The Crime of Aggression: Still a live issue

Liechtenstein hosted a panel this morning at the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) titled “The ICC’s Jurisdiction Over the Crime of Aggression”. This panel sought to discuss the significance and broader context of the crime of aggression. Panelists included IntLawGrrl Jennifer Trahan, Professor at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University, David Donat Cattin, Secretary-General of Parliamentarians for Global Action, and Donald Ferencz, the Convenor of the Global Institute on the Prevention of Aggression. This panel complemented many of the comments that States made at the General Debate session held yesterday that continued after this panel on the activation of the crime of aggression.

Many States Parties made supportive statements on the activation of the crime of aggression during the General Debate on Day 1 that continued after Liechtenstein’s panel today on Day 2. Austria spoke on behalf of the European Union (EU) in support of the activation of the crime of aggression, and all EU member states commented that they supported Austria’s statement. Most notably, however, France was quite critical of the Kampala Amendments as promoting division amongst States Parties when the focus should be universality. China as well was critical of the Amendments, stating that the International Criminal Court (ICC) should not undermine the Security Council, as it is this body that is responsible for upholding international peace and security. Given that China is a permanent member of the Security Council and is not a party to the ICC, this comment is not surprising. Many states commented that they are in the process of ratifying the Amendments, which was a welcome announcement, including Paraguay and Greece.

During the panel, Jennifer Trahan began the discussion with an analysis of the text of Article 8bis of the Rome Statute which enumerates the crime of aggression. As discussed in my previous post, Trahan stated that the language in Article 8bis derives from the London Statute of the Nuremberg Tribunal and that the crime of aggression is not meant to encompass all violations of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, but manifest violations. Manifest violations, she clarified, are those that are super clear and not in a grey zone. She also discussed the novel jurisdictional regime that exists within the crime of aggression with regard to state and proprio motu referrals compared to the other three international crimes:  non-States Parties to the Rome Statute are completely excluded from the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression; not all States Parties are automatically covered by 15bis jurisdiction; and there is an opt-out method for States to opt out of the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime.

ASP

Photo credit: coalitionfortheicc.org

David Donat Cattin held a very positive view on the activation of the crime of aggression and discussed some of the progress being made for further ratifications. He referenced the Austrian delegate’s support for the activation of the crime of aggression on behalf of the EU and hoped that this statement would have an impact on other EU member states to encourage their ratification. He also mentioned that the Dominican Republic will be voting on whether to ratify the amendment in the next year. He added that the Central African Republic is likely to join because they are subjected to foreign interference on all sides. He also mentioned that South Africa highlighted the historic significance of the Kampala Amendments at the General Debate, so this may indicate its ratification in the next year.

Donald Ferencz completed the panel with some very engaging comments that started with this statement: “the rule of law is for the little people”. He commented that a state like Liechtenstein, who has ratified the Amendments, is likely not about to commit the crime of aggression, but two permanent members of the Security Council who are also States Parties to the Rome Statute (referencing the UK and France) have not ratified the Amendments. This sends the message that this law/crime is not for bigger states like the UK and France, but is for the smaller states, who are unlikely to be the ones committing the crime in the first place. This was quite an interesting comment in light of France’s statement regarding the Kampala Amendments promoting division at the General Debate yesterday.

One quite interesting debate that evolved out of the panel concerned how to hold state officials liable for the crime of aggression when the state is not a party to the Rome Statute, with specific reference to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This question was first brought up by Sabine Nolke, Canadian Ambassador to the Netherlands. A few intervenors were of the view that, in the case of Russia, war crimes committed in Ukraine (because Ukraine is a party to the Rome Statute) can be prosecuted and the Court could consider the fact that Russia committed an act of aggression as an aggravating factor in the prosecution of war crimes and in sentencing. Nolke and members of the panel, however, cautioned against this view because it suggests that war crimes committed in non-aggressive wars are less grave or less prosecutable. She and the panelists stressed that war crimes are war crimes no matter the context, and they should not be treated differently based on whether or not there is an aggressive war.

States’ comments during the General Debate and the discussion during this panel indicate that, although there seems to be a large degree of support for the activation of the crime, ratification is still a live issue and questions of jurisdiction are far from settled.

This blogpost and the author’s attendance to the 17thAssembly of States Parties to the International Criminal Court are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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Trade Watch 2018: UK Brexit Proposal

The British government’s proposal for the United Kingdom’s post-Brexit relationship with the European Union has pleased neither the Brexiters nor the EU. It is easy to understand why.

The White Paper, The Future Relationship Between the UK and the European Union, boldly proposes that the UK leave the EU while keeping those aspects of EU membership the Theresa May government considers important or necessary. Boris Johnson, leading voice of the Brexiters, has resigned as UK Foreign Secretary in response to the White Paper. So has David Davis from his post as UK Brexit Secretary. The EU has questioned whether the proposals are workable.

The UK has already concluded a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU under the terms of which the UK is scheduled to leave on March 29, 2019. However, the terms of its post-Brexit relationship with the EU must be negotiated in the next few months – by October 2018. How does one unravel a complex trading relationship established over several decades?

Through a proposal to establish a “deep and comprehensive economic partnership,” along with carefully balanced appeals to both the British people and EU regulators, the UK proposal seeks to maintain the benefits of this trading relationship even after leaving the EU. The proposal documents “the unique ties that exist between the UK and the EU economies”. These ties include the “deeply integrated” supply chains and markets, to which the proposal refers, and which have made the EU the UK’s biggest trading partner.

Of course, these unique ties exist because of the UK’s membership in the European Union for the past 40-plus years. These ties and patterns of trade have helped the UK to achieve and maintain its current position as the world’s 5th largest economy. Disrupting these existing patterns of trade threatens the UK’s economic standing, which could take years, if not decades, to rebuild with new trading partners. This is the dilemma the UK government faces. And the need to avoid re-establishment of a border between Northern Ireland as part of the UK and the Republic of Ireland which remains in the EU has emerged as an unanticipated and complex issue of the Brexit process.

The EU is able to operate as a single market for the free movement of goods, people, and capital because of the negotiated rules that govern the economies of EU members –the very rules that Brexiters voted to escape. To maintain its economic relationship with the EU, a core element of the proposal for the new partnership is the establishment of a “common rule book”of only those EU rules the UK considers necessary for friction less trade between the EU and the UK. This approach is the “cherry-picking” the EU has said it will not allow. Appealing to Brexiters, these rules would be implemented autonomously by UK agencies. At the same time, the proposal assures the EU regulators that it knows how to implement EU rules and would also participate, without a vote, on relevant EU technical committees.Not surprisingly,the proposal on the “common rule book” is at the core of Brexiters’ displeasure with the White Paper.

To manage the relationship, the UK also proposes the introduction a new overarching institutional framework.With the aim of keeping the relationship “practical and flexible”, this new framework would include a Governing Body to provide political direction and a Joint Committee to underpin its technical and administrative functions and to address issues of non-compliance. Rights would be enforced in the UK by UK courts and in the EU by EU courts, with each taking into account the other’s rulings in order to get consistent interpretations.

Although the proposed institutional framework is probably not pleasing to Brexiters either, it may be one of the more thoughtful aspects of the proposal. In fact, the EU may wish to incorporate some of them in the future.

With respect to Brexit, however, it is difficult to see why the EU would be willing to add an entire new layer of institutions just to manage its relationship with one country. And there is also the concern that other countries might want to “leave” and negotiate similar arrangements.

Upcoming posts will discuss in greater detail the UK Brexit White Paper, which includes proposals on –

  • Trade in Goods
  • Services and Investment
  • Framework for Mobility
  • Institutional Framework for the new EU-UK Relationship

The UK government plans to use these proposals to engage the EU as they negotiate the EU-UK post-Brexit relationship. We will have to see – is the UK-EU relationship as important to the EU as it is to the UK?

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A Handshake and the Right to Bodily Integrity

Recently, France’s highest administrative court upheld a ruling denying citizenship to a woman who has been married to a French national since 2010. Media outlets reported that the woman cited her “religious beliefs” as a reason for not shaking hands with a male official during the citizenship ceremony. As a result, she was denied citizenship due to the government’s assessment that she was “not assimilated into the French community.” According to the civil code of France, the government has the right to deny citizenship on grounds of “lack of assimilation, other than linguistic.”

There are a number of cases in France and other European countries that are using this concept of assimilation to take away a privilege or penalize those that are perceived as not assimilating. There are arguments supporting both sides of the debate but I thought it may be interesting to use a rights framework to examine these types of cases.

If you are advocating for the woman in this case, a major argument would be that individuals have freedom of religion, which is enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, along with many other domestic and international law instruments. The challenge with this argument is that countries have different histories that lead them to a divergence in the understanding of freedom of religion. For example, in the United States, freedom of religion was loosely based on a concept of pluralism. You can argue that it is not completely the case in practice.  Nonetheless, children in U.S. schools are taught that some immigrants to the United States came to practice their religion freely and openly and this is one of the positive aspects of living in the U.S. This concept remains to be an integral part of American education and understanding. In some other secular countries, governments adopted a definition of freedom of religion that involved relegating religion to the private sphere—essentially practicing freedom from religion in the public sphere. This is mainly due to historical relationships with religious institutions. The history is even more complex than this summary, which highlights the difficulties in advocating a position based a freedom of religion argument alone. Therefore, putting this religious freedom argument to the side for now, I started thinking about the concept of the body and the rights of a person to her or his own body. Continue reading

Trade Watch 2018: Brexit

On March 29, 2019 the United Kingdom (UK)is scheduled to leave the European Union (EU). On what terms?What will Brexit mean for the future of the UK’s trading relations with the EU and the rest of the world?

Just over a year ago (on March 29, 2017), UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, informed the EU of its intention to withdraw from the European Union. Her act honored the outcome of the June 23rd Brexit referendum.This act also triggered a one-year deadline for the UK to negotiate the terms of its two-phased departure process from the EU.

Agreement on Leaving the EU

withdrawal agreement finalized between the UK and the EU one-day short of the deadline, on March 28th (2018), outlines the status of the UK during the first phase – a transition period which will end March 29, 2019. During this transition period:

  • The UK will legally remain part of the EU Single Market and be bound by its EU obligations.UK citizens will retain their rights within the EU. EU citizens living in the UK (or who arrive during the transition period) will retain their residency rights during and beyond the transition period.The UK will continue to be bound by its obligations under EU international treaties, including those on trade and investment.
  • The UK will have to abide by and comply with EU laws and policies but will no longer have a voteon EU decision-making bodies.
  • The UK won the right to begin trade negotiations with other countries during the transition period. This is a questionable win as the countries seeking to negotiate during this period of uncertainty about UK’s relations with the EU may perceive the UK as weakened and unable to negotiate on equal terms. UK’s weakened negotiating position can also be said to apply in its negotiations with the EU.

During an implementation phase which will end December 31, 2020, the EU’s laws and regulations will continue to apply in the UK. The European Court of Justice will retain ultimate authority to resolve disputes during this period. The UK will continue to pay into the EU budget up through this date.

The withdrawal agreement is comprised of 168 articles covering a full gamut of the issues that will need to be addressed during this separation phase.

Negotiating Future EU-UK Trading Relations

The EU and UK now turn to negotiating the terms of EU-UK trading relationship after the end of the transition period. Observers believe this process will be complex and requires several years to get it right. However, the UK has only several months until October 2018. The following two issues illustrate the complexity of the task.

Financial Services

London is Europe’s largest financial center and benefits greatly from its ability to move capital and services freely within the single market. In 2016, financial and insurance services contributed 7.2% to UK’s GDP.  The EU’s single market is based on the “four freedoms” – free movement of goods, capital, services, and people. Brexiters’ vote to leave the EU was in large part fueled by disenchantment and fears from the inflow of persons under this free movement regime. However, leaving the EU means losing all obligations and rights under this free movement regime. The UK is hoping to negotiate an exception for its financial services. The EU, however, has emphatically stated that Britain as a non-EU member will be treated as a third country in all aspects of EU-UK trading relations. According to the EU, countries over which EU laws, regulations and judicial decisions do not apply will have only the same or similar limited access to the single market as do other non-EU trading partners. The UK will therefore be seeking to negotiate terms for its financial services sector in the future EU-UK trading relationship that come as close as possible to the position enjoyed in the single market.

Irish Border Question

The hard-won peaceful and open Irish border of the Good Friday Agreement is one unintended victim of Brexit. The Republic of Ireland, an independent country will remain in the EU. Northern Ireland, part of the United Kingdom, will not. The British government has committed to maintaining a “frictionless and invisible Irish border”. This commitment can be assured by the UK’s continued participation in the EU customs union, which provides freedom of trade in goods only. Monaco and UK bases in Cyprus are currently part of the EU customs union but not of the single market and a customs union seems a workable compromise for the UK. However, the British government is so far resisting this idea(possibly because of concerns about the financial services sector which would be excluded).

However, the withdrawal agreement has stated that if the parties fail to reach an alternative approach for the post-Brexit period, a common customs area will be maintained across all of Ireland. This “backstop agreement” will effectively leave Northern Ireland within the EU customs union if the EU-UK trade agreement does not include an alternative solution.

Questions Remain

In the withdrawal agreement, the EU and UK have agreed that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. What will happen if the EU and UK are unable to negotiate terms of their future relationship by the October 2018 deadline? The transition period may need to be extended. This option is not at all advantageous to the UK which will have to abide by policies and rules it may not have had a role in shaping and continue to pay into the EU budget.

Alternatively, the UK may leave the EU without an agreement. This alternative is a worst-case scenario which no one wants or expects to happen but cannot be completely discounted.We can hope that the high stakes guarantee the parties’ commitments to staying at the negotiating table.

Write On! [Slavery Past, Present In & Future]

This installment of Write On!, our periodic compilation of calls for papers, includes calls to present at Indiana University Europe Gateway, Berlin, as follows:

chains.jpgThird Global Meeting: Slavery Past, Present and Future, to be held July 10 & 11, 2018, at Indiana University Europe Gateway in Berlin, Germany. Theme is “Slavery Past, Present and Future.”

Controversial estimates indicate that up to 35 million people worldwide are enslaved today.  This modern re-emergence of slavery, following legal abolition over two hundred years ago, is said to be linked to the deepening interconnectedness of countries in the global economy, overpopulation, and the economic and other vulnerabilities of the individual victims and communities. This conference will explore slavery in all its dimensions and, in particular, the ways in which individual humans and societies understand and attempt to respond to it.

Deadline is Friday, March 2, 2018. For more information, click here.


Catalan Independence Referendum and the Kosovo “Precedent”

On October 1, the people of Catalonia voted to separate from Spain in an independence referendum which has been declared illegal by Spain.  According to numerous news reports, Spanish police and government forces attempted to interfere with the referendum and engaged in tactics which some have criticized as repressive and “shocking.”  The European Union (EU) however failed to condemn the Spanish government and instead insisted that the referendum was an internal matter for Spain and that the Spanish Constitution and rule of law should be respected.

The Catalan referendum brings back memories of the Kosovo situation in 2008.  Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic, has criticized the EU for its “hypocrisy” because of the EU’s seemingly different stance vis-a-vis the recent Catalan independence vote and vis-a-vis Kosovo’s secession from Serbia in 2008.  Vucic stated, after meeting with the Greek President, “How come you’ve [EU] declared Kosovo’s secession from Serbia legal, violating international law and the foundations of European law.”  In other words, the EU had essentially “blessed” the Kosovar secession from Serbia while it has, in this instance, supported Spain and failed to recognize that Catalan “right” to an independence referendum.  Are the situations in Catalonia and Kosovo drastically different? What does international law say about the subject-matter of secessions?

First, the situations in Kosovo and Catalonia may be different because their respective mother states are different.  Kosovo had been a part of Serbia, which, while under the rule of Slobodan Milosevic, had engaged in brutal tactics to suppress an independence-seeking rebellion brewing within Kosovo.  Thus, the international community got involved – through the 1999 NATO-led air strikes and subsequently through various NATO and EU-led administrative, security-based, and civil missions.  When Kosovo declared independence in 2008, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice described Kosovo as “sui generis,” in part because of the international community’s strong involvement in this region.  The Catalan had expressed their desire for independence and had held other independence referenda in the past, but the Spanish government had never engaged in human rights violations in Catalonia and the situation has remained peaceful.  The international community itself has never been involved in Catalonia and it may be that factually, Catalonia remains an internal matter.  If Catalonia is an internal matter, then, like in Scotland and in Quebec, any potential secession would need to be worked out through peaceful negotiations and a constitutional framework.  If Spain says no, then Catalonia would not have the right to unilaterally secede.  This is the factual argument, not based in international law.  This leads me to my second point – what does international law have to say about the Catalan secession?

Second, international law is silent on secession.  Almost all international law scholars would agree that international law does not entail a “right” to secession, and that secession may be tolerated in international law in  rare instances, like in Kosovo, or in Bangladesh.  We know from the 2010 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on Kosovo that international law does not specifically prohibit unilateral declarations of independence, and that international law only condemns declarations of independence procured through an illegal use of force.  We also know that international law contains the right to self-determination, but, as I recently wrote in the context of the Kurdish independence referendum, it is unclear whether the right to self-determination ever applies in the non-decolonization paradigm, and whether this right can ever lead to remedial secession.  It is unclear that the Catalan can invoke the right to self-determination in order to justify secession from Spain – the right to self-determination in this instance may entail simply a right to autonomy within the larger Spanish state.  The Kurds may have a much stronger self-determination-remedial secession argument than the Catalan, as the former may be able to demonstrate much more easily that their mother state is not representative of their interests.  Spain is a democratic nation which respects human rights, and the international law-recognized right to self-determination (leading to remedial secession) has never been invoked in this type of context before.  Thus, international law, at best, begrudgingly tolerates secession in extreme and rare instances, where the mother state is not a democratic nation which respects human rights.  The Catalan do not have a sound international law-based argument, and despite Spanish interference with the Catalan independence referendum, the Catalan cannot claim a particular legal right to secede.

Finally, how does one reconcile the seemingly different results (as of now) in Kosovo, Catalonia, and Kurdistan? Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and within a short period of time, it was recognized as a new state by many in the international community (although not by Spain – understandably so).  Interestingly, almost no states among those supporting Kosovo advanced international law-based rationales for the Kosovar secession from Serbia; instead, such states continued to distinguish Kosovo as a unique situation, sui generis, a special case which should somehow not create any type of precedent in international law.  Catalonia and Kurdistan have held independence referenda which have not been supported by almost any states in the international community.  Many states have referred to these referenda as illegal because contrary to the wishes of their respective mother states, or as internal matters, or as not representative of any particular “rights” in international law.  Accepting the argument that international law is silent on secession and does not regulate secession, it would appear that secessions are matters of domestic law. If this is the case, it appears that the international community may accept such a role of domestic law in cases where the mother state is a democratic nation or an emerging democracy whose sovereignty is deemed worth-while.  This manner of reconciling different referendum results is not based in international law, but it rather reflects geo-political interests of other powerful states.

 

Court of Justice of the European Union takes on Muslim headscarf employment discrimination cases

With the increased reach of the populist movement and changing demographics, several European countries have been confronted with the need to define secularism and freedom of religion in a way where each of these concepts do not impinge on the rights of the other. This has dominated several discussions in politics, law, education, and social interactions throughout Europe.

One issue that stands at the forefront of these arguments is the wearing of the headscarf by Muslim women in Europe as a practice of their faith. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the highest court in the European Union with regards to European Union law, provided judgments on two cases involving the headscarf in March 2017.

In Samira Achbita v. G4S Secure Solutions NV (G4S), the CJEU was asked to provide guidance on the interpretation of Council Directive 2000/78 as it related to the dismissal of Ms. Achbita, an employee of G4S, for wearing a headscarf as part of her religious beliefs. The Council Directive 2000/78 provides that the “principle of equal treatment” means that there will be no direct or indirect discrimination based on the grounds of religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation as regards employment and occupation. Furthermore, the Council Directive highlights that indiscrimination occurs when apparently neutral provisions, criteria, or practice put persons of a particular religion, disability, age, or sexual orientation, at a particular disadvantage unless it is “objectively justified by a legitimate aim and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.”

G4S stated that the company has a policy of not allowing employees to wear any political, philosophical, or religious signs as it may compromise the visibility of G4S’s position of neutrality. The Court ruled that there was no direct discrimination as the Directive did not single out a specific group of people or religion to target and was facially neutral. The Court did leave room to say that the rule may constitute indirect discrimination if persons of a particular religion or belief were put at a particular disadvantage, “unless justified by a legitimate aim” and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

Similarly, in Asma Bougnaoui v. Micropole, SA (Micropole), Ms. Bougnaoui was dismissed from her employment at Micropole because of her refusal to remove the headscarf that she wore for religious reasons, and about which some customers of the company had complained. However, here the CJEU ruled that the “the willingness of an employer to take account of the wishes of a customer no longer to have the services of that employer provided by a worker wearing an Islamic headscarf cannot be considered a genuine and determining occupational requirement within the meaning of that provision.” Continue reading