Born into Statelessness: Unintended Consequences of the End of Birthright Citizenship

In October 2018, in response to growing Central and South American migrant population fleeing violence and approaching the United States, President Trump made a drastic statement that he would seek to end jus soli, or birthright citizenship, through an Executive Order. Lindsey Graham, a Republican Senator from South Carolina, lauded the President’s statement, and indicated that he intended to introduce legislation to the same effect. If successful, this new citizenship law could have a devastating impact on children born in the United States to Central and South American individuals, leaving thousands of them stateless.

As a matter of international law, states are free to determine who is or is not a national of their country without interference from the international community or international law, except in the case of stateless persons. The 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness are the two primary international instruments guiding the rights of individuals and the actions of states with regard to nationality. Many international instruments affirm the right an individual has to nationality. Specifically, the 1954 Convention defines a stateless person as someone “who is not considered as a national by any State under operation of its law.” The 1961 Convention requires that states grant nationality to those born on their territory who otherwise would be stateless, and prohibits states from withdrawing nationality from an individual when that individual would then be rendered stateless. Accordingly, under international law, the United States government is free to end, or further restrict, birthright citizenship but only in accordance with the provisions in the 1961 Convention.

Issues arise in practice when the domestic laws of nations conflict, leaving individuals in situations of de facto statelessness. According to the Pew Research Center, about 250,000 children were born in the United States to non-citizen immigrant parents in 2014, with many born to parents who lacked legal status. Because of the domestic laws of the countries from which these immigrants originate, children born to immigrant parents in the United States may lack citizenship of their state of origin. They would therefore be rendered stateless if the United States were to curtail birthright citizenship, in contravention of the 1961 Convention.

For example, the law of Brazil stipulates that individuals born abroad to a Brazilian parent are eligible to acquire citizenship after becoming an adult only if their parent registered their birth with the Brazilian authorities or if they returned to live in Brazil as a child. If the individual is not registered or does not reside in Brazil before the age of majority, he or she is not entitled to Brazilian citizenship, regardless of the nationality of his or her parents. As of 2014, there were approximately 336,000 Brazilian immigrants in the United States.

There are several issues with these requirements of affirmative action on the part of the parents or child. First, to register a child with the authorities of their own birth country, parents must first demonstrate their own citizenship, which may prove problematic. Parents could do this by showing a passport, birth certificate, or identity card. However, these individuals may have fled their homes quickly without such documents, and would therefore risk being unable to register their children even if they desired to do so.

Second, even if the child of Brazilian parents wished to acquire Brazilian citizenship, the decision is entirely in the hands of his or her parents. His or her parents must be the ones to register the child’s birth with the relevant authorities; no other adult is eligible to do this and the child himself cannot make himself known to authorities later in order to qualify for citizenship. If this is not done, the child must return to reside Brazil before the age of majority. For most children, this is a decision entirely out of their control.

Therefore, should the U.S. end birthright citizenship, children born in the U.S. of Brazilian parents would be at risk of de facto statelessness by no fault of their own. This example is meant to be illustrative, though not exhaustive. Many groups of immigrants in the United States would be forced into similarly precarious positions. The domestic laws of many Central and South American countries require parents located out of the country to register their children’s births with the national authorities in order for them to be eligible for citizenship. There are many reasons why parents fleeing violence, persecution, and economic crises may not wish to register the birth of their children. Whatever the reason, innocent children without a choice would suffer as a result of this change of law. Without careful consideration of the potential impact of this change to US birthright law, many children residing in the United States would be rendered de facto stateless and vulnerable as a result.  

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Calculus: Deal Doggedness and Human Rights Diplomacy

As the issue of denuclearization in the interest of global peace and security continues to be of pressing concern to the world, there is a growing tendency to prioritize such matters of international import above concerns around the problematic human rights records in countries like Iran and North Korea. However, concerns regarding the human rights situation within a country’s borders should not be relegated to the backburner while negotiating deals regarding international peace and security owing to two broad, interconnected reasons.

First, egregious violations of human rights within national borders – by their very nature – cut across these national borders and thus merit international anxiety. In particular, repressive regimes foster instability, dissatisfaction, violent conflict, and frequently, radicalization. While it is tempting to call for an emphasis on America’s “softer” side in response to human rights concerns beyond American borders, it may be prudent to acknowledge instead that the way a country treats its people can be of consequence to polities the world over. Accordingly, if Azadeh Moaveni’s conclusion that any substantial improvement in Iran’s human rights situation demands larger, structural reforms from within is accurate, any gains consolidated by finalizing deals such as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action are necessarily of limited value for international peace and security. In fact, regimes that mete out systematic repression to their own people, such as Iran and North Korea, are “inherently destabilizing”; their volatile internal dynamics, posited against the background of nuclearization, present huge risks to international security, which merit due investigation, analysis and response. In such a scenario, allowing horrific internal conditions to play second fiddle while negotiating sweeping arrangements for global peace is to miss the forest for the trees.

Secondly and more specifically, acknowledging that both these concerns are relevant to the all-pervasive ‘international security’ problem could also be helpful in selling negotiations and engagement with an adversary state such as Iran to domestic constituencies. By emphasizing its potential to raise Iran’s profile in the world order and bring economic relief within Iranian borders, President Rouhani, for instance, garnered some measure of domestic support for a deal which – on the face of it – seemed like a massive concession of sovereignty. In an increasingly polarized international order, where domestic forces operating within one of the negotiating parties may view the very act of approaching the negotiating table as an admission of weakness, acknowledging that there are costs to peace and security on both sides of the coin may be a wiser move.

Syria and Domestic Prosecutions: Upholding hope, one case at a time (Part 2 of 2)

National Prosecutions based on Universal Jurisdiction: the cases of Germany, Sweden, and “France”

Last June, Germany’s chief prosecutor issued an international arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, head of Syria’s powerful Air Force Intelligence Directorate, and one of Syria’s most senior military officials. This move comes as a 2017 Human Rights Watch report mentioned [p.36] that, so far, very few members of the Assad government had been the subject of judicial proceedings in Europe based on universal jurisdiction.

At the time these charges (based on command responsibility) were filed with Germany’s Federal Court of Justice, Patrick Kroker (European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, hereinafter “ECCHR”) commented that this moment was“historical”, adding: “That this arrest warrant has been signed off by the highest criminal court in Germany shows that they deem the evidence presented to the prosecutor is strong enough to merit urgent suspicion of his involvement.”

N.N., a Syrian activist present at the side-event held today mentioned in Part 1 of my post, underlined several times the importance of these arrest warrants. Until their issuance, he said, many Syrians never would have thought that high-level representatives of the Syrian regime would have charges laid against them. For many this is a great sign of hope, a demonstration that we are “not only listening to stories but also doing something about it.” He mentioned this point in part as an answer to a participant at the event who wondered what it could mean to the people still in Syria to see prosecutions happening in Europe, but not in Syria or before the ICC.

Mr. Patrick Kroker, Legal Advisor& Project Lead for Syria at the ECCHR (Berlin) explained the work done by his organization to initiate prosecutions in Germany linked to the Syrian conflict. With regard to Germany, the progress over the past few years has been spectacular: 11 cases have been brought to trial. As well, three were brought to trial in Sweden, one in Switzerland, and another in Austria (for an excellent overview of proceedings linked to Syria, see the Amnesty International page “Justice for Syria” here).

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Syria and Domestic Prosecutions: Upholding hope, one case at a time (Part 1 of 2)

Credit: Lynsey Addario

As of July 2018, more than 500 000 people had been killed as a result of the conflict in Syria, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. With the UN Special Envoy for Syria having recently resigned, signs of hope seem dire for many Syrians and their supporters, there and abroad.

A side-event held today, on Day 3 of the 17th Assembly of State Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court, brought distinguished panelists together to discuss the role of prosecutions held in Europe through universal jurisdiction for international crimes, using Syria as an example. More than only about accountability, the resounding message about these prosecutions was that their role was to give out and to inspire the people to be strong, fight for justice and, maybe, eventually, be able to move on.

Earlier this week, during a keynote address at a reception held before the launch of the ASP, Ms.Catherine Marchi-Uhel aptly said that the ICC is the center piece of the international justice system. However, she also reminded the audience that the role of the international jurisdiction as a springboard for national prosecutions is often overlooked.

Yet, despite the hopes, symbolism and assistance to the rebuilding of judicial institutions that national prosecutions can bring (as I mentioned in my previous blog post on Quid Justitiae in the context of the present ASP), the political context may simply not allow it and, in the case of Syria, there is obviously no need to elaborate on why prosecutions at the national level are not possible.

In the case of Syria, one of the worst situations since World War II, as Ms Marchi-Uhel underlined, the pathway to the ICC is blocked, as a UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution to refer the case to the ICC was vetoed in 2014. With the ICC option gridlocked, Marchi-Uhel said that the international community needed to be creative to find new strategies to supplement the Rome Statue system: there was a need to think outside the international justice box. This is why, in 2016, the UNGA decided to create the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism to assist in the investigation and prosecution of persons responsible for the most serious crimes under international law committed in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011 (IIIM) to collect and analyse evidence of international crimes committed in Syria (see the IIIM official website here). Not a court or tribunal, it is “a building block for comprehensive justice” and can “turn limitations into opportunities”. This was definitely a smart move, as the call for Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres did not seem to have resonated any more than previous attempts made through the UNSC.

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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.

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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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The Crime of Aggression: 1 Year Later

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Photo credit: BBC: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-29548753

This year’s Assembly of States Parties (ASP) marks the first time the Court and States Parties will discuss the crime of aggression since its activation last year, and it will be interesting to hear what States Parties have to say about it. One issue that may be addressed includes the relationship between the Court and the Security Council given that the Security Council must first determine that an act of aggression has occurred before the Court can prosecute the crime of aggression (there is, however, an exception to this if 6 months have passed since the Security Council was made aware that an alleged act of aggression has occurred and has not made a determination). The implementation of the Kampala Amendments is another potential issue because there has been debate surrounding whether the amendments should be universally implemented for all States Parties to the Rome Statute or only for those that ratify the amendment. A third potential issue of discussion is how the Court will fund the addition of this crime to its jurisdiction given the already constrained budget.

The crime of aggression is the fourth crime enumerated under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Twenty years ago, States could not agree upon the definition of the crime of aggression when the text of the Rome Statute was negotiated, thereby excluding crimes of aggression from the Court’s jurisdiction.

The definition was finally agreed upon in 2010 through the Kampala Amendments, but negotiating States decided that the Court would still not have jurisdiction over the crime of aggression until one year after 30 member states had ratified the Amendments and it was promulgated by the Assembly of States Parties (ASP).

As Palestine was the 30th State to ratify the Amendments in June 2016, the ASP agreed to activate the Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression during their meetings in December of 2017. The Court’s jurisdiction officially became active on July 17, 2018.

The key issue and reason for the delay in agreeing to the text of the crime was the lack of agreement on whether the Court could exercise jurisdiction for the crime of aggression over the nationals of States Parties to the Rome Statute who had not ratified the Amendments. The wide view on this issue is that the Court has jurisdiction when the crime occurs on the territory of a State which has ratified the Amendment. Still, there are those, including Canada, that believe that the Court would not have jurisdiction over state referrals or proprio motu investigations when the alleged crime is committed by nationals of non-ratifying States or on their territory.

The crime of aggression essentially allows for individual criminal responsibility for violations of Article 2(4) of the Charter of the United Nations. Article 2(4) prohibits “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. However, not all violations of the prohibition on the use of force will constitute a crime of aggression: only the most serious and dangerous forms.

The Rome Statute is the first modern criminal tribunal to include the crime of aggression, but the International Military Tribunals (IMT) in Nuremberg and Tokyo included prosecutions and convictions for crimes against peace, which criminalized those involved in waging wars of aggression or wars in violation of international treaties. The language of the crime of aggression was borne out of and based on the Charter of the IMT.

The crime of aggression has not been prosecuted yet and there is no precedent for the Court to follow. It will be interesting to see how the Court interprets the crime once the first charges are made, and if it takes any guidance from the IMTs or develops its own interpretation.

Stay tuned for updates!

This blogpost and my attendance to the 17th Assembly of States Parties are supported by the Canadian Partnership for International Justice and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

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CCIL 2018: “The Role of International Criminal Law and the ICC in Responding to the Alleged Crimes Perpetrated Against the Rohingya”

On November 1 and 2, 2018, the Canadian Council on International Law (CCIL) held its annual conference in Ottawa, Canada. This conference is touted as one of the premier international law conferences in the world, bringing together scholars and practitioners from across Canada, the United States and Europe. This year’s topic was “International Law at the Boundaries,” which recognized the role of non-state actors and ideas that seek to push international law to its limits.

One particular panel discussed three important, and even novel, issues within international criminal law: (1) jurisdiction over crimes committed by a non-state party; (2) sexual and gender-based violence; and (3) the role of social media in contributing to these crimes. “The Role of International Criminal Law and the International Criminal Court (ICC) in Responding to the Alleged Crimes Perpetrated against the Rohingya,” examined the ongoing situation in Myanmar and the ICC’s role in holding perpetrators of international crimes accountable. Fannie Lafontaine of Laval University’s Faculty of Law and the Canadian Partnership for International Justice chaired the panel of three speakers: Payam Akhavan of McGill University’s Faculty of Law, Valerie Oosterveld of Western University’s Faculty of Law, and Kyle Matthews of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.

Akhavan discussed the ICC’s jurisdiction over the crimes committed against the Rohingya. This has been an area that has required some thought because Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, and therefore the Court does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed on its territory unless a referral by the United Nations Security Council is made (which has not happened yet and has been suggested to be unlikely). Akhavan highlighted how the ICC’s jurisdiction is currently being established through the crime of forced deportation as an underlying act of the crime against humanity. Forced deportation involves the crossing of international borders, and because the act of deporting the Rohingya ended on the territory of a state that is a party to the Rome Statute—Bangladesh—the Court has jurisdiction to try those responsible for forcing the Rohingya into Bangladesh.

Oosterveld ended the panel with a discussion of sexual and gender-based violence in the context of the Rohingya. She discussed the many ways that Rohingya women and girls are targeted and then humiliated through public gang-rapes to promote terror, and even ‘branded’ by their perpetrators biting them. Men and boys suffered similar treatment in detention from their captors trying to gain information.

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