Call for Submissions: Brennan and Nygh Prizes

The ILA (Australia Branch) is calling for submissions for the Brennan Essay Prize in Public International Law and the Nygh Essay Prize in Private International Law.

The prizes are awarded for essays that demonstrate outstanding scholarship and make a distinct contribution to the field of public international law and private international law (conflict of laws), respectively. Submissions must be sent to by no later than 1 July 2021.

More details are available on the leaflet below.

A Review of the Malabo Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights – Part II: Corporate Complicity in International Crimes – Jessie Chella

This is the second article in a two-part series examining the Malabo Protocol on the Statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights (ACJHR). When it comes into effect, the Malabo Protocol will empower the ACJHR to exercise jurisdiction over international crimes as well as introduce a regulatory scheme for corporate criminal liability. The first part of this series outlined the scope of the Court’s new jurisdiction with respect to international and transboundary offences. This second part explores the new corporate criminal liability provisions in more detail.

Traditionally, only natural persons could be prosecuted for the commission of international crimes in either domestic or international jurisdictions. Corporate criminal liability has been recognised in most domestic jurisdictions, but not under international criminal law. The ACJHR is set to change this with the introduction of Malabo Protocol provisions regarding the international criminal jurisdiction of the court (Article 28A), and a regulatory scheme for corporate criminal liability (Article 46C).

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Emerging human rights norms on climate change displacement – Annika Reynolds

This article analyses emerging international human rights law jurisprudence on climate change displacement and the right to life, notably Ioane Teitiota v New Zealand. This case is the first time the Human Rights Committee has recognised climate change is a threat to the right to life, and thus that states may have non-refoulement obligations to ensure ‘climate change refugees’ are not returned to dangerous environmental conditions. This article will first critically analyse Ioane Teitiota v New Zealand, before discussing how these emerging human rights norms on climate change displacement are expanding state obligations to address climate change.

The South Pacific is at the forefront of climate change, often portrayed as a region drowning in rising seas. The IPCC reports that the mean sea level of the tropical South Pacific is rising faster than the global average, increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, salination of fresh water sources, and predictions of territory loss in the coming decades. These changes heighten food and water insecurity, contribute to higher disaster-related fatalities and damage, and increase migration and the risk of inter-communal violence.This emerging reality has been labelled by the Human Rights Council as a ‘pressing’ human rights threat, notably to the right to life with dignity. Indeed, in Ioane Teitiota v New Zealand, the Human Rights Committee accepted that climate change was a threat to life that would make countries like Kiribati ‘uninhabitable’ in the coming decades. But human rights – deemed inalienable and fundamental – exist in tension with another pillar of international law – state sovereignty.

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Climate change and international investment law – a dangerous mix? – Stephanie Triefus

International investment agreements are coming under increasing fire for the threat that they pose to the global phasing out of fossil fuel energy sources. Foreign investors can challenge state measures addressing climate change via investor-state dispute settlement, which can lead to huge compensation awards that may deter states from taking such action. This piece discusses how investment law can be problematic in regard to climate change measures and calls for states to acknowledge this threat as they move forward with reforms to the international investment law regime.

Recently, it was announced that German energy company RWE is suing the Netherlands for €1.4 billion in response to the country’s decision to phase out coal energy. The case was brought via the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions of the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), a 1994 multilateral treaty for energy industry cooperation across borders. ISDS is a dispute settlement mechanism through which foreign investors can bring claims directly against host states if investors consider that they have been treated unfairly. The ECT has come under fire in recent years for being a threat to state efforts to switch to renewable energies, because it enables fossil fuel companies to sue states that make regulatory changes aimed at reducing carbon emissions. It has been reported that suits under the ECT could cost taxpayers up to €1.3 trillion by 2050 and protect up to 216 Gt of carbon, which exceeds one-third of the global carbon budget that can be emitted if we are to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees by 2100.

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Myanmar’s Military Coup: A Consequence of an International Failure of Cooperation – Rebecca Barber

According to the International Law Commission, all states have an obligation to cooperate to bring to an end serious breaches of peremptory norms of international law, including genocide and crimes against humanity.  The recent actions of the emboldened military in Myanmar highlight what can happen when the obligation is not adhered to.  

Recent events in Myanmar – the military coup d’état at the start of last month, the firing of Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations (UN) last week, and the increasingly brutal crackdown on peaceful protests – show what happens when senior officials get away with genocide. 

In 2018, a UN fact-finding mission found that there were reasonable grounds to believe that the Myanmar military – the Tatmadaw – had perpetrated genocide as well as war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya people (pp 353-383, 421).  Shortly thereafter, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution expressing ‘concern’ at the findings that there was sufficient information to warrant investigation and prosecution for genocide.  In 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) found that there was a ‘real and imminent risk’ of genocide.  

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A long road to justice for victims of sexual and gender-based violence: the case of Dominic Ongwen – Lucy Geddes

Trial Chamber IX of the International Criminal Court recently handed down judgment in the case of Dominic Ongwen. Ongwen was convicted of 61 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity and the Court paved new ground in its jurisprudence of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) crimes. This is an area where the Court has historically had a very poor record. This piece discusses these significant jurisprudential developments and then considers what is next in store for SGBV victims in this case.

On 4 February 2020, Trial Chamber IX of the International Criminal Court (ICC) handed down judgment in the case of former child soldier turned Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander, Dominic Ongwen. While the Court’s sentence is still to come, Ongwen was convicted of 61 individual charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for atrocities perpetrated in Uganda between 2002 and 2005 – the highest number of convictions for any accused before the Court to date. Already heralded as a landmark judgment, the ICC paved new ground in its jurisprudence on sexual and gender-based (SGBV) crimes. Notably, there were multiple sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) convictions, including: sexual slavery as crime against humanity and war crime, rape as crime against humanity and war crime, forced pregnancy as crime against humanity and war crime, and forced marriage as crime against humanity. 

It is the first time the Court has held that forced marriage constitutes a crime against humanity, as a distinct crime, under the umbrella of ‘other inhumane acts’. This development is important, as there has been conjecture in recent years as to whether forced marriage should be subsumed within sexual slavery or whether it should be considered a crime against humanity in its own right. In a crucial step forward in SGBV international criminal justice jurisprudence, the Ongwen judgment rebuffed the Defence’s assertion that “forced marriage is not a crime under the Rome Statute”. Instead, the Court emphasised the unique harm of forced marriage, asserting that it thus constitutes a separate crime, holding that: “the conduct underlying forced marriage – as well as the impact it has on victims – are not fully captured by other crimes against humanity”. In particular, the Court distinguished the harm of forced marriage from the crimes of rape and sexual slavery. The Court held that these crimes all exist independently of each other, noting that “forced marriage implies the imposition of this conjugal association and does not necessarily require the exercise of ownership over a person” (essential for a crime of enslavement) and the crime of rape “does not penalise the imposition of the ‘marital status’ on the victim”.

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How should Australia respond to asylum seekers arriving by sea during the COVID-19 pandemic? – Madeline Gleeson

Since the introduction of Operation Sovereign Borders in 2013, Australia has pursued a determined policy of intercepting and turning back asylum seekers trying to reach Australia by sea. Whether people are turned back at sea to their country of departure, or taken into Australian custody and then handed back directly to the authorities of that country, these practices have given rise to serious concerns about their compliance with international law. In the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic, it is worth re-examining these concerns and considering the international human rights obligations that should inform Australia’s response to an asylum seeker vessel arriving during the current crisis. 

Australia’s response to asylum seekers arriving by boat during the pandemic

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic radically changed the governance of borders worldwide. Both at their external boundaries and internally, many States imposed unprecedented restrictions upon the entry and movement of citizens and foreign nationals. 

For most purposes, Australia’s external borders remain ‘closed’. Australian Border Force liaison officers are working with airlines at overseas airports to identify those who should not board flights to Australia, ensuring they do not reach Australian soil. There is also a ban on foreign-flagged cruise ships entering Australian waters, and non-commercial vessels such as yachts and superyachts must comply with certain restrictions

While contentious and imperfect in their application to Australian citizens and permanent residents abroad, these border restrictions are, overall, reasonable and proportionate. But how might Australia respond to the arrival of an asylum seeker vessel during this period? 

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COVID-19 and older persons: Why we need a federal Human Rights Act – Nathan Kennedy

COVID-19 has made older Australians fear for their lives and also for whether they will receive care to the same standard as younger people.  Would better human rights protection in law, such as a federal Human Rights Act, ensure policies put human dignity at their core and free older persons from this fear?

The preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes ‘freedom from fear’ as the ‘highest aspiration of the common people’.  The current pandemic is scary, especially for older persons.  Not just because they are at higher risk of dying from the virus but because they fear being seen as less deserving of the best care due to their age.  Stronger human rights protections in Australia, such as a Human Rights Act, could assist in allaying those fears.

The Aged Care Royal Commission has heard that Australia’s COVID-19 aged care death rate is among the highest in the world.  By September 2020 approximately 74% of Australian COVID-19 deaths were residents of aged care.  The data also clearly shows that while a person is more likely to catch COVID-19 if they are aged in their 20s, the vast majority of those who have died are aged 70 or over.

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The South China Sea Arbitration: Shedding light on sovereignty and international law – Niamh McCormack

This piece considers China’s actions in relation to the South China Sea arbitration commenced by the Philippines and how it provides insights into the role of state sovereignty for international dispute settlement. 

As far back as the Alabama claims of the United States of America against Great Britain arbitration in 1872, the international community has committed itself to the rule of international law and the peaceful settlement of disputes. The South China Sea Arbitration and subsequent events provide an opportunity to reflect on the nature and practical outcomes of international dispute settlement.

An overview of the recent developments in the South China Sea can be found in Julia Weston’s previous post on the ILA Reporter. This current piece examines the South China Sea arbitration between the Philippines and China, focusing on the contested jurisdiction and validity of the tribunal, and what the case demonstrates on the implications of non-participation by a party and the role of sovereignty in international dispute settlement.

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Interview on the Elgar Companion to the Hague Conference on Private International Law – Part 2

The ILA Reporter is excited to share Part 2 of our interview about the recently released Elgar Companion to the Hague Conference on Private International Law. This text forms part of the Elgar Companions to International Organisations series and was released 19 December 2020. Part 1 is available here for viewing.

The Companion is a guide to the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH). It is a critical assessment of, and reflection on, past and possible future contributions of the HCCH to the further development and unification of private international law, and was written by international experts who have all directly or indirectly contributed to the work of the HCCH.

This interview was conducted by Josephine Dooley, an Assistant Editor of the ILA Reporter, with the editors of the Elgar Companion to the Hague Conference on Private International Law

  • Thomas John, ACIArb, Partner, Grotius Chambers, The Netherlands
  • Rishi Gulati, LSE Fellow in Law, London School of Economics and Political Science, United Kingdom
  • Ben Köhler, Senior Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for Comparative and International Private Law, Germany

In Part 2, Thomas, Rishi and Ben discuss with Josephine:

  • The future of the Hague Conference on Private International Law (HCCH) as an international organisation.
  • Future areas of work for HCCH.
  • The 2019 Hague Judgments Convention.

Many thanks to Thomas, Rishi and Ben for taking the time to speak to the ILA Reporter.