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


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.


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 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.


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.

Fitness First? Assessing the Treatment of Fitness to Stand Trial in the Trial of Ieng Thirith – Esther Pearson


On 22 August 2015, former ‘first lady’ of the Khmer Rouge, Ieng Thirith, passed away at the age of 83. Ieng was the Minister of Social Action during the period of Democratic Kampuchea and had been indicted before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. However, in September 2012, proceedings against Ieng were stayed after she was found to be unfit to stand trial due to progressive dementia. Following Ieng’s death, residents of Phnom Penh expressed their frustration with the lack of prosecution (for example in the Khmer Times article Khmer Rouge ‘First Lady’ Dies). This post reflects on howthe ECCC’s approach to assessing Ieng’s fitness to stand trial — and the consequences its findings — tried to strike the delicate balance between the imperative to secure a prosecution and need for a fair trial.

Fitness to Stand Trial

In 2004, the Trial Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) considered the concept of fitness to stand trial in a decision on a motion for the medical examination of the accused in Prosecutor v Pavle Strugar (Decision Re the Defence Motion to Terminate Proceedings). The Trial Chamber considered that for an accused to be fit to stand trial, he or she must:

  • have the capacity to plead;
  • understand the nature of the charges;
  • understand the course of proceedings;
  • understand the details of the evidence;
  • be able to instruct counsel;
  • understand the consequences of the proceedings; and
  • testify.

While the finding of fitness to stand trial is a legal determination made by the court, medical experts are typically employed to assess the condition of the accused and produce a report detailing their findings. Before relying on the expert’s report, the court must evaluate whether the report contains sufficient information as to the sources of the expert’s conclusions, and whether those conclusions were drawn impartially.

The ECCC Rules (rule 32) provide for the medical examination of an accused at the request of a party, in order to determine whether the accused is fit to stand trial. On 21 February 2011, Ieng’s defence team filed a request for an assessment of her fitness to stand trial. Between April and October 2011, an expert geriatrician and four psychiatric experts carried out assessments. They concurred that Ieng’s symptoms were consistent with a diagnosis of dementia and, as a result of her condition, her capacity to understand the course of the proceedings and to instruct counsel was significantly impaired. However, the experts explained that there was a possibility that Ieng’s condition would improve by using a medication for Alzheimer patients and through occupational therapy.

The Trial Chamber acknowledged the gravity of the crimes for which the accused was charged (Decision of Ieng Thirith’s Fitness to Stand Trial). However, it noted that properly qualified medical experts, upon assessment of the accused with credible testing methods, had found that Ieng was unable to meaningfully participate in her defence. Accordingly, the Trial Chamber, having weighed all relevant factors in the balance, found Ieng unfit to stand trial.

Consequences of Unfitness

After declaring Ieng to be unfit to stand trial, it fell upon the Trial Chamber to determine the consequences. Given the experts’ opinions that there was a slight possibility of Ieng’s condition improving through medication and occupational therapy, the national judges imposed orders for mandatory treatment, while the international judges ordered her immediate unconditional release. In this divided situation, the Trial Chamber found that it should adopt the outcome most favourable to the accused, ordering that she be released unconditionally.

Continued Detention with Mandatory Treatment

The decision of the Trial Chamber to release Ieng from detention without condition was promptly appealed by the Co-Prosecutors to the ECCC Supreme Court Chamber (Immediate Appeal against Trial Chamber Decision to Order the Released of Accused Ieng Thirith). The Supreme Court Chamber found that the Trial Chamber was obliged to exhaust all measures available to it to enable the accused to become fit to stand trial, including making orders that the accused undergo treatment while being detained in a hospital or comparable facility (Decision on Immediate Appeal Against the Trial Chamber’s Order to Release the Accused Ieng Thirith). The Supreme Court Chamber stated that the unconditional release of the accused would forego any effort in the direction of resuming proceedings against the accused, and ‘such an outcome is irreconcilable with the interests of justice from all points of view, including the accused, prosecution, civil parties, and Cambodian society as a whole’ (at [28]). There is a basis for such orders in international criminal law, with precedents in Prosecutor v Jovica Stanisic and Franko Simatovic (Decision on Defence Appeal of the Decision on Future Course of Proceedings) and Prosecutor v Vladimir Kovacevic (Decision on Appeal Against Decision on Referral Under Rule 11bis) before the ICTY. The Supreme Court Chamber ordered the Trial Chamber to institute the recommended treatment and to review Ieng’s condition in six months.

Release from Detention with Judicial Supervision

On 13 September 2012, after experts had again reviewed Ieng’s condition, the Trial Chamber delivered its verdict that Ieng remained unfit to stand trial and ordered that she be released without conditions (Decision on Reassessment of Accused Ieng Thirith’s Fitness to Stand Trial Following Supreme Court Chamber Decision of 13 December 2011). Again, the Co-Prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court Chamber, submitting that Ieng should be subject to six conditions for release:

  1. That she reside at a specified home address;
  2. That she make herself available for weekly safety checks by authorities or officials appointed by the Trial Chamber;
  3. That she surrender her passport and national identification;
  4. That she not directly or indirectly contact other co-accused (excluding her husband, Ieng Sary);
  5. That she not directly or indirectly contact any witness, expert or victim who is proposed to be heard before the Trial Chamber and not to interfere with the administration of justice; and
  6. That she undergo examination by medical practitioners appointed by the Trial Chamber every six months.

(Immediate Appeal Against Decision on Reassessment of Accused Ieng Thirith’s Fitness to Stand Trial Following the Supreme Court Chamber Decision of 13 December 2011, Case No 002/19-09-2007, 14 September 2012, at [10]).

Conditions that restrict the rights of freedom of movement and privacy, such as those proposed by the Co-Prosecutors, should only be imposed if the conditions are necessary to achieve a protective function, the least intrusive means of achieving that function, and proportionate to the function. In the Supreme Court Chamber’s judgment on the appeal (Decision on Immediate Appeal against the Trial Chamber’s Order to Unconditionally Release the Accused Ieng Thirith), it analysed whether each proposed condition met these criteria. It found that, in light of Ieng’s medical condition, it would be unnecessary and disproportionate to retain Ieng’s passport and identification card and to make orders prohibiting her from contacting the other co-accused, witnesses, experts or victims. The Supreme Court Chamber considered the other proposed conditions to be minimally intrusive and necessary to protect the legitimate interests of ensuring Ieng was available to the Court and to monitor her health. By undertaking such an analysis, the Supreme Court Chamber’s ultimate decision balanced the necessity to afford Ieng a fair trial and the interests of society in seeing the alleged perpetrators of the crimes committed in Democratic Kampuchea being brought to justice.

Esther Pearson is an Assistant Editor of the ILA Reporter.

The politics of aggression and its susceptibility to regulation by domestic and international criminal law: Is it an act unsuitable for legal regulation generally? — Sophocles Kitharidis


Definitional, jurisdictional and regulatory issues surround the crime (and act) of aggression, and its status as a legal act. This post examines whether the determination of an act of aggression — which is made by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and is soon to be justiciable before the International Criminal Court (ICC) — is and will always remain a primarily political (rather than legal) act.

The UNSC has the power to declare an event an act of aggression under the UN Charter (Article 39, Chapter VII). The crime of aggression, on the other hand, will fall within the jurisdiction of the ICC under the Rome Statute in 2017, and concerns:

the planning, preparation, initiation or execution of an act of using armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State.

Two competing schools of thought exist when it comes to approaching the complex task of interpreting aggression as an act capable of legal regulation. First, there are states that argue that the ICC should be the only institution with the right to exercise jurisdiction over aggression once the UNSC has determined that an act of aggression has occurred (Matthew Gillett, ‘The Anatomy of an International Crime: Aggression at the International Criminal Court’ (2013) 13 International Criminal Law Review 829). Such an approach indicates that the ICC would be in a position to only make determinations about the ‘leadership elements’ of aggression (see Report of the Special Working Group of the Crime of Aggression Doc. ICC-ASP/6/20/Add.1/Annex II). In contrast, the second school of thought argues that there are a lack of existing legal frameworks that demonstrate the contentions of the UNSC in determining and asserting the ICC’s independence and rights protection framework for the accused; after all the ICC is required to adjudicate all elements of the crime of aggression (Davis Brown, ‘Why the crime of aggression will not reduce the practice of aggression’ (2014) 51 International Politics 648). This line of thought leads to the argument that aggression is not regulated by criminal law.

This post argues that although a limited legal framework exists to regulate the crime of aggression (and within a criminal law context), there remain significant concerns. It first discusses aggression in the context of article 5(2) of the Rome Statute. It also sets out legal and policy arguments for why aggression may be considered a political rather than legal act. Finally, it articulates the ramifications of its proposed legal status.

Aggression and article 5(2)

Article 5(2) of the Rome Statute sets out the conditions under which the ICC can exercise its jurisdiction over acts of aggression:

The court shall exercise jurisdiction over the crime of aggression once a provision is adopted in accordance with articles 121 and 123 defining the crime and setting out the conditions under which the court shall exercise jurisdiction with respect to this crime. Such a provision shall be consistent with the relevant provisions of the Charter of the United Nations.

In his submission to the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an International Criminal Court, Sir Franklin Berman argued that interpretation of this provision may be that

the reference to aggression in article 5 and, in particular, the last sentence of paragraph 2 of that article, which mentioned the Charter, [is] a reference to the requirement of prior determination by the Security Council that an act of aggression had occurred

This position is reiterated by Meron, (Theodor Meron, ‘Defining Aggression for the International Criminal Court’ (2001) 25 Suffolk Transnational Law Review 1), Zimmermann (Andrew Zimmermann, ‘Article 5’, in Otto Triffterer and Kai Ambor (eds), Commentary on the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Observer’s Notes, Articles by Article) and Scheffer, where Scheffer referred to the provision as opaque due to its nature not indicating whether the ICC can prosecute the crime of aggression absent a prior determination by the UNSC that an act of aggression has taken place (Cited in Carrie McDougall, ‘When Law and Reality Clash — The Imperative of Compromise in the Context of the Accumulated Evil of the Whole: Conditions for the Exercise of the International Criminal Court’s Jurisdiction over the Crime of Aggression’ (2007) 7 International Criminal Law Review 277, 280). It is argued that the provision was drafted in order to accommodate both the states that favour the crucial power held by the UNSC to determine the existence of aggression (and therefore the power to regulate its prosecution), as well as states that opposed any ‘special role’ for the UNSC in the prosecution of aggression. In this regard, The Rome Statute interlinks (or at least appears to interlink) with the UN Charter.

Exclusive authority by the UNSC — The importance of UNSC determinations

The UNSC has power to identify an act of aggression pursuant to article 39 of the Charter. The provision states that the UNSC

shall determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42, to maintain or restore international peace and security.

Whilst article 39 provides the legal basis for the characterisation of an act as one of aggression, as outlined below, the making of the determination itself is inherently political (McDougall above 281). In 1991, the International Law Commission provided an opinion on these political dimensions during discussions on the Draft Code of Offences against the Peace and Security of Mankind, asserting that both the crime and threat of aggression can be interpreted as ‘sui generis in that, by definition, they existed only if the Security Council characterised certain acts as such’ (See the Report of the International Law Commission on the Work of its Forty-Third Session).

On this point, Akande notes that the determination of whether a situation is a threat or breach of the peace or an act of aggression is clearly non-justiciable. It cannot be answered by ‘recourse to legal reasoning as there are no legal standards by which to reach a decision. It involves a political decision as to factual ammeters and is in no way constrained by legal considerations’ (Dapo Akande, ‘The International Court of Justice and the Security Council: Is There Room for Judicial Control of Decisions of the Political Organs of the United Nations’ (1997) 46 International and Comparative Law Quarterly 309, 338). The UNSC’s interpretative exercise requires an evaluation of facts and an ‘appraisal of the international political situation to see both whether a particular label is justified and whether the interests of international peace and security will be furthered’ (McDougall above 281).

There is obiter commentary by the International Court of Justice that supports the UNSC’s exclusive prerogative to determine aggression. In his dissenting opinion in the Lockerbie Case, Weeramantry held that:

… the determination under article 39 of the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace or act of aggression, is one entirely within the discretion of the Council. It would appear that the Council and no other is the judge of the existence of the state of affairs which brings Chapter VII into operation. That decision is taken by the UNSC in its own judgment and in the exercise of the full discretion given to it by Article 39. Once taken, the door is opened to the various decision the Council may make under that Chapter. Thus any matter which is the subject of a valid Security Council decision under Chapter VII does not appear, prima facie, to be one with which the Court can properly deal. [page 66]

Similarly, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia in the Kanyabashi Case made an argument that also applies to aggression, stating that:

… the Security Council has a wide margin of discretion in deciding when and where there exists a threat to international peace and security. By their very nature, however, such discretionary assessments are not justiciable since they involve the consideration of a number of social, political and circumstantial factors which cannot be weighed and balanced objectively by this Trial Chamber. (at paragraph [20])

Consequently, international criminal tribunals recognise that the determination of an act of aggression by the UNSC has a political dimension. Within this political context, the nature of article 39 determinations can also be viewed through the veto power of the UNSC’s permanent five members, which is ‘exercisable in relation to substantive questions’ that include the characterisation of acts of aggression (McDougall above 283). De Wet contends that the ‘structural bias in favour of the major powers is a clear indication that decisions in the interest of peace and security will be based exclusively on (national) political considerations’ (Erika De Wet, The Chapter VII Powers of the United Nations Security Council 134–5. See also McDougall above 283) as well as interests. Kelsen argued that the UNSC is not limited to ‘taking enforcement measures under articles 41 and 42’ as article 39 allows the UNSC to make recommendations ‘of any kind’ (Hans Kelsen, The Law of the United Nations: A Critical Analysis of Its Fundamental Problems 438. See also McDougall above 284).

Another argument of concern relates to article 103, which states that

[i]n the event of a conflict between the obligations of the Members of the United Nations under the present Charter and their obligations under any other international agreement, their obligations under the present Charter shall prevail.

The issue is that any Rome Statute provision granting the ICC jurisdiction to determine aggression would conflict with articles 24, which outlines the UNSC’s powers in respect of international peace and security, and 39, ‘which grant the Security Council the exclusive ability to determine the existence of acts of aggression and establish an obligation of the Member States to uphold the Security Council’s rights’ (McDougall above 285). Of further concern is where the UNSC adopts a resolution clearly identifying an act of aggression. Here, and on the basis of article 25, ‘it is claimed that a resolution determining the existence of aggression would be binding on the Member States of the United Nations and therefore all States Parties to the Rome Statute’ (McDougall above 285–6). Consequently, it is arguable that ICC judgments regarding the crime of aggression that reach an alternative conclusion to the UNSC’s resolutions would ‘create inconsistent obligations and therefore be unenforceable pursuant to article 103 of the Charter’ (McDougall above 286).

Policy considerations when determining and regulating aggression

If the determination of aggression is a political rather than legal act, then attention must be paid to the policy considerations driving that determination. These must be viewed through a realpolitik lens (McDougall) since the permanent five members of the UNSC and their allies view UNSC determination as the ‘conditio sine qua non for the inclusion of the crime of aggression’ (Hermann Von Hebel and Darryl Robinson, ‘Crimes within the Jurisdiction of the Court’ in Roy S Lee (ed) The International Criminal Court: The Making of the Rome Statute 84). Scheffer also places a degree of an emphasis on realpolitik by viewing aggression as ‘one crime that other nations may seek to charge our deployed military with, regardless of the merits.’ He views it as a crime that ‘invites political manipulation to serve the interests of whoever regards any projection of military power to be aggressive’ (Quoted in McDougall above 307. See also D D N Nsereko, ‘Bringing Aggressors to Justice: From Nuremberg to Rome’ (2005) 2 University of Botswana Law Journal 5).

There are other interpretations of how the permanent five members of the UNSC can ensure that it possesses the crucial prerogative to determine the occurrence of aggression. First, they desire the ability to protect their leaders from ICC prosecution (regardless of the merits of the legal case). Secondly, they will go above and beyond to protect this privileged status within the international arena ‘in the context of increasing debate about the need for Security Council reform’ (McDougall above 308). Thirdly, they are concerned with the ICC having jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, with their position being ‘premised on a belief that jurisdiction could be a sticking point, ultimately leading to a breakdown in negotiations’ (McDougall above 308). Such politics may see the crime of aggression undermined by the UNSC. The UNSC’s actions concerning aggression are evidence of ‘the legality of the State act element of the crime’; that is, actions leading to a less hostile and more cooperative relationship that provides for ‘resolutions vis-à-vis allegedly aggressive acts’ being drafted by the UNSC and considering future prosecutions (McDougall, 308).

Other policy arguments have been put forward demonstrating that aggression is more a political act:

  1. If the ICC has the right to determine the existence or occurrence of aggression, it undermines the UNSC since it can make the determination in situations where the UNSC failed to make an article 39 determination or taking enforcement measures under Chapter VII; (McDougall above 309. See also Report of the Informal Inter-Sessional Meeting of the Special Working Group on the Crime of Aggression, at paragraph [61]);
  2. In a situation where the ICC determines the existence of aggression, the UNSC loses its ability to negotiation peaceful settlement of conflicts by offering amnesty; (McDougall above 309. See also Allegra Carroll Carpenter, ‘The International Criminal Court and the Crime of Aggression’ (1995) 64 Nordic Journal of International Law 223);
  3. ‘the ICC is not equipped to consider matters that may lie at the heart of allegations of aggression such as maritime boundaries, the scope of legitimate self-defence under article 51, and the status of self-help remedies under international law’ (McDougall above 309); and
  4. The ICC only possesses jurisdiction over natural persons and not states, so there would be implications for the rights of States (McDougall above 309. See also James Nicholas Boeving, ‘Aggression, International Law and the ICC: An Argument for the Withdrawal of Aggression from the Rome Statute’ (2004) 43 Columbia Journal of Transnational Law 557).


This piece has laid bare the political context of a determination of an act of aggression. Determination is a political rather than legal act, in part due to ineffective legal mechanisms in the UN Charter. However, it is also due to the considerations of great powers that wish to protect their privileged status in the international arena. The legal regulation of aggression by the ICC remains hostage to the political decisions of the UNSC, and whilst from 2017 the ICC will have jurisdiction to prosecute the crime, its ability to do so will rest on political decisions in New York rather than evidence tendered in The Hague.

Sophocles Kitharidis is a public international law adviser and consultant to the International Affairs Division of the Thai Ministry of Justice. He is the former Vice President of the International Law Association (Victoria) and he holds a Master of Laws in Public International Law from the University of Melbourne. 

Tribunal holds hearing on jurisdictional questions in Philippines v China arbitration — Lea Christopher


From 7 to 13 July 2015, the Arbitral Tribunal held the first hearing in the arbitration between the Republic of Philippines and the People’s Republic of China in connection with their dispute in the South China Sea.  The arbitration was submitted by the Philippines on 22 January 2013, pursuant to the compulsory dispute settlement provisions under part XV of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  A five member ad hoc tribunal was constituted under annex VII of UNCLOS and sat in the Peace Palace, the headquarters of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in the Hague. While the hearing was not open to the public, the Tribunal permitted the governments of certain states (Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, Thailand and Malaysia) to send small delegations as observers.

The arbitration concerns disputes between the Philippines and China in relation to their maritime entitlements in the South China Sea. China has continued to reiterate its position of non-acceptance of (and non-participation in) the arbitration, maintaining that it believes in resolving disputes in the South China Sea via bilateral negotiations and that the arbitration violates previous agreements between the two states. The Philippines has sought to challenge this position at the hearing, submitting that they have pursued a course of bilateral and regional diplomatic efforts to resolve its disputes with China for almost two decades without success. The Philippines says that this has left no recourse other than arbitration.

In its Statement of Claim, the Philippines relies on UNCLOS which, it submits, defines and limits the entitlements of coastal states to a territorial sea, exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf (and sets out states’ rights and obligations within those areas).  In particular, the Philippines relies on provisions that provide that a state’s EEZ cannot extend beyond 200 nautical miles from its mainland coast (or any island over which the state has sovereignty) (article 57), and that its continental shelf extends to the same distance (unless it can be established that the state’s continental margin extends beyond that distance) (article 76).

According to the Philippines, China contravenes these provisions by claiming, on the basis of its nine-dash line, ‘historic rights’ to areas that are beyond its 200M limit, including some areas that fall within 200M of the coasts of the Philippines’ main islands.  While China is a signatory to UNCLOS (which enabled the Philippines to commence the compulsory arbitral proceedings), it claims that it does not subscribe to some of its tenets.

However, the purpose of the first hearing was not to decide the Philippines’ substantive claims, but to decide whether the Tribunal has jurisdiction over these claims and whether they are admissible.

The Philippines’ substantive claims

At the hearing, the Philippines outlined the principal substantive claims that it intends to pursue if the Tribunal decides the question of jurisdiction in its favour. They can be summarised as follows:

  1. China is not entitled to exercise its alleged ‘historic rights’ over the waters, seabed and subsoil beyond the limits of its entitlements under UNCLOS.  Its nine-dash line, insofar as it purports to define the limits of China’s ‘historic rights’, is not supported by international law;
  2. The various maritime features relied upon by China to assert its maritime claims in the South China Sea are not islands (as China claims) but are either ‘rocks’ (within the meaning of article 121, paragraph 3 of UNCLOS), ‘low tide elevations’ or are permanently submerged.  While rocks generate an entitlement to a territorial sea of 12M (allowing China to exercise sovereignty over that area), they cannot generate an entitlement to an EEZ or continental shelf beyond that limit (and low tide elevations generate no entitlements).  China’s significant construction activities on various maritime features cannot change their nature in law;
  3. China has breached UNCLOS by interfering with the Philippines’ exercise of its sovereign rights and jurisdiction; and
  4. China’s fishing practices have damaged the marine environment in the South China Sea, including within the Philippines’ EEZ, in breach of UNCLOS. UNCLOS requires states parties to adopt measures to protect the marine environment.

The jurisdictional question

China’s position

In a position paper published in December 2014 (see also a summary of the paper here), China contended that the Philippines’ claims are beyond the scope of the Tribunal’s jurisdiction because they require the Tribunal to make determinations on territorial sovereignty and the delimitation of sea boundaries.

China made three interrelated claims in support of this contention. First, it claimed that UNCLOS does not give the Tribunal jurisdiction to address territorial sovereignty-related questions. According to China, in order to decide any of the Philippines’ claims, the Tribunal would be required to determine, directly or indirectly, the territorial sovereignty over various maritime features in the South China Sea, which is beyond the scope of UNCLOS.

Secondly, it claimed that in 2006, pursuant to article 298 of UNCLOS, China opted out of compulsory arbitration on particular categories of disputes, including those relating to sea boundary delimitations. Article 298(1) provides that, when signing or ratifying UNCLOS (or any time thereafter), a state may opt out of compulsory arbitration with respect to particular categories of disputes, one of which relates to sea boundary delimitations.  Article 298(a)(i) then provides that, when such a dispute arises and no agreement within a reasonable period of time is reached in negotiations, the opted out party must accept, at the request of the other party, submission of the matter to conciliation.

The Philippines has not requested that the parties participate in conciliation pursuant to article 298(a)(a) presumably because, as discussed below, its position is that the dispute does not concern sea boundary delimitations and therefore has not been ‘opted out of’ by China.

The Philippines’ position

At the hearing, the Philippines submitted that its claims do not require the Tribunal to make determinations on the question of territorial sovereignty or the delimitation of sea boundaries (its statement is available here). It emphasised that the Tribunal is really being asked to do the following:

  1. To clarify the nature of the disputed features in the South China Sea (ie, whether they are rocks, islands or low-tide elevations) that are relied upon by China to assert its claims, because the features’ characterisations determine whether they can be appropriated by China or can generate their own 200M EEZ; and
  2. To examine the validity of China’s nine-dash line based on its ‘historical rights’.

According to the Philippines, the question to be determined by the Tribunal on this issue, therefore, is whether UNCLOS allows a state to claim maritime entitlements based on ‘historic’ rights beyond those provided for in UNCLOS.

Accordingly, a key issue in the dispute is whether it is possible for the Tribunal to make determinations about the nature of particular maritime features and their entitlements, without addressing who actually exercises sovereignty over those features. The Tribunal will also need to consider whether it can determine the validity of the nine-dash line without addressing sovereignty over any of the maritime features within the area delimited by the line.

On a higher level, the Philippines painted the case as being a test of the utility and feasibility of UNCLOS compulsory dispute resolution mechanisms. Emphasising China’s ‘aggressive and disconcerting’ activities in the South China Sea, the Philippines contended that the dispute resolution mechanisms give weaker states the opportunity to ‘challenge the powerful on an equal footing’ on the belief that ‘law triumphs over force’. On this basis, according to the Philippines, a finding that the Tribunal lacks jurisdiction to hear its claims would render the UNCLOS dispute resolution mechanisms almost valueless for small states parties vis a vis their more powerful neighbours.


Notwithstanding the Philippines’ contentions concerning the case’s significance to the international community, the jurisdictional questions facing the Tribunal turn on the characterisation of the Philippines’ substantive claims and, in particular, whether they involve the determination of questions of territorial sovereignty.

The Philippines now has until 23 July 2015 to provide supplementary written submissions in response to questions posed by the Tribunal at the hearing. The Tribunal expects to determine the issue of jurisdiction by the end of the year. If it decides that it does have jurisdiction over the Philippines’ claims (and they are admissible), the matter will proceed to a substantive hearing. However, China has reiterated that it will not alter its position in the South China Sea and, therefore, is unlikely to comply with any unfavourable ruling ultimately made by the Tribunal.

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

International Economic Law Round-Up — Kyle Dickson-Smith

Political Hurdles for International Trade Deals Promote Transparency; Proliferation of Plain Packaging Laws and Associated Disputes

In the last few months there have been several key developments in international economic law:

  • The passage of both the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has been delayed due to political hurdles between the EU and the US. Local debate in the EU and US as to the benefits and costs of investor-state dispute settlement procedures (ISDS) has also arisen. While the US Congress has passed legislation to assist their adoption of the TPP, the current European political climate has made the future direction of ISDS in the EU unclear; and
  • Norway has announced it will implement standardised cigarette packaging while major tobacco companies have challenged UK plain packaging laws.

Political hurdles for the TTP lifted

After hitting repeated stumbling blocks in US Congress, the Trade Promotion Authority legislation (TPA legislation) eventually made headway. On 25 June 2015, the US Senate approved the TPA legislation and on 29 June the US President signed it into law.

The TPA legislation grants President Obama the power to submit completed trade agreements to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote without the possibility of amendment. The legislation was approved in the Senate late last month, following a debate as to the merits of ISDS.

On the international front, there have been ongoing negotiations in areas of trade and investment, particularly with respect to market access and intellectual property.

The previous ministerial level meetings of TPP member countries were postponed, reportedly due to the TPA legislation not being in place. However, negotiators did meet in Guam to discuss issues of intellectual property, textiles, investment and labour. It is anticipated that the passage of the TPA legislation will facilitate the resolution of the remaining contentious issues in the TPP negotiations, which include tariffs and quota removal on agriculture, with non-tariff barrier reductions on other goods.

While major US labour unions have lobbied against both the TPA legislation and the TPP on the basis that American workers would be detrimentally affected (by, for example, displacing local manufacturing and service sector jobs), business organisations have identified the trade deal as important in ‘levelling the playing field‘ for American businesses.

Political hurdles for the TTIP and ISDS

The European Parliament’s international trade committee (INTA) has outlined a series of recommendations in support of the TTIP’s trade and investment agenda, but the EU’s preferred format of the ISDS mechanism that it will formally propose to the US is far from clear. This follows the EU’s suspension of TTIP trade talks in early 2014 for the purpose of holding public consultations that were prompted by the ‘unprecedented public interest‘ in the negotiations.

INTA has proposed an independent arbitration court with publicly appointed judges and an appellate mechanism. This model is based on proposals from the EU Commission that were released in early May 2015.

The Commission’s proposals addressed the relationship between ISDS and domestic courts, including:

  • the right to regulate in the public interest; and
  • improving the function of arbitral tribunals through, for example, a permanent multilateral court and appellate mechanism to arbitrate investment disputes.

These proposals were based on the ISDS mechanism contained in a trade agreement negotiated between the EU and Canada (CETA) last year. The EU Commission has stated that the CETA ISDS is both innovative in its substance and procedure.

INTA made further recommendations on investment protection provisions, which were reportedly the result of a compromise between the European Parliament’s two largest groups, the Socialists & Democrats and the European People’s Party.  INTA’s recommendations are not binding, but are indicative of whether any agreement would be approved before a full session of the European Parliament.

Tobacco plain packaging

Developments have arisen in the sphere of tobacco plain packaging disputes. In its WTO claim against Australia, Ukraine made a request to suspend proceedings. Australia has supported this request. Ukraine based its decision to suspend its action on limited resources as well as absent ‘economic logic’. Whilst it is not clear how long the suspension will last, under the Dispute Settlement Understanding, Ukraine is allowed up to 12 months before the WTO Panel’s authority will lapse.

Meanwhile, Norway issued a notification under the WTO Technical Barriers on Trade Agreement, that it is proposing a requirement for all tobacco products to be sold in standardised packaging. Norway explained that the proposal will involve ‘uniform layout and design on all tobacco packaging, as well as a ban on manufacturers’ logos, trademarks, images, colours or other forms of advertising’. It is not clear when the new requirements will enter into force.

In the UK, tobacco companies British American Tobacco and Philip Morris have challenged the legality, under both English and EU law, of the UK’s plain packaging laws before the High Court. It is argued that the laws deprive the tobacco companies of trademark rights without fair compensation as well as preventing the free movement of goods.

In a press release, British American noted that it ‘did not ultimately prevail’ in its challenge against Australia’s plain packaging laws in the High Court owing to a ‘unique requirement in the Australian constitution that meant it would only win the case if it could prove the Australian Government had received a benefit by removing its brands’. British American stated that no such requirement exists in the UK.

Kyle Dickson-Smith, FCIArb. is an international lawyer and arbitration counsel at Appleton & Associates International Lawyers, who specialises in trade law and investment treaty disputes, such as the NAFTA. The views expressed in this article are those of Kyle Dickson-Smith and are not attributable to Appleton & Associates.


Response to Department of Immigration discussion paper on Australian citizenship – Stephen Tully

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection issued a discussion paper entitled ‘Australian Citizenship – your right, your responsibility’ raising several questions, including whether Australia should deprive Australian mono and dual nationals of Australian citizenship.

This submission by Stephen Tully – a member of the ILA’s National Management Committee – reviews international legal material and the UK’s experience relevant to the questions raised, identifies the applicable prerequisites, standards and safeguards, and considers some possible domestic and international consequences for affected individuals and Australia.  It is available here.

Tully states in the executive summary of his submission that:

  1. Proposals to deprive Australians of citizenship which draw upon legislation taken from the United Kingdom (UK) must appreciate the particular international and national background to that legislation. The UK position cannot be transplanted into the local context without appropriate adaptation.
  2. An outcome which ensures that former Australian nationals are not rendered stateless would be consistent with international law on preventing statelessness. The deprivation of Australian nationality for dual nationals would be consistent with that objective.
  3. The international legal consequences of depriving dual national Australians of their Australian nationality must be understood. Other States may not be obliged to recognise and give effect to the deprivation of Australian nationality by Australia. With respect to both citizenship deprivation and the expulsion of aliens, Australia must also comply with existing international law (on statelessness, nationality and the protection of human rights) in addition to emergent international law concerning the expulsion of aliens.

Plain packaging of tobacco products in the WTO – Globalisation and the increase of tobacco usage – Pauline Wilson

This article is the second in a series that investigates and reports on the disputes over Australia’s tobacco plain packaging measure in the World Trade Organization (WTO).  Plain packaging for tobacco products has been debated intensively in the WTO for over three years and the panel is expected to continue until at least the first half of 2016 (see Australia – Certain Measures Concerning Trademarks, Geographical Indications and Other Plain Packaging Requirements Applicable to Tobacco Products and Packaging (WT/DS 435, WT/DS 434, WT/DS 441, WT/DS 458, WT/DS 467)) (28 April 2014).

The last article examined the introduction of plain packaging legislation in Australia, the efficacy of the measure and the challenges being brought against it at the WTO.  This article examines the relationship between trade liberalisation and tobacco usage.  In doing so, it highlights the important role of international courts and tribunals, including the WTO Panel and Appellate Body, in maintaining a  coherent international legal system.

Does trade liberalisation contribute to increased tobacco usage?

During the 1980s, the US threatened sanctions and retaliation under the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT) against Japan, South Korea and Taiwan unless they opened their markets which were closed to foreign tobacco companies.  In response to this pressure, those countries opened their markets to foreign tobacco companies, increasing their populaces’ tobacco usage.  In 1989, the US challenged Thailand’s 1966 Tobacco Act for placing limitations on American tobacco companies.  A GATT panel found against Thailand in 1990, forcing it to open its market to tobacco multinationals.

These cases illustrate how international trade agreements and state pressure have indirectly facilitated the proliferation of western tobacco in developing countries, which increases rates of smoking.  A report by the World Health Organisation (WHO Report) has found that the link between trade liberalisation and increased tobacco consumption is strongest in low and middle-income countries. The WHO Report also found that foreign direct investment (FDI) leads to higher rates of tobacco consumption.  This is because FDI is an alternative pathway to accessing a foreign market with high barriers to trade.  The finding is in line with basic trade theory, which suggests that liberalising a market will increase competition and efficiency in the supply of a product to that market.  Other factors, including marketing, tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, and the international movement of contraband and counterfeit cigarettes, have also contributed to the explosive increase in tobacco usage.

In order to combat the rise of tobacco consumption and disease globally, governments have employed increasingly strict tobacco control measures.  Australia was in fact not the first country to consider plain packaging for tobacco products.  New Zealand first recommended that cigarettes be sold only in white packs with black text and no colours or logos as early as 1989.  In 1995, the Canadian parliament passed a plain packaging law which was ultimately struck down by its Supreme Court.  Presaging the negative reaction of the tobacco industry to global plain packaging reform, Phillip Morris threatened to reduce future investment in Canada in response to its plain packaging laws.  Upon the release of Australia’s draft legislation, Imperial Tobacco stated it would ‘make every effort to protect its brands and associated intellectual property and … take legal action’.  The approaches of Phillip Morris and Imperial Tobacco reflect the tobacco industry’s general position, which is to pursue every avenue to challenge implementation of plain packaging.

Regional and bilateral free trade agreements provide one such avenue for tobacco control laws to be challenged.  For example, Philip Morris Norway made a challenge under the European Economic Area Agreement against Norwegian bans on the display of tobacco products at the point of sale.

The tobacco industry is also using its rights under international investment agreements to challenge tobacco control and regulation.  In addition to the challenges made under the Australia–Hong Kong bilateral investment treaty, Philip Morris Switzerland recently brought a similar claim against Uruguay, arguing that its tobacco packaging measures violate the Switzerland–Uruguay bilateral investment treaty.

The increase in bilateral and multilateral free trade and investment agreements provides tobacco companies with a resource with which to disrupt reform.

Supporting and internationally coherent legal system

Tobacco companies are seeking redress in domestic courts, international arbitral tribunals and the WTO. The use of multiple fora is contributing to the wider dilemma of ‘conflicting rules and clashing courts’.  This poses the threat of undermining international law generally because its diversification and expansion is leading to ‘the fragmentation of international law’.

Fragmentation is characterised by Pieter Jan Kuijper as a ‘deplorable development’ which is brought about by a decrease in the application of general principles of international law in specialised jurisdictions, including WTO proceedings.  The International Law Commission (ILC), on the other hand, characterised it as a natural consequence of the expansion and specialisation of different areas of international law. Either way, WTO panels and the Appellate Body should be ensure that they interpret opposing norms harmoniously given the dangers of further fragmentation.

The ILC identifies several approaches to establish an internationally coherent legal system.  These include:

  • relationships of interpretation, where one norm assists in the interpretation of another using the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties;
  • relationships of conflict, which refers to the case where two norms that are both valid and applicable point to incompatible decisions so that a choice must be made between them; and
  • the principle of harmonisation, which is a generally accepted principle that when several norms bear on a single issue they should, to the extent possible, be interpreted so as to give rise to a single set of compatible obligations.

As providing security and predictability to the multilateral trading system is an overarching goal of WTO dispute settlement, it is important that this forum is able to harmonise the conflict between international trade and domestic and global health policy.

The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) is important to the harmonisation process as it clarifies existing standards and key protections in relation to public health and tobacco control.

The entry into force of the FCTC in 2005 was a decisive moment for global tobacco control. It is an evidence-based treaty developed in response to the globalisation of tobacco consumption and related harm. Ratifying the FCTC places all parties under an obligation of good faith (pacta sunt servanda) to abide by the minimum legal standards outlined in the treaty and to not to undermine the objectives set out in it. In addition to minimum commitments, parties are ‘encouraged to implement measures beyond those required by this Convention and its protocols’. This is further supported by the object and purpose of the FCTC, which states that the parties are ‘determined to give priority to their right to protect public health’. As of 2015, there are 180 parties to the FCTC in contrast to the WTO with 161 members. In fact, there are just eight WTO members not party to the FCTC, two of which are challenging Australia’s measure.

Another solution may lie in mechanisms found in non-WTO treaties with trade related aspects, including multilateral environmental agreements (MEA). The Cartagena Biosafety Protocol to the Biodiversity Convention — which has seven more signatories than the WTO — not only has a provision relating directly to trade and environmental agreements, but also advances the principle of mutual supportiveness. This is a principle by which international legal rules are to be understood and applied as reinforcing each other with a view to fostering harmonisation and complementarity, as opposed to conflicting relationships.

So far, no action affecting trade and taken under an MEA has been challenged in the WTO system.  However, the WTO Trade and Environment Committee recognises that MEAs provide internationally agreed solutions for trade problems, which it says better than one country trying to change another countries’ environmental policies on its own.  It is possible that the principle of mutual supportiveness, and other trade facilitative measures, can assist the WTO Panel and Appellate Body to interpret WTO provisions in a fashion which supports international legal coherence.

The next article in the series will look at how the FCTC should be used to interpret Australia’s obligations under WTO law in a manner which is consistent with general international law.

Pauline Wilson recently graduated from an LLM at the University of Amsterdam with a focus on international trade and investment law. Prior to that she graduated from the ANU with a combined Bachelor’s of Arts and Law.