Write On! Devolved Nations and International Law Seminar

The complex inter-relationship between devolved nations in the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the nation state of the United Kingdom in the realm of international law is a highly significant area for analysis. The proposed seminar is particularly timely in light of devolved nations’ interventions in response to Britain’s exit from the European Union.

This one-day seminar seeks to explore the level of consultation that the UK Government has with devolved administrations before signing treaties that affect devolved powers, during the monitoring processes for international human rights treaties, and how international law feeds into devolved legislation, and impacts on such issues as independence and secession.

We welcome papers, from a wide range of disciplinary perspectives and from early career researchers as well as more established academics, that discuss any aspect of the impact of devolution on the UK’s international legal practices, and the influence of international law over the UK’s devolved administrations.

Please submit abstracts by email to: y.mcdermott@bangor.ac.uk or hayley.roberts@bangor.ac.uk by Friday 21 April 2017. If you would like to register to attend this seminar without presenting a paper, please register online here: http://shop.bangor.ac.uk/product-catalogue/ysgol-y- gyfraith-school-of-law/workshop/devolved-nations-international-law-seminar 

Kindly supported by the Socio-Legal Studies Association and Bangor Law School

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The Republic of the Philippines v The People’s Republic of China: A question of jurisdiction

The dispute in the South China Sea continues to be played out on the global stage with no resolution yet in sight. Tensions endure as the Philippines pursues its quest for arbitral resolution, whilst China continues to stake its claims in the area despite the ongoing litigation. Satellite photographs have been released in recent months of Chinese barges enlarging the size of reefs and islands, and the building of airstrips and harbours to accommodate jets and warships. This demonstrates China’s determination to assert its ownership of virtually the entire South China Sea.

Image Credit: www.smh.com.au

[Image Credit: http://www.smh.com.au ]

The Philippines has challenged the basis of China’s territorial claims by way of arbitral proceedings, and lodged a Memorial in March 2014. The Arbitral Tribunal (for which the Permanent Court of Arbitration acts as a Registry) fixed 15 December 2014 as the date for China to submit a Counter-Memorial in response, however no such document has been forthcoming. The Chinese Government has previously stated in a Note Verbale that it will ‘neither accept nor participate in the arbitration unilaterally initiated by the Philippines.’  Article 287(3) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (LOSC), which both States are party to, requires States to select a preferred means of binding dispute resolution involving third parties, and if they fail to do so, arbitration under Annex VII becomes the default means – unless reservations have been made in writing with regard to optional exceptions (see below). As China and the Philippines have not agreed on a binding mechanism, they are deemed to have selected arbitration unless the aforementioned exceptions apply. Article 9 of that Annex provides for default of appearance; namely if one of the parties fails to appear before the arbitral tribunal, the other party may request that the tribunal continue its proceedings and make an award. This may well be the approach of the Tribunal in this case, as China refuses to participate.

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Will China force the USA’s hand to revisit the Law of the Sea Convention?

On 28th May, US President Barack Obama again called upon the US Senate to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (LOSC), following tension in the South China Sea. This area of the ocean is notoriously problematic, with China claiming sovereignty over almost all of the South China Seas and failing to recognise any rival claims from neighbouring States, such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Conflict appears to have been renewed afresh when Vietnam reported that a Chinese flagged vessel had intentionally struck two of its ships in the area at the beginning of May.

Although China has ratified the LOSC, it asserts that it has a historical claim over disputed islands that pre-date the 1982 treaty. On 1st June, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, Wang Guanzhong, speaking in the Shangri-La Dialogue, maintained that the Convention was “not the only point of reference” in adjusting sovereignty over islands and seas, strongly suggesting that mounting disputes and its membership of the Law of the Sea Convention would not cause it to reconsider the infamous ‘Nine Dash Line’ that demarcates its claim to the South China Sea. It takes this stance despite the fact that the Philippines filed a case with the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in March challenging its sovereignty (China having already made known its refusal to take part in any such arbitration).

Nine Dash Line, Source: BBC.com

At the same summit, US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, promised that the US would “not look the other way” whilst international law provisions were breached. However such statements would surely be more meaningful and persuasive if the USA itself had ratified the LOSC? Such a stance could appear to be hypocritical and difficult to take seriously. Although the Convention entered into force in 1994 and has since been ratified by 166 parties, the USA is yet to sign. The vote of at least two-thirds of the Senate is required to ratify a treaty, at least 67 Senators in this case. In 2012, 34 Republican Senators formally declared they would not support the ratification of the treaty; many feel that the LOSC would give the International Seabed Authority too much power over US commercial interests.

As tensions continue to escalate in the South China Seas, it will be noteworthy to see whether China will compel the US Senate to end its longstanding Democrat-Republican tug of war on this Convention. What’s more, if the US relents and signs the LOSC, however unlikely, what will its next move be? How will the US ratification of the treaty resolve these disputes and conflicting claims to land, sea and resources? It remains to be seen whether such talk by the USA will in fact lead to affirmative action or whether this is simply a shot across the bows.