Trump, torture and the United States’ obligations under international law

Caleb Wheeler, PhD Student in International Law, Middlesex University, London

Introduction

            Donald Trump’s election as the next president of the United States has cast doubt on whether the United States will continue to comply with a variety of its different international human rights obligations. One issue in particular, Trump’s attitude towards the use of torture, could significantly diminish the United States’ compliance with its international treaty obligations.  This blog post examines the United States’ international obligations with regard to torture, and whether Trump’s policies as proposed through his campaign statements conform to those obligations.  It concludes that they do not and that if the United States reauthorises the use of torture it will be in violation of its international commitments.

Trump’s statements on torture

Donald Trump’s election as the next president of the United States has cast doubt on whether the United States will continue to comply with a variety of its different international human rights obligations. While significant post-election attention has been paid to how Trump’s proposed policies comport with domestic human rights law, it is also important to analyse whether his positions comply with international law.  One issue in particular, Trump’s position on the use of torture, could significantly diminish the United States’ compliance with its international (treaty) obligations.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric was fraught with contradictory and troubling statements regarding the use of torture. His initial statement on torture came on 25 November 2015, when, at a campaign rally he stated “[w]ould I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would. In a heartbeat. I would approve more than that.”On 17 February 2016, Trump asserted that “torture works”, that he believed in the efficacy of waterboarding and that the United States should employ “much stronger” types of torture than waterboarding when questioning suspected terrorists. On 4 March, Trump appeared to back away from that statement when he told the Wall Street Journal that, if elected, he would not order members of the military to violate international law. He almost immediately changed course again indicating on 6 March 2016 that the United States should expand its laws to authorise the use of greater forms of torture. Trump returned to the topic of torture at the end of June when he reaffirmed his affection for waterboarding as an interrogation technique and suggested that he “[doesn’t] think it is tough enough.”

Trump’s declaration that as president he would not ask American troops to violate international law appears anomalous when placed in the context of his other assertions on the issue of torture.  This is particularly true when one considers that he repeatedly advocated in favour of changing domestic law so as to permit a more expansive use of torture as an interrogation technique. However, United States’ law comprehensively bans the use of torture and it would be difficult for Trump to unilaterally alter those provisions.

The United States’ obligations

The prohibition against torture has its roots in the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, which bans the use of cruel and unusual punishment, although there is an ongoing debate as to whether the Eighth Amendment is applicable in all situations involving torture. United States’ law also contains several different explicit prohibitions against torture. 18 U.S.C. §2340A forbids torture if it occurs outside of the United States and the perpetrator is either an American national or can be found in the United States following the alleged criminal act. Additionally, one of Barack Obama’s first acts after becoming president was to issue an executive order in which he specified that individuals detained in an armed conflict were to be treated humanely, were not to be subjected to torture and restricted all interrogation techniques to those discussed in the Army Field Manual 2-22.3. That executive order was reinforced by the McCain-Feinstein Amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2016 which made the Army Field Manual 2-22.3 the single and standard guide for all interrogations conducted by American personnel or at American facilities of individuals detained during armed combat. The passage of this Amendment is significant as it eliminates the possibility of Trump unilaterally overruling President Obama’s Executive Order, necessitating Congressional action before torture could be authorised. These protections, together with the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, which forbids the use of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment against detainees, but stops short of banning torture outright, will make it difficult for Trump to permit the renewed use torture.

If Trump were to somehow re-authorise the use of torture under domestic law, those actions would violate the United States’ international obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention Against Torture.  Article 7 of 1966 the International Covenant, which the United States ratified in 1992, unequivocally states “[n]o one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” This prohibition against torture was strengthened and made specific through the 1984 Convention Against Torture.  Signed by the United States in 1988 and ratified in 1994, the Convention Against Torture was introduced to combat the use of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment in recognition of the inherent dignity of human beings and the obligation to promote universal respect for human rights found in Article 55 of the Charter of the United Nations.

If taken at face value, always a danger when considering Trump’s statements, his policy regarding the use of torture would conflict with all three subsections of Article 2 of the Convention Against Torture.  Article 2(1) requires each State Party to the Convention to enact effective legislation, laws and administrative rules to prevent acts of torture from occurring in territory under its control. Trump’s statements propose just the opposite as he advocates in favour of laws designed to accommodate and encourage harsher forms of torture. Therefore, not only would Trump’s suggested policies not comply with Article 2(1), they would be directly contradictory to it as they would involve enacting laws and legislation designed to facilitate acts of torture.

Article 2(2) does not allow assertions of exceptional circumstances, including war, threat of war, public emergency or domestic political instability, to justify the use of torture. Trump’s statements make clear that he believes that expanding the laws relating to torture are justified to the extent that doing so is necessary in the context of the United States’ conflict with Islamic State. This is akin to invoking exceptional circumstances based on a state of war as Trump has essentially argued that the vicious tactics employed by Islamic State justify similar brutality on the part of the United States.  Therefore, his position does not comply with Article 2(2).

Article 2(3) of the Convention Against Torture forbids the invocation of orders from a superior officer as a justification for committing acts of torture. If Trump were to enact his stated policies regarding torture, the laws of the United States would not correspond to international law and the United States would find itself in breach of Article 2(3). That is because American service members are subject to the United States’ Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 90 of which makes it a crime, sometimes punishable by death, to disobey the lawful command of a superior officer. If torture were legal under the laws of the United States, an order to commit torture would be a lawful command as it would be an order that is consistent with the law.  By making torture legal the United States will also legitimise superior orders as a justification for committing torture as the a member of the military will be required to carry out the commanded act as part of his her obligation under Article 90 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

To the extent that the United States is engaged in an armed conflict with Islamic State, any change to the United States’ practices regarding torture would also result in the violation of numerous provisions of the Geneva Conventions. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols outlaw torture in most instances involving armed combat.  Further, acts of torture as described in the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols are considered grave breaches of each convention and, under Article 85 of the First Additional Protocol, those grave breaches can become war crimes. As a result, the decision to commit torture under any of these circumstances would violate the respective convention and might also be considered a war crime.

Above and beyond the United States’ treaty obligations is the fact that the prohibition against torture is considered jus cogens. As such, it is non-derogable and assumes a rank above treaty law and rules of ordinary customary international law. The classification of the prohibition against torture would have a two-fold effect on the United States.  First, it would serve to delegitimise any judicial, legislative or administrative act authorising torture on a national level. Second, those engaging in torture under relevant domestic laws would be exposed to prosecution in international jurisdictions or by a subsequent regime in the United States. This could result in potential repercussions against citizens of the United States that authorise or commit acts of torture, even if done under the pretext of positive national law.

Conclusions

Any change to American policy expanding the use of torture would be in direct contravention of jus cogens and its international treaty obligations.  Unfortunately, Trump has signaled a willingness to modify or opt out of treaty commitments that he believes do not directly benefit the United States and it is unlikely that he would allow the jus cogens nature of the prohibition against torture to constrain his actions as president. Although Trump has stated that he would not direct American troops to violate international law if elected president, his oft-repeated desire to expand the use of torture under domestic law weakens any argument suggesting that he might comply with international law on this issue.  Hopefully, Congress will resist any attempt by Trump to re-authorise the use of torture and the United States will continue to comply with the applicable international human rights standards.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed

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FINALLY, THE FINAL AGREEMENT. A comparative perspective on the Colombian Peace Agreement

After a long and tortuous journey, the final Agreement between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP[1] has been ratified. The previous version of the agreement, which was announced on past 24th August, was rejected in the referendum held on 2nd October by an unexpected and narrow majority of Colombian citizens. Yet, a process to revise the agreement was held shortly after.

The revised agreement was signed on 24th November and, instead of being submitted to a new referendum, it has been ratified by the Parliament, thereby reaching its final status. Now the time has come for implementation, and both the legislative and the executive branches of the Colombian State are struggling to pass the required laws and reforms in a short time.

Although it is difficult to make a thorough analysis of a transitional project that has not been put into practice yet, an analysis of the Agreement itself from a comparative perspective offers some very interesting insights. The Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP hereafter), particularly, shows the results of lessons learnt from other transitional experiences, but it combines them with some quite original features that turns it into a novel and interesting case study.

1) The creation of a special jurisdiction

The decision to create an ad hoc judicial body to deal with the offences committed during a conflict or under a repressive regime is rather common in transitional contexts. One might recall, in addition to the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the many hybrid or internationalised Tribunals, such as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia or the Special Court for Sierra Leona.

All those bodies were created by virtue of an agreement between the State concerned and the United Nations and they always have an international component, either fixed or changing over time (this is the case for the War Crimes Chamber in Bosnia Herzegovina, in which the initial number of 2 foreign judges was gradually reduced until their elimination in 2012).[2]

On the contrary, the Colombian SJP is the outcome of a national decision, and the international community only plays a role as an external observer and guarantor of its implementation. Additionally, whereas the first version of the final Agreement envisaged the presence of a minority of international members within the judicial bodies, this provision has been eliminated in the revised agreement. There is still room for foreign experts, but they act as amici curiae, that is, with a merely consultative role. Just like in the original agreement, their participation is optional, insofar as it occurs only when the accused requires it.[3] Therefore, even if their participation in the processes might have a (positive) impact, the concrete resolutions and judgments will be delivered by Colombian judges.

2) Amnesty, pardon and political crimes

In the special justice system the category of political crimes plays a pivotal role. The Agreement expressly states that people who have been convicted or who face an investigation for a number of political and related crimes shall benefit from an amnesty or pardon. Such possibility was already provided in the Constitutional reform known as “Marco jurídico para la paz”, which granted constitutional status to the transitional principles and mechanisms that were later developed in the negotiation between the Government and FARC.

The same option was taken by South Africa in its transitional process after the fall of the apartheid regime. There, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) had the power to grant an amnesty to people who had committed crimes for political reasons.[4] The Act creating the TRC provided a minimum guidance on which offences fell into this category,[5] but it was the Amnesty Committee within the TRC that developed a set of criteria to determine whether a crime fitted in the definition, based on a case by case approach.[6]

The Colombian project has taken a step forward in this regard, since the final Agreement sets out a list of offences that amount to political crimes per se (rebellion, sedition, mutiny, and so on) as well as a number of interpretive criteria to define the related crimes.[7] According to the Amnesty Act, which was passed on 28th December, the former category shall be granted a de jure amnesty, whereas the latter qualification shall be established by the Amnesty Chamber case by case and according to the criteria envisaged in the final Agreement and in the Act. This feature improves the legal certainty and helps preventing inconsistencies and arbitrariness in the relevant decisions.

3) Beneficial measures as an incentive

Another point in common with the transitional experience in South Africa is the application of an incentive mechanism based on the exclusion/limitation of criminal punishment. The South African TRC could only grant an amnesty after the offender made a full disclosure of all relevant facts .[8] In a similar vein, the Colombian SJP may grant beneficial sanctions to those offenders who voluntarily recognise their responsibility. It may exempt them from imprisonment and subject them to restrictions on freedom and to reparation programs, or, in case of a belated recognition, it may impose them a reduced prison term.[9]

Both mechanisms are based on an exchange between the offenders’ contribution to the discovering of the facts and the imposition of beneficial measures. This strategy provides a strong incentive for perpetrators to take part in the procedures aimed at clarifying and declaring the offences and providing reparation to the victims. The contribution thus given by the perpetrators fosters the fulfilment of two key transitional goals, namely, truth and reparation.

The main difference lies in that the South African measure envisaged a total exclusion of criminal punishment, whereas the Colombian system provides for alternative and reduced criminal sanctions under this exchange dynamic. Accordingly, the competent body to grant the beneficial measure in the Colombian project is a tribunal, whereas in South Africa it was a non-judicial body.

 As we have seen in the previous section, amnesty is also envisaged as a tool, but outside this exchange mechanism and only for political and related crimes. This is another difference with the South African experiment, where  the exchange mechanism applied to a wider number of offences, including international crimes, which are expressly excluded from the Colombian amnesty.

4) Alternative sanctions with a restorative content

Among the different sanctions that the Special Jurisdiction for Peace envisages, the most novel ones are the alternative sanctions (which the Agreement calls “sanciones propias”, i.e., “own sanctions”). They shall be imposed if the offenders recognise their responsibility before having been formally charged before the tribunal and are accordingly the most beneficial ones. They encompass the limitation of the offenders’ freedom of movement together with the obligation to perform activities such as environmental protection, substitution of illicit crops, and programs to build infrastructures.

These sanctions have a clear restorative focus, in that they aim at repairing the harm done to victims and communities that were affected by the crimes committed during the conflict. Moreover, they shall be executed at a local level and beneficiaries may have a say in the definition of programs and their execution.

These two features remind of a mechanism that was put into practice in the transitional process in East Timor. There, the Community Reconciliation Procedure, which was a complement of the Comissão de Acolhimento, Verdade e Reconciliação,[10] may impose on the offenders a restorative measure, such as community service (an example was cleaning the community church once a week).[11] The aim of this mechanism was to both grant victims’ reparation and foster offenders’ reintegration into their communities.[12]

The same idea lies under the Colombian “own sanctions”, which are anyway more burdensome insofar as they also imply a restriction on freedom of movement. Nonetheless, the East Timorese mechanism only applied to less serious offences, for example, bodily harm and offences against property, while the serious offences were prosecuted before the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in the Courts of Dili[13] and entailed ordinary prison sentences.

The Colombian proposal is much more ambitious in this regard, since it provides that the “own sanctions” shall apply to very serious offences, including international crimes, under the condition that the offenders recognise their responsibility.

5) Final remarks

These features show that the complex transitional design envisaged in the Agreement between the Colombian Government and FARC-EP has treasured the lessons learnt from many other transitional experiences. But this scheme contains some original features that might offer new models and ideas for Transitional Justice. The creation of a national special jurisdiction, the use of amnesties, pardons and alternative penalties as tools under an exchange mechanism, the imposition of alternative sanctions with a restorative content (even for serious offences), may be interesting mechanisms for future transitional experiences.

Now, the world has its eye on the implementation of this design.

[1] The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo are the main guerrilla group in the Colombian armed conflict.

[2] G. Werle, F. Jessberger (2014), Principles of International Criminal Law, 3rd ed., 128.

[3] Para. 65, Point 5 (”Victims”) of the Final Agreement.

[4] A. Lollini (2011), “Constitutionalism and Transitional Justice in South Africa” (Oxford – New York: Berghahn Books).

[6] A. Du Bois-Pedain (2007), “Transitional Amnesty in South Africa” (Cambridge: CUP). Political crimes included gross human rights violations, as set out in s 19(3) (b) of the Act. When these offences were concerned, the Committee may not grant amnesty without holding a hearing.

[7] Paras. 39-40, Point 5 (“Victims”) of the Final Agreement.

[8] Section 20(1)(c) of the TRC Act. See also: J. Sarkin-Hughes (2004), “Carrots and Sticks: The TRC and the South African Amnesty Process” (Cambridge: Intersentia).

[9] See the following Section of the post.

[10] Created by UNTAET Regulation 2001/10, “On the establishment of a Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation in East Timor”, 13.07.2001.

[11] W. Lambourne (2012), “Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation (East Timor)”. In L. Stan, & N. Nedelsky (eds.), Encyclopedia of Transitional Justice (Vol. 3, Cambridge: CUP), 46.

[12] Burgess (2005), “Justice and reconciliation in East Timor”. 15 Criminal Law Forum, 135-158.

[13] Created by UNTAET Regulation 2000/15, “On the establishment of Panels with exclusive jurisdiction over serious criminal offences”, 6.6.2000.

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The relationship between Russia and the ICC and the US precedent: Do ‘great’ states act alike?

Introduction

On 16th November 2016 several media outlets announced Russia’s intention to withdraw from the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court (ICC, the Court). Since Russia is not a party to this treaty, the withdrawal they referred to might rather be defined as an attempt to remove the Russian representative’s signature from the ICC Statute. Still, from an international law standpoint, what consequences can arise? A precedent regarding another Permanent Member of the UN Security Council (SC), the US, which has ‘unsigned’ the Statute, could be relevant.[1] This post aims at examining the US precedent and will conclude that all considerations made years ago about it can, mutatis mutandis, be applicable to Russia today. It will be also argued that taking into account the unique object and purpose of the ICC Statute, states’ practice to ‘unsign’ it might not free them from the obligation not to defeat the object and purpose of the Statute.

Russia and the ICC

Russia signed the ICC Statute in 2000, but never ratified it. Some have viewed the withdrawal of the signature as a new signal of a growing aversion of states towards the ICC.[2] Not only have South Africa, Burundi and Gambia stated their intention to withdraw from the ICC Statute earlier this year, but the Philippines has also declared it might do the same. Others have linked such an event to another moment of friction between Russia and the ICC, namely the decision by the Court authorizing an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict in South Ossetia. Even more importantly, on 14th November 2016 the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, released her 2016 Report on Preliminary Examination Activities, which states as follows.

The information available suggests that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol amounts to an international armed conflict between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. This international armed conflict began at the latest on 26 February when the Russian Federation deployed members of its armed forces to gain control over parts of the Ukrainian territory without the consent of the Ukrainian Government. The law of international armed conflict would continue to apply after 18 March 2014 to the extent that the situation within the territory of Crimea and Sevastopol factually amounts to an on-going state of occupation. A determination of whether or not the initial intervention which led to the occupation is considered lawful or not is not required.[3]

Coming just two days after the Office of Ms Bensouda released this report, the Russian decision to ‘unsign’ the Rome Statute therefore acquires significant political importance.

 

The US precedent

At the 1998 UN Diplomatic conference in Rome, the US asked for an unrecorded vote and voted against the adoption of the ICC Statute.[4] Subsequently, on 31 December 2000, President Clinton decided to sign it. It was, however never ratified by the US Congress. On the contrary, in 2002 the US Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Bolton, notified the UN Secretary General of President Bush’s intention to ‘unsign’ the Statute. At the time, the US Administration relied on article 18 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), which, in its relevant parts, reads as follows.

A State is obliged to refrain from acts which would defeat the object and purpose of a treaty when:

(a) It has signed the treaty or has exchanged instruments constituting the treaty subject to ratification, acceptance or approval, until it shall have made its intention clear not to become a party to the treaty; (…)

In other words, Bolton’s letter was meant to make the US intention not to become a party to the ICC Statute clear. However, since then, the ICC has been treating the US as a signatory state. In 2010, for example, the US participated in the Kampala Review Conference as an ‘observer state’ and the ICC has reserved this status only to those states that have signed the Statute.[5] Many commentators furthermore argued that, while it was possible for a state to free itself from any obligations arising from a treaty to which it was not a party, according to the VCLT there was not such a thing as the possibility for a state to ‘unsign’ a treaty.

Thus, it seems here unreasonable to depart from such conclusions when it comes to Russia: although in the future they might declare themselves to have ‘unsigned’ the Statute, the signature will still be there. Yet, it might not produce any obligation to cooperate with the Court anymore. But what are the object and purpose of the Rome Statute? Can any state really claim to be free from any obligation to refrain from acts that would defeat such object and purpose?

The object and purpose of the ICC Statute

In April 2016, in its Decision on Defence Applications for Judgments of Acquittal in the case of Prosecutor v. William Samoei Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang, Trial Chamber (V) recalled that ‘[i]n the specific context of the Rome Statute, the Appeals Chamber has held that the purposes of a treaty “may be gathered from its preamble and general tenor of the treaty.” Therefore, the preamble to the Rome Statute must be consulted for the object and purpose of the Statute.’[6]

Thus, it seems here important to recall that in the Preamble, States Parties to the ICC have affirmed ‘that the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished and that their effective prosecution must be ensured by taking measures at the national level and by enhancing international cooperation.’[7] One of the purposes of the ICC Statute, according to paragraph 5 of the Preamble, is in fact to ‘put an end to impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes and thus to contribute to the prevention of such crimes.’

Unlike other states,[8] since the US and Russia are two of the UN SC Permanent Members, it is unlikely that they will ever adopt any resolutions requiring them to cooperate with the Court (for instance, in those cases involving their nationals) on the basis of a SC Resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Indeed, in relation to those cases that have so far been referred to by the UN Security Council, the Court has made clear that no obligation vis-à-vis the Court arise for States not Parties that are not expressly mentioned in the relevant Resolution. This, of course, would regard also those States that have signed the Statute but for a reason or another but have never ratified it. Thus, once they notify their intention not to become a State Party, US and Russia might be considered free from any obligations to cooperate with the Court,[9]including, for instance, the obligation to surrender their nationals who are accused of having committed one of the ‘most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole’ to which the Preamble refers and that, therefore, constitute the object of the treaty.

However, States Parties to the ICC do have a duty to cooperate with the Court, so that if Russian nationals happen to be on their territory, they might be arrested and surrendered to the Court.[10] This might turn out to be particularly relevant in the situation relating to Georgia, as well as with respect to Ukraine, should the Prosecutor decide to open an investigation and be authorized in this sense by the Court. Although Ukraine is not a party to the Statute, on 17 April 2014 and on 8 September 2015 it made two declarations under article 12(3) ICC Statute and, therefore, became equal to any State Party when it comes to its obligations to cooperate with the Court in respect of crimes committed during the periods covered by the two declarations read in conjunction (i.e., since 21 November 2013 on the stipulated territory).

Moreover, looking at the Preamble, and therefore at the object and purpose of the Statute, it is difficult to claim that Russia (as well as the US or any other State not Party) could consider itself free to leave unpunished those among its nationals or, alternatively, who find themselves in Russian territory, allegedly responsible for the commission of at least some of the ‘most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole’. This seems to find confirmation in the obligation to prevent Genocide (under article I Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide) and punish those responsible for the commission of the acts provided for by article III of the same Convention, which took place within their territory; to punish war crimes, including those committed by states’ own nationals, and crimes against humanity.[11]

Conclusion

Russia’s recent initiative to ‘unsign’ the ICC Statute might have a strong political significance. When it comes to its legal implications, this might be a Russian attempt to free itself from any obligations to cooperate with the Court in the future, especially with regard to the situation in Georgia and, possibly, in Ukraine. However, first, looking at the US precedent, it appears that the ICC may keep considering Russia a signatory state; second, States Parties will still have their own obligation to cooperate with the Court which may result in the arrest and surrender Russian nationals if abroad; third, even if Russia might be free not to cooperate with the Court, this will not be equal to a right to act and defeat the object and purpose of the Rome Statute. On the contrary, Russia might well be considered obliged to punish those having committed genocide, war crimes and/or crimes against humanity in any case.

[1] Along with the US, Israel and Sudan have also notified to the UN Secretary General their willingness not to become a Party to the Statute. Yet, Israel has been treated as an ‘observer state’ within the meaning of Rule 1 of the ICC ASP Rules of Procedure (see infra fn 5). Since 2005 the UN SC has triggered the ICC jurisdiction on crimes committed in Sudan, which therefore cannot provide a relevant precedent for the purposes of this post.

[2] BBC, ‘Russia withdraws from International Criminal Court treaty’ (16 November 2016) <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-38005282> (accessed 18 November 2016).

[3]The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2016 (14 November 2016) at 158 [emphasis added].

[4]William A. Schabas, ‘United States Hostility to the International Criminal Court: It’s All About the Security Council’ 15 (2003) EJIL 701, 708.

[5] See, Rule 1 of the ICC Draft Rule of Procedure of the Review Conferences (May 2010), or Rule 1 of the Rules of Procedure of the Assembly of States Parties.

[6]Prosecutor v. William Samoei Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang, ICC-01/09-01/11, Decision on Defence Applications for Judgments of Acquittal, 5 April 2016, at 438.

[7]ICC Statute, Preamble, paragraph 4 [emphasis added].

[8]See UN Doc. S/RES/1593 (2005) and S/RES/1970 (2011).

[9]See articles 86, 87, 89, and 93 ICC Statute.

[10]Ibid.

[11] Nicholas Michel and Katherine Del Mar, ‘Transitional Justice’ in A. Clapham and P. Gaeta (eds), The Oxford Handbook of International Law in Armed Conflict (OUP 2014) 864-865.screen-shot-2016-12-02-at-10-42-31

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The 2016 Rojava Social Contract: a Democratic Experiment of Civil and Social Rights in Northern Syria

The region of Rojava, in the north of Syria, also known as Syrian Kurdistan, received international attention for its innovative system of autonomous administration, which was self-proclaimed in January 2014. Through an original Constitution, the so-called Social Contract, the de facto authorities proposed a pioneering political system based on participatory democracy, gender equality, minority rights, ecology and secularism.

After a brief introduction on the region, this post will present the main point of interest from a human rights perspective: the Constitution of Rojava, whose last version, designated as the Social Contract of the Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava, was presented in July 2016. This analysis will then attempt to put the legal instrument in context, presenting its cultural origins. It will, finally, reflect upon the potential impact and broader political and cultural relevance of the political experiment.

The Self-Proclaimed Autonomous Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava

Following years of hostilities with governmental forces, in the context of the Syrian conflict which broke out in 2011, Rojava proclaimed its autonomy from the Syrian Government in January 2014. The Kurdish “Democratic Union Party” (PYD, Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat‎) led the self-proclaimed autonomous region to elections and to the adoption of its first Constitution: the “Charter of the Social Contract”. The Charter promoted the democratic participation and human rights of minorities within the multicultural region of Rojava, by means of a polity system called “democratic confederalism”. This theory aims to foster coexistence in multicultural societies by transcending the notion of the nation state. The region implemented its autonomous administration without claiming independence, but by choosing to remain part of a united Syria. In May 2014, Daesh started carrying out attacks in the region. The most notable success of the local army, the People’s Protection Unit, YPG (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel‎), was their resistance in the siege of Kobane, one of the three Cantons of Rojava, which lasted from September 2014 to March 2015. The resistance to the siege is considered a turning point in the war against Daesh.

Beyond the military aspect, the most remarkable feature of the region is its innovative system of governance. The system, formalised as the “Charter of Social Contract of Rojava”, was approved in January 2014. The Charter was reformed in July 2016 as the “Social Contract of Rojava – Northern Syria Democratic Federal System” (hereinafter, the Social Contract). The provisions of the reformed version, which is expected to become the definitive Constitution after popular consultation, are examined below.

The Social Contract of Rojava – Northern Syria Democratic Federal System

The first notable element that emerges in the analysis of the grundgesetz of Rojava is that, since its first version in 2014, it has been designated as a “Social Contract” instead of a “Constitution”. The wording refers directly to natural law theory. The expression “Social Contract” implies the idea of an agreement among people aimed to regulate the essential aspects of their coexistence. The name itself distinguishes it from a Constitution, which generally defines the ground norm of States. The notion of the State, and of the nation-state in particular, is presented in the Preamble of the Social Contract as the root of the crises and problems of the people of Rojava. The administration accordingly does not aim to self-proclaim an independent state. At the same time, it does not enter into conflict with the Syrian State but recognizes its territorial integrity and maintains a “tacit alliance” with the government. Article 7 of the Social Contract reiterates that the region does not aim to build a new State. Other rebel groups have criticised the PYD administration for this ambiguous relationship with Assad’s Government.

The Preamble of the 2016 Social Contract lays down a non-exhaustive list of different geographical, ethnic and religious identities living in the community[1]. This marks an improvement from the 2014 version, which listed a closed number of identities solely on an ethnic basis[2]. The Preamble also defines the cultural and spiritual roots of the Rojava society, with a specific reference to the “culture of Mother Goddess”, in addition to apostles, prophets and other spiritual roots, as a means of underlining respect for all spiritual beliefs. Making explicit reference to specific divinities in the constitutional document might be counter-productive for the purpose of building a secular political system, in which different faiths and beliefs coexist. The 2014 Preamble was silent about religious roots and it only called for the construction of a “society free from authoritarianism, militarism, centralism and the intervention of religious authority in public affairs”.

The first 10 articles of the contract establish the basis of the coexistence between different identities within the autonomous region. Articles 10 to 13 concern ecology, protection of the environment and sustainable development. Articles 14 to 17 establish gender equality and the promotion of women participation in all areas of life: in the family as well as in political, social and cultural life. Article 18 specifically covers the promotion of the role of youth in the democratic life of the society. Articles 20 to 40 deal with civil and political rights, including the prohibition of the death penalty and of torture, the right to self-determination, and the principle of non-discrimination, against women and youth in particular. Articles 40 to 54 concern economic and social rights, from free education to specific care for people with special needs. The last part of the Social Contract regulates the institutional side of democratic confederalism: the organization of the democratic participation of people, from the local communities to the Northern Syria Federation.

Participation to the democratic process is guaranteed by a multi-level representation system. The structure consists of Communes, a Neighborhood People’s Council, a District People’s Council, and the Rojava People’s Council. Each level elects co-presidents (the plurality of presidents encourages gender equality and representation of cultural minorities) for decisions pertaining to the local community, and elects delegates which represent them at the higher administrative level. The entire system is grounded on the principles of popular participation and federalism.

Cultural Origins of the Rojava Social Contract

The Social Contract appears to be particularly innovative for the most advanced democratic standards, and more so when compared to its neighboring systems. Kurdish sources insist that the outcome of their political theory and constitutionalism is the result of a shared legislative process, which saw the participation of different parts of the society. It is important, however, not to neglect the role of the Kurdish charismatic leader Abdullah Ocalan as a theorist of the Rojava administration.

Ocalan is among the founders of PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê) the Kurdish political force that fought for the independence of Kurdistan from Turkey. The PKK was included by many countries, including the European Union, on their lists of terrorist organizations for their armed attacks which targeted, amongst others, civilians. Ocalan has been detained since 1999 in an isolated Turkish facility. During his detention, Ocalan experienced a deep change in his political thought. Influenced by authors such as Bookchin, Foucault, Wallerstein, and Braudel, he abandoned the Marxist-Leninist ideology that characterized PKK, in order to promote democratic confederalism as the ideal political system to administer multicultural societies. Ocalan authored several books on the matter. In 2006, he rejected the use of violence and proposed the start of peaceful negotiations with Turkey on the Kurdish issue. The crucial novelty in the political struggle, besides the choice of nonviolence, consisted in abandoning the request to establish a Kurdish nation state.

As a former military and political leader, Ocalan maintained a strong charismatic authority on Kurdish people of Rojava, who accepted his nonviolent approach and his democratic confederalist proposal. Despite the participatory processes that characterises institution building in Rojava, the contribution of Ocalan as a political theorist remains decisive to the introduction of principles such as sustainable development, restorative justice, secularism and feminism.

Potential Broader Impact of the Political Experiment

In the midst of the armed conflict in Syria, it is difficult to foresee possible developments in the political system in Rojava. On the one hand, the local administration achieved a certain degree of stability in the region, first gaining autonomy from the central government, then defeating the attacks of Daesh.

On the other hand, the de facto authorities are seeking to improve their legitimacy in the eyes of other Syria rebel forces (which are skeptical of the ambiguous relation between Rojava and the central Government) and also those of the Rojava population, where elections shall take place in 2017.

The main challenge to the potential of the Rojava experience, however, is exclusion from representation at the negotiating table at the Geneva Peace talks, last held in February 2016 and currently suspended. The talks constitute the main international forum where the parties to the conflict in Syria (among which the Syrian government, Turkey, and various rebel groups, but not Daesh) can dialogue and negotiate. UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, has accepted the request of Turkey, as well as of other Syrian opposition groups, to exclude the de facto Rojava authorities from the talks. An inclusion to the international forum would have strengthened the Rojava administration, in terms of both its stability in the field and its visibility as an ambitious model, for the international community, to administer a multicultural society.

Conclusions

The Social Contract of the Federation of Northern Syria – Rojava represents an innovative legal system, under an international law perspective, for the Middle East region and for the entire international community. The political success of the Rojava system highly depends on the developments on the field of the Syrian armed conflict. From a cultural and theoretical point of view, however, it already constitutes a model to be followed as an example to administer a democratic and multicultural society.

[1]“We, the people of Rojava: Northern Syria, Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Turkmen, Armenians, Chechens, Circassians, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and various others”.

[2]“We, the people of the Democratic Autonomous Regions of Afrin, Jazira and Kobane, a confederation of Kurds, Arabs, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Arameans, Turkmen, Armenians and Chechens”.

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CRIMINAL PUNISHMENT AND PEACE PROCESS. Some thoughts on the “alternative penalties” envisaged in the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace

On past 24th August the Colombian Government and Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – Ejército del Pueblo (FARC-EP) announced a long-awaited final agreement that puts an end to the armed conflict that has lasted for more than 60 years. The agreement is going to be signed today (26th September) in an official act and submitted to referendum on 2nd October. If the outcome of the referendum is favourable, legislative and constitutional reforms shall be passed in order to implement the agreement. Therefore, what they call final agreement is somehow only the beginning of a broader and more complex transitional process.

Despite all these uncertainties and open issues, the content of the agreement confirms that Colombia is leading a new trend in a comparative perspective. Actually, it encompasses a number of innovative solutions that may challenge the dominant view about State obligations when it comes to prosecution and punishment of gross human rights violations in transitional contexts.[1]

One of these novelties are the sanctions provided by the Special Jurisdiction for Peace, which, as mentioned in a previous post of mine, is aimed at dealing, in combination with non-judicial mechanisms, with the serious crimes committed during the conflict.[2]  The sanctions provided under these mechanisms vary depending on whether or not those allegedly responsible for the commission of such crimes plead guilty. If this happens before a formal process is opened against them, these people may be sentenced to “alternative penalties” of 5 to 8 years.

Whilst the former provisional agreement left the category of “alternative penalties” undefined, the final agreement sets out a list thereof. This list distinguishes among the sanctions to be served in rural areas (for example, programs for reparation for displaced peasants, environmental protection, substitution of illicit crops), those to be served in urban areas (for example, programs to build infrastructures or to grant access to potable water) and those related to demining and the disposal of the remains of other arms.

The applicants may submit to the attention of the competent Section of the Special Jurisdiction an individual or collective project to realize an activity or a deed within one of the listed fields. This project has to specify duties, duration, timetable and place of execution, and must provide for consultation with victims that live in the place of execution. The Chamber shall decide the place where the applicant shall live during the serving of this sentence. The agreement clarifies that this restriction in no case can imply imprisonment or detention.

There are many interesting issues at stake regarding this system of penalties. Firstly, their rationale is to combine a limited restriction on fundamental freedoms with a restorative justice perspective.[3] Instead of temporarily isolating perpetrators from society by putting them into jail, these sanctions involve them in reparation mechanisms, thereby satisfying some of the victims’ claims and fostering reintegration and reconciliation.

Secondly, the procedure by which the applicant may propose a project allows the development of more specific and targeted activities, which should pay the due attention to local needs. Furthermore, the fact that perpetrators have a say in the definition of the project encourages their personal commitment.

Thirdly, this type of penalties clearly departs from prison sentences that are ordinarily applied to serious crimes, both at the national and international level. This original feature raises some questions as to the international duty to prosecute and punish gross Human Rights violations.

This duty has emerged in the past years mainly as a result of judicial and scholarly interpretation of international instruments.[4] Beyond the unclear scope of this duty (i.e., does it require both prosecution and punishment? Does it allow for flexible application in transitional contexts?), what matters here is that it does not impose a unique type of penalty. International and hybrid criminal tribunals, including the International Criminal Court, have clearly opted for detention,[5] and the majority of domestic tribunals, when confronted with serious crimes have done the same. Yet, none of the relevant international legal instruments expressly rule out the possibility to apply different sanctions.

By contrast, a number of studies have cast into doubt the capability of prison sentences to serve the fundamental purposes of criminal punishment when dealing with extraordinary massive criminality.[6] Although it is impossible to dwell into the endless debate about the purposes of punishment,[7] it suffices here to recall that the main difference lies between retributivists (in whose view punishment is a way to compensate the evil caused by the offence and, in modern theories, encompasses the idea of proportionality between the offence and the penalty) and consequentialists (according to whom punishment is needed since it prevents the commission of further crimes in the future). Some others focus on the communicative or expressive function of punishment, that is, on its ability to send a message of reprobation and condemnation of the crime to both the offender and society as a whole.[8]

When dealing with massive and heinous crimes, it may be argued that retribution considered as proportionality is frustrated by the seriousness of the crimes itself,[9] as well as by selectivity in prosecution and the inconsistent judicial sentencing practice, at both domestic and international level.[10]

Furthermore, the massive and systematic nature of the crimes committed in Colombia cast some doubts as to the effectiveness of deterrence. Since offenders normally perpetrate the crimes either because they feel gratified to belong to violent groups or because they consider it necessary for their own survival,[11] deterrence, being based on their rational estimate of advantages and drawbacks of crime, falls short of operating. This purpose seems better served, therefore, by other mechanisms, such as institutional reforms that dismantle the violent groups.

 In a similar vein, general deterrence has proved to be a failure, in terms of preventing the commission of further atrocities in the same or other areas. Despite the proliferation of international and internationalised criminal tribunals after the Nuremberg experience, massive atrocities are still committed in many countries.

When facing this kind of crimes, by contrast, there is still room for expressivism.[12]  Yet, in my view, this communicative function is furthered more by a fair process and judgment than by the prison sentence itself:[13] what matters is the acknowledgement of the facts and the charges and the declaration of responsibility made in the judgment.[14]

Furthermore, this communicative purpose is better served by sanctions that, instead of excluding the offenders from the society (as imprisonment does), create a venue for their recognition as members of the polity, although under the condition of them fulfilling some burdensome task.[15]

Besides, one should also take into account the additional and competing goals at which every transitional process aims, namely, social reconciliation, consolidation of the new regime or, as it happens in Colombia, the end of an armed conflict and the building of a sustainable peace. These priorities often require flexibility in the exercise of criminal prosecution and/or in the imposition of criminal punishment, such as the selection of those who are the most responsible ones, the reduction of sentences, or even the controversial provision for conditional amnesties and pardons.[16]

The Colombian Special Jurisdiction does envisage a criminal prosecution, a conviction and the imposition of a punishment. Yet, it amounts to a different kind of sanction, in which the convicted person’s active participation in restorative projects and limited restriction of freedom is preferred to the classic prison sentence. There is no doubt that these penalties fulfil the aim of reintegration of the offenders even better than detention, since they already insert them in the society and give them a task for the benefit of a specific local community. As for deterrence, the alternative penalties probably fall short of achieving it, but the same does, as we have seen, imprisonment as a traditional penalty.

Furthermore, alternative penalties perfectly serve the expressive or communicative purpose of punishment in that they impose a burdensome duty on perpetrators and thereby blame them before victims and the whole society. By actively participating in the recovery of the damages caused by the crimes, the criminals may be more effectively persuaded of the wrongfulness of their acts and of the validity of the norms and the underlying social values infringed by the crimes.

As regards their compatibility with other transitional justice goals, by granting them a more favourable treatment than what they would face under ordinary Criminal Law, these sanctions provide a strong incentive for the perpetrators’ participation in the peace process. This contributes to the consolidation of the new socio-political scenario and to the inclusiveness of the transition. In addition, by requiring the offenders to perform a deed in local communities, they also foster social reconciliation.

Therefore, alternative penalties strike a good balance between retributive considerations, restorative justice, and all the other goals of the transitional process. Instead of predicating that this mechanism is at odds with the so-called fight against impunity (as some NGOs have recently done), one should remind that this fight is not an end in itself, but is instrumental in achieving a number of aims that are admittedly served by criminal punishment. If a penalty other than imprisonment is found to serve those purposes equally well or even better and, in addition to this, allows combining retribution with restoration and other transitional goals, why should it be rejected?

[1] For a thorough analysis of the legal sources and content of this international duty, see: A. Seibert-Fohr, Prosecuting Serious Human Rights Violations (OUP 2009), arguing for a more strict approach; see: J. Chinchón Álvarez, Derecho Internacional y transiciones a la democracia y a la paz, Sevilla (Parthenos 2007), 235 ff. See also the classic work by D. Orentlicher, ‘Settling Accounts: The Duty to Prosecute Human Rights Violations of a Prior Regime’ (1991) 100 Yale Law Journal (8), 2537-2615, and her more recent ‘Settling Accounts Revisited: Reconciling Global Norms with Local Agency’ (2007) 1 International Journal of Transitional Justice, 10-22.

[2] Since its bursting in 1958, the armed conflict has caused over 220,000 deaths and resulted in many other serious offences, such as forced displacement, torture, sexual violence, mostly against civilians. For further details about these abuses, see the report: Comisión Nacional de Memoria Histórica, Informe ¡Basta Ya! (2013).

[3] See para. 60 of the agreement.

[4] The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has played a pivotal role in the affirmation of this duty and has interpreted it in a very strict way, as opposed to the more nuanced interpretation given by the European Court of Human Rights. See: A. Seibert-Fohr, Prosecuting serious Human Rights Violations (OUP 2009); for a critical view, see: E. Malarino, ‘Judicial activism, punitivism and supranationalisation: Illiberal and antidemocratic tendencies of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ (2012) 12 International Criminal Law Review, 665-695.

[5] Article 77 of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court envisages imprisonment for a term up to 30 years and life imprisonment (under certain circumstances); articles 24 of the ICTY Statute and 23 of the ICTR Statute also establishes imprisonment as the applicable sanction, albeit without a fixed maximum term. Imprisonment is affirmed as the applicable sanction also by the Law on the Establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (arts. 38-39), by the Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone (art. 19), and so on.

[6] See for instance the brilliant study by M. Drumbl, Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law (CUP 2007) 15-18 and 149 ff.

[7] For a clear overview about the main theories surrounding the rationale of punishment, see for instance: S. Cohen, ‘An Introduction to the Theory, Justifications and Modern Manifestations of Criminal Punishment’ (1981-2) 27 McGill Law Journal, 73 ff.; R. Card, Card, Cross & Jones Criminal Law, (21st ed., OUP 2014) 414 ff. and, for a focus on the status of the debate in International Criminal Law, see: R. Cryer, ‘Aims, Objective, Justifications of International Criminal Law’, in R. Cryer et al., An Introduction to International Criminal Law and Procedure (CUP 2014) 28 ff.

[8] A. Duff, Punishment, Communication and Community (OUP 2001).

[9] According to the title of a book by Antoine Garapon, named after the famous sentence by Hannah Arendt, these are “crimes that cannot be punished nor forgiven”: A. Garapon, Des crimes qu’on ne peut ni punir ni pardonner (Odile Jacob 2002).

[10] Inconsistencies emerge regarding the application of sentencing criteria and in the total amount of penalties imposed by international criminal tribunals and domestic courts: see the examples provided by M. Drumbl, Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law (CUP 2007) 46-122. Inconsistency in sentencing is also a typical feature of the case law of both the ICTY and the ICTR: see B. Hola, A. Smeulers, C. Bijleveld, ‘International Sentencing Fact and Figures: Sentencing Practice at the ICTY and ICTR’ (2011) 9 Journal of International Criminal Justice, 411-439.

[11] M. Drumbl, Atrocity, Punishment, and International Law (CUP 2007) 171-3.

[12] D. Luban, ‘Fairness to Rightness: Jurisdiction, Leaglity and the Legitimacy of International Criminal Law’ in Georgetown Public Law Research Paper NO. 1154117 (2008), at 9.

[13] In a similar vein, ibidem, at 7-9.

[14] See A. Duff, Punishment, Communication and Community (OUP 2001); A. von Hirsch, Censure and Sanctions (OUP 1993).

[15] Similarly, A. Duff, Punishment, Communication and Community (OUP 2001), 101 ff.

[16] On the need to strike a balance between these competing goals, see for instance: K. Ambos, ‘The legal framework of Transitional Justice: A Systematic Study with a Special Focus on the Role of the ICC’ in K. Ambos et al. (eds.), Building a Future on Peace and Justice: Studies on Transitional Justice, Peace and Development (Springer 2009) 19 ff.

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The EU Commission’s Fifth Report on relocation and resettlement of migrants: a(nother) proposal.

  • Introduction

On the 13th of July (2016) the European Commission issued the fifth report on relocation and resettlement of migrants  from the external EU’s borders, addressed to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council.  The report provides an updated state of the situation of relocation and resettlement of migrants eligible to obtain international protection in EU countries in the light of the urgent migration crisis that Italy and Greece especially have been facing since 2015. The considerable increase in the number of migrants – many of whom are entitled to apply for relocation/resettlement – has imposed to the Commission to update its last report (i.e., the one issued in June 2016) with the aim of keeping the institutions fully informed about the situation at the “external borders” of Europe.  After a brief introduction about the relevant legislative framework, this post aims to underline some critical issues emerging from the relocation and resettlement policies of the European Union as set out in the official documents published so far.

  • The Council’s decisions establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece.

The relocation and resettlement policies of the EU have been framed, firstly, by the Council Decision 2015/1523 of 14 September 2015 establishing provisional measures in the area of international protection for the benefit of Italy and Greece. This was followed, just a few days later, by the Council Decision 2015/1601 of 22 September 2015 (hereafter the Decision), which provided for a few changes regarding the number of migrants needing a relocation plan. With regard to the latter instrument, it was adopted in accordance with Article 78, para 3, of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which authorises the Council to adopt provisional measures when one or more Member States are faced with an emergency situation involving a massive inflow of third countries’ nationals, in order to relieve those Member States. This provision regulates the main points that the European Union should respect in order to establish a common policy of asylum, subsidiary protection and temporary international protection for eligible third country nationals. The principle of mutual solidarity and the rule of fair sharing of responsibility between Member States in the management of the refugee crisis at the external borders have been recognised as the two keystones of the Decision. In addition, the individual rights granted by the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (hereinafter the Charter), along with the rights of vulnerable groups, act on the background of the Decision, balancing the needs of both public order and national security, these two becoming an inevitable paradigm of the management of every humanitarian crisis by the EU.[1]

The 23rd introductory paragraph of the Decision permits a temporary derogation from the Dublin’s Regulations System. This system provides that the Member State in which third countries’ nationals enter is responsible for their international protection. In recognition of the emergency situation in Greece and Italy, those countries have been relieved of this ‘entry and stay’ rule set out in article 13 of Reg. 604/2013.[2]

However, the Decision has let several shadows and grey areas subsist, together with the necessity to solve some critical issues. Some of these have been faced by the new report and the draft proposal for a European Union regulation establishing a Union Resettlement Framework – which has been attached to the report – while some others have been left unsolved/unresolved?. As for the latter, one could consider, for instance, the unclear legal force of the relocation and resettlement rules as regards the Member States.

  • The content of the report.

The goal of the Fifth Report[3] is to accelerate the implementation of the relocation and resettlement schemes by the Member States. It is articulated in two sections, dedicated to the relocation (1) and the resettlement (2) schemes, respectively, and containing different highlights which emerged during the reporting period, from 14th of June to 11th of July. In particular, the report warns against the bad situation of Italy in comparison to Greece. While relocation transfers from Greece have increased during the reporting period as compared to the previous one (from 594 to 710), those from Italy have decreased and remain at an unsatisfactory level (66 compared to 186). In this connection, major concerns have been expressed by the Commission regarding the relocation of vulnerable groups, especially unaccompanied minors. [4]

On the one hand, the report requires Italy to provide clearer information on the number of arrival, to develop a special procedure for the relocation of unaccompanied minors, which is at this time extremely slow, to open additional hotspots as planned and to improve its cooperation with the other Member States. On the other hand, it was difficult for the Commission to ignore that so far several Member States have not complied with their obligations as established by the Council Decision of 22nd September 2015. Despite the deployment of many experts to Greece and Italy by the European Asylum Support Office, the data provided by the fifth report show an increasing level of (humanitarian) emergency and a worrisome deterioration of the refugee crisis. It unfortunately appears that the efforts made by and the means available to the countries at the external borders are not yet sufficient to face the ongoing inflow of migrants seeking international protection.

Regarding the resettlement scheme (sub 2 of the Decision), it has resulted in the resettlement of about 8000 people (mostly Syrian nationals from Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey) to twenty different countries. The Commission has also made reference to the EU–Turkey statement of 18 March 2016, which foresees the activation of the Voluntary Humanitarian Admission Scheme with Turkey, currently still at the negotiation stage. This scheme is part of the general political agreement between EU and Turkey concluded last March with the aim of stopping the unconditional flow of migrants from the eastern route to Greece.[5]

The report’s conclusion is twofold. On the one hand, the Commission has urged Italy to quickly step up its processing capacity and to cooperate more closely with Member States in implementing the relocation scheme, especially regarding the situation of the vulnerable group of unaccompanied minors.  On the other hand, the Commission has exhorted all Member States to urgently provide an adequate response to the crisis and to build up support of Italy and Greece by increasing the number of pledges. The Commission has also expressed its concern by ‘reserving the right to take action against those Member States not complying with their obligation’.[6] This statement – which could play a role in terms of political effectiveness – compels the EU institutions to ask themselves about the kind of actions that could be taken in order to induce Member States to comply with the Council’s Decision.

  • The proposal

The problem highlighted by the Commission’s report has not been solved by the proposal attached thereto, establishing a Union Resettlement Framework and amending Regulation (EU) n. 516/2014.[7] The explanatory memorandum of the proposal underlines the ’voluntary basis’ of the resettlement commitments of all Member States, as established by the framework regulation. The effort required might be considered ‘binding’ given the principles of fair sharing of responsibility and solidarity, which are crucial to the aim of building a Common European Asylum System and consistent with the policy on better migration management adopted by the European Agenda on Migration.[8]

In this sense, the proposal acknowledges several core principles and good practices in the field, namely: a) reducing divergences between Members States and creating common rules for resettlement; b) discouraging second movements of the resettled people in the EU; c) distinguishing the policy of resettlement from the so-called Dublin’s regulation system; d) increasing the already central role of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (hereinafter UNCHR), European Asylum Support Office (hereinafter EASO) and stakeholders in general to support Member States in managing the crisis; e) protecting fundamental rights linked to asylum and international protection, in accordance with Articles 18 and 19 of the Charter and with the principle of non discrimination;[9] f) offering priority protection to vulnerable groups;[10] g) arranging two different procedural pathways, namely, an ordinary one and an expedited one, depending on the grade of  urgency.

  • Conclusions

The publication by the Commission of the Fifth Report on relocation and resettlement has created some momentum for EU institutions and Members States to consider the status of the common European system in the field of asylum and international protection. While certain satisfactory steps have been made at the external borders of Greece, the Italian situation remains critical and very few chances to sort out the problems generated by the massive inflow of migrants there are in sight. The main issue at stake is still the lack of synergy and mutual cooperation among Member States when it comes to relocation and resettlement. Notwithstanding the political pressure exerted by the Commission, the invocation of the supreme principles of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility in migration crisis has failed to induce Member States to comply with their commitments. Together with the absence of a mechanism of sanctions in cases of non-implementation of the Council Decision by Member States, this is liable to lead to the failure of the relocation and resettlement policy.

One day, the strength of common principles might be sufficient to induce Member States to implement the obligations arising from any decisional act of the European Union, especially in such a delicate political field as the management of a migration crisis. For now, the European Union is unable to compel Members States (regardless of the proximity to the external border) to implement its plans on relocation and, indeed, to respect the fair sharing of responsibility. Therefore it cannot manage this huge crisis in a proper way and, considering the proportions of the emergency, this might result in the collapse of the whole system.

[1] On this point see, for example, the creation and the update of the EURODAC system, starting from the COUNCIL REGULATION (EC) No 2725/2000 of 11 December 2000 concerning the establishment of ‘Eurodac’ for the comparison of fingerprints for the effective application of the Dublin Convention; another example could be the attention paid to the defence of external borders and the fight against irregular immigration which are central to the migration crisis management of the EU, as provided by the EU- Turkey statement of 18th March 2016 and within the new proposal itself of 13th of July 2016.

[2] The so-called Dublin’s Regulation System establishes which Member State is responsible for the examination of the asylum application. See Regulation (EC) No 1560/2003 and Regulation (EU) No 604/2013.

[3] Fifth Report on relocation and resettlement from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council, Brussels 13.7.2016, COM(2016) 480 final.

[4] Fifth Report, COM(2016) 480 final, 8 – 9.

[5] On this issue see, among others, G. Goalwin, The EU-Turkey Agreement on Refugees: Echo of a Tragic Past, available online at http://religionandpolitics.org/2016/05/03/the-eu-turkey-agreement-on-refugees-echo-of-a-tragic-past/ accessed 30th August 2016.

[6] Fifth Report on relocation and resettlement, COM (2016) 480 final, Brussels 13.07.2016, p. 11.

[7] Regulation (EU) No 516/2014 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 April 2014 establishing the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund, amending Council Decision 2008/381/EC and repealing Decisions No 573/2007/EC and No 575/2007/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and Council Decision 2007/435/EC.

[8] The European Commission set out the long-term policy on better migration in the European Agenda on Migration, which developed President Juncker’s Political Guidelines. Proposal for a Regulation COM (2016) 468 final, 2016/0225 (COD), p.5.

[9] The principle of non discrimination is granted by several Universal and Regional legal provisions on human rights, namely: Article 1, 2 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 2 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Article 1, 8 and 24 of the American Convention on Human Rights; Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights.

[10] To individuate the vulnerable groups, the Commission also refers to other international tools such as the United Nations Conventions and the Conventions of the Council of Europe.

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Forced marriage as an independent crime against humanity in the ICC decision confirming the charges against Dominic Ongwen

International human rights law prescribes that marriage shall only be entered into with the free and full consent of both spouses.[1] Forced marriage thus constitutes a human rights violation and is also a criminal offence in the domestic law of some countries.[2] Additionally, international criminal courts have recently determined that forced marriage may amount to a crime against humanity when forming part of a systematic or widespread attack against a civilian population. The present post analyses the evolution of this new crime against humanity, from its conceptualisation as a form of sexual slavery to its recognition as a separate crime against humanity falling under the category of ‘other inhumane acts’. The latest stage in this evolutionary process was reached by the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (‘ICC’) in its decision of 23 March 2016 confirming the charges against Dominic Ongwen.[3] By acknowledging the particular features of forced marriage and distinguishing it from sexual slavery, this decision critically enables the prosecution of the crime in situations as prima facie different as the phenomenon of ‘bush wives’ in African armed conflicts and the state policy of ‘group marriages’ enforced in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

Forced marriage as subsumed by the crime of sexual slavery

The practice of forced marriage in conflict situations has been prevalent in countries including Sierra Leone, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda. Within these contexts, it has generally involved the abduction of young women ‘taken as wives’ by rebel soldiers and thereafter exposed to enslavement, rape, forced labour and forced pregnancy. Forced marriage was charged as a crime against humanity for the first time before the Special Court for Sierra Leone (‘SCSL’) in the case of Prosecutor v. Brima, Kamara and Kanu (‘the AFRC case’).[4] The main point of contention regarding this charge in the SCSL Trial Chamber’s decision was whether to characterise forced marriage as a separate crime against humanity, under the category of ‘other inhumane acts’ in article 2(i) of the SCSL Statute, or as a predominantly sexual crime amounting to a form of sexual slavery.

The Prosecution argued that acts of forced marriage are ‘distinct from sexual acts, because they force a person into the appearance of marriage by threat or other coercion.’[5] Accordingly, it alleged that forced marriage qualified as the crime against humanity of an ‘other inhumane act’, the key element for its characterisation as such being that the conduct is of similar gravity to other listed crimes against humanity.[6] The Trial Chamber, however, rejected this view on the basis that the evidence was not capable of establishing a crime of forced marriage distinct from sexual slavery. It determined that the relationship between the perpetrators and the victims of forced marriage was one of ownership – a constituent element of the crime of sexual slavery – and that the use of the term ‘wife’ merely indicated the intent of the perpetrator to exercise said ownership.[7] The Trial Chamber held that the victims of forced marriage within the armed conflict in Sierra Leone did not endure particular trauma from the mere use of the label ‘wife’, over and above the harm ensuing from the ‘sexual slavery’ element of the crime. It went so far as considering that, even if there had been evidence of such additional trauma, the crime would not be of similar gravity to the other listed crimes against humanity, a condition for being characterised as an ‘other inhumane act’.[8] The majority of the Trial Chamber, Justice Doherty dissenting, concluded that forced marriage is completely subsumed by the crime of sexual slavery and that ‘there is no lacuna in the law which would necessitate a separate crime of ‘forced marriage’ as an ‘other inhumane act.’[9]

Forced marriage as a separate crime against humanity

The SCSL Appeals Chamber overturned this decision on the basis that forced marriage as practised in Sierra Leone amounted to more than sexual slavery both in terms of the conduct itself and of the ensuing harm.[10] In the first place, it considered that ‘the perpetrators of forced marriages intended to impose a forced conjugal association upon the victims rather than exercise an ownership interest and that forced marriage is not predominantly a sexual crime.’[11] The Appeals chamber emphasised that this marital relationship entailed mutual obligations for both parties, the ‘wives’ being coerced into performing various duties, including sexual intercourse, domestic labour and forced pregnancy, while the ‘husbands’ provided food, clothing and protection, notably against rape by other men. It underlined the exclusive character of the relationship, at least on the part of the victim, as an element distinguishing forced marriage from sexual slavery and giving a different dimension to the crime.[12]

Contrary to the Trial Chamber, the Appeals Chamber also considered that the imposition of marriage on the victims resulted in suffering of similar gravity to that caused by the other listed crimes against humanity and that forced marriage was thereby capable of qualifying as an ‘other inhumane act’. It stressed that, in addition to the harm ensuing from the ‘sexual slavery’ element of the crime, ‘bush wives’ and their children born from the forced marriage ‘suffered long-term social stigmatisation’ by their association with the perpetrators and faced difficulties in reintegrating their community after the war.[13] The Appeals Chamber defined forced marriage as ‘a situation in which the perpetrator through his words or conduct, or those of someone for whose actions he is responsible, compels a person by force, threat of force, or coercion to serve as a conjugal partner resulting in severe suffering, or physical, mental or psychological injury to the victim.’[14] It found that, when forming part of a systematic or widespread attack against a civilian population, this practice amounts to the crime against humanity of an ‘other inhumane act’.

The phenomenon of ‘bush wives’ differs in several respects from forced marriage as practised in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. In the latter context, forced marriage was one element of a state policy aiming to assert complete control over every aspect of the lives of individuals, including their sexuality. It involved the selection of spouses by the regime leadership on the basis of their membership to a same category of people. Their marriage in ‘group weddings’ were solemnized by the swearing of an oath of loyalty to the Khmer Rouge.[15] Forced marriage in Cambodia pursued the primary aims of severing pre-existing family ties, in order to guarantee complete loyalty to the regime, and controlling the procreation of individuals, rather than subjecting the victims to sexual slavery.

In the closing order of case 002, the Co-Investigating Judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (‘ECCC’) qualified forced marriage as the crime against humanity of an ‘other inhumane act’, following the definition set out by the SCSL Appeals Chamber.[16] They determined that acts of forced marriage practised under the Khmer Rouge satisfied the elements of this definition since they were part of a widespread attack against the civilian population and entailed the forced imposition of a marital status on the victims, which resulted in severe physical or mental suffering of a degree of gravity comparable to the other listed crimes against humanity.[17] The applicability of the SCSL Appeals Chamber definition to situations as different as the ‘bush wives’ phenomenon in African armed conflicts and the Khmer Rouge policy of forced marriage seems to confirm the viability of this crime as a separate crime against humanity distinct from sexual slavery.

The evolving position of the ICC

In the decision on the confirmation of charges against Katanga and Ngudjolo, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber I seemed to agree with the SCSL Trial Chamber that forced marriage is a form of slavery. Indeed, when considering a charge of sexual slavery, it held that this crime ‘also encompasses situations where women and girls are forced into “marriage”, domestic servitude or other forced labour involving compulsory sexual activity, including rape, by their captors.’[18]

However, in the more recent decision on the confirmation of charges against Ongwen, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber II took note of the evolution of the definition of forced marriage in the case-law of the SCSL and of the ECCC. It confirmed that forced marriage ‘constitutes the crime of an other inhumane act within the meaning of article 7(1)(k) of the [Rome] Statute’, warranting a charge distinct from sexual slavery.[19] The ICC Chamber concurred with the SCSL Appeals Chamber in finding that ‘the central element of forced marriage is the imposition of “marriage” on the victim, i.e. the imposition, regardless of the will of the victim, of duties that are associated with marriage, as well as of a social status of the perpetrator’s “wife”’.[20] It also underlined the exclusivity of this conjugal relationship as ‘the characteristic aspect of forced marriage’, an element distinguishing the crime from sexual slavery and other crimes against humanity.[21] With regard to the ensuing harm, the ICC Chamber held that the social stigma resulting from the imposition of marriage entails ‘that the victims of forced marriage suffer separate and additional harm to those of the crime of sexual slavery, or other crimes under the Statute.’[22] Indeed, it determined that the interest protected by the characterisation of forced marriage as an ‘other inhumane act’ is ‘the basic right to consensually marry and establish a family’, as enshrined in international human rights instruments, which differ from the values underlying the crime of sexual slavery, i.e. physical and sexual integrity.[23]

Conclusion

International criminal courts appear to have settled on the view that forced marriage, when forming part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, may amount to the crime against humanity of an ‘other inhumane act’ if the conduct satisfies two elements, irrespective of whether it also amounts to sexual slavery. The first is the imposition of marriage on the victims without their consent. The second requires that this forced conjugal association inflicts severe physical or mental suffering on the victims. This definition has proved to be, on the one hand, wide enough to adequately capture the main features of the crime as committed in very different contexts and, on the other hand, narrow enough to distinguish it from the often analogous crime of sexual slavery. It will be interesting to see if the constituent elements of the crime will be confirmed by the Trial Chambers of the ICC and of the ECCC in the two cases involving a charge of forced marriage that are currently pending before those courts, thereby completing the decade-long process of elaboration of a new crime against humanity.

[1] Universal Declaration of Human Rights (10 December 1948) UN Doc A/810 91, art 16(2); International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (16 December 1966) 999 UNTS 191, art 23(3); Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (10 December 1962) 521 UNTS 231, art 1; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (18 December 1979) 1249 UNTS 13, art 16(1)(b).

[2] For example, English law has recently been amended to make forced marriage a criminal offence liable to a maximum sentence of 7 years’ imprisonment, see section 121 of the 2014 Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, entered into force 16 June 2014.

[3] Situation in Uganda, Prosecutor v Ongwen, Decision on the confirmation of charges, Case no ICC-02/04-01/15, 23 March 2016.

[4] Prosecutor v Brima, Kamara and Kanu, Trial Judgment, Case no SCSL-04-16-T, 20 June 2007.

[5] Ibid, para 701.

[6] On the elements of the crime of other inhumane acts, see ibid, para 698.

[7] Ibid, para 711.

[8] Ibid, para 710.

[9] Ibid, para 713.

[10] Prosecutor v Brima, Kamara and Kanu, Appeals Judgment, Case no SCSL-04-16-A, 22 February 2008.

[11] Ibid, para 190.

[12] Ibid, para 191.

[13] Ibid, para 199.

[14] Ibid, para 196. See also Prosecutor v. Sesay, Kallon and Gbao, Appeals Judgment, Case no SCSL-04-15-A, 26 October 2009, para. 736.

[15] See Neha Jain, ‘Forced Marriage as a Crime against Humanity: Problems of Definition and Prosecution’ (2008) 6 Journal of International Criminal Justice 1013, 1024-1025. See also Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Case 002 Closing Order, 15 September 2010, paras 841-861.

[16] Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Case 002 Closing Order, 15 September 2010, paras 1442-1445.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Prosecutor v Katanga and Ngudjolo, Decision on the confirmation of charges, Case no ICC-01/04-01/07, 30 September 2008, para 431.

[19] Prosecutor v Ongwen, Decision on the confirmation of charges (n 3), para 95.

[20] Ibid, para 93.

[21] Ibid, para 93.

[22] Ibid, para 94.

[23] Ibid.

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The European Court’s Grand Chamber decision in Biao v. Denmark: A case of indirect discrimination against nationals of non-Danish ethnic origins

Introduction

Within the context of the on-going EU migration crisis, Denmark has been subjected to huge criticisms with regard to a recent bill that is considered to violate asylum seekers’ fundamental rights. More recently, on 24 May 2016 the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued its decision in the case Biao v. Denmark, regarding matters of family reunification and held that Denmark had unjustifiably violated the prohibition of non-discrimination towards some of its nationals.[1] The Court found, by twelve votes to five, that there has been a violation of Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) read in conjunction with Article 8 of the Convention.[2] The Government had indeed failed to show that there were compelling or very weighty reasons unrelated to ethnic origin to justify the indirect discrimination to which the applicants had been subjected arising from the relevant national legislation.[3] Notably, this decision came after the Chamber, in 2014, had found that the Danish authorities had struck ‘a fair balance between the public interest in ensuring effective immigration control and the applicants’ need to be granted family reunion in Denmark and concluded that there had been no violation of Article 8 taken alone.[4]

In order to reach its conclusions, and consistently with its practice, the Grand Chamber considered ‘instructive’ to interpret the Danish legislation on family reunification in the light of the relevant EU law, including the Court of Justice of the European Union’s case law in the matter.[5] This post aims at examining the Grand Chamber’s decision in light of the recent developments in the relationship between the Courts of Strasbourg and Luxembourg. It will be concluded that the decision in Biao v. Denmark is perfectly consistent with the ECtHR’s practice of not only making reference to EU law and the case law of the Court of Luxembourg, but also verifying the compatibility of national legislations or practice with the ECHR, trying to look at the former through the lens of the relevant EU law or case law. Some comments on the political value of this decision when it comes to Denmark and migration issues are also included among the conclusions.

 

The facts

 

The case of Biao v. Denmark concerns the applicants’ complaint about the Danish authorities’ refusal to grant them family reunification in Denmark. Mr Biao is a Danish national of Togolese origin who is married to Asia Adamo Biao, a Ghanaian national. They live in Sweden and have a son who got Danish citizenship due to his father’s nationality. Their application for residence permit in Denmark and, therefore, their family reunification got refused in 2003 and 2004. The Danish Supreme Court upheld such a refusal in January 2010.

Before the ECtHR the applicants claimed to have been subjected to indirect discrimination in the application of the attachment requirement provided by the Danish Aliens Act as amended in December 2003, which introduced the so-called 28-year rule.[6] Pursuant to such a rule, in order for a Danish national, who has not acquired his/her nationality from the moment he/she was born and that is married to a third country national, to enjoy the privileges associated to citizenship in matters regarding family reunification, he/she needs to prove that he/she has got stronger ties with Denmark than with any other country by residing in Denmark for at least 28 consecutive years. The 28-year rule thus resulted in a differential treatment between Danish-born citizens and other nationals, as Danish nationals who had acquired nationality from the moment they were born were exempted from such a requirement.[7] This treatment was also an indirect discrimination on the basis of race or ethnic origin because persons acquiring Danish nationality later in life ‘would overwhelmingly be of different ethnic origins, that is other than Danish’.[8]

The conclusions of the Court

Having recalled that ‘a difference in treatment may take the form of disproportionately prejudicial effects of a general policy or measure which, though couched in neutral terms, discriminates against a group’,[9] and that indirect discrimination does not necessarily require a discriminatory intent,[10] the Grand Chamber considered it to be a reasonable assumption that people, who have acquired a Danish nationality later in life, would be more likely to be of non-Danish ethnic origins and that, to the contrary, Danish-born people were more likely to belong to the Danish ethnic group.[11]

According to the Court, the burden of proof was then on the Government to show that the difference in the impact of the legislation pursued a legitimate aim and was the result of objective factors unrelated to ethnic origin. Indeed,

‘no difference in treatment based exclusively or to a decisive extent on a person’s ethnic origin is capable of being justified in a contemporary democratic society and a difference in treatment based exclusively on the ground of nationality is allowed only on the basis of compelling or very weighty reasons.’[12]

Although the Court noted that Article 8 ECHR when taken alone ‘cannot be considered to impose on a State a general obligation to respect a married couple’s choice of country for their matrimonial residence or to authorise family reunification on its territory’,[13] it also held that it could apply to the present case what had been concluded in Konstantin Markin v. Russia with regard to difference in treatment on the ground of sex. That is, that ‘general biased assumptions or prevailing social prejudice in a particular country do not provide sufficient justification’.[14] The Court found that similar reasoning should apply to discrimination against naturalised nationals and therefore excluded that the problems relating to integration could be sufficient justification for the 28-year rule.

The Court also affirmed that thanks to Article 5 (2) of the European Convention on Nationality, which has been ratified by 20 states, including Denmark, there was a trend towards a European standard aiming to eliminate the discriminatory application of rules in matters of nationality between nationals from birth and other nationals.[15]

Hence, it concluded that, ‘having regard to the very narrow margin of appreciation in the present case’,[16] the Government had ‘failed to show that there were compelling or very weighty reasons unrelated to ethnic origin to justify the indirect discriminatory effect of the 28-year rule’.[17]This rule indeed has ‘a disproportionately prejudicial effect on persons who acquired Danish nationality later in life and who were of ethnic origins other than Danish.’[18]

EU Law and the ECtHR

It is well known that the two legal regimes pertaining to the EU and the ECHR are quite different when it comes to the principle of non-discrimination.[19] Moreover, although the Treaty of Lisbon, under article 6 (2), provides for the possibility for the EU to accede to the ECHR, in December 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) issued a negative opinion in this respect. Furthermore, in its recent practice the Court of Luxembourg has increasingly avoided making explicit reference to the ECtHR’s case law.[20] As for the European Convention, according to the CJEU,

‘[i]t must be borne in mind that, in accordance with Article 6(3) TEU, fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the ECHR, constitute general principles of the EU’s law. However, as the EU has not acceded to the ECHR, the latter does not constitute a legal instrument which has been formally incorporated into the legal order of the EU.’[21]

The Strasbourg Court, on its side, has been constantly referring to both EU law and the case law of the CJEU. For instance, in its recent case Arlewin v. Sweden,[22] the Court has pronounced itself on the compatibility of the Swedish courts’ practice in application of Brussels I Regulation (44/2001) with the ECHR. In this respect, it has been observed that:

‘[t]he Court of Strasbourg relies upon the findings of the Luxembourg Court and reaffirms the existence of a direct dialogue between the two jurisdictions, with the first affirming the findings of the second in a noteworthy manifestation of its endeavour to choose –whenever possible- an interpretation of the ECHR that facilitates the proper application of EU law by national authorities.’

Consistently with this view, in Biao v. Denmark the Grand Chamber also took into consideration the relevant EU law and CJEU’s case law. Indeed, although, ‘[t]he rules for family reunification under EU law did not apply to the applicants’ case in August 2004’, the ECtHR noted that:

‘it is instructive to view the contested Danish legislation in the light of relevant EU law. Given that the first applicant has moved to Sweden, by virtue of Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the member States, and in the light of the CJEU’s judgment of 25 July 2008 in Metock v. Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (…), the applicants and their child now have a prospect of success in applying from Sweden for a residence permit in Denmark.’[23]

Conclusions

Different legal issues arise from migration, as it is a multifaceted and complex phenomenon. Apart from the current EU migration crisis, which mostly relates to non-EU nationals, some national policies regulating issues concerning migrants can have an impact on the rights of EU nationals. If it is true that the non-discrimination prohibition contained in Article 14 ECHR has not acquired a perfectly overlapping application with the EU non-discrimination legislation, it is also worth noticing that the Strasbourg Court has examined the relevant Danish legislation in the light of the relevant EU law and affirmed that the applicants’ new applications could now possibly have ‘a prospect of success in applying from Sweden for a residence permit in Denmark’.

This decision will probably lead Danish authorities to amend their Aliens Act and abolish the 28-year rule. It is however striking that at a time when ‘no difference in treatment based exclusively or to a decisive extent on a person’s ethnic origin is capable of being justified in a contemporary democratic society’, a national legislation of both an EU member and CoE state has been considered to have indirect discriminatory effects on the sole ground of race/ethnicity.

[1]Case of Biao v. DenmarkApp no. 38590/10 (ECHR, 24 May 2016).

[2]Ibid. at 154.

[3]Ibid. at 138 [emphasis added].

[4]Ibid. at 64.

[5]Ibid. at 135.

[6]Ibid. at 35.

[7]Case of Biao v. DenmarkApp no. 38590/10 (ECHR, 24 May 2016) at 25.

[8]Ibid. at 102.

[9]Ibid. at 103.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid. at 112.

[12]Ibid. at 114 [emphasis added].

[13]Ibid. at 117.

[14]Ibid. at 126.

[15]Ibid. at 132.

[16]Ibid. at 138.

[17]Ibid.

[18]Ibid.

[19] See, e.g., See also European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Handbook on European non-discrimination law (Publication Office of the European Union 2011).

[20]OddnýMjöllArnardóttir and Antoine Buyse, Shifting Centres of Gravity in Human Rights Protection: Rethinking Relations Between the ECHR, EU, and National Legal Orders(Routledge 2016) 19-24.

[21] Opinion 2/13, Delivered on 18 December 2014 (full court), at 179.

[22]Case of Arlewin v. Sweden App no 22302/10 (ECHR, 1 March 2016).

[23]Ibid. at 135 [emphasis added]. See also European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Handbook on European non-discrimination law (Publication Office of the European Union 2011) 58-59.European-Court-of-Human-Rights.jpg

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The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Mr. Assange’s affair: one decision for two statuses.

Introduction

On the 4th of December 2015 the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the Human Rights Council (hereinafter WGAD) adopted Opinion no. 54/2015 concerning the detention of Julian Assange, the creator of Wikileaks.[1] The content of the decision, due to its undeniable political weight, has echoed worldwide. It has been held that the deprivation of Mr. Assange’s liberty was arbitrary and in contravention of Articles 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 7, 9(1) (3) (4), 10 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with only one dissenting opinion of member Vladimir Tochilovsky. This post aims to provide a general overview of the decision, and endeavours to underline, particularly, the different sensitive matters arising from the two different statuses of Mr Assange: that of an asylum seeker and that of a defendant.

 

The Case                   

Apart from the well-known US issue linked to the Wikileaks scandals, Mr. Assange has faced a controversial judicial case which resulted in his deprivation of liberty.[2] In 2010, a Swedish prosecutor started an investigation against Mr. Assange following several allegations of sexual misconduct. As a result, Mr Assange spent 10 days in isolation in London’s Wandsworth prison, 550 days under house arrest, and thereafter has been in the confines of the Embassy of the Republic of Ecuador in London. In 2012, he was granted political asylum by Ecuador, based on the risk of extradition to Sweden without any guarantee of non-refoulement to the US, where he risked facing the death penalty. According to the source, in 2014 the Stockholm District Court upheld a European Arrest Warrant (EAW) with the aim of returning Mr. Assange back to Sweden for questioning regarding an ongoing preliminary investigation.

The WGAD was requested to express its opinion on the circumstances on which Mr. Assange’s detention was based, in light of his current status of asylum seeker, his juridical situation in Sweden and the role of the UK in managing the European Arrest Warrant issued by the Swedish authorities.

 

The Issues

The WGAD decision’s pathway could be traced through three different points: the definition of Mr. Assange’s condition as “detention”, which the WGAD was requested to qualify as arbitrary or not; the binding force of the international law obligation imposed on the UK and Sweden to accept the status of Mr. Assange as a political asylum seeker; and the parallel juridical matter giving rise to the minimum standard of guarantees which must be granted to the suspect/accused in criminal proceedings.

In relation to the first point, the source’s allegations underlined the necessity to establish a proper definition of detention which should take account of the particular circumstances of Mr. Assange’s experience as an asylum seeker.

In this sense, the source prompted the Working Group to follow three key points in its reasoning: the inability of Mr. Assange to access the full benefit of the grant of asylum; the continuing and disproportionate period of time which has characterized the denial of access to these guarantees; and the ground of the EAW issued by the Swedish authorities.[3] The Swedish Government supported that Mr. Assange had voluntarily decided to remain in the confines of the Ecuadorian Embassy, without the possibility for the Swedish authorities to control his decision. The UK Government considered the use of the Embassy’s premises in avoiding arrest as a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, according to the duty of the UK to extradite him as requested by Sweden through the EAW.[4] Both State responses seem to have disregarded the crucial factor behind this matter: Mr Assange’s fear of extradition to the US. Against this backdrop, and specifically the risk of the death penalty, it should have been harder for them to come to the conclusion that Mr Assange’s choice of self -confinement was a free determination.[5]

The second point dealt with by the WGAD was the finding of a binding international law obligation imposed on the UK and Sweden to recognise Mr Assange’s status as a political asylum seeker, in light of the asylum granted to him by the Republic of Ecuador. The Governments’ responses were based on the limited scope of the Latin American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum, ratified by Ecuador but not by the UK and Sweden, due to its nature as a regional instrument. The Swedish Government affirmed that “the Latin American Convention on Diplomatic Asylum does not constitute general international law. On the contrary it is a regional instrument and no similar instruments or practices exist elsewhere”.[6] They also affirmed that general international law does not recognise diplomatic asylum as implied by the source and this position found support in the 1950 Asylum case of the International Court of Justice. The ICJ excluded any obligation by a third State to recognise the asylum granted to an individual by another State.[7] However, as underlined by the comments from the source, at least two legal provisions create international law obligations both for the UK and Sweden, namely, Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights;[8] and Article 1 of the 1951 Refugee Convention, as well as subsequent Protocols on the status of refugees, which define all the related obligations for States Parties. First among others, is the non- refoulement provision.[9] Despite the understandable (political) reservations by both Governments in unconditionally recognising Mr. Assange as a political refugee, there was no justification for relying only on the “regional” value of the political asylum granted by Ecuador according to the Latin American Convention, without considering other international obligations as well.[10]

 The last point dealt with by the WGAD was in relation to the European Arrest Warrant and the minimum standard of fair trial guarantees which should have been granted to Mr Assange, as a defendant, by the Governments. The EAW, issued by the Stockholm Court against Mr. Assange, presented several controversial points. Notably, the Swedish authorities underlined that there was no casual link between their EAW and the self-confinement of Mr. Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy. This overlooks the denial of the UK and Sweden to recognize Assange’s status as an asylum seeker, despite the worldwide publicity his case has received due to his controversy with the US. The juridical ground of the Swedish EAW remained unclear. Mr. Assange was not charged as defendant. Nevertheless, the Governments used the argument of the “criminal prosecution for ordinary crime” in order to exclude Mr. Assange’s right to asylum. That represented a clear contradiction; on the one hand, the Swedish authorities rejected the qualification of Mr. Assange as an “accused”; yet on the other hand, they used the criminal investigation to justify the EAW, as well as the denial of political asylum. It is worth noting that the EU Framework Decision of 13 June 2002 on the European Arrest Warrant clearly established, in Article 1 (paras 1 and 3), the definition of the EAW, as well as the minimum standard of procedural guarantees which must be respected.[11] In this sense, Article 1 para 3, referring to Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, clearly establishes a link between the status of the requested person and the accused/suspect under investigation.[12]

At the same time, the UK’s position on the execution of the EAW was not entirely comprehensible. In the UK Court’s opinion, the extradition of Mr. Assange was deemed to be fair and proportionate, yet in 2014 a corrective legislation entered into force in the UK with the aim to – among others – bar extradition where no decision to bring a person to trial has been made. As rightly underlined by the source’s comments, the UK should have recognised both the absence of the necessary judicial grounds behind Sweden’s issuing of the EAW, and the vulnus of the procedural guarantees apparently justified by Mr. Assange’s classification as not a “proper defendant”, which de facto resulted in a clear violation of Article 6 of the ECHR and Article 14 of the ICCPR.

Conclusion

After a concise discussion, the WGAD concluded that Mr Assange’s deprivation of liberty must be charged as an arbitrary detention “in contravention of Article 9 and 10 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Articles 7, 9(1), 9(3), 9(4), 10 and 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”.[13]

The different sensitive issues at stake made the WGAD’s pathway arduous to walk. The necessity to combine the delicate (political) asylum problem with the judicial cooperation matters also involved the hard juridical arguments of the disproportionality of the EAW and the violation of the minimum standard of procedural guarantees. In spite of the several criticisms as to the decision’s content, the WGAD analysed all the matters involved and summarised them in a clear and brief decision, which could have been the only way to settle the controversy easily and “rapidly”. All things considered, the evident lack of homogeneity between the several issues involved, as well as the serious political matters against the backdrop of this affair, have resulted in a conclusive decision which deserves to be appreciated.

 

[1]. The decision was published on the 5th of February 2016.

[2] The use of the expression “deprivation of liberty” intentionally discloses the content the decision and the opinion of the author, as the first question which the WGAD was called to solve was the qualification of the Mr. Assange’s condition as deprivation of liberty or restriction.

[3] On the question whether the self – confinement of Mr. Assange in the Embassy of Ecuador could be reasonably defined as “detention”, the source affirmed that “the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had agreed in previous cases that a deprivation of liberty exists where someone is forced to choose between either confinement, or forfeiting a fundamental right – such as asylum – and thereby facing a well – founded risk of persecution” (Opinion no. 54/2015, adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on its 74th Session, p. 3).

[4] The individual dissenting opinion of Tochilovsky linked the denial of the qualification of Mr. Assange’s restriction as detention to a substantial lack of competence of the WGAD in the light of its mandate. The Governments, on their side, emphasized this point to justify how the situation of Mr. Assange was the result of his own choice to not leave the Embassy.

[5] For an interesting point of view on that point, see Interview with former UNWGAD Chair and Norwegian International Law Professor Mads Andenas, in www.justice4assange.com/UN- Working-Group-on-Arbitrary.html, who stated that “Liberty must be capable of being realized in actuality. Where the exercise of such liberty would have significantly coercive results, such as further deprivations of liberty or putting other rights at risk, this cannot be described as liberty in practice”.

[6] Opinion no. 54/2015, Governments’ responses, p. 6.

[7] Asylum case (Col. v. Peru), Judgment, 1950 ICJ Reps. 273 (Nov 20). On this point, see also M. Happold, Julian Assange and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, on EJIL: Talk! (www.ejiltalk.org), 5 Feb. 2016.

[8]Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.

[9] See among others, W.T. Worster, The contemporary international law status of the right to receive asylum, Int J Refugee Law (2014), 6 (4) 477-499.

[10] The Latin American Convention on diplomatic asylum (i.e. the Caracas Convention) was adopted within the Organization of American States (OAS) and was signed by both the Republic of Ecuador and the USA. That is why it is correct to qualify it as a regional instrument of human rights law, to distinguish it from the universal tools of general international law.

[11] COUNCIL FRAMEWORK DECISION of 13 June 2002 (2002/584/JHA) on the European arrest warrant and the surrender procedures between Member States 1. The European arrest warrant is a judicial decision issued by a Member State with a view to the arrest and surrender by another Member State of a requested person, for the purposes of conducting a criminal prosecution or executing a custodial sentence or detention order.

[12] 3. This Framework Decision shall not have the effect of modifying the obligation to respect fundamental rights and fundamental legal principles as enshrined in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union.

[13] Opinion no. 54/2015 adopted by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, p. 17.

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The US and Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security: Which implications for the ius ad bellum?

INTRODUCTION

The issue of information security has been the subject of study of the First Committee of the UN General Assembly since 1998. This study originated in a proposal submitted to the General Assembly by the Russian Federation , which later became the consensus Resolution 53/70, inviting all States to inform the Secretary-General of their views about, inter alia, the ‘[a]dvisability of developing international principles that would enhance the security of global information and telecommunications systems and help to combat information terrorism and criminality’.[1] Since then, four Groups of Governmental Experts (GGEs) have been established and submitted the result of their work to the UN Secretary General, who is asked to report to the General Assembly. A fifth group has been established in December 2015, being expected to meet for the first time in August 2016 and submit its report in 2017.

In October 2014 the US submitted before the fourth GEEs a position paper, which was not, however, completely embraced by the other experts in their 2015 final report. This paper is in any case relevant as it is possible to derive from it important conclusions regarding the US opinio iuris on some aspects of the ius ad bellum, in particular the law of self-defence. This post aims at highlighting such implications and is structured as follows. First, I will analyse the issue of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security as it has been dealt with within the UN; then, I will focus on the US position paper. I will conclude that, when it comes to the notion of ‘armed attack,’ the US Administration might have a broader understanding than the international community as a whole, to such an extent as to include any violation of article 2(4) UN Charter.

 

Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security at the UN

In line with its predecessors’ mandate, the fifth GGEs is supposed ‘to continue to study, with a view to promoting common understandings, existing and potential threats in the sphere of information security and possible cooperative measures to address them and how international law applies to the use of information and communications technologies by States’.[2] Since both the 2013 and 2015 reports consistently affirmed that international law, in particular the UN Charter, is applicable to the cyber-sphere, and that the latter applies ‘in its entirety’,[3] it is unclear why it could still remain to be seen how the Charter would apply. In fact, the UN Charter and all relevant UN instruments should provide sufficient guidance in this respect.

The reasons behind this uncertainty seems to be connected with a political tension within the GEEs. Russia, China, Pakistan, Malaysia and Belarus have in fact strongly opposed to the US proposal of making an express reference to article 51 UN Charter, namely, the provision regulating states’ inherent right to use force on the grounds of self-defence to repel or prevent an actual or imminent attack.[4] They argued that the acceptance of this proposal would permit the US to affirm its supremacy in the cyberspace, which would then become another militarized area.

The report finally adopted does not mention article 51 UN Charter, but identifies

‘as of central importance the commitments of States to the following principles of the Charter and other international law: sovereign equality; the settlement of international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security and justice are not endangered; refraining in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations; respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and non-intervention in the internal affairs of other States.’[5]

Moreover, while recognizing the need for further study in this respect, the report notes ‘the inherent right of States to take measures consistent with international law and as recognized in the Charter.’ [6] The reference here is clearly to the right to use force in self-defence, without explicitly mentioning it.

The US and the notion of armed attack

Leaving aside any consideration with regard to what the next GGEs could further establish, what is interesting here is the US legal position on the matter. Indeed, it might help clarifying the Administration’s stand on some aspects of the ius ad bellum as they are provided by the UN Charter, the corresponding norms of customary law, and all other relevant instruments adopted within the UN, including the UN GA Res 3314 (1974).

This Resolution, adopted by consensus by the General Assembly in 1974, provided a definition of aggression, which -at least in some of its parts- has been considered reflective of customary law by the International Court of Justice.[7] Its Article 3 also provides a non-exhaustive list of acts that constitute aggression. At the 2010 Kampala Review Conference, States Parties to the International Criminal Court adopted a consensus definition of the crime of aggression which makes an explicit reference to the Resolution and incorporates its article 3. The US has since then kept consistently opposing the Kampala amendment for a number of reasons, including its reference to Resolution 3314.

While not all acts of aggression would also constitute an ‘armed attack’ within the meaning of article 51 of UN Charter, the latter is no doubt both an act of aggression and a serious violation of article 2(4) UN Charter, which requires states to refrain ‘in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations’.[8] The force to which the provision makes reference has been originally conceived so as to encompass only military episodes.[9]

The US position paper submitted in 2014 broadens the range of situations in which a state may legally resort to force in self-defence. First, the paper expands the definition of armed attack, and therefore indirectly enlarged the list of acts of aggression, by including some cyber activities. In particular,

‘States should consider the nature and extent of injury or death to persons and the destruction of, or damage to, property. Although this is necessarily a case-by-case, fact-specific inquiry, cyber activities that proximately result in death, injury, or significant destruction, or represent an imminent threat thereof, would likely be viewed as a use of force / armed attack.’[10]

Such a ‘threat of an imminent armed attack in or through cyberspace is not [always] associated with a corresponding threat of imminent armed attack through kinetic means’,[11] and, consistently with what the US has been affirming since the 9/11 terrorist attacks,[12] can be committed by states or non-state actors.

Second, the position paper equated an armed attack to a generic ‘use of force’ (borrowing this language from article 2(4) UN Charter), without specifying the gravity or seriousness thereof. This means, therefore, that every single violation of article 2(4) UN Charter would constitute an armed attack and, as a consequence, an act of aggression.

Last but not least, in relation to those cases of self-defence fought against non-state actors and without the consent of the so-called territorial state, the US position paper reaffirmed what has been claimed over the last decades with regard to the US war against different terrorist organizations, namely, that an alleged victim State may resort to force when the territorial state is unwilling or unable to stop or prevent the actual or imminent armed attack.[13] This would also apply to the case of an ‘armed’ attack launched in or through cyberspace. However, it was added,

‘[i]f the territorial State does not consent to the use of force on its territory because it proposes to take a reasonable alternative course of action to respond to the actual or imminent armed attack or to allow others to do so, it generally should not be treated as “unwilling”.’[14]

This statement constitutes further clarification with respect to previous practice and could no doubt apply within the context of any US pre-emptive use of force against terrorist groups based in a state considered to be unwilling because it is ‘publicly silent’ when facing the risk of a military intervention justified on such grounds.

CONCLUSION

Although not wholly embraced by the fourth UN GEEs’s report adopted, the US position paper submitted to the Group in 2014 might reflect the Administration’s opinio iuris in relation to some spheres of the law of self-defence. On the one hand, as consistently claimed by the US since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, an armed attack within the meaning of article 51 UN Charter may be committed by either state or non-state actors. Moreover, an alleged victim state could act in self-defence also against a non-state actor, and even in the absence of the territorial state’s express consent.

On the other hand, the US position paper suggested that the US Administration could consider as armed attack (which, by its nature, is also an act of aggression) any violation of article 2(4) UN Charter. It furthermore provided a broader definition of armed attack so as to include cyber activities that do not imply any kinetic force. These two aspects, if upheld by the group, might well contribute to the modification of both the relevant provisions of the UN Charter and the correspondent customary norms.

[1] UNGA Res 53/70 (4 January 1999) UN Doc A/RES/53/70, para 2(c) [emphasis added].

[2] UNGA Res 70/237 (23 December 2015) UN Doc A/RES/70/2376, para. 5 [emphasis added].

[3] See UNGA 70/174 (22 July 2015) UN Doc A/70/174 paras. 24 and 28 (c). Cf UNGA 68/98 (24 June 2013) UN Doc A/68/98 para. 19.

[4] US Secretary of States, Daniel Webster, Letter to the British Envoy Extraordinary and Minister

Plenipotentiary in Washington on 24 April 1841 (as cited in Eric Heinze, Malgosia Fitzmaurice,

Landmark Cases in Public International Law (Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 1998) 1247-1255.

[5] See UNGA 70/174 (22 July 2015) UN Doc A/70/174 para. 26 [emphasis added].

[6] ibid. para. 28 (c) [emphasis added].

[7] Case Concerning Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America) (Merits) General List No 70 [1986] ICJ at 195.

[8] Article 2 (4) UN Charter [emphasis added].

[9] See, e.g., US Representative to the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly, John S Cooper,

Statement on 25 November 1968 (1080th meeting) in OR of the UN General Assembly (Twentythird

session). Sixth Committee. Legal questions. Summary records of meeting (1968).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] See US Permanent Representative to the UN, John D Negroponte, Letter to the President of the UN Security Council on 7 October 2001 UN Doc S/2001/946.

[13] See Yoram Dinstein, War, Aggression and Self -Defence (5th ed., Cambridge University Press 2011) 275.

[14] United States paper submitted to the 2014–15 Group of Governmental Experts on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security (October 2014).

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