Parties, “through individual and joint efforts, to work for the full implementation of [the Minsk agreements] in order to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the eastern regions of Ukraine” (para. 104). This seems to be a compromise middle-ground solution when the Majority, although having dismissed the plausibility of claims under ICSFT and therefore chosen not to indicate provisional measures with respect to Ukraine’s claims under the Convention, highlighted the seriousness of the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine and encouraged the Parties to revive the Minsk agreements that have been violated countless times. Read the rest of this entry…

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‘Terrorism’ at the World Court: Ukraine v Russia as an Opportunity for Greater Guidance on Relevant Obligations?

Published on April 17, 2017        Author: 
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Recently, Ukraine instituted proceedings against Russia before the ICJ, alleging violations of both the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (the ‘Convention’) and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (‘CERD’), followed up by a provisional measures request. This post is primarily concerned with the allegations formulated under the former instrument, including Russia’s alleged financing and support of illegal armed groups and terrorist activities in Ukraine, notably with respect to the downing of Flight MH17 (which the UNSC condemned in Resolution 2166 and demanded accountability). Given that a brief provisional measures overview has already been given on this blog, along with broader discussion of the case, I will highlight a few particular points of interest.

Shedding Light on the Convention

The Convention forms part of a series of multilateral conventions (the so-called ‘sectoral’ treaties) dealing specifically with terrorism-related offences and imposing obligations upon parties to criminalise relevant conduct domestically, falling short in many instruments of actually defining ‘terrorism’. The Convention is a notable exception, defining terrorism at Article 2(1) as:

‘[a]n act which constitutes an offence within the scope and as defined in one of the treaties listed in the annex; or…[a]ny other act intended to cause death or serious bodily injury to a civilian, or to any other person not taking an active part in the hostilities in a situation of armed conflict, when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population, or to compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act’.

The ‘treaties listed’ limb refers to nine of the ‘sectoral’ treaties, including the 1971 Montreal Convention, which has relevance in this case.

Much of the content of these conventions is relatively untried and untested. Some contain compromissory clauses granting jurisdiction to the ICJ in the case of a dispute, including Article 24 of the Convention, on which Ukraine relies. While scholars have lobbied for greater resort to this jurisdictional avenue to bring terrorism cases to the Court, Ukraine’s case marks only the third instance of litigation involving a sectoral anti-terrorism treaty before the international judiciary, alongside the two Lokerbie cases. This is an important moment for the Court, but also for international law.

This collection of anti-terrorism conventions has been described in the most anti-cohesive fashion: a ‘patchwork’ of instruments, a ‘piecemeal’ approach, etc. This is a unique opportunity for the Court to provide helpful interpretive guidance on Article 2(1) and related issues, especially the notion of ‘intent’, a matter of considerable contention between the parties. There is no authoritative judicial pronouncement on this front, despite Ukraine’s efforts in tracking down an Italian Supreme Court of Cassation decision which weakens Russia’s argument by holding that:

‘an action against a military objective must also be regarded as terrorism if the particular circumstances show beyond any doubt that serious harm to the life and integrity of the civilian population are inevitable, creating fear and panic among the local people’ (CR/3, pp 39–40).

While there are many unresolved issues surrounding the legal concept of ‘terrorism’, Ukraine’s case shows that civilians have been targeted for purposes that include ‘intimidat[ing] a population’ and ‘compel[ling] a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act’, with Russia’s support (CR/3, pp 40ff). And that is the essence of ‘terrorism’ under the Convention. Read the rest of this entry…

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Strasbourg Judgment on the Beslan Hostage Crisis

Published on April 13, 2017        Author: 
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The European Court today issued a landmark right to life judgment in Tagayeva and Others v. Russia, dealing with the hostage crisis in the school in Beslan in 2004, in which hundreds of hostages lost their lives. The exceptionally detailed (and for the most part unanimous) judgment does the Court great credit, as does the nuance it shows in much of its factual assessment. (Kudos are also due to Kirill Koroteyev and the EHRAC/Memorial team representing some of the applicants). Together with the Finogenov v. Russia judgment, on the Dubrovka theatre hostage crisis, this will be a leading case on the right to life in extraordinary situations. Unlike in Finogenov, the Court here finds a violation of the preventative aspect of Article 2 – indentifying the risk engaging the positive obligation is perhaps the most innovative part of the judgment. The Court also finds violations with regard to the effectiveness of the investigation and the planning of the operation. All in all its approach is somewhat less deferential towards the state than in Finogenov. UPDATE: Ed Bates has some early comments here.

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Ukraine v Russia at the ICJ Hearings on Indication of Provisional Measures: Who Leads?

Published on March 16, 2017        Author: 
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From the day Ukraine submitted its case against Russia at the ICJ, one could expect that the case would be extremely politicized and difficult to adjudicate. Oral proceedings on the request for provisional measures held on 6th -9th March 2017 not only demonstrated that parties disagreed on the major points of the dispute, but also revealed that both parties had adopted “alternative facts”, at times making it difficult to grasp if they actually had the same dispute in mind. Ukraine’s position is that Russia violates ICSFT by continuing to support pro-Russian separatist armed groups in eastern Ukraine that engage in the commission of terrorist acts against the civilian population. Ukraine also claims that Russia pursues “policies of cultural erasure and pervasive discrimination” against non-Russian ethnic population in Crimea (see my blog). In its counter-arguments, Russia submits that the supply of weaponry originated from the old Soviet stockpiles inherited by Ukraine as well as the retreating Ukrainian army. Although widespread reports on the human rights situation in Crimea indicate marginalization of non-Russian ethnic population, as do the hundreds of pending individual applications before the ECtHR, Russia maintains that it is fully compliant with CERD and that “the views [of international organizations] on the status of Crimea often prejudge the attitude towards the situation in Crimea itself”.

Oral proceedings provide valuable insights into Russia’s litigation strategy. Russia maintains that there is no factual or legal basis for the ICJ to adjudicate, claiming that the issues between Ukraine and Russia relate to the legality of the use of force, sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination and therefore go beyond the jurisdiction of the Court. Russia accused the Ukrainian government of using the Court “to stigmatize a substantial part of the Ukrainian population” in eastern Ukraine as terrorists, and Russia as a “sponsor of terrorism and persecutor”.

Prima facie jurisdiction

The ICJ has to be satisfied on a prima facie basis that its jurisdiction is well founded in order to indicate provisional measures. Read the rest of this entry…

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