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The Buck Stops Here: State Responsibility and PMCs

Published on January 16, 2009        Author: 

Editors note: Carsten Hoppe is on the Project Management team of the Priv-War Project  and Executive Director of the European Society of International Law. He is currently writing a PhD, on the same topic as his article, at the European University Institute. He has a JD from the University of Michigan Law School and has previously clerked for Judge Bruno Simma at the International Court of Justice. His article “Passing the Buck: State Responsibility for Private Military Companies”, (2008 )19 EJIL 989 -1014 is available  here.

What makes the video below from the Iraq war more disturbing than the countless others we have seen?

First off, Elvis Presley. The scenes of bullets flying into civilian vehicles are cut to a trivializing soundtrack of “Mystery Train” by the King of Rock ’n Roll. But what may be even more disturbing is that the video does not show a single soldier. Rather, it is attributed to a UK Private Military Company under contract with the United States, an employee of which claims to have shot the video.  Granted, it will be very difficult to assess who is ultimately responsible for the shootings. But this problem is not the end, but rather the beginning of my inquiry. How can it be that private company employees get to drive around in a war zone with assault rifles and machine guns, clearing the road of suspected attackers in approaching vehicles? Is it true that states hiring these Private Military or Security firms [PMSCs / contractors] can outsource their international responsibility by way of a simple contract?

Of course, at present, states are free under international law to outsource functions in armed conflict, such as guarding and protection, interrogation, or even combat, which formerly were in the exclusive domain of soldiers. However, the article and my broader work on PMSCs for the Priv-War Project and my dissertation demonstrate that, while they may spend the money, they are not free to “pass the buck” with respect to responsibility. Thus the most important conclusion of my piece is that where contractors function as armed groups and are responsible to the party through their obligations under a contract, responsibility for all their acts, as first envisaged by states in 1907, will lie for the hiring state.

To get to this point, I first compare responsibility of a state for a classical soldier to all the options for attribution of private conduct. In this analysis, a responsibility gap becomes evident: unless a state outright incorporates the contracted personnel into its armed forces, or the contractors can be regarded as completely dependent on the state (a tough burden of proof to meet), the state will always face less responsibility for acts of those persons than for acts of soldiers, and its responsibility will be harder to prove.

In a further step, I show that positive obligations of the state under IHL narrow this gap to some degree. Read the rest of this entry…

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Editorial: EJIL Vol. 19:5

Published on January 13, 2009        Author: 
Kadi – Europe’s Medellin?; Georgia: Plus ça change, Plus ça reste la même chose. In this Issue: EJIL:Debate! Marking the Anniversary of the UDHR (Contd.); Private Armies – A Symposium; Articles and Review Essays; Outside this Issue: EJIL:Talk!

Kadi

Just like the Supreme Court’s decision in Medellin (see EJIL Editorial to Volume 19:2) some months ago, the ECJ’s decision in Kadi is destined to become a landmark in the annals of international law. Whereas Medellin was generally excoriated as the low water mark of American constitutional and judicial insularity, gruesomely resulting in the actual execution of the principals,1 Kadi was mostly hailed as an example of the more progressive and open attitude of the ECJ, with the proof of the pudding in the eating – overturning the Council Regulations which gave effect to the measures adopted against the defendants pursuant to the Security Council Resolutions, and doing so on the grounds that they violate fundamental human rights and protections applicable within the legal order of the EU. There the gallows – here liberty.2 Happy Ending.

It is so, however, only to those for whom outcomes are more important than process and reasoning. For, at a deeper level, Kadi looks very much like the European cousin of Medellin.

Let us rapidly engage in the following mental exercise: Imagine two identical Kadi-like measures within the European Legal Space – one entirely autonomous (i.e., not a measure implementing a Community measure) originating in a Member State and one originating in, say, the form of a Regulation from the Council of Ministers. Imagine further that they came up for judicial review before a national court. As regards the first, we would expect the national jurisdiction to follow the domestic process, apply the domestic substantive tests for legality and constitutionality, in the course of which they would also be engaging in an inevitable ‘balancing’ of the values of, say, due process, natural justice, etc. against the security interests of the state. Both the factual, legal and, critically, the matrix of values at play would be, appropriately, those prevalent in the Member State (which may of course be influenced by international norms to the extent that those are received by the domestic legal order, directly or indirectly). All this would be ‘normale amministrazione‘. It would not be at all ‘normale amministrazione‘ were the same court, in reviewing the Union measure (questions of preliminary references apart), to pursue the very same process and set of values as it applied to the purely domestic measure as if it made no difference that in one case it was dealing with an entirely domestic situation and in the other with a communitaurized measure implicating the geographical, political, and value system of the entire Union. We would consider that an aberration. Both the factual and the ‘valorial’ matrices would be entirely different – not those of a single Member State but those of the Union as a whole, with a far more complex set of considerations which would have to go into the balancing hopper. In a domestic context, it may be considered a correct balance between individual liberty and the fight against crime that any search and seizure be accompanied by a judge-signed search warrant. In the European context, it may be considered sufficient that when searching commercial premises a warrant signed by the Commission will suffice. If so, we would expect a national judge to understand the different factual and ‘valorial’ contexts and be willing in principle to uphold the European measure even if an identical situation wholly within the state would be struck down.

Read the rest of this entry…

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  1. Even had the American legal system heeded the international imperative and given the convicts a review, this, in all likelihood, would have merely delayed their grisly end. Their guilt in this case was not at issue. []
  2. Here, too, we may be dealing with judicial gesture – the effects of the decision were stayed for three months to enable the Council (of the EU) to “put its house in order and come up with a more solid basis which would actually allow the measure to be kept in place. []
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The OLC Memoranda on Iraq: Revisiting the Case for War

Published on January 10, 2009        Author: 

Yesterday, the Office of the Legal Counsel of the US Department of Justice released some of its secret memoranda to President Bush, several of which are of interest for international lawyers. Two of them deal with questions of IHL, that is the applicability of the Third Geneva Convention to the Taliban, and of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the occupation of Iraq. Three memos, on the other hand, provide the OLC’s advice to the President on the legality of the use of force against Iraq, both under US constitutional law and under international law.I’d like to say a few words about these three memos (authored by the same indomitable Bybee/Yoo team of torture memo fame), both on the quality of their substantive analysis and on the boundaries of the proper role of government legal advisers.

I’d also like to compare these memos of US legal advisers with those of their British counterparts, particularly the opinion of the then Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith.

The most important of the three opinions was signed by Jay Bybee on 23 October 2002 (Iraq Opinion). In its third part (at 17 ff), it gives two possible justifications for the US use of force against Iraq: (implied or implicit) UN Security Council authorization and (anticipatory or pre-emptive) self-defense. The second opinion, signed by John Yoo on 8 November 2002, deals with the impact of UNSC Resolution 1441 on the implied authorization argument made in the previous Iraq Opinion (1441 Opinion). The third opinion was also signed by Yoo, on 7 December 2002, and it addresses the issue whether false declarations on WMD by Iraq would constitute a further material breach of Resolution 1441 (Material Breach Opinion).

Read the rest of this entry…

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Who is a Civilian? A Follow up on the Status of Hamas Police Officers

Published on January 9, 2009        Author: 

At the end of 2008, I put up a post in which I suggested that a key issue in assessing the lawfulness of Israeli airstrikes in Gaza was determning the status of Hama police officers. Before attempting to make the proportionality calculation International Humanitarian Law (IHL) requires, one has to first answer the question who is a civilian and who is a legitimate target. As has been pointed out on this site, one needs to be clear about the relevant facts before engaging in the required legal analysis.

Darryl Li, a student of mine at Yale Law School, sent me an email, in response to my earlier post, in which he attempts to set out what he considers to be the relevant facts regarding the structure of the Gaza police and the status of the police officers. Darryl has worked in Gaza for Human Rights Watch, B’tselem (the Israeli Human Rights group), and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. With his permission, I set out some of his email to me.

Gaza police are distinct, operationally and otherwise, from the armed wing of Hamas, the ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.  There may be individuals who are members of both but Hamas-controlled police use the same facilities, wear the same uniforms, and have pretty much the same internal chain of command that existed under Fatah control, at least as far as I could tell during my last trip in January.  Hamas membership is not a prerequisite to being hired, though I’m sure it helps.  Indeed, the commander of the Gaza police, who was killed on the first day of the raids, Tawfiq Jabr, was actually a Fatah man, a career police official who had even supervised the arrest of Hamas activists during the Oslo period.

Ever since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, the security services, and especially general police, have for the most part hampered armed attacks against Israel.  Not simply in the general sense of cracking down (or not — there is an old tired debate about this) on such groups, but more importantly because they have served as a public employment mechanism and have essentially ‘captured’ the labor of middle-aged cadres, Soviet and Chinese-trained, who developed considerable military experience while fighting in Lebanon. This dynamic deprived the armed groups of useful military experience and in the early years after 2000 left armed attacks essentially in the hands of children (case-in-point: Zakaria Zubaydi of the Aqsa brigades in Jenin).

In fact, the non-combatant status of Hamas policemen — which in this case is also tantamount to their plain-sight vulnerability to massive aerial attack — points to probably the only interesting political lesson I have drawn from this round of fighting, namely that Hamas has committed the same strategic error that they rightly criticized Fatah for: the doomed attempt to create a quasi-state authority without first achieving the rudiments of sovereignty.  Hamas, like Fatah before it, has the vulnerability of a state army without any of its benefits as far as ending the occupation is concerned. The Palestinians have at most a civil police force for internal control and an irregular wing to deter invasions of urban areas. . . .

Read the rest of this entry…

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A Follow-Up on Israel and Gaza

Published on January 3, 2009        Author: 

I just wanted to add a few thoughts after Dapo’s excellent post on the Gaza conflict, of which there seems to be no end in sight.

First, a word of warning. As Dapo pointed out, talking about these matters without knowing all the facts is truly dangerous. Indeed, it only tends to expose the speaker’s political and ideological biases. Without knowing exactly how many of those killed in Gaza were actively participating in hostilities and/or were members of Hamas, it is far, far too early to speak of Israeli massacres or war crimes in Gaza. Take as an example the statement by Richard Falk, the recently appointed UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories, who condemned the Israeli air strikes as massive violations of international humanitarian law, war crimes and crimes against humanity on the very day that they began. How exactly does he know enough of the facts to actually be able to pass a reasoned judgment, when even today these facts are far from clear? Such statements only serve to reinforce the criticisms regarding Prof. Falk‘s bias against Israel that were made when he was appointed.

Far be it for me to minimize the humanitarian plight of the people of Gaza. But for a legal analysis of the issue to have any use at all, it must involve a measure of distance and objectivity.

In that regard the first legal issue I’d like to raise is that of proportionality, a word thrown around so much these days when talking about the Gaza conflict. It is truly astonishing to me how people who so casually label Israel’s action as disproportionate fail to distinguish between the various types of proportionality found in international law.

The first type of proportionality is the law on the use of force or jus ad bellum proportionality, as one of the conditions for the lawfulness of self-defense, together with the existence of an armed attack and the necessity to repel it. It is easy to instinctively qualify Israel’s action as an exercise of self-defense, lawful or unlawful — see, for example, this post by Ole Pedersen — which should then be assessed in the terms of the jus ad bellum.

But for the life of me, I just can’t see a jus ad bellum issue in regard of Israel’s actions in Gaza. This is simply not self-defense within the meaning of Article 51 of the UN Charter, as that concept of self-defense is an exception to the general prohibition on the use of force, that operates between states only and exclusively and is enshrined in Article 2(4) of the Charter. That prohibition was not triggered by Israel’s action, as Gaza is not a state, nor a part of any state, but is a part of the sui generis mandate territory of Palestine. In other words, no state claims sovereignty or title over Gaza, and the sovereignty of no state was infringed by Israel’s use of force. Article 2(4) does not apply, and consequently Article 51 and the self-defense notion of proportionality do not apply either, unless one is willing to argue that Palestine (Gaza included) already is a state in international law – a position that is in my view untenable.

(By way of authority, let me cite the ICJ’s Wall advisory opinion, at the much criticized para. 139. The Court has received much flak over the years for what appears to be its off-hand approach to armed attacks by non-state actors, to which Article 51 in the Court’s view supposedly does not apply. But the better reading of this decision is the one I have given above — Israel could not justify its building of the wall in the occupied Palestinian territories by resorting to Article 51, because Article 2(4) did not apply in the first place. A converse situation would be Israel’s response against Hezbollah, which required it to invade Lebanon, thereby triggering Article 2(4)).

That brings me to the second, IHL or jus in bello concept of proportionality, as enshrined in Art. 51(5)(b) of AP I. This concept of proportionality differs from the jus ad bellum one precisely in that is unconcerned with the overall goals, legitimacy or legality of the use of force. It is irrelevant, from the standpoint of IHL, that on balance ten or a hundred Palestinians are killed for every Israeli killed. It is likewise irrelevant whether the use of force is likely to achive its stated objective of putting an end to the rocket attacks by Hamas. That is not part of the IHL equation, since the point of IHL is precisely for it to apply in all conflicts, just or unjust, legitimate or illegitimate, equally to all sides.

What IHL tries to weigh – with great difficulty in some cases – is whether the expected civilian casualties are excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. The military advantage is just that, a military one. Does the attack hurt Hamas or not, and how much – not whether hurting Hamas in the first place is a good idea. It likewise must be emphasized that IHL proportionality is assessed in relation to every given attack, not in relation to the overall picture of the conflict. Without having a good idea about the facts on the ground, just knowing that on the whole many more Palestinians are killed than Israelis cannot suffice for making a judgment on proportionality.

The third type of proportionality is one under human rights law. Was it, for example, really necessary to kill a certain person, if he could have been captured instead? This type of proportionality was relied on, for instance, by the Israeli Supreme Court in the Targeted Killings case, to limit the use of targeted killings to measures of last resort. But it is also questionable if, and to what extent, this principle applies to the Gaza conflict, both because of the question whether Israel actually exercises effective overall control over Gaza, thus incurring extraterritorial human rights obligations, and because of the application of IHL as lex specialis.

Finally, I’d just like to add a few words to Dapo’s analysis of the question of how we are to legally characterize the Gaza conflict in the sense of IHL. Unlike Dapo, I don’t think that the characterization of the conflict depends on whether Gaza is still considered to be occupied by Israel or not. It is one thing to say that an international armed conflict is necessary for a belligerent occupation to arise in the first place. It is quite another to say that any conflict in an occupied territory, no matter how distant in time from the setup of the occupation, should qualify as international. It is precisely because no sovereign continues to claim Gaza that I would say that the conflict is probably non-international (FYI, for my criticism of the Israli Supreme Court’s qualification of the conflict in the Targeted Killings case, see this article in the International Review of the Red Cross).

But, as Dapo pointed out, the qualification of the conflict is not that important for the IHL proportionality assessment. What is important are the facts, and it is the facts that we are most sorely lacking.

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Top International Lawyers of 2008?

Published on December 31, 2008        Author: 

At this time of the year, it is usual for the media to pubish lists of top this and top that of the year. I wonder whether it is possible to have list of the top international lawyers of 2008. If one were to try to construct such a list one would have come up with criteria for identiying these people. Presumably, one would be looking for those international lawyers who apppear to have been most influential. But how does one measure influence? Is influence not something which may only become apparent many years later? Perhaps one would need to distinguish between those lawyers operating in governments and IOs from international law academics.

The Times (of London) published a list ealier this year (see here) of the UK’s 100 most powerful lawyers. This is said to be “a list of the lawyers who have the most clout in shaping the rules we live by”. According to the Times, this list of 100 top UK lawyers:

is not a list of excellence, popularity or media mentions — although these can be factors. So it’s not just big names or brilliant stars (take comfort, those excluded). Instead, we tried to select the most powerful and influential within the law today — in the judiciary, private practice, in-house, public sector or politics.

How to measure power and influence — who really has clout?  . . .

We had in mind such factors as whether contenders can influence public or political opinion, or the strategy or policy of a big firm, company or government; whether they can shape or apply the law in a way that affects many people; whether they are respected, feared or emulated or contributed to the strength and quality of UK legal services.

Readers may be interested to see how many international lawyers are included in the list. There are some in the list who have made significant contributions to international law cases in the UK but who are perhaps better known for a more general contribution to UK Law. For example, some are judges [eg Lord Bingham, former Senior Law Lord and one of the judges in the Al-Skeini  case (extraterritorial application of the ECHR in Iraq); the Al-Jedda case (interaction between ECHR and UN Security Council resolutions with regard to detentions in Iraq by British forces); the A case (use in British proceedings of evidence obtained by torture). Others are human rights litigators who have also made important contributoions to that area of law (eg Phil Shiner).

There are three names on the list which are more likely to be recognised by non-UK international lawyers: Daniel Bethlehem, the Legal Adviser to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (and former LSE & Cambridge academic)

Christopher Greenwood, currently Professor of International Law at the LSE, who has just been elected to the International Court of Justice

Dame Rosalyn Higgins, current President of the International Court of Justice (and also a former LSE Professor of International Law).

In my view, the fact that some of the lawyers on the list are international lawyers says something about the perception of international law in the UK (or at least about the perception of the place of international law by the persons who put the list together). One can only speculate whether any international lawyers would have made a similar list put together a couple of decades ago. Does anyone know of any similar lists in other countries? Do they include international lawyers? Perhaps readers would like to put together a list of the most influential public international lawyers of 2008.

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Israeli raids in Gaza: Proportionality and the Status of Hamas Policemen

Published on December 29, 2008        Author: 

The latest Israeli raids in Gaza are said to have killed over 300 people (injuring over 1000 others) with most of the dead being Haman policemen and security officials. Israel has launched the raids in response to the repeated rocket fire into Israel from Gaza. Given the very high Palestinian casualties resulting from Israel’s raids and (as far as I can tell) the very low numbers killed or injured in Israel as a result of rocket fire there will be a debate about whether Israel’s actions are proportionate [I have found it difficult to find precise numbers of Israelis killed or injured by the rockets prior to the Israeli air raids]. Indeed, the UN Secretary General has been quoted as condemning Israel’s “excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians” (see here). No doubt, human rights groups and others will accuse Israel of acting disproprotionately under international humanitarian law (IHL). The relevant rule of IHL that will be invoked is the rule that forbids attacks which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life or civilian damage which is excessive when compared with the concrete and direct military advantage to be gained (Art. 51, Additional Protocol I 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949). It is well known that the proportionality calculation is one which is not easy to make in practice nor is it easy to explain in theory. Afterall, one is not comparing two things that are necessarily commensurate, unless one makes a straight forward comparison between life lost and life expected to be saved by the military operation. Using that crude comparision, some will suggest that the taking of over 300 lives in order to save just a handful would be disproportionate (if the operation could be expected to cause such loss of life). I do not intend to disagree with that analysis.

However, I suggest that in this case, starting from the proportionality analysis is to start in the wrong place. The recent Israeli raids raises other more basic legal issues under IHL. The answers to those issues might suggest that one never gets to making a proportionality calculation. The proportionality rule requires a comparision between civilian loss (or life or of property) and the military advantage to be gained. Since we are told that most of the deaths caused by those raids are to Hamas policemen or security officials one has to ask whether these are civilians. Read the rest of this entry…

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Territorial Scope of Application of the Genocide Convention

Published on December 29, 2008        Author: 

In the Bosnian Genocide case, Bosnia alleged that the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY, Serbia) was responsible for, inter alia, committing genocide and failing to prevent genocide on Bosnian territory. This argument, of course, immediately raised the question whether the FRY had any obligations under the Genocide Convention regarding its actions outside its own territory.

To answer this question, it is first necessary to recall that the Court interpreted the Convention so as to contain three distinct sets of obligations of state parties:

(1) The obligation to criminalize the crime of genocide and its ancillary crimes in their domestic law, and to prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes;

(2) The (positive) obligation to prevent genocide;

(3) The (negative) obligation not to commit genocide through their own organs or agents.

This expansive interpretation of the Convention is not uncontroversial. It is entirely possible to read the Convention as solely requiring (1) criminalization, that the (2) obligation to prevent genocide is merely hortatory, and that (3) is found nowhere in the treaty (see, for example, this article by P. Gaeta in the EJIL). For what it’s worth, I am entirely in agreement with the Court. But when do states actually have these various obligations, and is there is a single territorial scope of application of the Convention?

According to the Court, the territorial scope of the Convention varies with the particular set of obligations in question.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Yet More on Immunity: Germany brings case against Italy before the ICJ

Published on December 26, 2008        Author: 

For those of you who are not particularly interested in the law relating to immunity, I apologise for three consecutive posts on the topic. However, this is a week in which there just happen to have been many developments on this topic. This week Germany has insituted proceedings in the International Court of Justice against Italy (see here) alleging that through its judicial practice Italy has in recently years repeatedly disregarded the jurisdictional immunity due to Germany as a Sovereign State. The Press Release from the ICJ states that, according to the German Application:

“The critical stage of that development was reached by the judgment of the Corte di Cassazione of 11 March 2004 in the Ferrini case, where [that court] declared that Italy held jurisdiction with regard to a claim . . . brought by a person who during World War II had been deported to Germany to perform forced labour in the armaments industry. After this judgment had been rendered, numerous other proceedings were instituted against Germany before Italian courts by persons who had also suffered injury as a consequence of the armed conflict.” The Ferrini judgment having been recently confirmed “in a series of decisions delivered on 29 May 2008 and in a further judgment of 21 October 2008”, Germany “is concerned that hundreds of additional cases may be brought against it”.

The Applicant recalls that enforcement measures have already been taken against German assets in Italy: a “judicial mortgage” on Villa Vigoni, the German-Italian centre of cultural exchange, has been recorded in the land register. In addition to the claims brought against it by Italian nationals, Germany also cites “attempts by Greek nationals to enforce in Italy a judgment obtained in Greece on account of a . . . massacre committed by German military units during their withdrawal in 1944”.

The case clearly raises the question whether foreign States are immune in civil proceedings concerning violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The case law on this question has, in recent years, been divided Read the rest of this entry…

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The Two Faces of the Genocide Convention

Published on December 24, 2008        Author: 

In keeping with Christmas spirit, here’s my next post on the Genocide Convention.

Can a state be responsible for genocide? What does that even mean? Aren’t international crimes, in the sage words of the Nuremberg Tribunal, committed by men, not by abstract entities?Can a state even possess genocidal intent, a basic requirement for the crime of genocide?

A full answer to this question requires revisiting many old debates, particularly those during the drafting of the Genocide Convention and on then Draft Article 19 on state crimes of the International Law Commission’s project on state responsibility, that was removed from the final ILC Articles.

If there is one thing is made clear from an examination of the Convention’s travaux, as well as state practice, that is that states have excluded any form of state criminal responsibility for the crime of genocide or any other international crime. That does not mean, however, that no state responsibility exists. In my EJIL article on state responsibility for genocide, I’ve argued that the attribution model developed by the ILC, coupled with the fundamental distinction between primary and secondary rules of state responsibility, provides a simple answer to the conundrum of state responsibility for international crimes. If an individual commits an international crime such as genocide, and if the acts of this individual are attributable to a state, pursuant to the generally applicable secondary rules of attribution (if, for example, the individual is a state organ), than the state is responsible for the crime committed by that individual as an internationally wrongful act.

This responsibility is again not criminal, but the regular state responsibility recognized in international law, that carries with itobligations of cessation and reparation. It rests on a primary obligation of states not to have individuals whose acts are attributable to them to commit international crimes. Genocide is thus at the same time both an international crime, for which individuals are criminally responsible, and an internationally wrongful act, for which states to which the acts are attributable bear their own responsibility. That does not mean there is a ‘tort’ of genocide or ‘civil’ genocide in international law – genocide still, at all times, remains an international crime, and its elements must be proven to the exacting standards demanded by the relevant body of primary rules. Thus, for example, though a state – an abstract entity – cannot have genocidal intent, such intent of the individuals whose acts are being attributed to the state must be conclusively established.

The next question is whether this type of responsibility, that in my view undoubtedly exists in customary international law, also exists within the (jurisdictional) confines of the Genocide Convention. The ICJ gave an answer to this question in the Bosnian Genocide case.

Both at the preliminary objections and at the merits stage of the case the FRY/Serbia disputed the existence of a separate obligation of a state under the Convention not to commit genocide, asserting that the Convention was a classical international criminal law treaty, dealing with crimes committed by individuals, not states. All the Convention does is to require states parties to criminalize in their domestic law the crimes that it defines, and then prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes. Though Article IX of the Convention confers jurisdiction upon the Court to resolve disputes between contracting states ‘relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide or for any of the other acts enumerated in article III’, this was, in Serbia’s argument, merely a compromisory clause which did not create substantive rights and obligations.

The Court disagreed. It held that ‘Article I [of the Convention], in particular its undertaking to prevent, creates obligations distinct from those which appear in the subsequent Articles [of the Convention]’ so that the ‘the Contracting Parties have a direct obligation to prevent genocide.’ Moreover, according to the Court, even though

Article [I] does not expressis verbis require States to refrain from themselves committing genocide …[i]t would be paradoxical if States were thus under an obligation to prevent, so far as within their power, commission of genocide by persons over whom they have a certain influence, but were not forbidden to commit such acts through their own organs, or persons over whom they have such firm control that their conduct is attributable to the State concerned under international law. In short, the obligation to prevent genocide necessarily implies the prohibition of the commission of genocide.

(Genocide judgment, paras. 162, 165 & 166)

Though Serbia was on the facts not found responsible for the commission of genocide in Bosnia, the Court’s judgment affirmed the attribution model developed by the ILC and the distinction between primary and secondary rules. States can thus be brought before the ICJ under Article IX of the Convention not merely for failing to criminalize or prosecute genocide, but also for committing it through their organs or failing to prevent it.

In my next post I will deal with the territorial scope of state obligations under the Convention.

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Genocide