In June 2017, negotiations began anew between Turkey and Greece over the contested island of Cyprus. This update details the history of the conflict and analyses progress from the recent talks. More
In June 2017, negotiations began anew between Turkey and Greece over the contested island of Cyprus. This update details the history of the conflict and analyses progress from the recent talks. More
By Editors in Analysis, Articles, Opinion Tags: cross-border, Geneva Conventions, ICJ, International Committee of the Red Cross, international court of justice, international humanitarian law, territorial sovereignty
Our blog mini-series, co-hosted with the ICRC, wraps up with a post by Associate Professor Rob McLaughlin, Co-Director of the ANU Centre for Military and Security Law. Dr McLaughlin shares his reflections on common article 2 and the important question of when IHL must be applied. More
In the post-9/11 zeitgeist, the ever-present fear of terrorism has reignited debate regarding whether a State has the right of self-defence against attacks by non-State actors. As Australia targets non-State actors such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda fighters in self-defence, the legality of such actions in international law must be questioned. More
Whilst many dream of claiming their own island slice of paradise, few would have ever done so with the same verve as Alexander Francis Ure. In 1970, Ure claimed the islands of Elizabeth and Middleton Reefs — some 80 miles north of Lord Howe Island — in order to exploit the substantial hydrocarbon deposits he believed to lie beneath. More
This month, three contentious cases have been instituted by States in the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
This breaks a dry spell for the ICJ, where no proceedings were commenced in 2015.
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:
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 ).
History of the proceedings — Objection by Chile
Chile filed a preliminary objection to Bolivia’s application in July 2014, claiming that:
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 ).
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 ).
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 –).
The ICJ published four other opinions. Briefly, they were:
A more substantial summary of the ICJ’s judgment and additional opinions is available here.
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.
In many ways, the territoriality principle represents the jurisprudential core of our current thinking on jurisdiction in both public and private international law. However, its flaws and inadequacies are increasingly obvious and its application is particularly problematic in relation to the online environment. Further, there is an increasing appreciation that, in a globalised world, State responsibilities do not end at States’ territorial borders. This is particularly clear in areas such as human rights law, environmental law and space law.
A recent symposium issue of the American Journal of International Law Unbound explores a proposal I have put forward, aimed at reforming our thinking on jurisdiction. Put succinctly, my proposition is that the proper jurisprudential core of jurisdiction in both public and private international law can be summarised in the following principles:
In the absence of an obligation under international law to exercise jurisdiction, a State may only exercise jurisdiction where:
Although these principles may not have been presented and emphasised in this way before, they are of course not new. Rather they can be found throughout the body of public and private international law.
Using these principles as our point of departure, we should construct more detailed — field of law specific — norms. In other words, these principles are not intended to be directly applied as such by the courts. Instead, they will be important as a tool in the interpretation of the mentioned field of law specific norms to which they should give rise.
Furthermore, the practical consequences of the shift from our current territoriality focus to the proposed framework, if conducted carefully and diligently, will be minimal in noncontroversial areas of jurisdiction. For example, a State would obviously have a substantial connection to, and a legitimate interest in, a traffic offence occurring within its territory. The balancing principle between that State’s legitimate interests and other interests ought not to cause any complications in such instances.
The absolute majority of cases, whether or not they involve the internet, would not augur a conflict between territoriality on the one hand, and a substantial connection and legitimate interest on the other hand. At the same time, the proposed reform would make us much better equipped to address what are now controversial areas. It would allow us to think more creatively rather than just in a mechanically binary fashion. It would, for example, free us from the thinking that a State must always have a possible jurisdictional claim over all aspects of data that happen to be located on a server located within its borders (consider e.g. the ongoing dispute between Microsoft and the US Government).
As part of the symposium issue, three internationally recognised experts — Professors Cedric Ryngaert of Utrecht University, Tom Ginsburg of University of Chicago and Horatia Muir Watt of Sciences-Po Paris — wrote insightful pieces commenting on my proposal.
I will continue working on this issue and would welcome feedback. I can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Jerker B Svantesson, Professor and Co-Director, Centre for Commercial Law, Faculty of Law, Bond University; Researcher, Swedish Law & Informatics Research Institute, Stockholm University; Australian Research Council Future Fellow. The views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily those of the Australian Research Council.
Last week the USS Lassen, a United States guided-missile destroyer, sailed within 12 nautical miles of a series of artificial islands built by China in the South China Sea. In response, China reportedly summoned the US Ambassador, with a state-run newspaper claiming that China was not afraid of fighting a war. China’s naval commander warned that the move was ‘dangerous and provocative’, and policy makers, officials and journalists on all sides of the dispute have debated the wisdom, or otherwise, of these actions by the US.
The latest move by the US comes in the wake of China’s actions in the previously uninhabited Spratly Island group. In late 2014, China began reclaiming land on a series of reefs, some of which were only partially exposed at low tide. In 2015, satellite images showed significant construction beginning on the reefs/islands. China based its claim over the reef/islands on the so-called ‘Nine-Dash Line’, a 1947 map drawn up by Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government. It has been used as the basis, once in 1958, and in 2009 before the UN, in order to substantiate China’s claims.
China’s claim has not gone uncontested. Both Vietnam and the Philippines lay claim to the Spratly Island group, and some of the islands fall within the Exclusive Economic Zone of Malaysia and Brunei under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The Philippines has brought a case challenging the validity of China’s claims before an arbitral tribunal under UNCLOS. Despite China’s argument that the is over competing sovereignty claims, and so outside the remit of the arbitral body, last week the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected this argument and will consider the case under UNCLOS (see Lea Christopher’s piece on the ILA Reporter on 5 November 2015 summarising the tribunal’s decision). However, China has pre-empted any finding, stating that it will not comply with any unfavourable ruling.
The legal issues associated with the South China Sea are complicated. There is a distinction to be made between claims that are covered by customary law and claims that are covered by the international law of the sea (predominantly contained within UNCLOS). The case of the USS Lassen is to be distinguished on this basis as well, and Shannon Tiezzi’s Diplomat analysis is instructive on the point. The recent US patrol was not concerned with challenging China’s claim to sovereignty over the islands, but rather asserting freedom of navigation, a point which the author claims has been lost among much of the news coverage.
Under UNCLOS, territorial sea extends 12 nautical miles from the shore (article 3). Within it, any ship enjoys the right of innocent passage (article 19). The circumstances that will generate territorial sea is central to the current disputes. A key provision is article 13, regarding low-tide elevations (LTEs):
Where a low-tide elevation is wholly situated at a distance exceeding the breadth of the territorial sea from the mainland or an island, it has no territorial sea of its own.
Article 60 then states that artificial islands do not have any territorial sea of their own and are only entitled to at most a 500 metre ‘safety zone’. This means that under UNCLOS, any artificial structures built by China on LTEs have no territorial sea. Whilst some of China’s construction has occurred on land not considered LTEs, the US has only conducted patrols within 12 nm of Mischief and Subi reefs, artificial islands that were previously LTEs, and so understood by the US not to have a territorial sea. By asserting their right to freedom of navigation past such structures, Tiezzi suggests the US ‘is not challenging China’s sovereignty over the Spratly features; it is challenging the status of those features under international law‘.
With many other LTEs in the region, this stand on freedom of navigation past the Spratly chain is an important test. Understanding how patrols, such as the USS Lassen’s, challenge China under the international law of the sea will be central in understanding the broader geopolitical developments in the region.
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:
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:
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:
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).
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.