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The Curious Case of the Killing of Kim Jong-nam

Published on February 24, 2017        Author: 

The night is dark and full of terrors. But sometimes the terrors are just too damn funny. Consider the circumstances of the untimely demise of Kim Jong-nam, the elder half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, assassinated in Malaysia apparently at the orders of his imperial sibling.

  • He was not just poisoned (so very old-school), but was poisoned by VX, the most potent of all chemical warfare agents, which is 100 times more toxic than sarin; less than a drop on the skin can kill you. Being poisoned at the orders of your family is one thing; your family killing you with a weapon of mass destruction is another. (Remember, though, that time when Kim Jong-un had some officials executed by anti-aircraft guns. All around nice guy.)
  • The immediate executioners were two young women, one Vietnamese and one Indonesian; they claim to have been duped into doing this by North Korean agents and that they thought they were just pulling a prank on someone; Malaysian police reject this version of events.
  • The Vietnamese woman was a failed “Vietnam Idol” contestant in 2016; a panel of judges rejected her after she sang just one line: “I want to stop breathing gloriously so that the loving memory will not fade.” The Indonesian woman wore a t-shirt with an “LOL” sign while carrying out the assassination. ROFL.
  • The most likely method of delivering the VX was not the spray or liquid on the assassins’ hands, but a drop of the toxin on a cloth which was then touched against Kim’s skin.
  • The Malaysian special forces are guarding the morgue in which Kim Jong-nam’s body is being kept, after an attempted break-in, the purpose of which may have been to tamper in some way with the corpse.
  • North Korea refuses to accept that the person who was killed was Kim Jong-nam, while at the same time requesting the surrender of the body.
  • There is apparently such a thing as a North Korean Jurists Committee. And they made a real gem of a statement on the assassination which I commend to every, erm, jurist out there. Among other things, the statement claims that (1) Malaysia violated international law by carrying out an autopsy on a bearer of a DPRK diplomatic passport, who had ‘extraterritorial right according to the Vienna Convention;’ (2) that the autopsy was an ‘undisguised encroachment upon the sovereignty of the DPRK, a wanton human rights abuse and an act contrary to human ethics and morality’; and that (3) ‘DPRK will never allow any attempt to tarnish the image of the dignified power of independence and nuclear weapons state but make a thorough probe into the truth behind the case.’ So the violation of international law and human rights is not the person’s death but the investigation. Note also the oh-so-subtle reference to nuclear weapons. Creepy/scary, but still LMAO.

Both factually and legally Kim’s assassination resembles the 2006 killing by radioactive polonium of Alexander Litvinenko in London, ostensibly by Russian agents. This is in effect Litvinenko redux, except it additionally has that very special DPRK flavour of crazy. The legal issues are more or less the same. One possible violation of international law is the infringement on the sovereignty of the territorial state. Another is the violation of Kim’s right to life – the DPRK is in fact a party to the ICCPR (recall the denunciation issue some time ago), but Malaysia (and China) are not and cannot invoke the DPRK’s responsibility directly in that regard even if they wanted to, although they may rely on customary law. There’s also the issue of the ICCPR’s extraterritorial application to the killing of a person by a state agent; I have argued that such scenarios are covered by human rights treaties, assuming that there is proof of the DPRK’s involvement in the killing, which of course remains to be conclusively established.

 

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The Role of Human Rights Law in Constructing Migration Emergencies

Published on February 24, 2017        Author: 

This post is part of the ESIL Interest Group on International Human Rights Law blog symposium on ‘The Place of International Human Rights Law in Times of Crisis’.

Migration emergencies are ubiquitous in today’s world.  News media report daily on the situation of Syrian migrants crossing the Mediterranean in rubber dinghies, of Central American mothers and their children traversing inhospitable deserts to reach the southern U.S. border, or of controversial efforts to keep at bay Afghans and Iraqis aiming for Australian shores in overcrowded ships.  The story line often runs as follows: this dramatic and unforeseen increase in migration is a crisis that risks overwhelming the receiving nations’ ability to process and absorb these migrants.  Media analysts and politicians suggest multiple factors provoking these crises.  Some foreground the life-threatening dangers that migrants face on their journeys.  Many more stoke fears about the national security and cultural threats that mass influxes present to migrant-receiving nations.  But there is very little critical analysis of the underlying assumption that these migrant flows are unexpected and unpredictable.  Even less is said about the role of international law, and human rights law in particular, in constructing these emergencies.

Migration “emergencies” are, contrary to their moniker, foreseeable outcomes of the contemporary international legal framework.  Human rights law relating to migration provides the backbone of this problematic legal structure.  Mass influx movements of migrants are predictable reactions to violent conflict and structural violence as well as to low-wage labor needs in destination states.  In situations of violence, the flow of migrants often increases steadily, offering sufficient lead time for destination states to prepare for these flows, but is instead initially ignored and then transformed into a “crisis” that grabs the public eye. Read the rest of this entry…

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Introduction to ESIL Symposium on ‘International Human Rights Law in Times of Crisis’

Published on February 23, 2017        Author: 

The theme of the 2016 ESIL Annual Conference in Riga was ‘How International Law Works in Times of Crisis’. In line with our practice for the last two annual conferences, the ESIL Interest Group on International Human Rights Law applied the conference theme to International Human Rights Law (IHRL) by hosting an afternoon seminar on ‘The Place of International Human Rights Law in Times of Crisis’ with papers by Elif Askin, Gaëtan Cliquennois, Jaya Ramji-NogalesChristy Shucksmith, Charlotte Steinorth and Ralph Wilde.

In this blog symposium, the six authors examine the place of IHRL in four crises: austerity, disaster, the migration ‘crisis’; and weapons transfer in conflict. While apparently distinct, the blog posts point to challenges in neatly categorising and distinguishing between types of crisis, the ways in which forms of crisis can overlap and bleed into each other and the strategic use of crisis discourse. Indeed, a question raised by Ramji-Nogales is what is meant by ‘crisis’ in the first place. Along with Wilde, she argues that the migration ‘crisis’ should not be understood as a ‘crisis’ as that suggests that the situation was unpredictable and unexpected. Rather, she argues that it was foreseeable and that the language of crisis obscures that fact. While dangerous sea crossings in the Mediterranean have been on-going for some time, the framing of these crossings as a crisis only occurred in Autumn 2015 in Europe.

The posts raise fundamental questions about the positioning and relevance of IHRL in times of crisis. The authors position IHRL on a spectrum from absence or resistance to any role for IHRL in crisis; to a role in mitigating crisis; to becoming part of the problem. The posts further point to heightened interest in IHRL in times of crisis and the chance of development of IHRL as a result. In this introductory post, we explore some of these cross-cutting themes further.  Read the rest of this entry…

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ESIL Blog Symposium on ‘The Place of International Human Rights Law in Times of Crises’

Published on February 23, 2017        Author: 

Over the next week, we will be hosting a symposium on ‘The Place of International Human Rights Law in Times of Crisis’. The posts in this series arise out of a seminar held by the ESIL Interest Group on International Human Rights Law at the 2016 ESIL Annual Conference. In this blog symposium, six authors examine the place of IHRL in four crises: austerity, disaster, the migration ‘crisis’; and weapons transfer in conflict.

Later today, we will have an opening post by Lorna McGregor and Başak Çali. This will be followed by contributions from Jaya Ramji-Nogales and Ralph Wilde. On Tuesday, we will have a post by Christy Shucksmith followed by contributions from Elfin Askin and Charlotte Steinorth later in the week. The final post in the symposium will be by Gaëtan Cliquennois.

We thank all of those who have contributed to this fascinating symposium.

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Filed under: Conference, Human Rights
 

The ICJ’s Preliminary Objections Judgment in Somalia v. Kenya: Causing Ripples in Law of the Sea Dispute Settlement?

Published on February 22, 2017        Author: 

On 2 February 2017, the International Court of Justice handed down its Judgment on preliminary objections in the case concerning Maritime Delimitation in the Indian Ocean (Somalia v. Kenya). Somalia had brought the case to request that the Court determine its single maritime boundary with neighbouring Kenya. The ICJ held that it may proceed to the merits phase, thereby rejecting the respondent’s submissions. Among other arguments, Kenya raised an objection rooted in Part XV (“Settlement of disputes”) of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (LOSC). It contended that the Convention’s dispute settlement system is an agreement on the method of settlement for its maritime boundary dispute with Somalia and therefore falls within the scope of Kenya’s reservation to its optional clause declaration made pursuant to Art. 36(2) of the ICJ Statute, which excludes “[d]isputes in regard to which the parties to the dispute have agreed or shall agree to have recourse to some other method or methods of settlement”.

The fact that Kenya relied on this argument is noteworthy in and of itself, as it was the first time that the Court faced a LOSC-based jurisdictional challenge. Moreover, we believe that the way in which the Court disposed of this argument has far-reaching implications since it casts a long shadow over dispute resolution in the law of the sea. But before delving into the ICJ’s reasoning and its ramifications, we will highlight some essentials of the LOSC dispute settlement system.   Read the rest of this entry…

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Comment on Paposhvili v Belgium and the Temporal Scope of Risk Assessment

Published on February 21, 2017        Author: 

On 13 December 2016, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) delivered a significant ruling in Paposhvili v Belgium, App. No. 41738/10, correcting the narrow approach to Article 3 medical removal cases taken in D v United Kingdom, App. No. 30240/96 (2 May 1997) and extended in cases such as N v United Kingdom, App. No. 26565/05 (27 May 2008). These cases established that a breach of Article 3 (sending an applicant to a real risk of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment) would only be found in the most exceptional circumstances, namely where there were compelling humanitarian considerations such as an applicant being critically ill and facing mental and physical suffering and hastened death upon removal. The Paposhvili judgment expands the application of Article 3 in medical cases and raises interesting issues about our broader understanding of prospective risk assessments in other types of subsidiary protection/complementary protection and refugee cases.

The applicant, a Georgian national facing removal due to criminal activity in Belgium, suffered from leukaemia and recurrent tuberculosis which had caused lung disease. He claimed that he would be unable to access adequate medical treatment in Georgia and was therefore at risk of ill-treatment and accelerated death if he were expelled. Indeed, medical evidence accepted by the Court indicated that he would die within 6 months of his treatment being discontinued ([195]).

Although Mr Paposhvili died while his Grand Chamber hearing was pending, the ECtHR examined his complaint due to its wider impact on cases involving aliens who are seriously ill and facing removal. The ECtHR “clarified” its jurisprudence in relation to that group of people, noting that the case law since N v United Kingdom had been impermissibly narrow and “deprived aliens who are seriously ill, but whose condition is less critical, of the benefit of [Article 3]” ([181]–[182]). While maintaining the language of “exceptional cases” from D, the ECtHR expanded that category to encompass:

situations involving the removal of a seriously ill person in which substantial grounds have been shown for believing that he or she, although not at imminent risk of dying, would face a real risk, on account of the absence of appropriate treatment in the receiving country or the lack of access to such treatment, of being exposed to a serious, rapid and irreversible decline in his or her state of health resulting in intense suffering or to a significant reduction in life expectancy. ([183], emphasis added)

Dr Lourdes Peroni and Steve Peers have noted that the significance of this case is the ruling that access to “sufficient and appropriate” medical care must be available in reality, not merely in theory. The submissions of the Ghent University Human Rights Centre as intervening party provided the ECtHR with an excellent platform from which to set out procedural obligations and evidentiary factors to guide the assessment of risk. The ECtHR held at [190]–[191] that the “authorities must also consider the extent to which the individual in question will actually have access to this care and these facilities in the receiving State” and :

“where, after the relevant information has been examined, serious doubts persist regarding the impact of removal on the persons concerned…the returning State must obtain individual and sufficient assurances from the receiving State…”. Read the rest of this entry…

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Post-Truth and International Criminal Tribunals

Published on February 20, 2017        Author: 

With all the daily going-ons of our new era of resurgent populist nationalism, it’s no wonder that concepts such as ‘post-truth’ and ‘alternative facts’ are so very much en vogue, or that Orwell’s 1984 and other dystopian classics are once more hitting the best-seller lists. But the sad truth is that there’s nothing really new about ‘post-truth’, except that it is today afflicting developed, democratic societies that until now did not experience the phenomenon, or at least did not experience it in full force.

Trump photographed at Mar a Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the news of North Korean missile launch. Photograph: Erika Bain. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/feb/13/mar-a-lago-north-korea-missile-crisis-trump-national-security#img-2

Nor did post-truth start in these societies just out of the blue – it was preceded by decades of democratic de-norming, institutional erosion, increasing polarization and identity politics (think, for example, of how climate change became a point of polarized partisan politics in the US, or of the distorting power and influence of the (mainly right-wing) tabloid press in the UK).

Even in democracies politicians are not a species generally known for its love of the truth. It is no wonder then that in a favourable climate a sub-species of particularly cynical manipulators who are either ready to routinely lie outright or are just simply indifferent to the truth will emerge. Coupled with the natural inclination of the human mind to evaluate evidence in a biased way and to reason about it in a way that confirms pre-existing beliefs and protects one’s sense of identity, in much (most?) of the world post-truth politics are the rule, rather than the exception. Trump may be the most important exponent of the current wave of mendacious populism, but he is hardly avant-garde. For decades now, for example, many of the Balkan states have experienced their own ego-maniacal, soft-authoritarian mini-Trumps, and let’s not even mention all of the Putins, Dutertes and Erdogans out there.

Which brings me to my point. Post-truth and alternative facts have historically been perfectly standard when it comes to inter-group conflicts, especially in societies which are not genuinely pluralist. Pick any random group conflict in the world, and you are likely to find that each group lives and breaths its own particular truth. In our international legal community, many have thought that it is the role of international criminal courts and tribunals to generate the ‘real’ truths that will eventually garner acceptance in societies riven by conflict. Unfortunately, however, there is little evidence that such truth-generating potential is anything but theoretical.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Announcements: ICJ Law Clerk Vacancies; CfP Groningen Journal of International Law; iCourts & PluriCourts Summer School; CfP Asian Society of International Law; CfP AsianSIL Interest Group; Geoffrey Nice Foundation Master Class; CfS Harvard International Law J​ournal; CfP Rights!

Published on February 19, 2017        Author: 

1. ICJ Law Clerk to Judges of the Court (Associate Legal Officer) Vacancies (Multiple Positions). The International Court of Justice wishes to appoint a number of Law Clerks (P2), each of whom will provide research and other legal assistance to one of the judges of the Court.  The deadline for applications is 10 March 2017. For further information see here and here.

2. Groningen Journal of International Law Call for Papers. The Groningen Journal of International Law (GroJIL) is now receiving submissions on general topics related to international law for its Volume 5, Issue I to be published in summer 2017. The GroJIL is a not-for-profit, open access electronic journal. It is led and edited by students at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. It seeks to advocate an outlook where legal change, rather than legal description, is at the forefront. Consequently, we particularly welcome submissions that use innovative methods and/or suggest new solutions to overcome the contemporary issues facing international law. The word limit for accepted articles is 15,000 words. If you want your article to be considered for publication in the summer 2017 issue please submit it before the deadline of 28 April 2017 at 23:59 CET by sending an email to groningenjil {at} gmail(.)com. For more information on the issue and GroJIL’s publishing profile, please see here.

3. iCourts and PluriCourts Summer School. The Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts) and PluriCourts (Centre for the Study of the Legitimate Roles of the Judiciary in the Global Order) are hosting a high-level summer school for PhD students working on international courts in their social and political context. We particularly welcome students who are writing up a PhD thesis that involves a strong focus on methodology. The summer school will be hosted from 26 June – 30 June 2017 at iCourts, Karen Blixens Plads 16, DK-2300 Copenhagen S. The course is offered free of charge but the participants pay for expenses relating to travel and accommodation. The deadline for submission is 1 April 2017. Please use this registration form.

Read the rest of this entry…

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Post-Election Crisis in The Gambia, the Security Council and the Threat of the Use of Force

Published on February 17, 2017        Author: 

The Gambian post-election crisis is a gem amongst cases relevant to the law on ius ad bellum – not only because it is a crisis that has been resolved with almost no bloodshed, but also because it offers valuable insights into the interaction between Security Council authorization, the doctrine of intervention by invitation, and the prohibition on the threat to use of force (see for some analysis here, here, here, or here).

Professor Hallo de Wolf has concluded that “the legality of the ECOWAS’ military intervention is dubious”. His analysis primarily focuses on the question of legality of the ECOWAS’ intervention after the inauguration of The Gambia’s new president, Adama Barrow. However, his conclusion may be challenged if one is to read Security Council resolution 2337 (2017) as a non-prohibitive non-authorization, which indirectly opens and strengthens the alternative avenue of the doctrine of intervention by invitation . Elsewhere, I have evaluated this interpretation against State practice and the Council’s resolutions in the Syrian and Yemeni incidents and concluded that the consent of the new president, Barrow, may suffice to justify the military intervention in The Gambia.

If one is ready to follow this line of thought, a question arises as to the effect of the consent; what conduct is justified by the invitation? The post-election crisis in The Gambia, for which the course of events may be recalled here or here, entails temporal complications in this respect. The crisis can be divided in three phases: (1) pre- inauguration (Jammeh’s clinging to power up until the inauguration, and end of the ECOWAS’ ultimatum, 19 January 2017); (2) the time between passage of the ultimatum and official inauguration; (3) post- inauguration. Read the rest of this entry…

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The Use of Force to (Re-)Establish Democracies: Lessons from The Gambia

Published on February 16, 2017        Author: 

It has been almost a month since predominantly Senegalese troops entered The Gambia as part of an ECOWAS intervention after long-term president Yahya Jammeh had refused to accept the results of the December 2016 elections. ECOWAS troops remain in the country until this day in order to support newly-elected president, Adama Barrow, in establishing and maintaining public order.

The case has been widely discussed as it raises a number of questions concerning the use of force in general, the right to intervention by invitation and authorizations by regional organizations (see here, here, or here). In particular, it shows that, if the circumstances admit it, the international community is more than willing to accept the use of force to establish or re-establish democracies. The following post will focus on this debate and briefly describe how it evolved until this very day. Read the rest of this entry…

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