OUP creates interactive online international legal history tool

Oxford University Press has published an interactive online tool charting the history of international law. It is available here.

The blurb from the website states:

We have created a concise timeline mapping the broad history of public international law with particular attention paid to the signing of major treaties, the foundation of fundamental institutions, the birth of major figures in international law and milestones in the development of some of the field’s best-known doctrines. There are varying opinions on where to start in the history of international law, as well as arguments around periodising the dynamic developments, though for this project we have started our timeline with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494. Explore some of the major developments in the history of international law and read more by clicking through to freed-up chapters from the Oxford Historical Treaties, the Max Planck Encyclopaedia of Public International Law, relevant book chapters, blog pieces and journal articles.

Motion to ratify Optional Protocol to Torture Convention falls flat

On 11 August 2015, Senator Penny Wright of the Australian Greens put forward a formal motion in the Australian Senate moving that the Government be called on to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (Protocol).

The motion is available here on page 12.

Australia ratified the Convention Against Torture (Convention) in 1989 and the prohibitions contained in the Convention have been adopted in the Commonwealth Criminal Code. Whilst Australia signed the Protocol in 2009, it has not yet been ratified. Presently, 79 countries have ratified the Protocol, including the UK and New Zealand.

The Protocol would require Australia to allow visits by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.  In particular, Australia would be required to establish a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) which would have, at minimum, the power to examine prisoners and detainees, make recommendations to national authorities and submit proposals with respect to Australian legislation.

Senator Wright’s motion provided at para (a)(iii) that:

 the establishment of an NPM:

  • had bipartisan support from the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in 2009, and an implementation framework has been identified by the Australian Human Rights Commission,
  • would help address serious allegations of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment occurring in some prison facilities in Australia and immigration detention facilities in Nauru, and provide the required transparency to allow health care practitioners and legal advisors to attend to good professional and ethical conduct for clients in detention, and
  • can also deliver improved workplace conditions for employees and efficiency dividends for the taxpayer.

The motion did not receive support from the Government or the Opposition.  Labor Senator, Claire Moore, stated:

…we did deny formality to this important motion, because it is our longstanding practice. Where we have an issue such as this which is complex and creates a number of complex situations and also determines significant discussions across all states and territories, we believe it is not appropriate to use the notice of motion process for that, and that is our standard practice.

As to the status of Australia’s implementation of the Protocol, the Australian Human Rights Commission states on its website that:

The Commission understands that a proposal for ratifying the [Protocol] is under consideration by the Australian Government, and consultations are continuing with the states and territories on necessary steps to implement the obligations under [the Protocol].

Timor-Leste withdraws ICJ proceedings against Australia in relation to seizure of legal documents

On 12 June 2015, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) confirmed that Timor-Leste had officially withdrawn its case against Australia in Questions relating to the Seizure and Detention of Certain Documents and Data (see this ICJ Press Release).  Timor-Leste commenced the proceedings against Australia in December 2013 in relation to the seizure by ASIO of Timorese legal documents relating to the dispute between the two states before a tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration.  The arbitration concerns  the validity of the Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea following allegations that Australia spied on the Timorese Cabinet during the treaty negotiation process.  The resolution of the ICJ proceedings come only after Australia returned the seized documents.

The ICJ had previously indicated provisional measures (see the ICJ Summary) in March 2014.  The ICJ determined that the sovereign equality of states provided an inviolable right to confidential correspondence with their legal counsel.  Whilst undertakings given by Australia not to review the documents reduced the risk of disadvantage to Timor-Leste, orders were still given by the ICJ to fully protect Timor-Leste’s rights to their confidential legal documents.  The ICJ’s measures required that Australia:

(a)               ensure that the content of seized materials was not used to the disadvantage of Timor-Leste;

(b)              keep all documents, electronic data and copies of the data under seal; and

(c)               not interfere in communications between Timor-Leste and its lawyers in relation to the arbitration.

As the dispute between the two states has concluded at the ICJ, the central arbitration dispute will now resume.  Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, commenting on the withdrawal of the ICJ proceedings, stated that the Australia is ‘disappointed that Timor-Leste has decided to resume the arbitration against Australia’ and that ‘Australia will strongly defend the arbitration’ (see this DFAT Press Release).