The Legality of the United States’ Strike on Soleimani

On January 2, 2019, the United States carried out a drone strike at Baghdad airport in Iraq in which Qassem Soleimani, a high-level Iranian military leader, was murdered.  This post will analyze the legality of this particular United States’ use of force under international law as well as under U.S. domestic law.  Moreover, this post will discuss (negative) policy implications of this strike.

International Law

By launching an air strike on the territory of a sovereign nation (Iraq), which targeted a top-level military official of another sovereign nation (Iran), the United States used force against two other sovereign nations.  Such use of force is prohibited under Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter, and the United States thus violated its international law obligations under the Charter, unless the United States can demonstrate that the military strike was conducted pursuant to a Security Council authorization or in self-defense.  In this case, the United States acted alone, without seeking Security Council approval.  Thus, under international law, the only way that the United States could justify the drone strike and the resulting killing of Qassem Soleimani is through self-defense.

The traditional law of self-defense, as reflected in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter, allows a state to use force in self-defense if it has been subjected to an armed attack.  Moreover, the use of force in self-defense must respect the requirements of necessity and proportionality.  In this instance, even assuming that Soleimani was planning activities which would have been harmful to the United States’ national security interests, the United States had not suffered an armed attack by Soleimani/Iran and cannot rely on the traditional law of self-defense.  More recently, scholars (for a good recap of the law of anticipatory and pre-emptive self-defense, see here and here) and some states (United States in particular) have advanced more aggressive variants of self-defense, including preventive self-defense, pre-emptive self-defense, and the “unable or unwilling” standard.  The George W. Bush administration argued that force could be used in self-defense in a pre-emptive manner, against both terrorists as well as countries which harbor terrorists.  The strike against Soleimani could potentially be justified under pre-emptive self-defense, especially if evidence demonstrated that Soleimani was engaged in activities which posed a threat toward the United States.  However, pre-emptive self-defense is not a widely accepted interpretation of the international law of self-defense; it is not part of treaty or customary international law; even subsequent United States’ administrations have adopted different views on self-defense.  Thus, pre-emptive self-defense remains a controversial interpretation of the international law of self-defense.  The Obama Administration adopted a different approach by arguing that the United States could use force in compliance with the international law of self-defense against a state which was unable or unwilling to control non-state actors operating from within its territory, if such actors posed an imminent threat to the United States. Under the Obama Administration view of the right of self-defense, the United States’ strike against Soleimani cannot be easily justified because, even if Soleimani posed an imminent threat to the United States (it remains to be seen whether Soleimani was presently engaged in activities which would have posed an imminent threat against the United States), he was not a non-state actor, but rather an Iranian military official. It is thus questionable that the strike was lawful under the Obama Administration paradigm of self-defense paradigm.  Finally, the United States could possibly claim that it was acting in collective self-defense pursuant to Iraq’s request for help- that Iraq had requested assistance from the United States in acting against Soleimani/Iran.  As of now, there is no evidence that this was the case.  The U.S. troops were in Iraq to lend support in the fight against ISIS, and it appears that the United States launched this attack without Iraq’s knowledge or approval.  In fact, in response to the Soleimani strike, the Iraqi Parliament has voted a resolution which would expel U.S. troops from Iraq.  Thus, the collective self-defense argument has no merit for now.  The only way in which the Soleimani strike can be possibly justified under self-defense would be through the Bush Doctrine/preemptive self-defense.  As argued above, pre-emptive self-defense is not part of well-accepted international law as of today, and the Soleimani strike is illegal under international law.

Domestic Law

Under United States’ law, the President can use force against another sovereign nation pursuant to his constitutional authority as Commander-in Chief, or pursuant to specific congressional authorization to use force.  Congress has not authorized the president to use force against Iran.  Congress did authorize the president to use force against those who planned the September 11 attacks in 2001 (2001 AUMF), as well as to use force against Iraq in 2002 (2002 AUMF).  It is very difficult to link Soleimani to Al Qaeda/Taliban terrorists who planned the 9/11 attacks.  It is equally difficult to claim that Soleimani was operating in Iraq, and that the strike against him would somehow support the U.S. troops present in Iraq pursuant to the 2002 AUMF. Thus, the 2001 and 2002 AUMFs did not authorize the president to use military force in this particular instance.  The relevant question therefore becomes whether the president had inherent constitutional authority to act.  Although considerable debate exists about the scope of presidential power regarding the use of military force without congressional authorization, the executive branch, through several Office of Legal Counsel memoranda, has argued that the president has the authority to use force when: 1) there is an important national security interest in doing so; and 2) the use of force falls short of “war” in the traditional sense.  The executive branch has thus advanced the view that “military operations will likely rise to the level of a war only when characterized by ‘prolonged and substantial military engagements, typically involving exposure of U.S. military personnel to significant risk over a substantial period.’” Pursuant to this view, the executive branch has opined that the U.S. military activities in Haiti in the 1990s, the military strikes in Libya in 2011, as well as in Syria in 2018, did not cross the “war” threshold.

Moreover, the War Powers Resolution of 1973 imposes an additional limitation on the president’s authority to conduct military operations without explicit congressional approval.  The War Powers Resolution specifies that the president may introduce U.S. armed forces into hostilities only if there is a 1) declaration of war; 2) specific statutory authorization; or 3) a national emergency created by an attack against the United States.  The War Powers Resolution also requires that relevant military operations be terminated after a defined period of time (60 days), unless Congress specifically authorizes further military action, as well as that the president report to Congress within 48 hours of engaging in hostilities.  In this instance, the Trump Administration has actually provided a classified report to Congress under the War Powers Resolution, two days after the drone strike which killed Soleimani.  As of now, the report is classified and it is impossible to know what type of rationale the administration has provided to Congress. Presumably, the Trump Administration believes that the strike falls within the War Powers Resolution limitations on presidential authority to conduct military attacks as the Administration has provided a post-strike report to Congress.

In light of the above, the strike against Soleimani would be legal under U.S. domestic law only if the strike was in the U.S. national security interest, if the strike did not constitute “war,” and if the strike did not lead U.S. troops into “hostilities” under the War Power Resolution.   It is debatable whether the strike was in the U.S. national security interest now – although many experts agree that Soleimani had been a threat to the United States, it is unclear if he was presently involved in planning attacks against the United States.  Moreover, it is uncertain whether the strike falls short of “war.”  In addition to the executive branch test mentioned above (“prolonged and sustained military operations”), Office of Legal Counsel memoranda have suggested that the use of force may constitute “war” if such force is used against another sovereign nation without such nation’s consent, and if there is a high likelihood of escalation.  In this instance, the relevant question to ask is whether the strike is likely to lead U.S. troops to enter prolonged and sustained military operations with a high likelihood of escalation (the strike was clearly conduct4ed without Iraq’s consent).  If the answer to this inquiry is positive, then the president’s action would be illegal under U.S. law.  Finally, it is unclear whether the military strike against Soleimani constitutes a “hostility” under the War Powers Resolution.  The Obama and the Trump administrations have taken the position that providing aerial refueling and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen falls short of introducing U.S. troops into “hostilities.” It may be argued that the killing of another nation’s military leader is an action much more likely to lead U.S. troops to enter “hostilities” than an action conducted to provide aerial refueling or intelligence support.  In sum, it is debatable whether the military strike which killed Soleimani is legal under domestic law.  In order to reach this determination, one would have to conclude that the strike was in the U.S. national security interest, that it did not amount to war, and that it would not lead U.S. troops to enter into hostilities.  In light of the ongoing crisis with Iran, and the fact that Iran is state with a strong military, as well as with developing nuclear technology, it is likely that the strike will lead to an escalating military conflict.  Thus, it is more than reasonable to conclude that the strike was not conducted pursuant to domestic legal authority, because the president did not seek requisite congressional authorization and did not have inherent constitutional authority to act.

Policy

Finally, even assuming that the strike was lawful under international and domestic law, the strike did not amount to good policy.  First, the strike may portray the United States as a rogue actor in the Middle East, willing to carry out assassinations against those whom its perceives as enemies.  This image of the United States may limit its ability to build strategic alliances with other countries in the Middle East as well as with other global partners.  Second, the strike may provoke revenge and retaliation by Iran.  Iran could attack Americans in the Middle East, could pursue attacks or other aggressive actions against Israel, an important U.S. ally, and could act through various proxies to destabilize the Middle East.  Iran will likely  re-initiate its nuclear weapons development programs, as it has already announced that it is abandoning the Nuclear Agreement which it had signed with the United States and several European countries; this will pose an additional threat in the region.  Third, the strike has already caused a backlash from other countries and non-state/terrorist actors.  As mentioned above, the Iraqi Parliament has voted to expel U.S. troops from Iraq.  United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed “deep concern” over the U.S. strike against Soleimani; Russia has condemned the strike, and several Americans were killed in a terrorist attack in Kenya.  Fourth, it is unclear how the strike furthers United States’ national security and foreign policy.  As mentioned above, there is no credible information to suggest that Soleimani was engaged in present-day terrorist activity against the United States, and his elimination does not protect the United States any further, nor does it advance any particular foreign policy in the Middle East.  In fact, the strike is likely to cause conflict in this already volatile region and to potentially drag the United States into another war.  In sum, the strike is illegal under international law, very likely illegal under domestic law, and definitely bad policy.

ICC Assembly of States Parties Symposium: Overall Update and Reflections & the Afghanistan Hearing

Guest Post By Jennifer Trahan, Clinical Professor, NYU Center for Global Affairs

ASP Photo 1

Members of Civil Society Organizations at the 2019 ICC Assembly of States Parties 

Milena Sterio has already blogged about two of the side-events held, and Valerie Oosterveld has provided an update on the progress made during various days of the ASP.  This blog post will provide an update on a few issues covered during the ASP, and on the hearings held simultaneously (December 4-6) at the International Criminal Court regarding the appeal of the rejection of the Prosecutor’s application to proceed with the Afghanistan investigation.  I was able to attend both the ASP as well as segments of the Afghanistan hearing, and also serve as an amicus on the Afghanistan appeal.

The ASP, chaired by ASP President Judge O-Gon Kwon, culminated in the adoption of seven resolutions by consensus on:  amendments to article 8 of the Rome Statute (adding starvation as a war crime when committed in non-international armed conflict), cooperation, the nomination and election of judges, the proposed programme budget for 2020, the remuneration of judges, review of the International Criminal Court and the Rome Statute system, and strengthening the International Criminal Court and the Assembly of States Parties (a/k/a the “omnibus resolution”).  The Assembly also elected six members of the Committee on Budget and Finance and a member to fill a vacancy, and a member of the Advisory Committee on nominations of judges.  In addition to the General Debate, there were thematic plenary sessions on cooperation and the review of the Court, and a large number of civil society and State Party-sponsored “side-events.”  (Press release, ICC-CPI-20191206-PR1505.)

The Review Process

One of the aspects that made this ASP different from past ASPs was the creation of a review process for review of the work of the Court and the Rome Statute system.  Calls for the creation of such a process came after the launch of politically-motivated attacks against the Court, as well as a motivation to strengthen certain aspects of the ICC’s work.  After many drafts this fall of the terms of reference for an independent expert review, it was determined that the review would focus on three areas: (1) governance, (2) judiciary, and (3) prosecution and investigation.  After submissions to the ASP President of nominations of the names of over 60 experts, President Kwon selected the final list of names, with three experts nominated under each category.  This list was then approved at the final ASP session.  This review process will run in parallel with certain review efforts to be addressed directly by the ASP.  There was debate both during the ASP about how the expert review would be implemented, and at least some concern that not all states necessarily seem to fully share the goal of strengthening the ICC.  It was noticeable that some states during the ASP and this past fall were calling for a “reform” process, whereas most agreed that the process was to be a “review” process aimed at strengthening the Court.  NGOs and States Parties have also undertaken to strengthen the process for the nomination and election of ICC judges, with some modest progress made in a resolution adopted on the topic.

 The Afghanistan hearing

ASP Photo 2

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda addressing delegates at the ICC Assembly of States Parties 

Prosecutor Fatou Bensounda and ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji had opened the ASP Plenary Session on December 2 with frank calls about the need to support the ICC as it faced politically-motivated attacks against its work, with the Prosecutor expressing her firm commitment to proceeding notwithstanding.  The timing was such that the ICC Appeals Chamber would simultaneously during the ASP conduct hearings on the appeal of the dismissal of the Prosecutor’s request that the Afghanistan preliminary examination proceed to the investigation phase.

The Pre-Trial Chamber had on April 12, 2019 determine that the Afghanistan preliminary examination met the grounds to proceed under Rome Statute Article 15—that there was a “reasonable basis to believe that the incidents underlying the [Prosecutor’s] [r]equest occurred” and “may constitute crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court” (Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute on the Authorisation of an Investigation into the Situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’ of 12 April 2019, para. 60).  Yet, the Pre-Trial Chamber notwithstanding held that it was not “in the interests of justice” under Rome Statute Article 53 (1) (c) to open the investigation based on the Pre-Trial Chamber’s de novo assessment of the application of that phrase (paras. 91-96).

The first day of the appeals hearing (December 4) focused on two procedural questions – whether “victims” had standing to be part of the appeal, and whether the appeal was one related to “jurisdiction.”  The second two days (December 5 and 6) focused on the merits of the argument—what the phrase “the interests of justice” was meant to address, and whether the Pre-Trial Chamber properly assessed the issue, and whether it properly construed the factors by which to evaluate application of the phrase.  This blog post won’t cover all the arguments, but on the day I attended (December 6), the amici present presented extremely persuasive cases that the Pre-Trial Chamber erred in its assessment, including a strong presentation by former US War Crimes Ambassador David Scheffer.

The Appeals Chamber’s ruling is extremely significant not only as to whether the Afghanistan investigation—involving alleged crimes by the Taliban, Afghan authorities, as well as US nationals—may proceed, but some of the criteria utilized by the Pre-Trial Chamber in evaluating whether to open the investigation represent extremely unworkable ones that potentially could jeopardize whether many of the ICC’s preliminary examinations are able to proceed.  Thus, the ruling has potential importance far beyond the Afghanistan situation.  I was privileged to submit a written amicus brief—as amici were asked to present either a brief or to present oral arguments.  All the written amicus submissions addressing “the interests of justice” agreed that the Pre-Trial Chamber had erred in its assessment.

The release of the annual report on Preliminary Examinations

While Valerie Oosterveld has already blogged about the Prosecutor’s release on Thursday, December 5, 2019, of her office’s annual Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, I will just note that the report has a new section covering “Phase 1” of Preliminary Examinations.  The Report (para. 23) explains that during “Phase 1”, the OTP analyzes all communications received pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute using the following criteria:

whether the allegations contained therein concerned: (i) matters which are manifestly outside of the jurisdiction of the Court; (ii) a situation already under preliminary examination; (iii) a situation already under investigation or forming the basis of a prosecution; or (iv) matters which are neither manifestly outside of the Court’s jurisdiction nor related to an existing preliminary examination, investigation or prosecution, and therefore warrant further factual and legal analysis by the Office.

This new section contains discussion of:  North Korea (dual nationals), North Korea (overseas laborers on the territories of States Parties), and Philippines (South China Sea).

At the Prosecutor’s accompanying briefing on Friday December 6, 2019, many representatives of States Parties and members of civil society were present.  Civil society members voiced several extremely heartfelt pleas for the OTP to make more progress in various of the situation countries.  While being sensitive to these interventions, the Prosecutor also explained the reality that the current budget and the limitations it imposes will force her office to “prioritize,” thereby delaying the OTP’s work in some situations.

 The impressive number and diversity of side-events & civil society engagement

While a few side-events have already been covered by prior blog posts, the sheer number of events (related to justice in Myanmar, Darfur, Syria, and many, many more) was extremely impressive.  My only regret was that (with the ASP shortened to 5 actual and 6 scheduled days), it was impossible to attend many of the side-events as a number occurred simultaneously.  The ASP has become quite a gathering place for civil society members from around the world and States Parties interested in advancing (through many different approaches) the pursuit of international justice as well as prosecution of core crimes within national court systems.

The participation of civil society in large numbers at each ASP is largely attributable to the tireless work of the Coalition for the International Criminal Court (“CICC”).  The CICC was ably convened this year by Melinda Reed as Acting Convenor following the retirement of William R. Pace.

The Rome Statute and Cyberwarfare

While many side-events deserve their own blog posts, I will call attention to one that addresses a relatively new area (for ICC followers at least).  It was a side-event held Monday December 2 entitled “The Application of the Rome Statute to Cyberwarfare:  The International Criminal Court’s Jurisdiction over the Crime of Aggression.”  The panel featured Stefan Barriga (Minister and Deputy Ambassador, Liechtenstein Embassy in Brussels) as moderator, and myself and Don Ferencz (Convenor of the Global Institute for the Prevention of Aggression) as panelists.  It was sponsored by Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Liechtenstein, and The Global Institute for the Prevention of Aggression.

The discussion focused on how a cyberattack (if it reached a certain threshold of gravity) could potentially be covered by the ICC’s crime of aggression, particularly if launched by a state actor, and how a cyberattack by a non-state actor potentially could be covered by Article 8 war crimes and Article 7 crimes against humanity.  These issues will be pursued further in meetings of the newly formed Council of Advisors on the Application of the Rome Statute to Cyberwarfare, co-sponsored by Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Estonia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Spain, Switzerland, and The Global Institute for the Prevention of Aggression, and Chaired by Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein to the United Nations.  Focus on the application of the Rome Statute to cyberwarfare illustrates one of the ways that the Rome Statute is potentially broad enough to address new challenges and new forms of warfare, and presents an area that should be of interest to many states that are increasingly facing such attacks.  It might even persuade some States Parties that have not yet ratified the ICC crime of aggression amendment, to see it in a potentially new light.

 Challenges ahead

With a huge number of preliminary examinations and investigations, the ICC has much work facing it, and it will be a challenge how much can be accomplished both due to budgetary limitations but also a frequently hostile political landscape.  For example, when both the Philippines and Burundi withdrew from the Rome Statute, while those countries are supposed to have continuing obligations to cooperate with the ICC, for the OTP to move forward most certainly becomes much more difficult.  While the reasoning contained within the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision dismissing the OTP’s request to proceed with the Afghanistan investigation seems weak, if the Appeals Chamber reverses the decision and the Court proceeds, there undoubtedly will be significant hurdles to face.  Yet, at the end of the day, that seems exactly what the Court was designed to do:  to pursue difficult cases, particularly against high-level accused, where national systems are unwilling or unable to do so—remembering that there is always the initial choice for national authorities to conduct their own investigations and/or prosecutions, obviating the need for the ICC to play any role.  Additional challenges will be to ensure that at the conclusion of the review process, the ICC and ASP ensure that recommendations designed to strengthen the Court are effectively implemented.

ICC Assembly of States Parties Symposium: A Recap of Two Excellent Side Events

As a delegate of the Public International Law and Policy Group, I recently attended the 18th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  In addition to general debates among states parties regarding issues such as funding, election of new judges, and the general well-being of the court, various interesting side events took place, sponsored by states and NGOs.  This post will briefly highlight two such side events – the first on The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence, and the second on Timing and Duration of Decision-Making at the ICC.

The first side event, “The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence – Translating the lived experience of sexual violence survivors into law and policy,” was sponsored by Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice (WIGJ) and by Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Ireland, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.

The panel was moderated by Melinda Reed from WIGJ, and panelists included Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the ICC, Patricia Sellers, Special Advisor on Gender to the Office of the Prosecutor, Toufah Jallow, Toufah Foundation, Wayne Jordash, Global Rights Compliance, and Howard Morrison, ICC Judge.  Opening remarks were delivered by the Swedish Director-General for Legal Affairs, H.E., Mr. Carl Magnus Nesser, and closing remarks were delivered by the Ambassador of Australia to the Netherlands, H.E. Mr. Matthew Neuhaus.  Prosecutor Bensouda briefly spoke about her office’s efforts in prosecuting sexual violence offenders, and she emphasized the importance of the Ntaganda case, and this defendant’s conviction for crimes of sexual violence.  Judge Morrison spoke about the difficulty of prosecuting and judging cases involving survivors of sexual violence, who may be unwilling to come forward and testify because of their culture and/or because of the inherent necessity of reliving the trauma which court testimony would entail.  Special Advisor Seller highlighted the importance of case law in understanding how to prosecute future crimes of sexual violence, and Wayne Jordash described some of the difficulties associated with the international prosecution of crimes of sexual violence, as well as the failure to prosecute sexual crimes in the Lubanga cases.  The most poignant moments of this panel, however, included remarks by Toufah Jallow, a young Gambian woman who recently came forward and accused the former Gambian president of rape and sexual violence.  Ms. Jallow, who presently lives in Canada, spoke candidly about the assault, violence, and rape which she suffered at the hands of the then-Gambian president, who, according to Ms. Jallow, used sexual violence against her in order to punish her because she had rejected his offer of employment.  Ms. Jallow emphasized the necessity to use concrete language when describing circumstances of sexual assault, as well as the need to overcome cultural barriers and speak out against rape and sexual assault.  Ms. Jallow described how her own mother, who still lives in the Gambia, presently needed security, and how her mother may still believe that “a good African woman is supposed to remain silent” – event if subjected to rape and sexual violence.  Ms. Jallow confirmed that she has already testified before the Gambian national truth commission, where she has repeated the same accusation against the former president.  Finally, Ms. Jallow urged everyone to consider survivors of sexual violence as activists, and not simply as victims.

Finally, several panelists spoke about The Hague Principles on Sexual Violence, which can be found here: https://4genderjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/The-Hague-Principles-on-Sexual-Violence.pdf 

According to some of the panelists, these Principles will hopefully become an important tool in prosecuting crimes of sexual violence.

The second side event, “It’s about time – revising the timing and duration of decision-making at the ICC,” was sponsored by the Wayamo Foundation and Austria, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, and the United Kingdom.  Speakers included Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Lichtenstein to the United Nations, Elizabeth Evenson, Associate Director, Human Rights Watch, Lorraine Smith Van Lin, Post-conflict justice advisor, REDRESS, Shehzad Charania, Director of the UK Attorney General’s Office and International Law Advisor to the Prime Minister’s Office, and Mark Kersten, Senior Consultant, Wayamo Foundation, as moderator.  Panelists addressed the ICC’s perceived inefficiency – the court’s seemingly long disposition of various investigations and cases.  The panelists acknowledged that the ICC has handled a relatively small number of cases since its inception, and that some investigations and cases have taken a long time.  At the same time, the panelists nuanced these remarks by noting that the court was an international adjudicative body with a wide mandate and complex cases, and that because of these unique characteristics, the ICC could not be easily compared to a domestic jurisdiction which may handle cases much more speedily.  The panelists also warned that efficiency should not trump due process rights and that cutting corners within investigations, for the sake of speeding up proceedings, would not be a desirable result.

In addition to the above-described events, this year’s ASP will feature dozens of equally fascinating side events and more general debate among states parties.  Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CFP: American Society of International Law International Criminal Law Interest Group Workshop

The ASIL International Criminal Law Interest Group invites proposals for its annual Works-in-Progress workshop, which will be held on January 31, 2020 at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio.  All interested participants should submit an abstract (500 words maximum) by December 20, 2019, via email to ASIL International Criminal Law Interest Group Co-Chairs, Andrew Boyle (jandrewboyle@gmail.com) and Milena Sterio (m.sterio@csuohio.edu).  Please also include a sentence about the stage the paper is expected to be in January (e.g., reasonably complete draft, early work in progress, etc.).  The workshop will include both works-in-progress as well as full drafts.  Papers may address any international criminal law topic, and this Call for Proposals is open to everyone in the international criminal law community.  Preference will be given to ASIL members who are also members of the ASIL-International Criminal Law Interest Group.  Paper presenters will be asked to circulate their drafts (or a summary of the project if it is still in an early stage) to workshop attendees no later than January 20, 2020.

Those interested in serving as a commentator for a paper should also send an email to the Co-Chairs, Andrew Boyle and Milena Sterio, by December 15, 2020.  Commentators will be asked to prepare five to eight minutes of comments on one of the papers. Those interested in presenting should let it be known if they are willing to serve as commentators as well. All Cleveland-Marshall College of Law faculty, staff, and students may attend for free. Participants who are not ASIL members or Cleveland State University affiliates will be required to pay a $40 registration fee (includes workshop and meals) for the conference. All meals will be provided, but participants are responsible for their own travel and hotel expenses.

For any questions, please contact Co-Chairs, Andrew Boyle (jandrewboyle@gmail.com) or Milena Sterio (m.sterio@csuohio.edu).

International Law Weekend 2019

From October 10-12, 2019, the American Branch of the International Law Association
will convene its annual International Law Weekend (ILW) conference in New York City.
The theme of ILW 2019 is The Resilience of International Law.

ILW 2019 begins Thursday evening, October 10, 2019, at the New York City Bar
Association (42 W. 44th Street) with the Opening Plenary Panel. Moderated by ABILA
President Leila Sadat, speakers include H.E. Judge Kimberly Prost (International
Criminal Court), Mr. Miguel de Serpa Soares (U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Legal
Affairs), and Dr. Christopher Ward SC (President of the International Law
Association). A reception sponsored by Debevoise & Plimpton immediately follows the
Plenary Panel. The conference continues Friday and Saturday, October 11-12, 2019, at Fordham University School of Law (150 West 62nd Street) and features 35 panels on a range of topics. Keynote speakers include Professor William Burke-White (Director of Perry World House, University of Pennsylvania Law School ) and Ambassador Stephen Rapp (Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues). Multiple panels are
designated for continuing legal education (CLE) credit.

ILW 2019 presents an opportunity for policymakers, practitioners, academics, and
students of international law to take stock of the recent successes and failures of
international law while reaffirming its resilience to tackle future challenges. ILW 2019
seeks to answer whether its theme—The Resilience of International Law—is a question
or an affirmation.
Registration is required to attend International Law Weekend. ABILA offers free
admission to students and charges a nominal fee to others thanks to the generous support of our sponsors. For more information or to register, visit the event website at http://www.ilaamericanbranch.org/ilw.

Interview with Professor Noura Erakat

Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney and assistant professor at George Mason University. She has served as legal counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives and as a legal advocate for Palestinian refugee rights at the United Nations. Noura’s research interests include human rights and humanitarian, refugee, and national security law. She is a frequent commentator, with recent appearances on CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NPR, among others, and her writings have been widely published in the national media and academic journals.

 

pid_26507Noura Erakat’s book, Justice For Some: Law and the Question of Palestine, was just published by Stanford University Press. I had the honor of interviewing Noura Erakat regarding her new book. The interview is transcribed below.

Milena Sterio: your book addresses an important topic – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – but a topic that many others have already researched and written about. How is your book, Justice for Some, different? What is your “hook”?

Noura Erakat: This book is about the relationship between international law and politics and shows how that relationship narrates the Palestinian struggle for freedom between 1917-2017. Organized chronologically, the book focusses on five different and key junctures in Palestinian history, to explain how the situation evolved to the present day and to show that the law is both the site of oppression and resistance. The book also makes a theoretical intervention by emphasizing the role of legal work, as defined by Duncan Kennedy, in determining the meaning of law and its dynamic ability to change across time and space.

Milena Sterio: What role has law, and international law in particular, played in the story of Palestine, and how does your book tackle these issues?

Noura Erakat: Although international law has not commanded conduct nor effectively punished transgressions, I show that it has been incredibly consequential. Israel’s legal workers have used it to legitimize Israeli military action in Gaza as well as provide a legal analysis that has facilitated the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It also shows how Palestinian legal workers have used it to inscribe their juridical status as a nation in international law and institutions as well as legitimate their use of force. The book explains how the law has become the site of struggle between Israeli and Palestinian legal workers, and the law has been used to justify oppression by the former, but also to inform resistance by the latter.

Milena Sterio: Was part of your goal in writing this book to offer a different historical narrative about Palestine?

Noura Erakat: Yes – most of Palestinian history has been viewed through the lens of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict- a framework that obfuscates the power imbalance between Israel- a state, the only nuclear power in the Middle East, and the 11th most powerful army in the world and Palestinians, a stateless people. I explicitly frame the book as one about the Palestinian struggle for freedom and draw on an alternative archive of Palestinian scholarship. This is especially unique in regard to scholarship on law and Palestine because that is dominated by Israeli scholars and scholarship, thus making their legal work appear as the norm.

Milena Sterio: How did you research Palestinian history? Did you travel to the region? Did you interview any historical figures?

Noura Erakat: I used a combination of legal analysis, archival research, and primary interviews for my research. I spent time in a rich archive at the American University of Beirut library; I also spent a significant amount of time in the Ramallah and Beirut offices of the Institute for Policy Studies which curates a remarkable archive that includes Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) annual yearbooks. There was a dearth of information on certain junctures including the negotiations that culminate in the Oslo Accords as well as the 1970s when the PLO turns to the United Nations and embarks on legal advocacy. To fill this lacuna, I conducted primary interviews. For example, I reconstruct the negotiations process by interviewing Palestinian negotiators who had participated in the Madrid and Washington negotiations. By doing this, I was able to describe, in this book, a completely different story about the Oslo Accords- one that did not just document how bad of a legal agreement it was for Palestinian interests but that also explained how and why the PLO ultimately endorses it. Much of this story has not been told before.

Milena Sterio: Who is the audience for this book?

Noura Erakat: This book is for a general audience – so anyone who wants to understand the Question of Palestine can benefit from it- in a formal classrooms teaching Middle East studies and beyond. its emphasis on law and its use of critical legal theory will make it particularly appealing to law students, practitioners, and scholars. I wrote this book as a tool of Palestinian knowledge production, where Palestinians are not portrayed simply as victims but instead where they play a central role in shaping the narrative.

Milena Sterio: Does your book offer any policy recommendations for the future?

Noura Erakat: No, this book does not offer policy recommendations. One of the goals of the book is to have a different conversation about Palestine that is not bound by the centrality of preserving Zionist settler sovereignty. It does this by proposing a different way to think about possibilities for the future by recasting the return of Palestinian refugees as the beginning of new futures rather than as the ultimate outcome of Palestinian struggle. How does the presence of six million refugees become an opportunity to forge new political communities that disrupt stark native/settler binaries? What is it that Palestinians have to offer to Jewish Israelis better than what Israel has been able to offer them? It also urges for abandoning a sovereignty framework – which has established the incommensurability of Palestinian and Zionist settler sovereignty – in favor of a framework of belonging which is not mutually exclusive. Part of this thought exercise is to think of what it would take to make Israel a part of the Middle East, rather than a satellite state in the Middle East. I suggest that this requires Jewish Israelis to accept and embrace everything indigenous to the region as the first step.

Milena Sterio: What is next on your research agenda? Do you have other projects lined up about the region or the conflict?

Noura Erakat: I have several research projects lined up. One research project looks at framing Israel’s shoot-to-kill policy in Gaza as a form of settler-colonial eliminatory violence. I am writing another article on the topic of surveillance and settler colonialism using Israel’s encroachment in one Palestinian village as a case study. And I have an additional project about the work of Israeli lawyers in the field of national security law.

My next book project begins where this book ends: namely at the “sovereignty trap,” which I define as a political arrangement of derivative sovereignty featuring native collaboration with settler-colonial and imperial powers, whereby good native behavior is rewarded with limited autonomy and perpetual subjugation. I am examining contemporary renewals of Black Palestinian transnational solidarity to explore the potential for freedom in excess of sovereignty. At this stage, my research consists primarily of interviews with activists involved in this movement.

ICJ Advisory Opinion in the Chagos Archipelago Case: Self-Determination Re-Examined?

On February 25, 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) delivered an advisory opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Separation of the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius in 1965.  The advisory opinion had been requested of the court through a General Assembly resolution in 2017, on the following legal question:

(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?

ICJ answered the first question in the negative, and concluded that the decolonization process of Mauritius had not been lawfully completed at the time of Mauritian independence.  And the court held, on the second question, that the United Kingdom was under an obligation to bring to end its administration of the islands as rapidly as possible.  This post will provide a brief factual background regarding the Chagos Archipelago, as well as a succinct legal analysis of the world court’s reasoning and ultimate conclusions.

Where is the Chagos Archipelago and what was its relationship to the United Kingdom and Mauritius prior to Mauritian independence in 1968? Between 1814 and 1965, the Chagos Archipelago was administered by the United Kingdom as a dependency of the colony of Mauritius.  In 1964, during a time when the  United Kingdom was contemplating decolonizing Mauritius, the United States expressed an interest (to the United Kingdom) in establishing a military base on one of Chagossian islands, Diego Garcia.  In 1965, the United Kingdom concluded the co-called Lancaster Agreement with the representatives of the colony of Mauritius.  Through the Lancaster Agreement, the U.K. and Mauritius “agreed in principle to the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago from the territory of Mauritius. This agreement in principle was given on condition that the archipelago could not be ceded to any third party and would be returned to Mauritius at a later date, a condition which was accepted at the time by the United Kingdom.” (para. 171).  After this Agreement, the United Kingdom detached the Chagos Archipelago from Mauritius.  In 1965, the United Kingdom also concluded an agreement with the United States, allowing the latter to build a military base on Diego Garcia.  By 1971, all of the inhabitants of Diego Garcia were forced to relocate from the island by the United Kingdom authorities and the United States proceeded to build a military base on the island.  Mauritius (without Chagos Islands) obtained independence from the United Kingdom in 1968; according to a former Mauritian Prime Minister, Mauritius had no choice but to agree to the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago prior to independence.  As of today, the United States still operates a military base in Diego Garcia (the U.S. – U.K. agreement of 1965, allowing the U.S. to operate a military base in Diego Garcia, has been extended).  The Chagossians have been dispersed, since the early 1970s, in Mauritius, the Seychelles, and the United Kingdom.  By virtue of U.K. law, they have not been allowed to return to the Chagos Archipelago.

How did the ICJ reason in this advisory opinion, and how did it reach its ultimate conclusions? First, the ICJ held that it had jurisdiction over the dispute because the request from the General Assembly for this advisory opinion constituted a “legal question” pursuant to article 65 of the court’s statute (para. 58).  Second, the ICJ held that, in its discretion, it should not decline to exercise jurisdiction over this case.  The court reasoned that it had enough factual information to answer the legal questions asked (paras. 69-74), that it was not for the court to decline jurisdiction based on the argument that the court’s opinion would not assist the General Assembly, as this is for the General Assembly itself to decide (paras.  75-78), and that it was not precluded through the principles of res judicata from rendering this advisory opinion (because the U.K. and Mauritius had arbitrated a slightly different dispute before an arbitral tribunal, and because the U.K. and Mauritius are not the same parties in the present request for an advisory opinion) (paras.  79-80).  Moreover, the ICJ rejected the argument that it should decline jurisdiction because the request for an advisory opinion would force the court to settle a territorial dispute between two states, the U.K. and Mauritius, which had not both consented to the court’s jurisdiction over this dispute (paras. 83-91).  Instead, the ICJ held that “the purpose of the request is for the General Assembly to receive the Court’s assistance so that it may be guided in the discharge of its functions relating to the decolonization of Mauritius.” (para.  86).

After answering the jurisdictional challenges, the ICJ turned to the merits.  The court examined the right to self-determination under customary law, and whether this right existed under customary law in the late 1960s, at the time that the U.K. decolonized Mauritius.  According to the ICJ, General Assembly Resolution 1514 of 1960 “represents a defining moment in the consolidation of State practice on decolonization” (para. 150) and “[t]he wording used in resolution 1514 (XV) has a normative character, in so far as it affirms that ‘[a]ll peoples have the right to self-determination.'” (para. 153).  Moreover, according to the court, “[b]oth State practice and opinio juris at the relevant time confirm the customary law character of the right to territorial integrity of a non-self-governing territory as a corollary of the right to self-determination.” (para. 160).  Thus, the ICJ concluded that the right of self-determination was a part of customary law in 1968, at the time of Mauritian independence.  Next, the court concluded that the people of Mauritius, through the Lancaster Agreement of 1965, did not freely consent to the detachment of the Chagos Archipelago (para. 172), and that the decolonization of Mauritius was thus not lawfully completed, as it did not respect the relevant principles of self-determination.  In light of this conclusion, the court found that “the United Kingdom’s continued administration of the Chagos Archipelago constitutes a wrongful act entailing the international responsibility of that State” (para. 177) and that “the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring an end to its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible, thereby enabling Mauritius to complete the decolonization of its territory in a manner consistent with the right of peoples to self-determination” (para. 178).  Moreover, the ICJ concluded that because “respect for the right to self-determination is an obligation erga omnes, all States have a legal interest in protecting that right” and “while it is for the General Assembly to pronounce on the modalities required to ensure the completion of the decolonization of Mauritius, all Member States must co-operate with the United Nations to put those modalities into effect” (para. 180).

Why did the court (likely) decide the way it did, and what does this all mean? First, it is important to note that the court’s decision was virtually unanimous: the judges unanimously determined that the court had jurisdiction; by twelve votes to two, the judges decided to comply with the request to render the advisory opinion (Judges Tomka and Donoghue against); by thirteen votes to one, the judges reached their substantive conclusions (Judge Donoghue against).  Second, as Marko Milanovic has argued, the outcome of this case may demonstrate how important the framing of the legal question is (“by avoiding the use of the term ‘sovereignty’, Mauritius and the GA defused the likelihood of the Court dismissing the case as involving a bilateral dispute”).  This may explain, in part, why the ICJ judges ultimately reached the conclusions above – that the narrow and clever wording of the advisory opinion request allowed the ICJ to reach particular legal conclusions without having to address issues of U.K. and/or Mauritian sovereignty.  Third, I agree with Marko Milanovic that the ICJ’s discussion of the most fundamental and difficult issue – whether the right of self-determination was part of customary law in 1968, at the time of Mauritian decolonization – was too brief, too rushed, and insufficiently developed in terms of legal analysis.  Fourth, the ICJ did not explain how the people of Mauritius could have freely exercised their right to self-determination (when they consented to the separation of the Chagos Archipelago): was the U.K. at an obligation to conduct a popular referendum in Mauritius on this issue, or were there other modalities of self-determination available in 1968? Fifth, it is clear that this outcome is a big loss for the U.K., as the ICJ most clearly stated that the Mauritian decolonization was not lawfully completed and that the U.K. was under an obligation to end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago immediately. Sixth, it may be argued that the outcome of this case is a loss for other countries, such as the U.S., as the ICJ concluded that all states were under an obligation to co-operate with the United Nations to ensure the completion of the decolonization of Mauritius (does this mean that the U.S. is now under an obligation to dismantle its military base on Diego Garcia?) Seventh, it may also be argued that the ICJ missed another opportunity to pronounce itself on the contours of the right of self-determination, like in the Kosovo Advisory Opinion.  The legal question in this advisory opinion concerned the right to self-determination directly; instead of quickly concluding that the right was part of customary law in 1968, the court could have included a more detailed legal analysis of the content and modalities of the right of self-determination under customary law.

It remains to be seen how the U.K. (or the U.S.) will react to this advisory opinion, whether the U.S. will be willing to negotiate the relocation of its military base in Diego Garcia, and whether the people of the Chagos Arhipelago may be allowed to return to their home land.