Book Review: ‘China and the International E-commerce and Digital Trade Law’– David Markus

This is a review of Dr. Jie (Jeanne) Huang’s China and the International E-commerce and Digital Trade Law: the case of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (University of International Business and Trade Press, August 2022, Beijing China, ISBN: 9787566323989, 262,000 words). Dr Huang is an Associate Professor at the University of Sydney Law School, specializing in conflict of laws and digital trade. She is the Co-chair of the American Society of International Law Private International Law Interest Group and Co-Director of the Centre for Asian and Pacific Law at the Sydney Law School. 

Dr Huang’s book, ‘China and the International E-commerce and Digital Trade Law: the case of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership’ is invaluable to stakeholders who are interested in E-commerce and Digital Trade (EDT) with China.  It is also a very useful resource for diplomats and delegations involved in free trade negotiations as it simplifies the four key areas where the PRC has provided simplification of its national and provincial frameworks to assist in navigating complex rules. 

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The Inflows of Illegal Maritime Arrivals amidst the Financial Crisis of Sri Lanka: Analysing the Loopholes in the Protection Mechanisms of Australia – D.G. Niruka Sanjeewani

Background 

Illicit boat entry from Sri Lanka (SL) to Australia is not a new phenomenon, as it was highly prevalent before the end of the Sri Lankan Civil War in 2009 and in the immediate aftermath. SL was among the top four source countries from which illegal attempts to enter Australia had been reported by 2012. 736 Sri Lankan boat migrants arrived in Australia at the end of the war. Between  2011 and 2012,  825 cases of  illegal attempts were reported. Illegal Maritime Arrivals (IMA)s are unauthorised people who enter a country by unseaworthy boats. Even though border security measures to prevent this phenomenon were adopted by the two countries, a sudden resurgence has become evident due to the ongoing financial crisis of the country. More than 1,000 Sri Lankan people attempted to enter Australia by boats this year. According to the Australian Border Force (ABF), the highest number of boat entries in a single month was reported in June.  

SL is currently undergoing the worst economic crisis that the country has experienced since its independence. This unprecedented economic turmoil was highly backed by the economic mismanagement of the country’s leadership that caused the shortage of foreign exchange, fuel, electricity, medicine and inflation, followed by the high price factor. Since this situation has affected persons’ livelihoods, many people began to leave the country to meet their necessities in countries like Australia. These activities are being taken place outside the regulatory standards of migration, which are highly intertwined with people smuggling. The Protocol against the Smuggling defines smuggling as ‘to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefits, of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident.’ Routes of people smugglers frequently start from Negombo in the west of SL to Batticaloa and Trincomalee in the East; from Galle, Mirrissa and Hambantota in the South to Point Pedro in the North in SL. Importantly, the criminalisation of people smuggling invokes a criminal perspective to this humanitarian issue. 

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Old decisions for the modern age: sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas and evidentiary issues in cyberspace (Part 2) – Angus Fraser

This is Part 2 of 2 of an article exploring State responsibility for cyberattacks based on the sic utere maxim. Part 1 set out the evidentiary difficulties and principles relevant to the topic. Part 2 continues the analysis in Part 1 by considering how the principles described in that Part might apply to reported cyberattacks on Optus and the Australian parliament, including what might be forensically necessary to establish a claim based on a breach of the sic utere maxim in those contexts. 

As set out in Part 1 of this article, on 22 September 2022, Optus, an Australian telecommunications company, was the subject of a massive data breach which affected over 9 million of its customers. While the attack on Optus was likely conducted by a lone actor, other incidents, like a cyberattack on the Australian Parliament’s computer systems, are likely sponsored or conducted by other States.  

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Old decisions for the modern age: sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas and evidentiary issues in cyberspace (Part 1) – Angus Fraser

This article considers how States affected by malicious cyber activity may seek a remedy before international tribunals in circumstances where they cannot convincingly identify the specific perpetrator. It reviews relevant evidentiary difficulties, considers cases regarding the failure of States to exercise due diligence to prevent inter-State harm, and proposes that States affected by malicious cyber activity may argue a breach of the maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas: in essence, that a State of origin allowed its territory or jurisdiction to be used contrary to the rights of another State.  

This is Part 1 of 2 of an article exploring State responsibility for cyberattacks based on the sic utere maxim. Part 1 sets out the evidentiary difficulties and principles relevant to the topic. Part 2 explores how the principles described in Part 1 might apply in the context of specific case examples, including what might be forensically necessary to establish a claim based on a breach of the maxim. 

On 22 September 2022, Optus, an Australian telecommunications company, was the subject of a massive data breach which affected over 9 million of its customers. Unfortunately, the Optus breach is only the latest major example of an increasing list of malicious cyber activity affecting States, companies, and individuals. The recent Medibank cyberattack and publication of individuals’ private health information is another pertinent example. While the attack on Optus was likely conducted by a lone actor, other incidents, like a cyberattack on the Australian Parliament’s computer systems, are likely sponsored or conducted by other States. But what recourse under international law does Australia have in either scenario?  

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H.F. and Others v France: The Protection Implications of A Restrictive Approach to Jurisdiction – Gillian Kane

As the topic of repatriation from Syria continues to be debated by States within and beyond Europe, this article highlights the approach of the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber in H.F. and Others v France.

On 14 September 2022, the European Court of Human Rights’ Grand Chamber handed down a highly anticipated judgment, in the case of H.F. and Others v France. The applicants brought the case on behalf of their – French national – children and grandchildren, who were held in the al-Hol refugee camp in Syria and wished to return to France. The applicants’ daughters, ‘L’ and ‘M’ had travelled to Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) controlled territory in 2014 and 2015 respectively to be with their partners. Both subsequently had children and ended up in al-Hol camp, following the death or imprisonment of their partners. The applicants went on to initiate repatriation proceedings on behalf of their families. However, these applications were subsequently dismissed. Consequently, the applicants alleged – before the ECtHR – that France’s ‘refusal…to repatriate their daughters and grandchildren’ constituted a breach of: 

–    Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (prohibition of inhuman and degrading treatment) 

–    Article 3(2) of ECHR Protocol 4  (right to enter one’s own State), together with ECHR Articles 8 (right to private and family life) and Article 13 (right to an effective remedy).

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Reviewing a Convention on Crimes Against Humanity – Ankit Malhotra

Introduction 

In 2014, the International Law Commission (ILC) began drafting articles for a Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes Against Humanity, alluding to “a global convention on crimes against humanity”. While the consideration for this is well-founded, one is compelled to consider the already existing international law on crimes against humanity as formulated under the Rome Statute (Article 7). One goal of the ILC in its crimes against humanity convention was to produce a balanced text that would inspire States to establish improved national laws and national jurisdiction regarding crimes against humanity (and develop inter-State collaboration on the subject), while respecting certain boundaries on what States would likely accept in a new convention. From one perspective, the ILC could have adopted a far-reaching treaty language crammed with “wish list” items to describe highly progressive legal policy, but States likely wouldn’t adopt such an instrument. 

It is general consensus that crimes against humanity have attracted sufficient adherence to by States (opinio juris and State Practice) such that they have crystalised as customary international law as well as being contained in the Rome Statute. However, Sean Murphy highlights many States that will not prosecute or extradite alleged perpetrators solely based on customary international law. Rather, they will insist upon having a national statute to prosecute. To bridge this lacuna of international and national law, a crimes against humanity convention will oblige States to codify the crime within their national law, thus enabling themselves to prosecute criminals. In creating its draft articles on the convention on crimes against humanity, the ILC may have merely adopted “guidelines,” “principles,” or “conclusions” that would not bind States to legal restrictions. Instead of a legally binding treaty, the ILC aimed for practical, achievable, and valuable suggested articles. 

According to Murphy, unless and until a convention on crimes against humanity is created, States will not take cognisance of their actions. Murphy argues that States must create a treaty and not just a “draft” like the Draft Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts of 2001. This would be more conducive for States to adopt domestic legislation based on an international convention on crimes against humanity. 

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Events and Opportunities – September/October 2022

Jobs

Australian Red Cross  

The Australian Red Cross International Humanitarian Law Program is seeking an Advisory Committee Member with experience in the healthcare sector to support the Australian Red Cross’ work on promoting awareness about International Humanitarian Law within the Australian healthcare sector. More information here

Legal positions at UN agencies 

Various UN agencies are recruiting for legal officers in New York, Geneva and the Hague. More information here

Human Rights Watch 

The Alan R and Barbara D Finberg Fellowship is accepting applications for a one-year posting at Human Rights Watch in New York or Washington DC. This fellowship is open to candidates who hold an advanced (graduate) degree or have a degree granted by June 2023 in the fields of law, journalism, international relations, area studies, or other relevant disciplines from universities worldwide. More information here.  

Internships

Center for International Environmental Law  

The Center for International Environmental Law, based in Geneva, is seeking applications for its legal internship program. A monthly stipend is available. Deadline is 1 October 2022. More information here

UNIDROIT Internship and Research Programme

The UNIDROIT Scholarship, Internship and Research Programme is currently accepting applications for internships to be undertaken in 2023. Applications close on 30 September 2022 and are open to undergraduate and postgraduate students interested in private international law. More information here.

Opportunities

Call for papers, Cambridge International Law Journal 

The Cambridge International Law Journal (CILJ) is inviting submissions for volume 12(1) to be published in June 2023. The volume will include a special section on ‘Global Security Challenges and International Law’. Deadline for submissions is 30 October 2022 at 11:59 pm (BST). More information here.  

Call for Papers, 9th IUCN Frontiers in Environmental Law Colloquium 2023

The Australian Centre for Environmental Law (ACCEL) at The University of Sydney Law School is delighted to be hosting the 9th IUCN Frontiers in Environmental Law Colloquium 2023, to be held on 16-17 February 2023. The 2023 Colloquium will focus on the theme of ‘A Half Century of Environmental Law: Where to from Here?’ and will be held in person in Sydney. Abstracts are due on Monday 31 October 2022. Further details are available here.

PhD Opportunities 

Funded PhD opportunities available in the subject areas of feminist approaches to international law and current challenges to international humanitarian or criminal law at the University of Birmingham. More details here.  

Call for papers, 5th International Conference on the Right to Development  

The University of the Free State, in conjunction with the Centre for Human Rights at the University of Pretoria and other universities, is seeking papers for an upcoming conference analysing the right to development and democracy in Africa. More information here and here

Events

World Day Against the Death Penalty: The Fragility of Abolition in Asia and the Pacific, 10 October 2022 

The ANU College of Law, in partnership with the UN Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial summary or arbitrary executions, EU Delegation of Australia, amongst others, is making the World Day Against the Death Penalty with a panel discussion on the continuing place of the death penalty and the launch of the special issue of the International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy. More information here

Women and International Law Conference, 13-14 October 2022 

The Max Planck Institute for Procedural Law is holding a discussion which brings together contributors to the upcoming Oxford Handbook on Women and International Law. The discussion will examine the role of women in international law and the impacts of international law on women through the lens of Feminist approaches to international law. Register by 7 October 2022. More information here

Nuremburg Forum “The International Criminal Court 2002-2022: A Court in Practice”, 13-15 October 2022 

The Nuremburg Principles Academy will hold a hybrid conference examining the achievements of the International Criminal Court in its first two decades. The programme and more details can be found here

Webinar on the Russia-Ukraine War: Contemporary Developments and Challenges, 17 October 2022

The Newcastle Centre for Law and Social Justice is hosting a webinar on the Russia-Ukraine War. Full details and registration is available here.

Looking Back to the Future in the Law of the Sea: UNCLOS III and the LOSC at 40, 25 October 2022 

The Australian and New Zealand Society of International Law’s Webinar Series is hosting a discussion of UNCLOS in light of its 40th anniversary. A link to register for this and other events in the Webinar Series can be found here

Launch of the ILA Reporter Diversity Policy

The ILA Reporter team is excited to announce its new diversity policy, as approved by the International Law Association (Australian Branch).

Our policy

The ILA Reporter recognises the valuable contribution to international law that is made by individuals of diverse characteristics, including geographic diversity, race, indigeneity, ethnicity, age, gender expression, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, disability and economic status amongst others, and the intersectionality of these characteristics. 

The ILA Reporter seeks to support individuals of diverse characteristics in progressing their careers in international law through its diverse contributor policy. Our Editors and Assistant Editors strive for the following in relation to the individuals contacted for contribution:

  • 50/50 gender representation,
  • equal Global South and Global North representation, and 
  • 50% of individuals aged below 35.

Recognising that not all diverse characteristics can be captured by a diverse contributor policy, we strongly encourage individuals of all diverse characteristics seeking opportunities in international law to get in touch with the ILA Reporter. We also encourage submissions which touch on issues concerning Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL), decolonisation and First Nations people, and intersectionality.

The diverse contributor policy aligns with the International Law Association’s policies on diversity. The diverse contributor policy complements the ILA Reporter’s existing mission, to publish analysis, commentary and discussion on issues in public and private international law which have a bearing on Australia, the Indo-Pacific and the Global South.

Privacy

The diverse contributor policy is implemented consistently with privacy expectations, including the Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) contained in the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth). The ILA Reporter team will not request the disclosure of personal information or share personal information. If you have any queries or complaints please contact us at [email protected].

Towards a more accountable United Nations Security Council: Interview with Dr Carolyn Evans – Part 2

This is Part 2 in a two-part series on Dr Carolyn Evans monograph, Towards a more accountable United Nations Security Council. In this series, Dr Carolyn Evans (CE) discusses her research on the United Nations Security Council with Assistant Editor Crystal Ji (CJ). Part 1 examines Dr Evans’ influences that shaped the direction of her research, the Security Council’s relationship with international law, and the problems and potential of the Security Council in performing its role. Part 2 examines what greater accountability could look like for the Security Council. 

CJ: Your book investigates how we can move towards more accountability for the Security Council. What does accountability mean in this context, is there a standard in international law?

CE: No there is not, though there have been attempts to go in that direction. A proposal came out of the International Law Commission in its Draft Articles on the Responsibility of International Organizations. It has been on the table in the General Assembly for more than 10 years, and it is no closer to finalisation. Also, accountability is a social or sociological concept rather than a strictly legal one. International law definitely does not have a strict meaning for the term, and it is not necessarily equated to, or only synonymous with, legal responsibility. Some people say it should be and make a good case, but I would suggest it is not necessary that it be equated that way, and instead that there is role for legal responsibility separate to the broader concept of accountability.  

The difficulties are also linguistic. Many languages do not have a word for accountability so it is not possible to translate it, and that in itself is a stumbling block. In the Anglophone world, the concept of accountability is basically a post-war concept. The first paper going in that direction is from 1944, so it is not a particularly longstanding concept. I took it back to basics to say that accounting is explaining or justifying, and that has a broad applicability that helps us. What it means for me is that it is dialogic – there is not much point to a monologue on what you did, as the account is not complete until someone responds to that.

I think there needs to be a formal response from the General Assembly as the plenary for the institution. That is not to say the General Assembly should supervise the Council.

In one sense, people used to say the Security Council accounts for itself in annual report. I would say, instead, that it only reports; it puts on the table a report of what it has been doing, but there is no immediate response, or mechanism for anyone to evaluate that, or provide a response later.

It is not like a parliamentary debate where someone will say something and then the other side says something different, there is no mechanism for that. If such a report is intended to explain or justify conduct, it should be a two-way street, there should be a response so you are not talking into the void or going into self-justifying monologue.  

But there I stop short of what other authors often do. A range of authors often bracket in the idea of consequences, so they are following more of what you see in newspapers of being ‘held to account’. That is certainly one part of the picture. I do not tend to use that as the main picture; it is highly valuable and educational to account for things even if there are no ‘consequences’. If you presume there are always negative consequences or some punitive element or even just a pejorative overtone, it changes the nature of accountability – it looks like you are going on a fault-finding mission rather than trying to understand something. What you do not want is an accountability process to end up being just 20/20 hindsight. Accountability is intended to help us understand, so it needs to have that interactive response element, but it does not need to have a pejorative or punitive overtone. For example, we do see shareholders’ meetings that go very badly – people shouting that things were done wrong, that sort of thing. But the other ninety-nine out of a hundred shareholders’ meetings will often be civilised, quiet, productive, where the annual report is given, where a shareholder will say, ‘it worries me a bit that this is happening’. And then the next year, the conversation will say ‘in response, we fixed that’. So, lots of those things happen with respect to accountability, but they are not always regarded as newsworthy. 

CJ: What kind of model would you propose that would incorporate that dialogic process to make the Security Council more accountable?

I think there needs to be a formal response from the General Assembly as the plenary for the institution. That is not to say the General Assembly should supervise the Council. But the General Assembly is the place for a statement of expectations to come from the membership of the institution, or a statement of disappointed expectations if you like; ‘we expected that to be done and it was not and we are not happy’. Interestingly, Ukraine has precipitated some of that. The 1950 General Assembly Uniting for Peace Resolution that has not been talked about for decades has come back to the fore, which is a way of the General Assembly saying ‘your explanation for your inaction is inadequate, we are now taking the helm’. If you think of it in accountability terms, the relevant resolution from the Security Council owned that it could not reach a resolution on the issue, and the General Assembly response is ‘we are going to do something’. Though the solution might not necessarily be via the Uniting for Peace Resolution, the idea is still a vastly more productive account of whether the Security Council is able to do what it is there to do, and whether it used all the tools it could use. In the book, I talk about examples where, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see many other things that could have been done at the time. I outline that this is evidence that, if there was a dialogue going with the General Assembly and that wider membership, shortfalls in action by the Council might have come out and been addressed at the time, much more contemporaneously, rather than what the Security Council does being almost a monologue in the Council.  

It is important because one of the other old chestnuts of reform is a bigger Security Council. For example, the case is often debated about the Security Council not being representative. In the arithmetic sense, that is true, but the Security Council still needs to be fit for purpose.

The idea I explored was greater corporate memory by having what some might call ‘semi-permanent members’ of the Security Council.

If we think they have trouble making decisions with 15 members, how much bigger can you make it before it would not be able to do anything at all? The General Assembly itself is a good example of inaction from broader membership. Even in some GA committees with 50 members, there is a serious struggle to move ahead simply because it is a big body of people to wrangle. Instead, I looked at the ideas around a modest increase of a handful of members to the Security Council, because if you did exactly what you do now in the Security Council but with more people, I do not think it would make any difference at all. You need to adjust one of the other dials. The idea I explored was greater corporate memory by having what some might call ‘semi-permanent members’ of the Security Council. At the moment, elected members are constrained by not being allowed to serve successive terms. Just as they start to become familiar enough with the work to really contribute, their term is finished. Could successive terms be allowed? Then they could build up more corporate memory and greater ability to deal with the issues.  

So, accountability could be increased by more involvement, by the General Assembly responding, by more push from the General Assembly to indicate direction to the elected members of the Security Council, and the elected members then standing up and doing so. There is the example [mentioned in part I] of the 1267 Ombudsperson. The General Assembly clearly expressed that the system was not right and needed to be fixed. Over a period of years, almost all elected members pursued that and contributed something. Some commissioned studies, others put it back on the agenda after it fell off. They took the idea from the General Assembly that it was a problem that needed to be fixed, then they pursued it. That structure is dialogic and is ongoing to account for the gap that is seen and to look at different ways of bridging the gap. 

All of that said, if you are a very black letter law person, accountability is a frustrating concept because it does not have a strict definition or finite boundary. Hence my answer is long because it is not black letter law. We are back to the Security Council’s basic relationship with international law, which itself is not black letter. My inclination has been to go back to the membership, which has the right to direct the institution as a whole, where this might play out in the General Assembly being the plenary body. The membership should be directing the institution, not just one or two veto-holders. 

CJ: Do you see momentum building for change being instituted? How would you overcome obstacles and find a path forward in that regard?

CE: With every week that goes by with the situation in Ukraine, I think people are discovering what can be achieved. It is a horrible way of discovering it, but it would be worse if we went through all that and did not, so we take the positive where we can get it. Put a different way, the situation in Ukraine itself is a full stop on a long and ugly sentence that played out over decades. Some people would say it is a natural consequence from Crimea, and I would agree, but Crimea itself was a consequence of other inaction of the Security Council which came about because they could not agree on something 30 years ago, which came because they could not agree on something 40 years ago – but if I start giving those examples, we might be here all day! The key is that gradual degradation can be addressed by gradual re-creation. I do not think throwing it out and starting it again is that practical. Just that one example I gave earlier on the Uniting for Peace Resolution – revisiting that and using a tool that was there to be used, using it well and doing as much as they could with that, that is great. And – perhaps quite surprisingly – writing the book made me quite optimistic about the possibilities! 

Dr Carolyn M Evans CSC teaches and researches at the Faculty of Law & Justice at UNSW Sydney, specialising in international law in relation to international organisations. She recently published her first monograph Towards a more accountable United Nations Security Council (Brill 2021). 

Towards a more accountable United Nations Security Council: Interview with Dr Carolyn Evans – Part 1

In this series, Dr Carolyn Evans (CE) discusses her research on the United Nations Security Council published in her recent monograph, Towards a more accountable United Nations Security Council (Brill 2021) with ILA Reporter Assistant Editor Crystal Ji (CJ). Part I examines Dr Evans’ influences that shaped the direction of her research, the Security Council’s relationship with international law, and the problems and potential of the Security Council in performing its role.  

CJ: Congratulations on the book/monograph! What prompted you to write this book?

CE: It is my doctoral thesis revisited. It commences with the story of how I came to pursue a PhD, which is relevant especially as it’s not my first trip around the block, and I only just finished my PhD three years ago. I was involved in community service for a very long time, mostly as a human rights activist. This gave me a practical understanding of how human rights treaties make a difference and how they can be used. It became clear as I went along that if I better understood the role of the UN, including what the Security Council does, I would be able to improve my human rights work. It also intersected with what I had done in my professional life for a very long time, which is what we would now call ‘governance’ in a broad sense: how decisions are made, who has the right to make them, and whether they’ve been made effectively.

You start by looking at functions assigned to an entity that has decision-making powers and see if they are performing them correctly, the procedural elements of decision-making; funnily enough, I assumed early on in my career that people in power would simply follow those procedures, but I later realised what a brave assumption that was. Many times decision-makers do not even understand their own procedures, or they get all caught up on a tiny element of the procedure and they miss the main problem. Over the years I accumulated all this knowledge about governance, and then once I studied international law, it dawned on me that some of the most substantial issues of governance in the world relate to the Security Council. It was an obvious thing for me to study. The potential for abuse of power is huge, but there is also huge potential to not be effective. In some ways, the Security Council could be one of the most powerful institutions in the world, yet many people look at it and wonder why it is not. 

CJ: So the book was clearly very much informed by both personal experiences and also what you studied later.

CE: Yes. I have two Masters degrees – one I did a long time ago, an MBA, then as I went on in my career I became more interested in law, and so I did a Masters of Legal Studies. In that, I did the international law and human rights track. There were big lightbulb moments. 

CJ: You mention that you realised the Security Council is a very powerful institution with great potential. What is its relationship to international law? 

CE: The Security Council’s relationship with international law is one of the big issues. In one sense, it is simple – the UN is a creature of international law that is constituted by a multilateral treaty, and all of the things it does are enabled and empowered by international law in that broad sense.

It is a great balancing act… but it is not just about the P5 having the veto, as that greatly oversimplifies how the Security Council interacts with international law.

From another perspective, what the Security Council is there to do is simply impossible without the supporting framework of international law. It has its own obligations and activities, it also has guidance on what to do and how to respond in the face of what others do, but that nice summary papers over an enormous number of cracks. There are so many practical difficulties in working your way through the geopolitics even when you’ve got international law on your side. You can argue about getting the balance between legalism and realism right, or whether the ends/consequences for the world justify the means the Security Council might use. But even some of the really big concepts of international law, such as sovereign equality of states, get lost in the noise of debate in the Security Council. At this point, it is hard not to comment that the misconceptions surrounding the Security Council’s interactions with international law are not helped by the infamous relic of the post-war era, the dreaded veto. It is a great balancing act, trying to wrangle all of that, but it is not just about the P5 having the veto, as that greatly oversimplifies how the Security Council interacts with international law. There is so much more to it than that. The General Assembly, the elected members of the Security Council, all these other actors in the picture also have their own interactions with international law, and that shapes what the Council might/should/could do.  

I approach this from a different angle. If you think about it from the veto, it can stop action that is proposed. But first, there has to be a proposal to be stopped. If you look at how the Council has used international law to its advantage over the years, half the time there isn’t even a proposal, and that tends to be a bigger issue. So there are many consequences of what goes wrong when the Security Council does something, certainly, but I tend to focus on the consequences if the Security Council does nothing, because there is only one Security Council and there is no alternative. If they do not do their job, where do we all end up? Before Timor was as we know it now, it was formerly a Portuguese colony that Indonesia invaded in 1975. Twenty-five years of death and destruction came afterwards, but it came afterwards because the Security Council could not take action. Much more recently, two years ago when the Secretary-General called for a global ceasefire in order to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Security Council could not get it together to pass a resolution in support of that. Though it probably would not have made a difference if the Council had passed that resolution, it does show the depth of the problem, that they could not realise the world needed them to be active rather than sitting frozen, like a rabbit in the headlights. 

CJ: If there is a proposal put forward, you have the P5 who have the power to veto, being comprised of countries that a lot of people would say does not even reflect current power structures. How do we overcome that hurdle of the veto, so that the Security Council can be a productive body to help maintain international peace and security?

CE: It is very hard to talk about the Security Council without talking about reform. It has been a hot topic for decades. When I started my doctoral research, I very quickly became allergic to debate over particular reform proposals, because although I do see the worth of the debate, I just cannot get past the veto. It seems so improbable to suggest that there will be any change to the most important arrangements like permanent membership and the veto. Without compacting or abbreviating that discussion too much, the veto is both the cause and the effect of the problem. You never get out of the loop.

The Security Council is a geopolitical body of huge complexity and significance, so you are not going to get things just by wanting them. That persistence is key.  

In my doctoral research, I thought: ‘let’s accept that, what else can we do? What else looks possible?’ What I came around to and what I discuss in the book, is to ask: ‘Is the Council doing what it is there to do?’, rather than contemplating reform and deciding the Council should do something different. In one sense, that applies to the whole UN.

Recently, there have been debates sparked by the situation in Europe, saying we really need to reform, or perhaps to get rid of the UN altogether. I can understand those arguments, but after researching it for so long, what I do get from the history of the Security Council is a much stronger sense that when certain actors put their mind to it, really good results are possible despite the P5 and their veto. I ended my research very optimistic about that. ‘What is it we want from the Council?’ is a good question. ‘Who gets to decide that?’ is another. It is quite possible to take the view the Security Council does a lot of behind-the-scenes diplomatic work that we do not see. However, that is not its main job; its main job is to maintain and restore international peace and security. Put another way, if we do not have a better idea of what we want from the institution, getting rid of the institution and starting again probably will not help. If we instead put their feet to the fire and make the actors we have already got do the thing they are there to do, there is a better chance of progress.  

In that direction there are some good examples to be discussed about when the elected members took concerted, unified action to pursue a goal and achieved it. One is the 1267 Ombudsperson. Resolution 1267 deals with counter-terrorism, to better deal with the Taliban and Bin Laden. That committee is the source of some of the ‘celebrated cases’ where people were – incorrectly – listed on terrorism watchlists and then could not get off the watchlists. More than 15 years ago there was action that led to a General Assembly resolution about the need to have fair and clear procedures for listing and delisting. This now seems obvious. But it took nearly five years of successive elected members of the Security Council pursuing this one idea that ‘fair and clear procedures’ were needed. They put it on the agenda under different headings, they kept going back to it. Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark and various others played a role at different times. All these disparate members, as they came and went as members of the Security Council, they kept chipping away at this idea that the procedures for terrorism watchlists were not right. In the end, they got an ombudsperson, changed the rules, and, crucially, provided for a review mechanism.  

The Security Council is a geopolitical body of huge complexity and significance, so you are not going to get things just by wanting them. That persistence is key.  

Another example is the process by which the Secretary-General is chosen. Many people were critical of the Security Council for that process being held behind closed doors for a long time. But it started because the General Assembly asked the Security Council to do it that way. In 1946, the General Assembly passed a resolution essentially saying to the Security Council, ‘just give us one candidate because we do not want to debate it in open forum, there might be dissent and it might not be fun’. [Ed: see Terms of Appointment of the Secretary-General GA Res 11 (1), UN GAOR, 1st sess, 17th plen mtg, UN Doc A/Res/11 (1) (24 January 1946) para 4(d).] 

So it started with the General Assembly but it also finished with it. In 2015, especially towards the end of that year and in the next year, the General Assembly said it wanted to do things differently, an idea which different civil society organisations then picked up. The selection of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres came out of a much more open and accountable process, because of the instigation of the General Assembly and then elected members of the Security Council being persistent. So the General Assembly creates the demand, to which it is possible for the Security Council to respond if elected members then pick that up and are persistent, and that makes change. You need to see the possibilities out of examples like that rather than feel the weight of the veto.  

There is a similar pattern to be seen in an example like Australia and Jordan and Luxembourg taking action to get humanitarian aid to Syria. The Syria example is particularly important because the whole way through that process, which ended with a  decision under Article 25 of the UN Charter to say Syria must allow access for humanitarian aid, that was totally against what Russia and China wanted. They were against it from the beginning, but persistence won the day. So in some ways, it is a bit of a cheap shot to always go back to the veto, because there is a lot more to Security Council decision-making than that, but of course we can all see that the veto is a very real problem. 

In Part 2, Dr Carolyn Evans and Crystal Ji examine what greater accountability could look like for the Security Council. 

Dr Carolyn M Evans CSC teaches and researches at the Faculty of Law & Justice at UNSW Sydney, specialising in international law in relation to international organisations. Dr Carolyn Evans’ monograph Towards a more accountable United Nations Security Council is available now