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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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Leonard Cohen on Brexit

Published on March 31, 2017        Author: 

I’ve seen you change the water into wine
I’ve seen you change it back to water, too
I sit at your table every night
I try but I just don’t get high with you
I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill
I’m angry and I’m tired all the time
I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine

Ah, they’re dancing in the street—it’s Jubilee
We sold ourselves for love but now we’re free
I’m so sorry for that ghost I made you be
Only one of us was real and that was me

Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: EJIL Analysis
 
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New Issue of EJIL (Vol. 28 (2017) No. 1) Published

Published on March 31, 2017        Author: 

The latest issue of the European Journal of International Law (Vol. 28 (2017) No. 1) is out today. As usual, the table of contents of the new issue is available at EJIL’s own website, where readers can access those articles that are freely available without subscription. The free access article in this issue is Simon Chesterman’s Asia’s Ambivalence about International Law and Institutions: Past, Present and Futures. EJIL subscribers have full access to the latest issue of the journal at EJIL’s Oxford University Press site. Apart from articles published in the last 12 months, EJIL articles are freely available on the EJIL website.

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In Memoriam: Vera Gowlland-Debbas

Published on March 30, 2017        Author: 

22 September 1943 – 29 September 2015

Vera Gowlland-Debbas was a dedicated and active member of EJIL’s Scientific Advisory Board from 2007 to 2012. Her loss has been deeply felt. In this Editorial, Marcelo Kohen, Professor of International Law at the Graduate Institute in Geneva and her long-time colleague, pays homage to Vera’s lasting contribution to the field of international law.

On 29 September 2015, Vera Gowlland ultimately lost her battle with a cruel disease that she had fought with courage and dignity. This is a great loss not only for the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, where she completed her licence and her doctorate, served in the publications department and taught from 1994 until her retirement in 2009, when she became an honorary professor. It is also a great loss for international law and for the values she defended.

Despite her illness, Vera continued to work in a variety of ways in our discipline, giving counsel on issues related to the International Criminal Court and continuing her contribution to academia. Her last physical presence at an academic event was as the Chair of a panel at a symposium on ‘International Law and Time’, held in Geneva on 12-13 June 2015, at which, without knowing it, she was to say farewell to her colleagues and students. While her voice was wavering, her spirited enthusiasm remained clear to see, and her joy at sharing this academic event at the institution where she had so often taught and organized academic activities herself was apparent.

Vera’s intellectual contribution is a distinguished legacy. She always had a tremendous appetite for problem-solving. Her doctoral thesis, written during the Cold War period and entitled: ‘Collective Responses to Illegal Acts in International Law’, focused on the reaction of the international community to the alleged creation of the racist state of Southern Rhodesia at a time when the active use of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter had not been seriously considered. This appetite was also reflected in her monumental work on the national implementation of sanctions adopted by the Security Council, which provides important guidance and remains the most comprehensive and significant work in this field. Her course at the Hague Academy of International Law on the Security Council and questions of international responsibility complements her long record of publications and confirms her reputation as an uncontested specialist of the United Nations. Read the rest of this entry…

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Vital Statistics

Published on March 29, 2017        Author: 

Each year we publish statistics on the state of our submissions: who submitted, who was accepted, and who was published in EJIL during the previous 12 months. We do this in order to observe and understand any changes that may be taking place in submission and publication patterns in our Journal. We do this, too, because we publish the very best manuscripts submitted to EJIL, selected through our double-blind review process. We offer no affirmative action in selection. Rather we look for excellence, articles that will be read, recalled, referred to and cited in years to come.

Of course, the EJIL Editors do commission some articles. We would risk becoming merely a refereeing service if we relied only on unsolicited manuscripts. Again, statistics are important in order to check that we are getting the balance right. For the past three years the percentage of unsolicited manuscripts has remained stable at around 65 per cent or two-thirds of the total, which we consider to be a sound balance.

The percentage of manuscripts submitted by women authors this past year dropped slightly to 32 per cent, although 33 per cent of accepted submissions were by women and the figure for published articles was 35 per cent. These figures do not differ markedly from previous years. Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see that the percentages of accepted and published articles submitted by women reflect or even surpass the percentage of overall submissions by women. Read the rest of this entry…

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EJIL: In this Issue (Vol. 28 (2017) No. 1)

Published on March 29, 2017        Author: 

This issue opens with the third entry under our annual rubric, The EJIL Foreword. In keeping with the rubric’s mission statement, Laurence Boisson de Chazournes takes a broad and sweeping view of the proliferation and consequent pluralism of international courts and tribunals. In doing so, she argues that an ‘overarching managerial approach’ may be observed in various practices of both judicial and state actors, and notes still other methods that could strengthen this approach.

The next three articles in this issue address the processes of international law-making from a variety of perspectives. In the first regular article, Florian Grisel assesses the top-down processes informing transnational governance. Grisel utilizes the example of the drafting of the United Nations Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards and the involvement of the International Chamber of Commerce experts to illustrate how transnational expert networks can contribute effectively to the process of treaty-making. Taking on the involvement of non-state actors from another perspective, Nahuel Maisley argues that Article 25(a) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should be interpreted as giving civil society groups a right to participate in international law-making. In their article, Armin von Bogdandy, Matthias Goldmann and Ingo Venzke then address the implications of the proliferation of international institutions, advancing a theory of ‘public international law’ which regards such institutions as exercising ‘international public authority’ and seeks to take account of world public opinion in enhancing their legitimacy and effectiveness.

In a shift of topic, Natalie Davidson revisits the seminal Alien Tort Statute cases of Filártiga and Marcos. In exploring the historical narratives produced in these two cases, Davidson’s article seeks to challenge some of the sanguine assumptions of international human rights lawyers and lay bare the ‘deep foundations of violence’ in the international system and US foreign policy. Relatedly, Alejandro Chehtman examines the moral and legal permissibility of the use of remotely piloted aircraft systems, challenging the intuitive view that the use of drones will contribute to making the use of force proportionate in a wider set of circumstances. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: Editorials, EJIL