Prosecution of Environmental War Crimes at the ICC: Exalted Thresholds

This post traces the history of Article 8(2)(b)(iv) (“Article”) of the Rome Statute (“Statute”) – the codification of the first international environmental war crime. The author argues that the Article’s exacting standard renders it toothless.

Countries today are in agreement that the environment is a ‘global common’; a resource shared by one and all, not limited by sovereign boundaries. Time and again, the international community has entered into agreements to motivate member state(s) to protect and reinvigorate the environment. For instance the Paris Agreement, Kyoto Protocol and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are all aspirational frameworks pushing states to rethink their relationship with the environment. However, there are no real legal ramifications for the non-performance of these agreements, and their observance has largely been left open to the whims of politics and diplomacy. Moreover, these agreements are limited to state responsibility and do not percolate down to actions of individuals or other non-state actors.

International frameworks with legal consequences, such as the AP-1 to the Geneva Convention, (“AP-1”) are traditional in nature. These frameworks recognize international responsibility of states for ‘environmental destruction’ only in the backdrop of internationally recognized crimes perpetrated against ‘mankind’, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, or recently, crimes of aggression. International conventions such as the UN Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile use of Environmental Modification Techniques, 1976 (“ENMOD”), removed the need to situate environmental destruction in the backdrop of a concomitant international crime. Notwithstanding, the thrust of ENMOD depends on “damage, destruction or injury” caused to the state. The terms “damage, destruction or injury” have canonically been interpreted in an anthropocentric form, meaning consequent damage to the civilian population.

Eclipsed by climate change and environmental destruction, with rising temperatures and sinking cities, mankind today has been brought face to face with a harsh reality. The environment, as a victim ofcorporate negligence, wanton human behaviour, and silent sufferers of armed conflict, has borne countless losses. The repercussions of such prolonged environmental neglect and degradation are both far ranging and immutable. Recognizing the need for inter-generational equity; the international community through its collective duty to preserve and secure the environment conferred it with independent legal protection. With the Statute in force, and the establishment of the ICC in 2002, the world saw the advent of the first ecocentric war crime.

Ingredients of Article 8(2)(b)(iv)

Successful prosecution under this Article requires that conjunctive benchmarks of “widespread, long term, and severe” damage to the environment be met in the context of an international armed conflict. The meanings of these terms are not defined within this Article, the Statute, or in secondary sources of interpretation as per the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 1969. The lack of a definition is exacerbated by Article 22 of the Statute which states that “ambiguity” should be interpreted favourably towards the accused.

The preparatory material of the Statute refers heavily to ENMOD and AP-1. Under these conventions the term “widespread” has a geographical bearing, and typically a damage of 100 square kilometres or upwards satisfies the element of “widespread” damage.

The term “long-term”, as the ordinary meaning suggests, has a temporal connotation. It refers to the continued effects of an attack. “Long-term” under AP-1 means negative environmental effects lasting a minimum of 10 years. Given the difficulty in evaluating lasting environmental damage at the time of the attack, it is likely that the drafters of the Statute viewed the quantum of 10 years as a range for understanding the term “long-term” and not a minimum threshold. Environmental impact assessments need to be carried out to gauge long-term effects of an attack. These involve significant costs and questionable efficacy.

Similarly one may look to AP-1 to understand the term “severe”, which refers to the potency of damage on the human and non-human environment. This interpretation takes us back to an anthropocentric approach; an otherwise progressive provision once again ties itself to civilian damage as a crucial factor in affixing international criminal responsibility.

Mens Rea and Military Objectives

The environment has often been the subject of wartime military attack, be it the scorched earth policy of the Napoleonic Wars to the use of  “Agent Orange” during the Vietnam War. The Article seeks to recognize the military’s strategic needs in conducting an offensive against the environment; it rationalizes that the damage being “widespread, long-term and severe” should also be “clearly excessive to the concrete and direct overall military advantage.” The Office of the Prosecutor, ICC opined that “clearly excessive” does not pertain to instances of collateral damage, which is purely a function of the proximity between civilians and military targets. Similarly in Prosecutor v Milan Martic, the ICTY held that any ensuing harm to civilian objects, such as the environment, cannot be justified in the “absence of closeness” between such objects and the legitimate military target.

Additionally, liability under this Article is confined to wrongdoings by military operatives in leadership positions. It provides a safe harbour to individuals without decision making powers in the military chain of command. “Leadership positions” are determined on the basis of an individuals’ say on the nature, timing, type, extent, and the general scope of the military attack. The military advantage is also qualified by the terms “concrete and direct”. The International Committee of the Red Cross has reflected that these terms do not justify “barely perceptible” military advantages. A military officer ordering an attack is required to demonstrate the potential military advantage and its nexus with the environmental attack.

Conclusion

Environmental crimes had been codified prior to 2002 under several international treaties in an anthropocentric fashion. This approach detracted from the damage caused to the environment, an object worthy of protection in and of itself. While the Article is certainly a harbinger in delinking environmental protection and damage from civilian harms, its exacting standard renders it toothless.      

Unsurprisingly, we are yet to see a single prosecution or investigation launched under this provision. Particularly in the context of gross environmental damage during recent day international armed conflicts, such as the Syrian War and the Ukraine War which are plagued by indiscriminate bombing, non-differentiation between military and civilian objects, and chemical warfare, which has the potential to pollute the lands and waterways of the country for generations to come. The ICC, as the only international court equipped to prosecute and convict individuals for crimes of international magnitude is wanting in realizing its potential.

April 18 – Ukraine Panel

Please join us for this upcoming panel on the conflict in Ukraine – organized by the American Society of International Law, Transitional Justice and the Rule of Law Interest Group, and co-sponsored by the AALS International Law and International Human Rights Law Sections.

April 18, 2022

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. EST

The Ukraine Conflict: Expert Roundtable on Transitional Justice and International Criminal Law Issues

Organized by the Transitional Justice and Rule of Law Interest Group, American Society of International Law; co-sponsored by the AALS International Law and International Human Rights Law Sections

Panelists:

Milena Sterio, The Charles R. Emrick Jr. – Calfee Halter & Griswold Professor of Law, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law (moderator)

Vladyslav Lanovoy, Professor, Law Faculty, Universite Laval (Canada)

Pavlo Pushkar, Head of Division, Department for the Execution of Judgments, European Court of Human Rights

Margaret deGuzman, James E. Beasley Professor of Law, Temple University Beasley School of Law and Judge of the Residual Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals

Rebecca Hamilton, Associate Professor, Washington College of Law, American University

Leila Sadat, James Carr Professor of International Criminal Law, Washington University School of Law and  Special Advisor on Crimes Against Humanity to the ICC Prosecutor

Milena Sterio is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

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Towards a Decoupled Peace

President Zelensky made an impassioned plea to the United States in his address to the US Congress on March 16th- “To be the leader of the world means to be the leader of peace”.[1]  The same day China’s Ambassador to the United States, Qin Gang, authored an Op Ed in the Washington Post titled “Where we stand in the Ukraine” in which he insisted that China did not have prior knowledge of the invasion of the Ukraine, that Taiwan is not the same as the Ukraine (which it views as a sovereign a state, while Taiwan is considered to be an inseparable part of China), that China remains interested in promoting a cease fire and providing protection to civilians, and that China is committed to an independent foreign policy of peace.[2]  He states that China supports regional and global stability. Qin Gang defines a type of regional peace that is based on security, and ironically correlates with the conception of peace as linked to security in the German Constitution, Article 24.2, which itself is increasing its defense budget significantly[3]: “The long-term peace and stability of Europe relies on the principle of indivisible security.” This signals a recognition of the relevance of regions or “neighborhoods” in which stability or peace is dependent on security.

In 2021, the US National Intelligence Council published a report on Global Trends 2040: A More Contested World that offered five scenarios for what they estimated the geopolitical context would look like by 2040.[4]  Scenario 4 is called Separate Silos, the summary explains:

“In 2040, the world is fragmented into several economic and security blocs of varying size and strength, centered on the United States, China, the European Union (EU), Russia, and a few regional powers, and focused on self-sufficiency, resiliency, and defense. Information flows within separate cyber-sovereign enclaves, supply chains are reoriented, and international trade is disrupted. Vulnerable developing countries are caught in the middle with some on the verge of becoming failed states. Global problems, notably climate change, are spottily addressed, if at all … By the early 2030s, cascading global challenges from decades of job losses in some countries in part because of globalization, heated trade disputes, and health and terrorist threats crossing borders prompted states to raise barriers and impose trade restrictions to conserve resources, protect citizens, and preserve domestic industries. Many economists thought that economic decoupling or separation could not really happen because of the extensive interdependence of supply chains, economies, and technology, but security concerns and governance disputes helped drive countries to do the unthinkable, despite the extraordinary costs.”[5]

This scenario is indicative of increased regionalism characterized by a decoupling of the networks that Mark Leonard described as essential elements of The Age of UnPeace information, trade, etc. that led to the persistent state of competition and conflict before the war in the Ukraine.  In short, this is a movement towards a “Decoupled Peace” in which the connections that increased conflict through competition are deliberately severed. Russia has been isolated by disinvestment and sanctions and it left the Council of Europe after being suspended. The European Union seeks to decouple its energy dependence on Russia by a contradictory bifurcated resort to alternative sources of oil and coal, even from governments subject to sanctions previously, and increase investment in renewable energy and nuclear energy.[6]  Nevertheless, the international community appears unable to prevent the global hunger crisis that will devastate the African continent due to the blocking of wheat, corn, barley, and fertilizer from Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine.[7] The path from war to Decoupled Peace is undeniably tragic.


[1] Text of Ukrainian President Zelensky’s address to Congress – The Washington Post

[2] Opinion | Chinese ambassador Qin Gang: Where China stands on Ukraine – The Washington Post

[4] GlobalTrends_2040.pdf (dni.gov)

[5] P. 116

[6] Renewable energy targets (europa.eu) Europe wants more renewables to increase its energy security | EURACTIV PR European Commission declares nuclear and gas to be green | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 02.02.2022  Are Iran and Venezuela viable alternatives to Russian gas? — Quartz (qz.com)

[7]https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/20/world/americas/ukraine-war-global-food-crisis.html  

Russia v. Ukraine: The Limits of International Law

Several of my esteemed colleagues and experts have analyzed various international law issues related to the escalating Russia-Ukraine conflict (for example, see here and here and here).  The purpose of this post is not to reiterate some of such excellent analyses already published but rather to focus on the limitations of international law in this type of a conflict situation, implicating a Great Power such as Russia.

First, this conflict clearly implicates use of force issues in international law.  It is abundantly clear that Russia has violated Article 2(4) of the United Nations’ Charter when it used military force against the territorial integrity and political independence of Ukraine.  The international law prohibition on the use of force is also part of customary law and a jus cogens norm; international law is more than unequivocal that this type of behavior by Russia is a flagrant violation of one of international law’s fundamental norms.  Yet, despite this, international law remains limited in its ability to respond to Russian actions because of the fact that collective decision-making regarding authorizations to use force against a sovereign nation is tied to the Security Council, where Great Powers, such as Russia, have veto power.  Thus, although international law provides a clear answer about Russia’s violations of international legal norms, international law lacks appropriate legal mechanisms through which such violations can be adequately addressed.  Scholars have already written about possible limitations to the use of the veto power within the Security Council; such changes and perhaps broader reforms of the Council are desperately needed in situations as this one, where a veto-wielding member is in clear violation of the Charter’s fundamental norms.  For now, the international law system remains blocked when attempting to address violations by a Great Power, which happens to have veto powers within the Security Council. 

It is important to acknowledge that international law does leave open the possibility of a defensive use of force by Ukraine, through self-defense, and of collective self-defense, where Ukraine could request the assistance of another state in order to fend off Russian troops.  It is also important to note that NATO countries could decide to use force against Russia in order to defend Ukraine.  Precedent already exists for this type of use of force by NATO countries, to intervene militarily on the territory of a non-member state.  In fact, in 1999, NATO countries launched a series of air strikes against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in order to force then-President Slobodan Milosevic to halt committing abuses against Kosovar Albanians.  Yet, these potential uses of force remain unlikely and would not be equivalent to a United Nations Security Council-approved collective use of force against Russia.  Most states are unlikely to agree to use their military troops in Ukraine, under the paradigm of collective self-defense, as this would most certainly provoke an attack by Russia against those states and expose those states to serious military and political risks.  Moreover, a NATO-led use of force to defend a non-member state remains illegal under international law, so long as such use of force remains unauthorized by the Security Council.  Although many have defended the 1999 NATO air strikes against the FRY as legitimate or morally authorized, or on humanitarian grounds, these air strikes were illegal under international law.  It is unlikely, as of now, that NATO countries would be willing to launch a military operation, illegal under international law, against a Great Power like Russia.  Thus, the only plausible use of military force against Russia would be through a Security Council-authorized, collective military coalition, both legal under international law and more likely to succeed militarily against a mighty opponent as Russia.  Yet, as explained above, this is not going to happen because Russia has veto power within the Security Council. 

Second, this conflict also underscores the limitations of international law in terms of accountability.  In theory, political and military leaders who order the commission of atrocity crimes ought to be held accountable.  Article 8bis of the ICC Rome Statute defines an act of  aggression as “the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations.”  In this instance, it is clear that Russia’s President Putin has committed an act of aggression vis-à-vis Ukraine.  Yet, although the ICC can exercise jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in situations involving non-state parties (if the crimes are committed by a national of a state party on the territory of a non-state party), the jurisdictional regime over the crime of aggression is significantly more limited.  In fact, the ICC can only exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression in situations where both the victim and the aggressor state are members of the ICC; in this instance, because Russia is not a member, the court cannot exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.  Thus, although it is certain that Putin has committed the act of aggression in Ukraine, it is almost equally certain that he will not face accountability at the ICC.  It is relevant to note here that the ICC can potentially exercise jurisdiction over the three other ICC crimes in Ukraine.  In fact, Ukraine accepted ICC jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed there by Russian forces starting in 2013.  The ICC Office of the Prosecutor launched a preliminary investigation into Ukraine and concluded that reasonable basis existed to conclude that crimes against humanity and war crimes were indeed committed in Ukraine.  Thus, the ICC could continue to investigate and possibly prosecute those responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ukraine. However, as the current ICC Prosecutor, Karim Khan has confirmed, the ICC remains unable to investigate and prosecute the most important crime committed by Putin against Ukraine, aggression.

Third, the conflict also highlights the limited efficacy of the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  The ICJ is the primary judicial organ of the United Nations and a forum where states can in theory settle their disputes. Because the court’s jurisdiction is voluntary, states must either agree to litigate in the ICJ on an ad hoc basis or through a treaty’s dispute resolution clause.  In this case, Ukraine has sued Russia in the ICJ, basing jurisdiction on the Genocide Convention, to which both states are parties.  However, although the ICJ has jurisdiction over this dispute, the court’s reach is limited to genocidal offenses only (because jurisdiction is based on the Genocide Convention), and, most importantly, the court has no enforcement mechanisms.  Thus, although the ICJ could order Russia to cease using military force in Ukraine, the court has no direct ways to enforce its own judgment.  It is very likely that a Great Power such as Russia would simply ignore the ICJ’s judgment.  Thus, the power of the ICJ to contribute to the actual resolution of this conflict remains limited.

In sum, international law contains clear legal norms which condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and which, on a theoretical level, impute state responsibility onto Russia and individual criminal responsibility on its leader, Vladimir Putin.  However, as this post discusses, international law remains limited in its ability to address the conflict.  Authorization for the use of force against Russia remains deadlocked in the veto-blocked Security Council; the crime of aggression’s restricted jurisdictional regime effectively shields Russian leaders from accountability at the ICC; the ICJ has no prospects of enforcing a judgment which would condemn Russia.  It may be argued that this relative inefficacy of international law is linked to the super-sovereign status of Great Powers, like Russia, which benefit from international law’s institutional design.  To illustrate this point, imagine a scenario where a non-super power, a state with an average size military and without a permanent seat on the Security Council, invaded a neighboring country.  In such a situation, the Security Council could act (assuming that this country was not directly allied with one of the Council’s five permanent members) and order collective force to be used against the aggressor state.  The country’s leaders could possibly face accountability in the ICC (there is a higher likelihood that a smaller, non-super power country would be a member of the ICC).  And a smaller, weaker state would be more likely to abide by an ICJ ruling.  International law, because of its general lack of enforcement mechanisms and because of its institutional design such as the veto power in the Security Council, contributes to an unequal order of states, where those with super-sovereign powers seem able to get away with breaches of fundamental norms with virtually no consequences. Russia, because of its status as a Great Power, has violated fundamental international law norms but may remain insulated from international law’s reach. 

International Solidarity

Professor Cecilia M. Bailliet has been chosen to Chair the Expert Advisory Group to the UN Independent Expert on Human Rights and International Solidarity Obiora Okafor. Together with other members of the group, Bailliet will prepare a report and suggest revisions to the current draft declaration on the right to international solidarity.

In addition to Bailliet, the group consists of Professor Obijiofor Aginam of the UN University, Professor Mihir Kanade of the University of Peace in Costa Rica, Professor. Vesselin Popovski of the Jindal Global Law School, and Professor Jaya Ramji-Nogales of Temple University.

The group will present its report and recommendations for a revised draft in April 2022 to the Independent Expert who then will share with key states within the UN Human Rights Council in order to make a presentation to the Council for adoption.

The group benefits from the findings provided by the research assistance of UiO law students Solveig Hodnemyr and Julie Skomakerstuen Larsen and Johns Hopkins University student Jeff Baek. The right to solidarity is described as being part of “the second wave of third generation rights” including the right to peace (adopted as a Declaration by the UN General Assembly); the right to development (currently being drafted as a convention); and the right to a healthy environment (recognized by the UN Human Rights Council).

This work complements Professor Bailliet’s current project editing the Research Handbook on International Solidarity to be published by Edward Elgar 2022-23; it includes chapters by other women scholars (including Jaya Ramji-Nogales): Beate Sjåfjell, Alla Pozdnakova, Vasuki Nesiah, Sylvia Bawa, Usha Natarajan, Elizabeth Salmon, Karin Frode and Shyami Puvimanasinghe.

For those of you attending the 2022 ASIL Conference virtually, there will be a session on solidarity in Track 6 on Competing Values of International Law. This roundtable will include Noura Erakat, Maha Hillal, Azadeh Shashahani, Nia Houston, and Cecilia Bailliet.

ECtHR’s Lost Opportunities in its Transformative Rulings: Queer Interpretation of Right to Privacy and Protection from Discrimination

European Court of Human Rights © Christian Lemâle

Previous year the European Court of Human Rights [‘the Court’ or ‘ECtHR’] delivered some significant rulings strengthening ECtHR’s jurisprudence on Article 8 and Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights [‘Convention’] concerning Queer rights. The author in this article revisits three rulings of the ECtHR to argue that, nevertheless of being progressive rulings, the Court did fall short in addressing some major issues.

Firstly, in AM v. Russia, the Court ruled that Russian Court violated Trans individual’s rights under Article 8 read with Article 14 of the Convention by ending all contact between a trans woman and her children without a balanced and reasonable assertion of the legitimate interests [see here & here].

In the AM case, the Russian authorities and the applicant’s wife argued that the applicant is suffering from Transsexualism and further contended that the applicant’s intention to disclose her gender transition information to her children will impact their mental health and psychological development. This institutionalised prejudice of Russian authorities, nevertheless of ‘homosexuality propaganda law’ being held as unconstitutional in the state, exacerbates the ‘vicious wheel’ connected with prejudiced perceptions against trans individuals and a lack of education and awareness on Queer rights. The Court fails to address this elephant in the room, that how these prejudiced notions could impact the children’s education and perception about their parent’s gender identity.

When addressing the ‘best interests of the children’s, the Court had the chance to conceptualise the children’s right to non-discrimination on the grounds of their parents’ gender identity under Article 2 Convention on the Rights of the Child [‘CRC’], and the right to preserve personal relations and direct communication with both parents continuously under Article 9/3 CRC. Further, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment no. 14 also stipulates their right to receive information on Queer Community challenges as well as gender identity and transition under Article 13 CRC and the right to education under Article 28 and, Article 29 of the CRC. Arguably, the ECtHR could have delved into significant length concerning the challenges with utilizing negative preconceptions about transgender individuals to rationalize restraining relationships and communication between transgender parents and their children.

In the second ruling, the Fedotova v. Russia, the Court ruled that Russia’s failure to provide same-sex couples with the opportunity to have their relationships formally acknowledged in form of a marriage, or in any other form is in violation of Article 8 & 10 [see here and here].

Nevertheless, the application was brought for recognition of same-sex marriage, the Court doesn’t feel adequate to discuss Article 12 [‘right to marry’] anywhere in the ruling. The Court concluded that the moral views of the majority cannot be used to deny sexual minorities access to forms of legal recognition. Taking reference from queer interpretations of the ECHR (here and here), which consider the inherent heteronormative (i.e. bi-genderism) notion of most of the Convention’s rights and how to transgress this dialectic. Regardless of the fact (which is still unclear), whether the applicant didn’t include Article 12 or not, the Court itself could have incorporated Article 12 of its own volition.

Not only Supreme Courts of other jurisdictions [the US and South Africa] but also the international institutions like Inter American Court of Human Rights [‘IACtHR’] have rejected the anti-majoritarian notion. It can be argued, that the Court’s rationale of Schalk and Kopf v. Austria, i.e. the appreciation of the majority opinion, remains viable. Furthermore, it can be argued that the ECtHR entirely embraces Article 12’s “heterosexual structure,” principally rendering the article inapplicable to same-sex relationships.

The second issue is the necessity of the non-discrimination principle under Article 14. The applicants did claim on Article 14, however, the Court concluded that it was not relevant because it heretofore ruled the violation of Article 8. Since Dudgeon v. UK, it has been a well-established tenet of the ECtHR that rules that discrimination does not need to be investigated if it is not “a crucial element of the case“. It is unrealistic to contend that the lack of legal recognition does not have a severe discriminatory intent in a nation where same-sex individuals are continuously stigmatised and marginalised, where even the Constitutional Court supported the law on prohibition on “homosexuality propaganda.”

Lastly, in the  X v. Poland case, the Court ruled that there had been a violation of Articles 8 and 14 of the Convention after the domestic courts had refused to grant custody of the child on the grounds of the mother’s sexual orientation [on mother’s relationship with another woman].

Nevertheless, the observations that the Court concluded in its rationale, which was first observed in the Hoffmann v. Austria and have been repetitively reaffirmed in many of its rulings about allegations of discriminatory treatment against divorced parents, the Court overlooked an outstanding opportunity to state unequivocally that a parent’s sexual orientation does not influence their parental capabilities. The Court could have gone a step forward like it did in Vojnity v. Hungary, where the Court made clear that parents’ religious beliefs per se cannot influence their capacity to raise their children.

In Atala Riffo v. Chile, the IACtHR concluded that the Chilean Courts’ judgement to take children from their homosexual mother’s custody based on her sexual orientation was discriminatory, emphasising that ‘an abstract reference to the child’s best interest… without specific proof of the risks or damage to children that could result from the mother’s sexual orientation’ is not acceptable’

What is more disappointing is that the third-party intervention also highlighted Poland inequalities and prejudices in legal and practical matters concerning rainbow families and the attitude towards the Queer community being negative and Queerphobic. Later, the same was also emphasized by Judge Wojtyczek in his dissenting opinion. However, the Court still neglected to address this concern.

Conclusion: The Test Continues

These judgements are undoubtedly significant and are progressive in protecting trans parents’ rights, same-sex marriage recognition and discrimination on gender identity & sexual orientation. The author doesn’t question their contribution, however, the abovementioned arguments do signify the ECtHR’s inherent narrow approach in Queer Interpretation of Article 8 and 14. The ECtHR’s upcoming opportunities here, here and here, will further demonstrate the extent to which the Court is inclined to tread unprecedented ground in terms of acknowledging rainbow family relationships.

Chronicles of an Unsung Village:  Analysing the legality of a Chinese Hamlet in Arunachal Pradesh through an International Law Perspective 

The term “territorial integrity” has a broad definition, embracing both territorial sovereignty and territorial preservation. The principle’s origins may be traced back to the Treaty of Westphalia, which established the territorial integrity and non-intervention principle as two key principles in international law in 1648. The idea of territorial integrity is incorporated into the UN Charter’s first chapter, as evidenced by the phrase “All members shall refrain from threatening or using force against the territorial integrity of any state…”

Many international treaties, such as the Organisation of Arab States (1948), the African Union (2000), and the Helsinki Final Act (1975), emphasise the need for territorial integrity protection. While highlighting the significance of a nation’s territorial integrity in his magnum opus, Just and Unjust Wars, Michael Walzer noted that it is founded on the assumption of non-interventionist approaches by states to safeguard a nation’s internal as well as external sovereignty. It ensures the integrity of a country’s border and denotes a country’s autonomy within its own borders. Unfortunately, nations are often victims of territorial integrity violations, and India is one of them this time. The recent building of a hamlet by China in Arunachal Pradesh, as verified by satellite imagery, poses a significant threat for India’s territorial integrity. “The Chinese foreign ministry has justified this construction on the grounds of construction on its own territory and has labelled it a subject of China’s sovereign rights,” according to media sources. Without a doubt, China has long asserted Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory; however, India has always denied this claim by asserting sovereignty over the north-eastern state. The author in this article seeks to show that China’s actions amount to a violation of the established principle of non-intervention, a violation of UN Charter Article 2(4) against the background of this unlawful construction .

Violation of the Non-Intervention Principle

China’s building of a hamlet in Arunachal Pradesh, a state under India’s territorial sovereignty, is a breach of the non-intervention principle. The principle basically asserts that no country can influence or engage in the internal affairs of another nation, either directly or indirectly. It is based on the principle of preserving international peace and order while respecting each nation’s geographical boundaries. “The concept of non-intervention is a consequence of the principle of sovereign equality of States since it bans States or groups of States from intervening directly or indirectly in the internal or external affairs of other States,” the ICJ said in Nicaragua v. United States. In the Lotus Case (France v. Turkey), the PCIJ said that “the first and main restraint placed by international law upon a state is that a state may not use its authority in any form in the territory of another state.” As a result, every State must be able to conduct its activities without intervention from the outside world. The concept is fundamental in international law and it has been designated as a ‘jus cogens restriction,’ as also shown by the UN Charter and the judgements in the Nicaragua and Lotus cases, in other words, the concept has been elevated to the level of customary international law, and non-compliance is disallowed, subject to specific limitations. Scholars have often used terms like “sovereignty,” “state dignity,” “inviolability of state territory,” and “jus cogens” to emphasise the principle’s critical role in preserving a nation’s territorial integrity. The ‘Declaration on the Inadmissibility of Intervention in the Domestic Affairs of States and the Protection of Their Independence and Sovereignty 1965, G.A. Res. 2131 (XX)’ also recognises it and by the International Court of Justice in the issue of Armed Activities on Congo’s Territories (DRC v. Uganda). China’s non-interventionist policy is constantly criticised, notwithstanding its importance.

China, without a doubt, has strongly proclaimed the non-interventionist stance at the Bandung Conference and on countless other occasions, but its interventionist acts have exibited that there is a contradiction between China’s words and deeds. China, as the world’s economic and military superpower, has often crossed international borders to further its own objectives. Similarly, China has engaged in “quiet intervention” by erecting Hamlets on Indian soil, thus intervening in India’s internal issues. China participates in certain interventions quietly, but refuses to use the word “intervention” to excuse its intrusive behaviour. China is promoting itself as a “New Assertive China” in the guise of constructive involvement. As a result, it would not be inaccurate to remark that China’s uncertain foreign policy is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has the potential to provide the best possible results, on the other side, it is frowned upon.

The violation of UN Charter’s Article 2(4)

Two cornerstone concepts of international law are reflected in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter: first, the principle of non-intervention, and second, the sovereign equality of all countries. The usage of the phrase “refrain from using force against territorial integrity” in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter encompasses unlawful expansion into the borders of other states as well as cross-border occurrences that infringe on the nation’s territorial sovereignty. Applying this Article to China, as a UN Charter member, the building of a village in Indian territory of Arunachal Pradesh is comparable to cross-border unlawful conduct, thus breaching India’s territorial sovereignty and the UN Charter’s aims, as defined under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter. Furthermore, China cannot use Article 51 of the UN Charter’s right of self-defence mechanism since the condition of a “armed attack by another nation” is obviously lacking in the present situation, as India has not initiated any kind of military attack against China’s village development.

Conclusion

In conclusion, China has placed a question mark on the implementation of the above cited principles by establishing an apparent Hamlet inside India’s geographical boundaries, based on a study of a globally recognised legal framework to safeguard a country’s territorial integrity. The alleged Sino operation has not only violated India’s sovereignty in the area, but also the recognised principle of non-intervention, as well as the UN Charter’s Article 2(4). The well-established concept of Non-Intervention, as its name indicates, demands a state to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of another state, either directly or indirectly. As a signatory to the United States Charter, China is obligated by its regulations, which stipulate in Article 2 that the principles of non-intervention and sovereign equality of all nations are the cornerstones of international law. China, on the other hand, has failed to comply with both. China has even gone so far as to breach other Treaty duties, including the requirement in the Declaration on Friendly Relations, the Declaration on the Right to Development, and the Manila Declaration that nations maintain each other’s territorial integrity. Though the Indo-China Border Dispute extends back centuries, the Sino side’s continued violations of international law reveal that diplomatic discussions have been ineffective, and there is a foreshadowing of a catastrophic confrontation to come.

To build a more equal global system, the UN General Assembly must first turn to remedying the UN’s own past human rights violations

To build a more equal global system, the UN General Assembly must first turn to remedying the UN’s own past human rights violations

As the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, the main deliberative and policy-making body of the UN, meets this month to address and debate the most pressing issues around the globe, it must finally ensure reparations to survivors of human rights violations in Haiti who continue to live without justice and restitution and for which the UN bears responsibility.

The overall theme for the meetings includes revitalizing the UN and respecting the rights of people. UN Secretary-General Guterres wants us to re-imagine the international system in the wake of COVID-19 and to address inequality by reforming global institutions like the UN to ensure power, wealth, and opportunity are shared more fairly. While these ambitions are commendable, the UN’s rhetoric does not line up with its (in)action. Among its other moral abdications, the UN has failed to take meaningful responsibility and offer restitution for human rights violations in Haiti, most notably with respect to a deadly epidemic that it caused and sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA) of vulnerable women and girls perpetrated by its peacekeeping troops. The UN’s calls for a fairer global system and respect for human rights cannot hold water when they are failing to deliver on accountability to populations it is meant to serve.

The many challenges facing Haiti in the fulfilment of its population’s human rights are rooted in the policies of, and engagement by, foreign states and non-state actors. Of major concern is that foreign actors often fail to take responsibility where they don’t deliver on their promises and where their work directly causes more suffering. 

For example, the UN’s fifteen-year long peacekeeping presence in Haiti that ended in 2019 resulted in several human rights violations. In October 2010, ten months after a catastrophic earthquake, UN peacekeepers introduced cholera to Haiti, which had not previously had the disease. The result was one of the largest and deadliest cholera outbreaks of the 21st century that caused at least 10,000 deaths and infected almost a million. Families were further ravaged by the financial burdens of seeking medical care and losing breadwinners. In what one senior UN human rights official has called “the single greatest example of hypocrisy in our 75-year history,” the UN failed to accept legal responsibility for the epidemic, resulting in a pitiful response that has provided no compensation to victims, in violation of their internationally recognized right to effective remedy

The UN’s failure to provide redress for cholera victims has meant that Haiti was still recovering from cholera when COVID-19 hit and when, on August 14 of this year, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck its southern peninsula. The continuing devastating impacts of the epidemic on thousands of Haitian families has contributed to the country’s extreme vulnerability to man-made and natural disasters

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Read On! The Construction of the Customary Law of Peace:Latin America and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

I am happy to announce the publication of my book. It traces the evolution of peace as a normative value within the region. It examines challenges presented by structural inequality, corruption, and exclusionary practices made evident by recent protests. I interviewed the judges of the Court who explained the pluralistic nature of peace and their quest to provide a sustainable gendered peace through innovative reparation orders and recognition of the justiciability of socio-economic rights.

Cecilia Bailliet’s book is an insightful view on the relationship between peace, as the core value of international law, and regional human rights law in Latin America. Her meticulous analysis of legal doctrine, international norms, history, and current human rights challenges, coupled with first-hand knowledge of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, brings to light new understandings of how the Court articulates regional norms and principles on peace and human dignity. Anyone interested in Latin American human rights law should read Bailliet’s work.’
– Jorge Contesse, Rutgers Law School, US

https://www.e-elgar.com/shop/gbp/the-construction-of-the-customary-law-of-peace-9781800371866.html

CEPAZ/UPEACE Webinar on the Role of the Security Council and other UN bodies in the Venezuelan situation


The United Nations Security Council has the primary responsibility of maintaining international peace and security pursuant to the powers granted in Chapters VI, VII, and VIII of the Charter. At the core of this competence to decide on non-coercive and coercive measures is the construction of what constitutes a threat to international peace and security according to Article 39 of the Charter. Although initially threats to international peace and security referred almost exclusively to conflicts between states, currently it could also refer to situations within states, including civil wars, humanitarian crises, and coups d’état. Nevertheless, there is still difficulty in conceptualizing the role that the international community can have, especially through the action of the Security Council, when atrocities occur at the hands of a government within state borders without a nexus to an armed conflict.
The response given by the Security Council and other UN political bodies to the situation in Venezuela serves as an example of these contentious issues. Venezuela is currently suffering one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. The country has experienced 7 years of economic contraction, hyperinflation, political polarization and institutional challenges, which have caused large-scale human suffering. OCHA has estimated that there are 7 million people in need in the country, and according to ACAPS this number reaches more than 13 million. The severity Index of the Venezuelan crisis has been estimated at 4.1/5, which is considered as very high and is similar to the index of other crises which have gotten a stronger response by the international community, namely Syria (4.9), Myanmar (3.5), Libya (4.2) and Yemen (4.6). In spite of the gravity and complexity of this crisis, there has not been an appropriate response from the international community. The 2020 Venezuelan Human Response Plan was one of the world’s lowest funded.

Importantly, the Security Council and other political bodies of the United Nations have failed to play an important role in its resolution. The Council has met nine times to discuss the situation in Venezuela but has not managed to provide a unified response to support Venezuelans in finding a solution to the crisis. This lack of response may be partly given to the fact that the situation is understood primarily as a domestic issue where the principles of sovereignty and non-interference trump the responsibility to protect even in the face of mass atrocity crimes. An ineffective response from the international community in the face of a humanitarian crisis and gross human rights violations has a direct impact in exacerbating the situation. States continue to commit atrocity crimes if they calculate that they will be protected from a strong response by international actors and that the cost of breaching human rights is bearable.
The seminar addressed the concepts and theoretical analysis which would allow the understanding of the humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela as a threat to international peace and security. The event was moderated by Mariateresa Garrido and included presentations by Professor Cecilia M. Bailliet, University of Oslo, Norway, Adriana Salcedo, UPeace Costa Rica, and Richard Gowan, UN Director, International Crisis Group. The webinar is available here