Archive | International Human Rights Law

African States Not Quitting ICC, Just Undermining From Within

[This is en excerpt from an op-ed/short essay I’ve written on the AU action, which is available for publication…]
African Union leaders met in an extraordinary summit in Adas Ababa last week to discuss their strained relations with the International Criminal Court (ICC), as it begins trying its first sitting head of state, President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. Supporters of the Court breathed a sigh of relief when the event ended, as I had predicted, without a much-anticipated African countries quitting the ICC en masse in protest of its Africa-focussed docket.

However, while less dramatic than a group defection from the ICC, the policies adopted by the special synod represent perhaps as profound a repudiation of The Hague-based Court. The African action exposes the weaknesses of the Court while further politicizing it.

The AU proclaimed that “no charges shall be commenced or continued before any international court… against any serving Head of State.” Their demand for immunity for leaders has one problem: it directly contradicts the Rome Statute, the treaty the serves as the ICC’s charter. Art. 27 provides a defendant’s leadership position is entirely “irrelevant,” and it notes this applies to heads of state “in particular.” Indeed, “ending impunity” for national leaders is the maxim of the Court. The AU leaders’ demand is not absurd – as they note, customary international law has traditionally provided head-of-state immunity. But the ICC is supposed to represent progress beyond such parochial and self-serving norms.

In short, the AU has endorsed violating the Court’s constitution while not quitting it. For the integrity of international law, this might be worse. When the United States quit the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice, and when President Bush “unsigned” the Rome Statute, diplomats and international lawyers pointed out that this proves how seriously […]

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Human Rights Watch Director Privately Slurs Israel

The credibility of NGOs like Human Rights Watch depends on their being above and apart from the conflicts they monitor – to not take sides. Human Rights Watch has been criticized by many, including its founder, for giving up all objectivity an adopting an anti-Israel campaign.

Their grudge against Israel has been clear for a while, and David Bernstein has written about it frequently here.

Now, we find evidence of direct personal animus. A news story reveals a private Facebook group whose members include a medley European journalists, NGO officials, and far-left activists. Recently the group turned to discussing an Israeli government report that the famous killing of a Palestinian boy at the start of the Second Intifida was in fact staged. Not only was he not shot by Israel, as much prior evidence suggested, he appears not to have been killed at all. (It would not be the last time Palestinians elaborately staged deaths for PR purposes.)

The issue is not the IDF report, but the comments made about it by Peter Bouckaert, HRW’s Emergencies Director (responsible for civilians in wartime, according to his twitter page). He wrote: “Typical IDF lies. As usual, it takes them a long time to really build up the falsehood.”

He goes on the complain that the New York Times coverage of the Israeli report will be used by supporters of Israel.

I previously criticized HRW for releasing reports on alleged Israeli crimes without waiting for the IDF’s comments - now we know: why wait for a “typical lies” that just build up the more time they get? Seriously, HRW should reveal what reports the “emergencies director” was involved in writing.

Academic writing on human rights and international law often treats groups like HRW as custodians of the truth, and […]

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France’s Kiobel

I wrote yesterday about the French Court of Appeals decision holding that French train companies did not violate international law (and particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention) by building a light rail system in Jerusalem, including areas occupied by Jordan before 1967.

The case, PLO v. Alstom, is a perfect foreign coda to the Supreme Court’s decision in Kiobel, as it also deals with suits for extraterritorial conduct of multinational corporations (though without the universal jurisdiction twist of Kiobel). It illustrates how the efforts of some American courts to implement international law norms through civil damages remedies is in fact a rather parochial exercise detached from international practice.

1) Most significantly, the Court found that international law does not create liability for corporations. This accords with the view of the Second Circuit in Kiobel – corporate liability was the issue on which cert in Kiobel had been granted, though the case was ultimately decided on extraterritorially grounds. Many who favored corporate liability argued that on this issue, courts should apply not international law, but rather federal common law. In future ATS litigation against companies with some U.S. nexus, the PLO v. Alstom decision will not make plaintiffs’ work easier.

2) The Versailles court also seemed to take a narrow view of aiding-and-abetting liability. The issue is hard to separate from the corporate liability issue, but the Court basically found that even if Israel’s conduct violated international law, the corporation does not incur liability for its involvement.

3) Ironically, the best examples of corporate liability under international law came from ATS cases (where courts had upheld such liability after having been assured of its existence outside ATS cases). Yet the French court brushed off precedents under the ATS by noting that they were merely applications of a “domestic statute” and […]

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Kiobel and Academic Fallability

Alongside the Health Care Act decision, Kiobel is an example of the professoriate failing to predict the issues that would be taken seriously by the Court both on substance and style. When the Second and Ninth Circuit began questioning “foreign cubed” suits a few years ago, the great majority of scholars dismissed such claims as entirely spurious. The conventional wisdom was very much on the side of universal jurisdiction over corporate human rights abuses. Indeed, such cases had been around for a few decades without much controversy over the universal jurisdiction aspect per se.

Most surprising about Kiobel is the Court’s unanimity. Everyone, including myself, predicted a decision closely divided on ideological lines. Yet ll nine justices seem entirely on board with ending multinational corporate suits. (While Justice Breyer’s concurrence would leave room for Filartiga-style suits where the defendant resides in the U.S., such cases against individuals have largely fallen out of favor with plaintiffs’ lawyers.) The misapprehension of the vote of course relates back to the merits. Many scholars thought the foreign cubed issue a conservative invention to roll back human rights litigation. That position is now hard to maintain. […]

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Prisoner Offshoring, or Gaolbalization

Belgium and the Netherlands have an interesting arrangement, an example of economics and incentives working clearly in the public law field. Belgium has more convicts than it can accomodate in its prisons. Neighboring Netherlands has the opposite problem: not enough prisoners. Several years ago, it was facing having to shutter some facilities. But then the two countries made a deal: Belgium rents space for its inmates in Dutch jails, patrolled by Dutch corrections guards. (Perhaps the Flemish hope they can be “transferred” to Dutch custody as well, or at least out of Belgium.)

One would think this would spark some significant criticism on human rights grounds. So far, a delegation from the Council of Europe paid a site visit to the Dutch prison, and issued what seems a largely favorable report. There have been calls for emulation in Britain. Prime Minister Cameron has gone halfway, and come out in favor of sending foreign nationals back to their home countries to serve their time, though implementing this has been a bit of a bother.

There may be a trend here – call it Gaolbalization. Sending prisoners to the cheapest justice provider really went global in the past few years with Somali piracy. Dozens of nations have sent warships to catch the pirates. Piracy is a universal jurisdiction crime that can be tried by any country, and the Law of the Sea Treaty gives precedence to the capturing state. The problem is, piracy prosecution is time-consuming (at least in Western legal systems) and expensive, and leaves one with a permanent pirate population.

Thus European nations, the U.S., and other countries have worked out deals with Kenya and the Seychelles to transfer pirates caught by the former nations to be tried and imprisoned in the latter. There seems to be […]

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Former Yale Dean Harold Koh (Now Legal Adviser at the State Department) on Dealing with “Hate Speech” by “Applying … the Transnationalist Approach to Judicial Interpretation”

Related to my post about Prof. Peter Spiro’s views on how international law could be used to diminish the force of U.S. First Amendment protection, I thought I’d note again some thoughts that I noted in 2009 from Harold Koh, former dean of Yale Law School and now Legal Adviser at the State Department, in his 2003 Stanford Law Review article On American Exceptionalism. Dean Koh, one of the most prominent and influential legal internationalists in the U.S., identifies the tactics that fellow internationalists can use to help shift American constitutional law to more closely mirror “international law” norms, including when it comes to “hate speech.” Here are some excerpts (emphasis added):

[I]n a penetrating essay, Michael Ignatieff has catalogued various kinds of American exceptionalism, in the process separating out at least three different faces of American engagement with the world: first, what he calls America’s human-rights narcissism, particularly in its embrace of the First Amendment and its nonembrace of certain rights — such as economic, social, and cultural rights — that are widely accepted throughout the rest of the world….

While this trichotomy is intriguing, I find it both under- and overinclusive. It lumps together certain distinct forms of exceptionalism and misses others. I prefer to distinguish among four somewhat different faces of American exceptionalism, which I call, in order of ascending opprobrium: distinctive rights, different labels, the “flying buttress” mentality, and double standards….

By distinctiveness, I mean that America has a distinctive rights culture, growing out of its peculiar social, political, and economic history. Because of that history, some human rights, such as the norm of nondiscrimination based on race or First Amendment protections for speech and religion, have received far greater emphasis and judicial protection in America than in Europe or Asia. So, for

[…]

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Arms Trade Treaty conference ends without agreement

The weeks-long conference at the United Nations to produce an Arms Trade Treaty is ending without the creation of a treaty. None of the draft treaties which have circulated in the past several days came remotely close to finding consensus support.

The impossibility of achieving consensus involved a wide variety of issues and nations, far beyond the Second Amendment concerns that have been raised by many American citizens.

The 2001 UN Programme of Action on Small Arms remains in effect. Over the last two decades, a large gun control infrastructure has grown up in the United Nations, not only in the headquarters building, but also within many of the UN various commissions and departments. Likewise, there are a significant number of NGOs which have a strong commitment to global gun control, and to using international law and the UN to solve what they consider to be the problem of excessive gun ownership in the United States. The NGOs and their UN allies have successfully used the 2001 PoA to sharply restrict gun ownership in some parts of the world, and they would have used the ATT  for the same purpose. That they did not succeed in creating an ATT may be very disappointing to them; they are not going to go away, or relent in the pursuit of their objectives.

But in their pursuit, they are not going to have the new weapon of an ATT. This is good news for human rights worldwide, especially for the fundamental human right of self-defense against violent criminals, and against violent criminal tyrannical governments. […]

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Weapons Laws of the Russian Federation

For those of who have been waiting for an English translation of Russia’s arms statutes, your wait is over. Independence Institute intern Margot van Loon is the author of the new Issue Paper, Weapons Laws of the Russian Federation. Here is a synopsis:

  • No permission or registration is needed to purchase and carry chemical defense weapons (e.g., tear gas guns) or electric defense devices such as stun guns.
  • Citizens have the right to acquire shotguns for self-defense and sport.
  • After five years of lawful ownership of a shotgun, a citizen may obtain a permit to purchase and use rifles for sporting purposes.
  • An individual may own up to five rifles and five shotguns.
  • Handguns are prohibited.
  • All firearms must be registered.
  • Before obtaining one’s first firearm, one must receive instruction in firearms laws and safety. Every five years, the firearms owner must pass a test demonstrating continuing knowledge of these subjects.
  • The first-time owner must also obtain a medical certification that he or she does not have any disqualifying conditions, such as mental illness or alcoholism.
  • In order to use a firearm for lawful self-defense, the crime victim must first attempt to give the criminal a warning, if practicable. Defensive use of firearms against women, the disabled, and minors is prohibited, unless they are attacking as part of a gang.

On the whole, the Russian Federation’s arms laws show considerably greater respect for the fundamental human right of self-defense than do the laws of some other European nations, such as the United Kingdom or Luxembourg.

The Russian Federation paper is part of continuing series of research papers from the Independence Institute providing full English translations of the arms laws of other nations. Other papers in this series are:

Colombia’s National Law of Firearms and Explosives. Full translation of […]

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The Cross-Cutting Politics of the ATS and Universal Jurisdiction

In discussions of Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell and the Alien Tort Statute, many commentators suggested if the Supreme Court limits corporate liability or extraterritoriality under the ATS, it would eviscerate the statute, and be bad for human rights. More generally, limiting the ATS is thought to serve broadly conservative interests.

These points are only weakly true for the ATS, as I’ll explain below. But more broadly, a limited understanding of the role of universal jurisdiction (UJ) and the Constitution’s Offenses power would have a variety of cross-cutting political valences when applied to other statutes. I have been describing the sources and scope of the constitutional limits on UJ in prior posts. So if reigning in foreign-cubed suits under the ATS can be “scored” as a liberal loss, the logic for doing so would give conservatives a loss under the material support for terrorism law, and both a conservative and liberals loss under the Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act (but a libertarian win!).

To put it differently, UJ – the exercise of judicial power in foreign-cubed suits – has no inherent political valence; this depends on the norms being universalized. The ATS is one of a few instances of such jurisdiction, and a restriction on it could have several ripples and ramifications in other important contexts.

Moreover, it should be remembered that the ATS itself has other uses besides foreign-cubed suits against companies. Restricting such actions does not make the ATS meaningless, it only stops one particular genre of claims. ATS suits can and have been brought against individual American nationals, even as the new briefs in Kiobel are being written. Also, it should be noted that the ATS suits are not limited to liberal causes, and limiting it could obstruct some more conservative initiatives. Consider two pending ATS […]

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Can Congress Mandate the Japanese to Buy Detroit Cars? – The Commerce Clause and Foreign Commerce

One aspect of the ACA litigation that has not received due attention is the effect of the Court’s ruling on the scope Foreign Commerce Clause. An expansive, limitless definition of the scope of “Commerce” would presumably apply to Foreign Commerce as well. If there is no limiting principle for the former, it would be hard to have a limiting principle for the latter.

Under the logic of the government’s approach, Congress could regulate or mandate transactions purely between foreigners with no direct U.S. nexus. This is because these foreigners could have – should have! – engaged in transactions with the U.S instead. Purely foreign transactions affect the price of things in the U.S. If insurance would be cheaper if more people bought it, the same could be said about American cars. It makes no difference if the recalcitrant non-purchaser is foreign or domestic. Can the Japanese be required to buy U.S. cars? Certainly such a law would be closely related a major economic sector, as defenders of the ACA like to put it. (I am of course holding aside issues of enforceability to focus on the Commerce power.)

Or consider a rationale closer to the ACA case. If the mandate falls within Interstate Commerce, why not Foreign Commerce as well? Just as health people may get sick while uninsured, foreigners might come to the U.S. uninsured. At the time they come, no doubt Congress could require purchasing insurance as part of its Immigration powers. But by then it could be too late, they could be sick not insurable. So could Congress require foreigners to buy insurance or broccoli prior to coming to America on the theory that they might at some point come to America? Foreigners from countries where a sizable percentage visit the U.S.? Foreigners who have visited the […]

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Precedent-setting Dutch Civil Universal Juris. Case

One of the peculiarities of the Alien Tort Statute is its mix of cosmopolitan conceptions of justice with American exceptionalism. Under the ATS the U.S. has been the only nation in the world allowing for universal jurisdiction (“UJ”) in civil suits. So while enforcing international law has been the justification for these suits, it has been a mode of enforcement otherwise unseen around the world.

That changed a tiny bit today with a precedent-setting decision in the Netherlands, that awarded damages in a UJ civil suit brought by a Palestinian man against Libyan officials for torture that took place in Libya – the notorious and bizarre fraudulent persecution of foreign medical workers for infecting patients with AIDs. (And this is when Qaddafi could still be seen in polite company.)

So what does this ruling mean for the ATS, and particularly the extraterritoriality issue to be argued in Kiobel? At first, it would seem to bolster the plaintiff’s case, by making civil UJ seem (very marginally) less anomalous. But it also cuts the other way, perhaps more strongly. The argument that there is no other forum where these serious wrongs can be redressed has underpinned broad notions of the ATS, both with regards to UJ extraterritoriality and corporate liability. Now, the danger of “impunity” has abated. Now a federal judge must now ask in a UJ ATS case – why wasn’t it brought in Holland? What if Holland is actually physically closer to the conduct (as in Kiobel)? Isn’t Holland where all the international lawyers are? Does plaintiff’s presumptive choice of forum apply to UJ cases?

Finally, the Libyan defendants were all sued as individuals (because of sovereign immunity), suggesting an absence of entity liability (like corporate liability) does not make a nullity of international justice and human rights litigation.

UPDATE: […]

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Kiobel (III): Universality as a Constitutional Question

Lets take a break from the ACA to think about the federal government’s power to to deal with matters that have no connection to the U.S., an issue the Court will take up when it hears the expanded arguments in Kiobel, the ATS case.

Yesterday I talked about how the ATS extraterritoriality at issue in Kiobel is really something rarer and more extreme: universality. Thus the analysis starts with the classic universal crime and obscure constitutional provision – Piracy, which has gotten significant play in the courts of appeals’ extraterritoriality cases like Doe v. Exxon and Rio Tinto (as well as in the Kiobel oral arguments on corporate liability). Because Sosa held that piracy would be actionable under the ATS, it is clear that the battle over extraterritoriality in Kiobel will be a naval engagement. It is true that piracy occurs extraterritorially, and under the current piracy statute, can be prosecuted even with no connection to the U.S. But proponents of foreign-cubed draw precisely the wrong inferences from piracy’s exceptional status.

Piracy is not just any international crime: it has its own separate constitutional provision: Congress can punish “piracies and felonies on the high seas, and Offenses against the law of nations.” Thus whatever is true of “piracy” is not necessarily true of other “Offenses” that can be reached under the ATS: these are separate, though related, Art. I powers. The Constitution’s singling out of piracy is striking and demands explanation, because it creates a double-redundancy. Does anything make piracy different from other high seas felonies and international law offenses? Yes: it was the only universally cognizable offense at the time.

Starting with this textual observation, I have explained that Congress can at most only use universal jurisdiction over offenses that clearly have that status in international law (see The […]

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Kiobel (II): Universality, Not More Extraterritoriality

[Cross-posted on OpinioJuris]

The new issue in Kiobel is not mere extraterritoriality, but rather universality. There are constitutional limits on universal jurisdiction (UJ); at most it can only be used for those “Piracies” and “Offenses” that have UJ status in international law. But Congress has not “defined” any offenses in the ATS. It delegated the task to the courts, but the courts must use this mandate narrowly and cautiously, as the “Define” power was given to Congress precisely because international law was too “deficient and vague” to be a common law rule.

Lower courts have discussed the application of the Alien Tort Statute to so-called “foreign-cubed” cases – where the parties are foreigners and the conduct takes place abroad – as a matter of extraterritoriality, a term that suggests the presumption of statutory construction against extraterritorial application. While there is a presumption against extraterritoriality, the application of U.S. law to conduct abroad is not uncommon. Yet even the most controversial or aggressive use of extraterritoriality typically involves the regulation of American conduct abroad, or at least conduct that has substantial effects in American or on particularly American interests. But this is not the extraterritoriality of Kiobel, which like many ATS cases have no connection to the U.S. whatsoever. Such universally extraterritorial scope is certainly only found in the face of the clearest statement of congressional intent, such as in the unusual Maritime Drug Law Enforcement Act.

Universal jurisdiction, of the kind asserted in Kiobel, is exceedingly rare and poses much greater problems than mere extraterritoriality. It raises the question of where the federal government, supposedly one of limited powers internally, gets the authority to regulate conduct with no domestic nexus, and have federal courts sit as little world courts.

As shall be seen, Supreme Court precedents clearly apply […]

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ObamaCare and the ATS: Can the Feds Regulate the Whole World?

Today the Supreme Court takes on the scope of the Commerce Clause in the historic healthcare cases. The case raises the question of whether there are any substantive limits to the federal government’s domestic regulatory power. But another case soon to be (re)argued before the Court, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Shell, manages to raise an even broader question: Are there any substantive limits to the federal government’s power to regulate matters occurring outside and having nothing do with the United States? Surprisingly, the latter question has not been generally regarded as a constitutional one.

The Supreme Court has expanded the issues under consideration in Kiobel, originally about corporate liability under the Alien Tort Statute, to include the extraterritorial application of the law. Like corporate liability, extraterritoriality had for decades just been assumed by the lower courts hearing ATS cases: now it will be fully explored.

This series of posts, also cross-posted on OpinioJuris, will focus on the constitutional/federal courts issues involved, and of course explore the early piracy precedents of the Supreme Court to get traction on the issues. In short: before thinking about the ATS, one must consider the constitutional basis for universal jurisdiction – which is quite narrow. Furthermore, there a some good reasons derived both from the constitution and precedent for interpreting the ATS narrowly, as not exercising whatever UJ power the federal government does have.

Before turning to the merits, it is amusing to note the strange bedfellows ATS doctrine makes. The litigation and accompanying academic debate over the meaning and scope of the Alien Tort Statute has been a marvel of surprising ideological transpositions, and more reversals of traditional roles than All’s Well That Ends Well. On the issue of corporate liability, liberals (crudely speaking) urge the Court look to parochial U.S. law, […]

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The Alien Tort Statute Returns to the Supreme Court: International Law versus Law of the Hegemon?

As I have occasionally noted here at VC, this term the Supreme Court will hear an Alien Tort Statute case, the Kiobel case, in which a primary question is whether the ATS embraces a theory of corporate liability.  The Supreme Court presumably took the case because of a circuit split that has arisen over the corporate liability question, and perhaps because of a sense that the exceedingly vague guidance of its last visit to the ATS, the Sosa decision, left many crucial items open.

The case has attracted intense interest among outsiders, professors particularly – 19 amicus briefs filed on behalf of plaintiffs, and 16 on behalf of defendant corporations. (I signed one, despite my general reservations about scholars’ amicus briefs (drawing upon Richard Fallon’s article, which I have blogged about here at VC, including a response by Amanda Frost), mostly because I know this subject matter very well and believed that if called upon, I could have drafted the brief I signed myself.)

Former DOS Legal Advisor John Bellinger writes at Lawfare that the governments of Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands have filed amicus briefs in support of corporate defendant Shell Oil; the Obama administration filed a brief in support of plaintiffs.  (His post at Lawfare provides links to most of the briefs or the ABA site with amicus brief links.)

Here is what I wish could be got in front of the justices. (I am not a litigator, so I don’t pretend to know how one would frame this substantive point in a way so as to put it in a brief.)  The basic question is whether the ATS is a statute about international law or whether it is instead a statute that enforces something we might call the “law of the hegemon.”  The District […]

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