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Posts Tagged ‘general international law’

FCO Releases its Annual Human Rights Report

Following on from the US State Department Human Rights Report which was discussed here, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office released its Annual Report on Human Rights. This Report, unlike the US version, is thematic and covers a number of areas such as the rule of law, supporting democracy, human rights in conflict, counter-terrorism, and the promotion of human rights. It does however single certain countries out as being ‘of concern’ including Iran, Cuba, Syria, Burma, China, Zimbabwe and Afghanistan among others.  The UK began publishing this Report in 1997.

In the foreword the Foreign Secretary David Miliband states that

When we talk about human rights we talk about a body of law, but we also talk about the inherent sense that we are entitled to certain freedoms and protections. It is this sense of inalienable right to self expression and equality that defined the landscape of 2009.
The clear linkage between law and human rights is significant as it is asserting the position that states are bound by human rights law and that the sense of entitlement is borne out by these legal rights.  The difference in character between the UK and US Annual Reports does seem to reflect alternate approaches to both the promotion and protection of human rights, although both should be welcomed as at the very least highlighting some major areas of concern which often fall beneath the radar.

Minister for Foreign Affairs addresses UN Disarmament Conference

On Tuesday the Minister for Foreign Affairs addressed the UN Conference on Disarmament. This Geneva based body is the main forum for the discussion of disarmament of weapons and was established in 1979. Ireland has been at the forefront of some of the recent efforts to bring about the restriction on the use of Cluster Munitions with the 2008 Dublin Conference succeeding in agreeing the text to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It prohibits the stockpiling, production and transfer  of cluster munitions that come within the Convention. It will enter into force on August 1st 2010.

In his speech at the Conference Minister Martin stressed the need to ensure compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty on nuclear weapons which has been in force since 1970. The Minister also  spoke of Ireland’s long-held position as regard to non-proliferation.

This week marks the anniversary of another proud moment in Irish and international history, with the fortieth anniversary next Friday, the 5th of March, of the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).  In 1958, one of my distinguished predecessors, Frank Aiken, introduced the first of a series of UN resolutions which called for prevention of the further dissemination of nuclear weapons. He worked tirelessly for a treaty on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.  The lasting achievement of the NPT has been to diminish the spectre of a nuclear war. The nuclear-weapon States made binding commitments to nuclear disarmament and other States undertook not to acquire nuclear weapons.  This commitment to nuclear disarmament by the nuclear-weapon States was transformed into practical steps at the 2000 NPT Review Conference, at which the seven-member New Agenda Coalition, including Ireland, played a central role.

While the Minister did not mention Iran specifically his reference to renewed US leadership in the area, in the guise of its negotiations with Russia for the reduction in the number of nuclear weapons held, and his call for a nuclear weapon free Middle East could be read as support for action to be taken within the UN to prevent powers in the Middle East such as Iran from attaining nuclear arms. While negotiations have continued with Iran, it has been reported that Russia is now willing to support more sanctions against Iran if it continues to prevent full inspection of its nuclear facilities. The cause of nuclear disarmament is still very much alive and while Ireland will probably have little impact upon any action that is taken against Iran, showing support for the enforcement of international law remains important.

Department of Foreign Affairs’ Conflict Resolution Unit

February 5, 2010 2 comments

In 2007  the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs opened its Conflict Resolution Unit. The rationale behind the move was based upon

Given Ireland’s proud tradition of UN peacekeeping, our commitment to overseas development aid, our experience of the peace process in Northern Ireland and our commitment to human rights and the international rule of law, we are well placed to offer assistance to other countries on their path to peace and stability. The CRU is based within the Department’s Political Division, and cooperates closely with Development Cooperation and  Anglo-Irish Division.

At the time of  the unit’s creation, the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern T.D. was reported as stating that Ireland’s experience in Northern Ireland, its long history of peacekeeping meant that we were particularly suited to take on this role. Though editorials at the time argued that as Ireland is a threat to nobody and unlikely to be suspected of putting its own interests ahead of international peace and securitythis seems to show a rather naïve appreciation of what a western country and a member of the EU can potentially be percieved as internationally.

The creation of this unit has resulted in a number of initiatives in co-operation with the United Nations and NGOs in areas such as Peacebuilding, Peacemaking and Human Rights in Conflict. One of the most interesting areas of focus is in Women Peace and Security . This is the response of the Irish Government to UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security which states that:

7. Urges Member States to increase their voluntary financial, technical and logistical support for gender-sensitive training efforts, including those undertaken by relevant funds and programmes, inter alia, the United Nations Fund for Women and United Nations Children’s Fund, and by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant bodies;

8. Calls on all actors involved, when negotiating and implementing peace agreements, to adopt a gender perspective, including, inter alia: (a) The special needs of women and girls during repatriation and resettlement and for rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction; (b) Measures that support local women’s peace initiatives and indigenous processes for conflict resolution, and that involve women in all of the implementation mechanisms of the peace agreements; (c) Measures that ensure the protection of and respect for human rights of women and girls, particularly as they relate to the constitution, the electoral system, the police and the judiciary;

Ireland is involved in a scheme which has been put together with Timor Leste, Liberia and Northern Ireland in a cross-learning initiative to aid developing Ireland’s National Action Plan and to facilitate the sharing of experiences of women in conflict situations. This has involved mini-conferences where models, experiences and recommendations were shared among the countries with more planned for 2010. Dame Nuala O’Loan has recently been appointed as Ireland’s Special Envoy on Women Peace and Security and she will now lead this initiative. This is an innovative  move within both this Unit and the Department as a whole which hopefully will result in positive futures for all women who are involved and caught up in conflict.

Tony Blair and the Doctrine of International Community

January 29, 2010 3 comments

One of the interesting discussions today at the Chilcot Inquiry was on Tony Blair’s Doctrine of International Community Speech which he delivered in April 1999. In this speech Mr. Blair asserted

‘[t]oday the impulse towards interdependence is immeasurably greater. We are witnessing the beginnings of a new doctrine of international community. By this I mean the explicit recognition that today more than ever before we are mutually dependent, that national interest is to a significant extent governed by international collaboration and that we need a clear and coherent debate as to the direction this doctrine takes us in each field of international endeavour. Just as within domestic politics, the notion of community – the belief that partnership and co-operation are essential to advance self-interest – is coming into its own; so it needs to find its own international echo. Global financial markets, the global environment, and global security and disarmament issues: none of these can he solved without intense international co-operation.’

This, together with his assertion in his interview before Christmas with Fern Britton – where Mr. Blair asserted that had there were alternative bases other than weapons of mass destruction to bring down Saddam Hussein- alludes to the possibility of humanitarian intervention to bring about regime change as another legal justification for going to war.

The doctrine of humanitarian intervention is a very controversial basis for the use of force  in international law and though the more recently developed doctrine of responsibility to protect has developed since the invasion its remit would not seem to immediately cover the situation in Iraq at the time of the invasion.

One of the more most recent uses of humanitarian intervention as justification for the use of force was in Kosovo in 1999. This was undertaken by NATO to stop the increased abuse by the Serbian Government of Kosovar Albanians.  It resulted in  cases against individual members of NATO at the ICJ and much debate as to whether a right of humanitarian intervention had emerged. Whether or not it did contribute to the establishment of humanitarian intervention it did set a political precedent for action outside of the United Nations where sanctions were not forthcoming. This precedent, which was not argued at the time of the Iraqi invasion, certainly seems to have echoes in claims now made that there were humanitarian reasons for invading Iraq and that these aims have largely been achieved and thus the War was justified even if it was outside the UN and in breach of Article 2(4).  While the lack of weapons of mass destruction have made the self-defence argument less sustainable, the move towards justification on the basis of community values or humanitarian interests is troubling.

Update of Irish International Law Resource

The Department of Foreign Affairs has recently updated its Documents on Irish Foreign Policy on-line resource. This resource has been developed in association with the Royal Irish Academy and the National Archive. The entire collection, which covers the period from 1919-1941, has been available in print since 1998, each book covering a number of years, but the addition of the on-line collection covering the period 1919-1932 will aid in research into this interesting period of Irish history as Ireland developed its place as an independent country in international relations.  The papers cover the negotiation of the Treaty, the Boundary Commission, the Imperial Conferences during the period, the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the League of Nations, the collapse of Weimar Germany, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the development of the Irish policy of neutrality among many other topics.

This is a very interesting project that hopefully will continue with the publication of the rest of the documentation covering the Second World War. Hopefully this too will be made available with the rest of the collection  on-line soon.

Iraq Inquiry Begins but Questions Remain

November 25, 2009 Leave a comment

In the UK, the Iraq Inquiry (also referred to as the Chilcot Inquiry) into the 2003-present Iraq war began hearing evidence yesterday. On the first day of proceedings (24 November), Sir Peter Ricketts, chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee in 2001 told the inquiry that containment policy in 2001, which included sanctions, was “failing”. He also said that they were aware in around February 2001 that White House officials were discussing “regime change” in Iraq, but that it was not UK policy until after September 11, 2001. Sir William Patey, the former head of the Foreign Office’s Middle East Department was asked if containment policy “could have continued like that until such time as [Hussein] departed?” to which Patey replied “Possibly”.

The Inquiry was announced on 15 June 2009 by the Prime Minister. It is an inquiry by a committee of Privy Counsellors with broad terms of reference to consider the UK’s involvement in Iraq from mid-2001 to July 2009. It will cover the run-up to the conflict, the subsequent military action and its aftermath with the purpose to establish the way decisions were made, to determine what happened and to identify lessons to ensure that in a similar situation in future, the UK government is equipped to respond in the most effective manner in the best interests of the country. 

  Read more…

Department of Foreign Affairs and the Sources of International Law

November 10, 2009 2 comments

dfa_topban_du000668While searching through the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) website  it occurred to me that it gave an interesting guide to the Irish Government’s attitude towards international law. While the Constitution does not give much guidance beyond a ‘devotion to the ideal of peace and friendly co-operation’ under Article 29.1, to pacific settlement of disputes under Article 29.2 and the acceptance of ‘the generally recognised principles of international law as its rule of conduct’ with other states under Article 29.3 there is little firm guidance given on any body of international law beyond the EU under Article 29.4  or the International  Criminal Court  under Article 29.9. In contrast to this the DFA website goes into some detail on Ireland and international law. As an example it lists the treaties that Ireland is party to and details on international law in Irish courts’ case law . Though this is  a  paltry list that  includes very few of the international human rights law cases that have gone before the courts, including those cases that have made their way to the European Court of Human Rights such as the  Norris case, this would seem to indicate that the DFA does not consider any human rights cases to be an aspect of  international law. It also has some detail on the sources of international law.

Quoting Article 38.1 of the International Court of Justice Statute, the DFA website goes on to describe treaties and custom ( which it states is relevant in the absence of a treaty, asserting firstly that there is a hierarchy of sources, which is far from a settled argument and  secondly that custom cannot be complementary or some instances surpass treaties as a source of law as is the instance with the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties which is utilised by the DFA as an example of a classic treaty. It has far surpassed its original text )in some detail. This suggests that the DFA does not have much regard for Articles 38.1. (c) or (d) of the ICJ Statute that deals with general principles of international law, judical decisions and writings of academics.  It also gives its own interpretation on what the ICJ specifically may do with the decisions of national courts:

Apart from decisions of international judicial bodies, decisions of a national court may amount to a statement of what that court considers to be international law on a particular matter. Such a decision would only carry weight as evidence of international law where the court is of very high standing and where the international law issue is central to the case and receives careful consideration. So, for example, important decisions of the United States Supreme Court (such as 1900 case, The Paquete Habana), the House of Lords (such as the Pinochet Case) and the Irish Supreme Court (such as The Government of Canada v The Employment Appeals Tribunal) have influenced the development or interpretation of international law.  

Where exactly the DFA have found this interpretation of ICJ practice is unclear. It is a very limited understanding of how the ICJ can and does use domestic case-law in its reasoning. The DFA also appears to ignore many of the other judical bodies such as the WTOs Dispute Settlement Body, or the European Court of Human Rights or any of the other myriad of bodies which interpret international law on a regular basis actually operate.  The nature of the guidance on this website is very limited, in fact it could be disregarded as misleading as an accurate guide to the sources of international law. It is my intention to have a good rummage among the webpages of the DFA for similar assertions about international law, I will report back with any other findings of misdescription.

More on Copenhagen and Climate Change

November 6, 2009 3 comments

A rather dispiriting headline appears in the Irish Times today ‘UN climate summit ‘likely to fail’. (I have posted on this topic here and here) The basis of this article is the comment yesterday made by ‘British officials’ that a deal on climate change could take at least another 12 months. This rather depressing comment was made at the Barcelona pre-summit talkbarc_09_11_4_2_348s that are currently taking place. These talks are part of wider programme of pre-summit talks that have been held under the auspices of the United Nations.  The Barcelona meeting is supposed to establish a firm basis on which the Copenhagen talks agree the basis of a new treaty.  According to the Times all hope is now lost that anything coherent or binding can emerge from Copenhagen. Instead the sources claimed that a further summit would have to be held in December 2010 to finally agree a treaty. The Bali Summit of 2007 established the agenda for these talks with the aim of having a ratified treaty by the end of 2009. This rather short timeframe was established as it was clear that time is of the essence with regard to climate change. (In contrast the Doha Round of negotiations at the WTO have been ongoing since 2001, though the WTO is also keeping a close eye on events in Barcelona and Copenhagen)

According to the Times there are over 1,000 different disagreements over the current text. David Milliband told the House of Commons yesterday that there was no Plan B and that renewed impetus was required to ensure some solid progress at Copenhagen. Though a consensus appears to be emerging that an outline agreement maybe all that can be achieved at Copenhagen. The fact that Ban Ki-moon appears to agree that  it is unlikely that this a binding treaty can be agreed in December seems to put the nail in the coffin of an agreement.

In the Times Benedict Dempsey from Save the Children’s, said: “The cost of any delay to a climate deal will be counted in children’s lives. Save the Children estimates that 250,000 children could be killed by climate change next year.”

The imperatives of agreeing a settlement are clear though it will probably be dependent on the US, China and the EU to agree to the slashing of carbon emissions. On Wednesday in the Irish Times is was reported that both the US and the EU were going to redouble their efforts. If the US is going to make good on their ‘ever-expanding suite of measures‘ it will have to take the lead as the EU (with the possible exception of David Milliband) appears to have lost its will.

EU and Copenhagen

October 30, 2009 1 comment

In a follow-up to my earlier post regarding the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate’s Change proposed Heads for a new Climate Change Bill it has eu-reinfeldt-cp-7338261emerged that the EU has agreed a joint negotiating position ahead of the Copenhagen Conference this December. The EU has sought to take the lead at the Conference and in settling on a joint platform it is hoped that the EU will be able to push others into agreement.

One of the main stumbling blocks has been on the question of how much financial support as well as  the degree of technology transfer that should be given to countries of the Global South. While some of these countries, such as China and India, are emerging as major polluters, others have little or no impact upon rates of climate change. However it is the countries of the Global South who will suffer most from droughts and floods should Climate Change keep going unabated.  The UN estimates that yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by up to 50% in some African countries and that up to 200 million people could be displaced by the effects of climate change by 2050. Obviously the Global North is better placed to deal with these changes than the Global South both financially and with regard to technology. There has been extensive research into this sponsored by both the UN and NGOs.

The EU at today’s summit agreed a joint position on climate finance, though an actual formula for establishing a country’s ability to pay was not settled upon. They also agreed to cut emissions to 30% below 1990 levels by 2020.  Eastern European countries have been particularly concerned that any cuts in emissions will disproportionately affect their abilities to expand and develop their own economies, but with the intervention of Ban-ki Moon were convinced to agree a deal. While the agreed platform by the EU is more likely to lead to success at Copenhagen as Lavanya Rajamani has pointed out one of the greatest impediments to an agreement is the lack of trust in the Global North to fulfill its promises, the lack of success of the Kyoto Protocol is a prime example of this. It will be interesting to watch the various interests formulate their positions over the next month. What is clear is that comprehensive action must be taken soon.

Ireland and Afghanistan

September 16, 2009 Leave a comment

In June of this year the Minister for Defence confirmed that Irish troops were to remain in Afghanistan and Kosovo for at least another year. This coincided with the accession of Afghanistan to the Two Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions. While the elements of the Protocols that have already become part of customary international law were always in force in Afghanistan once the Additional Protocols come into force in December of this year it will strengthen the application of these rules to activities of both the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)  of which Ireland is a part and the Government forces of Afghanistan. There are currently 7  Irish personnel in Afghanistan. The Additional Protocols apply directly between insurgents and the state therefore it will not be directly applicable to ISAF, however in the case of joint operations or operations under the direction of ISAF it is possible that members of ISAF may be held accountable for actions that are considered in breach. This comes quickly after news that the International Criminal Court is looking at possible war crimes prosecutions against members of the Taliban,al Qaeda, as well as ISAF forces.

While there has been no evidence to suggest that Irish personnel have been involved in any incident which the ICC is looking into it does raise questions surrounding the deployment of forces as part of a large international groups and where responsibility lies. Ireland has a long and very proud history of involvement with UN peacekeeping groups such as in the Congo or the Lebanon. Its involvement in both Kosovo and Afghanistan is outside this more traditional remit and presents broader questions of command responsibility and the conditions under which Ireland takes part in these international actions. Ireland has acceded to the Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols incorporating them into Irish law under the Geneva Conventions Act 1962 and the Geneva Conventions (Amendment) Act 1998 as well as to the International Criminal Court. If prosecutions against ISAF do occur in Afghanistan it will be interesting to see how the ICC will deal with responsibility among the many different forces currently deployed in Afghanistan.