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The Oral Hearings in ‘Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965’

Published on September 11, 2018        Author: 
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The oral hearings in the advisory proceedings concerning the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965 took place at the ICJ last week. Readers will recall the two questions posed by the General Assembly in its request for an Advisory Opinion (Resolution 71/292) and the procedural and propriety issues raised by this case, as discussed by Marko, Dapo and Antonios – here, here and here. A host of States – and the African Union – participated in the proceedings and their voluminous written and oral statements/comments will surely keep interested scholars busy for a long time to come. In this post, I will try to restrict myself to the task of offering a few initial comments on the self-determination arguments made in relation to the first question (essentially, was the decolonization of Mauritius lawfully completed when it acceded to independence in 1968, following the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago?). For this purpose, I will focus on the claims made by the UK and Mauritius for the sake of brevity, and not because I agree with the UK’s contention that Mauritius is the ‘de facto claimant’ in this case (Transcript p. 36).

When approaching the claims and counter-claims concerning the Chagos Archipelago – or the British Indian Ocean Territory (‘BIOT’) – it is worth bearing in mind at least two important considerations. First, the UK is clearly on the wrong side of history as far as both the creation and maintenance of the BIOT are concerned. Secondly, the closest comparable case in the ICJ’s jurisprudence, the Western Sahara Advisory Opinion, is different in one key respect. The Western Sahara Opinion was sought while the General Assembly was actively engaged in a fraught and flawed attempt at decolonization and it was delivered when the crisis was still unfolding. In contrast, in the present proceedings, the ICJ has been invited to answer questions which not only require it to establish the legal significance of events which occurred largely between 1965-1968 but also to assess their present consequences. Undoubtedly, this is a difficult task and we shall have to wait and see whether the Court responds positively to the Request or whether it adopts a more non-committal approach, as it did in its Kosovo Advisory Opinion.

Self-determination and Customary International Law

The UK argued that the right of self-determination had not crystallized as a norm of customary international law (CIL) by either 1965 or 1968 (e.g. Transcript, p. 48). Specifically, it denied that the Colonial Declaration (GAR 1514 (XV)(1960)) generated any binding legal obligations as far as Mauritius’ decolonization was concerned. The 1960 Declaration proclaimed the core right – that ‘all peoples have the right to self-determination’ (para. 2) – while stating that: ‘Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the [UN] Charter’ (para. 6). The UK claimed that the right of self-determination only acquired CIL status with the adoption of the Declaration on Friendly Relations (GAR 2625 (XXV)(1970). It relied on voting records, and the statements made, by State representatives, in the context of the development and adoption of these, and other, resolutions (and contemporaneous academic opinions) in support of its preferred interpretation. Read the rest of this entry…

 

The IACtHR Advisory Opinion: one step forward or two steps back for LGBTI rights in Costa Rica?

Published on February 27, 2018        Author: 
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On 9th January 2018, the IACtHR issued Advisory Opinion No. 24 on gender identity, equality and non-discrimination for same-sex couples, a ground-breaking decision for the advancement of LGBTI rights in the Americas. However, the adverse effect it had on the recent presidential elections in Costa Rica may jeopardise this achievement.

The Advisory Opinion was requested by Costa Rica in 2016. the IACtHR was called to clarify the interpretation and scope of several articles of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) in relation to the following questions:

  1. Considering that gender identity is a protected category within the American Convention, does the state have an obligation to recognise and facilitate the change of name of individuals in accordance with their own gender identity?
  2. If so, is the judicial procedure for the change of name, instead of an administrative one, contrary to the American Convention?
  3. According to the American Convention, is the current Costa Rican judicial procedure for the change of name not applicable to individuals who wish to change their name based on their gender identity? Should they rather be given the possibility of resorting to a free, fast and accessible administrative procedure?
  4. Considering the duty not to discriminate on the basis sexual orientation, should the State recognize all patrimonial rights deriving from a same-sex relationship?
  5. If so, is it necessary for the State to establish a legal institution regulating the legal status of same-sex couples, and to recognise all patrimonial rights stemming from such relationships?

In response to the first three questions, the IACtHR recalled its jurisprudence on the matter (e.g. Atala Riffo and Daughters v Chile and Duque v Colombia) and strongly confirmed that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected categories under the American Convention. Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Rise of Environmental Law in International Dispute Resolution: Inter-American Court of Human Rights issues Landmark Advisory Opinion on Environment and Human Rights

Published on February 26, 2018        Author:  and
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The Inter-American Court’s Advisory Opinion on Environment and Human Rights, released on 7 February 2018 (in Spanish only) (for brevity “AO”), is the latest and potentially most significant decision in a series of high profile international judicial rulings which acknowledge legal consequences for environmental harm. As recently as 2 February 2018, the International Court of Justice in the conjoined Costa Rica v. Nicaragua / Nicaragua v. Costa Rica cases ordered Nicaragua to pay compensation to Costa Rica for environmental damage, its first ever order for such compensation. Earlier, the ITLOS issued a landmark provisional measures order in Dispute Concerning Delimitation of the Maritime Boundary between Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire in the Atlantic Ocean (Ghana/Côte d’Ivoire) (Case 23), prescribing provisional measures protecting the marine environment, inter alia suspending all ongoing oil exploration and exploitation operations in a disputed area. To that list one could add the 2017 decision of an ICSID tribunal in Burlington Resources, Inc. v. Republic of Ecuador to award some US$39 million in damages in favour of Ecuador for environmental remediation costs.

The AO (summarized in EJIL: Talk! here) focuses on State obligations under international environmental law and human rights law in the transboundary context, in particular as concerns the construction and operation of infrastructure mega-projects, petroleum exploration and exploitation, maritime transportation of hydrocarbons, construction and enlargement of ports and shipping canals, and so on. 

The AO is ground-breaking in several respects. It is the IACtHR’s first pronouncement on State obligations concerning environmental protection under the ACHR (§ 46). Indeed, it is the first ruling ever by an international human rights court that truly examines environmental law as a systemic whole, as distinct from isolated examples of environmental harm analogous to private law nuisance claims (e.g. Lopez-Ostra v. Spain in the ECtHR). Perhaps most importantly, it is a landmark in the evolving jurisprudence on ‘diagonal’ human rights obligations, i.e. obligations capable of being invoked by individual or groups against States other than their own. The AO opens a door – albeit in a cautious and pragmatic way – to cross-border human rights claims arising from transboundary environmental impacts. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Human Rights and the Protection of the Environment: The Advisory Opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Published on February 26, 2018        Author:  and
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On 7 February 2018, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (the Court, IACtHR) issued the much awaited advisory opinion (A/O) concerning the obligations of States Parties to the American Convention on Human Rights (American Convention, ACHR) in respect of infrastructural works creating a risk of significant environmental damage to the marine environment of the Wider Caribbean Region.

This entry sets out the main findings of the Court, including its approach to the extraterritorial application of the American Convention. With the text of the A/O currently available in Spanish only (here), this post seeks to provide an annotated summary of the A/O to EJIL:Talk!’s readership in the English speaking international law world.

The reformulated scope of the advisory opinion

Colombia, the requesting state, asked for the A/O to be limited to the jurisdictional area established by the 1984 Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention).

Colombia’s original, complex and prolix request originally read as follows:

“I. In accordance with Article 1.1 of the [American Convention], should it be considered that a person, although not located within the territory of a State party, is subject to its jurisdiction where the following four conditions are cumulatively met?

1) the person is present or resides in an area defined and protected by a conventional regime for the protection of the environment to which the relevant State is a party; 2) that the said regime establishes an area of functional jurisdiction, for example, as envisaged in the [Cartagena Convention]; 3) that in the said jurisdictional area the States parties have the obligation to prevent, reduce and control pollution through a series of general and/or specific obligations; 4) that as a result of the environmental damage or risk of environmental damage in the area protected by the relevant treaty, which is attributable to the State who is party to both that treaty and to the [American Convention], the human rights of the affected person had been breached or are in risk being breached. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Composition of the Bench in ICJ Advisory Proceedings: Implications for the Chagos Islands case.

Published on July 10, 2017        Author:  and
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In our previous post we discussed the prospects of the International Court of Justice giving an Advisory Opinion, as requested by the UN General Assembly, on the matter of the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from the territory of Mauritius that was granted independence from the UK in 1968. We focused on whether the ICJ would be likely to refuse to render an Advisory Opinion because the request might be seen as seeking to circumvent the principle of consent. We explained how the ICJ has reinterpreted the principle of consent as it applies to advisory opinions and how the Court has stressed that as an organ of the UN it would not ordinarily refuse a request for an advisory opinion which the requesting organ deems of assistance for the proper exercise of its functions. In deciding whether to give the opinion, the Court will have to consider whether the proceedings relate to a purely bilateral dispute between two states.

Against this background, it is worth considering what the bench will look like if those proceedings touch on a legal question actually pending between two states. At least two questions arise here. First, may judges who have been involved in the related legal disputes between Mauritius and the UK sit in the advisory opinion? Second, may a state that is involved in a dispute that is related to the question put to the Court appoint a Judge ad hoc to the Bench? The first question arises because two of the current Judges of the Court took part, between 2010 and 2015, in an international arbitration under Annex VII of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea brought by Mauritius against the UK regarding the Chagos Archipelago (Chagos Marine Protected Area Arbitration). Judge Greenwood was appointed to the Tribunal by the UK (and was indeed challenged by Mauritius, see the Reasoned Decision on Challenge (2011)), while Judge Crawford was, before his election to the ICJ, Counsel for Mauritius in that case. Read the rest of this entry…

 

Can the International Court of Justice Decide on the Chagos Islands Advisory Proceedings without the UK’s Consent?

Published on June 27, 2017        Author:  and
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As Marko has noted in this post, last week Thursday, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution requesting the International Court of Justice provide an advisory opinion on the legality of the separation by the United Kingdom of the Chagos Archipelago from the colony of Mauritius prior to the grant of independence to Mauritius by the UK in 1968. Under Article 96 of the UN Charter, the General Assembly can request from the ICJ an advisory opinion on “any legal question.” However, in the process leading to the adoption of the General Assembly resolution, the UK argued that the question put to the Court is essentially about a bilateral dispute between States, and that it is inappropriate for the ICJ advisory opinion procedure to be used to obtain adjudication of a bilateral dispute between states that have not consented to ICJ jurisdiction over that dispute (see summary of debate here and UK statement here). As Marko noted in his post, the Assembly resolution is drafted so as to try to demonstrate that the matter is not (or not just) a bilateral dispute over sovereignty to the Islands but rather a question of self-determination within the remit of the General Assembly. Undoubtedly, the question of the Court’s competence to render the opinion, and of the appropriateness of doing so will be raised again before the Court. This post focuses on the role of state consent in the Court’s advisory jurisdiction, and explores the previous jurisprudence of the Court on whether it can render an advisory opinion which requires it to pronounce on the obligations of states and in particular to pronounce of disputes between states. A key preliminary question the Court will be faced with in the Chagos Islands advisory opinion is whether it (the ICJ) should, for the first time, exercise its discretion not to give an advisory opinion on the ground that the request offends against the principle requiring consent for international adjudication of inter-state disputes. If it does that, the Court would be following a decision of the Permanent Court of International Justice refusing to give an opinion on such grounds.

Read the rest of this entry…

 

ICJ Advisory Opinion Request on the Chagos Islands

Published on June 24, 2017        Author: 
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Yesterday the UN General Assembly voted, by 94 to 15 with 65 states abstaining, to issue a request for an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on the Chagos Islands. Readers will be familiar with the many legal disputes that have arisen from this leftover UK colonial possession in the Indian Ocean, ranging from the human tragedy of the Chagossians expelled en masse from the islands to make room for what is now a US military base of enormous size and importance, to the role that the Diego Garcia base played in the war on terror, to the applicability of human rights law to these issues, the designation of real or pretextual maritime protection areas, and the actual sovereignty dispute with Mauritius. Here’s a useful news item from the Guardian, and here is GA resolution itself, A/RES/71/292.  This is the operative part, i.e. the request that the Court will have to address:

(a)     “Was the process of decolonization of Mauritius lawfully completed when Mauritius was granted independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius and having regard to international law, including obligations reflected in General Assembly resolutions 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, 2066 (XX) of 16 December 1965, 2232 (XXI) of 20 December 1966 and 2357 (XXII) of 19 December 1967?”;

(b)     “What are the consequences under international law, including obligations reflected in the above-mentioned resolutions, arising from the continued administration by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland of the Chagos Archipelago, including with respect to the inability of Mauritius to implement a programme for the resettlement on the Chagos Archipelago of its nationals, in particular those of Chagossian origin?”.

The precise drafting of these questions can be enormously consequential, as shown most recently and most clearly with the Kosovo advisory opinion – I would refer interested readers in that regard to the volume edited by Michael Wood and myself on The Law and Politics of the Kosovo Advisory Opinion (OUP, 2015), particularly chapters 3, 6 and 7 which deal with various aspects of the ‘question question.’ At first glance, the drafting of the Chagos request is not only interesting, but also quite intelligent, especially regarding the (a) part.

Why? Well, one almost ritualistic aspect of these advisory opinions are the objections made to the jurisdiction of the Court and the propriety of its exercise by states who opposed the issuance of the AO request in the first place. These objections almost never work, but the good fight is nonetheless always fought. And there are cases, like the Kosovo one, in which a particular objection (there regarding the relationship between the UNSC and the UNGA) could find significantly more purchase than could otherwise be expected. In the Chagos case in particular, one could expect the UK to make the objection that the AO request is trying to circumvent the consent requirement for contentious ICJ jurisdiction, and is in effect litigating a bilateral dispute (see e.g. the Wall AO, para. 43-50). And in fact there clearly is a set of bilateral disputes on Chagos between Mauritius and the UK.

Note, however, the clever drafting of part (a) of the request: it doesn’t directly speak of whether Mauritius has sovereignty over the Islands, but asks whether the process of decolonization of Mauritius was lawfully completed because of the separation of the Chagos Islands from its territory. It also makes links to numerous GA resolutions, in order to reinforce the view that this is a multilateral issue, raising broader questions of principle which the GA has been dealing with for decades.

When it comes to part (b) of the request, what’s particularly notable is that it doesn’t simply ask what the consequences would be if the Court found that the UK acted unlawfully in part (a). Rather, the consequences are those arising from the UK’s continued administration of the Chagos Islands. This would allow the Court to deal with various questions that not directly related to sovereignty or any faults with the decolonization process, like the plight of the Chagossians. On the other hand, the drafting of part (b) is also such that it could allow the Court to ‘properly interpret’ it in such a way as to avoid some of the more controversial issues, as it in fact did in the Kosovo AO. We shall, of course, have to wait and see what happens – but watch this space.