Archive | International Human Rights Law

Stanford Law School Hosts Leading 9/11 Truther Tonight

That would be Richard Falk, whose talk on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hosted by “Students for Palestinian Equal Rights, Stanford International Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic, the Advanced Degree Students Association, & the Stanford Association for Law in the Middle East.”

One can’t hold Stanford responsible for the activities of its student groups, but  the International  Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic is an academic unit of the law school, run by faculty members.

How embarrassing for Stanford, and yet further evidence that in some circles any degree of idiocy can be forgiven so long as one is “Progressive on Palestine.”

H/T Rabbi Simon via email. [...]

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Cyberwar: Iran Counterattacks?

Guernica1 Iran is to cyberwar what 1930s Spain was to airwar – contested ground where everyone tries out new technology and tactics.  After being on the receiving end of Stuxnet, which sabotaged the Natanz enrichment plant and showed that cyberweapons could replace cruise missiles, it looks as though the Iranian government has gone on the offensive.

The Dutch government’s electronic certification authority, DigiNotar, was compromised by a hacker in July of this year.  DigiNotar handled the hack badly, trying to fix the problem without disclosing it. As a result, DigiNotar’s credentials are being revoked by all of the major browsers.  This means that most web users will not be able to verify the bona fides of any site that DigiNotar has vouched for.  That includes a lot of Dutch government sites, and there are some reports that the Dutch government is leaning on Microsoft to keep the credentials operative for another week.  It also means that DigiNotar will be either out of business or buried in lawsuits that could also reach its parent, VASCO Data Security International. DigiNotar

The hacker who pulled off the compromise has posted messages claiming that the hack was revenge for Dutch peacekeepers’ surrender of thousands of Muslim men to Serb militias during the Balkan wars; the men were executed. The hacker says nothing about Iranian government sponsorship.

So why do I think the Iranian government was involved?

To understand that requires a bit of background about the role of certificate authorities on the Internet.  One of Netscape’s cleverest technological innovations was its solution to the problem of Internet eavesdropping.  It used public key encryption to encrypt the channel between a website and each user.  The user could look up a site’s public key and use that key to encrypt all of the user’s communications with the site.  [...]

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“Plausibility” and Legal Claims about the Gaza Blockade

Kevin Jon Heller of University of Melbourne and Opinio Juris: “Insofar as Israel insists that it is not currently occupying Gaza, it cannot plausibly claim that it is involved in an IAC [International Armed Conflict] with Hamas” (and thus the blockade of Gaza is unlawful).

U.N.’s Palmer Committee Report on the Mavi Marmara incident (and note that the U.N. is not exactly the most sympathetic forum for Israel): “The Panel considers the [Hamas-Israel] conflict should be treated as an international one for the purposes of the law of blockade” (and thus the blockade is lawful).

Heller: “I have questioned the legality of the blockade before, leading two readers to claim that the Palmer Committee’s report contradicts my analysis of the situation. In fact, the opposite is true.”

Well, no. Because the Report concluded that the Hamas-Israel conflict was an IAC, it didn’t contradict Heller’s argument that if it’s not an IAC, the blockade is illegal under international law. But Heller also, as he acknowledges, “questioned the legality of the blockade” and said that it was not just wrong but that Israel’s claim to be in an IAC with Hamas is wholly implausible. While one Report cannot establish in everyone’s mind the lawfulness of the blockade, surely if an unsympathetic (or at the very least, non-sympathetic) forum like a U.N. commission adopts the Israeli position on IAC, that position cannot be deemed beyond the realm of even plausible argument, and Heller’s analysis is indeed “contradicted.”

UPDATE: Heller, responding to this post, writes: “I’m glad Bernstein believes that any legal conclusion reached by the UN regarding Israel’s actions is by definition plausible.” No, what I actually said is that a legal conclusion reached by the UN that is favorable to a position argued by Israel is a position “that position [...]

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Federal Female Genital Mutilation Ban

Here’s the text of the federal female genital mutilation ban, together with the factual findings:

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), whoever knowingly circumcises, excises, or infibulates the whole or any part of the labia majora or labia minora or clitoris of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 5 years, or both.

(b) A surgical operation is not a violation of this section if the operation is —

(1) necessary to the health of the person on whom it is performed, and is performed by a person licensed in the place of its performance as a medical practitioner; or

(2) performed on a person in labor or who has just given birth and is performed for medical purposes connected with that labor or birth by a person licensed in the place it is performed as a medical practitioner, midwife, or person in training to become such a practitioner or midwife.

(c) In applying subsection (b)(1), no account shall be taken of the effect on the person on whom the operation is to be performed of any belief on the part of that person, or any other person, that the operation is required as a matter of custom or ritual.

[Findings:] The Congress finds that —

(1) the practice of female genital mutilation is carried out by members of certain cultural and religious groups within the United States;

(2) the practice of female genital mutilation often results in the occurrence of physical and psychological health effects that harm the women involved;

(3) such mutilation infringes upon the guarantees of rights secured by Federal and State law, both statutory and constitutional;

(4) the unique circumstances surrounding the practice of female genital mutilation place it

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Debate on Libya and the War Powers Act

Featuring British NGO representative Leslie Vinjamuri (pro-intervention, sees no legal problem), American peace activist Robert Naiman (anti-intervention, considers the intervention unconstitutional), and me (pro-intervention, but opposed to Obama doing it in violation of the Constitution and the War Powers Act). On the RT (formerly, “Russia Today”) television program “Crosstalk.” 27 minutes. [...]

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Egypt Opens Border with Gaza

I’m not going to discuss the moral, legal, or diplomatic implications of this move. But I do recall (though I don’t have links handy) that various “human rights” activists have been claiming since Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza that Israel was nevertheless “occupying” it via a blockade. Moreover, even if the blockade didn’t amount to an occupation it was immoral, illegal, and so forth.

When asked why they leveled so much criticism at Israel for the blockade, but almost none at Egypt, which was also blockading Gaza, the only coherent answer that was forthcoming was that Israel was somehow making Egypt enforce the blockade. The sensible response was that Israel can’t “make” Egypt do anything, and that Egypt enforced the blockade because Egypt thought it was in its own interest to do so.

Now that Egypt has ended the blockade, we can definitively say that the sensible response was correct. The current Egyptian government has apparently decided that its strategic interest in containing Hamas is secondary to the public opinion brownie points it will receive for easing the Palestinians’ plight–not to mention that the policy wasn’t very effective at containing Hamas.

It would be nice to think that our friendly neighborhood human rights activists will now admit they were wrong, that Egyptian policy re Gaza wasn’t somewhat being secretly controlled by Israel, and that more public pressure on Egypt, instead of myopically focusing on Israel, might have ended the blockade sooner. But I’m guessing that we will see exactly zero such admissions, because it would amount to admitting the unhealthy and unjustified obsession with Israel that is prevalent in “human rights” NGO circles.

UPDATE: Just for example, here are two pieces from Oxfam referring to an Israeli blockade of Gaza, with no mention of Egypt. Here’s a lengthy piece from [...]

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The Cult of International Law Revisited

Back in 2006, I wrote: “I’ve noticed in a variety of contexts that there are some rather well-educated, articulate individuals out there who have what seems to me to be a fanatical, quasi-religious belief in ‘international law’, and the idea that it should trump any other conflicting consideration.”

This analysis from Der Speigel, with the author wringing his hands over whether the killing of Osama bin Laden was “legal,” is an excellent example of this mindset.

It’s also worth noting that the cultists are inclined to take the most restrictive, often extremely tendentious view of international law, in which international law becomes a substitute for otherwise passe leftist pacifism or anti-Americanism. Note that the author makes the highly questionable claim that “for years, the very principle of international law has been to pursue justice rather than war.” If nothing else, it shows a mindset in which “war”, at least war engaged in by the U.S., is inevitably not the pursuit of justice.

And I had to laugh when I read this: “What is just about killing a feared terrorist in his home in the middle of Pakistan?”

Only everything.

UPDATE: Note also this lame attempt by Mary Ellen O’Connell to claim that the Osama hit was a product of “law enforcement techniques”, thus proving the superiority of the law enforcement model of counter-terrorism over the military model. The commenters are justifiably merciless. [...]

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Human Rights Watch (and Amnesty International) on Goldstone Retraction

As I noted a few days ago, Justice Richard Goldstone wrote a Washington Post op-ed last week in which he states that contrary to the implications of his eponymous report, Israel did not deliberately target civilians in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead.

Human Rights Watch contributed heavily to the content of the Goldstone Report, and has been among the most ardent promoters of the Report. Kenneth Roth, HRW’s director, suggests that HRW has nothing to apologize for because “HRW promoted the Goldstone report’s recommendation for investigations, pushing both Hamas and Israel to investigate its own war crimes. We never endorsed the report’s finding of an Israeli policy to target civilians.”

I originally referenced lying in the title of this post, but that proved to be a distraction, because, as I noted, Roth’s statement isn’t quite a lie, but perhaps a dishonest obfuscation. Roth chose his words carefully, and I suppose it’s technically true that HRW never explicitly endorsed a Goldstone Report finding that Israel had a policy of targeting civilians (although, see below, on Oct. 1, 2009, Roth himself pretty much did).

But let’s review some of the statements [I read some, but not all, of HRW’s many reports on Cast Lead to find these] that HRW did make, and see whether a reasonable observer would conclude that HRW publicly and loudly agreed with the premise that Israel deliberately targeted civilians during Operation Cast Lead. I think the answer is obvious, and it’s yet another blow to HRW’s credibility, both because of its conflict with Goldstone’s current position, and because of Roth’s current misrepresentation of HRW’s views. (In none of the statements excerpted below did HRW provide any caveats to the effect that the incidents in question may have involved rogue soldiers or units, as opposed to being [...]

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Richard Goldstone: Chief Kangaroo

Ronald Radosh, commenting on Justice Goldstone’s bizarre “just kidding” op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post about the eponymous Goldstone report on Israel’s conduct in Operation Cast Lead (despite the dateline, it’s not, near as I can tell, an April Fool’s joke):

In a stunning and unexpected turn of events, Judge Richard Goldstone has essentially reversed himself on the findings of the Goldstone Report. He does, of course, qualify his remarks to make it appear that he has not reversed himself. What he does, in effect, is to say that if only Israel had cooperated with his investigation from the start, he would not have reached the incorrect conclusions of the now famous and highly influential report. Israel, of course, had quite good reasons to distrust Goldstone, as his report did major damage. But one would rather have Judge Goldstone now blame Israel for his original damaging conclusions than to have him blame Israel for intentionally being the major human rights violator in the Middle East.

Now, Goldstone asserts, “We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding commission.” Poppycock! ….

He now argues, perhaps out of guilt or perhaps he decided his critics were correct, that “the purpose of the Goldstone Report was never to prove a foregone conclusion against Israel,” and that the original mandate of the UN Human Rights Council “was skewed against Israel.”

No foregone conclusion? Of the three other panelists besides Goldstone, one had already accused Israel of war crimes before the investigation and (verdict first, trial later), and another is so wildly anti-Israel that he holds an acknowledged grudge against Israel for purportedly murdering Irish U.N. peacekeepers (an event that never happened), and who also disclaimed his willingness to give [...]

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When the Anticooperative Effect of Law Can Lead to Many Thousands Dead

I’ve long been interested in the occasional anticooperative effect of law — the tendency of the threat of criminal punishment to sometimes discourage cooperation with the legal system (even though the deterrent effect usually tends to encourage following the law).

Max Boot points to the same effect of international criminal prosecution (a topic that international human rights law scholars have discussed in the past):

Hillary Clinton claims that Moammar Qaddafi may be exploring exit options. Count me as skeptical. The problem is that we don’t have a whole lot to offer a dictator in exile….

Qaddafi … has committed war crimes such as the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. He knows that if he leaves power he could wind up in the dock at the International Criminal Court.

The ability of the international coalition or the Libyan opposition to make a deal for his abdication has been complicated by the Charles Taylor precedent. Taylor was the former president of Liberia who left office in 2003 as part of an agreement that allowed him to escape into exile in Nigeria. But Interpol promptly issued an arrest warrant for him and in 2006 Nigeria handed him over to the UN’s Special Court for Sierre Leone. Eventually he wound up in the custody of the International Criminal Court in the Hague where his trial continues to drag on….

[I]n return for getting Taylor into court, we are making it more difficult to depose other dictators. Qaddafi has every incentive to fight to the death and take a lot of people down with him….

As Boot points out, the threat of such an anticooperative effect is by no means always a reason against criminal punishment. (We don’t decline to punish rapists or robbers, for instance, just because the risk of punishment may increase [...]

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Ecstatic crowds in Libya celebrating imminent use of U.S. military force against Gaddafi

U.N. Security Council Resolution passes 10-0. Live feed from Benghazi on Al Jazeera English. The Resolution authorizes “all necessary measures” except military occupation of Libya. By my reading, the authorization includes destruction of Gaddafi’s anti-aircraft defenses, and of his air force and its mercenary pilots. As President Reagan once said, “We begin bombing in five minutes.” I hope.

UPDATE: Wall Street Journal reports that Egyptian army is shipping arms to the Libyan “rebels.” Which is to say, to the legitimate government of Libya. As the Declaration of Independence affirms, the only legitimate governments are those founded on the consent of the governed. Accordingly, the Gaddafi gang was never a legitimate government, merely a large gang of criminals who controlled a big territory. The French government’s diplomatic recognition of the legitimate Libyan government reflects this fact. @liamstack reports that France says it will be ready within hours to fly over Libya. @lilianwagdy says that Libyans in France are chanting “Zanga Zanga, Dar Dar, We will get you Muamar!” Vive la France! Vive Sarkozy! Vive les droits de l’homme! [...]

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Text of U.N. Security Council draft resolution on Libya

Right here, provided by the Inner City Press, which has long been the best English-language media covering the United Nations. The resolution authorizes member states–acting either through regional organizations or nationally–to “take all necessary measures” to establish a no-fly zone over Libya. It further authorizes the member states to enforce the arms embargo against Libya by interdicting ships on the high seas. The resolution forbids the establishment of an occupation force. A vote is set for 6 p.m. Eastern Time. On Twitter, @SultanAlQassemi writes that according Al Arabiya’s UN correspondent, China, Russia, and South Africa (in other words, the pro-dictator caucus on the Security Council) and two other countries will abstain. [...]

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Wall Street Journal Mistaken About the Obama Administration and Protocol I?

(Update: Pleased to see that the Journal has appended the following correction to the online edition:)

An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that the Obama Administration is sending Additional Protocol 1 for Senate ratification. It is treating Article 75 of Protocol 1 as legally binding, though it has not been ratified by the Senate.

(Update 2:  John Bellinger, who knows this matter better than anyone (possibly excepting Matt Waxman), has a must-read post on the Obama administration’s international law framework in the “fact sheet” at Lawfare.  Among other things, he points out (and I stand corrected in my post below) that the administration has not claimed that Article 75 is actually customary international law:

It is also important to note that (contrary to the views of four present or past justices of the Supreme Court) the Administration has not concluded that Article 75 already constitutes “customary international law.” This would have required the Administration to determine that almost all the states in the world accept Article 75 as a legally binding obligation, which would have been difficult to do. Instead, the Administration has announced that it will “choose out of a sense of legal obligation to treat the principles set forth in Article 75 as applicable to any individual detained in an international armed conflict, and expects all other nations to adhere to these principles as well.” In other words, the Administration is saying (appropriately, in my view) that it will lead by example by attempting to create customary international law through state practice.

In addition, he comments on the question of whether the administration will apply Article 75 to non-international armed conflicts and non-state actors such as Al Qaeda:

The Administration states that it will apply Article 75 only to individuals detained “in

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