The Wallstrom Affair: Je Suis Margot

I wanted to alert our readers to the Margot Wallstrom Affair –because, most likely, most of our readers have not heard about it.  This is unfortunate because, as a journalist for The Spectator noted, “[i]f the cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ were sincere, the western world would be convulsed with worry and anger about the Wallstrom affair.”  The Affair pits women’s right against politically interested support for the Saudi Arabian regime, by most of the western world, despite the fact that the Saudi regime has been notorious for its violations of human (and women’s) rights.  The extremely scant western media coverage of the Wallstrom Affair signals, at the very best, a lack of interest for the protection of human (and women’s) rights.

Several weeks ago, Margot Wallstrom, the Swedish foreign minister, criticized Saudi Arabia for its subjugation of women (women in Saudi Arabia, as many know, are not allowed to travel, conduct official business or marry without the permission of a male guardian; moreover, Saudi girls can be forced into child marriages), as well as for its decision to punish blogger and human rights activist, Raif Badawi, by sentencing him to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes.  According to Wallstrom, these were “medieval methods” and “a cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression.”  Thus, Wallstrom stated that she thought it would be unethical for Sweden to continue its military co-operation with Saudi Arabia (Sweden is the world’s 12th largest arms exporter, and its exports to Saudi Arabia total $1.3 billion; Wallstrom’s comments  may have been immensely disliked by Swedish arms manufacturers and exporters, whose ability to make money would be undermined if Wallstrom’s comments were taken seriously by the remainder of the Swedish government). Wallstrom’s criticism of Saudi Arabia, perhaps too blunt for a diplomat, was nonetheless truthful.  Saudi Arabia, a strategic partner of many western democratic nations, including the United States, has an abysmal human rights record and restricts women from enjoying many basic rights that their male counterparts have access to.  Yet, the backlash against Wallstrom has been swift and severe.

Saudi Arabia withdrew its ambassador to Sweden and stopped issuing visas to Swedish businessmen (and Swedish businesswomen, presumably).  The United Arab Emirates joined Saudi Arabia.  Several organizations representing Muslim and/or Gulf states accused Sweden of disrespecting the world’s “rich and varied ethical standards” and Wallstrom of interfering with Saudi internal affairs.  There is speculation that Sweden may lose its ability to gain a seat on the United Nations Security Council in 2017, because of the Wallstrom Affair.  Swedish businessmen sent a letter stating that breaking the arms trade agreement with Saudi Arabia would thwart Sweden’s reputation as a trade and strategic partner.  Even Swedish King Carl XVI Gustaf asked Wallstrom to compromise.  In the face of such severe criticism, Wallstron, a left-wing politician who took office promising that she would implement a feminist foreign policy, may have to capitulate and compromise.  Strangely, the western media has paid very little attention to this affair, and most western states have failed to indicate their support of Wallstrom.

The lack of coverage of the Wallstrom Affair by the western media, and the lack of support for Wallstrom by western democracies, reveals two geo-political realities.  First, it seems that smaller and less influential countries, such as Sweden, may be more easily manipulated into changing their foreign policy stances.  Sweden most likely needs to export goods to Saudi Arabia more than Saudi Arabia needs to import the same goods.  Second, it appears that human (and women’s rights) always lose to other political and strategic goals. If we were to truly champion human (and women’s rights), we would not partner with Saudi Arabia on much of anything, and we would be willing to publicly condemn this country’s appalling practices.  Sadly, the western democratic regimes have sent the opposite message through their lack of interest for the Wallstrom Affair – that geo-political and business interests trump the protection of human (and women’s) rights.  Or, “nous ne sommes pas Margot.”

Go On! PIL Workshop in Hamburg (deadline 31 May)

The Working Group of Young Scholars in Public International Law has sent an invitation to a workshop on public international law (PIL) from 25-27 September 2015 in Hamburg, Germany. The full call for papers is here: AjV [pdf]

Dear All,

We would like to invite you to an informal workshop in Hamburg (quick reminder: there’s another one held on September 4, 2014 in Basel, addressing “International Law and Domestic Law-Making Processes” [ed: see IntLawGrrls post here]. The Hamburg Workshop will be held from 25th to 27th September 2015 to discuss your research projects (e.g. chapters of your dissertation, academic contributions, case comments). PhD students and post docs with a background in international law and neighbouring disciplines ought to exchange ideas and arguments to inspire each other and advance with one’s research. Public international law and common sense will serve as the basis that will result in discovering parallel developments and similar issues in different fields of international law.

While we will arrange a setting for stimulating discussions, we will further the social exchange by providing for some cultural events, as well. Please submit your ideas for a presentation in 300-500 words in German or English to until 31st May 2015. It is also possible to attend the workshop without presenting.

Further information will be provided in the near future. We are looking forward to welcoming you at the workshop!

Warmest regards,

Anne Dienelt and Katrin Kohoutek

Go On! University of Essex Human Rights Summer School (early registration discount through April 20th)

The Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex is offering its five day summer school on Human Rights Research Methods from 29 June to 3 July 2015. This will be followed by a second week (6-7 July) of thematic modules on cutting edge issues in human rights. These include:

  • Human Rights, Big Data and Technology (6-7 July)
  • Economic and Social Dimensions of Transitional Justice (6-7 July)
  • Human Rights and Drug Policy (6-7 July)
  • Autonomy and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (7 July)

An international team of experts will deliver teaching sessions, including leading human rights academics and practitioners. These are essential courses for postgraduate students, academics, lawyers, those working in civil society and international organisations, and importantly, those holding positions in government, including diplomats and civil servants.  The thematic modules are run in conjunction with the Essex Transitional Justice Network, the Essex Autonomy Project, and the International Centre on Human Rights & Drug Policy.

Courses will be held at the University of Essex campus in Wivenhoe Park, an hour train ride from central London.  A 10% early booking discount on the published course fee rates is available for bookings made before Monday 20 April 2015.

A full course programme, including enrolment details are available here.

Secrecy in international agreements

The recent P5+1 negotiations and the agreements reached so far have sparked much discussion and letter-writing. Part of this has to do with the obscurity of the negotiations and the simple reason that the few texts that have been made public are unlikely to present the totality of what the negotiations actually deal with apart from the nuclear issue. What is the deal with secrecy in international agreements?

The first reference in English to the Sykes-Picot agreement, by The Manchester Guardian 26 November 1917

The first reference in English to the Sykes-Picot agreement, by The Manchester Guardian 26 November 1917

Few things happen without a reason. Sometimes, what seems to be the apparent reason is only a piece, sometimes not even the right one, of a bigger picture. This includes international relations and the way in which they influence national, regional, and international developments. Part of what makes it difficult to dissect these developments, from the outside, is the use of secret agreements in international relations. Since they are secret, sometimes modestly referred to as “confidential”, such documents are released only after 20 years, 30 years, 50 years or whatever the confidentiality norm is in a country. Before World War I, the use of secret agreements or treaties, was quite common, typically dealing with alliances during war  and division of spheres of influence. The Treaty of Dover, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Quadripartite Agreement and the Hoare-Laval Pact are only some of the many significant secret agreements of the past with major geopolitical impacts that have shaped our common history. While there can be good reasons for keeping certain agreements secret, secret international agreements are at the same time problematic from the perspective of sovereignty, democracy, rule of law, and an open society. They are also prohibited under international law.

Secret treaties under international law
At the Treaty of Versailles, marking an end to World War I, Woodrow Wilson proposed to include a prohibition against secret treaties by proposing that that all treaties should be made through the League of Nations. This proposal did not make it to the Treaty of Versailles, but was subsequently included in Article 18 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, which provided that “every treaty or international engagement entered into hereafter by any Member of the League shall be forthwith registered with the Secretariat and shall as soon as possible be published by it. No such treaty or international engagement shall be binding until so registered.” The new rule had become, in other words, publicness of international agreements, through a requirement of registration. This did not, to nobody’s surprise, end the use of secret agreements in practice, but for the first time such agreements were prohibited on a formal level.
The UN Charter continues this policy in chapter XVI. Article 102 provides that:
1. Every treaty and every international agreement entered into by any Member of the United Nations after the present Charter comes into force shall as soon as possible be registered with the Secretariat and published by it.
2. No party to any such treaty or international agreement which has not been registered in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 1 of this Article may invoke that treaty or agreement before any organ of the United Nations. “
Article 103 establishes the UN Charter as the superior law by stating that the obligations under the charter prevail in case of conflict the obligations under another international agreement.

The continued use of secret international agreements
Despite the clear prohibition under international law, secret international agreements continue in practice. For example, The United Kingdom- United States of America Agreement (UKUSA) between the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand,and with several third parties subsequently joining, was entered into in 1946, but was not disclosed to the public until 2005 and its full text was not made public until 2010.
Because they are secret, contemporary secret agreements are hard to identify and such identifications often become mere speculations, giving rise to a variety of juicy conspiracy theories. However, sometimes such agreements are fairly easy to identify through a two-step process. The first is that there is knowledge that an agreement has been entered into. Second, the content of the agreement has not been made public. In such a case it is difficult to reach any other conclusion than that the agreement is secret.

A recent example of such a case is the P5+1 agreement with Iran. There is knowledge about an agreement, yet its content has not been made public. It has been referred to as the “Nuclear Agreement”, obviously dealing with some aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme, and indeed some of the obligations with respect to the nuclear issue have been referred to by the parties and an interim agreement has been published. Yet considering the geopolitical context of the agreement as well as the parties to it, it is highly probable that the P5+1 negotiations deals with broader issues than the nuclear issue. But we cannot know whether the terms of the agreement are in accordance with international law because the text has not been made public.

The context for the agreement- the location, the parties, the interests- bears resemblance to that of an agreement entered into almost a century ago, also that one a secret one. Whether or not the P5+1 agreement is the 21st century version of Sykes-Picot is impossible to know, because the content of the text, like that of Sykes-Picot (which became public in 1917, after the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia), has not been made public. Would it make a difference? That is the central problem of secret agreements. It is impossible to know since they are secret.

Write On! Call for Submissions: Theoretical Approaches to International Law, UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence (deadline 30 April)

Call for Submissions Volume 4, Issue 2 (October 2015): Special Issue on Theoretical Approaches to International Law

The UCL Journal of Law and Jurisprudence (UCLJLJ) is a law journal run by postgraduate students of the UCL Faculty of Laws. All submissions are assessed through double blind peer-review. Starting in 2015, the Journal will appear twice a year and will be available open access.

The Editorial Board is pleased to call for submissions for the second issue of 2015. The Board welcomes submissions engaging with the issue’s general theme “Theoretical Approaches to International Law”. The topic is broadly conceived and leaves room in particular for any area of international law to be considered and for a wide range of theoretical traditions and approaches.

We accept articles of between 8,000-12,000 words, case notes of 6’000-8’000 words and book reviews of 1’000-2’000 words in length. All submissions must comply with the Oxford University Standard for Citation of Legal Authorities (OSCOLA). Contributions that have already been published or that are under consideration for publication in other journals will not be considered. The deadline for submissions is 30 April 2015. Manuscripts must be uploaded via the submissions section on our website.

For further information and guidelines for authors please visit the journal’s website.

Unleashing a wave

Two weeks ago the Greek Defence Minister, Panos Kammenos, threatened to unleash a “wave of millions of economic migrants” and “jihadists of the Islamic State” on Europe if it failed to respond to Greece’s demands for continued bailout payments. The Telegraph reported, “EU officials have been so concerned by the Greek threats that the European Commission last week sought “assurances… that no measures to open up detention centres are being taken”.

While the Greek government has rushed to distance itself from Kammenos’ claims and to clarify that it has no policy of releasing migrants from the detention centres, one can’t help but feeling that both Greece and the concerned EU officials have missed the point. This small fracas over the Greek bailout reveals what is already beyond dispute – behind the EU’s policies on migration lies a deep-seated disdain for those being held in appalling conditions in Greece’s detention centres.

In a wave of highly publicised cases (culminating in a Grand Chamber decision in 2011), the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found that the conditions of detention in Greece’s immigrant centres violated the anti-torture provision in Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights. In the Case of M.S.S v Belgium and Greece, the Grand Chamber of the ECHR found that Greece engaged in a systematic practice of detaining asylum-seekers in holding facilities defined by “overcrowding, dirt, lack of space, lack of ventilation, little or no possibility of taking a walk, no place to relax, insufficient mattresses, dirty mattresses, no free access to toilets, inadequate sanitary facilities, no privacy, limited access to care.” The Court laboriously describes reports of human rights organisations that detail the horrors of the detention centres – the refusal of guards to allow immigrants to leave cells to use the toilet or to drink fresh water, extraordinary conditions of over-crowding that made it impossible for people to lie down to sleep at night, and the verbal and physical violence migrants suffered at the hands of immigration officials.  The Court found cases of people being refused access to medication and medical attention. In the Case of M.S.S, the Grand Chamber found that “the feeling of arbitrariness and the feeling of inferiority and anxiety often associated with it, as well as the profound effect such conditions of detention indubitably have on a person’s dignity, constitute degrading treatment contrary to Article 3 of the Convention. In addition, the applicant’s distress was accentuated by the vulnerability inherent in his situation as an asylum-seeker.” Continue reading

Introducing Dina Townsend

4088d4e7-087f-41cd-969f-84ef5129e534It’s our great pleasure today to introduce Dina Townsend as an IntLawGrrls contributor. Dina is a PhD Fellow in the Department of Public and International Law at the University of Oslo. Her research focuses on the concept of human dignity in the context of environmental law and governance.

Dina completed a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws at the University of Cape Town, South Africa and her Master of Laws, with honours, at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Dina is an admitted attorney and has spent a number of years in practice, specializing in mining and environmental law. She worked in the Mining and Natural Resources team at Webber Wentzel, a South African law firm, and was a Senior Attorney at the not-for-profit Centre for Environmental Rights where she led the Mining Programme and the Transparency Programme. As a result of her work at the Centre, Dina was included in the 2013 list of 200 Young South Africans published by the Mail and Guardian.

Dina’s first post will focus on migrants to Greece and the ECtHR’s judgments on Greek migrant detention centers. Heartfelt welcome!


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