“Vietnam/War/Memory/Justice: A Conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen,” a very special February 14 event

nguyenGeorgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center is honored to host a roundtable on the legacies of the U.S.-Vietnam War as part of next week’s visit to Athens by Viet Thanh Nguyen, a University of Southern California professor whose first novel, The Sympathizer, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

nothingEntitled “Vietnam/War/Memory/Justice: A Conversation with Viet Thanh Nguyen,” the roundtable will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. this Tuesday, February 14, in the Larry Walker Room on the 4th floor of the law school’s Dean Rusk Hall.

The topic of Tuesday’s roundtable is drawn from Nguyen’s 2016 work, Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, which itself was nominated for the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction. (Nguyen’s newest book, a short-story collection titled The Refugees, was published yesterday.) In Nothing Ever Dies, Nguyen writes:

“Memory, like war, is often asymmetrical.”

The same may be said of justice; in particular, of efforts to right the wrongs done during armed conflict and similar extreme violence. These issues of transitional justice, memory, and war will be explored in the roundtable, at which Nguyen will be joined by:

tiana-mTiana S. Mykkeltvedt, Georgia Law alumna, member of the Dean Rusk International Law Center Council, and partner at the Atlanta law firm Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, who was flown out of Vietnam as an orphan in April 1975 in what came to be known as Operation Babylift; and

amannDiane Marie Amann, Associate Dean for International Programs & Strategic Initiatives and Emily & Ernest Woodruff Chair in International Law at Georgia Law, who also serves as the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict.

Roundtable space is limited, and registration, available here, is recommended. For more information, contact ruskintlaw@uga.edu.

Our Center is especially pleased to sponsor this event, given that our namesake, the late Dean Rusk, a Georgia Law professor, and served as U.S. Secretary of State during the first years of the Vietnam War. The Georgia Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Vietnamese American Bar Association of Georgia, and Georgia Law’s Asian Law Students Association are cosponsoring the roundtable. It will be the last in a series of Global Georgia events hosted by other university units, most notably the Department of Comparative Literature and the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts:

► 4 p.m. Monday, February 13, in the university Chapel, Nguyen will deliver the 3d Annual Betty Jean Craige Lecture of the Department of Comparative Literature, entitled “Nothing Ever Dies: Ethical Memory and Radical Writing in The Sympathizer.” For information, contact Professor Peter D. O’Neill at pon@uga.edu.

► 6-7 p.m. Sunday, February 12, at Avid Bookshop, 493 Prince Avenue in downtown Athens, a book-signing of The Refugees.

ICC Prosecutor’s Policy on Children, an international criminal justice capstone

Children have become the unwilling emblems of armed conflict and extreme violence.

Searing images have surfaced in news stories, aid workers’ alerts, and rights groups’ dispatches: a 5 year old pulled from Aleppo rubble, orphans at a Goma children’s center, a young Colombian woman struggling to readjust after years as a child soldier, and, face down on a Turkish beach, a drowned 3-year-old refugee. Images of this nature were shown yesterday at the International Criminal Court, during the opening statement in Ongwen, with Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda herself warning “that some of these images are extremely disturbing.”

There is no better time than now to press for strategies both to combat such harms and to bring the persons responsible to justice. Presenting an important step toward those goals is the Policy on Children of the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor.

fatou

Prosecutor Bensouda launched the Policy on Children at an event during last month’s meeting of the ICC Assembly of States Parties. Bensouda quoted from the U.N. expert Graça Machel’s pathbreaking 1996 report on children and armed conflict, then commented:

“[I]t is indeed unconscionable that we so clearly and consistently see children’s rights attacked and that we fail to defend them.
“It is unforgivable that children are assaulted, violated, murdered and yet our conscience is not revolted nor our sense of dignity challenged. This represents a fundamental crisis of our civilisation and a failure of our humanity.
“By adopting the Policy on Children, which we launch today, we at the Office of the Prosecutor seek to ensure that children suffering the gravest injustices are not ignored. That through the vector of the law, we do what we can to protect and advance the rights of children within the framework of the Rome Statute.”

Leading the event was journalist Zeinab Badawi. Among the many others who offered live or video interventions were: Mamadou Ismaël Konaté, Mali’s Minister of Justice and Human Rights of the Republic of Mali; Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights; Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Angelina Jolie, Special Envoy of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees; Nobel Peace Prizewinner Leymah Gbowee; Lieutenant General Roméo-Dallaire, Founder of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative (see also IntLawGrrls post by Kirsten Stefanik); Marc Dullaert, Founder of KidsRights and the Netherlands’ former Children’s Ombudsman; and Coumba Gawlo, U.N. Development Programme Goodwill Ambassador and National Goodwill Ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

screen2I am honored also to have offered brief remarks – and am especially honored to have assisted in the preparation of this Policy in my capacity as the Prosecutor’s Special Adviser on Children in & affected by Armed Conflict, working alongside a dedicated Office of the Prosecutor team led by Shamila Batohi, Gloria Atiba Davies, and Yayoi Yamaguchi. Preparation included experts’ gatherings at the University of Georgia School of Law Dean Rusk International Law Center, at Leiden Law School, and at the ICC itself, as well as consultations around the globe with young persons who had endured armed conflict. (Legal research produced by my students, in seminars on Children & International Law and through the work of the Georgia Law Project on Armed Conflict & Children, also was invaluable.)

The result is a Policy on Children spanning 47 pages, published simultaneously in Arabic, English, French, Spanish, and Swahili. Identifying children as persons under eighteen (paragraph 16), it covers a gamut of issues related to children and the work of the Prosecutor; for example, general policy, regulatory framework, and engagement with children at all stages of the proceedings. Among many other landmarks, the Policy:

► Embraces a child-sensitive approach grounded in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty ratified by every U.N. member state save one: the United States, which is also an ICC nonparty state. (My remarks happily noted that my other state of citizenship, the Republic of Ireland, is a state party to both the Child Rights Convention and the ICC’s Rome Statute.) Paragraph 22 of the Policy on Children thus states:

“In light of the foregoing, the Office will adopt a child-sensitive approach in all aspects of its work involving children. This approach appreciates the child as an individual person and recognises that, in a given context, a child may be vulnerable, capable, or both. The child-sensitive approach requires staff to take into account these vulnerabilities and capabilities. This approach is based on respect for children’s rights and is guided by the general principles of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child: non-discrimination; the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and the right to express one’s views and have them considered.”

► Views children, like all human beings, as multi-faceted individuals and, simultaneously, as members of multi-generational communities. (See, for example, paragraph 100.) Paragraph 25 states:

“Children, by the very fact of their youth, are frequently more vulnerable than other persons; at certain ages and in certain circumstances, they are dependent on others. Notwithstanding any vulnerability and dependence, children possess and are continuously developing their own capacities – capacities to act, to choose and to participate in activities and decisions that affect them. The Office will remain mindful, in all aspects of its work, of the evolving capacities of the child.”

► Acknowledges in paragraph 17 “that most crimes under the Statute affect children in various ways, and that at times they are specifically targeted” – and then pledges that “the Office will, in order to capture the full extent of the harm suffered, seek to highlight the multi-faceted impact on children, at all stages of its work.” The regulatory framework thus enumerates a range of crimes against and affecting children:

  • recruitment and use by armed forces and armed groups of children under fifteen as war crimes (paragraphs 39-43);
  • forcible transfer of children and prevention of birth as acts of genocide (paragraphs 44-46);
  • trafficking of children as a form of enslavement constituting a crime against humanity (paragraphs 47-48);
  • attacks on buildings dedicated to education and health care as war crimes (paragraph 49);
  • torture and related war crimes and crimes against humanity (paragraph 50);
  • persecution as a crime against humanity (paragraph 50); and
  • sexual and gender-based violence as war crimes and crimes against humanity (paragraph 52).

► Details the Office’s plan for applying the child-sensitive approach, with respect both to all stages of proceedings, including preliminary examinations, investigations, and prosecutions, and to cooperation and external relations, institutional development, and implementation.

Even as cases involving crimes against and affecting children, like Ongwen, go forward, the Office is working on implementation of its new Policy on Children. The implementation phase will include developing versions of the Policy accessible to children. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to contribute this phase – and to hearing others’ views on the Policy.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann)

ICRC survey: persons who have experienced war most value laws regulating armed conflict

logo-1People who’ve actually experienced war place greater value on regulating warfare than those who haven’t.

That appears to be one thought-provoking takeaway from People on War: Perspectives from 16 Countries, a report that the International Committee of the Red Cross released this morning.

More than 17,000 persons – in Afghanistan, China, Colombia, France, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Palestine, Russia, South Sudan, Switzerland, Syria (that is, Syrians in Lebanon), Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Yemen – were surveyed between June and September countries2016, “through online, face-to-face and computer-assisted telephone interviews.”

Time and again, persons in conflict-ridden countries showed more support for international humanitarian law:

► Of them, 84% agreed that it was wrong, and not “just part of war,” to “attac[k] religious and historical monuments in order to weaken the enemy” – compared with 72% in other states.

► And 73% in conflict states agreed that it was wrong, and not “just part of war,” to injure or kill humanitarian aid workers delivering aid in conflict zones – compared with 59% in other states.

Also notable were the variation in views on torture:

► Fully 100% in Yemen said torture is wrong and not “part of war.” Percentages dropped from there. Fewer than half the persons interviewed in Israel and Palestine said “wrong”; respectively, 44% and 35%.

► As for the United States, 54% called torture “wrong.” But when the question shifted somewhat – to whether “a captured enemy combatant” can “be tortured to obtain important military information” – the percentage of persons in the United States calling that wrong dropped to 30%, the 3d lowest among countries surveyed.

The survey presented the ICRC with an opportunity to reiterate the existence and importance of laws intended to protect civilians, persons no longer engaging in combat, and persons whom conflict has put to flight. These are issues we explored in our September 23 Georgia Law-ICRC event, “Humanity’s Common Heritage: Conference on the 2016 ICRC Commentary on the 1st Geneva Convention” (posts). On the matter of torture, for example, the report states:

“Torture and all other forms of ill-treatment are absolutely prohibited by international treaty and customary law. This applies to every State and to all parties to armed conflicts. There are no exceptions, whatever the circumstances. Whole communities are impacted by the corrosive effects of torture on society, especially when it goes unpunished, generating hatred and triggering a cycle of violence. What’s more, research shows that torture does not work, as the ‘information’ that is obtained is generally not reliable.”

The full report is available here.

(Cross-posted from Diane Marie Amann)

Between the Law of Force and the Law of Armed Conflict

adhaque_img“Between the Law of Force and the Law of Armed Conflict” by Adil Ahmad Haque, originally published on Just Security Blog on October 13, 2016. We are grateful for permission to reprint this as part of our series inspired by “Humanity’s gjicl_confposterCommon Heritage,” our recent conference on the 2016 ICRC Commentary on the First Geneva Convention. The author, Rutgers Law Professor Haque, was a conference participant; this post is the 3d of 3 he prepared soon after the conference. He writes:

Last week, I argued in favor of the ICRC’s position that if one state uses armed force in the territory of another state then an international armed conflict (IAC) arises between the two states, unless the territorial state consents to that use of force. Accordingly, the treaty and customary law of IAC protects the civilian population of the territorial state as well as the armed forces of the intervening state. For example, on this view, the customary law of IAC applies to US operations in Syria, while Additional Protocol I (to which the US is not a party) applies to UK operations in Syria.

Importantly, the ICRC’s approach applies even if the target of the armed force is an organized armed group operating on the territory­—but not under the control—of the territorial state. Accordingly, the treaty and customary law of non-international armed conflict (NIAC) may also apply to such uses of armed force, for example, by governing the targeting and detention of armed group members.

In this post, I’ll respond to some criticisms of the ICRC’s position. Along the way, I’ll make some more general comments on the relationship between the law of force (jus ad bellum) and the law of armed conflict (jus in bello).

Here on Just Security, Sean Watts and Ken Watkin have criticized the ICRC’s position (see here, here, and here). Perhaps the most sustained critique of the ICRC’s position comes from Terry Gill, in a recent article for International Law Studies. There is much to admire in Gill’s article (indeed, I recently assigned it to my students). However, I found his criticisms of the ICRC’s position unpersuasive.

First, Gill rejects “the argument that non-consensual military intervention automatically constitutes a violation of sovereignty and is therefore directed against the territorial State” on the grounds that the intervention may be a lawful exercise of self-defense or may be authorized by the UN Security Council.

This objection seems misdirected. The ICRC does not refer to a violation of sovereignty but instead to an interference or intrusion into the territorial state’s sphere of sovereignty. By definition, a violation of sovereignty is unlawful. In contrast, an interference or intrusion into a state’s sphere of sovereignty may lawful or unlawful. According to the ICRC, an armed interference or intrusion into a state’s sphere of sovereignty—whether lawful or unlawful—will trigger an armed conflict with that state. More on this below.

Second, and relatedly, Gill writes that “there is no reason to assume that the classification of an armed conflict is dependent upon— or even influenced by—the question of whether a violation of the ius ad bellum has occurred.”

This objection also seems misplaced. On the ICRC’s view, the classification of an armed conflict does not depend upon the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the use of force, but instead depends on the fact that force is used by one state on the territory of another without its consent.

Of course, if the territorial state consents to the use of force then (i) the use of force is lawful under the jus ad bellum and (ii) there is no armed conflict between the two states. However, the reason that there is no armed conflict between the states is not that the use of force is lawful but rather that there is no conflict between the states, armed or otherwise. There is no dispute, difference, opposition, or hostile relationship between the two states. Put another way, the fact that consent has been given or withheld is independently relevant to both the jus ad bellum and the jus in bello.

In his second post, Watkin writes that the ICRC’s “reliance on State consent, as the basis for conflict categorization, makes it difficult, if not impossible, to separate it from the law governing the recourse to war.” I respectfully disagree.

The jus ad bellum and the jus in bello are independent in the sense that a use of force may be lawful under one body of law but unlawful under the other. A war of aggression may strictly conform to the law of armed conflict, while a war of self-defense may flagrantly violate the law of armed conflict. At the same time, we do not conflate jus ad bellum andjus in bello simply by recognizing that certain factual circumstances (such as consent or non-consent) may be relevant to both bodies of law.

(For example, if one state exercises effective control over part of the territory of another state then this will ordinarily give rise to a belligerent occupation. Of course, if the territorial state consents then there is no belligerent occupation, not because the occupation is lawful but because there is no belligerency. The same logic applies to the use of armed force and the existence of armed conflict.)

Third, Gill notes that “neither the text of the relevant provisions in the Geneva Conventions (Common Articles 2 and 3) nor the original ICRC commentaries thereto contain any reference to violation of sovereignty as a criterion for determining the character of the armed conflict.” Nor does the ICTY’s Tadić judgment, which Gill rightly describes as “the leading judicial decision on the classification of armed conflicts.”

Since the Geneva Conventions do not tell us when an armed conflict between states exists, we must interpret their terms in light of their context, object, and purpose. The original ICRC commentaries state that “[a]ny difference arising between two States and leading to the intervention of members of the armed forces” gives rise to an armed conflict between those states. It is hard to imagine a more serious difference arising between two States than a difference regarding whether one may use armed force on the territory of the other. If such a difference leads to intervention by the armed forces of either state, then an armed conflict automatically arises.

In Tadić, the ICTY stated that “an armed conflict exists whenever there is a resort to armed force between States.” Importantly, “armed force between States” does not require that two states use armed force against one another but instead requires that one state uses armed force against another.

Now we approach the heart of the matter. What does it mean for one state to use force “against” another?  On the ICRC’s view, an armed interference in a state’s sphere of sovereignty is a use of force against that state.

Why invoke the concept of sovereignty in this context? States are legal persons, not physical persons or objects. Strictly speaking, one cannot use physical force against a legal person, such as a state or corporation. One can, however, use physical force against a physical entity—a person, place, or object—over which a legal person has legal rights. There is nothing else that physical force against a legal person could sensibly mean. On this approach, physical force is used against a state when physical force is used against a physical entity within that state’s sphere of sovereignty. There is nothing else that physical force against a state could sensibly mean.

Fourth, and most importantly, Gill identifies several examples involving extraterritorial force targeting armed groups in which “the States concerned [n]either verbally [n]or factually conduct themselves as if they were involved in an armed conflict, even though they may not have consented to the interventions and may have considered them a violation of their sovereignty (irrespective of whether they did constitute such violations).” These examples include military operations by the United States inside Pakistan and Yemen; by Turkey inside Iraq; by Kenya inside Somalia; and by Colombia inside Ecuador.

Admirably, Gill allows that “the lack of hostilities between the intervening and territorial States in these examples may be in whole or in part due to other factors.” But what should we make of the fact that these states may not claim to be in armed conflict with one another?  Is the absence of such claims, or the denial of such claims, “subsequent practice in the application of the treaty [in this case, the Geneva Conventions] which establishes the agreement of the parties regarding its interpretation?”

In my view, state silence is inherently ambiguous. Accordingly, we should consider only the explicit legal opinions of states that the law of IAC applies or does not apply. For example, Syria might announce that it is not in an IAC with the UK and that, accordingly, UK forces captured in Syria are not entitled to combatant immunity for acts preceding their capture. The UK would no doubt respond with its own legal opinion, based on its own classification of the conflict and identification of applicable legal rules.

Until subsequent practice establishes the agreement of the parties to the Geneva Conventions (that is, of all states) regarding their interpretation in such cases, we should interpret the terms of the Conventions in light of their object and purpose. As I discussed in my previous post, the object and purpose of the law of IAC is the protection of civilians, civilian objects, and combatants from hostile foreign states. As the ICRC puts it:

it is useful to recall that the population and public property of the territorial State may also be present in areas where the armed group is present and some group members may also be residents or citizens of the territorial State, such that attacks against the armed group will concomitantly affect the local population and the State’s infrastructure. For these reasons and others, it better corresponds to the factual reality to conclude that an international armed conflict arises between the territorial State and the intervening State when force is used on the former’s territory without its consent.

Strangely, in his first post on Just Security, Watkin objects that, by adverting to this factual reality, the ICRC “prioritizes form over substance” because the harm to civilians “may be a mere possibility.” Instead, Watkin suggests that conflict categorization should be based on “an assessment of what actually happens.” On this view, it seems that we will not know what law applies to a use of force until after the use of force is carried out. Among other things, we will not know which legal protections civilians enjoy until it is too late. This seems like an unattractive view.

For his part, Gill acknowledges that “an intervention may impact portions of a State’s population or its national resources,” but writes that

when a population and public property are under the control of an [organized armed group] and not under the effective control of the territorial State, they can no longer be identified with that State for purposes of determining the legal constraints on the conduct of hostilities. In the event the intervening State’s action resulted in occupation of territory, this would change the situation and trigger the regime pertaining to IACs.

Watkin seems to make a similar claim in his first post on Just Security.

Strikingly, Gill provides no support for the first sentence, which is hardly self-evident. Indeed, the first sentence seems to implicitly concede that persons and public property under the effective control of the territorial State can be identified with that State for purposes of conflict classification. Accordingly, if a member of an armed group travels through an area under the effective control of the territorial state then an attack in that area, potentially impacting nearby persons and property, would seem to constitute an attack on the state itself.

Moreover, the second sentence seems to undermine the first. According to Gill, territory under the control of an armed group remains sufficiently identified with the territorial state such that, if the intervening state occupies part of that territory, then an IAC arises between the two states. However, according to Gill, territory under the control of an armed group is not sufficiently identified with the territorial state such that, if the intervening state uses force on that territory, then an IAC arises between the two states. Since control never passes back to the territorial state, it is hard to see the legal or logical basis for this apparently incongruous result.

Finally, Gill observes that “most [academic] authorities take the position that the classification of armed conflicts primarily (but not exclusively) turns on the nature of the parties . . . .” In my view, it begs the question to say that, in the cases under discussion, the two states are not parties to an armed conflict. After all, if the ICRC is correct, then the two states are parties to an armed conflict.

In this post, I have tried to address the most substantial criticisms of the ICRC’s position. No doubt, other objections have been and will be raised. We should expect no less. The controversy that the ICRC’s position has elicited is, perhaps, the best evidence that conflict classification remains highly relevant to the legal regulation of armed conflict.

Whose Armed Conflict? Which Law of Armed Conflict?

adhaque_img“Whose Armed Conflict? Which Law of Armed Conflict?” by Adil Ahmad Haque, originally published on Just Security Blog on October 4, 2016. We are grateful for permission to reprint this as part of our series inspired by “Humagjicl_confposternity’s Common Heritage,” our recent conference on the 2016 ICRC Commentary on the First Geneva Convention. The author, Rutgers Law Professor Haque, was a conference participant; this post is the 2d of 3 he prepared soon after the conference. He writes:

When one state, say, the United States, uses military force on the territory of another state, say, Syria or Pakistan, without the consent of that state, what legal rules constrain that use of military force?  What if the attacking state does not target the armed forces or institutions of the other state but instead targets an organized armed group (say, ISIL or the Taliban) operating in the other state?

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) 2016 Commentary on the First Geneva Convention, if one state uses military force on the territory of another state then the use of force triggers an international armed conflict (IAC) between the two states, unless the territorial state consents to the use of force.  Accordingly, the law of IAC applies to, and constrains, all such uses of force.

Importantly, the law of IAC applies even if the intervening state exclusively targets an organized armed group operating in the territorial state. If there is a non-international armed conflict (NIAC) between the intervening state and the armed group then the law of NIAC may apply in parallel.

The ICRC’s position has attracted substantial criticism, including on Just Security (see here, here, and here).  I hope to respond to some of these criticisms in a future post.  For now, I will try to explain why I find the ICRC’s view persuasive.  This post, like my previous one, emerged from a terrific recent event at the University of Georgia School of Law that examined a number of issues raised by the Commentary.

Before we begin, let’s remember why the question is worth asking, and why the answer matters.  Conflict classification can seem dry and technical, but it affects both protection and accountability in armed conflict.

First, the treaty law of IAC is far more detailed and robust than the treaty law of NIAC.  Most importantly, the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I are far more protective of both civilians and combatants than either Common Article 3 or (with respect to internal conflict) Additional Protocol II.

Second, the customary law of IAC remains distinct from the customary law of NIAC, though the gap has certainly narrowed since the 1990s. For its part, the ICRC identifies 23 customary rules applicable in IAC but not in NIAC. States that take a more conservative approach to customary international law may conclude that the gap between IAC and NIAC remains even wider than the ICRC maintains.

Finally, the Statute of the International Criminal Court recognizes 34 war crimes in IAC but only 19 war crimes in NIAC. Notably, the Statute recognizes knowing violation of the proportionality rule as a war crime when committed in IAC but not when committed in NIAC.

To fix ideas, consider the following scenario:

No Consent: State A launches an airstrike against organized armed group G on the territory of State T, foreseeably killing several civilians. State T exercises no control over group G, but also does not consent to State A’s strike.

According to the Commentary, State A’s strike triggers an IAC with State T to which the law of IAC applies.  If there is, in addition, a NIAC between State A and group G then these two conflicts occur in parallel.

(Note that conflict classification does not depend on the lawfulness of State A’s attack under the jus ad bellum. For these purposes, it does not matter whether State A is lawfully defending itself against an armed attack by group G or unlawfully using military force to eliminate a possible future threat.)

In my view, the ICRC’s position fully reflects the text, object, and purpose of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols. An international armed conflict is a dispute (‘conflict’) between states (‘international’) involving the use of military force (‘armed’).  It is hard to imagine a more serious dispute between states than a dispute regarding the use of military force by one on the territory of the other.

Indeed, States adopted the law of IAC in order to protect their civilians and armed forces from extraterritorial force by foreign states. States using force beyond their borders may not recognize many legal, ethical, or political constraints on their conduct. Accordingly, when State A uses force on the territory of State T, we need the law of IAC to protect the civilian population of State T from the military operations of State A and (as we shall see) to protect the armed forces of State A from criminal prosecution by State T.

In contrast, States adopted the law of NIAC primarily to regulate internal armed conflicts within their own territory.  States using force on their own territory may feel constrained by domestic law, human rights law, concern for their own citizens, and internal politics. Accordingly, the need for robust protection by the law of armed conflict may have seemed less urgent.

The alternative view—that no IAC exists and that the law of IAC does not apply—seems deeply implausible.

First, the law of NIAC may not apply either.  On the prevailing view, including that of the ICRC, the law of NIAC applies only to protracted armed confrontations between state armed forces and organized armed groups or between such groups.  If group G is not organized in the right way, or if fighting between State A and group G is not sufficiently intense, then a gap in protection would exist that no state would accept.  (As Just Securityreaders know, I partially reject the prevailing view and partially disagree with the ICRC on this point.)

Second, it is hard to believe that states would want legal protection for their civilians from foreign forces to depend on what those foreign forces choose to target.  If an intervening state targets the armed forces of the territorial state then civilians may receive robust protection under Additional Protocol I.  In contrast, if an intervening state targets an organized armed group then civilians may receive only the minimal protections of Common Article 3 (which, arguably, does not regulate the conduct of hostilities at all).  Defenders of the alternative view must explain why states would accept such limited protection for their civilians from foreign forces in such cases.

Third, in internal NIACs, states may be constrained in their treatment of their citizens by human rights law and by domestic law.  In contrast, in cross-border cases, IHL is the primary (though not exclusive) constraint on the intervening state’s conduct.  Accordingly, in cross-border cases, we should not rely on the law of NIAC to provide civilians with the level of protection envisioned by the parties to the Geneva Conventions and Protocols.

In my view, the customary law of NIAC now offers civilians protection comparable to that offered by the customary law of IAC.  However, in my view, we should interpret Common Articles 2 and 3 of the Geneva Conventions in light of the customary law of NIAC as it existed when those treaties were adopted and entered into force.  At that time, no state would have relied on the customary law of NIAC to protect their civilians from foreign states operating on their territory without their consent.

Fourth, the alternative view exposes the forces of the intervening state to criminal prosecution by the territorial state.  There is no combatant immunity in NIAC and, on the alternative view, there is no IAC.  It follows that, if State T captures State A’s pilot, then State T may prosecute the pilot for killing its civilians under State T’s domestic criminal law even if the strike did not violate the targeting rules of the customary law of NIAC.

In my view, State T’s capture of the pilot may itself trigger an IAC between the two states, such that the law of IAC would regulate his detention.  However, the strike occurred prior to capture and therefore, on the alternative view, before an IAC began.  Hence, the pilot would not be entitled to combatant immunity with respect to the strike.  Since combatant immunity exists to protect combatants from prosecution by foreign states for acts that do not violate the law of armed conflict, it is hard to see why states would deny their own forces such protection in such cases.

Finally, the alternative view seems ad hoc.  If one state uses military force against anything else in another state—citizens, state armed forces, or foreign visitors, private property, state institutions, or refugee camps—then it seem clear that an IAC exists and that the law of IAC applies.  Defenders of the alternative view must justify carving out an exception to this general rule for strikes directed at armed groups.  Given the evident need to protect civilians from the intervening state, and to protect captured combatants from the territorial state, such a justification seems hard to imagine.

For these reasons, I favor the ICRC’s position over the alternative view.  The use of force by one state on the territory of another should be constrained by the law of IAC, even if that force targets an organized armed group on that territory, unless the territorial state consents to that use of force.  As mentioned earlier, the ICRC’s position has attracted criticism, some of which I hope to address in a future post.

Triggers and Thresholds of Non-International Armed Conflict

adhaque_img“Triggers and Thresholds of Non-International Armed Conflict” by Adil Ahmad Haque, originally published on Just Security Blog on September 29, 2016. We are grateful for permission to reprint this as part of our series inspired by gjicl_confposter“Humanity’s Common Heritage,” our recent conference on the 2016 ICRC Commentary on the First Geneva Convention. The author, Rutgers Law Professor Haque, was a conference participant; this post is the 1st of 3 he prepared soon after the conference. He writes:

When and where does the law of non-international armed conflict apply?  Since most contemporary armed conflicts are fought between states and organized armed groups, or between such groups, these are important questions for both international lawyers and policy makers.  The answers may affect the jurisdiction of U.S. military commissions, the detention of Taliban commanders and ISIL members, legal constraints on Saudi-led military operations in Yemen, and accountability for war crimes in Syria.

In this post, I’ll discuss the trigger and threshold of non-international armed conflict (NIAC). My point of departure is the much-discussed 2016 Commentary on the First Geneva Convention recently released by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).  The University of Georgia School of Law recently hosted a fantastic event examining a number of issues raised by the Commentary, including the duty to “ensure respect” for the Convention by other Parties, incidental harm to sick and wounded combatants, and the classification of conflicts.  This post grows out of that rich discussion.

The ICRC’s Commentary clearly states that an international armed conflict (IAC) “can arise when one State unilaterally uses armed force against another State even if the latter does not or cannot respond by military means.”  Accordingly, the law of armed conflict constrains the first use of armed force by one state against another.  Let’s call this a unilateral trigger.

In addition, “there is no requirement that the use of armed force between the Parties reach a certain level of intensity before it can be said that an [international] armed conflict exists.”  Accordingly, minor skirmishes between state armed forces, or the capture of a single soldier, “would spark an international armed conflict and lead to the applicability of humanitarian law.” Let’s call this a nominal threshold.

Unfortunately, the Commentary is not so clear with respect to non-international armed conflict.  The Commentary endorses the view that NIACs “are protracted armed confrontations occurring between governmental armed forces and … one or more armed groups, or between such groups.”  This passage, as well as some cited authority, seem to suggest a bilateral trigger, requiring “armed clashes,” “combat zones,” or, simply, “fighting.”

The Commentary also states that, for the law of NIAC to apply, “[t]he armed confrontation must reach a minimum level of intensity.”  Read alongside the Commentary’s discussion of IAC, it seems that this “minimum level of intensity” would not be met by minor skirmishes or by the capture of a single soldier or fighter.

The Commentary seems to accept a unilateral trigger and nominal threshold for IAC (quadrant 1) but a bilateral trigger and significant threshold for NIAC (quadrant 4).

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In my view, we should accept a unilateral trigger and nominal threshold for both IAC and NIAC.

First, if an armed group is sufficiently organized, then a first use of armed force by or against that group should trigger a NIAC.  Consider the following case:

Daesh:  Daesh fighters pour over the Syria-Iraq border, killing Iraqi civilians, capturing Iraqi territory and taking over Iraqi government institutions.  Iraqi forces flee, offering no resistance.

If we accept a bilateral trigger for NIAC, then the law of armed conflict does not apply until Iraqi forces “respond[s] by military means,” resisting Daesh’s advance.  Until that time, Daesh fighters do not violate the law of armed conflict or commit war crimes.  This result seems deeply unattractive.  Although the Daesh fighters violate Iraqi criminal law, it seems hard to accept that they do not violate the law of armed conflict.

Now consider the following scenario:

Consent:  State A attacks organized armed group G on the territory of State T, with the consent of State T.  There is no pre-existing armed conflict between State A and group G.  State A does not take feasible precautions in attack and recklessly kills many civilians.

If we accept a bilateral trigger for NIAC, then the law of NIAC does not apply until group G responds with military force, resulting in “armed clashes.”  Since State T consents, the law of IAC does not apply either.  It follows that State A does not violate the law of armed conflict or commit war crimes.  This result seems intolerable.

Importantly, human rights law may not be sufficient to protect civilians or armed forces in cross-border cases like those described above.  On most views, human rights law does not apply to the conduct of non-state armed groups that do not yet exercise territorial control and fulfill government-like functions.  Moreover, according to some militarily active states, human rights law does not constrain extraterritorial lethal targeting by state armed forces.  Yet, in my view, such conduct should be constrained by international law.

We should also accept only a nominal intensity threshold for NIAC.  Consider the following case:

Capture:  Members of organized armed group G mistakenly cross the unmarked border between State T, in which they normally operate, and State A.  They encounter a unit of State A’s soldiers, and a minor skirmish ensues.  No one is killed, but one group member is captured by the soldiers while one soldier is captured by the group and taken back across the border into State T.

In this case, it seems that both the group member and the soldier should be entitled to humane treatment under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.  Moreover, if there are civilians present when the skirmish occurs, then it seems that the conduct of the skirmish should be constrained by customary rules including distinction, precautions, and proportionality  If those rules are flagrantly violated, then those violations should amount to war crimes.

In my view, if an organized armed group has the capacity to sustain military operations then any military operation by or against that group should be constrained by the law of armed conflict.  The organization and capacity of the group is sufficient to distinguish military operations by or against the group from “internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence and other acts of a similar nature.”

Some might worry that applying the law of armed conflict to first uses of low intensity force will displace or reduce the protections of human rights law.  Fortunately, that is not the case.  Even during armed conflict, states may choose not to derogate from their ordinary human rights obligations.  Alternatively, derogation may be strictly required only with respect to certain measures, or only in certain parts of a state’s territory, or only in certain situations, even if the law of armed conflict provides additional constraints on all acts with a sufficient nexus to the conflict.

Most importantly, killings that are not prohibited by the law of NIAC may be prohibited by human rights law.  In particular, “[w]here military necessity does not require parties to an armed conflict to use lethal force …, but allows the target for example to be captured rather than killed, the respect for the right to life can be best ensured by pursuing this option.”  In situations of armed conflict, the law of NIAC may aid the interpretation of human rights law but does not exhaust the content of human rights law.

Finally, the law of armed conflict cannot authorize what human rights law forbids.  As the ICRC observes elsewhere, “[t]he law relating to the conduct of hostilities is primarily a law of prohibition: it does not authorize, but prohibits certain things.”  Human rights law and the law of NIAC do not conflict with each other but instead complement one another, as both impose constraints on violence rather than licenses to commit violence.  As Additional Protocol II makes clear, human rights law “offer[s] a basic protection to the human person” while the law of NIAC aims “to ensure a better protection for the victims of [] armed conflicts.”

Critique of ICRC’s 2016 Commentary to Geneva Convention I: Arming medical personnel, loss of protected status

mullIt’s our pleasure to publish this post as part of our series inspired by “Humanity’s Common Heritage,” our recent conference on the 2016 ICRC Commentary on the First Geneva Convention. The author is Nicholas W. Mull, a Columbia Law LL.M. candidate who served till mid-2016 at the Pentagon, as an International & Operational Law Attorney, Head Operational Law Department, U.S. Marine Corps, Office of the Judge Advocate General of the Navy. Mull, a conference participant, writes:

The protected status of medical personnel and their units, transports, and establishments, when addressed by commentators, is typically focused on affirmative duties of combatants not to target medically protected persons and objects. However, equally important is the affirmative duty of medically protected persons to refrain gjicl_confposterfrom “acts harmful to the enemy” and the extent of the right of self-defense. These are the concerns of medical providers in the field at the tactical level that are typically ignored.

These concerns are directly addressed in the ICRC’s recent updated commentary for the first Geneva Convention (GC I). While there are several opinions in the commentary that are, arguably, in error, for brevity, this post will only touch on one tactical concern. The commentary asserts that medical personnel may only carry “light individual weapons” without losing protected status, which is in error for several reasons:

  1. It purports a limit on the type of weapons to be used in self-defense; and
  2. It opines that protected status can be lost by virtue of an act that only presents a remote hypothetical harm to the enemy that can only come to fruition if the medical personnel purposefully engage in offensive hostilities.

As a preliminary issue, it is vital to interpret Article 21 of GC I, which provides for the sole reason by which protected medical personnel and establishments may lose protected status: commission, “outside their humanitarian duties, [of] acts harmful to the enemy.” The operative condition of “harmful to the enemy” requires a purposeful act that in of itself has caused harm to the enemy’s ability to conduct legitimate military operations. This is not to say that it is a high threshold to meet, but merely that it must actually cause a real definable present harm to the enemy and that it is intended to cause such harm, e.g. utilizing a field hospital to shelter “able-bodied combatants.” This standard should also be understood as more expansive than the direct participation in hostilities (DPH) standard used for determining the loss of protected status of civilians, specifically as it includes both direct and indirect actions. The generally expansive nature of this standard necessitated Article 22 of GC I, which covers actions that may not be considered as “acts harmful to the enemy” such as, inter alia, arming medical personnel.

Turning to the issue of arming medical personnel, the updated commentary concludes that medical personnel are only authorized to carry “light individual weapons” and that to possess crew-served weapons (CSW) results in the “loss of specific protection of the military medical unit.” The qualification of “light” and “individual” is a noticeable addition in the 2016 commentary that is absent from the 1952 Pictet Commentary. This addition presents unnecessary danger to medical personnel in contemporary conflicts of which reciprocity can no longer be presumed.

From a textual analysis, Article 22 makes no condition regarding the quality or quantity of the arms that medical personnel may posses; it only presents a limitation on the employment of the weapons for self-defense. Looking to the 1952 Pictet Commentary, it focuses exclusively on the purpose and permissible use of the arms.

Despite the clear meaning of the text of Article 22, which is free from ambiguity, the 2016 commentary draws an inappropriate analogy to Article 13 of Additional Protocol I (AP I), which states that the equipping of civilian medical personnel with “light individual weapons” would not be considered an act harmful to the enemy. Article 13 of AP I was not an attempt to clarify any ambiguity of Article 22, but was instead pertaining to a completely different class of personnel. Further, it is a highly illogical inferential leap to assume that States would want civilians being armed to the same degree as military medical personnel that are subject to the high standards of discipline of a uniformed service.

States must be able to arm their medical personnel to the degree as they see fit to counter the likely threats to medical personnel in a theatre of operations. Certainly, such arms may only be used in self-defense, but to limit medical personnel to side arms and small assault rifles while the enemy or “marauders” attack them with CSW and other anti-material weapons is unjust. commentary-e1458062747572To paraphrase Pictet in his Commentary, it is not proper to require medical personnel to be the sacrificial lamb to unlawful actions of the enemy or criminals.

It is not hard for a combat experienced individual to envision situations in which medical personnel may have a need to defend themselves with CSW and anti-material weapons. For example, field hospitals may be present in a combat zone in which enemy tactics could include suicide vehicle borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIEDs). To personally defend themselves as well as their patients this scenario may require the use of a .50 caliber machine gun—a weapon primarily designed for anti-material purposes—to subdue the imminent threat to life.

Lastly, as previously noted, to lose the protected status medical personnel must purposefully commit an act that in of itself creates a present harm to the enemy. Arming medical personnel with CSW or other heavier weapons as necessary to counter likely threats to save their lives and the lives of their patients does not result in a present harm to the enemy. In fact, the only way it could be a present harm to the enemy is to presume that the medical personnel intend to violate the law by engaging in offensive hostilities. In reality, this only presents a remote hypothetical harm that does not meet the standard of being harmful to the enemy.

armletIt may not be the best policy choice to heavily arm medical personnel for the risk of confusion that can be created as to their protected status, especially if the situation is one in which medical personnel are not displaying Red Cross armlets, as is often the case with U.S. military medical personnel. But, this is ultimately a policy choice that should not be confused with status of law.