Work On! ICCT Advanced Summer Programme

Work On! is an occasional item about workshops, roundtables, and other fora that do not necessarily include publication:

Screen Shot 2017-06-19 at 8.43.00 PMThe International Centre for Counter Terrorism with the T.M.C. Asser Institute is hosting an Advanced Summer Programme on August 28-September 1, 2017, at The Hague. Theme is “Countering Terrorism: Legal Challenges and Dilemmas.” Deadline to register is July 23, 2017. Details here. Preliminary programme here.

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Cuba’s Terror Designation – Major Shift or Symbolic Step?

Following the December, 2014 announcement of a major U.S. policy shift towards Cuba, President Obama has formally submitted to Congress the Administration’s intent to rescind Cuba’s State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) designation.

Cuba was listed on the SST roster in 1982 pursuant to three laws:

  1. Section 6 (j) of the Export Administration Act;
  2. Section 40 of the Arms Export Control Act; and
  3. Section 620A of the Foreign Assistance Act.

Once designated, a country remains on the list until the designation is rescinded. The Administration’s review presented to Congress determined that Cuba had not engaged in terrorist activity in the past six months and relied on assurances that Cuba will not support terrorism in the future. Following a 45-day review period, Cuba will be removed from the SST list unless blocked by a joint resolution of Congress.

Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and South Yemen have all had their previous designations rescinded in this manner, though there has been some movement in Congress to have North Korea re-designated on the SST list. This also follows the March announcement by the Treasury Department that 59 individuals and entities would be removed from the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list under the Kingpin Act. This list, administered by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), designates individuals and companies that are subject to asset blocks and prohibitions from dealings with U.S. persons.

Most importantly, while this does represent another step towards increasing liberalization in U.S. policy towards the island nation, it does not affect the main embargo currently in place. Further action by the relevant agencies including OFAC and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) will be needed to alter the current status of sanctions and export control restrictions.

For more on this topic, see related articles by yours truly here and fellow Grrl Andrea M. Ewart here as well as agency guidance from the Treasury Department’s FAQ on Cuba.

 

Arab Bank Case Sets Limited Precedent

On Monday September 22, 2014, a jury in the US District Court of Brooklyn found that the Arab Bank is liable for financing terrorism. This is the first jury trial to find a bank liable for financing terrorism under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). The Arab Bank contends that the case was riddled with errors that should be rectified upon appeal before the Second Circuit. The Central Bank of Jordan has come out in support of the Bank, whose earnings constitute a quarter of the country’s stock market portfolio.

The decision, dubbed as a “trial against Hamas,” has been welcomed by some Palestine advocates. They are hopeful that this means, Israeli or US banks can be sued for facilitating the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank. That, however, is just not possible for two reasons. First, US federal courts have demonstrated an unwillingness to challenge Israeli policies, preferring to punt those questions to the Executive Branch instead. Second, it is a legislative invention, namely the ATA, that has made this case possible. Together, executive shielding of Israeli actions from judicial review and legislative endorsement of suits against Arab defendants, makes similar suit challenging Israel’s settlement policies very unlikely.

The U.S. federal court system has consistently invoked the political question doctrine to shield individuals connected to the Israeli government. The doctrine prevents the U.S. federal court system from adjudicating an issue that the U.S. Constitution textually commits to another branch of government. Since the Constitution commits foreign relations to the executive and legislative branches, the judicial branch may reject a claim as in-actionable by invoking the political question doctrine.

In 2005, Palestinian bystanders injured and killed during an operation intended to kill a Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip brought a lawsuit under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) against Abraham Dichter, the former director of Israel’s General Security Services responsible for the operation. The plaintiffs in Matar v. Dichter, 563 F.3d 9, 11 (2d Cir. 2009) claimed that the targeted killing was extrajudicial, prohibited by the Torture Victims Protection Act (TVPA), and actionable in U.S. courts under the ATS. The Second Circuit dismissed the case for raising a political question. It characterized Dichter’s military actions as part of Israel’s foreign policy and therefore non-justiciable. The Department of State (DOS) submitted a Statement of Interest to the Court urging it to not hear the case. Israel’s Ambassador to the US at the time also submitted a letter claiming that Dichter’s actions constitute official Israeli policy. These letters had considerable influence on the panel.

In Belhas v. Ya’alon, 515 F.3d 1279, 1282 (D.C. Cir. 2008), Lebanese citizens – who were injured and killed when Israel shelled a United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) compound – sued Moshe Ya’alon, head of the Israeli Army Intelligence during the time of the shelling. The DC District Court dismissed the case for being barred by the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA), which prohibits suit against a foreign country in US courts.

The claims were never heard on their merits.


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Security Council Resolution 2170 against the world’s richest terrorist organization

On 15 August 2014, about a week prior to harsh criticism from the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay ( available here ) for its lack of responsiveness, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2170 in response to the terrorist activities of the Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL) and the Al Nusrah Fron (ANF) as well as other entities associated with Al-Qaida.

This resolution imposes three main duties on all states:

1. Action against the export of terrorist fighters

2. Action against the financing of terrorism

3. Sanctions

The first action consists of four sub-duties. Firstly, the duty of all states to take national measures to prevent the flow of foreign terrorist fighters to IS, ANF and connected entities. According to existing estimates, most fighters are foreign- many from Europe, from neighbouring countries and from as far as Indonesia and Chechnya. Secondly, the resolution imposes a duty to bring such individuals to justice. Thirdly, a duty to discourage individuals who are at risk of recruitment and violent radicalization to travel to Syria and Iraq for the purposes of supporting or fighting for IS and ANF. And finally, a duty to prevent direct and indirect supply, sale or transfer to IS, ANF and other individuals and groups associated with Al-Qaida, of arms and related material, as well as assistance and training related to military activities.

The second action, imposes a duty upon all states to prevent and suppress the financing of terrorist acts, including the duty to prevent that economic resources are made available for the benefit of these groups. Since IS and ANF have control over a number of oilfields, this imposes a duty for states to refrain from engaging in energy trade with them.

The third action concerning sanctions, lists the names of six individuals on the sanctions list, and encourages that each state submits a list of individuals and entities supporting IS, ANF and similar gorups.

Combining both human and financial support, as well as direct and indirect support, the broadness of the resolution’s language makes it an effective legal tool for reducing the power of IS/ANF. But only if taken seriously, and if taken seriously by all states. Recognized as the riches terrorist organization in the world, the IS has been able to survive for as long as it has, through donations both from states and from individuals with and without connections to states. The resolution prohibits both. The exact answer to where the money comes from has been controversial and it is difficult to point to publicly accessible proofs. The Iraqi Premier Minister, Nouri al-Maliki said on 17 June 2014 that “we hold Saudi Arabia responsible” for the financial and moral support given to IS. Saudi Arabia’s close ally, the USA, rejected that accusation. However, some researchers have supported al-Maliki’s claim, and pointed not only to Saudi Arabia, but also to Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates- states of which the six black listed individuals in the resolution are citizens. Another important source of funding has been oil trade, an action also prohibited under the resolution. According to a US intelligence expert, IS draws as much as $ 1 million per day in oil profit from oil well under its control, in a market where demand is high.

Despite the universal condemnation of the IS and ANF, the content of Resolution 2170 clearly indicates that a number of states and individuals have been directly or indirectly cooperating with them. Clearly, someone is buying their oil, providing them with arms and money, and actively sending or not preventing own nationals from joining them. The resolution can thus be read as placing responsibility on the world community for having allowed for the existence of and for having supported the IS/ANF. It is positive that the Security Council now has used international law to point to the responsibility and duty of all states , but it is regrettable that it has to come after a heavy human cost.

The al-Shabaab Mall Attack and the Right of Self-Defence

Flag_of_Kenya.svgOn 21 September 2013, gunmen stormed Nairobi’s Westgate mall, randomly firing at people and taking hostages. The siege lasted four days. At least 67 people are known to have died and more than 200 were injured. Somalia-based Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. On 24 September 2013, while declaring the end of the siege, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised full accountability for the attack.

After a four-day stand-off, security forces succeeded in ending the siege, killing five gunmen and apprehending several others. The question thus arises whether similar law enforcement action will suffice to ward off future attacks and address the overall threat al-Shabaab poses to Kenya and the region.

Based in Somalia, al-Shabaab is believed to have approximately 5000 fighters, with foreign jihadists reportedly traveling to the country to join the group. Despite having been forced out of most urban areas, al-Shabaab remains in control of most of southern and central Somalia. In February 2012, its leader, Ahmed Godane, pledged obedience to al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri. Moreover, the group has been recruiting US and European citizens.

It is thus reasonable to assume that law enforcement alone will not eradicate the danger al-Shabaab poses. The Kenyan government may consider using military force against the group in exercise of its right to self-defence. This would not be the first time Kenya took defensive action against al-Shabaab. In October 2011, the Kenyan military entered Somali territory to fight the militants. In a letter to the Security Council, the Kenyan Permanent Representative reported that “Kenya, (…), has, after the latest direct attacks on Kenyan territory and the accompanying loss of life and kidnappings of Kenyans and foreign nationals by the Al-Shabaab terrorists, decided to undertake remedial and pre-emptive action”. 

After 9/11, the Security Council implicitly recognized that self-defence could be used against terrorist attacks. Since then, it is increasingly accepted that the right of self-defence, as enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter, can be invoked against non-state actors, as long as the customary law requirements of necessity and proportionality are met (see Chapter 10 of my book on this topic).

The question then arises whether the mall siege amounts to an armed attack, triggering the exercise of self-defence. The siege lasted four days, resulted in a high death toll, caused widespread injury and considerable property damage. Such attacks are generally accepted as reaching the threshold of armed attacks (see Chapter 3 of Tom Ruys’ book on this topic).

That consideration alone, however, is not enough to invoke the right of self-defence. The principle of necessity also requires that there is a sense of emergency (immediacy), which makes defensive use of force urgent and inevitable. If the threat can be neutralized through other means, the exercise of self-defence cannot be justified. Continue reading