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Illegal But Legitimate?

Published on April 10, 2017        Author: 

I have always thought that proponents of humanitarian intervention simply cannot make a persuasive case that it is already an existing rule of international law (even if they can make a case that it should be a rule of international law). I have similarly always thought, on the other hand, that the position that an intervention is legally prohibited but that it can nonetheless be politically legitimate or morally justified in exceptional circumstances is conceptually perfectly coherent. (Maybe – well, certainly – my views on this are coloured by my shamelessly comprehensive adoration of Bruno Simma, but there you go.) If we are operating in a positivist framework, even the mildest forms of positivism by definition mean that something that is lawful is not necessarily just. And since we are endowed with free will, we can choose to break the law for higher-order considerations, morality and justice, if we are willing to pay the price of non-compliance.

Whenever people talk about an act being illegal but legitimate I also always remember this scene from Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi – in the scene Gandhi is tried, in 1922, for fostering disaffection against the British government of India, thereby causing several major outbreaks of violence. And here is what happens:

Read the rest of this entry…

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Syrian Strikes: A Singular Exception or a Pattern and a Precedent?

Published on April 10, 2017        Author: 

In a recent post, Monica Hakimi argued that, rather than crafting a legal justification for the United States’ use of force in Syria, we should instead treat it as a “one-off incident for addressing conduct that, if not deterred, could be destabilizing,” much like occurred in the United States’ Baghdad strikes in 1993. In order not to further undermine the Article 2(4) prohibition on the use of force, the United States should at the same time “underscore its overall commitment to and investment in” the law governing the use of force so as to avoid the impression that “the United States does not view the jus ad bellum, and maybe international law more generally, as normatively relevant in the global order.”

I do not want to take issue with whether or not the United States should have taken action in this case, or whether or not this use of force supports an existing or emerging doctrine of unilateral humanitarian intervention. Others are addressing these points (see, for example, Koh). Rather, as I set out previously in a paper on Legality vs. Legitimacy: Can Uses of Force be Illegal but Justified?, I want to register concerns about the argument that states can violate international law and yet simultaneously seek to preserve the Charter prohibition by reaffirming Article 2(4) while characterizing their own conduct as a singular exception.

First of all, this kind of violation of Article 2(4) is not a one-off incident. There is something ironic about arguing that we should treat this violation as a singular use of force much like we treated another violation of Article 2(4) by the United States. In one sense, every violation is singular because every violation has its own unique facts. But, in another sense, when singular violations occur again and again, they no longer look like singular violations … they look like a pattern. Whether something appears to be singular or a pattern often depends on the level of generality one employs in making the assessment. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Syria, Use of Force
 

Announcements: Laureate Program in International Law Conference; CfP The Legitimacy of Unseen Actors in International Adjudication; OTJR@10 Workshop; ITLOS Capacity-Building and Training Programme; Munich Advance Course in International Law

Published on April 9, 2017        Author: 

1. Laureate Program in International Law Conference. The Laureate Program in International Law is hosting a conference at Melbourne Law School from 24 – 25 August. Entitled ‘1917: Revolution, Intervention and International Law’, the conference marks the 100-year anniversary of the October Revolution and the passage of the revolutionary Mexican constitution. Through drawing together a range of scholars and disciplines, the conference will explore the significance of these two revolutions for international legal fields, doctrines, and histories. It will also seek to understand the place of revolution in, and its relationship to, the international legal order. Further details and a call for papers can be found here. Abstracts should be submitted to Ntina Tzouvala (konstantina.tzouvala {at} unimelb.edu(.)au) by 1 May 2017. Successful applicants will be notified of the outcome by mid-May.

2. Conference on the Legitimacy of Unseen Actors in International Adjudication. On 26 and 27 October, the Conference on the Legitimacy of Unseen Actors in International Adjudication will take place in The Hague, co-organised by the PluriCourts Centre of Excellence (Oslo University) and the Europa Instituut (Leiden University). ‘Unseen actors’ are central to the ‘institutional makeup’ of international courts and tribunals as registries and secretariats, law clerks and legal officers may exert varying levels of influence on the judicial process. At this conference, legal and political science scholars and members of adjudicatory institutions will consider and discuss the legitimacy of assigning ‘unseen actors’ certain roles in the judicial process as well as the implications thereof for the legitimacy of the dispute settlement mechanism as such. The Call for Papers can be found here. The deadline for submission of abstracts via email to unseenactors {at} jus.uio(.)no is 31 May. Fee free to email Prof. dr. Freya Baetens (freya.baetens {at} jus.uio(.)no) for further information.

3. OTJR@10 Workshop: ‘Rethinking Transitional Justice: What Does It Mean Today?’ The Oxford Transitional Justice Research group is organising a PhD and early-career researchers workshop to mark its 10-year anniversary. The workshop will be held in Oxford on 22 June 2017 and will provide an opportunity for networking and exchanging ideas with other postgraduates and practitioners working on transitional justice issues. We will host Pablo de Greiff, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, as our keynote speaker. Researchers in international law and other disciplines are encouraged to apply. More info here.

4. ITLOS: 2017/2018 Capacity-Building and Training Programme. The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is currently seeking applications for the 2017-2018 edition of its capacity-building and training programme on dispute settlement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This is a nine-month programme starting in July 2017, which takes place at the seat of the Tribunal in Hamburg, Germany. The application deadline for this year’s programme is 20 April 2017. The Tribunal is looking for 7 junior to mid-level government officials or researchers between the ages of 25 and 40 dealing with ocean affairs or sea-related matters. The programme provides participants with a unique opportunity to develop their legal skills and deepen their practical knowledge of dispute settlement in the law of the sea under UNCLOS. All participants’ costs, including travel, accommodation and medical insurance are covered by the Nippon Foundation. For detailed information about the programme and how to apply, see here or contact the programme coordinator (Ms Shakeri) at training {at} itlos(.)org.

5. Munich Advance Course in International Law. The Munich Advanced Course in International Law (MACIL) is a summer school held at Ludwig Maximilian University Munich (Germany) and dedicated to questions of public international law. Its next session, entitled ‘Human Rights – Keystone or Just another Brick in the Architecture of International Law?’, will take place in late July/early August 2017. Seminars will aim at discussing the role of human rights law within the broader context of the international legal order, both from a theoretical perspective and from the point of view of other ‘competing’ regimes of international law (like trade, investment, humanitarian or environmental law). The 2017 faculty is going to include Samantha Besson (Fribourg, Switzerland); Robert Cryer (Birmingham, UK); Malgosia Fitzmaurice (Queen Mary, UK); Markus Krajewski (Erlangen-Nuernberg, Germany); Daniel Moeckli (Zurich, Switzerland); Brunno Simma (former judge at the ICJ; Munich and Michigan, USA); Christian Walter (Munich, Germany). Students of international law, young academics and practitioners of international law or related fields are warmly invited to apply. Deadline for application is 1 May 2017. For further information please refer to the MACIL homepage or contact the MACIL team (contact {at} macil-misu(.)de).

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US Strikes against Syria and the Implications for the Jus ad Bellum

Published on April 7, 2017        Author: 

The blogosphere is abuzz with reactions to the U.S. strikes against Syria. My guess is that most international lawyers will agree with Marko Milanovic that the strikes were unlawful. Article 2(4) of the Charter prohibits the use of force by one state against another, except in self-defense or with the UN Security Council’s authorization. Neither exception seems to apply here. Moreover, although some have argued that international law also recognizes (or is in the process of recognizing) an exception for humanitarian interventions, that view is not widely endorsed. In any event, it would not obviously apply in Syria. Even Harold Koh — who has articulated one of the best justifications for unilateral humanitarian interventions — has recognized that “[i]t is too early to judge” whether the Syria strikes are lawful. In particular, it is not clear that the strikes “would demonstrably improve the humanitarian situation” in Syria.

My goal in this post is not to advance a different position on the law. It is instead to examine the implications of the U.S. action for the broader legal order.

A. Supporting the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons

Chemical weapons are not the only means with which the Assad government has committed atrocities, but they are a particularly barbaric and indiscriminate means. Assad’s repeat use of them, with apparent impunity, has weakened the absolute prohibition of chemical weapons — and with it, international humanitarian law (IHL) more generally. Those who are not steeped in international law inevitably interpret this fact pattern to mean that, IHL notwithstanding, anything goes in wartime, at least for those who have the right allies.

The U.S. strikes were intended to convey a different message – to show that the world is willing to enforce, however imperfectly and inconsistently, the prohibition of chemical weapons. To be sure, the humanitarian crisis in Syria will almost certainly continue. The point was not to address that crisis as a whole but rather to say that some things are never permissible, even in wartime. Indeed, most states that have expressly commented on the incident have suggested that they, too, view the strikes as appropriate. As such, the strikes are likely to have the effect of bolstering a prohibition that had been deteriorating. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Syria, Use of Force
 

The Clearly Illegal US Missile Strike in Syria

Published on April 7, 2017        Author: 

Yesterday, the United States launched a missile strike against an airbase of the Syrian armed forces, in response to the recent chemical attack that the US claims was launched from this airbase. This is the first time that the US has directly used force against the Syrian regime. It is also the first time that its use of force in Syria is clearly illegal. Clearly, in the sense that I can’t imagine even a remotely plausible argument (let alone a persuasive one) as to why this act is not a breach of Article 2(4) of the Charter. (And arguably of US constitutional rules on the use of force – for which see Marty Lederman’s post on Just Security).

While the US use of force against ISIS on Syrian territory also implicates Article 2(4) of the Charter, the US at least has a reasonably plausible claim to collective and/or individual self-defense in that respect, even if this issue is hugely controversial. In this case, however, no self-defense claim can be made, since the Assad regime targeted its own population (assuming that the facts as alleged by the US are correct). Nor is the US publicly making such a claim. The official statement of the Pentagon quoted in Marty’s post states that ‘[t]he strike was intended to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again.’ Its purpose was therefore clearly retaliatory or deterrent, rather than defensive.

International law does not permit forcible reprisals that would breach Article 2(4), even if the purpose of the reprisal is to induce the other party to comply with its legal obligations. The US also has no Security Council authorization to do this act. Nor is the US claiming, or has ever espoused, a doctrine of humanitarian intervention (like the UK government does, for instance). And even if there was a customary humanitarian intervention exception from the prohibition on the use of force (and there isn’t), its requirements would clearly not be met in this instance. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Syria even without the use of chemical weapons, and thousands of people will continue to die even if the Assad regime never uses such weapons again. There is, in other words, nothing legally or morally unique about the use of chemical weapons as opposed to other war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria which did not (and will not) provoke an interventionist response.

In short, this is a situation in which the US government doesn’t have even a colourable argument that its conduct is lawful. It may, of course, decide to break the law (as it did), by thinking that the breach of the law is justified by higher moral considerations (‘illegal but legitimate,’ etc), and by thinking that under the circumstances it is unlikely to pay a high political cost for its breach. At a moral or political plane, this argument rests on an (at this time untestable) assumption that the strike will do more good than harm. But the Charter has nonetheless been broken, and at that with a rare clarity.

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis, Syria, Use of Force
 

The ‘Mistrial’ of Kumar Lama: Problematizing Universal Jurisdiction

Published on April 6, 2017        Author: 

‘We know the grave can cry out after 50 years’. Kumar Lama, a colonel in the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA), sat in his hut in Gorusinghe Barracks opposite Amnesty official Daniel Alderman in May 2005. The Amnesty visit was prompted by on-going reports of serious human rights violations in the course of the people’s war between the CPN (Maoist) and the RNA. Alderman described the colonel as ‘a man of the world’, friendly and forthcoming, who clearly understood the laws of war and (as his comment to Alderman reflected) the possibility of bringing violators to justice, even many years later. In 2009, years after his visit to Nepal, Alderman received an email with the title ‘From a Nepalese friend’. The email was from Lama, then doing an MA in International Relations at Sussex University, inquiring about an Amnesty research job on Nepal, ‘a job’, Lama wrote confidently, ‘I could easily do’.

Colonel Lama was never offered the Amnesty job. In January 2013, he was arrested at his home in East Sussex and charged with two counts of torture under section 134 of the Criminal Justice Act, relating to incidents that had allegedly occurred between April and May 2005 at the Gorusinghe Barracks. The Act vested British courts with ‘universal jurisdiction’ over the offence of torture, meaning the offence could be prosecuted in the UK whatever the offender’s nationality and wherever the crime was committed. The arrest was the result of a sensible wager on the UK’s part, bargaining relatively low diplomatic cost for diplomatic credit in fulfilling its obligation under the Torture Convention to prosecute those suspected of torture found on its territory. While Nepal reacted angrily to the arrest, this served merely to expose the unholy (and inverse) relationship between justice and power. The most the Nepalese government could do in reaction to Lama’s arrest was to reject the offer of RAF chinook helicopters to help in the relief effort following the devastating earthquake in Nepal in April 2015.

The trial of Kumar Lama took place in the Old Bailey from June to July 2016. It can hardly be said there was a public appetite for the trial. Public and press galleries were consistently empty – I often sat there alone with Lama’s wife and daughters (disrupted occasionally by bored and bemused school groups, interested pensioners or tourists who had taken a wrong turn in the Lonely Planet guide). The Lama trial proceeded, like many trials in the Old Bailey, as something of a private conversation between judge and lawyers, upon which the public gallery were intrusive eavesdroppers. Trial observation is not easy in a system increasingly geared to see public access as less an aspiration of than a threat to the justice system. Even the jury seemed cast in the role of vexatious bystanders in a trial in which they were ultimately expected to be judges of facts affecting a family, victims, a country in which they had no apparent interest and of which they had no apparent knowledge. Read the rest of this entry…

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A Critical Commentary on the ECJ’s Judgment in G4S v Achbita

Published on April 5, 2017        Author: 

In March of this year (23/3), Solon Solomon noted here on EJIL:Talk!, that the recent judgment rendered by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in G4S v Achbita, seems to have given private companies in the EU the green light to indirectly discriminate against certain religious minorities, so long as they put in place general bans on religious attributes that are visible to external customers. While that commentary offered interesting and important reflections on the legal and socio-political context of the ECJ judgment and similar ones previously established by the European Court of Human Rights (ECoHR), this analysis brings forth a somewhat different critique, focusing more closely on the (lack of) motivations behind the Court’s conclusions.

First, to be clear, that indirect discrimination can sometimes be excused is neither what is new nor controversial about the case. According to the Council Directive (2000/78/EC) cited in the Court’s judgment, as well as the applicable international and European human rights law, indirect discrimination can be justified, but only on the condition of a “legitimate aim”. That aim must then (i) be prescribed by law, (ii) respect the essence of the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, and may (iii) only be pursued through measures that are appropriate, necessary and proportionate to achieve the aim (see art. 18 para 3 of the ICCPR; art. 9 para 2 of the ECHR; art. 52 of the EU Charter; Neptune Distribution SNC v. Ministre de l’Économie et des Finances).

Thus what is new and controversial is the Court’s interpretation of what may constitute a legitimate aim with regard to the imposition of limits to the freedom of religion. According to the Court’s decision, the:

“desire to display, in relations with both public and private sector customers, a policy of political, philosophical or religious neutrality must be considered legitimate” (para 37).

This, the Court declared, relates to the freedom to conduct a business, which is recognized in article 16 of the EU Charter. The Court then proceeded with its assessment of whether the general ban on visible religious attributes was appropriate and necessary to uphold the supposedly legitimate aim of neutrality. It is these sections of the judgment that expose the Court’s apparent failure to account for the principles governing the rights and conflicting interests at stake. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Consequence of the UN Resolution on Israeli Settlements for the EU:  Stop Trade with Settlements

Published on April 4, 2017        Author: 

The recent UN Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) reaffirmed that the establishment of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory has no legal validity and that Israel’s settlement enterprise is a flagrant violation of international law. The resolution also calls upon all States “to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967”. This part of the resolution is of great significance with regard to the question of trading with settlements.

While the content of the resolution might seem novel, Secretary of State John Kerry was right to remind us in his landmark speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the end of 2016 that:

this resolution simply reaffirms statements made by the Security Council on the legality of settlements over several decades. It does not break new ground”. In 1980 UN Security Council Resolution 465 had called upon all States “not to provide Israel with any assistance to be used specifically in connection with settlements in occupied territories.

Trading with settlements offers an economic lifeline that allows the settlement enterprise to survive and develop. This reality and the aforementioned UN Security Council Resolutions make a good case not to trade with settlements. But is the withholding of such settlement trade truly an obligation under international law?

In an earlier piece I argued that there is indeed such an obligation, and the lack of state compliance does not seriously shake the legal foundations of this argument. Just last year in an open letter, 40 legal experts (myself included) called upon the European Parliament, and the office of the High Representative and the Trade Commissioner to stop trade with settlements in compliance with the EU’s international legal obligations. Signatories included two former UN rapporteurs, a former President of the International Law Commission, a former judge on the ICTY, and dozens of professors in international law.

Our main argument was that the EU has the obligation to end trade with Israeli settlements based on the duties of non-recognition and non-assistance. This post will describe the legal argumentation underlying these duties. Read the rest of this entry…

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Arms Exports to Saudi Arabia in the High Court: what is a “serious violation of international humanitarian law”?

Published on April 3, 2017        Author: 

As readers will be aware, the UK High Court is presently considering a high-profile case challenging UK arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Arguments in the judicial review proceedings brought by Campaign Against Arms Trade were heard in February and judgment is awaited.

Although brought under English law, the case potentially implicates various international law questions. This post focuses on the interpretation of the expression “serious violation of international humanitarian law” (“IHL”) which the government appears to be advancing in the case. By narrowing the concept to include only war crimes, its position has significant implications for the international law regulation of the arms trade in general. This post will argue that the proposed definition should be rejected.

For further information on this and other international law issues arising in the case, the claimant has posted much of the open documentation produced by both sides on its website. This post draws heavily on those documents, and on the author’s notes of the open hearings.

The Issue Before the Court

The claimant challenges the government’s decisions to continue granting licences (and not to suspend existing licences) for arms exports to Saudi Arabia. That challenge is based primarily on alleged breaches of IHL by Saudi forces involved in the ongoing armed conflict in Yemen. Criterion 2(c) of the UK statutory guidance applicable to arms exports (the “Consolidated Criteria”) prohibits granting a licence “if there is a clear risk that the items might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law”. The claimants argue that given the evidence of previous breaches, the government should have concluded that such a clear risk existed. Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: International Disaster Law Course; Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition; CfC – A Year in Elections; Groningen Summer Schools; UCALL Conference on Accountability and International Business Operations

Published on April 2, 2017        Author: 

1. International Disaster Law Course. The 4th Edition of the International Disaster Law Course is now open for applications (Sanremo, Italy, 12-16 June 2017). More information is available here. The Course is organized jointly by the IFRC, the IIHL Sanremo, the IDL Project in cooperation with the Roma Tre IEUDL Jean Monnet Module and the IRC. Confirmed speakers will include Eduardo Valencia-Ospina (former ILC SR on the Protection of Persons in the Event of Disasters) and Walter Kälin, along with academics and representatives of relevant organisations such as OCHA, WHO, IOM, IFRC.

2. 9th Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition. All universities in the world are invited to participate in the 2017 Nelson Mandela World Human Rights Moot Court Competition, due to be held 18 – 21 July in Room XX in the Palais de Nations, Geneva – the room where the UN Human Rights Council meets. The Moot is organised by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. The first phase of the Competition is a written preliminary round: teams are evaluated on the basis of their heads of argument. The top five teams from each UN region are invited to Geneva to take part in the pre-final and final rounds, which involve oral arguments. Submissions received during the first phase (written) are evaluated by human rights experts. The judges in the final round of the Competition are eminent judges from international courts and tribunals as well as other experts. This year Justice Albie Sachs, from the Constitutional Court of South Africa, will be one of the judges. The Competition also entail a one-day conference that will expose participants to current developments in the UN human rights system. The deadline for submitting heads of arguments is 12 June 2017. See the competition website for the rules of procedure, the hypothetical case, and registration details. For further information, please contact eduardo.kapapelo {at} up.ac(.)za. Read the rest of this entry…

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