International Law Update – The Conflict in Yemen, the International Criminal Court, and the Srebrenica Massacre

Yemen

Human Rights Watch called for the release of Yemeni activist Hisham al-Omeisy, whom Human Rights Watch claims has been detained by Houthi authorities. Human Rights Watch states that al-Omeisy was arrested by 15 officers on 14 August 2017 in Sanaa. They claim he has not been charged, brought before a judge or given access to a lawyer or his family, and that he is in an undisclosed location. Amnesty International has made a similar statement.

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Call for Papers and Panels – 2018 ILA Conference in Sydney

The ILA (Australian Branch) is proud to be hosting the next biennial International Law Association Conference in Sydney from 19-24 August 2018. The organising committee is currently developing a program for the conference, and to that end we are calling for papers and panel presentations around the core theme of the conference: Developing International Law in Challenging Times. Details of the call, including information on how to make a submission, are set out in the flyer here

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Upcoming Lecture with Justice Keane AC – “Courts and International Arbitration: A Reappraisal of Roles”

The International Law Association, Queensland Chapter warmly invites you to a breakfast lecture by Hon. Justice Patrick Keane AC of the High Court at 7:30 – 8:45 am on Friday 4 November 2016 in the Edinburgh Room, Brisbane Club. He will be speaking on the topic of “Courts and International Arbitration: A Reappraisal of Roles”.

Justice Keane was appointed to the High Court in March 2013. At the time of his appointment he was Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia. He served as a judge of the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court of Queensland from 2005-2010 before joining the Federal Court. He is a graduate of the University of Queensland and Oxford University. He was admitted to the Queensland Bar in 1977 and in 1988 he was appointed Queen’s Counsel. He was Solicitor-General for Queensland from 1992 to 2005. Justice Keane AC was appointed a Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2015.

CPD POINTS: Solicitors may wish to claim 1 general CPD unit, and Barristers may wish to claim 1 CPD point in the Substantive Law category. You will be able to record your attendance by signing an attendance register.

A hot plated breakfast will be served, accompanied by fresh fruit, pastries, juices, tea & coffee. Tickets will cost $60 for Members, $70 f0r Non-Members and $45 for full-time students.

For payment details, download the flyer here. Please RSVP to Liz Cottle by email to ecottle@qldbar.asn.au

We look forward to you joining us!

ILA Conference 2016 – Johannesburg – Update

The 77th ILA conference will be taking place in Johannesburg, South Africa, from 7-11 August 2016. The President of the South African Branch, which is organising the conference, has sent the following update to the Australian Branch:

“The 77th Biennial Conference of the International Law Association, which is scheduled for 7 – 11 August 2016 in Johannesburg, will mark the second time only for a biennial conference to take place on the African continent in the almost 150 year history of the Association. Expectations are therefore high that the members of the historically dominant ILA constituencies in the North will attend the conference in substantial numbers in the interest of providing a platform for the establishment of a community of international law scholars that is more representative of the regions of the world than is currently the case.

Apart from this imperative, and in addition to the reporting sessions of some thirty ILA committees and study groups, the programme offers parallel sessions on issues of regional and global interest and significance. These include the UN report on Africa’s illegal capital flight; harmonization efforts in international commercial law; BRICS in international law; the peace and security architecture of the African Union; automated weapon systems and international law; marine bio-diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction; investor – state dispute resolution; nuclear weapons, non-proliferation and contemporary international law; the law of armed conflict in Africa; and international criminal law.

Leisure options abound. Pre- and post-conference tours to the spectacular Victoria Falls and to Cape Town are available. In Johannesburg and surroundings delegates have the option to visit game farms, the Constitutional Court, the Apartheid museum, SOWETO and Liliesleaf Farm where senior members of the ANC were arrested in 1963 for plotting the overthrow of the Apartheid government.

The members of the South African Branch of the ILA have invested a lot of time and energy in putting this conference together in adverse circumstances. We hope that we can count on the patronage of our fellow ILA members in other branches.”

All members and subscribers are encouraged to attend this significant conference. To register, visit http://ila2016.com/index.php/register-now/.

A conversation with Christof Heyns, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions — Sophocles Kitharidis and Laura Baykara

On 8 October 2015, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Professor Christof Heyns, gave a rare lecture to the International Law Association (Victorian Chapter) during his three-day visit in Australia. Having held this UN mandate for the last five years, Professor Heyns discussed the ways in which his mandate functions and its coverage of the scope and limitations of the right to life, and provided an overview of the central themes that addressed by the mandate, including:

  • the need for law reform on the use of force by law enforcement officials in most countries in the world;
  • the development of guiding principles on the management of demonstrations for the Human Rights Council;
  • the demise of the death penalty; and
  • the emergence of new technologies that affect the right to life, both in terms of weapons and technologies that can be used to protect life.

The Mandate

In 1982, the Commission on Human Rights put forward resolution CHR Res 1982/29 to the Economic and Social Council requesting the appointment of a special rapporteur with a focus on the practices concerning summary or arbitrary executions. The mandate was established under resolution ESC Res 1982/35.

Ten years later, resolution CHR Res 1992/72 widened the mandate to include ‘extrajudicial’ as well as ‘summary or arbitrary’ executions. The amendment indicated the importance placed by members of the Commission on Human Rights to include all violations of the right to life as guaranteed by the majority of international human rights instruments (further information available here).

Professor Heyns discussed the importance of the mandate covering all countries, irrespective of whether a state has ratified relevant international conventions. He noted his most recent country visits to Gambia, Papua New Guinea, and Ukraine.

In resolution HRC Res 26/12, the United Nations Human Rights Council underscored the importance of the UN’s chief investigator to carry out their mandate in the following way:

(a)       To continue to examine situations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in all circumstances and for whatever reason, and to submit his or her findings on an annual basis, together with conclusions and recommendations, to the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly, and to draw the attention of the Council to serious situations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions that warrant immediate attention or where early action might prevent further deterioration;

(b)       To continue to draw the attention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to serious situations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions that warrant immediate attention or where early action might prevent further deterioration;

(c)       To respond effectively to information which comes before him or her, in particular when an extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary execution is imminent or threatened or when such an execution has occurred;

(d)       To enhance further his or her dialogue with Governments, as well as to follow up on recommendations made in reports after visits to particular countries;

(e)       To continue to monitor the implementation of existing international standards on safeguards and restrictions relating to the imposition of capital punishment, bearing in mind the comments made by the Human Rights Committee in its interpretation of article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the Second Optional Protocol thereto;

(f)        To apply a gender perspective in his or her work.

Professor Heyns articulated the importance of the operational duties of the Special Rapporteur as an advisor to the UN. He underscored the need for rapporteurs to secure invitations from member states where investigations are required and the challenges associated in obtaining approval for the country visits, such as governments not replying or delaying responses due to political pressure and sensitivities. One would also assume that further challenges would include the rapporteurs’ ability to maintain an independent and impartial position throughout their investigation.

Drones, weapons systems and the right to life

Professor Heyns explored the concepts of drones and autonomous weapons systems (AWS) and the complexities (both legally and morally) around how these systems have the ability to make an accurate decision concerning the use of force against human beings — both within and outside armed conflicts, such as those undertaken by law enforcement agencies. The concept of the ‘weapon becoming the warriorunderscores the legal and ethical quandaries around the new mechanisms for the use of force. Within the context of law enforcement, intervention (and not human intervention) can be used as a form of non-lethal action, but questions still exist around the ability of a machine making a judgement on when and how the intervention is to be used.

In examining the use of armed drones and AWS from a human rights approach, accountability comes to the forefront of the debate (where a violation of the right to life is evident). Otherwise, it can be classified as an empty normative system. Arguably, since the AWS will have the ability to make judgements with the ‘human’ element absent, it may be that human beings may not be held responsible for collateral damage or for circumstances where the armed drone or AWS fails its target or mission; this is due to the importance of meaningful responsibility depending on meaningful control (see also Professor Heyn’s comments earlier this year) (http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Executions/CCWApril2015.doc).

Professor Heyns further examined an AWS’ ability to accurately target legitimate objects. The ability for a machine to make life and death decisions is a growing area of debate concerning the right to life and human dignity. Questions concerning the dignity of the targeted not being affected and the machine’s decision-making process arise as areas for further review. However, it is important to note that even though the machine is making the decision, a human element will also continue to exist within the chain — whether it be the individual who created the structure of the machine, designed the machine, programmed the machine or released the machine to undertake the attack.

Professor Heyns discussed the right to life in the context of the use of force, political killings and the death penalty. The right to life is a precondition to other human rights — for example, political killings against journalists have a chilling effect on a number of other human rights. However, it cannot necessarily be assumed that the right to life is the supreme right vis-à-vis other rights, given the debate surrounding armed drones and AWS. Where the right to life is accepted as the supreme right, it is done on the condition that it is a right that is a prerequisite of all other existing rights. This can be seen in the example of armed drones and the use of force where the drones themselves are not illegal. However, when implementing them as a weapon of force, ‘they may be easily abused and lead to unlawful loss of life, if used inappropriately’ (as stated here by UN Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism, Ben Emmerson).

The presentation concluded with a number of questions from the audience. On behalf of the International Law Association (Victorian Chapter), we extend our greatest appreciation and thanks to Professor Christof Heyns for making this event possible.

This article is not intended to be a transcript of the presentation.

Laura Baykara holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) from Monash University and is a solicitor at Herbert Smith Freehills.

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