Transparency the key to avoiding a climate-action-induced economic crisis – Joshua Sheppard

An unfortunate side-effect of action on climate change

Buoyed by renewed global enthusiasm for climate action after the Paris Agreement and the US-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change, the financial community is increasingly turning its mind to what happens when governments act to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Previously, fossil fuel companies had planned to develop approximately five times the amount of fossil fuel than we can safely burn if we are to prevent an average temperature increase of more than 2°C. Capital has been and will continue to be wasted on carbon intensive projects that should not proceed under the new regime; a reality that the market is beginning to wake up to. When this reality truly strikes investors, it may prompt a dangerous market-wide share sale in fossil fuel companies and precipitate a decline in those companies’ market values.

Australians with superannuation fund accounts stand to lose money when this carbon bubble bursts, because most superannuation funds invest in blue chip energy and resources companies such as ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, AGL, Santos and their financiers, large global banks and our Big Four banks in Australia; NAB, Commonwealth Bank, ANZ and Westpac. If and when fossil fuel companies suffer economic hardship because their projects are no longer viable (see, for instance, the bankruptcy of Peabody Energy in mid-April 2016), superannuation members will lose out. As the Asset Owners Disclosure Project Chair and former federal leader of the Liberal Party of Australia, Dr John Hewson, put it, the eventuation of climate risk could “easily precipitate a financial crisis”. Having put its support behind UN action on climate, the G20 has begun turning attention towards how to prevent such a crisis.

Why the risk of stranded asset persists

We all have a degree of leverage to ensure our concerns over the management of climate risk are addressed through our “consumer sovereignty”. Most Australians could easily change superannuation funds to those that are mitigating climate change risk in their investment portfolios. Like any market, if people demand a certain product, it is often supplied by budding entrepreneurs. However, it can be difficult at the best of times to understand whether one superannuation fund is better than another at managing its investment portfolio, let alone climate risk. Considering that many funds present their climate-related information in different ways, and use different metric systems of measurement, it is a tough task to make meaningful comparisons. This presents a concerning information and comprehension gap for consumers that has to be filled.

The G20’s big move

The challenge of providing transparency on climate risk to the financial sector has been recently taken up by the G20, which has asked the Financial Stability Board (‘FSB’) to examine how the financial system can better acknowledge and consider climate change risks. The FSB, made up of the finance ministers and central bank governors of the G20 countries, is a soft law body established in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis which aims to ‘assess vulnerabilities affecting the global financial system and identify…the regulatory, supervisory and related actions needed to address them’ (Art 2(1)(a), FSB Charter).

The FSB has, in turn, established a new Taskforce for Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (‘TCFD’), and appointed three-time mayor of New York City and businessman Michael Bloomberg, to lead the initiative. Its mission is to ‘develop voluntary, consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies in providing information to investors, lenders, insurers and other stakeholders’. In its Phase I report (p 2), the TCFD concluded that disclosure by companies currently is ‘fragmented and incomplete’, and this is preventing ‘investors, creditors, and underwriters from accessing information that can inform their decisions’.

Most significantly, the TCFD announced in its Phase I report (p 26) that it will now examine voluntary, common disclosure standards for institutional investors. This will make disclosure frameworks part of the mainstream consciousness of the superannuation sector.

One model for the TCFD to consider is the Asset Owners Disclosure Project (AODP). The AODP aims to rectify the information and comprehension gap, by producing rankings and ratings of the world’s 375 largest superannuation and pension , as well as insurers and sovereign wealth funds, in regard to their management of climate risk. This initiative establishes transparency and comparability between pension funds by using a quick and easy-to-use scale. It encourages pension funds to take the initiative to file shareholder resolutions, which request that companies’ business models comply with a low-carbon economy, create innovative ways of financing renewable energy and reduce exposure to fossil fuel assets.

The forthcoming TCFD disclosure standards will give individual superannuation fund members a bigger source of leverage to demand that climate risk is managed properly. In turn, this will continue to drive competition between superannuation funds and their suppliers, which can only mean better outcomes for members. The information and comprehension gap appears to be closing swiftly and comprehensively. By focusing on transparency and disclosure, the G20 may well consolidate recent climate action successes with the assurance that the transition to a post-fossil fuel world can be more financially stable too.

Joshua Sheppard is a penultimate year law student at Monash University and a project manager for the Asset Owners Disclosure Project.

Resolution 29/22: Does international law protect ‘various forms of families’? — Giulia Dondoli

In July 2015, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued Resolution 29/22 on the protection of the family as the natural and fundamental group unit of society. The Human Rights Council requested that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) prepare a report on the protection of the family and present it at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council. Such a report is a relevant step forward for lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) parent-families’ rights within the United Nations aegis.

Resolution 29/22 focused on issues related to single-headed households, protection of children, disparity of household responsibilities between men and women and the protection of disabled members of families. To prepare the report, a note verbale was sent; 24 states and 81 civil society organisations responded with their input to the OHCHR. In particular, Denmark pointed out that Resolution 29/22 does not ‘properly recognize [sic] the fact that various forms of families exist’. Furthermore, the United Kingdom, the United States, and organisations such as Sexual Rights Initiative, and OutRight Action International, asked the OHCHR to consider LGBT parent-families.

Indeed, in the report submitted by the OHCHR to the Human Rights Council pursuant to item 37 of Resolution 29/22 (OHCHR report), the OHCHR states that there is no definition of ‘family’ in international law, and that there is a general consensus within UN documents that the concept of ‘family’ must be understood in a ‘wide sense’. While states maintain a margin of appreciation in defining the concept of family (para 26), the report encourages states to ensure that children born in de facto unions and in LGBT parent-families have equal rights of those born from married and heterosexual couples (para 42).

However, the OHCHR report also reiterates that men and women of full age have the right to marry (para 28. See also article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 23(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)), and this right can only be understood to mean that a man can marry a woman and vice versa. Indeed, in 2002, the UN Human Rights Committee clarified in Joslin et al v New Zealand that the expression ‘men and women’ denotes that only different sex couples have the right to marry, because the drafters of the ICCPR considered marriage to mean an exclusively heterosexual institution (Luca Paladini, ‘Same-Sex Couples before Quasi-Jurisdictional Bodies: The Case of the UN Human Rights Committee’ in Daniele Gallo, Pietro Pustorino, Luca Paladini (eds) Same-Sex Couples before National, Supranational and International Jurisdictions (Springer, Heidelberg, 2014) 533 at 545). Nevertheless, the OHCHR report also stresses that the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has called upon states to provide some sort of legal recognition — for example civil partnership acts or legal recognition of de facto couples — for same-sex couples (OHCHR report, para 27).

The prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity is a politically controversial issue and a developing concept in international human rights law (Frederick Cowell and Angelina Milon, ‘Decriminalisation of Sexual Orientation through the Universal Periodic Review’ (2012) 12 Human Rights Law Review 341 at 344; Ronald Holzhacjer, ‘State-Sponsored Homophobia and the Denial of the Right of Assembly in Central and Eastern Europe: The “Boomerang” and the “Ricochet” between European Organizations and Civil Society to Uphold Human Rights’ (2013) 35 Law & Policy 1 at 8). In general, issues related to LGBT rights — particularly those related to LGBT family rights — trigger strong reactions from conservative/religious states and organisations. Indeed, conservative voices did not delay in expressing their disappointment with the OHCHR report. In February 2016, Global Helping to Advance Women and Children, the UN Family Rights Caucus and 26 organisations with consultative status at the UN Economic and Social Council submitted a written statement to the UN Secretary General (A/HRC/31/NGO/155) which maintained that the OHCHR report seeks to advance the status of LGBT relationships contrary to international law. The written statement continued to say that the claim that there is a general consensus within the UN on the term ‘various forms of families’ is ‘false and disingenuous’; and concluded by calling upon the OHCHR to edit the report by removing reference to the recognition of different forms of families.

In conclusion, the mention in the OHCHR report to different types of families, and the prohibition of discrimination against children born in LGBT parents-families, are much-needed steps forward in the advancement of LGBT family rights. However, at this point, it is crucial to see whether a second resolution on the protection of the family can evolve in a direction that reflects the sentiments expressed in the OHCHR report.

Giulia Dondoli is a PhD Candidate at Te Piringa — Faculty of Law of the University of Waikato.

Australia’s use of private military and security companies: Options for accountability under international law — Anna John

Introduction

On 23 February 2016, news emerged that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) had renewed its contract with Australian private security company, Unity Resources Group (URG). URG was contracted by DFAT to provide personal security services for embassy staff at the Australian diplomatic mission in Baghdad. URG won this contract after allegedly halving its fees from $101.5 million between 2011 and 2015 to about $51 million for the next five years. The company’s staff have claimed that URG’s cost-cutting has compromised their wages, as well as the quality of weapons, equipment and medical treatment provided to them. As a result, staff have had to buy their own equipment, and many have chosen not to continue with the company.

Why privatise security?

This news raises broader issues about Australia’s use of private security companies. There are, for a start, fundamental moral and ethical concerns. Why aren’t personnel from the Australian Defence Force (ADF) being assigned the task of providing security at the diplomatic mission? The ADF, as a public institution, has been entrusted to act in the interest of the Australian public. On the other hand, private actors are thought to be motivated primarily by profit, which may not necessarily translate to the best interests of the Australian public. URG’s cost-cutting moves do little to assuage this fear. Further, the reliance on such companies is also contentious because of their reputation for excessive force and disregard for human rights. For example, the notorious incidents at Abu Ghraib in 2003 and Nisour Square in Iraq in 2007 both involved gross misconduct by private security contractors employed by the US military.

On the other hand, there are strong arguments for the use of private military and security companies (PMSC). The term ‘PMSC’ is a broad label for companies that undertake a range of security activities including guarding, military training, intelligence gathering, logistical support and combat advice. PMSCs may provide governments with an organised, efficient and cost-effective option to supplement their existing military presence. The UN has used PMSCs in its peacekeeping operations, and it is generally acknowledged that PMSCs have in some cases been able to contribute to a peaceful outcome where a state’s armed forces have not. The classic example of this was in the 1990s conflict in Sierra Leone. Executive Outcomes, a PMSC, was successful in containing a violent uprising by the guerrilla force Revolutionary United Front, negotiating a peace agreement, and regaining control of the diamond fields in the country. Just six months after Executive Outcomes’ contract was terminated in 1997, a military coup ousted the democratically elected civilian government.

Legal issues

There are however a number of legal issues that arise from the Australian Government’s use of PMSCs. While it is not possible to address all of these legal issues (and applicable legal frameworks) in this post, a significant problem area is accountability for the wrongdoing for PMSCs under international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law. The violent and unpredictable circumstances in which PMSC personnel operate places them in positions where they can readily violate human rights laws and other international rules. For example, if the situation in Iraq worsens — which it may, in light of Islamic State activity — URG personnel may be compelled to use force; potentially lethal force. This has occurred in the past: in 2007, an URG security convoy used excessive force, killing two women (including one humanitarian worker) in a car that did not stop for the security convoy despite ‘hand gestures and signal fire’. Similarly, in Baghdad in 2006, URG contractors shot and killed 72 year-old Australian-Iraqi, Professor Kays Juma who also did not stop for security guards.

To date, there has been no criminal prosecution for either of URG’s acts. Problems of jurisdiction have been the major obstacle to the accountability of URG for their conduct. In particular, as PMSC operations may be governed by more than one jurisdiction, the application and enforceability of criminal laws becomes complicated. One might even go so far as to suggest that this is an unspoken reason of why states find the option of private security attractive: it allows them to avoid the risks of deploying the military. Security companies have their own insurance, and DFAT bears no responsibility for the provision of medical aid, evacuation and ongoing rehabilitation (See James Brown, ‘Guns for Hire’, The Monthly (May 2014)).

Accountability under international human rights law

One obvious option for accountability under international law is international human rights law (IHRL). IHRL is an attractive option for victims because it allows for an acknowledgement that there has been a violation of their human rights or those of their loved ones. Under some frameworks, such as the European Convention of Human Rights, wrongdoers can be ordered to compensate victims. It is also an attractive framework because it covers the spectrum of potential wrongdoing by PMSCs. In the two incidents outlined above, URG may have violated the right to life enshrined in article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Other rights that are susceptible to violations by PMSCs include: the right to liberty and security of the person, the right to freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the right to health, the right to a private life, the right to an adequate standard of living and the right to the use and enjoyment of property (see Lenzerini and Francioni, ‘The Role of Human Rights in the Regulation of Private Military and Security Companies’ in Francioni and Ronzitti (eds) War by Contract: Human Rights, Humanitarian Law, and Private Contractors (Oxford University Press, 2011)). These human rights are enumerated in human rights treaties that impose enforcement obligations upon states. The obligations upon states to prevent and prosecute abuses by private actors act as an accountability mechanism. However, the extent to which IHRL imposes binding obligations on non-state actors is unclear; while IHRL traditionally addressed only states, customary international law is developing to include non-state actors (see Andrew Clapham, Human Rights Obligations of Non-State Actors (Oxford University Press, 2006)).

PMSCs act in a contractual relationship with the hiring state. Their acts are thus considered to be acts of private persons and not acts of the state, despite their services often entailing the carrying weapons and the risk of physical harm to other people (Francioni, ‘Private Military Contractors and International Law: An Introduction’ (2008) 19 European Journal of International Law 961 at 962). Therefore, any human rights violations committed by a private security provider contracted by the Australian Government will not be attributable to the Government prima facie. The exception to this is where PMSCs exercise elements of ‘governmental authority’ or where the state exercises control over the PMSC’s conduct. Even if this threshold is not met, but a state gives a ‘quiet nod’ to PMSC misconduct, state responsibility for a lack of state due diligence can be engaged. Nevertheless, the nature of the relationship between the state and the PMSC renders it difficult to impose and enforce international human rights laws.

Accountability under international humanitarian law and international criminal law

International humanitarian law (IHL) is another framework through which PMSCs could be held to account for their wrongdoing. To an extent, IHL applies automatically during times of armed conflict. The status of PMSC personnel in situations of armed conflict is determined on a case-by-case basis. While PMSC personnel will generally be considered to be civilians under this framework, they can be held to account for their violations of IHL. The enforcement of IHL is through the criminalisation of grave breaches of international law (e.g. war crimes) under the Statute of the International Criminal Court (the ICC Statute) or the instrument of an ad hoc international court or tribunal, or through the suppression of its violations through the use of national legislation.

Here, there is an interplay between IHL, international criminal law (ICL) and domestic criminal law when it comes to the enforcement of IHL. Importantly, ICL does not impose obligations on corporations. Therefore, PMSCs as corporations cannot be held criminally liable for grave violations of ICL (except, for instance, in circumstances where ICL is incorporated into domestic legislation allowing for the criminal prosecution of corporations – this is discussed further below). PMSC contractors can be prosecuted individually for their breaches of IHL either through ICL or through national legislation. However, there are a number of obstacles involved in establishing the individual criminal liability of PMSC personnel.

First, host States are unlikely to prosecute PMSC personnel due to their limited capacity in times of conflict. In armed conflicts, it is not unusual for States to lose control over the own capitals, let alone exercise control over the actions of PMSCs. Second, hiring States are generally reluctant to prosecute their own troops for fear that this will undermine morale (Quirico, ‘The Criminal Responsibility of Private Military and Security Company Personnel under International Humanitarian Law’ in War by Contract, 424). Furthermore, the collection of evidence for the prosecution of war crimes in a national court requires an exceedingly coordinated international effort. Few States are prepared to undertake the efforts required to acquire evidence (Quirico, 424). In addition, PMSC personnel are often granted immunity contractually through agreements that the hiring state has with the host state. The details of the agreements between the Iraqi government and the Australian government are not public, so we do not know for sure whether URG, for example, enjoys immunity. In comparison, US forces deployed in Afghanistan did have immunity from local jurisdiction (Quirico, 444). Moreover, de facto immunity can be granted through judicial approaches. For instance, courts in the US have cited the political-question doctrine while declining to adjudicate upon claims relating to governmental action where discretion is essential to protect constitutional or political interests (Quirico, 443). In Australia, claims against PMSC personnel might fail on the basis of justiciability. Cases such as Minister for Arts, Heritage and Environment v. Peko-Wallsend and Hicks v Ruddock demonstrate how justiciability considerations underlie the courts’ decision to review (or not to review) government decisions involving international relations. Finally, if PMSC personnel are prosecuted, they are often charged with ‘street crimes’ under domestic law rather than war crimes. For example, the former Blackwater employees implicated in the Nisour Square massacre were charged with crimes of manslaughter and firearms offences. However, their conduct could potentially have amounted to violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996 (US), for murder of civilians, mutilation or maiming, and intentionally causing serious bodily injury (Quirico, 443).

Importantly, the Australian Criminal Code 1995 (Cth) introduces offences ‘equivalent’ to the ICC Statute offences of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes into domestic federal criminal legislation. This introduction of international crimes confers jurisdiction upon courts to prosecute corporations for war crimes. This is an important and positive step towards the accountability of Australian PMSCs. However, many of the obstacles to accountability outlined above are also likely to prevent PMSC liability under the Australian federal criminal legislation.

Conclusions

Governments all around the world have been taking advantage of the cost-effective and efficient services that PMSCs provide to their armed forces. However, as demonstrated by the case of URG, there is a risk that such companies can violate international law during the course of their operations. Accountability mechanisms under IHL, IHRL and ICL are not yet sufficiently developed to tackle the introduction of a private actor into the military sphere, which has traditionally been reserved exclusively for States. URG’s cost-cutting moves may well have implications for the human rights of the local Iraqi population, but there appears to be no certain corresponding way in which these branches of international law can hold URG criminally responsible if such violations do occur.

Anna John is a final year Law/Arts student at the University of Queensland. She works as a research assistant at the University of Queensland’s T. C. Beirne School of Law. Anna was recently a guest researcher and research assistant at the Max Planck Institute of Comparative Public and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany.

Australia-China relations: A lawyer’s perspective — David Douglas

Recently, the Australia-China Youth Association (ACYA) hosted Australia-China Emerging Leaders’ Summits (ACELS) in Shanghai and Sydney respectively, which brought together many prominent youth delegates from the two nations. Legal practice in the Asia-Pacific region was a strong focus. Amongst the delegates and networking participants, there were a number of legal practitioners and law students from both Australia and the People’s Republic of China. Additionally, interesting conclusions were reached regarding the prevalence of legal issues for cross-border commercial activities between the nations.

Foremost, government and business leaders from the two countries attended ACELS. The consistent message coming across was one that all lawyers will be familiar with — the complexity of navigating regulatory regimes between Australia and China. Despite an overall decrease in regulation (a result of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement and similar initiatives), the primary challenges facing businesses that aim to have bilateral operations still appear to be legal requirements of compliance with regulatory systems and effective communication with relevant regulators. Without knowledge of the precise regulatory limitations for a business’ operations in a jurisdiction, it is difficult for companies to achieve commercial certainty. It is imperative to understand the existing law and its practical application. Attendees highlighted that an absence of this knowledge acts as a ‘legal handbrake’ on prospective commercial operations.

An Australian company, whose operations in China are about 1/50 the size of their presence in Australia, provided the following example. Despite this overwhelming difference in size, it must complete double the number of reports in China as in Australia for regulatory compliance,. Evidently, the complexity of regulatory requirements places substantial burdens on the company, whose operations in China are not large. For the majority of foreign companies operating in China, this appears to be a shared experience — the inability to obtain commercial certainty can hamper their investment options.

Importantly however, Chinese companies looking to invest in Australia have faced similar difficulties. Many large-scale proposed investments appear before the Foreign Investment Review Board, or are so politically-charged that the project’s future becomes uncertain, such as Shanghai Pengxin’s involvement in a bid for the Kidman pastoral empire (see for example this ABC article). Similarly, the recent approval of the bid by Chinese company Landbridge to operate the Port of Darwin has been highly controversial and subject to intense public scrutiny (see for example this ABC article).

These shared experiences at ACELS helped delegates to realise the high demand for cross-border commercial legal practice. Many commercial law firms specialise in advising foreign clients on the local regulatory environment, which presents an opportunity to the next generation of emerging commercial lawyers. They will need to be equipped with fluid skillsets, that enable them to not only advise clients on their home jurisdiction, but to collaborate with colleagues overseas in order to provide seamless advice that gives clients a holistic appraisal of regulatory conditions in each jurisdiction and the interplay between them. Following a string of newly signed free trade agreements between Australia and our major Asian trading partners in China, South Korea and Japan, much larger numbers of companies and investors will be exposed to the legal and regulatory difficulties associated with cross-border business. Naturally, this will lead to an increase in the demand for legal expertise in dealing with these issues.

David Douglas, President of the Australia-China Youth Association and graduate lawyer at a leading international law firm.

Racial discrimination in Australia: (lack of) protection for Muslims — Jennifer Tridgell

Introduction

2015 brought an escalation of Islamophobia across the Western world. In the United States, Donald Trump called for creation of a Muslim register and restrictions upon Muslims entering the country. Worryingly, his inflammatory, and profoundly racist remarks resonated with many Americans, arguably by ‘merely indulging a [widespread] sentiment’ (Vox, 2015).

Meanwhile, Australian Muslims faced persistent abuse and discrimination, which intensified after the siege in Sydney’s Martin Place (AHRC, 2015). This is consistent with reports from the national Islamophobia Register. But 2015 also marked the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (RDA).

In the words of Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Tim Soutphommasane, this historic Act is not about punishing racism, but rather ‘protecting people against prejudice’. The RDA does not shelter Muslims, but only offers them ‘limited protection’, as a national consultation report by the Australian Human Rights Commission revealed. So why does an Act supposed to protect the most vulnerable groups in Australia from vilification, seem to fail?

A Matter of Definitions

For barrister Kate Eastman SC, the answer lies in delineating between the blurred definitions of race and religion. Whilst the RDA makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of race, colour, descent, national origin or ethnic origin, it does not extend to religion (section 9). Yet since 1995, Jewish Australians have been comprehensively protected for sharing a common ‘ethnic origin’ (see for example the decision in Jones v Scully). This article calls for similar protection to be extended to Muslim Australians.

Uncertainty around scope of the term ‘ethnic origin’ creates difficulties for Australian courts, especially without clear definitions to guide statutory interpretation. Neither the RDA nor the treaty it incorporates, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), have defined the meaning of each ground for discrimination, such as ‘race’ or ‘ethnic origin’.

As Eastman notes, the ICERD Committee has argued that these terms are flexible and should be interpreted in light of contemporary circumstances. It asserted that religion is intertwined with issues of ethnic and racial discrimination, and expanded the scope of ICERD to encompass discrimination against Muslims, Jews and Sikhs, amongst others.

However, in Maloney v R the High Court of Australia rejected an approach to interpreting the RDA as a living or organic instrument. Rather than consider recent developments in international law, which could spark ‘informal modification’ (French CJ at [23]), the Court treated the RDA as an instrument of static meaning.

International Jurisprudence

Australia has largely followed two major cases for defining ethno-religious grounds of discrimination. First is the New Zealand decision of King-Ansell v Police, where the defendant was charged with vilification of Jewish people under New Zealand’s equivalent of the RDA. The Court treated ‘ethnic origin’ as a fluid concept, a ‘historically determined social identity’ (Richardson J at [543]) that stems from a common historical origin, and shared beliefs, customs and traditions.

Secondly, in Mandla v Dowell Lee the House of Lords ruled that a school was guilty of discrimination by refusing entry to a Sikh boy, who insisted on wearing his turban and not cutting his hair in compliance with school uniform standards. The majority favoured two different approaches. Lord Templeman took an essentialist stance to define Sikhs as an ethno-religious group based on ‘common colour and a common physique’. On the other hand, Lord Fraser treated ‘ethnic origins’ as a contemporary concept and social construct that evolves over time. By contrast, Australia’s treatment of ethno-religious identity has been inconsistent.

A Domestic Perspective

In New South Wales, courts have taken a narrow reading of ‘ethno-religious origin’ under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). In Khan v Commissioner, Department of Corrective Services, an Indian Muslim prisoner claimed that refusal to provide halal food was discrimination based on his ethno-religious origin. His case was rejected, despite the fact that his Jewish inmates could request kosher food. Moreover, the Attorney-General of NSW expressly stated that the Act must recognise the link between race and religion, thereby deliberately clarifying that ‘ethno-religious groups such as Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs have access to racial vilification and discrimination provisions’. Despite the shortcomings of this approach, this case has not been overturned and remains the leading decision on ethno-religious discrimination in NSW.

To address this, the RDA should be amended to ensure greater protection for Muslims. Currently in Australia, it is sufficient that a person’s ‘ethnic origin’ is one of the factors in discrimination (RDA, section 18B). Yet where it is the sole factor, the victim does not have protection available. Additionally, attempts to distinguish between an individual’s religion and ethnic origins are often arbitrary and confusing. By either amending the RDA or adopting a national multicultural Act, as Professor Andrew Jakubowicz proposes, we can offer more comprehensive protection for vulnerable groups from ethno-religious discrimination in Australia.

Regardless of which approach is favoured, our government should consult all members of the community, including Muslims, on how to strength legislative protection. Finally, implementation is most effective when law is widely known and respected. Community education programs can raise awareness of the RDA, whilst also shaping a culture where racial discrimination is widely denounced.

Conclusion

Upon the enactment of the RDA, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam declared that it was a historic Act, which would ‘entrench new attitudes of tolerance and understanding in the hearts and minds of the people’. Over 40 years later, these sentiments are just as important today, especially as Islamophobia continues to sweep the Western world. If Australia is truly a land of the ‘fair go’, then Muslims clearly should have statutory protection from racial discrimination and vilification.

Jennifer Tridgell is a final year law student at Macquarie University and Assistant Editor of the ILA Reporter. She has previously worked at the Australian Human Rights Commission in the Race Discrimination team. This article is written in her personal capacity.

What’s the Big Deal? Legal Implications for Australians in the wake of the TPP — Anna John

The final stages of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations were well-publicised in Australia, albeit hazy with regard to the implications of the agreement. Negotiations between Australia, the US, Japan and nine other Asia-Pacific countries over the mammoth deal have been ongoing for seven years. From an international law point-of-view, the fact that an agreement has been reached is in itself laudable.

DFAT has said that outcomes from the conclusion of the TPP include new market opportunities for exporters and investors, increased transparency of regulators frameworks, greater certainty for businesses, improved access for regional supply chains, and a reduction in bureaucratic processes. However, reactions to the deal so far have been mixed, and key economic commentators have concluded that the advantages and the disadvantages of the TPP are largely unremarkable (see for example, opinions by Ross Gittins, Joseph Stiglitz and Adam S. Hersh). Major changes to existing legislation as a result of the TPP are unlikely. There are, however, legal implications to be aware of.

Investor-state dispute settlement arrangements

One of the most contentious issues appears to be the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms in the TPP. Australia initially maintained that it would not accept any arbitration mechanisms for investor-state dispute settlements. However, the final text of the TPP reveals that Australia has conceded to the ISDS provisions, which allow for the establishment of an arbitration tribunal specifically to adjudicate on claims arising from the operation of the TPP. As a result, foreign investors will be able to bring claims against a participating TPP country.

ISDS mechanisms can enable foreign investors to attack legislation enacted for the protection of the public interest. The best example of such a such a scenario is the Phillip Morris litigation. One of the avenues Phillip Morris used to challenge Australian plain-packaging legislation was the ISDS mechanism in the 1993 Australian bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong. Recently, the Permanent Court of Arbitration dismissed the case, agreeing with Australia’s position that it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

Notably, the TPP disallows tobacco companies to challenge public health legislation. So Phillip Morris, for example, will not be able to seek relief under the TPP. Nevertheless, such free trade agreements can stand in opposition to public interest legislation. Article 9.15 of the the TPP’s Investment Chapter provides that a signatory party is not prevented from legislating in the public interest. However, there is a clause allowing non-discriminatory public welfare legislation to be challenged ‘in rare circumstances’, at appendix 9-B, clause 3(b). Effectively, this can give rise to challenges against legislation that protects legitimate public welfare objectives.

Intellectual property

The Intellectual Property Chapter of the TPP was crucial to the conclusion of the negotiations, especially for the Australian delegation.

The TPP and pharmaceuticals

One of the central issues was the length of the data exclusivity period, especially for biologics. Biologics are a type of medicine made of protein-producing cells found in living organisms, and are used to treat a number of illnesses, including diabetes and cancer. Generic versions of biologics, known as biosimilars, can be manufactured in Australia after a minimum of five years since the release of the biologic. This is known as the data exclusivity period.

The US pushed for a twelve-year minimum data exclusivity period during the negotiations. However, according to the final text of the TPP, the agreed data exclusivity period is five years. Since this is the same level of protection that is afforded to biologics under Australian legislation, there is no real impact here.

The TPP and copyright

Once again, it is unlikely that there will be any major change to domestic copyright laws. DFAT has confirmed that provisions under domestic legislation relating to copyright terms, patents and Internet Service Provider liability are all consistent with the TPP’s standards. Notably, there will likely be no introduction of new civil or criminal penalties for individuals who download movies illegally.

The biggest legal implication here for the Asia-Pacific region involves the TPP’s provisions on counterfeit and pirated goods. The TPP requires signatory countries to legislate against the use of counterfeit and pirated goods. This includes expanding the range of offences for counterfeit or pirated labels and packaging, broaden powers to allow the forfeiture of counterfeit or private goods, and ensuring that adequate damages are available for copyright and trademark infringement. Within the Asia-Pacific region, this may have large implications, given that the large majority of counterfeit goods originate from the Asia-Pacific region (mostly from China, but also from Malaysia, a TPP signatory). These countries will now be required to legislate according to the TPP’s provisions. This is a welcome development for Australia.

Finance Expats in the Asia-Pacific Region

Under the TPP, the Australian financial sector has more opportunity to integrate with those in the Asia-Pacific region. Australian bank and asset managers have been seeking expanded growth in Asia, with a focus on financial services exports. This includes lowering restrictions for Australian professionals to work in Australian financial companies overseas. Some countries within the Asia-Pacific region limit the number of foreign persons that can hold senior managerial positions in a financial institution in their country. The TPP places a cap on these restrictions, and also provides for special visa arrangements that will allow such professionals more certainty during their stay overseas. This is outlined by DFAT, announcing that Australian financial institutions will be ‘guaranteed’ the option to transfer specialists and managerial staff to their overseas branches for extended periods. Conversely, such provisions will also lead to an increase in financial services (and expats) from Asia-Pacific countries.

Where does the TPP leave us?

Overall, the TPP is a good deal for Australia, and promotes Australian involvement in the Asia-Pacific. Legally, the biggest uncertainty is what the ISDS provisions will entail. While an exception has justifiably been made for tobacco companies, the clause allowing public welfare legislation to be challenged is perturbing. For example, under a similar ISDS mechanism, a US investor was able to sue Costa Rica on the basis that its environmental legislation impeded their business interests, thus contravening a free trade agreement. As has been pointed out, ‘tobacco control measures are not the only policies worth protecting’. Litigation against public welfare legislation is detrimental to the public interest, can encroach on national sovereignty in a negative way, and could ultimately lead to the public expenditure of millions in legal fees.

A further (albeit political) consideration for Australia is its relationship with the US. Australia has an important role to play in the imminent economic dominance of the Asian countries. A criticism often brought against the TPP is that it preserves US interests in the Asia-Pacific region in the face of growing Chinese influence. Tellingly, the negotiations (released on Wikileaks)showed a reluctance on Australia’s part to step away from its alignment with US interests and establish itself as an important regional player in its own right. For example, Australia’s position in the negotiations lined up with the US 64 times. This was higher than its alignment with the next highest, Peru (54 times) and Singapore (51 times). Additionally, Australia ranked second last in terms of the support drawn by its proposals. The dominance of Asia-Pacific region should lead to a convergence in regional interests, but Australia appears to be taking a step away from this direction.

The TPP is an important step towards economic integration within the Asia-Pacific region. This is not without legal implications, and while many aspects of the deal are welcome and needed, a better outcome could be achieved in others.

Anna John is a final year Law/Arts student at the University of Queensland. She works as a research assistant at the T. C. Beirne School of Law. Anna was recently also a guest researcher and research assistant at the Max Planck Institute of Comparative Public and International Law in Heidelberg, Germany.

International Court of Justice rules on preliminary objections in Bolivia–Chile territorial dispute — Timothy Gorton

Introduction

On 24 September 2015, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) handed down judgment in the preliminary objections phase of a dispute between Bolivia and Chile.  Contrary to Chile’s submissions, the ICJ determined that it had jurisdiction to consider the dispute, which concerns whether Chile is obliged to negotiate and grant sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean to the otherwise landlocked Bolivia.  The proceedings are interesting not only because of the Bolivia’s intriguing claim, but also because they relate to peace treaties signed by the parties at the start of the 20th century.

Context of the dispute

As The Economist succinctly puts it, ‘Bolivia has all the trappings of a maritime power except an actual coastline’, having a merchant navy and a National Day of the Sea. Indeed, at independence in 1825, Bolivia had territorial access to the Pacific Ocean.  In 1879, territorial disputes over the Atacama Desert (and the valuable mining opportunities within) led Chile to declare war on Bolivia and its ally Peru. An initial armistice between Chile and Bolivia was signed in 1884 and a final settlement was reached in 1904 (1904 Peace Treaty), under which Bolivia ceded its coastal territories and became a landlocked country.  Bolivia has attempted to reclaim the territory through diplomatic means for the past century, most recently inserting its claim into its 2009 Constitution (see article 267 of the Constitución Política del Estado de Plurinacional de Bolivia).

In 1948, Bolivia and Chile signed the American Treaty on Pacific Settlement (also known as the Pact of Bogota), a treaty committing states to the peaceful resolution of disputes and conferring jurisdiction on the ICJ (under article XXXI).  Relevantly, article VI of the Pact of Bogota states that the procedures established by the treaty

may not be applied to matters already settled by arrangement between the parties, or by arbitral award or by decision of an international court, or which are governed by agreements or treaties in force on the date of the conclusion of the present Treaty.

The effect of this article is to exclude from the ICJ’s jurisdiction any dispute that had been settled prior to the Pact of Bogota.

History of the proceedings — Application by Bolivia

Bolivia filed its application with the ICJ in April 2013, requesting that it make declarations that Chile is obliged to negotiate sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean for Bolivia, in good faith, and that Chile had breached this obligation.  The ICJ’s jurisdiction over the dispute was based on article XXXI of the Pact of Bogota.

The substance of Chile’s obligation is founded on a number of diplomatic exchanges and resolutions since the 1904 Peace Treaty, including:

  • an exchange of notes (1950) and Memorandum of Understanding (1961) between the two governments to the effect that the two states should enter into negotiations for Bolivia to be given its own access to the Pacific Ocean (Application [17]–[19]);
  • Negotiations in 1975 between the two governments, during which Chile reaffirmed its in-principle preparedness to negotiate with Bolivia. During negotiations in 1986 Chile had rejected Bolivia’s proposals (Application [20]–[22]);
  • A joint agenda in 2006 by the two governments on issues that included Bolivia’s maritime access (Application [26]);
  • Resolutions of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States urging the two states to negotiate coastal access for Bolivia (Application [23]–[25]); and
  • Statements and requests by the President of Bolivia (Application [27]–[29]).

The effect of these events as alleged by Bolivia is that

Chile has committed itself, more specifically through agreements, diplomatic practice and a series of declarations attributable to its highest‑level representatives, to negotiate a sovereign access to the sea for Bolivia.  Chile has not complied with this obligation and, what is more, at the present date Chile denies the very existence of its obligation (Application [31]).

History of the proceedings — Objection by Chile

Chile filed a preliminary objection  to Bolivia’s application in July 2014, claiming that:

  • The nature of the dispute concerns territorial sovereignty and Bolivia’s access to the Pacific;
  • These are matter that were settled conclusively in the 1904 Peace Treaty, and any subsequent negotiations or statements concern the same substantial matters; and
  • Consequently, the dispute is not justiciable by operation of article VI of the Pact of Bogota, which excluded disputes already settled by treaty or award.

In its response, Bolivia stated that Chile has misconstrued the subject matter of the dispute — it is about obligations to negotiate that are separate from the 1904 Peace Treaty.  The judgment of the ICJ made in December concerned whether Chile’s objection was correct and what the proper subject matter of the dispute was.

Judgment of the majority

The ICJ handed down several judgments, but ruled 14–2 in favour of Bolivia, rejecting Chile’s objections.  First, the majority judgment rejected Chile’s characterisation of the subject matter of the dispute.  The Court determined that it is not being asked to determine the character of what Bolivia’s access to the ocean is or what the outcome of any negotiation should be.  Instead, the character of the dispute is whether Chile, by its actions, has created an enforceable obligation to negotiate with Bolivia and whether Chile has breached that obligation (Majority Judgment [34]).

The majority rejected Chile’s second objection that the subject matter of the dispute was excluded from consideration because of article VI of the Pact of Bogota and the 1904 Peace Treaty.  Chile had submitted that the 1904 Peace Treaty was a conclusive territorial settlement, that it fell into the excluded categories in article VI and this dispute, by covering the same matters, was also excluded.  Bolivia had responded that the obligation and negotiations arose independently of the 1904 Peace Treaty and were therefore not excluded.  Given the conclusion drawn by the majority on the characterisation of the dispute, the majority agreed with Bolivia.  Bolivia’s application concerns a legal obligations created subsequent to and independent of the 1904 Peace Treaty, and therefore is not excluded by article VI (Majority Judgment [50]).

Additionally, the majority noted that it was satisfied that Chile’s objections were preliminary in character and could be properly addressed at an interlocutory stage.  The ICJ has three options of addressing a preliminary objection: upholding it; rejecting it; or holding that it is not exclusively preliminary in character and postponing consideration of the objection to the merits phase.  The majority considered that on the facts before it, it could rule whether the disputed issues had been settled by the 1904 Peace Treaty without making findings on the merits of the overall dispute.  Therefore, it was suitable to dispose of Chile’s objection at this time (Majority Judgment [52]–[53]).

Other opinions

The ICJ published four other opinions.  Briefly, they were:

  • Declaration of Judge Bennouna — His declaration criticised two paragraphs of the main judgment , wherein the majority had provided their opinion on a Bolivian subsidiary argument. Because the Majority’s decision rendered Bolivia’s subsidiary argument moot, Bennouna considered that discussion by the majority ‘pointless’. Having rejected Chile’s objection, it had implicitly regarded it as preliminary and there was no need to consider the subsidiary argument.
  • Separate Opinion of Judge Cancado Trindade — In a substantial separate opinion (that agrees with the majority’s orders), Judge Cancado Trindade gave an expanded treatment of the jurisdictional regime of the Pact of Bogota and article 79 of the ICJ Rules (which deals with preliminary objections), considering the majority’s consideration ‘far too succinct’. The separate opinion concluded that Chile’s objection is not of exclusively preliminary character and that its arguments should therefore be considered in the merits phase.
  • Declaration of Judge Gaja — His declaration also noted that disposing of Chile’s objection was not an exclusively preliminary matter. Judge Gaja considered that the Court could not have made a decision on jurisdiction without examining whether the matter purportedly settled by the 1904 Peace Treaty had been subsequently ‘unsettled’. This would have required consideration of the merits of the parties’ arguments and therefore the Court should have instead ruled that the objection should be heard as part of the merits phase.
  • Dissenting Opinion of Judge ad hoc Arbour — Arbour had been selected by Chile as its Judge ad hoc in the proceedings. In her dissent, she also considered that Chile’s objection was not exclusively preliminary and should have been postponed until the merits phase. In particular, she considered that the Court can only decide in the merits phase whether a Chilean obligation exists and whether the scope and content of that obligation falls within the exclusionary language of article VI.

A more substantial summary of the ICJ’s judgment and additional opinions is available here.

Moving forward

The ICJ has requested that Chile file its Counter-Memorial by 25 July 2016.  At this time, there is no further public indication of when the Court will hear the parties’ substantive arguments.  The dispute will remain of interest because of Bolivia’s unique argument that Chile has created an obligation to negotiate in good faith, and what the ICJ has to say about the existence or content of such an obligation may have ramifications for future diplomacy between states.

Timothy Gorton practices commercial litigation in Melbourne and is an Editor of the ILA Reporter.  He is a former Editor of the Melbourne Journal of International Law.  Any opinion expressed is the author’s alone.

 

International criminal law and autonomous weapons: a challenge less considered — Sarah Ahern

As early as 1950, computer scientists such as Alan Turing were considering whether a machine might ever be capable of thought and, if so, what the implications of this might be for humankind. Turing opined that

I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted. (Alan Turing, ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ (1950) 49 Mind 433, 442)

The dawn of the twenty-first century has proven Turing’s quote more or less prophetic in substance. The development of automated, autonomous and artificially intelligent machines has the capacity to revolutionise the human existence. In particular, the rise of these machines has enormous implications for the conduct of warfare.

An autonomous weapons system (AWS) is one that is capable of operating, to a greater or lesser extent, without human intervention. Autonomous machines must be distinguished from automatic machines: whereas as automatic machine can be left to carry out a defined task under strict parameters with predictable results, an autonomous machine can comprehend and respond to varied situations without human input.

The question of whether AWS could ever be in compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) has been thoroughly discussed, with conclusions ranging from adamant rejection to more favourable and nuanced critiques. Human Rights Watch, for example, published the dramatically titled report ‘Losing Humanity: The Case Against Killer Robots’, which called for a complete ban on AWS on the premise ‘that fully autonomous weapons would not only be unable to meet legal standards but would also undermine essential non-legal safeguards for civilians.’ Professor Mike Schmitt, on the other hand, points out that autonomous weapons may be (though will not necessarily be) more compliant with the laws of armed conflict than traditional military systems (Michael N Schmitt, Autonomous Weapons Systems and International Humanitarian Law: A Reply to the Critics).

These discussions, though crucial to the development of the law regulating AWS, overshadow an equally important but much less-considered challenge: the question of how international criminal law (ICL), the system of enforcement developed to promote accountability for violations of IHL, can be applied to crimes involving machines as perpetrators.

The most intuitive response to this question seems to be that the programmer ought to be liable. After all, one might assume that it is the programmer who designs the parameters that dictate the machine’s behavior. This, however, is an overly simplistic approach to what will likely be, in the coming decades, a complicated area of law. An AWS, rather than having one programmer and one user to whom liability may be clearly attributed, is likely to have been programmed by an entire team of developers and to be operated by a team of users (See, eg, General Atomics Aeronautical, Predator UAS (2014)). Moreover, it is likely to operate alongside human peers and commanders in a combat setting.

This raises several challenging questions. First, can a machine ever be liable for a crime in its own right? Secondly, in any event, how can we create accountability for any humans directly involved in a crime alongside an AWS? Finally, can that accountability extend along the chain of command?

These issues have been discussed at length elsewhere — individually by other authors, some of whom are cited in this work; and cohesively by this author in an undergraduate dissertation from which this work is adapted. The following discussion attempts to introduce the issues and frame what is likely to be a significant legal debate as AWS technology develops and becomes more widespread.

Can a machine commit a war crime?

Can a machine ever satisfy the mental elements of a criminal law that has evolved over centuries to moderate and punish human behaviour?

Questions like this tend to spark debates about whether the human capacity for logical, emotional and moral reasoning can ever be replicated in a machine. However, this debate is misplaced in an exploration of mens rea and machine liability because it conflates questions of law with existential questions of sentience, morality, and reason. IHL is silent as to ethical or moral reasoning. Decisions are either lawful or not lawful; within the scope of what is lawful, the law offers no moral guidance or judgment (See generally Dale Stephens, ‘The Role of Law in Military Decision-Making: Lawfare or Law Fair’ (SJD Thesis, Harvard University, 2014) ch 1). A person can be criminally liable for a breach of the laws of armed conflict regardless of their motives, their morality or their ethical reasoning.

The exact definitions and requirements of mens rea vary between jurisdictions and offences and have been discussed at length elsewhere. For the purposes of this discussion, intent is taken to require knowledge and volition: knowledge of the relevant act or omission and the circumstances or results, and volitional action to engage in the act and bring about the contemplated result (or at least volitional acceptance of the risk of the result) (See Prosecutor v Bemba (Pre-Trial Decision) [357]–[359], cited in Johan van der Vyver, ‘Prosecutor v Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo’ (2010) 104 American Journal of International Law 241).

In a technical sense, knowledge is ‘the sensory reception of factual data and the understanding of that data.’ (Gabriel Hallevy, ‘Virtual Criminal Responsibility’ (2010) Original Law Review, citing William James, The Principles of Psychology (1890) and Hermann von Helmholtz, The Facts of Perception (1878). Although Hallevy applies the term ‘artificial intelligence’ to systems already in use, including in industry, medicine and gaming. His general discussion of machine liability is therefore applicable to the immediate future development of machines in warfare as well as many machines already in use). There are machines in operation today that possess knowledge in this sense. GPS units, fingerprint scanners, facial recognition technologies and medical sensors all use a combination of input devices and contextual information to receive, store and process knowledge in a similar fashion to the human brain.

Volition is another matter, and depends on the sophistication of the machine’s programming and its independence from human operators. A distinction must be drawn between a machine carrying out the task for which it was programmed, and a more sophisticated machine which was not programmed for a particular task, but was instead programmed with learning capabilities and the capacity to make autonomous decisions. In the former case, the intention does not belong to the machine, but to its human operator. Even in the latter case, it is difficult to draw a line between what the programmer designs a machine to do, and what the machine does of its own volition.

Clearly, there are significant questions about whether a machine could form mens rea. These questions might only be answered as the technology develops. In order to create accountability in the meantime, it is necessary to consider AWS in a broader context.

A gun, a soldier, or an innocent agent?

The ambiguity of machine intelligence means at least three legal options must be considered. The first is another intuitive response: why discuss the liability of machines at all? Under this approach, an AWS is no more than a gun or other weapon in the hands of a human operator. This makes sense when considering, for example, remotely-piloted Predator drones.

Equating an AWS with a gun makes less sense, however, where humans are the supervisors rather than the operators of the machines. Setting aside questions of use and command restrictions, the key feature of an AWS is autonomy; an AWS by its very definition has the capacity to perform functions independently of human input. It is this feature that places AWS in a fundamentally different class than an AK-47 (which requires contemporaneous human input) and an antipersonnel mine (which requires non-contemporaneous human input).

AWS and perpetration by another

That being the case, two options remain for situating the AWS in the framework of ICL. One is to treat the programmer or the human user of the AWS as a perpetrator-by-another (Hallevy, above, 11-13). In this approach, the machine is deemed capable of perpetrating the actus reus or physical elements of the offense, but incapable of forming the requisite mens rea or mental elements. This is more or less equivalent to the indirect perpetration model in article 25(3)(a) of the Rome Statute. The AWS is treated the same way as an infant or a mentally incompetent adult.

AWS and group criminal liability

The problem with this model is that, as discussed above, it is more simplistic than the real-world environment in which AWS are likely to operate. It is necessary to consider how the indirect perpetration model might work alongside group modes of liability. Fortunately, this is not a novel concept in ICL: the Pre-Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court accepted in Katanga that group liability can apply to cases of indirect perpetration (Prosecutor v Katanga (Decision on Confirmation of Charges) cited in Jernej Letnar Cernic, ‘Shaping the Spiderweb: Towards the Concept of Joint Commission Through Another Person under the Rome Statute and Jurisprudence of the International Criminal Court’ (2011) 22 Criminal Law Forum 539).

AWS as perpetrators

Finally, AWS may be viewed as perpetrators in their own right (Hallevy, above, 10). This approach initially seems outlandish in light of today’s widespread technology. However, in the not-entirely-futuristic event that an AWS is programmed with machine learning capabilities and makes a decision that was not specifically dictated by a programmer or user, this might be the most rational approach.

In this last approach, the problem becomes one of accountability. A human can be fined, jailed, or even sentenced to death for a crime; these punishments are unlikely to have any impact on machines. Hallevy argues that as with corporate criminal responsibility, the punishment ought to be adapted to the perpetrator: corporations, for example, cannot be jailed but can be fined (Hallevy, above, 22-6). The difference, however, between corporations and machines is that when a corporation is punished, ultimately its human owners suffer. The same cannot necessarily be said of machines, and this is an area that warrants significant further consideration.

AWS and command responsibility

What liability for the commander of an AWS? Schmitt argues that under the ICL doctrine of command responsibility, the ultimate responsibility for a war crime committed by an AWS would lie with the military commander responsible for deploying the machine into the circumstances in which the crime was committed (Schmitt, above). The concept of holding a superior responsible for crimes committed by subordinates is an accepted principle of customary international law (See, eg, Prosecutor v Delalic et al (Appeal Judgment), Prosecutor v Limaj et al (Trial Judgment))

However, command responsibility is not vicarious liability (See generally Ilias Bantekas, International Criminal Law (Hart Publishing, 4th ed, 2010)), and the application of the doctrine in the context of AWS raises some important questions. The first is whether a commander can be held liable for a crime committed by a machine despite general doubt as to whether a machine can ever possess the requisite mental elements of a crime. The second concerns the nature and degree of understanding required before a commander can be said to have had ‘reason to know’ that a crime was about to be committed. The third is what would constitute ‘punishment’ in the context of a crime committed by an AWS.

With regards to the first question, if the law is reluctant to find that a machine is capable of forming mens rea, then it cannot be said that a crime has been made out for which the commander might be liable. The law as it stands therefore creates a significant gap in accountability for commanders of AWS.

The second question arises because as the algorithms used in AWS become increasingly complicated, it becomes increasingly less likely that a commander without extensive specialist training will understand the AWS in enough detail to have knowledge that a crime is about to be committed. It could be argued that a commander with even basic training regarding the AWS ought to have known, but this ventures dangerously close to presuming knowledge, an approach rejected by the ICTY in the Limaj trial. Again, this creates a gap in accountability.

Finally, as to the third question, it might be sufficient that a commander conduct ‘an effective investigation with a view to establishing the facts’ (Limaj Trial, above, [529]). This point is unsettled, though, and warrants further consideration. Moreover, it is not likely to be a politically palatable option in light of strong public sentiment against AWS.

Conclusion

AWS are no longer the realm of science fiction, and the international legal community (led by countries with advanced militaries including Australia and its allies) must seriously consider the implications of this. To date, almost all of this consideration has been dedicated to the compliance of AWS with IHL. The aim of this discussion has been to introduce some of the questions that will arise in the event that AWS, in design or eventuality, are not so compliant. While we are yet to discover whether such systems will actually be deployed, the research being undertaken to this end means that blanket denial is no longer helpful and the challenge must be acknowledged.

Sarah Ahern is a member of teaching staff at Adelaide Law School where she tutors International Law and International Humanitarian Law. This post is adapted from her undergraduate dissertation ‘The Limits of International Criminal Law in Creating Accountability for War Crimes Committed by Autonomous Machines’. You can contact Sarah at sarah.ahern@adelaide.edu.au or on Twitter @SarahKAhern.

International Law and ASEAN Approach on Transboundary Haze Pollution: Litigating Environmental Disputes — Laely Nurhidayah

Introduction – the 2015 haze pollution crisis

Haze pollution from Indonesian forest fires is an annual environmental disaster in the Southeast Asian region. This year, haze pollution hit the region severely, to an extent far worse than the previous 2013 haze pollution. The Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) in Central Kalimantan reached far above the minimum hazard threshold (350 mg/m3) on 3 October 2015.

The haze pollution this year has not only affected Singapore and Malaysia, who experience it annually, but also reached Thailand. Most of the fires were deliberately caused by human activity to clear peat land for plantation and agriculture. However, El Niño has exacerbated the forest fires, prolonging them for months since the outbreak in August 2015. The El Niño is predicted to continue until November or December 2015.

Poor air quality standards, caused by the fires, have negatively impacted upon peoples’ health across Indonesia and in neighbouring countries.   Children, the elderly and people with asthma are the most vulnerable groups, as they are disproportionately affected. Schools are closed due to poor air quality, and the increasing PSI in the Indonesian cities of Kalimantan and Sumatera has recently forced the government to conduct emergency action evacuation plans for these vulnerable groups. Economic activities in the region have been disrupted, with the aviation industry directly affected with many cancellations of flights to the haze-affected areas.

Litigating transboundary environmental disputes in ASEAN

In response to the haze pollution, Singapore has launched legal action against five Indonesian companies, who it blames for starting fires in farm and plantation areas. These companies, including the multinational corporation Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), have been served with preventive measures notices. Last year, Singapore passed Transboundary Haze Pollution Act No 18/2014. This act has extra-territorial application, which allows Singapore’s government to prosecute the external conduct of an entity that causes or contributes to domestic haze pollution. Offenders can be subject to a fine not exceeding AUD$100,000 for each day that there is haze pollution in Singapore. The act was passed in response to frustration at the inability of the Indonesian government to enforce its own laws against corporations responsible for the fires. On another level, it is a response to the inability of the ASEAN Agreement on Transboundary Haze Pollution to address annual and consistently repeated haze pollution. Implementation of the customary international law principle of state responsibility within ASEAN is problematic, because state sovereignty is strongly embedded in the ASEAN Charter. A further complication is the ‘ASEAN Way’, a term describing the approach taken by ASEAN states to avoid interfering in each other’s domestic affairs and to use consensus planning and cooperative programs paired with national implementation, rather than relying on a strong region-wide agency or bureaucracy. Under the international law regarding transboundary pollution, the main obligation is that a state should not cause harm to other territories. The Stockholm and Rio Declarations stated that states have, in accordance with the UN Charter and the principles of international law, the sovereign right to exploit their own resources pursuant to their own environmental and developmental policies. However, they also bear responsibility to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction or control do not cause damage to the environment of other states. Breach of this obligation of environmental protection may make a state responsible for an internationally wrongful act and liable to make reparations for the injury caused under customary international law, as codified in the International Law Commission’s Articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts.

The Singapore Government’s response to haze pollution problem has shifted from state responsibility towards a civil liability regime for transboundary environmental pollution — as adopted in the Transbounday Haze Pollution Bill — and it has its precedents. This approach is in keeping with the work of the International Law Commission on the codification of state responsibility for environmental damage. During the forest fires disaster of 1997–98, Singapore tried to hold the Indonesian Government accountable its failure to control the fires that precipitated a transboundary haze crisis (Tan, 1999). However, insurmountable geo-political resistance to bringing an action against Indonesia under international law meant that this legal action did not materialise (Tan, 2015). Since then, Singapore has launched legal action against Indonesian companies.

Yet the Malaysian Government is refraining from legal action on the basis that it needs to consider potential jurisdictional restrictions under international law. The Malaysian Government can wait and see whether the Singaporean Government succeeds against the offenders. Evidence beyond reasonable doubt is required to prove that the defendant was responsible for causing haze pollution in specific area. Although, current technology can identify the location of forest fire ‘hot spots’, it cannot identify the actor responsible. The primary difficulty is that there is not any one-map policy in Indonesia for identification of concession holders and oil palm companies. Furthermore, land tenure is often disputed in Indonesia. In addition, to obtain remedies, the damage should be quantifiable, the polluters identifiable and there must be clear causation. As a result, civil liability is not a suitable instrument for dealing with pollution of a widespread, diffuse character, where it is impossible to link negative environmental effects with either an act or failure to act by specific actors. In this regard, Singapore’s Government will face difficulties in its suits: Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry of Political, Legal and Security Affairs has stated that it would not share with Singapore the data of companies who conduct burning activities. Indonesia’s Government argue that domestic law prohibits public disclosure of this information. Yet Article 17 of the Freedom of Information Act No 14/2008 states that there is an exception, as the Government is obliged to inform the public if such information assists the maintenance of natural resources in Indonesia.

Taking legal action against companies in other jurisdictions is challenging, as formal dispute mechanisms can be slow and costly. Alan Tan states that extraterritorial legislation against individuals or companies engaged in transboundary pollution is rare. The first international air pollution case was the Trail Smelter Arbitration 1941. Two states, the United States of America and Canada, were involved in this dispute regarding transboundary fumes causing damage to the property of apple growers in Washington, USA. A dispute between two private parties quickly escalated to the an international-level dispute between states. Obstacles prevented the national courts from exercising jurisdiction during the original Trail Smelter dispute, as the American courts faced difficulties with personal jurisdiction, extraterritorial application of law and the extraterritorial enforcement of its decision — a Canadian Court would not have been able to enforce an American decision.

Additionally, international mechanisms do not provide a useful forum for private parties to resolve Trail Smelter-type disputes, according to Kerkhof. In recent years, there have been a number of multilateral and bilateral initiatives to improve the ease with which as court can be accessed to address transboundary pollution issues. One of these initiatives is the OECD’s recommendation on the Implementation of a Regime of Equal Right of Access and Non-Discrimination in relation to Transfrontier Pollution, but it is not binding. In the USA, the most recent and successful step towards access for justice in cases of transboundary pollution is the Uniform Transboundary Pollution Reciprocal Access Act.

It seems unlikely that ASEAN will establish a liability regime to protect the environment within its own legal framework. ASEAN has a stronger emphasis on prevention and cooperation (rather than determination of liability) when responding to haze pollution or environmental issues. Therefore, Singapore’s legal suits are an important indicator for the future, as success would be a breakthrough for the development of liability regimes in international law and ASEAN.

Conclusion

Litigating environmental disputes is one solution to obtain compensation and deter offenders. However, in seeking compensation or remedies in the environmental sphere, initial barriers lie in proving causation, identifying the polluters and evaluating the claim for the damages. In the case of long distance transboundary pollution, such as air pollution, it is often difficult to identify the sources of the pollution and the polluters themselves. There is also a problem of scientific uncertainty, particularly given the complexity of environmental problems. Even though Transboundary Haze Pollution Act has limited implementation, it represents robust development in ASEAN’s legal framework for haze pollution.

One solution would be to deal with land and forest fires in accordance with international environmental principles and changing attitudes on the ‘ASEAN Way’. However, to ignore the ‘ASEAN Way’ is not legally possible, as those principles are part of the ASEAN Charter. Improving transnational cooperation is an alternative option, particularly by increasing capacity building efforts for local people.

Where international action fails, other solutions exist, such as reform to peatland management and law enforcement in Indonesia. Another solution to deal with land/forest fires is to change attitudes at local level, particularly amongst the companies and local communities who use burning practices. Strengthening community based fire management and activating and revitalising adat, or local customary law, institutions are key to addressing haze pollution and improving environmental protection.

Dr. Laely Nurhidayah, Researcher Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) (Macquarie University Graduate)

Philippines v China: Tribunal rules favourably on jurisdiction in South China Sea Arbitration – Lea Christopher

On 29 October 2015, an Arbitral Tribunal (Tribunal) issued its award on the questions of jurisdiction and admissibility in the arbitration between the Republic of Philippines and the People’s Republic of China concerning the South China Sea.  In brief, the Tribunal found that it had jurisdiction to decide seven of the Philippines’ 15 substantive claims.  As to the Philippines’ remaining claims, the Tribunal decided that the question of its jurisdiction needed to be deferred for further consideration in conjunction with its hearing of the merits of the claims.

The Philippines’ substantive claims were summarised in my previous article of 22 July 2015. To recap, its 15 claims can be broadly distilled as follows:

  1. China’s maritime entitlements or ‘historic rights’ over the waters, seabed and subsoil in the South China Sea do not extend beyond the limits of its entitlements under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The corollary is that China’s nine-dash line, insofar as it purports to define the limits of China’s ‘historic rights’ in the South China Sea, is not supported by UNCLOS or another source of international law;
  2. The various features relied upon by China to assert its maritime claims in the South China Sea are not islands (as China claims) but are properly characterised as either ‘rocks’ or ‘low tide elevations’ or are permanently submerged.  China’s construction activities on particular maritime features cannot change their nature in law. This claim is critical to the arbitration because, under UNCLOS, the characterisation of these features determines the maritime entitlements they are capable of generating for a state (namely, an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and/or continental shelf);
  3. China’s construction and occupation activities in relation to particular maritime features in the South China Sea constitute attempted appropriation of such features in violation of UNCLOS. Further, these activities, as well as China’s fishing and law enforcement activities, have interfered with the Philippines’ ability to freely navigate in its EEZ and the exercise of its sovereign rights in relation to the resources falling within its EEZ and continental shelf; and
  4. China has violated UNCLOS by engaging in fishing and construction activities that damage the marine environment in the South China Sea.

In summary, the Tribunal determined that it has jurisdiction over the second and fourth categories of claims (deferring consideration of the remaining first and third categories). In so finding, the Tribunal addressed each of the following issues in relation to the question of jurisdiction.

Did the Philippines’ claims raise a dispute concerning the interpretation and application of UNCLOS?

According to China’s Position Paper, the dispute could be characterised in two ways, both of which excluded the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. First, China characterised the dispute as concerning territorial sovereignty-related questions over features in the South China Sea. On that basis, China contended that the dispute did not concern the ‘interpretation and application of UNCLOS’, being the threshold requirement for the Tribunal’s jurisdiction under article 288 of UNCLOS.

The Tribunal rejected this characterisation, finding that, while a dispute between the parties did exist concerning land sovereignty over certain features, the Philippines’ claims did not require the Tribunal to make determinations on questions of sovereignty. The Tribunal found that each of the Philippines’ claims concerned the interpretation and application of UNCLOS.

Secondly, China contended that the dispute was properly characterised as relating to maritime boundary delimitation which, for the reasons given below, was excluded from the Tribunal’s jurisdiction by an exclusionary provision in the UNCLOS that China had activated in 2006.

In rejecting this contention, the Tribunal distinguished between a dispute concerning the existence of an entitlement to maritime zones (the present matter), and a dispute concerning the delimitation of those zones where parties’ entitlements overlap. The Tribunal also emphasised that, while it would determine the nature of particular maritime features in dispute, insofar as this resulted in overlapping entitlements between the parties the Tribunal’s determination would not go so far as to delimit boundaries.

Did any of the claims fall within the exceptions to jurisdiction in Part XV of UNCLOS?

As noted above, in 2006 China opted out of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction over particular categories of disputes, including those concerning:

  1. sea boundary delimitations;
  2. historic bays and titles;
  3. law enforcement activities; and
  4. military activities.

This action was taken in accordance with article 298 of UNCLOS, which entitles a party to opt out of compulsory dispute settlement procedures for specific types of disputes when signing or ratifying UNCLOS.

Considering each of the claims in turn, the Tribunal found that none of the exceptions to jurisdiction applied to the Philippines’ second and fourth category of claims. Consequently, it had jurisdiction to determine those claims.

As to the first and third categories, the Tribunal noted that the applicability of the above exceptions depended on merits of the claims and, as such, the possible jurisdictional objections did not possess an exclusively preliminary character. For that reason, the Tribunal reserved a decision on jurisdiction for consideration in conjunction with its determination of the merits of the claims. The Tribunal’s key considerations can be broadly summarised as follows:

  1. The Tribunal’s jurisdiction over the first category of claims (ie, the effect of any historic rights claimed by China) is dependent on whether the claims are caught by the exclusion for ‘historic bays and titles’ in article 298 of UNCLOS. This requires a determination as to the nature and effect of China’s claimed historic rights and their interaction with UNCLOS (ie, a merits determination);
  2. The Tribunal’s jurisdiction over the third category of claims (ie, concerning China’s various construction/interference activities) is dependent on the status of certain maritime features claimed by China and whether any such features generate maritime entitlements for China. Insofar as they generate entitlements for China and result in overlapping entitlements to maritime zones between the parties, the exclusion from ‘sea boundary delimitations’ in article 298 would prevent the Tribunal from addressing some of the Philippines’ claims. That is, such claims would first require a delimitation of the overlapping zones, which the Tribunal is not empowered to do; and
  3. The specifics of China’s activities in particular areas and whether they are military in nature (and therefore fall within the exclusion in article 298) are best assessed in conjunction with the merits.

Were the preconditions to the Tribunal’s jurisdiction met?

Relying on articles 281 and 282 of UNCLOS, China contended that state parties had agreed on a peaceful dispute resolution mechanism of their own choice, precluding recourse to the compulsory dispute settlement procedures under UNCLOS. The articles essentially prevent a state from resorting to the compulsory procedures in the event that they have already agreed on another means of dispute resolution.  In this regard, China pointed to a series of joint statements by state parties starting in the mid-1990s that referred to the resolution of their dispute by negotiation, as well as the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia.

Having regard to these statements and instrument, the Tribunal concluded that they did not prevent the Philippines from resorting to arbitration under the compulsory dispute resolution provisions.

The Tribunal also found that the Philippines had satisfied the precondition for resorting to arbitration, namely, that the parties had an ‘exchange of views’ regarding settlement of the dispute (article 283). In so finding, the Tribunal relied upon diplomatic communications by the Philippines to affected parties in which it proposed multilateral negotiations to resolve the dispute. China insisted on bilateral talks only and the parties ultimately failed to identify a mutually agreeable mode of settlement.

The Tribunal also noted that it was not deprived of jurisdiction by either China’s non-participation in the arbitration to date or the absence of other states with claims to features in the South China Sea (such as Vietnam).

Next steps

The dispute will now proceed to a substantive hearing to enable the Tribunal to determine the merits of the Philippines’ claims alongside the outstanding jurisdictional questions.

However, China has reiterated its position of non-acceptance of (and non-participation in) the arbitration. Its Vice Foreign Minister recently claimed that the outcome of the arbitration ‘will not impact China’s sovereignty, rights or jurisdiction over the South China Sea under historical facts and international law’. Without any power to enforce its rulings, the Tribunal could end up being entirely ignored by China insofar as the outcome is not in its favour.  The proceeding could even prompt China to withdraw from UNCLOS altogether.

While the Philippines has acknowledged this risk, it hopes that an outcome unfavourable to China will encourage other states to defend their respective claims in the region and will result in sufficient diplomatic pressure to dissuade China from further construction activities in the South China Sea. In the meantime, the US has presented its most significant challenge yet to China’s claims in the South China Sea, sending a guided missile destroyer into waters within 12 nautical miles of one of the reefs in dispute days before the Tribunal published its award.

Lea Christopher is a lawyer at Clayton Utz in Canberra. The views expressed in this article are solely her own.