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Reflections on the European Committee on the Prevention of Torture’s Report on the UK

Published on April 21, 2017        Author: 

The European Committee on the Prevention of Torture (CPT), the Council of Europe monitoring body responsible for visiting places of detention in member states, recently published its report on its visit to the UK in 2016. The report was published at the request of the UK and a response is expected shortly.

The report is important in three respects. First, the report is striking in the number of concerns it raises about ill-treatment in places of detention in the UK, including inter-prisoner violence, a lack of safety in prisons, use of restraint and separation in psychiatric hospitals, solitary confinement of children and indefinite lengths of immigration detention. Second, the nature of the concerns raised in the report prompts questions on whether measures to eradicate ill-treatment are sufficient or whether in some instances the use and legitimacy of detention itself needs to be considered. Third, the report is part of a wider context of national reviews and reform and recent and forthcoming recommendations by the UN on the use, legitimacy and treatment in detention in the UK. This level of attention to detention in the UK raises interesting questions for scholars and practitioners on implementation and compliance with international human rights law and the conditions necessary to bring about change. Read the rest of this entry…

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Moving Trade into the 21st Century: Towards a More Inclusive Trade Agenda?

Published on April 21, 2017        Author: 

International organizations sometimes publish general reports – in addition to the usual annual versions – about their work and the future of their remit. Such reports invariably have a theme and are done when these organizations or the work they carry out has come under challenge. In 2005, on the occasion of the WTO’s so-called Sutherland report, Armin von Bogdandy and I found that:

“[a] perception of institutional crisis is pervading international organizations. One evermore fashionable response by the administration of an affected organization is to entrust a group of eminent persons to consider its future. Perhaps not surprisingly the resulting report calls for a politically feasible strengthening of that organization for which it provides good grounds.”

Early April saw the release of a – much less frequent – joint report by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization, entitled Making Trade an Engine of Growth for All. The motive for the report is best interpreted as responding to a problem that is fundamental enough to warrant such an unusual step: the increasing calls for and a turn to more inward-looking economic policies. The Trump administration’s protectionist rhetoric and actions (see here, here and here) are the prime example for this development, with Brexit – despite assertions to the contrary: think Global Britain – serving as another.

The circumstances surrounding the release of the report also lead to the conclusion that it is designated to respond to the growing trend of inward-looking economic policies: it took place a) just prior to the 2017 Spring Meetings of the IMF and the World Bank Group, and b) in Berlin which the Financial Times’ Shawn Donnan called the “new capital of global free market liberalism”. The policy differences between the proponents and opponents of multilateralism are now clearly at display: Chancellor Merkel and the leaders of the IMF, the World Bank, the ILO, and the WTO have called for increasing trade policy cooperation and coordination, with the stated goal to not only curb protectionism, but also in order to reduce inequality and combat climate change. US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the other hand denied that US policies were protectionist (calling warnings of protectionism – ostensibly geared towards the US and other countries – “rubbish”).

The Trump administration policies and Brexit are the most visible manifestations of perceived political solutions to the discontent with the current globalized and interdependent economic system. The report itself recognizes that the public attitude towards trade is not as favorable as they used to be (paras 21-23). While it does not explicitly say so, it is worth noting that the three institutions have recognized that economic inequality is one of the main drivers of this discontent and that their past policies were – or at the very least were seen to be – partially responsible for this discontent.

The report touches on a number of issues, ranging from the long-term trends and benefits of trade, the interplay between trade and (domestic) adjustment (policies), to the need for a stronger rules-based trade regime. It is this last part that this post will focus on by analyzing the sometimes subtle, but important changes in direction that the report advocates as well its shortcomings.

The overall narrative of the report is such that the policies of trade liberalization championed by the three institutions since the end of WW II have resulted in a period of expansion of world trade at an “unprecedented historical pace” (para. 5). The institutions’ policies, indeed their very raison d’être, such as open markets, increased trade integration and competition, efforts to curb protectionist policies, “good governance” and fiscal discipline have come under intense scrutiny. But the report also contains remarkable language – at least for the institutions involved: it recognizes that globalization provides positive effects only where the appropriate domestic policies, including “social protection policies” (page 33), are in place so as to lead to a more equal distribution of gains.

The section entitled “Building Stronger Rules-Based Trade” (page 37 et seq.) reiterates the centrality of a strong WTO as opposed to a more fragmented trading system characterized by preferential/regional trade agreements or bilateral arrangements. By doing so, it picks up ideas put forth by Robert Hudec & John Jackson that the “power-based” GATT has been replaced by a “rules-based” WTO system. It rightly points out that a “core set of rules, a strong enforcement mechanism, and a common forum for cooperating on policy and sharing information” assists in “[reducing] overall levels of trade distortions, including conventional trade measures, subsidies, and other forms of state support” (para. 72). This echoes long-standing WTO principles: reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers (para. 69), promoting competition, “reassuring the public that international trade is evenhanded” and that “rules-based trade integration is critical to share trade benefits more widely” (para. 64). Such statements are a direct response to efforts of the Trump administration to pursue a more protectionist trade and fiscal agenda.

But beyond the orthodox ideas discussed above, the report broaches – although it may not break – new ground. It mentions new forms of services (mainly in conjunction with digitization) without however stating what reforms – beyond a need for rules to be clarified or enhanced – would be needed (para. 70). An area that is marked as a “frontier area” for trade reform is investment. The report explicitly argues for linking trade and investment more closely and for a more coherent policy approach in light of global supply chains (para. 71). The report would have benefited from further clarification of this point: should efforts be made to bring investment genuinely (beyond the TRIMS Agreement) under the purview of the WTO? The report does not provide any details about the extent to which, or how, this could happen. It does not mention a range of PTAs that have incorporated both trade and investment chapters over the last years and whether these developments were the impetus for the renewed effort of integrating trade and investment policies. In addition, there has been considerable debate about the current state of investment law in general, and investor state dispute settlement in particular (see here, here, here and here). It is also worth noting that there is considerable pushback by developing countries at the moment against recent efforts within the WTO to develop rules on investment facilitation.

Finally, the report puts forward pathways for the WTO to retain its relevancy as a negotiating forum. It proposes conducting negotiations on narrower issues similar to the Trade Facilitation Agreement or the Information Technology Agreement (para. 74). Beyond that, it recommends thinking further about a more plurilateral approach to negotiations (aka variable geometry) within the WTO, without however suggesting areas in which this may be fruitful (para. 75).

While there are a number of positive elements in the report, it contains shortcomings and omissions. The first is its economics-centered focus. While impressive, the bibliography contains only a very small number of sources that are from non-economists. Eg, the only identifiable legal academic’s work cited is one that deals with political economy rather than law. This wouldn’t be an issue – and could quite easily be shrugged off as a quibble by a member of an academic community yearning for greater recognition – if the report made suggestions of, or at least hint at, how trade and investment policies could be intertwined (never mind rules implemented); how health, the environment, and equality could be reconciled with trade or investment liberalization (para. 67 of the report is – to use the words of the Appellate Body in EC – Hormones – “not a model of clarity in drafting and communication”); what the extent of regulatory autonomy of governments should be without losing sight of a minimum degree of universality of rules; how consumer or citizen welfare can become more of a direct focus for the WTO rather than producers or exporters; or whether the structural design of the current system of international economic governance could be enhanced/reformed to contribute to achieving these goals. It is rather unfortunate – and a missed opportunity – that the report relegates the important discussion on poverty and developing countries to an annex. The five paragraphs devoted to Annex A reiterate the potential positive role of trade to assist in reducing poverty (paras 82-95, see eg para. 84: “Although causality is hard to establish, this fact pattern suggest (sic) that openness promotes poverty reduction by accelerating growth.” Emphasis in original.) and the need for sound domestic institutional arrangements (para. 86). What is missing is an acknowledgement of the obstacles developing countries are facing when trying to compete with developed country producers in eg the agricultural sector.

Both political science and legal literature are replete with discussions of these issues. Given the interdisciplinary nature of international economic relations it would be more useful in the future to include a broader set of disciplines in the formulation of such important reports. Overall, Making Trade an Engine of Growth for All is a cautious step in the right direction, away from well-trodden orthodoxy. In that sense, it serves the purpose of preserving the importance of the three institutions involved in its drafting. The report recognizes that the trade (and investment) liberalization paradigm can function for a wider swath of the global population only if cushioned by domestic policies (and even that is contested, see here). This is evidenced by statements such as “[t]rade and trade-related policies have a role to play not just in promoting growth and prosperity, but helping to share that prosperity more widely” (para. 81). But it stops short of recognizing that the institutions of global economic governance themselves have opportunities to do more to achieve greater equality.

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Taking the ‘Union’ out of ‘EU’: The EU-Turkey Statement on the Syrian Refugee Crisis as an Agreement Between States under International Law

Published on April 20, 2017        Author: 

Almost one year after its conclusion, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has eventually made clear the real nature of the ‘so-called’ EU-Turkey Statement. The ‘Statement’ is a document that was primarily aimed at preventing irregular migrants reaching the EU from Turkey, and established a resettlement mechanism based on the transfer of one vulnerable Syrian from Turkey to the EU “for every irregular Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands”. The case was brought by three asylum seekers who arrived in Greece by boat and risked being returned to Turkey pursuant to this Statement if their request for asylum was rejected. They asked the Court to annul what they identified as an “agreement concluded between the European Council and the Republic of Turkey” (see CJEU, Orders of 28 February 2017, Cases NF v European Council, T‑192/16; NG v European Council, T-193/16; NM v European Council, T-257/16).

According to the CJEU, the ‘EU-Turkey’ Statement is a non-EU agreement. In fact, it is a European agreement between EU Member States and Turkey, which was made at the margin of the European Council’s meeting held in March 2016. As such, according to Article 263 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), the CJEU lacks jurisdiction to review its legitimacy, especially in relation to the provisions set out for the conclusion of international treaties by the EU (similarly, CJEU, 30 June 1993, Parliament v Council and Commission, C-181/91 and C-248/91.).

This expected (?) conclusion (see S. Peers here) raises more questions than it answers. After a brief analysis of the CJEU’s order at least two points deserve attention. Firstly, were all aspects of the Statement duly considered in order to exclude the possibility that this is an agreement of the EU with a third country? Secondly, in light of customary international law of treaties, is a different reading of  the EU’s involvement possible? Read the rest of this entry…

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Being Charged by an Elephant: A story of globalization and inequality

Published on April 19, 2017        Author: 

Along with many economists and globalization scholars, my favorite graph these days is the elephant graph. Named for its distinctive elephant-shaped curve (see below), this graph shows the rise in real incomes for people in different income brackets throughout the world over a twenty year period of intense economic globalization (1998 to 2008). Economists often like to tell us that free trade is good because it is a rising tide that lifts all boats. What this graph suggests, however, is that economic globalization has produced clear winners and clear losers. This division seems to be playing an important role in explaining some of the rising nationalist and pro-protectionist sentiments we are witnessing in certain developed states, as shown by the rise of Trump and the vote for Brexit.

So who has won and lost in the age of economic globalization? Read the rest of this entry…

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

Published on April 17, 2017        Author: 

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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Announcements: Conference on Derogation from the ECHR; Seminar on Transitional Justice and Social Justice; International Law Weekend 2017; Annual BIICL-SLS 2017 Conference; International Criminal Court Summer School 2017

Published on April 16, 2017        Author: 

1. Conference on The Derogation from the ECHR under Contemporary Situations of Emergency. This conference will examine current practices of derogation from the European Convention on Human Rights by Ukraine, France and Turkey as well as the United Kingdom’s proposal to derogate from the ECHR in foreign military operations. Marko Milanovic (University of Nottingham) will deliver a keynote speech and Raphaël Comte (Rapporteur of the Council of Europe) will provide a report on ‘State of emergency: proportionality issues concerning derogations under Article 15 of the ECHR’. The conference is open to all interested students, academics, diplomats and practitioners. For any questions please contact the organizing committee: Kushtrim Istrefi (kushtrim.istrefi {at} rgsl.edu(.)lv) or Stefan Salomon (stefan.salomon {at} uni-graz(.)at). More here and here.

2. Netherlands Institute of Human Rights Seminar on Transitional Justice and Social Justice. The Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) is delighted to invite you to the Seminar on Transitional Justice and Social Justice on June 8th at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. The seminar will explore the conceptual relationship between transitional justice, social justice, and human rights. It aims to build upon current debates in the field and examine why economic, social, and cultural rights violations have or have not been included in transitional justice mechanisms with a view to providing answers both to the kinds of obstacles that prevent making these processes more inclusive, and to the dangers of doing so. The seminar will take place in the Raadzaal room at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM), Utrecht University, Achter Sint Pieter 200, 3512 HT Utrecht. Signing up is possible by sending an e-mail to k.j.aksamitowska {at} uu(.)nl. For more information, please visit our website. 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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Excusing Illegal Use of Force: From Illegal but Legitimate to Legal Because it is Legitimate?

Published on April 14, 2017        Author: 

The US missile strikes on Syria have, inter alia, revived the debates on humanitarian intervention, the argument of ‘illegal but legitimate’ and more generally on the exceptions to the prohibition of the use of force. For some examples see here, here and here. Some contributors have pointed out that the US did not even try to bring this action within the ambit of the Charter rules on the use of force, and that the absence of Charter-based arguments may even be a good thing as it preserves the strength of Article 2(4). Others have cautioned that the strength of the rules on the use of force might nevertheless be undermined, as singular ‘exceptional’ cases result in a pattern.

This post argues that, analogous to the concept of defences in municipal legal systems, international law on the use of force should adopt a systematic distinction between justifications and excuses. As responses to the US missile attack in Syria demonstrate, the two concepts are conflated. The result is that legality is often assessed on the basis of excuses. If the trend of conflation continues, the controversial doctrine of ‘illegal but legitimate’ will move toward an even more controversial doctrine of ‘legal because it is legitimate’.

Justifications are legally-warranted exceptions to the general prohibition. As such, they are a way out of illegality. Excuses, on the other hand, are not a way out of illegality, but act as mitigating circumstances that preclude responsibility for an otherwise illegal conduct. Under some circumstances, breaching the law may indeed be the choice of a lesser evil. As noted by Vaughan Lowe in his 1999 EJIL article, a legal system may wish to provide a defence for emergency drivers who breach the speed limit on the way to hospital. There are two ways of achieving this goal. One way is to give them an explicit authorization to breach the speed limit. The other one, however, does not authorize speeding, but rather ensures that emergency drivers are not prosecuted upon such a breach of traffic rules. The first (justification) relaxes the norm itself and may well result in wider disobeying of the speed limit than the second, which merely provides for a carefully weighed excuse of culpability where the norm was doubtlessly breached. In other words, it is better if the general norm is strong and ‘catches’ more violators whose excuses are then considered on a case-by-case basis. I elaborate on these issues in more details in this 2015 concept paper. In the present context, might the ‘emergency driver logic’ apply to the US strike in Syria? Even if it did, it would not make this action legal. Possibly, the US could only escape responsibility for this internationally wrongful act.  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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