In my previous post I explained how the European Court’s Article 1 jurisprudence allows it to avoid the question of sovereignty over Crimea, since it can ground Russia’s jurisdiction over the territory, and thus the applicability of the ECHR, simply on the fact of its control and need not say anything else. But there are at least two issues on the merits of the Ukraine v. Russia re Crimea case that could directly engage the question of sovereignty over the territory. As a preliminary matter, I now need to say that I have not had the benefit of reading the pleadings of either party in the case – the Court has an inexplicable policy of not putting the pleadings online, but only allowing them to be consulted in its building in Strasbourg. That said, I am reasonably certain that the two issues I examine here are properly raised in the case. I will therefore now turn to the first of these, the mass imposition of Russian citizenship on the people of Crimea.
Does the European Court of Human Rights Have to Decide on Sovereignty over Crimea? Part I: Jurisdiction in Article 1 ECHR
On 11 September the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held oral hearings on the admissibility of the interstate claim Ukraine brought against Russia regarding Crimea (no. 20958/14). The webcast of the hearing is available here. There are many different admissibility issues that the case raises, some of them heavily factual (e.g. the existence of an administrative practice on the part of Russia that makes individual recourse to domestic remedies impossible). The case may well flounder on one of them. But the one issue that concerns me here is simply this: should the European Court make any pronouncements on whether it is Ukraine or Russia who is the rightful sovereign of Crimea?
To be clear, sovereignty over Crimea is not to my mind a legally difficult question – Russia’s annexation of Crimea was as clearly illegal as anything can be. But there is wider, much more fraught, question of principle and prudence: should international human rights bodies pronounce on issues which, while capable of legal determination, are not part of their central mission of human rights protection and may negatively affect that mission? This is especially the case in situations in which it is entirely predictable that, in the political context, any such pronouncement would provoke intense backlash, even possibly leading to Russia’s withdrawal from the Council of Europe.
“Vulnerability” versus “Plausibility”: Righting or Wronging the Regime of Provisional Measures? Reflections on ICJ, Ukraine v. Russian Federation, Order of 19 April 2017
The ICJ order of 19 April 2017 in the case Application of the international convention for the suppression of the financing of terrorism and the international convention on the elimination of all forms of racial discrimination (Ukraine v. Russian Federation) seeks to safeguard the interests of ethnic minorities in Crimea, and to protect the victims of armed conflict in the eastern regions of Ukraine.
As Iryna Marchuk reported on this blog, the ICJ indicated provisional measures only on the basis of the CERD but not on the basis of ICSFT. The Court notably obliged the Russian Federation to refrain from constraining the representative body of the Crimean Tartars and to ensure the availability of education in Ukrainian language in Crimea (para. 102). The Court also “reminds” both parties of the Minsk Agreement on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, and “expects” them to work towards its full implementation (para. 104).
Has the Court hereby, once again (and maybe contre gré), acted as a protector of human rights and minorities more than as the quintessential inter-state dispute settlement body? And does this tell us anything about the relative importance of individual rights over inter-state obligations in the web of international law? The two buzz words “plausibility of (state) rights” versus “human vulnerability”, juxtaposed by Judge Cançado Trindade in his separate opinion (esp. in paras 36 et seq) even insinuates a possible conflict between two paradigms. This blog explores the dualism of the states’ international legal status and individual international law-based rights, and the opportunities and risks of the “humanisation” of international law, manifest in these proceedings. Read the rest of this entry…
On 16 January 2017, Ukraine filed an Application against Russia before the International Court of Justice (‘ICJ’ or ‘the Court’), founding the Court’s jurisdiction (in part) on the compromissory clause (Article 24) of the Terrorism Financing Convention (‘ICSFT’). On the very same day, Ukraine filed a Request for the indication of measures of protection. On 19 April 2017, in respect of the claim based on the ICSFT, the Request was rejected, although the Court did order provisional measures in support of the claim based on CERD.
The Application and the Court’s Order on provisional measures (‘Order’) have been the subject of several blog posts, including here, here and here, and I will not revisit their content. Instead, I’d like to further consider some of the issues raised by the Court’s refusal to award provisional measures in respect of the ICSFT. As noted in the terrific post by Vincent-Joel on ‘Terrorism and the World Court’, this dispute presents an important opportunity for the Court not only to clarify the nature of certain counter-terrorism obligations, but equally to interpret the ICSFT in a ‘forward-looking and purposive’ manner which reflects the post-9/11 counter-terrorism climate. It also bears noting that this case is an opportunity for the Court to address the increasingly common – and increasingly dangerous – State practice of materially supporting non-State armed groups (‘NSAGs’), even if, for jurisdictional reasons, it must do so through the prism of terrorism financing.
There are two substantive issues which were at stake in making the case for provisional measures that I want to address: First, Ukraine had to establish the Court’s prima facie jurisdiction under the ICSFT, in part based on whether ‘the acts complained of […] are prima facie capable of falling within the provisions of [the ICSFT]’. Second, given that most of the NSAG conduct underlying the Application took place within the context of an armed conflict (‘AC’), the characterization of that conduct as ‘terrorist’ and falling within the scope of the ICSFT, or as merely in breach of (or at least governed by) International Humanitarian Law (‘IHL’), is put in issue. Read the rest of this entry…
Ukraine’s Dashed High Hopes: Predictable and Sober Decision of the ICJ on Indication of Provisional Measures in Ukraine v Russia
There has been a lot of speculation on the possible outcome of Ukraine’s request for indication of provisional measures in the highly politicized case of Ukraine v Russia, in particular following the parties’ heated exchange of arguments during oral proceedings that took place on 6-9 March 2017 before the ICJ (see my blog here and another blog here). Last week, the Court delivered a highly anticipated decision in which it indicated provisional measures with respect to Ukraine’s claims under CERD by requesting Russia “to refrain from maintaining or imposing limitations on the ability of Crimean tatar community to conserve its representative institutions, including the Mejlis” (by 13 to 3) and “ensure the availability of education in the Ukrainian language” by a unanimous vote (p. 106). In addition to those specific measures aimed at preserving specific rights, the Court chose to indicate an additional measure of general nature with the view of ensuring the non-aggravation of the dispute between the Parties (paras 103, 106).
In rather mild language, the Court also spoke of its ‘expectation’ for the Parties, “through individual and joint efforts, to work for the full implementation of [the Minsk agreements] in order to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict in the eastern regions of Ukraine” (para. 104). This seems to be a compromise middle-ground solution when the Majority, although having dismissed the plausibility of claims under ICSFT and therefore chosen not to indicate provisional measures with respect to Ukraine’s claims under the Convention, highlighted the seriousness of the ongoing fighting in eastern Ukraine and encouraged the Parties to revive the Minsk agreements that have been violated countless times. Read the rest of this entry…
From the day Ukraine submitted its case against Russia at the ICJ, one could expect that the case would be extremely politicized and difficult to adjudicate. Oral proceedings on the request for provisional measures held on 6th -9th March 2017 not only demonstrated that parties disagreed on the major points of the dispute, but also revealed that both parties had adopted “alternative facts”, at times making it difficult to grasp if they actually had the same dispute in mind. Ukraine’s position is that Russia violates ICSFT by continuing to support pro-Russian separatist armed groups in eastern Ukraine that engage in the commission of terrorist acts against the civilian population. Ukraine also claims that Russia pursues “policies of cultural erasure and pervasive discrimination” against non-Russian ethnic population in Crimea (see my blog). In its counter-arguments, Russia submits that the supply of weaponry originated from the old Soviet stockpiles inherited by Ukraine as well as the retreating Ukrainian army. Although widespread reports on the human rights situation in Crimea indicate marginalization of non-Russian ethnic population, as do the hundreds of pending individual applications before the ECtHR, Russia maintains that it is fully compliant with CERD and that “the views [of international organizations] on the status of Crimea often prejudge the attitude towards the situation in Crimea itself”.
Oral proceedings provide valuable insights into Russia’s litigation strategy. Russia maintains that there is no factual or legal basis for the ICJ to adjudicate, claiming that the issues between Ukraine and Russia relate to the legality of the use of force, sovereignty, territorial integrity and self-determination and therefore go beyond the jurisdiction of the Court. Russia accused the Ukrainian government of using the Court “to stigmatize a substantial part of the Ukrainian population” in eastern Ukraine as terrorists, and Russia as a “sponsor of terrorism and persecutor”.
Prima facie jurisdiction
The ICJ has to be satisfied on a prima facie basis that its jurisdiction is well founded in order to indicate provisional measures. Read the rest of this entry…