Research & publications 2021

Tom Ruys
Publication
17-03-21
Introductory note to the European Union Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime (EUGHRSR)

(2021) International Legal Materials

On December 7, 2020, the Council of the European Union adopted two legal instruments, Council Decision (CFSP) 2020/1999 and Council Regulation (EU) 2020/1998, which together make up the new EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime (EUGHRSR). Similar to the U.S. “Global Magnitsky Act,” and in contrast with the EU's existing country-specific sanctions regimes, the EUGHRSR seeks to address human rights abuses worldwide, by providing for the imposition of travel bans as well as financial sanctions on individual human rights offenders—state and non-state alike. The list of designated (natural and legal) persons will be reviewed on a periodic basis.

 

Tom Ruys Felipe Rodriguez Silvestre
Publication
25-03-21
Military Action to Recover Occupied Land: Lawful Self-defense or Prohibited Use of Force? The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict Revisited

(2021) 97 International Law Studies, pp. 665-738

In September 2020, heavy fighting erupted between Armenia and Azerbaijan in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan long controlled by Armenia. After two months of military confrontations, a tripartite ceasefire was concluded, drastically altering the pre-existing territorial status quo.

The "Second Nagorno-Karabakh War" brings to light a fundamental question for international law on the use of force—and one that has received limited attention in legal doctrine. The question is this: when part of a State’s territory is occupied by another State for an extended period of time, can the former still invoke the right of self-defense to justify military action aimed at recovering its land?

The present article provides a broad appraisal of this question, examining the arguments for and against. In particular, it examines the conditions of self-defense—and whether occupation might be construed as a “continuing” armed attack. It subsequently addresses the relevance of the principle of the non-use of force to settle territorial disputes as well as the role of armistice and ceasefire agreements, before turning to relevant State practice. Ultimately, the authors agree with the Ethiopia Eritrea Claims Commission that “any exception to the prohibition of the threat or use of force for territory that is allegedly occupied unlawfully would create a large and dangerous hole in a fundamental rule of international law.”

Luca Ferro
Publication
31-03-21
No Interference, No Problem: Voter Influence Operations and International Law

(2020/1) Revue belge de droit international 323 

The 2016 US Presidential Election was marred by (cyber-)meddling allegedly directed by Russia and aimed at sowing discord in the political system, boost Donald Trump’s election chances, and steal voter data and other sensitive information. Using that alleged Russian involvement in the 2016 election as a case study, this article examines its legality under public international law. Numerous books, articles and blog posts have since dealt with this issue, focusing on (all or some of) such primary international legal norms as the principle of sovereign equality of States, the principle of non-intervention, the right to self-determination, the duty of due diligence and the human right to privacy. Almost without exception, although expressed with varying degrees of confidence, commentators concluded that one or more of these norms were violated leading up to the 2016 election, resulting in a fragile yet broad academic consensus on the illegality of the Russian operation and, by extension, voter influence operations (or VIOPS).

This article aims to revisit and challenge that consensus. It starts with an overview of case facts as well as the domestic and international reactions to which they gave rise in Section 2. Section 3 then zooms in on three key (and interrelated) international legal norms: sovereignty, non-intervention and self-determination. It applies these legal standards (as interpreted) to the facts (as assumed). Finally, Section 4 wraps up the legal analysis and concludes.

Luca Ferro
Publication
21-04-21
The Doctrine of 'Negative Equality' and the Silent Majority of States

Journal on the Use of Force and International Law, volume 8(1)

Critics of the so-called negative equality doctrine, which prohibits third-state military intervention upon invitation by a government embroiled in civil war, point to recent contravening practice together with a generally passive or politically supportive attitude by states to substantiate their views. If, however, a prohibition indeed remains the starting point under the lex lata, that critical view largely depends on the legal transformation of state silence into acquiescence.

This article contests such a transformation based on the accepted conditions for acquiescence to arise, concerns which are confirmed by two case studies on interventions in the Libyan and Yemeni civil wars. As a result, states’ inaction to controversial military operations rarely qualifies as ‘negative opinio juris’. Indeed, the erosion of customary international norms, especially those that regulate sending troops to war, surely requires more than a few deviant states and a regrettable but legally inconsequential apathy by the international community.

Klaas Willaert
Publication
22-04-21
Deep sea mining partnerships with developing states: favorable collaborations or opportunistic endeavours?

Klaas Willaert and Pradeep Singh
(2021) INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MARINE AND COASTAL LAW.

In order to engage in deep sea mining activities on the international seabed (otherwise known as “the Area”), non-state actors must be sponsored by a state, which bears the responsibility to ensure that the sponsored entity complies with the applicable rules. Not only the state of nationality, but also the state which exercises “effective control” might be required to serve as a sponsoring state, depending on the circumstances. However, it is not completely clear how “effective control” should be interpreted. Forum shopping seems a realistic possibility and the recent trend of partnerships between private deep sea mining companies and developing states can produce similar effects. These collaborations might be beneficial to both parties, but given the privileges awarded to developing states, it should be scrutinized whether such partnerships do not undermine the principle of the common heritage of mankind and the objective to realize benefits for mankind as a whole.

Klaas Willaert
Publication
22-04-21
Traditional dimensions of seabed resource management in the context of Deep Sea Mining in the Pacific: Learning from the socio-ecological interconnectivity between island communities and the ocean realm

Virginie Tilot, Klaas Willaert, Bleuenn Guilloux, Wenting Chen, Clement Yow Mulalap, François Gaulme, Tamatoa Bambridge, Kimberley Peters and Arthur Dahl
(2021) FRONTIERS IN MARINE SCIENCE

In many of the Pacific Islands, local communities have long-held cultural and spiritual attachments to the sea, in particular to species and specific marine areas, processes, habitats, islands, and natural seabed formations. Traditional knowledge, customary marine management approaches and integrated relationships between biodiversity, ecosystems and local communities promote conservation and ensure that marine benefits are reaped in a holistic, sustainable and equitable manner. However, the interaction between local traditional knowledge, contemporary scientific approaches to marine resource management and specific regulatory frameworks has often been challenging. To some extent, the value of community practices and customary law, which have provided an incentive for regional cooperation and coordination around ocean governance, is acknowledged in several legal systems in the Pacific and a number of regional and international instruments, but this important connection can be further enhanced. In this article we present a science-based overview of the marine habitats that would be affected by deep seabed mining (DSM) along with an analysis of some traditional dimensions and cultural/societal aspects of marine resource management. We then assess whether the applicable legal frameworks at different levels attach sufficient importance to these traditional dimensions and to the human and societal aspects of seabed (mineral) resource management in the region. On basis of this analysis, we identify best practices and formulate recommendations with regard to the current regulatory frameworks and seabed resource management approaches. Indeed, the policies and practices developed in the Pacific could well serve as a suitable model elsewhere to reconcile commercial, ecological, cultural and social values within the context of deep sea mineral exploitation in addition to sustaining the Human Well-being and Sustainable Livelihoods (HWSL) of the Pacific communities and the health of the Global Ocean.

Klaas Willaert
Publication
22-04-21
Payment regimes for the exploitation of mineral resources in the Area and on the extended continental shelf: deep sea mining at a discount?

(2020) ZHŌNGGUÓ HǍIYÁNG FǍXUÉ PÍNGLÙN = CHINA OCEANS LAW REVIEW. 16(4). p.43-83

Given the significant commercial interests and huge investments in deep sea mining, it comes as no surprise that states and private enterprises are not only pursuing exploration and exploitation activities in the Area, but are also targeting mineral-rich patches on the continental shelf. Indeed, it must be noted that the same mineral resources that deep sea mining actors are keen to exploit in the Area, are also available within zones falling under national jurisdiction. However, crossing this legal border results in a different legal regime, as activities on the continental shelf are governed by the national legislation of the coastal state and are, therefore, not subject to the comprehensive international regime applicable to the Area. Nevertheless, a similar duty to provide financial contributions to the International Seabed Authority exists in case of exploitation activities on the continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles. Taking into account that this payment system was already established by the Law of the Sea Convention back in 1982, it is necessary to assess to what extent the modalities and tariffs relate to the ones that are now being considered for its counterpart in the Area. Can we discern a logical balance or is deep sea mining on the extended continental shelf subject to discount rates and advantageous provisions? In order to clear this up, this article thoroughly analyzes the existing legal framework and the proposals which are currently being discussed at the International Seabed Authority, followed by a general comparison and several useful considerations.

Luca Ferro
Publication
12-05-21
Killing Qasem Soleimani: International Lawyers Divided and Conquered

Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, volume 53(1)

This article first sets out the facts surrounding the killing of Iranian Major-General Qasem Soleimani by U.S. drone strikes on 3 January 2020 as reported by media outlets and widely relied upon by international legal experts. It then delves into the analysis by no less than 15 of them who co-authored 11 legal briefs of varying depth, all tackling (to some extent) the same question: Was Soleimani’s killing in conformity with the relevant requirements of international law, consisting of the jus ad bellum (“JAB”), jus in bello (“JIB”) and international human rights law (“IHRL”)? However, there was little consensus among the experts – if any.

The article hopes to better understand why international lawyers disagree so spectacularly by comparing and contrasting the variety of views in the Soleimani-case and stripping down the supporting argumentation to uncover the underlying (theoretical and methodological) approach. This is then followed by some final reflections. More generally, it hopes to spark a much-needed debate by identifying a worrying trend in international legal scholarship that seemingly allows each controversial interpretation to stand, and taking a swing at offering preliminary explanations rather than present a definitive solution to a perennial concern in international law.

After all, if the “invisible college of international lawyers” cannot even decide on the disputed legality of a State unapologetically taking out the military brass of its arch-enemy on the territory of a neutral country, it is difficult to see what remains of the prohibition on the use of force – the cornerstone of the Charter of the United Nations and international law more broadly.

Tom Ruys Luca Ferro
Publication
12-05-21
Divergent Views on the Content and Relevance of the Jus ad Bellum in Europe and the United States?

in Chiara Georgetti and Giuglielmo Verdirame (eds), Whither the West? International Law in Europe and the United States (Cambridge University Press 2021)

This chapter studies the idea that Americans and Europeans hold different views on global security. Generally, it is considered that the EU side demonstrates a stronger adherence to positivism in international law, while the US adopts policy-oriented methodologies. This translates into different views of the actual content of the UN Charter rules on the use of force, for example of the permissibility of self-defense against attacks by non-State actors, calls for new exceptions to the prohibition of the use of force and in relation to controversial issues, such as the legality of the anticipatory self-defense. The chapter offers a critical look at the alleged difference by studying the US-led military coalition fighting against the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. This reveals a gradual acceptance of the more expansionist interpretation put forward by the US. Indeed, the case of the US-led military coalition against IS is one where European States - and several other western States - originally steered clear from murky legal grounds only to find themselves ultimately embracing an extensive reading of the right of self-defense, and relying for the first time, whether explicitly or implicitly, on the controversial “unable and unwilling” doctrine to justify military operations abroad.