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New EJIL:Live! Interview with Niels Petersen on his Article “The International Court of Justice and the Judicial Politics of Identifying Customary International Law”

Published on September 7, 2017        Author: 

In this latest episode of EJIL: Live! the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal, Professor Joseph Weiler, speaks with Professor Niels Petersen of the University of Münster, whose article, “The International Court of Justice and the Judicial Politics of Identifying Customary International Law”, appears in Volume 28, Issue 2 of the journal.

In the article, Professor Petersen explores International Court of Justice decisions confirming the existence of customary international law.  The abstract of the article states that:

It is often observed in the literature on customary international law that the identification practice of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for customary norms deviates from the traditional definition of customary law in Article 38 (1) lit. b of the ICJ Statute. However, while there are many normative and descriptive accounts on customary law and the Court’s practice, few studies try to explain the jurisprudence of the ICJ. This study aims at closing this gap. I argue that the ICJ’s argumentation pattern is due to the institutional constraints that the Court faces. In order for its decisions to be accepted, it has to signal impartiality through its reasoning. However, the analysis of state practice necessarily entails the selection of particular instances of practice, which could tarnish the image of an impartial court. In contrast, if the Court resorts to the consent of the parties or widely accepted international documents, it signals impartiality.

The EJIL:Live! discussion focuses on the principal empirical findings of the article, and Petersen’s novel conceptualization of those arguments in terms of “judicial politics”, explicable by the institutional constraints that the Court faces. This conversation offers a reflection on how this assessment of the jurisprudence could alter scholars’ normative conceptions of the Court’s decisions, particularly in regards to customary international law.

 

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International Law or Comity?  Exploring whether Grace Mugabe can successfully claim immunity for crimes committed on foreign soil.

Published on September 4, 2017        Author: 

Background Facts

On 14 August 2017 various news sites reported that Grace Mugabe, the wife of President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe had assaulted a young woman. A court hearing to obtain a statement from Mrs Mugabe was scheduled for the 15th but she failed to appear. On the evening of the 16th the Government of Zimbabwe directed a note verbale to the South African government invoking diplomatic immunity on her behalf and stating that Mrs Mugabe’s itinerary in South Africa included amongst private matters her attendance and participation at the scheduled SADC Heads of States/Governments Summit and other Bi-lateral Diplomatic Meetings.

The question which has gripped lawyers and laymen alike is whether or not Mrs Mugabe can successfully claim any kind of immunity under international law to shield herself from arrest and prosecution.  Media reports asserted that Mrs Mugabe claimed “diplomatic” immunity”. However, as the spouse of a sitting Head of State, ordinarily resident in Zimbabwe, Mrs Mugabe cannot be considered a diplomatic agent and is not entitled to the protections afforded under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (VCDR). Customary international law also confers personal immunity on some state officials. This personal immunity is extensive in scope, and wide enough to cover both official and private acts by heads of state, heads of government and foreign ministers as the Arrest Warrant Case  points out. As Mrs Mugabe does not fall within any of the categories above, she cannot claim personal immunity. In addition, customary international law accords, functional immunity in relation to acts performed in an official capacity. This immunity covers the official acts of all state officials and of those who act on behalf of the state.  It is determined by reference to the nature of the acts in question rather than the particular office of the official who performed them. However, the alleged assault by Mrs Mugabe was not undertaken in the performance of any official duty and functional immunity is unavailable in relation to that act.

This post considers whether the Mrs Mugabe may have been entitled to immunity, while in South Africa, as the spouse of a head of state. The post first considers whether the spouse of a representative to SADC, an international organization, may be entitled to immunity. It then explores the immunity of family members of state officials on special missions and of heads of states. Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: Cambridge Asylum and Migration Studies; CfS UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence

Published on September 3, 2017        Author: 
1. Cambridge Asylum and Migration Studies. Cambridge University Press has launched a new book series: Cambridge Asylum and Migration Studies. The series is now accepting book proposals. At no time in modern history have so many people been on the move as at present. Migration facilitates critical social, economic, and humanitarian linkages. But it may also challenge prevailing notions of bounded political communities, of security, and of international law. The political and legal systems that regulate the transborder movement of persons were largely devised in the mid-twentieth century, and are showing the strains. New challenges have arisen for policymakers, advocates, and decision-makers that require the adaptation and evolution of traditional models to meet emerging imperatives.  This new series aims to be a forum for innovative writing on all aspects of the transitional movement of people. It publishes single or coauthored works that may be legal, political, or cross-disciplinary in nature. The series is edited by a world leader in international refugee law, Professor James Hathaway, University of Michigan. He is supported by an Editorial Advisory Board comprising Alexander Betts, University of Oxford, Vincent Chetail, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen, Raoul Wallenberg Institution of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, Audrey Macklin, University of Toronto, and Saskia Sassen, Colombia University. Potential authors should contact Finola O’Sullivan at Cambridge University Press, the series editor, or any member of the Editorial Advisory Board.
 
2. UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence Call for Submissions. The UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence is a law journal run by postgraduate students of the UCL Faculty of Laws. The Journal appears twice a year and will be available open access. All submissions are assessed through double blind peer review. The Editorial Board is pleased to call for submissions for the first issue of 2018 (Volume 7, Issue 1 (March 2018)). The Board welcomes papers covering all areas of law and jurisprudence. We accept articles of between 8,000 – 12,000 words, case notes of 6,000 – 8,000 words and book reviews of 1,000 – 2,000 words. All submissions must comply with the Oxford University Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA). Contributions that have already been published or that are under consideration for publication in other journals will not be considered. The deadline for submissions is 16 October 2017. Manuscripts must be uploaded via the submissions section on our website. For further information and guidelines for authors please visit our website.
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A Response: The Child in International Refugee Law

Published on September 1, 2017        Author: 

I am grateful to each of the participants for engaging with The Child in International Refugee Law in such a thoughtful way.

As all four contributions have identified, the central thesis of The Child in International Refugee Law is that the the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) has a critical role to play, alongside the 1951 Refugee Convention, in enhancing the visibility and protection afforded to refugee children. Rather than simply asserting a need for greater interaction between the 1951 Refugee Convention and the CRC, the book attempts to map out the substantive contours of that relationship, and to anchor the relationship in the international rules of treaty interpretation.

In his contribution, Bjorge engages with the book’s treatment of the international rules of treaty interpretation, and in particular the argument developed in Chapter 1 that these rules should be drawn upon to promote greater engagement with the CRC as an interpretative aid to inform the interpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention refugee definition. I agree with everything that he has said. Bjorge agrees, perhaps unsurprisingly (see, e.g. The Evolutionary Interpretation of Treaties (OUP, 2014)), that Articles 31-33 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (“VCLT”) require a systemic approach to the interpretation of the 1951 Refugee Convention and that such an interpretative approach is, on the whole, likely to be beneficial for refugee children. However, he raises a sage warning that a systemic approach to treaty interpretation can, particularly in today’s unfortunate political climate, be used opportunistically by States to reduce rather than strengthen the protection afforded by the 1951 Refugee Convention. In these circumstances, says Bjorge, “it may well be that literalism or textual interpretation is rather better than its reputation”. Read the rest of this entry…

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Review: Jason Pobjoy’s Book, The Child in International Refugee Law

Published on August 31, 2017        Author: , and

Jason Pobjoy’s newly released book, The Child in International Refugee Law, represents a major contribution not only to the advancement of protection claims of children, but to refugee law more broadly, taking its place among such seminal works as J. Hathaway and M. Foster’s, The Law of Refugee Status (2d Edition 2014) and G.Goodwin-Gill and J.McAdam’s The Refugee in International Law (3d Edition, 2007).

The publication of Pobjoy’s treatise comes at an opportune time, when there is increasing sophistication among practitioners and scholars about the complex issues involved in conceptualizing children’s claims and providing effective representation to children refugees accounting for their unique needs and vulnerabilities as children. The body of law regarding children’s claims builds on earlier work regarding in particular refugee law’s treatment of women claimants that challenges refugee law’s dominant male paradigm. Similarly, the body of children’s refugee law challenges the dominant adult paradigm: As Pobjoy advocates and presents so comprehensively, in the case of children every criteria in the refugee definition must be interpreted in a child-centered manner, grounded in the specific structure of rights and obligations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This review focuses on Chapter 4 of Pobjoy’s book, “A Child-Rights Framework for Identifying Persecutory Harm.”

The publication of Pobjoy’s treatise also comes at a precipitous moment in the development of U.S. refugee law. There is growing sophistication among the American refugee bar and scholarly communities, especially evident over the past decade. Although in the past the U.S. has been, in some respects, an outlier, doggedly parochial and resistant to acknowledging the role that international human rights law should play in the interpretation of its domestic asylum provisions, there has been a shift: American lawyers have been urging a more internationalist approach; they have been including arguments about international human rights law in their advocacy; and, presenting the jurisprudence of other states parties to the UN Refugee Convention in support of their clients claims to protection. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the roots of U.S. law in the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol, has referenced the jurisprudence of other states parties, and federal courts have suggested at least implicitly a human rights standard. See Deborah E. Anker, Law of Asylum in the United States, Ch. 1 (2017). And as the American non-profit Opportunity Agenda points out, in other areas of law, the U.S. Supreme Court “has increasingly cited human rights law as persuasive authority for important constitutional decisions.” The Opportunity Agenda, Legal and Policy Analysis: Human Rights in State Courts: 2011, at 2. It may be unclear at this challenging moment in U.S. politics what long-term effect this new advocacy in refugee law will have, but the orientation is changing in an internationalist direction. Read the rest of this entry…

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Persecuting Children: How the Convention on the Rights of the Child has pushed the evolution of refugee law

Published on August 31, 2017        Author: 

The nature of modern warfare has made children increasingly vulnerable to conflict related injury, deprivation and displacement. International refugee law was slow to recognise children as being worthy of separate consideration: the only express references to children in the UN Convention relating to the Rights of Refugees are in Article 4, referring to refugee parents’ freedom to religious education of their offspring; and Article 17(2)(c) which relates to the working rights of refugee parents whose children are nationals of a host country). Pobjoy’s masterful review of the comparative jurisprudence on children as refugees confirms the nature and extent of the change that is occurring. Chapter 4 of his book examines an aspect of the Refugee Convention that remains un-defined, yet central to the protection of refugees. This is the concept of ‘being persecuted’. As many of us have documented, children can experience persecution both in the same way as adults and in ways that are particular to their identity as children: See, for example, see Pobjoy, section 4.3; J Bhabha and W Young, ‘Not Adults in Miniature: Unaccompanied Child Asylum Seekers and the New US Guidelines’ (1999) 11 International Journal of Refugee Law 84, 103; J Bhabha and M Crock, Seeking Asylum Alone: A Comparative Study – Unaccompanied and Separated Children and Refugee Protection in Australia, the UK and the US (2007), Chapter 7; and G Sadoway, ‘Refugee children before the Immigration and Refugee Board’ (1996) 15(5) Refuge 17. Like adults, children can be killed, kidnapped, tortured and targeted for harm in ways that are readily identified as ‘persecution’. What has been harder for people to accept is that children also suffer harms that are peculiar to childhood. As Pobjoy writes at 117:

Only a child can be at risk of infanticide, underage military recruitment, forced child labour, forced underage marriage, child prostitution, child pornography, domestic child abuse, corporal punishment or pre-puberty FGC.

Moreover, children experience harm in ways that are different to adults. Because of their size and evolving capacities, they can be acutely susceptible to injury and harm.

Pobjoy explores these realities brilliantly. Noting the legislative and policies initiatives that have been taken in international, supra-national and domestic contexts, he argues nevertheless that more judges and policy makers should be taking the time to consider the different persecutory experiences of refugee children.

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Treaty Interpretation and The Child in International Refugee Law

Published on August 30, 2017        Author: 

Jason Pobjoy explains in The Child in International Refugee Law (CUP 2017) how the rule set out in Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), the ‘general rule of interpretation’, in his words, ‘comprises a single holistic “rule” of interpretation’, and that the adoption, by the International Law Commission (ILC),

of a “single, closely integrated rule”’ underscores the need to look beyond a literal construction of the text and to consider the terms of the treaty in light of their object and purposes, in their context and taking into account subsequent extrinsic sources (p 34).

He goes on to explain that this ‘rejection of strict literalism has found favour in domestic refugee jurisprudence’ and then sets out how Articles 31–33 mandate a ‘systemic approach’ to the interpretation and application of the Refugee Convention, with the Convention on the Rights of the Child naturally playing a particularly important role (p 34–43). It is extremely well done.

This approach, clearly and convincingly set out in Chapter 1 of the book, is undoubtedly correct. It is of a feather with the dictum of the International Court of Justice in Interpretation of the Agreement of 25 March 1951 between the WHO and Egypt, according to which a treaty ‘does not operate in a vacuum’ but rather ‘in the context of a wider framework of legal rules of which it forms only a part’ (ICJ Rep 1980, p 73, 76, para 10). Against this background, the book in Chapter 6 develops the argument that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a complementary source of protection for children, going into some detail on state practice to make out the argument.

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Child Refugees and International Law: Legal Imagination in the Service of Others

Published on August 30, 2017        Author: 

What is seen and experienced often determines outcomes, in law as elsewhere. Background assumptions about the world (including legal texts) can distort the interpretation and application of norms. Partial perspectives render invisible what should be obvious or perhaps what only becomes obvious with revised theories and concepts. As Jason Pobjoy makes plain in his outstanding book, there is no principled reason why children should face the formidable obstacles they do in the sphere of refugee protection. Refugee law makes no distinctions based on age; in theory a child who meets the Convention definition is every bit a refugee as an adult. This absence, of course, cuts both ways; it does not make explicit textual provision for the particular circumstances of children either. All refugees are not however treated equally, and in practice there are pervasive problems of visibility and incorrect assessment (Jason Pobjoy, The Child in International Refugee Law, (2017, Cambridge University Press) 5).

Pobjoy does a remarkable job in highlighting the deficiencies (for example, the evidence of the low number of references by domestic decision-makers to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) while also mapping out, with admirable precision, credible ways forward. Pobjoy thus unearths the lip-service often paid to the best interests of the child principle when compared with hard facts, but also charts a course for those globally and locally who genuinely want to take the rights of the child seriously within the international refugee protection framework.

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An Introduction: The Child in International Refugee Law

Published on August 29, 2017        Author: 

I want to start by expressing my thanks to the editors of EJIL: Talk! for arranging this book discussion, and to Deborah Anker (with Nancy Kelly and John Willshire Carrera), Eirik Bjorge, Mary Crock, and Colin Harvey for agreeing to participate in the discussion. The participants are all leaders in their fields, and I am privileged that they have agreed to engage with The Child in International Refugee Law.

It is a sad reality that the horrors faced by refugee children – both in their country of origin, and in their attempt to secure international protection in a host State – continue to dominate our news feeds. In the past month alone, we have seen damning reports of Australia’s offshore processing regime, which has involved the transfer and detention of children, and, in some cases, the separation of children from their parents; reports that thousands of Syrian children in Jordan’s Za’atari camp are being deprived of an education; and reports that over 10,000 child migrants went missing in Europe last year. As Harvey recognises in his contribution, “there is no principled reason why children should face the formidable obstacles they do in the sphere of refugee protection”. The need for change is heightened by the reality that childhood is a wasting asset. As Goodwin-Gill recently observed, “[c]hildhood, once lost, is never recovered”.

The premise underlying The Child in International Refugee Law is that international law has an important role to play in securing greater protection for refugee children. As Beth Simmons persuasively argues, international law provides a “rights based framework to supplement the protective framework that has a much longer history in many societies”. It is particularly important in the context of children, with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) providing a “lever to give … would-be advocates influence over policies likely to have an important impact on the well-being of those who are not able to organize and speak for themselves” (Simmons, Mobilizing for Human Rights (2009) 307).

The central thesis of the book is that the 1951 Refugee Convention is capable of responding in a sophisticated and principled way to refugee claims brought by children. More specifically, the CRC has an important role to play in both informing and supplementing the 1951 Refugee Convention.

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Announcement: Book Discussion on Jason Pobjoy’s “The Child in International Refugee Law”

Published on August 29, 2017        Author: 

The blog is happy to announce that over the next few days, we will host a discussion of Jason Pobjoy’s new book, The Child in International Refugee Law. Jason Pobjoy is a barrister at Blackstone Chambers, where he has a broad practice including public and human rights law, refugee and immigration law and public international law. He is a Research Associate at the Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford.

Jason will open the discussion this afternoon with an introduction to the text . This will be followed by posts from Colin Harvey, Eirik Bjorge, Mary Crock, and Deborah Anker with Nancy Kelly & John Willshire Carrera. Jason will close the symposium with a reply to the discussants.

We are grateful to all of the participants for agreeing to have this discussion here. Readers are invited to join in- comments will of course be open on all posts.

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