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In the summer of 2017, the UN International Law Commission adopted Draft Article 7 and an associated draft annex for its project on immunity of state officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction. The draft article identifies six “crimes under international law in respect of which immunity ratione materiae shall not apply”: genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes; crime of apartheid; torture; and enforced disappearance. Given the divergences within the Commission when considering and adopting Draft Article 7 (as evidenced by the plenary debate in 2016 and 2017, the unusual recorded vote on whether to refer the matter to the Commission's drafting committee, and the Commentary), it is difficult to conclude that the Commission is expressing a view that Draft Article 7 reflects lex lata.
In July 2017, the UN International Law Commission (ILC) provisionally adopted Draft Article 7 on exceptions to immunity ratione materiae of state officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction, by a recorded vote of twenty-one votes in favor, eight votes against, and one abstention. In the view of the majority of ILC members, immunity ratione materiae does not apply to the six international crimes listed in the draft article—genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, apartheid, torture, and enforced disappearance—either because of a limitation or because of an exception. The unusual practice of adopting a draft article by recorded vote demonstrated the deep controversy among the ILC members themselves. After all, exceptions to official immunity lie at the core of the project of “Immunity of State Officials from Foreign Criminal Jurisdiction” that was started a decade ago by the ILC. This divisive Draft Article 7 naturally garnered criticism and equally deep controversy among states in discussions on the ILC's work report at UN General Assembly Sixth Committee in late October 2017.
The International Law Commission (ILC) explains in its 2017 Commentary to Draft Article 7 of its Draft Articles on the Immunity of State Officials from Foreign Criminal Jurisdiction that the draft articles are “intended to apply within an international legal order whose unity and systemic nature cannot be ignored.” The quest for coherence is admirable. It enhances legal certainty and predictability in an evolving area of the law. But a systemic approach can also go too far—stretching analogies and ignoring differences, seeing a trend where there is none. The trajectory of the ILC's work on Draft Article 7 illustrates certain dangers.
The International Law Commision's (ILC's) work on Immunity of State officials from Criminal Jurisdiction, which started ten years ago, has generated over time high expectations. In light of progress in international criminal law, the ILC is expected to strike a reasonable balance between the protection of sovereign equality and the fight against impunity in case of international crimes. It requires the Commission to determine whether or not immunity from criminal jurisdiction applies or should apply when international crimes are at stake. At its 2017 session, the ILC eventually adopted Draft Article 7 on this issue, which proved quite controversial and did not meet states’ approval. The purpose of this essay is to shed some light on the main shortcomings of this provision and to identify possible alternatives that could permit the ILC to overcome the deadlock concerning its adoption.
In addressing the topic of the immunity of state officials from foreign criminal jurisdiction, the International Law Commission (ILC) took on one of the most contentious issues in contemporary international law. The question whether functional immunity applies when officials are accused of having committed international crimes has divided courts and scholars alike, and the ILC was deeply split. The “international crimes” exception set forth in Draft Article 7 was, exceptionally, put up for a vote, with twenty-one votes cast in favor of provisional adoption, one abstention, and eight negative votes. Because the ILC has a mandate to both codify and progressively develop international law, these figures do not help resolve what was arguably the real bone of contention: whether or not the exception is already part of customary international law—that is, whether it is lex lata.
This contribution explores the implications of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) referrals under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the immunity ratione personae of officials of states that are not party to the ICC Statute. While Article 13(b) of the ICC Statute allows the ICC to receive referrals of situations by the UNSC, disagreement remains among authors as to when such a referral removes the customary immunity attached to a head of state of a nonstate party to the ICC Statute. In particular, it remains disputed whether the broad obligation placed on Sudan by UNSC Resolution 1593 (2005) had the implicit effect of doing so. In referring the situation in Darfur (Sudan) to the ICC under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the UNSC determined that “the government of Sudan, and all other parties to the conflict in Darfur, shall cooperate fully with and provide any necessary assistance to the Court and the prosecutor pursuant to this resolution.”
Symposium on Simon Batifort and J. Benton Heath, “The New Debate on the Interpretation of MFN Clauses in Investment Treaties: Putting the Brakes on Multilateralization”
Party “intent” is not one of the tools that the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT) gives to treaty interpreters. To be sure, party intent is presumably reflected in the “object and purpose” of the treaty, but it is not a separate criterion; in fact, the VCLT implicitly excludes party intent from playing an interpretive role. Yet many decision-makers, counsel, and academics persistently look to party intent for guidance when interpreting treaties. The most favored nation (MFN) debate illustrates why party intent endures as an interpretive touchstone: treaty language, even when analyzed in context and in light of the convention's object and purpose, does not always lead to clear answers. Both Simon Batifort and J. Benton Heath and Stephan Schill, in their different ways, depart from traditional VCLT analysis and hark to party intent as a reason to endorse a modified approach to treaty interpretation. Yet they also illustrate why party intent is an imperfect tool: party intent is too malleable to be a conclusive guide to treaty meaning.
On the big questions, Simon Batifort and J. Benton Heath are plainly right. Dogmatic presumptions about the necessary effect of particular clauses and woolly notions of systemic teleology may distract the interpreter from the task of finding the meaning that represents the intentions of the parties, best articulated in the specific terms chosen. Customary rules on treaty interpretation, reflected in Articles 31 and 32 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), are meant to be flexibly adapted to the case in hand. But in applying their insight to the small print of the interpretative question, Batifort and Heath are less persuasive. Can most favored nation (MFN) clauses be generally relied upon to, as they put it, “import” substantive standards of treatment of investment protection law? The authors are critical of the apparent consensus in favor of an affirmative answer—they call it “conventional wisdom”—and in this regard seem to me to be significantly overstating their case.
In an article published concurrently in the Journal of International Economic Law, I reach many of the same conclusions as Simon Batifort and J. Benton Heath regarding the use of most favored nation (MFN) clauses to import substantive provisions from other treaties. However, although our conclusions are similar, our reasoning differs in several important respects. In my view, the reasons why MFN clauses cannot be used to import treaty provisions have more to do with the nature of these clauses than their specific text. MFN clauses are primary rules that require performing a comparison and determining whether there is a breach of the provision, and this produces legal effects that run against any attempt at importation. In addition, it is not possible or desirable to interpret MFN clauses in isolation from general international law. Stephan Schill is also correct that Batifort and Heath cannot disclaim the normative implications of their effort to shift the debate over MFN clauses. But Schill confuses the legal effects of MFN clauses with a policy consideration (multilateralization) and misreads the interpretative background that must be considered when applying MFN clauses. Schill also mistakes multilateralization via arbitral interpretations of MFN clauses for true multilateralism, which is the product of states working together in multilateral fora. That distinction matters, too, for Schill's solution might provoke a state-led backlash that will undermine the very multilateralism he seeks to promote.
This essay underscores the importance of background understandings in general international law for interpreting brief, open-ended clauses such as most favored nation (MFN) clauses. Contrary to Simon Batifort and J. Benton Heath's claim, I suggest that often interpreters of MFN clauses cannot limit themselves to the text, context, and preparatory materials of a specific MFN clause. A common international negotiating technique, including for investment treaties, is to rely on the general background understanding of what a clause typically means in international law—its default meaning. I also argue that MFN clauses have played a surprisingly limited role in the international investment regime to date. In the main, they have functioned as a stepping stone for procedural and substantive guarantees found in third-party investment treaties. This use, and the limited role of MFN clauses in investment treaty awards, stands in sharp contrast to MFN clauses in the trade regime.
Symposium on Thomas Franck's “Emerging Right to Democratic Governance” at 25
Thomas M. Franck's The Emerging Right to Democratic Governance has lived a dual existence. On the one hand, it is almost universally cited as having brought international lawyers into the freewheeling debate of the early 1990s among scholars of international relations, comparative politics, and political theory about the so-called “Third Wave” of democratization. On the other hand, the article is not infrequently described as a legal avatar of post-Cold War Western triumphalism, often sharing a sentence or a footnote with Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man. From the standpoint of the two authors of this essay—one a long-time defender of Franck's thesis and the other a long-time critic—both of these broad-brush characterizations of the article contain elements of truth, but both are also woefully incomplete.
In a classic article published in 1992, Thomas Franck wrote of an “emerging right to democratic governance” in international law. In his view, such a right implied that the acceptance of a government by other states in the international arena depended on whether the government ruled with the consent of its own people. In a later piece, published in 2000, Franck elaborated, stating that
[w]hile democracy has long been a right of people in some nations, enshrined in their constitutions and traditions and enforced by their judiciary and police, this has not been true universally. That democracy is becoming an entitlement in international law and process is due in part to the very recent political reality of a burgeoning pro-democracy movement within the States that constitute the world community.
Thomas Franck's “emerging” right to democracy seems to be entering turbulent times, as the current global democratic recession has undermined the optimism of the 1990s. The greatest paradox of the current populist wave is that democracy is being subverted by leaders promising more, not less, democracy—but it is a democracy of a different kind. Populists embrace the “form” of democracy and claim to speak for the people themselves. At the same time, however, by undermining its liberal constitutional foundations, they erode the substance of democracy, and gradually transform it into various forms of illiberal and authoritarian regimes.
The downfall of the Soviet Bloc in the early 1990s led to an atmosphere of exaggerated victory, notably captured in Francis Fukuyama's famous book, The End of History, which celebrated the ideological triumph of democracy as a unanimously agreed-upon ideal form of government. The international law literature was not immune from the sense of democratic rejoicing. Of special note in this regard was the notion of an entitlement to democracy, introduced by the late Thomas Franck. Drawing on ideas of self-determination in international law, which themselves date back to the American Declaration of Independence, Franck postulated an “emerging right to democratic governance.” He stipulated that “[s]elf-determination postulates the right of a people organised in an established territory to determine its collective political destiny in a democratic fashion and is therefore at the core of the democratic entitlement.” This essay considers Franck's claims, and argues that his view of democracy was too thin; instead, the essay argues for an instrumental conception of democracy that ties it to other rights and entitlements.
From the perspective of international law, democracy may be regarded as a multifaceted phenomenon. On the one hand, it reflects the collective right of self-governance of a particular political community; on the other hand, it reflects an individual entitlement to participate in the conduct of public affairs of one's country. Democracy is connected to the principle of self-determination, understood as the freedom of a group to decide the system under which it wishes to live, while requiring a formalized set of voting procedures in order to implement this freedom. Democracy is focused on the procedural aspect of organizing elections, while not mandating any particular substantive outcome of those elections. In this essay, I propose that the right to democratic governance should be supplemented with a more robust concept: the substantive notion of good governance.
Symposium on Monica Hakimi, “The Jus ad Bellum's Regulatory Form”
Monica Hakimi has offered a thought-provoking and timely analysis of how the jus ad bellum operates, placing on the agenda of international legal scholarship a regulatory dynamic that has thus far remained underappreciated. While I believe that a discussion of this dynamic is overdue and thus welcome her plea to take informal regulation seriously, I find some of her underlying assumptions about the nature and function of international law problematic. Therefore, rather than applaud the manifold insightful points Hakimi makes, this essay zeroes in on two related assumptions in her article that I find questionable: first, Hakimi's reasoning about the law-creating effects of informal regulation and, on a related note, the distinction between legality and legitimacy; and second, her tendency to embrace uncritically the particularistic nature of informal regulation. Both points implicate what I term the “hyper-responsiveness” of the law, that is, the (problematic) notion that every momentary political constellation should be reflected in the content of the law. In embracing law's hyper-responsiveness, Hakimi's article sidesteps a discussion of the ambivalent implications of informal regulation.